Old Dog (with Ivan Rosenberg)
I wrote the song Old Dog about 15 years ago. Of everything I’ve written, it’s the one that seems to connect with the most people. On the surface, it might seem like a sad song, but to me, it’s just a song about time – about accepting its inevitabilities, while at the same time, the emotions they’re bound to make us feel. Those two things can sometimes feel at odds with each other, but whether we like it or not, for most of us, they’re bound to co-exist.
Over the years, most of my live performances of this song have been as a duet with my friend Ivan Rosenberg. Apart from being one of the modern masters of the dobro, Ivan has a knack of being able to get inside the words of a song instrumentally that I’ve never really seen in anyone else. I always loved what this song became when he played it with me, and had hoped to get a chance to re-record it with him someday. Last summer, while Ivan was visiting Toronto, we finally got a chance.
I’ve decided to release the track this Sunday, February 12 on what would have been my father’s 87th birthday, and on what is my 50th. My dad was definitely one of the old dogs I was thinking about when I wrote the song, and let’s face it, I’d say at fifty, you’re at least a junior member in the club!
Waiting For the Rain
I’ve lived in Toronto my whole life. The experience of re-emerging after the lockdown felt a bit like running into a good old friend that had fallen on some hard times. On one hand, there was hope in the air; it was wonderful to be out again in the city I love and surrounded by its people. On the other hand, it was hard to ignore the change. There seemed to be more troubled and seemingly abandoned people out on the streets. There was an undeniable air of desperation. I felt like every time I went out I saw something that was some combination of heartbreaking, disturbing, and even occasionally threatening. To add to that, there were so many businesses that had either gone under, or that seemed to be barely limping along, that neighborhoods felt like they’d lost some of their previous spirit. Finally, so many friends had moved on – in many cases because of the untenable housing situation, and high cost of living in the city.
These problems are complicated, and systematic, and will require a lot of clear thought and empathy to address. They aren’t new, but to me at least, they feel more acute. It brought to mind the image of a parched landscape that just needs a long gentle rain to bring it back to life. This song offers no answers, it’s just a reflection of the mood I was put in by what I was seeing.
Depending on your attention span, If you listen deep enough into this song, you'll hear the great Andrew Downing play some lovely bass...if you listen right to the end, you will be rewarded by having Ivan Rosenberg break your heart with his dobro in the way only he can.
In case you're wondering, I'm playing a gourd banjo on this track (known as "Gourd-o") that was made by my pal Teilhard Frost. I found this time-lapse footage of the Toronto skyline in the Prelinger Library. It's also where I found the vintage footage of the Red Rockets that are interspersed.
As usual, thanks to Andrew Collins for his masterful work capturing the audio on this track.
I May Not Be Much, But I'm All That I Think About
I heard a friend say “I may not be much, but I’m all that I think about” about ten years ago. I immediately wrote it down, and knew there was a song there. Despite the fact that I was writing about a subject I had more first-hand experience with than I’d like to admit, the song took a while to write. Slowly though, the universe started feeding me some lines. There was a three year old girl dancing free and beautifully at one of my gigs, only to get stopped cold when she became aware that the whole place was watching her – first line. There was some graffiti I’d walked by a thousand times in the back alley behind my house, but never noticed – first verse. Then, a couple years ago, I joined social media for the first time in my life. Wow, if I was looking for a place to both witness and actively participate in the dance most of us seem to be in with ego, narcissism, self-awareness, and blind-spots, I’d found it. After that, the song just sort of wrote itself.