Saturday, August 10, 2019

He Sold His Soul for Rock & Roll

with James Hirsen on blues harp
Recorded in Muscle Shoals

Here are the lyrics:

He Sold His Soul for Rock & Roll
[The Faustian Bargain]

1. Faust went down... Didn't know how to play.
He lost his soul... on the blues highway.
And the phantom's seen down at the road.
Takin' back the bargain, freed the heavy load.

Yes, he sold his soul for rock and roll
But the mourning dove--- told him to pray--
for another day... hey, hey, hey, hey--

2. The angel came and his guitar bled...
then RVZ's ghost rose from the dead.
He'd signed in blood on the darkest night.
The answer came in a flash of light.

Oh, my God had a vision and a plan
to reclaim the soul of that dying man.
He was on a mission from up above
in a hail of rain and a shower of love.

3. Played a mean guitar under the devil's spell.
But The Man forgave... not givin' him hell.
There's another train... comin' down the track
to start another life and he won't look back.

Don't bargain with the devil!
Just play that sweet guitar...
It was given by God.
Don't give away your soul.
Just play that rock and roll.
You'll be satisfied.


Here is the story about what inspired this song...  Read on...
[Read the story of my Deep South Rock & Roll Blues Tour here]

A Musical Haunting: "He Sold His Soul for Rock & Roll"

In September 2018, I reluctantly moved back to a place where I'd lived through the horror of 1989's Hurricane Hugo - James Island, SC.  I couldn't understand why I was being led to move back to a place where I'd experienced some of the highest highs, yet the lowest lows of my life.  I found myself living literally across the street from what used to be New Life Center, where my mother had an office long ago that attracted people from all over the world.  In that office, I had written many songs and created many paintings in spite of the constant turmoil in my life.

I moved into what they call "the lighthouse" with three floors, and finally had a beautiful roomy art studio that I'd dreamed of for years.  It wasn't Soho Manhattan, but I could afford this place, yet nonetheless I felt lonely and sad.  Very soon after I moved in, I started having incredible paranormal experiences.  At first, I couldn't understand what my new ghost was trying to tell me.  All I knew was that I was fearless and I knew he was there to help me.  I was suddenly hit with a flurry of incredible creativity that reminded me of the year before the hurricane.  My eyes were wide open... I opened myself up to whatever might happen.  I was painting like never before - all very original, vivid creations... and then the music came.

Just the year before, my childhood  boyfriend, who happened to be an incredibly talented musician/guitarist, had died and after I moved to the new place, I became acutely aware that he was trying to communicate with me.  (We hadn't seen each other since we were very young, but in recent years had reconnected on social media and stayed in touch online until just before he died.)  When my ghost arrived, I quickly realized he was trying to reconnect me to my roots. 

In 2018, I happened to see the documentary about Lynyrd Skynyrd, "If I Leave Here Tomorrow" when I immediately made the connection.  I'd forgotten about all those great songs.  I'd forgotten Lynyrd Skynyrd.  But I knew these songs.  I knew every word... and the reason was because my boyfriend had played every one of those songs back in the '70s when we were kids.  I barely remembered Ronnie Van Zant.  But very soon after, I knew it was his astral spirit who had been coming to me and giving me very specific messages.  I thought, why in the world would someone who died in a plane crash over 40 years ago come to me, of all people?  Because my mother had been a famous trance medium?  Because I was open to the music of the spheres? 

I had to ask myself: is he real?  I wanted proof.  He told me to look through some old trunks and try to find a diary from 1976.  I had kept diaries for years but was almost certain I didn't have a diary from that year.  Nonetheless, I rummaged through old scrapbooks, and found a tiny news clipping stuck in a homemade diary - literally a bunch of papers never to be rediscovered.  I couldn't believe I'd saved this 2-inch piece of an old newspaper all those years - especially since I'd moved at least 50 times.  Sure enough, I'd been at his 1976 concert in Chicago, IL.

