Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

by John Fitzsimmons | Out of the Forge

In my forty years or so of actively singing and playing folk music and writing songs, I have played together with a remarkably narrow list of musical partners: Rogue, Wally and Barry with camp songs and Hatrack and Seth with literally everything. These last few years I have been playing some with Keith Jacques, Tom Sheppard and Geoff Copley, but really, it has either been me alone or me and Hatrack and Seth.

I could certainly do worse—or I should say, I don’t think I (or anyone) could do better. In many ways I am a victim of myself. I learned to play on my own and then I played and performed alone for a solid ten years before meeting Seth and Hatrack. My playing was rarely formal in any sense of the word. I played in any key that worked for me; I was loose with accepted ways of playing any song, and I was more loose with beat and meter. If I felt like slowing down, I would just slow down—and vice verse with speeding up. If some part of a song reminded me of a story, I would just hang on a chord until the story was told. I began songs with my own arbitrary count-in that was more like “Ready, set, go…” than “One, two, three, four…” 

None of that ever seemed to matter with Seth and Hatrack. They would just go with the flow. They still go with the flow in patient and accepting ways, though I can sometimes see the wry rolling of their eyes as I started a song in three different keys before finding that elusive sweet key. We harmonize amazingly well, though I know nothing about harmony, aside from hearing them banter about who will take the third and who will take the fifth.

I have been spoiled and nurtured by their collective genius. Seth on anything with strings and Hatrack on the harmonica. Really, few musicians are their equals. I am just incredibly blessed to have them as friends and musical mates.

When I play Thursday night in The Forge, which is advertised as “Fitz & Friends,” I never know which friend or friends is going to show, or if any friends will show. Sometimes “friends” is just the audience already there.

Tonight the friend was Hatrack who wandered in just as I was starting. My Bose system is only set up to record my vocal and guitar, so it is hard to get the real effect (and affect) of Hatrack’s inimitable virtuosity as he played along with me throughout a two hour set, but he is there in a regrettably muted way. Someday I hope to find a better way to record than the somewhat primitive method I am using, but for now, strain your ears to hear what Hatrack brings, which is as much in spirit as it is in skill.

Tonight was a fun night, full of requests for songs I rarely play, so my apologies up front for any lyrical adjustments I made trying to remember lyrics—especially on “Suzanne,” by Leonard Cohen, a damn good song that I plan to put back into my “list” in a more regular way.

Thanks for stopping by to listen. I do this for those friends of mine scattered around the world who still want a “taste of the inn,” though it is a watered down taste at best.

Out of the Forge: April 6, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 6, 2017

Some nights I feel like I am singing in a mall. Tonight–in a fun way–it felt a bit like I walked into the Natick mall at Christmas time and pulled out my guitar in front of the Apple store and started to play, but like every night down at the inn it evolved into a fun few sets mingled with some old ballads and some classic old sing-a-longs. My high school football coach, Dick Dimare, was waked at Charlie Dee’s, and so a number of my old football buddies showed up, so we enjoyed some good remembrances of a truly exceptional old-school coach. I remembered how he seemd to find a way to make each and every one of us feel like we were God’s gift to CC Football. I still enjoy, too, getting “razzed” by my old buddies who all grew up with me in a different time in Concord.

A part of me wished the night was more quiet and reflective, so I could share my old Concord songs–songs that are still etched in my head, but which I rarely play live. But still those songs live in a heart shaped and formed by a now long ago echo of a great childhood and batch of friends. I’ve always dreamed of just spending a night at the inn reliving and replaying those raspy, hard-bitten songs, for even in the lap of past joy there is the lingering smoke of trying times.

As often happens, too, people show who want or are willing to play with me–and often in place of me–and that also goes a long way to perfecting the joy of singing in a small hometown bar. Geoff Copley joined me for a fun batch of songs at the end of the night with his always tasteful guitar and laconic Irish wit. The hard part of recording the way I do is I only have my vocal mic and a guitar mic, so the full power of Geoff’s playing is too far back in the mix to get the full effect of how good it is–that and it always sounds like I talking to myself and not with the crowsd. A hockey playing friend of Denise and Will, Suzanne Freidman, also showed up and performed a heartfelt and awesome batch of songs–some original, some covers, but she really got the crowd’s attention, and a big and boisterous crowd it was. 

