“My Thanksgiving” – Don Henley

Don Henley is one of those rare artists who has achieved huge success as part of a band – The Eagles, and as a solo artist.  He is truly blessed with exceptional talent.  While the music is always good, I’ve found it to be more of a backdrop of what he wants to communicate.  Very few artists write lyrics that are this thoughtful and deep.  It also usually easy to hear and understand what he is saying which is an underappreciated talent especially from someone who is obviously so well read and intelligent.

Don has always come across to me as a serious and intense man who uses his art as a platform to provide social commentary and navigate the complexities of life.  Sometimes he borders on the cynical, yet he is also capable of providing hope and inspiration through his music.   When I first heard this particular song, “My Thanksgiving,” I was impressed by how it was structured. It appears to start out as a conversation with a long lost close friend (possibly as an attempt at reconciliation) and ends as an inner dialogue with himself about certain life lessons and his many blessings.  There is the overall sense of a man finally coming to grips with his place in life and the wisdom and perspective gained through aging and experience.  I felt the lyrics were worth sharing:

A lot of things have happened
Since the last time we spoke
Some of them are funny
Some of ’em ain’t no joke
And I trust you will forgive me
If I lay it on the line
I always thought you were a friend of mine

Sometimes I think about you
I wonder how you’re doing now
And what you’re going through

The last time I saw you
We were playing with fire
We were loaded with passion
And a burning desire
For every breath, for every day of living
And this is my Thanksgiving

Now the trouble with you and me, my friend
Is the trouble with this nation
Too many blessings, too little appreciation
And I know that kind of notion—well, it just ain’t cool
So send me back to Sunday school
Because I’m tired of waiting for reason to arrive
It’s too long we’ve been living
These unexamined lives

I’ve got great expectations
I’ve got family and friends
I’ve got satisfying work
I’ve got a back that bends
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Have you noticed that an angry man
Can only get so far
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be
With the way things are

Here in this fragmented world, I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege
Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge

And I don’t mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I’m welcoming the fall
For every moment of joy
Every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

For everyone who helped me start
And for everything that broke my heart
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

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“Never Give Up On A Dream” – Rod Stewart

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big Rod Stewart fan.  I can still remember my sisters singing and dancing to Maggie May many years ago when it first came out.  The fact that his career has lasted so long is a testament to his talent.  I’ve seen Rod live more times than any other artist and he never disappoints.   Fans who have come to his career fairly recently probably only know him as a singer of other people’s songs, but there was a long period of his career when he was a prolific songwriter.  He is an impressive wordsmith.  While Rod always loved the ballads, he could also rock out with the best of them.  It’s always been abundantly clear that he loves to have a good time and very much enjoys and appreciates what he does for a living.

I’ve always preferred singers with unique voices and Rod definitely has that.  What he doesn’t have in vocal range or power he more than makes up for in his ability to bring real sometimes raspy emotion to the songs.   Moreover, his ability to interpret the work of other artists in quite remarkable.   You can tell he is an avid student of other vocalists especially those who come from a gospel and rhythm & blues background.  The influence of likes of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke is always evident beneath the surface of his own musical efforts.

Rod’s work has had many phases and I’ve always enjoyed listening to where his muse is taking him next.  This particular song, “Never Give Up On A Dream” isn’t well known, but is one of my favorites.  It was written in 1980 and celebrates the gallant efforts of Terry Fox – a young man with cancer who attempted to run across Canada on one good leg as he struggled with his disease.  Sadly, he passed away shortly thereafter.  As always is the case you can hear when Rod is truly inspired (as many of us rightfully were at the time).  He is truly in his element.   Like all good songs, the lyrics transcend the original motivation and resonate on a higher level.

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“These Days” – Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne has written some amazing songs over his long and storied career.   His fame may have peaked in the 1970s but his musical and songwriting talents just seems to get better with age.  I highly encourage you to check out his newer albums.  I’m always pleased to hear one of his songs get played on the radio, but even better still are the tunes from past albums that don’t get much play anymore.  It’s sometimes sad what gets forgotten and lost in the rock and roll archives.

He always came across as a man wise beyond his years when he was younger.   It’s hard to believe that an artist in the early stages of his life could have had the perspective to write some of the songs that he did back then.  The lyrics are just so thoughtful and the music well structured.  There seems to be little attempt to impress but maximum ability to connect.  His low key style obviously belies considerable depth.  I’ve heard he wrote the song These Days when he was 16 which is pretty hard to fathom.  Have a listen and watch him play an acoustic version of it much later on in his life.  It resonates even more coming from someone who is now in his early 60s.

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“I Take My Chances” – Mary Chapin Carpenter

From the first time I heard Mary Chapin Carpenter I was hooked. What a great songwriter and singer!  She deals with the whole range of human emotions and trials and tribulations of relationships.  It also feels like we have a front row seat to her life watching her pass through the various milestones of adulthood.  Even when the topic is sad, I somehow leave her songs feeling consoled and somewhat uplifted.  She also has the uncanny ability to transport you to place and time that ends up making her experiences feel like your own.  I imagine she must be a very empathetic person.

