Fall in love, share good times with friends, move up into the mountains or similarly inspired places, survive oppression and even die a good death. None of this is possible without music, especially music led by lyrics that matter. Foot stomping, head nodding (head banging) or steering wheel tapping to a melody and a beat can only hope for second fiddle status next to the powerful way that words can make us feel. I have nothing against melodies. Some of my best friends are melodies. I love a great soaring melody and lyrics can be lifted higher by them. But in my (trying to be ever more humble) opinion, the “soundtrack of our lives” is made potent first by the way that words make us feel. I know, I know, a ripping bluegrass instrumental or long thrashing heavy-metal guitar solo, not to mention a symphony from a master composer are all stand-alone arguments against my point. We get married to; we celebrate our freedom by and we march off to war on the backs of great instrumentals. Still, sing me a lyric that helps me understand how I feel about myself, my place in the world, my past and my future and I’ll allow you to leverage all that I am and all that I do. I would not be so permissive with your alluring melodies.
I was about ten years old the first time I heard John Denver’s “Country Roads.” I was already a soul mate to mountains and rivers, but I didn’t know why until I heard that song. I was twelve going on thirteen when I sat and listened to the mountain duo Night Sky at the Snowshoe Ski lodge in West Virginia. They sang their song “I’m Comin’ Down” about getting high and coming back down. I had yet to experience the weed to which they were referring, but I was already familiar with grandiose highs and dramatic lows. I was thirteen after all. Hearing those highs and lows described so vividly was for me, soul settling. That song made feeling good worth it because for the first time, it made the falling back down understandable and safe. I started writing songs at fourteen, but I never knew that it was something that I could be instead of just do, until I heard Tom Paxton’s “Ramblin’ Boy” for the first time. I felt as though he was talking directly to me in that song and ever since, I have been a ramblin’ hobo and “a friend always.”
For all of us in Runaway Home, the financial rewards that have come from the words that we have written and the songs that we have sung, have been a mixed bag at best. But we have been lucky enough to move others with our words in the same ways that I was moved as a child. The words to “Cradle of the Mountain” caused one woman from the Kerrville Folk Festival to move up to the mountains of Colorado almost on the spot. “From the Top of the Hill” has inspired many of our fans, as it has me, to find peace in their successes and failures. “One Day,” a song Gary wrote about a special couple and their inspired house and land in upstate New York, recently found its way into their anniversary celebration. Our mortgage companies and utility companies don’t accept any of these moments as approved forms of payment, but we sure do. So Roberta Flack had it right indeed. “Strumming my pain with his fingers. Singing my life with his words, killing me softly with his song, killing me softly with his song.” Words matter – use them wisely.
Mark Elliott – Runaway Home
“It’s the Music That Makes Us Smile”