I can’t say I felt proud of my own work tonight. It is pretty humbling to hear myself singing and trying to get into some kind of flow. If anything, I feel like my voice is a bit too forced, my playing too fast, my banter too long and my memory stumbling along some unfamiliar verses, but as Bill Belechick says, It is what it is…”

So maybe next week I’ll do better. A folksinger like me is like an old fisherman who at least gets to point to next week and think, “Yeah, next week will be better.”

Thanks for stopping by my humble blog. Come by for the real thing sometime.  And bring your guitar 😉 

Out of the Forge: March 30, 2017

Out of the Forge: March 30, 2017

Every Thursday Night at The Colonial Inn
On the Green, in Concord, Massachusetts

March 30, 2017

by John Fitzsimmons | Out of the Forge

This is my first attempt at trying to record a night at the inn, so please forgive my engineering errors as a producer. I simply used the Bose Tonematch into Garageband and called it good enough for a first try. It was a pretty quiet and mellow night tonight with an appreciative crowd of locals, some old freinds and some folks who just showed up out of curiosity, so I got the chance to play a lot more quiet songs and some old ballads, which is always good for my soul. My good buddy Declan McDade showed up and played a few songs. He is the real McCoy of an Irish folksinger–though he plays very few Irish songs, at least yet.

As a performer, hearing my night in its totality is more than a bit humbling, but also strangly empowering. After thirty-three years singing in the same bar, I feel at ease with myself and the songs I know, and and feel driven to learn more songs and play them better.

At any rate, here is me, for what it’s worth… 

“A masterful weaver of songs whose deep, resonant voice rivals the best of his genre…”

Spirit of Change Magazine

“Beneath the friendly charisma is the heart of a purist gently leading us from the songs of our lives to the timeless traditional songs he knows so well…”

Globe Magazine

Fitz’s original music…

Joshua Sawyer

I doubt I’d ever have taken this road
had I known how fallen it really was
to disrepair: driving comically,
skirting ruts and high boulders, grimacing
at every bang on the oil pan.
I tell you it’s the old road to Wendell —
that they don’t make them like this anymore.

Listen...

Out of the Forge: April 6, 2017

Some nights I feel like I am singing in a mall. Tonight--in a fun way--it felt a bit like I walked into the Natick mall at Christmas time and pulled out my guitar in front of the Apple store and started to play, but like every night down at the inn it evolved into a...
Listen...

Superman

There’s a little blonde boy in a superman cape
Racing around the back yard;
Sayin’, “Daddy don’t you know I can fly to the moon;
I’m gonna bring you back some stars.
And after that I’m gonna save the world”
Cause I’m superman today.”
I scoop that boy right into my arms,
And this is what I say:

You don’t need a cape to be a hero
You’ve got all the special powers that you need
Your smile’s enough to save the world from evil
And you’ll always be superman to me

Listen...

Calvary

It seems like it ain’t been a long time,
But I’m damn pleased your coming by again.
It’s been a while since we sat down and rambled
About this and that and why and who and then
You said that you had to get a move on,
Move on and leave a space behind.
So I spent a while hitting all those old roads:
Old friends and kicking down the wine.

Listen...

Out of the Forge: March 30, 2017

Every Thursday Night at The Colonial Inn On the Green, in Concord, Massachusetts This is my first attempt at trying to record a night at the inn, so please forgive my engineering errors as a producer. I simply used the Bose Tonematch into Garageband and called it good...
Listen...

No Dad To Come Home To

Rain’s falling outside of Boston—
Thank God I’m not working tonight.
I’ve got six of my own,
And a stepdaughter at home,
And a momma keeping things right.
I wonder if they’re at the table
With their puzzles, their papers and pens?
When I get off the highway
And pull in that driveway,
Will they run to the window again?

Listen...

Zenmo Yang Ni

I lost the time I hardly knew you,
half-assed calling:
“How you doing?
Laughing at my hanging hay field;
I never knew the time
that tomorrow’d bring,
until it brung to me.

