Does anyone remember a class in high school where they announced a “guest speaker” and it made you excited about going?
Georgia and I were asked to go to McGavock High School here in Nashville and write a song with a class as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Words and Music program. We knew that there was a chance that there would be thirty teenagers looking at us with the same enthusiasm they have looking at a midterm exam…. but they also might really dig it! I am an ocular-ly challenged optimist.
Our job was not only to write a song with them, imparting the wisdom and joy of the craft along the way, but also to get out alive without being covered with spitballs. (I freely admit that most of my knowledge of High School behavior is gleaned from my years as a high school student, 1846-1850).
Now, some of the students were songwriters. That gave us a head start in them loving us. We always start with a little biography where we try to make ourselves sound cooler than we are. We mentioned our police records, how sexually active we are… what kind of drugs we like…. things like that. I could see by the glaze in their eyes that we had them hooked early.
We then throw the room open for ideas of what to write about. It’s amazing how any potential songs titles start with the words “Go f#@*k yourselves.” (Georgia and I HAVE to work that idea into a song for Blake Shelton one day.) Some titles were flat out yelled to see if they could break us. They can’t break ME by yelling out inappropriate ideas. I’ve written with Bob DiPiero!
A lovely young woman suggested “Limited Time Offer” as a title/song idea. We wrote it on the board. This encouraged more people to shout out ideas. Soon the board was full. Another student raised her hand and said, “I have an idea that builds on her “Limited Time Offer” idea… how about…” Sometimes all it takes to get it rolling is a title and a place to take it. Everyone got excited and we had a great song finished just in time for Sloppy Joes in the cafeteria.
Now the crazy really kicks in. The Words and Music people tell us we are going to sing the song onstage at the All For The Hall concert (from this point on referred to as AftH because my fingers hurt from typing ransom notes all last night) in front of 10,000 people. Just another Tuesday night for these kids. (Except for the 10,000 people thing.)
So Tuesday night comes, and Georgia and I show up at the Country Music Hall of Fame to rehearse with the kids.
They now know the song better than I do. Which, I guess, should not surprise you since I barely remember my shoe size without looking down. They also had an entire section of students playing cello, violin and violas along with it. It’s a beautiful arrangement and the song goes from something we dashed off in 45 minutes to a true work of art!
We have three hours to kill till show time, so Georgia and I linger backstage looking for celebrities. I shamelessly admit that I have been known to “accidentally” bump into a star just so I can say “Sorry” and then tell people I had a nice chat with him/her. The first time I met James Taylor was like that. I bumped into him on the 2nd floor of a studio. He asked me, “Is there a men’s room on this floor?” I said “Yes! Just go up those stairs.”
As we loitered in the concrete hallways, basically waiting for catering to open its doors and serve dinner, we ran into Tracy Lawrence, a great country star who has recorded a song written by Georgia. He was very nice… pretended to remember her song, and posed for a lovely photo.
We ran into Jason Isbell, a recent fave who now commands a great portion of my iPhone memory… also very nice and polite to his elders. Properly raised, obviously.
We ran into Peter Frampton. Peter and I went to several writing retreats in France together, and even co-wrote a song. It was terrific to see him again and more pix were snapped.
The kids and the grownups went on around 8:30. They did an amazing job and the crowd, as they say, went wild. The song had strings. Twenty youthful voices. Solos by Vince Gill and Keith Urban. Teleprompters for those of us who are memory challenged. Perfect.
I try to go through this world with the barest of minimums of charitable gestures. This one was really worth it. I think we might have planted seeds in some teens’ heads that someday might grow into a career or two in the songwriting biz. God help them.
I swear if one of these kids gets a Kenny Chesney cut and knocks me off one of his records in the year 2024… I will hit them with my walker.