2013 Art Loeb Trail camp site
Back in 2013 on my 55th birthday I went on a vision quest. I went walkabout on a 4 day solo backpacking trip in the Shining Rock Wilderness in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The first couple days were fabulous. Embraced by the stillness of the forest I walked the high ridge lines decorated with spectacular fall colors.
Day 3 my knees started hurting really bad. Then it started raining, I ran out of food, took a wrong turn and walked miles out of my way.
Day 4 it felt like daggers in my knees with every step. When I finally dragged myself out of the woods I was a mess and feeling pretty sorry for myself.
I spent the night at the Holiday Inn in Brevard. In the morning I walked down to breakfast from the 3rd floor to assess the damage in my knees. I loaded up my tray with scrambled eggs and tater tots. I headed for the elevator with my tray thinking I would take the elevator back to my room. I stopped short when I saw a guy about my age in a wheelchair waiting for the elevator. He smiled at me and nodded and I noticed he had one leg. I turned around and took the stairs. I got back to my room and cried.
When I got home I started writing to process the experience. At first I wrote journal entries in the form of a trip report so I would remember the details. Every time I told the story to someone I knew, I could see they were moved. I then struggled for about 8 months trying to turn it into a song. The verses finally gelled. I knew the story, I had lived it. The biggest challenge with the song was writing a chorus that connected the verses together in a way that expressed the bitter sweet emotion of the whole experience. I still had yet to nail down a title/hook. I wrote three different versions of the chorus. It finally hit me that I had walked away from the hiking trip with a better perceptive and “a better look at life” popped into my head.
I brought the song to Jim Lauderdale’s songwriting workshop at the Swannanoa Gathering. When I played the song, both Jim and the majority of my peers let me know the song was not happening. Telling the facts as they actually occurred was not working. The imagery of the one legged man clashed with the uptempo lets-go-hiking chorus. I was feeling deflated as I walked out of the the room. Jim approached me later and said with a sly smile: ” Take that chorus and write you a hit song”. I then put the song away for a while to give it some space.
Over a cup of green tea at my kitchen table one morning about a month later I remembered Jim’s advice. I started over intending to write about my love for the great out doors and why I seek adventures like the one I had been writing about. I kept the chorus and rewrote the verses in 3 successive morning writing sessions. The bridge showed up on a morning walk and I had a new song entitled A Better Look At Life.
Today its the first track on my New CD Stumbling Towards The Light.
3 Good Things I learned writing A Better Look At Life.
Jim Lauderdale and I
1. Let it go. You can’t force a song into being. I spent months on a particular approach based on what I though the song should be. Once I finally let go of that original intent, the song came together in a matter of days. It was a completely different song, but it’s one of my best and my fans love it.
2. The importance of community. Having peers and elders to provide constructive feedback on my songs is essential to my growth as an artist. I go to local song circles and sometimes I run my own. I also attend the Swannanoa Gathering every summer where I have been mentored by some of the best writers on the planet. If you don’t have a songwriting community near you, start one.
3. Why I write. Songwriting is how I process the world around me. The results are no where near as important as the fact that I am writing regularly.