Stories Behind the Songs


Nashville, Phoenix, and Chapel Hill, each in its own way, sustained me through a bout with cancer. Chapel Hill bore the news and the weight of chemotherapy. It was there that Dr. John Parker, with extraordinary skill and kindness, restored me to health. His exemplary life, itself mournfully abbreviated by cancer, will forever be inspiring. Phoenix was the site for recuperation. I remained there about a month after finishing treatment, and stayed at my father’s home, a peaceful, inviting, and reviving place. Vanderbilt University brought me to Nashville, the setting of the song’s inspiration, in preparation for a bone marrow transplant, soberly considered but ultimately declined. The music from Printer’s Alley seemed to have more healing in it. Wonderful towns and surroundings notwithstanding, it was love that cured me, bushels of it.


I was born in North Carolina and raised in Kentucky. While living out west, an acquaintance from the Pacific coast asked me why in heaven’s name I would consider moving back to, of all places, Kentucky. In spite of her bewilderment, I did just that, and wrote this song, not really as an invitation, but as an explanation. I don’t reckon she gets it even to this day.


Some songs just don’t beg for an introduction. A couple, committed to each other but disgruntled, lets off some steam. I don’t really know whether they worked it out.


This was a trip to Maui with Juliana. We walked the beaches, drove the road to Hana and Lindbergh’s grave, spent many hours under the surf scuba diving, and climbed Haleakala and the Iao Needle. These places almost seem mythical now, and will always remind me of her.


For my son, Scott. I envision him longing for, using, and infrequently abusing freedom, eventually getting it and getting it right, if even like most of us, belatedly.


An unrequited and partially unreconciled love song. I don’t figure I can rightly divulge any more about this one.


Pappy Osborne was my mom’s father. He was a pharmacist, and for that matter the town doctor for years in Westwood, Kentucky. He ran his own little drug store there until he was ninety years old. My brother, Greg, and I wrote these lyrics together. We were pretty much raised in Pappy’s store where he and our Grandmother worked twelve hours a day most of their lives. That didn’t hinder them from teaching us how to live, how to care for your townsfolk, and how to love. She died nearly twenty years before him, but it still felt like she was at his side.


The B&O railroad moved Grandpappy Rogers from his hometown hollow (which you can’t find on a map) to a modestly more populous railroad and river town (which you can). This incited the hometown folk to nickname him Big City, and it stuck. In addition to being a railroad man, Big City was an antique repairman, a truck driver, a painter, and one hell of a country crooner. This song was written for his funeral. I’d like to say that Greg and I sang it well for him then, but the truth is we played it on the guitar, and choked back tears.


Nothing apocryphal here. Grandma Lettie lived to be a hundred and two. This was her hundredth birthday song. She was still spry then, although she had recently fallen off a ladder and broken her hip picking nuts from a tree. The raspberry patch is where she met her husband, Edward. He wasn’t around to verify any of this, but he had mused about it in verse. Grandma Lettie corroborated it all.


In one way or another, I imagine most songs are love songs. This was written for one of my brother’s weddings—not intended to announce that my brother had many weddings, rather that I have many brothers. Although marriage is by no means novel, you can’t photocopy it. It has to be forged anew. The apparently well-traveled road becomes fresh and unspoken once you start down it.


More overtly a wedding song than Unspoken Road, Wouldn’t Be Enough emanates from the groom to the bride’s parents, then to his own parents, and finally to the bride alone. Through good parents I was afforded a view of love’s merits before taking it on whole hog, and writing it on my heart. Saying “I love you Julie” still just doesn’t do it justice.


A lullaby. Greg and I wrote this lyric together. He wanted to call it Sami’s Song, after his oldest daughter, because he believed he had learned more from her than he was ever capable of teaching. Now that there are several children teaching us daily, the more inclusive title seems to fit better.