Mt Lebanon Magazine

710 Washington Rd
Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

Songwriter

Unless your name is Elvis Presley or Taylor Swift, it’s hard to make it in the music business. Whether you’re a singer or a songwriter, almost every aspiring musician faces an uphill battle to fame and fortune.

A common sight in the 90s–me at home with my guitar

I am both an unknown singer and an unpublished songwriter. I have been singing, playing and writing songs ever since I got my first guitar in 1964 as a rambunctious 11-year-old lad in Clairton. It was the exact same time the Beatles were invading America. They were my inspiration.

I didn’t just listen to my Beatles records. I watched as the orange and yellow waves of the Capitol Records logo blended together and hypnotized me while they spun around the turntable at 45 revolutions per minute. I wanted to be just like the Beatles—singing, recording music and composing songs.

I continued to sing and write songs through high school, college, and finally adulthood as a husband and father living in Mt. Lebanon. I thought I was going to be the next Neil Young or James Taylor. It was a harmless pipe dream of mine, a fantasy many musicians have. I was just another wannabe, one among millions.

Long ago, I resigned myself to the harsh reality that I would never sell any of my songs or be famous like Paul McCartney. In my youth, I had submitted some cassette tapes of my material to record companies a few times. Several rejection slips later in response to my efforts, I was convinced I would perpetually remain undiscovered. That was enough refusal for me.

Somehow it didn’t matter. I still wrote my songs and kept them alive by playing them over and over. They chronicled many events in my life—love, death, frustration, disappointment, hope—as well as the problems of other people whom I knew or read about, like alcoholism and homelessness.

I wrote about teenage angst in a song titled, “This Lonely Boy.”  I wrote about a young girl’s dreams in “Climb the Golden Hill.” I wrote about a disabled Vietnam veteran in a song called, “The Roads, the Rivers, and the Railroad Tracks.”  

I managed to play a few gigs at local bars. I even won a songwriting contest sponsored by Mt. Lebanon High School in 2002 with a song I penned entitled, “Keep Dreaming.” 

But “don’t quit your day job” was the standard joke among itinerant musicians. My day job was selling pianos, which I did steadily for 40 years. It provided plenty of down time to play the piano and search for that elusive catchy riff, that haunting melody, that magical hook for a potential hit song. Thankfully, my modest career as a salesman kept me from becoming a starving artist playing for tips on the street.

Still managed to make music into my day job

I still have all my Beatles records—albums and 45’s—stacked in a record cabinet. I will never throw them away. My enthusiasm and interest in music have never waned. That was the most important thing—not fame or fortune.

The songs themselves are what matters. Songs of desperation and joy, self-pity and joie de vivre. Dirges that drag and tempos that fly with “molto vivace.” Songs about the spirit of youth and the resignation of age.

A relic of the past

I write the songs for myself in a sanctuary of solitude that somehow transcends my ordinary daily life like a personal religion. Performing them for family and friends provides me with enough satisfaction and exposure to an audience. I also record them and post them on Facebook—perhaps indulging in the ancient fantasy that I might yet be discovered.

The other day I plucked a book from the bookshelf, one I hadn’t seen in years—The Songwriter’s Market 1984. I smiled wanly when I read the title. Where did those 40 years go? I shook my head at the youthful hopes and high expectations I once had.

Should I toss it in the garbage, I thought to myself? Looking again at the dust jacket, I decided to keep it. It wasn’t a gold record–more like a participant ribbon given to athletes at sporting events who try their best.

Then I picked up my beat-up, forty-year-old Martin six-string guitar, strummed a few chords, and began to sing one of my songs:

Keep dreaming, ‘cause dreams are for real.

Keep trying, no matter how bad you feel.

And hey hey hey hey,

Maybe someday

We’ll find a better way.

Continuing the tune today

Comments

  1. Author’s gravatar

    Keep singing!! Very good article!!

  2. Author’s gravatar

    Growing up hearing you play music around the house, I never could tell if you were playing a song by Tom Petty, James Taylor, or one that you wrote. To me, your songs were just as good as theirs. Even if you didn’t become a famous musician, you still are a rock star in your son’s eyes.

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