Yuan lai jui shuo: “Zenmoyang ni?”
Xianzai chang shu: “Dou hai keyi”;
Xiexie nimen, dou hen shang ni.
Xiwang wo men dou hen leyi
Dou hen leyi

Listen...

Garden Woman

I woke today and had my tea
and at the window spent the morning:
the same scene I’ve seen so many times
is each day freshly born;
from the ground I turn each spring and fall
come the flowers sweetly blooming;
you disappear among the weeds—
you are the garden woman.

Listen...

Somewhere North of Bangor

Somewhere north of Bangor
on the run from Tennessee.
Lost in back scrub paper land
in section TR-3.
It’s hit him he’s an outlaw
a Georgia cracker’s son,
who killed a man in Nashville
with his daddies favorite gun.
It’s hit him with the loneliness
of wondering where you are
on a long ago railway
stretched between two stars.

Listen...

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

In my forty years or so of actively singing and playing folk music and writing songs, I have played together with a remarkably narrow list of musical partners: Rogue, Wally and Barry with camp songs and Hatrack and Seth with literally everything. These last few years...
Listen...

Don’t Let Go of Your Soul

Sometimes yeah.
Sometimes no.
Sometimes it’s somehow somewhere in between.
Sometimes it’s somewhere that no one has been–
no, nobody, nowhere, no nothing can end.
So don’t you let go and hope you’ll find it again.
Don’t you ever let go–

Listen...

Winter in Caribou

I know your name. It’s written there.
I wonder if you care.
A six-pack of Narragansett beer,
Some Camels and the brownie over there.
Every day I stop by like I
Got some place I’ve got to go;
I’m buying things I don’t really need:
I don’t read the Boston Globe.

But I, I think that I
Caught the corner of your eye.
But why, why can’t I try
To say the things I’ve got inside
To you ….

Listen...

Essex Bay

This house makes funny noises
When the wind begins to blow.
I should have held on and never let you go.
The wind blew loose the drainpipe.
You can hear the melting snow.
I’ll fix it in the morning when I go.
I’ll fix it in the morning when I go.

Listen...

Searching for an Alibi

Here I am out on the road again
and it feels longer than it was back then;
when I was younger, man, it saw me through—
now it don’t do
what I want it to—

Too ra loo ra loo ra lady I—
I’m just out searching for an alibi
Too ra loo ra loo ra lady I
I’m just out searching for an alibi.

Listen...

Ghetto of Your Eye

A Veteran's Day Remembrance I wrote this song back in the winter of 1989 in the dining car of a steam driven train, somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway, after meeting a group of Russian soldiers fresh from battle in Afghanistan—that poor country that has been a...
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Shane

It’s been too long feeling sorry for myself.
It’s been too long with my life up on the shelf.
Sometimes wish that I was Shane—
shoot Jack Palance, and disappear again;
don’t have no one
don’t want no one
don’t miss no one:
living lonely with a saddle and a gun.

Listen...

Weekend Custody

Jesse calls up this morning—
“You can come downstairs now;
You see the grapefruit bowl?
Well, I fixed it all;
I fixed everything for you.”

Everything’s for you…

“Let me help you make the coffee,
Momma says you drink it too.
I can’t reach the stove,
But I can pour it, though—
What’s it like living alone?”

Listen...

Last of the Boys

Come on over here
and I’ll buy the next round:
cold beer and some shooters
for the boys on the town;
Darby ain’t drinkin’
so let’s live it up
‘cause he’ll drive us all home
in his company truck

Jesus Christ, Jimmy,
man you say that you’re well;
I say we drive into Boston
and stir up some hell;
put a cap on the weekend,
a stitch in the night,
watch the Pats play on Sunday
and the welterweight fight.

That’s all she wrote boys,
there ain’t any more;
that’s why we’re standing here;
that’s what it’s for.
That’s why we all go on working all day
busting our ass for short pay:
~Hey…

Listen...

Metamorphoses

It’s something I‘ve hardly ever thought of:
this simple and rattling old diesel
has always gotten me there and then some;
and so at first I think this sputtering
is just some clog, and easily explained:
some bad fuel maybe, from the new Exxon,
or just shortsightedness on maintenance.
I’ve always driven in the red before,
and these have all been straight highway miles —

Listen...

