When you hear the horns on I Want To Be Known, you'd never know the darkness it came from. Horns often herald something glorious, but I wasn't writing from a place of triumph or fanfare. I wrote this song from defeat.
The melody found me in the mountains just outside of Canmore, Alberta.
My wife and I escaped the city for our anniversary weekend. The air was crisp but warm enough for a winter walk. Snow fell like stars and–best of all–our Air BnB had a hot tub.
I needed this break.
I'd just learned that yet another job I'd been hoping for fell through. I was overqualified, which, to me, reads "you're a great fit somewhere, just not here."
I felt like a misfit. Out of place. Adrift.
These have been confusing times.
At the end of June I left a community art space I had launched with pure grit and passion. Years before the Bleeding Heart Art Space was even an idea, I'd been dreaming up ways for art and faith to dance. This was the closest I'd gotten, and now I was walking away. Maybe for good, but I didn't know. I still don't.
I left my church job the same day. I've been doing some form of church work since I was 17 or 18, in mostly volunteer and sometimes paid capacities. It's all I've really known for work. As 2018 began I was burning out. I was tired of trying to find out where my weird little set of gifts fit in. I was tired of trying to make a living off of compliments and well wishes.
I needed a job.
A job where I could work an honest day for a set wage. You know – the kind of job you probably have.
By the time we left for Canmore, I'd been applying for months. To make things more difficult, I was looking for part-time work, because the one pursuit I needed to hang on to was music. Making and sharing music makes me whole. And takes time.
Good part-time work is hard to find. Work that is rewarding and challenging. Work that puts you in daily contact with other people, moving towards a common goal. Good work.
I'd just lost another opportunity and I felt the panic rising. I was losing track not only of what I did, but who I was.
In all the haze, I was losing my grip on God, too.
Faith has been a part of my life for decades, and now even that feels brittle. For the first time, religion felt like something I might actually walk away from. I certainly had my reasons.
But first, I needed to go for a literal walk. To clear my head with that mountain air.
I bundled up, left our apartment and tread the empty back road loop in the starlight. The mountains were shadows. Beautiful but ominous. Unknowable. I tried to pray, but the empty echo was so loud. I felt tiny and alone.
I pictured God as a card in a dim-lit room. God, all-knowing but holding his cards close to his chest. Why all the mystery? My life is not a poker game, but God has a killer poker face.
Here the song begins.
"You're a stone-faced player with a perfect hand
I used to be a good prayer – used to know your plan"
Religion. Faith. Spirituality. Whatever you call it, I felt pained by it. Strained. Like it was causing me more trouble than it was worth. So why not just leave it all behind? We can make choices.
"I could walk away and leave it all alone
except that I want to know you and I want to be known"
Ah. There it is. That seed of faith, buried deep in the dirt somewhere inside me. That refusal to abandon hope. That hunger and that thirst for something beyond myself.
With everything else that has changed – everything I've let go of and all that's let me go – this desire remains.
I walk back to my Air BnB and I sit by the fire and I hold my guitar and I type lyrics into my phone. The song spills out from those shadow mountains. Those snow stars sing it to me. That cold fire that burns a million years past me in either direction.
As the song plays for me, over and again, hope rises. I am being released. I'm allowed to voice my disappointment. My failure. My anger. My hurt. It all gets swallowed in the shadows.
There are more lyrics than I can fit. Some lines will get cut, like this entire verse I had to leave behind;
"It used to come so easy knocking on your door
In fact the door was open but it ain’t no more
You see these world around me it don’t make no sense
We just bruise and break and heal so we can do it again"
Months later, deep in production, I add those horns, alongside the weeping pedal steel of Smokey Fennel. Joy and pain, right there. All one and the same.
Maybe those horns are heralding something. Maybe there is new life here after all.
I hope you like the track and if it speaks to you in some way, please let me know. Comment here or send me an email. "I want to know you and I want to be known" ;)