Welcome to my August Newsletter!
Recently nominated for The Americana Music Association's Album of the Year Award, Rifles & Rosary Beads features 11 songs that I co-wrote with combat veterans and their spouses.
As I head back out on the road for tour dates in Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado this month, we are excited to debut the video and share the story behind the title track of Rifles & Rosary Beads, co-written by Iraq War Veteran Joe Costello.
I was in a SongwritingWith:Soldiers writing session when Joe, a young Veteran from the war in Iraq, looked me in the eye and said "I don't know how to explain how I feel except to say my soul hurts."
Then he looked down, and there was a long silence. I waited, I hesitated, I let the silence linger. I tried to take in the bigness of what he had just told me. After a few moments, I asked him how he deals with that feeling, how other soldiers deal with that. He said everyone has their own way of dealing, but in Iraq there were a lot of white knuckles holding rifles tightly, and plenty of other fingers rolling rosary beads in circles, over and over again.
As he spoke, I heard the title "Rifles and Rosary Beads." So I suggested we write a song with that title. We worked on it for about two hours, and I sang the title line and the chorus over and over, adding new words and adjusting words each time. I asked him to tell me when I got the words right, and when I got them wrong. As we worked, his detached posture changed and his demeanor shifted. He became engaged.
His head would nod when I got it right, I'd ask him more questions, he'd supply the answers and I'd work on making them rhyme, and sing them back to him. His head nodded faster as the song developed, his eyes lit up, and his lips (that had been firmly set in a straight line the entire weekend) began to ease into a small, shy smile around the corners of his mouth. When I missed what he was trying to say he'd correct me, and this would open him up to new stories, new feelings. We found a flow and rode it. We reached a point where what he was saying was overwhelming to both of us, and I put down my guitar and broke down. I looked up and he was crying too. As the emotion moved through us and we regained composure, I wrote down a summary of his words and sang them back to him, and we kept going.
His song had taken shape, and when we were done, I asked him to close his eyes, and I played the whole song to him, softly. Though the song was intense, and the story a difficult one, we both stood up and instinctively high fived after the last note rang out.
We knew we'd nailed it, and though the song is sad, we did the touchdown dance together. It was a beautiful, joyful moment. The relief on his face at the end of the writing session was as if time had reversed itself inside his brain. His demeanor had softened. He looked younger and more alive. I asked him how his soul was feeling now.
He had tears in his eyes, and said he wanted to hug me. I closed my computer, put down my guitar, opened my arms and we embraced. He gave me an enormous hug, the kind a child would give. The song had broken through walls of separation, and gave him a small ray of hope. The song provided something he could hold onto, a small rung on the ladder to help him pull himself up with.
LISTEN TO SONG - CLICK HERE
Why must anyone "soldier on" when we now know that is a destructive and dangerous route, especially for soldiers themselves? We all need each other, and songs are a wonderful way of creating human connection. Songs can bring us out of isolation and into the beauty and mystery of being alive on a planet full of other living souls.
What I have learned is that the dominant narrative of a wounded person's life can be rewritten into a narrative of healing by a song. This happens not by trying to write a healing song, but by simply writing the truth, by singing the emotional truth. Giving voice to the silence, being seen and heard and known, is transformative. It helps undo the shame that always comes with trauma.
While the experience is cathartic, it's also transcendent in that the song is a move beyond the self toward others. The song serves as a catalyst for transformation, healing by engaging a re-description of self. It moves the frozen story along, thaws it, and releases some of the infection. It opens up channels of resonance with others who have felt the same way, or who have the ability to relate with empathy and compassion.
Songs have the power to change lives. As it turns out, every soldier's song is a prayer for peace.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO