One would think that songwriting after spending a life at it would become easier. I wish that were the case with me. For some it probably is. I find it a constantly evolving process that seems to have its own set of guidelines, sometimes which seem apparent and other times as distant as a far off cloud. My role as a writer changes with every song and every other writer I collaborate with. In whatever form it remains a challenge to turn one in that perhaps offers the listener a new way to view the world differently.

On my most recent release, Anti-Gravity, there were at least two defining moments which drove two songs to something that hit at a very deep emotional level. Experiences that were hard to write about, and came from great loss.

One, “Who I Am,” originated out of my wife Dawn Young’s mother, Doris, taking the long and painful journey through Alzheimer’s up to her death. Through the last years of her life, Dawn and I would travel to her assisted living home in Bethlehem, PA. I would take my guitar and bring songs to sing with her and all her friends. Music became the simplest and most direct form to enable her mother — and the other friends we became so close to — to return to their childhoods and rekindle their fondest memories. Every week I would go back and learn some of the old songs they requested. “Isle of Capri” was a favorite. My wife Dawn would film these sessions, and I brought a portable recording setup to capture these moments.

One of the sobering moments caught on film were after singing their favorite song, “Isle of Capri,” they would request it immediately seconds after finishing singing it, not realizing we had just sung it numerous times. It became the title of her documentary on Alzheimer’s disease.

Not long after her death, I was scheduled to go to Nashville to write with longtime friend Jaime Kyle. Dawn gave me some notes and lyric ideas she had about the loss of her mother to take with me for possible ideas. Upon arriving at Jaime’s several mornings later, I sat down and discussed what we would write about and mentioned the possibility of tackling that subject. She visibly welled up in her eyes, as her mother had also died within the same month as Dawn’s mom. That was that. “Who I Am” came down immediately. In this case, I was just a divining rod to channel the tremendous loss both Jaime and Dawn experienced. I did my best to stay out of the way and let their tremendous loss speak.

Several months later, we attended Doris’ funeral. She had been devoutly religious, and had asked her favorite pastor to speak at her memorial. After several of her friends spoke, he got up and gave his sermon. He spoke about her for about five minutes and then spent the next hour telling us how none of our souls would go heaven if we did not follow his precise instructions for how to save our souls.

I could barely contain myself. I was so angered I almost had to walk out, as I felt he had not honored her life in any way. I kept quiet out of respect, but I went home and wrote “Heaven Is Here” as a response to his words. Sometimes that’s how it happens. I wish I knew what was next…

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