Ghetto of Your Eye

I wrote this song back in the winter of 1989, in the dining car of a steam driven train, somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway, after meeting a group of Russian soldiers fresh from battle in Afghanistan—that poor country that has been a battleground for way too long.

We stare together hours the snow whipped Russian plain—
rolling in the ghetto of your eye.
We share a quart of vodka
and some cold meat on the train—
you know too much to even wonder why;
I see it in the ghetto of your eye.

Listen...

The Queer Folk

True to my words of earlier this week, I finished this song last night, and at the time, I liked it--but in the clear light of day, too much of it seems forced, especially the rhymes. But that is part of the process. I think I am almost there. Let me get my saw and...
Listen...

Many Miles To Go

I see it in your eyes
and in the ways you try to smile;
in the ways you whisper—I don’t know—
and put it all off for a while;
then you keep on keeping on
in the only way you know:
you’re scared of where you’re going
and who’ll catch you down below.

Listen...

Trawler

Leave the fog stillness
of a cold harbor town;
cup our hands
in the warm diesel sound—
leave while the children
are calmed in their dreams
by light buoys calling:
“Don’t play around me.”

Listen...

No Dad To Come Home To

Rain’s falling outside of Boston—
Thank God I’m not working tonight.
I’ve got six of my own,
And a stepdaughter at home,
And a momma keeping things right.
I wonder if they’re at the table
With their puzzles, their papers and pens?
When I get off the highway
And pull in that driveway,
Will they run to the window again?

Listen...

Ring of Fire: The Power of Simplicity

In fifth grade my mother finally let me go to the Concord Music store and buy a "45" single.  I bought Johnny Cash’s version of “Ring of Fire” written by his future wife June Carter and Merle Kilgore, a noted country songwriter of his day. There was no doubt in my...
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The American Folk Experience

The American Folk Experience is my way of collecting, curating, researching and sharing the most enduring songs of our musical heritage—songs that I’ve spent the better part of the last forty years performing in pubs,  and schools, on concert-stages and street-corners, and at camps, festivals and celebrations of all kinds. Every performance, workshop and presentation is a joyful and knowledgable celebration and exploration of the timeless songs and stories that have shaped and formed the musical history of America.

Festivals & Celebrations —Coffeehouses —School Assemblies — Library Presentations —Songwriting Workshops —Artist in Residence — House Concerts —Pub Singing — Irish & Celtic Performances — Campfires —Senior Centers —Voiceovers & Recording

Explore The Ancient Ballads

Songs passed through time...

Recordings, History & Resources...

American Folksongs & Ballads

 

Recordings, History & Resources...

 

Songs of the Sea & Fo'castle

Recordings, History & Resources...

Ring of Fire: The Power of Simplicity

Ring of Fire: The Power of Simplicity

In fifth grade my mother finally let me go to the Concord Music store and buy a “45” single.  I bought Johnny Cash’s version of “Ring of Fire” written by his future wife June Carter and Merle Kilgore, a noted country songwriter of his day. There was no doubt in my mind back in 1966 what was the best song ever written. I pretty much feel the same way now.

“Ring of Fire” is about as simple and perfect as a song gets. It uses three simple chords, two verses, and two choruses, yet it is a profoundly moving and enduring testament to the power, mystery, and allure of falling, failing, and floundering in love. Only an absolute misanthrope would fail to sense the power of this song.

As you try to write your own songs, it is worth looking at and listening to and reflecting upon:

[Verse 1]

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell in to a ring of fire

[Chorus]

I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down,down,down
And the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire\
The ring of fire

[Verse 2]

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like our’s meet
I fell for you like a child
Oh, but the fire went wild

[Chorus][x2]

The verses are two rhymed couplets of between 6-8 syllables per line. The song starts with a statement: “Love is a burning thing” and likens that love to a physical ring into which the author, “bound by wild desire” is drawn towards—come what may. I often wondered why the unknown character did not leap or jump, but rather “fell” into the burning ring. Perhaps it symbolizes the inescapable nature of wild, untamed and unthinking love, or perhaps it is just a play on the phrase falling in love. However you take it, it works.