RVZ's message from the very beginning was to keep it simple (my music).  He said: "Don't try to be anything that you're not."  He never had a single effect on his vocals and I should do the same.  He was unpretentious - misunderstood by those "highfalutin society people and 'pencil pushers'" he wrote about in his songs.  I could relate.  The flood of his song lyrics started coming back to me - not the big hits... the obscure ones... or, maybe not obscure, but lesser known.  It was because of my guitarist childhood friend who played those songs over and over and who was such a great singer that I remembered every word, every melody.  It all came flooding back.

I listened to RVZ's music over and over, night after night, and studied him and his story and started remembering all the great music from the '70s before the plane crash that took his life.  I wondered why he was coming back now?  Should he have not reincarnated long ago?  Why me?

Then one night in June I went to bed and he kept waking me up with the lyrics to a brand new song.  They came in a frenzy; and a few nights later, I could hear the music in my head and wrote it down as fast as I could.  The next day, I called my producer, Kati, and she said, "Don't wait to do a demo in the studio... just play your guitar and sing into your phone..."  So, I rehearsed it over and over and did what she told me to do and suddenly, we found a brilliant synthesizer player who understood our vision.  He's probably 70 years old, yet still full of imagination and inspiration. (He obviously had RVZ and the blues highway in his soul.)  When we told him the story of the song, he created the wonderfully visual track that stimulates your imagination.  It was like a movie soundtrack... the protagonist walking to the Crossroads to sell his soul for Rock & Roll.

RVZ came back to do what he loved: write songs.  He wrote this song from the grave. I was an open channel.  I allowed him to come through - exactly the way my mother did as a trance medium.  But it was so much more complicated for me.  This is a song I had been writing since I was 14 years old - the first time I saw Paul Williams's Brian DePalma-directed "Phantom of the Paradise" - a film with the same theme: Faust.  On the marquee way back then, I remember seeing: 'HE SOLD HIS SOUL FOR ROCK & ROLL.'  I was immediately mesmerized; and my life was changed forever.  I never forgot that message; I was so passionate about the idea.  Even though I had no money, no band and was practically homeless, when I was 21, I put together an entire show and created an original rock opera based on this theme, which we performed in Chicago.

Years later, I wrote "My Faustian Bargain," a short story about my experiences.  And the theme kept popping up in my songwriting throughout the years.  Then I heard Daft Punk and made the connection.  Those two French boys understood the idea of "Anonymous Fame," and had robot costumes made (like the phantom in the movie) to hide their identities as they skyrocketed to fame in the 2000s.  They, too, had been inspired by "Phantom of the Paradise" and even recorded with the great Paul Williams.  Their story was my connection.  I not only loved their music, but the origin of what inspired them in the first place.  I created this painting about their love of "Phantom of the Paradise" and Paul Williams.

I kept telling the story - on the radio, to my producer, the musicians, to my manager... and I could hear RVZ talking to me every single day.  He always did that thing with his voice where he hit those high-pitched notes. I knew if Ronnie could sing "Was I Right or Wrong," he could sing anything. Then he challenged me vocally: if I could learn that song and sing it and then sing in Manhattan - a man's song - I could write my first hit.

He warned me that if I was going to retell this mythic legend told decade after decade by so many great guitarists since Robert Johnson, to not slip into the cliché trap.  Then when I was writing the music, I thought: do I have the talent to sing this?  And he said, "They told me I had limited vocal talent."  He gave me the confidence to sing it - keeping it simple, rock & roll, non-pretentious, never highfalutin!  And that's when he led me to Muscle Shoals to record the vocal track.  I could feel the ghosts all around and the session was very emotional for me.  I did what he asked me to do and it has changed my life forever! [Read the story of my Deep South Rock & Roll Blues Tour here]

NOTE: By virtue of their melancholy call, mourning doves have been fittingly named. But far from representing death, the symbolism of mourning doves gives us optimism with its spirituality. Beyond their sorrowful song is a message of life, hope, renewal and peace.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I too have limited vocal ability. I also have yet to write something I can stand behind.