NO PLAN B
My first wife and I get engaged when I’m 22
And her father sends me the letter.
He’s very concerned about my career choice
And wonders if I would consider a trade school;
Something to fall back on.
After I calm down, I write him a letter.
I tell him that my father always told me to never have a Plan B.
If you have it, you’ll use it.
I also say that when I get to be 30, if there’s absolutely zero chance
Of making a living at music,
Then I’ll think about some other line of work.
But until then, no.
The marriage doesn’t work out,
But the plan does.
(By the way, I grew to love this guy, and he became a big fan. Word has it that when I got my first press in Chicago, he carried a copy of the story around to show his friends.)
In high school, I have an odd-jobs business
Mowing lawns, painting houses, moving families.
I do landscaping, build patios and decks, even clean windows
For the right price.
Basically, I’ll do anything.
My method is, first get the job,
Then figure out how to do it.
There’s a network of construction guys I can go to
For a quick lesson on whatever I’ve gotten myself into.
They get a kick out of my
One time, I get a contract to pour a driveway.
(Who hires a bunch of 17-year-old kids to pour concrete?)
I go see Larry, my friend Mark’s dad.
He’s a contractor, and one of the biggest, meanest dudes I know.
Larry shakes his head; he can’t believe I’m going to try a driveway
But he lights up a cigarette and tells me how to do it anyway.
It works. The driveway gets done, and it looks pretty good.
Larry stops by during the day, and saves my ass at a key moment.
If he hadn’t, I’d be breaking concrete for a week.
I get paid, though wind up not making much
Because I severely underestimate the time and materials needed for the job.
But do I pour the driveway? Yes.
Put that in the same column as
Writing a symphony,
Scoring contemporary dance works,
Sitting down with Bloods and Crips to write a song,
Writing a book.
Just because I don’t know what I’m doing when I start
Doesn’t mean that I don’t make it happen.
I just need help.
Be willing to fail and you just might win.
We’re capable of doing, of being, many things if we just say yes.
Be brave enough (or dumb enough) to try.
If you just get going, and keep your eyes open,
You’ll find the help you need.
But unless you know what you’re doing,
Stay away from concrete work
Or get yourself a Larry.
Paul Williams is sitting next to me at a dinner in LA.
His stories are hilarious.
He tells me how much fun he’s having of late,
That after not writing songs for many years
He’s only recently getting back into it.
I say, “Well, we should get together and write something.”
He turns to me and says, “Really? What are you doing tomorrow?”
So here I am, spending an afternoon
Writing with Mr. Paul Williams,
And though our song is awful, completely forgettable,
The day is amazing.
As we work, he talks about his early days in Los Angeles, writing for everyone
From Three Dog Night and the Carpenters to the Osmonds,
Being on movie sets with Barbara Streisand,
The alcohol and drugs, the entire years lost and
How he eventually flames out,
Only to get sober and
Devote his time to helping others do the same.
“And now,” he says, “I’m writing again. I’m so lucky.”
At one point, while we’re in the middle of figuring out the bridge, Paul jumps up and says, “God, I love writing songs. Don’t you?”
I leave the session with something better than a song.
Paul Williams gives me a master class on life,
A map of where I want to wind up.
He doesn’t really teach me anything about songwriting
But he shows me what it’s like
To be truly excited
About the process.
How to disconnect,
Re-engage, and ignite again
After watching it all
I’m the opening act on Stevie Nick’s summer tour.
For the three months that we cross the country
I know that a two-year odyssey
Recording, travel, promotion and shows
Is coming to a close
And I’m worried.
I don’t have songs for a new record.
Not sure if I have anything to say.
Backstage at some amphitheater out west,
Maybe in San Francisco, or San Jose,
The drummer in Stevie’s band, Russ Kunkel,
Tells me I should go on an adventure,
Drive across the country,
Do anything to shake the trees.
What he’s saying is I need to
Get out of my mind.
See something new.
Go find the songs.
Shortly after that tour I go completely off the rails
With a divorce-money-career collapse
And I start to question who I am
As a man, a father, an artist.
But instead of running from the chaos, I dive down into it.
Writing, always writing.
And from those upside-down days
I find a whole new bag of songs,
A new vein to explore.
Over the next few years
I come to see that
The real adventure is inside the walls of my own house,
My own soul.
I stop hiding in my songs,
And start telling the truth.
Russ is right.
Sometimes we need to take an adventure,
Blow the carbon off the spark plugs,
Trick ourselves into seeing what’s really there.
As a 17 year old, wannabe songwriter in Houston, TX in the late ’70’s who had possession of a pretty good fake ID, getting into clubs was not only easy, it was the coolest game in town, and somewhat of a responsibility that one had to rise up and fulfill.
I was at Rockefeller’s one night seeing Michael Murphy and his band, trying to figure out how to write something like ‘Geronimo’s Cadillac,’ and hoping that no one noticed my beer.
In the middle of his set he called a friend of his up on the stage, saying that he was one of the real songwriters, one of the legends. It was Sonny Throckmartin.
I don’t remember the songs that Sonny played that night, but I remembered his name. As I got older, I kept noticing that it popped up next to a lot of really great country songs.
“The Cowboy Rides Away”
“If We’re Not Back In Love By Monday”
“Why Not Me”
“The Way I Am”
“Friday Night Blues”
“Last Cheater’s Waltz”
See what I mean?
When I saw Sonny last night, I told him about seeing him play that night in Houston. He remembered the show.
But he had no recollection of the underage kid standing on the side of the stage trying to drink beer and take notes at the same time.
Look around you.
Veterans are everywhere.
To thank them is wonderful,
But to truly see them is what is needed.
For all of us,
Because we all wear a uniform.
They come in many forms, many colors.
Just as you want to be seen for who you are,
So do veterans.
Just remember do it the other 364 days of the year as well.
Everyday is Veteran’s Day.