The chorus musically rises in a crescendo—much like the flames that grow “higher and higher” as the protagonist falls deeper and deeper in love. It employs the time-honored technique of parallelism and tri-colon usage with its repetition of “down, down, down” with “burns, burns, burns” and employs only a single rhyme scheme with “fire” and “higher.” This love affair totally consumes the main character as it drags him or her inexorably deeper into the burning pain and complexity of love. I don’t always know whether to sing the couplet phrases of “ring of fire” as a warning, a lament, or an ecstatic vision.

The second and final verse totally shifts the tone of the song into something more akin to a narrative reflection—a reflection wizened by experience telling us only that the “The taste of love is sweet/ when hearts like ours meet.”  The final couplet of the song describes the predicament of love as laconically spoken as any phrase in literature: “I fell for you like a child” followed by the problem of love: “Oh, but the love went wild.”

Did it grow wild and kill the love or is love a wild part of our nature that cannot be tamed or controlled? Is that love lost when the fire runs its course? “Ring of Fire’ does not tell us much more. We fill the gaps with our own tanglings with love. Is that enough?

I’ve been singing this song for over forty years, and I still don’t know the answer, but I can agree and know from experience how easy it is for the love to go wild.

Reflecting on Literature

Reflecting on Literature

I am constantly asking my students (and myself) to reflect on the literature they, and I, read. As I have grown older—and not necessarily wiser—I find myself only reading literature that I am sure will prod me out of my intellectual and emotional torpor, like a lizard basking in the newfound warmth of spring. Right now it happens to be The Brothers Karamazov, a book I first read as an eighteen-year-old literary newbie. It might have been the first time I didn’t turn away from a book because of the daunting length of the text and the panoramic sweep of life it covers. It is now a completely new experience, though it still resonates with the young and restless soul that even now permeates the fibers and sinews of my aging and ageless self. That book made me think.—and forced me to think beyond and into my myopic experience of life thus far.

In short, I could not read without responding. The reflections of my mind needed an outlet, so I found myself arguing and assenting in long rambles in notebook journals or with anyone who would listen to me, argue with me and/or explore with me. In that way the novel became—and still is— a part of me. The more I wrote about what I read the more I knew the book. By knowing what I knew (and did not know). I realized that only by exploring through reflection could I answer through an essay.

Most of us have to write essays about subjects we know precious little about; hence, our essays have the taint of soured milk—still milk, but hardly worth drinking…

Our teachers mark us down for inserting the “I” voice into our writing as if “we” don’t really exist—as if there must always be proof beyond ourselves that “knows” more than we know—as if that is something we don’t already intrinsically know. To me, a good essay reeks of what we know, what we have explored and what we are seeking to know, and it is a damn pity when a teacher robs us any part of that triad.

You are only wrong when your facts are wrong, distorted by prejudice or bigotry, or so steeped in self-indulgent arrogance that your words fail to resonate with any kind of lasting ring—like a drum without a skin or a harp without a string.

You are equally wrong when you simply spin words into a song without music, or you pen words without meaning and foundation in your own heart—without the essence of the real and palpable you to speak with a clarity that helps others to see and feel and experience “your” experience.

A reflection is simply your recreation of your inner experience of experience. In reflecting we see our warts and blemishes clearly until those imperfections are diminished by the truth and sincerity of our search for meaning and substance to give voice to that search—and that search should extend beyond yourself. No doubt, if you wondered something, someone else wondered the same thing—and maybe even wrote about it.

Keep exploring until your inkwell is dry and your head is emptied.

And only then should you write your essay…

There is not a rubric for reflective thinking and writing. All I can ask is that you be aware of what you are thinking and feeling and to ask yourself why you are thinking and feeling that way. After almost any good meal, none of us really struggles to find words to express our satisfaction with the meal; likewise, if what we eat is pretty horrible, we can also readily find the words to express our dissatisfaction.

But it is never as easy with intellectual satisfaction or dissatisfaction because we are seldom as clear as to why we like or don’t like a piece of literature. Maybe it is because it is our intelligence on the line. Food is pretty straightforward. If you hate peppers, anything made with peppers is distasteful—and few people will judge you harshly; however, if you don’t like poetry…well, you are either ignorant, bigoted or stupid—or at least other more well-read people will smugly feel that way about you, even as they feign politeness.

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