It was a cold day in early January. The wooden floor was frigid to my bare feet. The joints in my hands and fingers moved slowly. I pulled a heavy wool flannel over me. Its course weave scratched at my bare arms.
The view from my window was of gray sky and ground wet from snowmelt. The light slowly dimmed into the early sunsets of winter in Pennsylvania.
I had transformed my room into a make-shift studio. I had a couple microphone stands set up. Their rusting metal bases and boom arms awkwardly enclosed the desk chair near the corner of the room where I was laying down tracks.
I quickly recorded imperfect guitar takes on my very first guitar, a nylon string Yamaha folk guitar, then switched to my Stratocaster for leads and overdubs. Where track count allowed, I overdubbed simple vocal harmonies or octave doubles.
For one track, I recorded a bass line as well as an electric guitar with two vocal tracks. It was a new song at the time. I called it "Deeper".
I didn't know at the time that "Deeper" would become a song I would perform with my next four bands. That I would rewrite the words, that I would stretch its arrangement to include strings, flutes, and double bass, only to bring it back to a rock quartet, then a trio, then synth-soaked prog-pop.
I had written the song on a borrowed guitar while studying abroad in London. A young Sikh man by the name of PJ who had just rebelliously cut his hair had lent me his guitar for the semester on the condition that I taught him how to play "Girl, you'll be a woman soon," a task I was happy to complete for the exchange.
At the time I was struggling with my identity, and with intimacy--how that is shared, changed, and broken in the final throes of a relationship. It's been a question that has come back to me through the years. I always felt close to those doubts and feelings. Sometimes that was through shame, and at other times through empathy. Either way, the song has always felt honest to me when I played it.
I'm on the relative eve of releasing a new version of the song (we've got a single release party at One 2 One Bar in ATX on 4/4/2019 if you are in the area). It's my first new release in several years. I am happy with this new vision - but I thought it would be fun to go back to where it all started. So I dug up that four-track master a few days ago and gave it a listen.
They say Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" album was recorded on a four-track machine in his bedroom. It's not a bad place to capture the immediateness of inspiration or the intimacy shared with a very few. It's not a perfect demo, but going back to it, it was full of energy and youth.
So much of life can be about hindsight. What you wish you would have known. What would you tell yourself as a young person? I've carried these thoughts that, if I had just made a few different decisions, I would've found myself in wholly different circumstances: platinum records, world tours... I certainly have friends who've done so. It's not so improbable; that given different choices it might have been possible. Over the years I've grown to realize that such thoughts only distract from the present and living fully in the moment. There is no time-travel.
Or so I thought.
Then the other night as I listened, I was back there, in that room, recording that song. I've held this idea if I could time travel - what I would tell myself that I wish I would've known. It's a script, I know it by heart.
The surprise was that that young man in that cold room had something to tell me. He said - this is what you knew then. This is what you've forgotten. He spoke of inspiration and a burning need to bring the creative force forward into the world. He assured me that the young person I heard in that recording was very much still here, that he has been waiting, and that he is ready. I think I finally hear him.
Here is the video of me reacting to the song: (warning there is some salty language in this version)
You might not have a demo of yourself to listen to, but I bet there is something worth listening to from your younger self. What do they have to say?
[Note: A version of this post originally appeared as a Rock n' Roll Love Letter. Want to get Rock n' Roll letters written from me to you? Let me know where to send 'em here: https://mailchi.mp/2a801c091163/gift)