For some 20 years I wrote songs that no one ever heard. Not family. Not friends. Certainly not strangers. I wrote when I had to -- cathartic examinations of myself and the people around me, secret tributes to songwriters I admire, funny stories that made me laugh. All of my songs were true stories. True with a little wiggle room because, well, real life doesn't always rhyme. The songs were my private little psychiatric couch, written to help me wrap my head around things that were important to me. Playing them in front of people was out of the question.
About eight years back I got a new guitar, and I guess I started playing more. Friends and family members began hearing some of my songs around campfires and at parties. I was flattered when they thought they were by some established singer-songwriter. I was surprised when they started requesting them and even singing along.
When they asked me to record I resisted. But I'm lucky enough to count as my friends some of the best pickers in Pittsburgh, and with their help I started taking my songs into the studio. What began as a shyly presented Christmas gift to my family became an annual artistic exercise. I wrote new songs in the winter, spring and summer and gathered up friends to record them in the fall. Every year, family, friends and anybody who'd showed up at my parties or sat around my campfires got a CD in the mail at Christmas. I liked the thought of that. The most personal gifts I could offer were my songs.
One name on my Christmas list was the managing director of Calliope: The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society. She surprised me by asking if I'd perform a two-hour set as part of a new Pittsburgh singer-songwriter series.
"I don't play out," I told her. "Why would you want to book me?"
"I've seen you and your friends at your parties," she said, "passing the guitar around, playing your original songs. Not for money or to get famous, just because it feels good and it's what people do. And that's exactly what Calliope is all about."
That was a pretty good answer. So after 20 years of stage fright, I started taking my 12-string to open stages, learned some elemental stage craft, learned to beat the performance anxiety that had kept my backlog of songs something that was played alone and in the dark.
Backed by friends who were the best hired guns in town, the show went surprisingly well. I quickly got offers to open for other local songwriters, and a couple months after awkwardly stepping up to a microphone for the first time, I'm now hosting Calliope's weekly open stage.
Songs written as private therapy have become public performance pieces, and more people are hearing my songs and asking for the CDs. While I have no ambitions to launch a music career, it's clear that this CDBaby thing is a pretty efficient way to make songs by people like me available to people like you.
There are only so many human emotions. We all feel the same things. Everything that I worry about, laugh about and dream about is in these songs. And if you hear a little of yourself in there, too, well, maybe you don't have to feel that way alone.
1. She Talks To Angels
2. A Good Thing
3. Swirly With Colors
4. Walkin' Down That Road
5. With This Ring
6. The Gift
8. Three-Chord Rockabilly Band
10. Saved A Life Today
11. The Real Thing
12. William Shatner Shutdown