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"crosses" And The Publisher...


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“Crosses by the Roadside” is a good song, they say. “Best you ever wrote,” they say. (Didn’t even have to pay them to say that.) Best I’ll ever write? Probably not. The key is to keep writing. That way you know the best is always ahead.

It is rather a compelling melody, difficult to get out of my head—and the only way to get it out is to go do something else. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything finishable right now (the couple of partial songs that are hanging fire still don’t have any worthwhile additions). I can revert to recording the few songs of other folks that I have music for, and maybe that will help. One by Beth Williams, one by Stan Good, one by somebody else that I got talked into helping finish (I hate it when that happens—but the song would be a real tear-jerker if done right), and the Swedish country-music song, “Tugga Pa,” that’s been hanging fire for a long time while I try to perfect my Swedish pronunciations. I do have a few things to keep me busy. Immerse myself in them, and I might be able to drive the “Crosses” melody out of my head.

I did hear back from one of the music publishers. He sorta liked “Crosses by the Roadside,” but wants it re-written—different hook, and he wants it to be shorter (it’s presently 4:58, with a lead break). He thinks it’s too sad, too. I think my answer’s going to be “no.” The lyrics stay the way they are. I know it’s a sad song; I get embarrassed about writing anything sad, because I would really rather make people happy—but if I’m going to do it, I am going to pull out all the stops and do the best job I can. Moderating that is like blunting a sharp tool. In the same vein, the hook is what it is; it’s the one thing that didn’t change one bit in all the massaging and tweaking the song went through. I have a feeling it’s stuck in place. And if the hook were different, wouldn’t it be a whole different song?

I got rather better advice from the writers at Just Plain Folks. They didn’t have any “nits” about the words. One suggestion I got for shortening it was to simply lop off the last chorus, ending the song after the last verse, and that would work. That hook is repeated plenty of times, in verses as well as chorus. I can cut more time if I need to by simply eliminating the lead break (and I’d do that anyway if I were playing it solo). Those considerations are important; if I record this in Nashville, at the Pineyfest Demo Derby, Mike Dunbar and his session guys are going to insist the song be a maximum of 4-1/2 minutes long. But I don’t need to change the words to do that.

I did get a request from a performing songwriter I know, asking if he could perform and record it, and I told him “sure.” He does good work, and he’s covered a couple other of my songs before. (And he thinks it’ll interest a crowd just the way it’s written, without changes. I trust his opinion more than the publisher guy’s.)

Does beg the question whether I’d make the changes (or let the publisher do it) if the dude were offering me a wad of money to do so. (Publishers don’t normally do that, by the way.) My level of interest in doing that would be governed by my need for money, which is pretty severe right now; I might well take the money and run, and console myself with the knowledge that I’d be writing more songs. As it is, though, he’s not. A publisher is like a real estate agent—he only thinks he can market your property, he’s not guaranteeing it. In this instance, it’s a little like a car dealer saying he could sell your 1-ton truck easier if it had a 4-cylinder motor in it. He might be right, and he might not. I don’t feel like replacing the engine right now, and if that means he’s not going to feel like trying to sell it, that’s probably okay.

I do want to make sure, however, that I leave the door open to be able to send him more stuff in the future; it is really important to have a publisher you can do that with. Accordingly, I don’t want to convey the impression I’m rejecting his “change this” ideas out of hand. I might well want to change things in a different song, in the future. Besides, Nashville thrives on this “flexibility” mantra—you don’t want to be marked as someone who doesn’t play well with others, or you won’t get any business.

I did play “Crosses” with the Friday Night Group (yes, we get together even on the Friday after Thanksgiving), and it went over pretty good with them and the small audience. They liked the humorous songs better, though. They always do.

Joe

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