When we told folks about this project, a lot of them expected we would write songs about books. But the books are just a jumping off point, a source of inspiration. That’s the cool thing about reading; it takes you to new places, introduces you to new people, and opens your mind to new possibilities of thinking.
The road from book to song was sometimes a pretty straight road, sometimes had a lot of curves, and sometimes looked like super spyrograph.
From The Glass Castle to Normal
For the most part, we both had good childhoods. Two parents, siblings, decent homes, stability. But there are always other moments. Reading The Glass Castle brought back some of those moments, long forgotten, or buried. They came back first as feelings and finally in excruciating detail. The overwhelming feeling was one of things being beyond my control. I wondered at Jeanette Wall’s life and how she managed to come through it. For me, distancing myself from situations even acting as if the never happened seemed to help. The trick was making myself believe that. I felt the song needed to include some personal details and musically we wanted to maintain a sense of fragility.
From The Cellist of Sarajevo to These Days
A pretty straight walk. The characters in the book handle their circumstances differently. They made us wonder who we would be in a crisis. Would we use a situation to our advantage, worry more about ourselves or our community, would we be helpful, hurtful? In posing those questions, the old Doris Day song “Que Sera Sera” popped into my head and I starting singing a bit in that style – a straight 4/4 time with a bit of a lilt. The lyrics are pretty straight forward, and the characters borrow a bit from the book. Aidan was playing a little Irish tinged thing in three quarter time. Our two versions fit together nicely, but we argued over the time signature. Turns out the song itself formed a compromise, and for those musically knowledgeable or interested, it’s in 12/8
From The Worst Hard Time to Let It Rain
Aidan’s mother gave us the book. We both loved it. I was thinking about how common it is these days for areas to be experiencing a drought and that I had seen two state governors on television praying for rain. That makes me laugh. Um, excuse me God, have you been paying attention? we need some rain down here. As if He was having a coffee break and didn’t know what was happening. We were on tour and had a song assignment for an upcoming show. We had not done the assignment and had no new song to present. I was lying awake at 2:00 am in the van in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel – such is the glamorous life of a folk singer – and the song came to me all at once. Wrote it down by the light of my cell phone. Aidan put together the music the next day and we played it that night.
From The Book Thief to The End Of The World
A recommendation from our friend Susan Moss, we resisted reading this teen-lit book. We were wrong in assuming that stories geared towards young folks would not be worthwhile. It was a quick, easy read which left lots of brain space for swirling ideas of behavior, morals, ethics, religion, nurture, nature, and the charming narrator – death. The opening lines just popped into my head; if you knew there was no heaven would you still be kind, if you knew there was no hell would you change your mind. It’s always going to be the end of the world. Tomorrow everything changes in ways we can’t predict. So I can only live today with honor and the hope that I can live tomorrow with honor.
From A Walk In the Woods to Somewhere in the Nowhere
This path was a little circuitous. Our friend Barry Henson was hiking and was stalked by a young bear. The bear stuck with him all afternoon, into the night and part of the next day. After talking to a ranger who told him the bear was overly familiar with people and would sooner, rather than later be killed, Barry started a foundation called Go Outdoors USA. They educate folks about … Barry asked us to write a song for the organization. A Walk in the Woods was part of our background research. There are lots of descriptions of wilderness and then there is Katz, who does not belong in the wilderness. The phrase “somewhere in the nowhere” comes from a conversation with a German woman who had bicycled across the country. She used those lovely words to describe one of the many untamed spaces she had seen.
From The Voyage of the Beagle to Katie Raise Your Sails
We love Charles Darwin. We love that he just dove into an adventure that was not necessarily the logical path for a trained geologist with a wife and kids. We love that he had a sense of exploration and a hunger for knowledge, no preconceived notions, no forgone conclusions. We picked up a copy of his journal at a used bookstore in Virginia. The inscription read “To Katie, on her 14th birthday. Love Granddaddy Paul. July 22, 1961.” We love Granddaddy Paul. Imagine the kind of man who gives this to his granddaughter, telling a girl about exploration, risk taking, evolution, in the south, in the sixties, in his sixties. Aidan had this idea about making each successive phrase in the verse be a little longer, echoing the idea of discovery and gaining knowledge. He’s pretty clever.
From Higgs to I Got A Secret
Now we are in spyrograph territory (Does anyone even remember what that is?). You will probably not read this book. That’s okay. It is about physics and the search to understand the sub-atomic workings everything. Peter Higgs theorized that there is an energy field that exists within an atom that provides the proverbial yin to the tiny sub-atomic particles’ yang, giving them mass, giving them their various properties, providing their very existence. Discovery of the well discussed Higgs Boson would prove his theory. Scientists have been looking for it since 1964. They probably, likely, pretty much think they found it in the summer of 2012. Physics is like that. I was a scientist. I have friends who are scientists. I get the quest for knowledge and understanding. I am a woman. I have sisters. I understand the quest for the perfect pair of black boots or handbag that works with everything. They will be the yin to an outfit’s yang, they will give us various properties, they will justify the very existence of some previously questionable fashion purchases.
From Three Cups of Tea to Rosalie
Failure. That’s what Mortenson’s story is about. Everything good that comes to him stems from a big failure, and the kindness of people that helped him through that failure. That idea really appealed to us. The idea that kindness really matters, that we all have the ability to really help each other. This book was from Bev Grant, a New York City based songwriter and a force of nature. We were in a song writer peer critique group with her and we lived in her apartment for a while. Aidan wanted the story to be simple, and the music to be beautiful.
From Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter to You Always Bring Me Down
Aidan’s friend Joe Funk gave this to him when we were touring in the northeast. We read it just before heading home. I was surprised that it was in many ways a serious book, and somewhat historically accurate. The story line is completely plausible. We discussed. We noticed how fired up some of our friends were about the upcoming election. No shortage of opinions, bold, confident opinions and commentary from folks that we would describe as not politically active. We wondered how long that would last. Post-election, would they fall back into the routine of their lives? Would they return to accepting the headline news stories they were fed? We discussed. Aidan fell asleep and I drove on into hundreds of miles of I-81. The GPS shook me from my long-drive-trance and announced “re-calculating.” What? Nothing changed. But I wondered if had shen spoke to me from the quiet darkness and told me to change course would I have complied. The lyrics followed quickly. I pulled over when it was done to write the lyrics down before they slipped away.
Reading Lolita in Tehran to Raise Your Hand
The events of Arab spring encouraged us to re-read Reading Lolita in Tehran. We had, perhaps have, high hopes for the women of the Middle East. Azar Nafisi’s story is interesting to us because she is not your typical revolutionary. She carried no weapon. She staged no public protests. She was quiet. She joined together with her community of women and defied the rules. They acted only in small ways and did things within their capabilities. But the acted, and they did. A quiet revolution. We wanted the melody to be very simple, very sing-able and we wanted it to sound modern.
So we end with I Read Your Book, a song not inspired by a book but inspired by Aidan’s willingness to go along with this strange idea that I had about creating an album inspired by books. Our book club of two was a surprising treasure of conversation and discovery, long after we thought there was anything left to learn about each other.