I felt this song. “I Take My Chances,” would be a good way to end the week.  Its message is clear.  There are very rarely any shortcuts to success or happiness.  Life is about taking chances and not being afraid to pursue your dreams.  Sooner or later you need to bet on yourself and not just rely of the good intentions of others.  You may not always succeed but you’re more likely to enjoy the ride.  “Don’t cling to remorse and regret.”  All of us need regular healthy doses of self-esteem and self -confidence.  Make sure you are surrounded by people who create this type of an environment for you.

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“Maybe There’s A World” – Yusuf Islam

Yusuf Islam formerly Cat Stevens has written some powerful songs through the years.  There has been quite a bit of unfair criticism and misinterpretation of his religious beliefs.  Anyone who has listened to his music knows that he is a thoughtful and peace loving man.  In addition, at the peak of his fame in the mid 1970s, he left popular music and dedicated himself to building schools for underprivileged youth.  It was only within the last decade that he recommenced his music career.  His songwriting talent was missed and it’s nice to have him back.

This particular song, “Maybe There’s A World,” is off the excellent album Another Cup. It is a beautiful song and the lyrics speak for themselves.  The video intro is in German but it is quite brief.  Like all great songs they connect personally but also resonate at a higher level.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with his later work I highly encourage you to check it out.

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“Song Of The Patriot” – Johnny Cash

I thought this was a fitting song for the week given everything going on in Washington – we need more patriots there and less egomaniacs.  Adults without shame almost always end up acting like children…

I’ve always been a Johnny Cash fan.  There is something about his songs and lyrics that is purely American.   He may not have been blessed with the best voice in music, but he sure made the most of his talents.  Many of his songs are still classics and have been covered extensively by other artists.

John was an independent, courageous and unique individual.  He would often broach topics others would avoid and sometimes take controversial positions on social issues (especially with his traditional fan base).  It is common knowledge that he struggled with his own personal demons; however his long career is a testament to his resilience.  In addition, his very public love of his family coupled with his wide circle of friends and admirers is a testament to the decency and humanity of the man despite his flaws.

“Song Of The Patriot” was written in 1980 at a time when there was a great malaise in America and a feeling by many that we were on the decline.  My personal opinion is that Johnny Cash saw this going on and decided to write this song with Marty Robbins to “buck us up” and remind us of our history and who we are as a people.   You can’t help but feel patriotic when you listen to it.  Mission accomplished!

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“Limelight” – Rush

I’ve been a fan of the music of Rush for over 30 years now.  It still boggles my mind how 3 people can make such amazing music.  I’ve seen groups with more than twice the number of players not equal their sound.  When you see them live there are no theatrics or distractions – they just play.   Their musicianship is quite extraordinary with each of them probably being one of the top players of their instrument in rock music over the past 4 decades.  However, it seems like they rarely seek recognition or adulation – they just go about their business and do what they love.  They are content to write great songs with real thought and meaning behind them.  My guess is that they tour for their own enjoyment and to celebrate the experience with their fans.  It hasn’t been a question of money for a very long time.

While they are all underrated for their abilities, I believe Neil Peart is probably one of the best lyricists in the history of modern music.  It’s not often that drummers take the lead in this role but he has excelled at it.  At times he comes across as a storyteller weaving yarns in concept albums that capture your imagination and attention.  In other instances, he comments on current events and social issues with very astute observations tapping into what many of us are experiencing and feeling.  He also doesn’t write to the lowest common denominator, but instead challenges his audience to think and be reasonably well read.

The song “Limelight” is one of my favorites.  Long before modern societies current fascination with fame for the sake of fame itself (a troubling sociological development), the band was reflecting back their own experience and the potential downsides of becoming too famous.  I’m sure many of their contemporaries can relate to the sentiment and got lost in the fog of success.

Living on a lighted stage Approaches the unreal For those who think and feel In touch with some reality Beyond the gilded cage.

Cast in this unlikely role, Ill-equipped to act, With insufficient tact, One must put up barriers To keep oneself intact.

Living in the Limelight, The universal dream For those who wish to seem. Those who wish to be Must put aside the alienation, Get on with the fascination, The real relation, The underlying theme.

Living in a fisheye lens, Caught in the camera eye. I have no heart to lie, I can’t pretend a stranger Is a long-awaited friend.

All the world’s indeed a stage, And we are merely players, Performers and portrayers, Each another’s audience Outside the gilded cage.

You can always tell when an artist loses sight of the art and becomes enamored with the spectacle of being famous.  Rush more than any other band that I follow comes across as three guys who enjoy each other’s company and like to make music together. I doubt it would matter whether the venue was their basement or Madison Square Garden.  Those of us who are fans are lucky they continue to do it.

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