Friday, June 3, 2011

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I never intended to write a song about my life as a young child living on 1st street in Delano, MN. Considering that I was a month shy of turning ten years old when we moved out to the country side, it's understandable that I may have forgotten a lot about life on 1st street. Truth is, I have a lot of memories from the nearly ten years I lived in town on that half a mile stretch of road. I made some great friends, had some great times, and was truly happy with life in those days. I guess it should come as no surprise that a song about those memories would come out at some point in my song writing process.

It all began about a year ago when I was just fiddling around on guitar and came up with this melody. It had a very Edwin McCain feel to it, which I loved. I played it many times trying to decide where to take it, what direction to go with it, and what kind of song I wanted it to be. About three months ago, I was once again playing through the chords when the words "Skippin' rocks on the railroad tracks" came out. I liked how it sounded, but wasn't sure where to take it next. A couple of days later, I was discussing the tune with my buddy Jay when I finished the line with "like we did when we were kids." I liked how it flowed, and truth is that I grew up near the railroad tracks on 1st street. I recorded a rough version of the guitar parts and sent it to Jay for a listen. Jay liked where I was going, so I asked him to see if he could put down some lyrics for it because I was still unsure what to do with it.

Over the course of talking to Jay I started to think up some other lyrics and a theme; I was going to write about my life on 1st street and relive some fond memories. First of all, while I do remember going up to the railroad tracks as kids, I do not recall skipping rocks on them or even playing near them. In fact, they scared the shit out of me as a kid. Needless to say, the opening line is an embellishment and not a memory, but the rest of the song is pure memories of my childhood days.

I was off and running now, and Jay never even had a chance to put down a single line for this bad boy because I took it back with a vengeance. Within a matter of thirty minutes I had the first verse completed. "Taking a walk through the back field path to the Peppermint Twist" relives the many journeys I would take with my pal Nate, my brother, and sometimes a few other people along a path that cut through the field behind our house. We would walk through this field almost daily in the summer catching frogs, butterflies, caterpillars, or just walking to the Peppermint Twist (then called the Delano Drive In) to get free ice cream from the owners (they loved us back then!). "Making wishes on a wishing well" refers to the toy well that was behind the Peppermint Twist. I remember back in the day when a Perkins would have a well filled with cheap toys that kids could take on their way out after a meal. Well, the Peppermint Twist had one of these as well outside. I can't remember if it had the same cheap toys or not, but I want to say it was used to store all of the toys they had for kids to play with in the back while parents ate delicious burgers and fries. Either way, we were always poking and prodding into that well. "Playin' ball until the sun goes down" refers to events that happen in every neighborhood (or at least they did back in my day) where a group of kids get together to play basketball at the home of the one neighbor that had a hoop on their garage, or football in the backyard of a friends place in the fall, or catch during the summer. Originally I wrote this line as "Playin' tag until the sun went down", but decided to change it because, let's be honest, we would keep playing after the sun went down anyway. The final line "We were so innocent" sums everything up. Back then we didn't worry about playing in the neighborhood unsupervised because we didn't need too. It was all about having fun with great friends.

With one verse down, my mind started thinking about all sorts of memories from my days on 1st street and I immediately contacted a long time friend and neighbor asking permission to use her nickname in my song. It's funny because I am the only one who still calls her by her nickname, but she will always be Punky to me. After getting her permission I started the second verse with "Me and Angie driving Punky wild in a closet in her room. We would laugh until we'd both fall down, over what we never knew". This line refers to a little fun that my neighbor Angie and I had at her sister Punky's expense. Angie is what you would call my first puppy love. Back when you are only eight or nine you have no clue what those feelings are, but it was definitely a crush in its earliest stages. One of the things we would do is go into Angie's closet and sit in there. Punky would be outside the closet getting livid wanting to know what was going on in there. Honestly, nothing was really going on in there, but Angie and I got a kick out of how riled up Punky would get. Thinking back today, I often wonder why she didn't just open the door and look for herself.

The next line refers to the giant (at least to use kids) drop-off like hill that existed behind our neighbors houses across the street. "And when the snow'd come falling down, we would race across the street" is exactly how it happened. With slides in hand, the neighborhood gang would race across the street and spend hours just sliding down a pretty dangerous hill. We would jump off cliffs, run into trees, and just have a blast. It's amazing that nobody ever got majorly injured during these little sledding trips, but man those were fun. I close out the second verse with "And in the summer we would bike through town" because that is what we did. Whether it was to the high school or the ball parks where the fourth of July carnival is held to shoot hoops, to the video store to rent a movie, or to Motzko's General Store to buy a stick of gum for one penny (you read that right) we biked everywhere. Biking to town is something I would continue to do after moving four miles outside of it to the farm.

So there I was with two verses in hand and no chorus. I had already written the bridge melody on my guitar, so I knew where I wanted to go musically. As I sat and thought about what do do lyrically for the chorus and came up with a melody and just began using it in place of words. Turns out that I liked how that sounded more than I liked trying to think of words, so that is how the chorus of "oooooo" came to be. As I went to do a rough demo record I only had the bridge to tackle. I decided to record the vocals I currently had written onto the demo before coming up with the bridge and closing vocals. As often happens, I laid down the vocals for verse one and two and just ad-libbed the bridge and outro. What I came up with was a soft whisper of four simple words that would overlay the music and two lines for the outro. "This is my 1st street serenade. Thanking you for all the love you gave" seemed a nice and appropriate way to end the song because this was my tribute to all of my friends from that short stretch of road that produced so many great memories for me.

I know had a song written and the next thing I needed to do was record a better version of the song. I am going to be honest when I say that the intro and outro parts kill me. It isn't that they are particularly hard (because they are easy), but I have a hard time not missing a note when I do the pick runs. I don't know how many times I would get to the end and then miss a note or three and have to start all over. It was a tedious process to say the least, but I got it down (not once but twice as I overdubbed a second guitar for each part) and was able to put together a decent final product. So there you have the story behind 1st Street Serenade. I hope you will enjoy the song as much as I hope you enjoyed the blog.

1st Street Serenade
Words & Music: Brian Bartholow
Vocals/Guitars: Brian Bartholow

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