published Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Dalton Roberts: Songs can control a man's life


by Dalton Roberts

When a person starts writing songs, they soon discover that their life doesn't belong to them any longer. It belongs to their songs.

It all starts so innocently. Just playing with cute little lines like "Don't Pay the Ransom, Honey, I've Escaped" or "The Alabama Crossdresser." But after all the tee-hees and hardy-har-hars are giggled and gone, one day you realize what's running your life are the songs.

Songs tell you when you can eat. What songwriter can leave a half-written song in his computer and stumble to the table and start eating? Such a man has decided not to be a songwriter but to be a husband. Few wives will tolerate working for hours on a great meal while their man sits pecking pitifully on a song. If I'm not careful here I will tell you why I have been married several times.

The songs tell you when you can sleep. You can be in a deep sleep and a line to a song you have been writing will begin to unfurl in your head. It will unfurl until you get up and write it down. Should you be exceptionally strong and continue to try to sleep, the song will punish you the next day by refusing to come to memory. After a few years you will learn to obey the song. You will get up and write the lines down as they come. Songs demand complete obedience.

Songs will tell you when you can walk. One night I was taking a walk at Northgate Mall and "Louise" started coming to me:

Please don't ask me about Louise

It's just more than I can bear

I came home from work this evening

And found her at the bottom of the stairs

I smiled and said, "Oh, I can remember that when I get home. Thanks!" But Louise kept coming:

Louise and I were seldom parted

They say we made the perfect pair

I don't see how I can go on

Since Louise came tumbling down those stairs

When the chorus started coming to me I ran into Applebee's and grabbed several napkins and wrote it down.

She was crumpled like a rag doll

One spike heel tangled in her hair

I'll have nightmares where I'II see her

Careening down that awful set of stairs

I went on until I had two verses and a chorus because I knew Louise's fate would be worse than falling down a set of stairs if I didn't. I knew she would die quietly and eternally right there in the mall if I didn't grab her while she was coming to me. Like the novelist over in Durham, N.C., who had two wives die from falls down stairs, I knew it was up to me to decide whether to let her have the freedom and excitement of a long tumble rather than to wither and gasp her life away in the midnight darkness of my song graveyard. No one deserves to go that way.

But many great songs perished exactly that way. Before I saw that for richer or poorer, for better or worse, in sickness and health every song that came my way was my master.

It's not easy to live with such an unreasonable dominatrix.

Contact Dalton Roberts at downhomep@aol.com.

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