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Notes for Feed the Illusion:


1) Hotel Hemingway (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars and lead vocals: David Stockdale

harmonica: Max Lugli

background vocals: Andrea Zermani

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

There is a hotel in Parma (Italy) whose name has always intrigued me: the Hotel Stendhal.  I thought, “How great to name a hotel after a famous author!” and considered writing a song about it. 

 

I purchased two books by him—La Chartreuse de Parme and Le Rouge et le Noir—but didn’t get much beyond the first few pages of either.  I study French, but these were historical novels of a certain weight.  What’s more, the name Stendhal didn’t allow many possibilities for rhyming. 

 

So I thought, “Why not write a song about the Hotel Hemingway?”  I’m not much of an expert on Hemingway but I have read him and in the area of Italy where I live, they say Hemingway noted that the Trebbia Valley was “one of the most beautiful in the world.”

 

The song  is centred around three characters: the sleazy, half-blind night watchman who is nice to hookers and policemen and keeps his money in a coffee can; a Dr. Jekyll/Ms. Hyde character who uses the hotel for sexual encounters at night; and a young man who migrates to California in search of fortune, winding up drunk in L.A. with no money and dreaming about the Hotel Hemingway where he lost his virginity (to the Ms. Hyde character, of course; no loose ends here!). 

 

My father, who taught me everything I know about narrative structure (co-author of The Architecture of Drama), thought my last CD, Grace Canyon, was a bit preachy, so I decided to start this one off with some character portraits. 

 

The finale, “No bedbugs there, just good, human care,” is so no one sues me for defamation (you never know, there may be a Hotel Hemingway in Havana).  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental!

 

This song features Max Lugli on harmonica.  He looks more Irish than Italian and does a lot to promote the Blues in Italy (together with Max Prandi).

 

2) This Old Train (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars and lead vocals: David Stockdale

tenor sax: Gianni “Big John” Azzali

electric guitar solo: Mario Chiesa

female vocals: Stefania Martin

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

We now take you to an old-fashioned Italian dance hall where the women are dressed to kill and the men prowl.  There’s a couple, the only two people in the place who aren’t dreaming of being in someone else’s arms.  They dance, sit, drink, argue, then dance again, all the time smiling.  No one can figure out what keeps them together. 

 

I wrote this song after my uncle Jim died in 2007.  It’s not about him; he just kind of suggested it.  Jimmy was obsessive and seductively sweet.  He once told me if I ever wanted to get married, to call him collect from wherever I was and he would talk me out of it.  I didn’t do that and ended up divorcing.  He knew his business. 

 

Featuring Mario Chiesa on electric guitar.  Stefania Martin’s closing comment, “Ma va a quel paese!” can be translated into English as, “Oh, go to hell!”

 

3) Ballad of Erick (words and melody by Joseph Stockdale III; arranged by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars and lead vocals: David Stockdale

mandolin: Paolo Codognola

electric guitar solo: Mario Chiesa

female vocals: Stefania Martin

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

Now imagine yourself in a woods so thick and wild that if you went in, you would have to mark your trail.  The Feds are looking for a bandit, Erick, who is using these woods as his hide-out.  A helicopter circles above.  Soldiers consult maps before combing the area. 

 

Erick takes refuge in a cabin inhabited by a young couple and their baby.  The husband and wife, convinced of Erick’s innocence, want to help him, but the army is closing in fast.  They decide the only solution is for the woman to have Erick’s baby, so his blood line can carry on in the event he is killed while escaping over the mountain ridge.

 

My brother Joe wrote this song. 

 

Cut to Atlanta, my brother-in-law’s funeral, the summer of 2007.  Between a visit to the funeral home and a special church service, Joe said to me, casually, “I’m angry you blew off that song I wrote.  I thought you were going to put it on your CD!” 

 

We had had a reunion at my sister’s house in 2001 and he had sung the song to me, words and melody, but I hadn’t used it.  So I told him to send me the words and I would put them to music and make sure it was on my next CD. 

 

 “It’s already got a melody,” he reminded me.

 

Actually, the only thing I remembered was that I hadn’t told anyone in the family about it.  No one would have believed me because, though Joe is a great writer, no one thought he could even carry a tune.

 

So now he was going to sing it to me again and this time I had better listen!   And you know something?  I loved it!  The only musical instrument I could find at my sister’s house was a little toy keyboard to transpose the melody.  Once I got it right, I played it back for Joe’s approval and practiced every day so I wouldn’t forget. 

 

This song is about our need for heroes, in the great American tradition.  Grandpa Joe used to tell us we had a long, lost uncle who was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok.  Literature and films are full of characters like Erick, from Robin Hood to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.  History is full of them, too.

 

There is a lot of faith and empathy in these lyrics, without judgment.  Stefania and I were both very moved while singing them.  I believe this song’s uniqueness and compelling quality come from its universality.   

 

Paolo Codognola plays mandolin.  He’s a guitarist and I felt guilty about that, but once I heard the final result on this and the other songs, guilt was the farthest thing from my mind.  He writes and performs music for the theatre and is also responsible for the sound effects on this CD.                   

 

4) Easy Way Out (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars and vocals: David Stockdale

electric guitar: Mario Chiesa

harmonica: Max Lugli

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

Cut to the first preachy song.  Those numbers at the beginning are Fibonacci numbers, for levity.

 

My big brother told me when I was an adolescent, “You can’t fight acne with creams; you have to change your diet!”  In other words, you can’t be content with eliminating the symptoms; you have to address the cause.

 

I love Italy but the real solution to problems is very seldom contemplated here.  It’s all about how to put your fingers in the dyke without having to build a new damn.  And since the damn is over 2,000 years old, that’s rather problematic.

 

Some of the messages behind “you can find a solution, or take the easy way out” are:  You can’t cure depression with medicine, unless the depression is of a physiological origin.  You can’t cure drunk driving by doing breathalyzer tests on Saturday nights and taking away licenses.  You can’t cure the desire for sex by outlawing prostitution and telling teenagers to wait until they’re married.  You can’t change heroin addiction by giving addicts methadone and then granting government subsidies on the basis of how much methadone you give out.  You can’t save a child from the world by keeping him home until he is 35 (the average age a male leaves home in Italy is 34). 

 

5) Working On Love (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars, congas & lead vocals: David Stockdale

electric guitar: Mario Chiesa

tenor sax: Gianni “Big John” Azzali

female vocals: Stefania Martin

bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

This is a love song, dedicated to my partner, Sabrina.  The idea was to get her dancing, quite different from Real Ground, the song I dedicated to Sabrina on Grace Canyon.  My mom has always maintained I write better slow songs than fast; I was hoping this might make her re-consider.  

 

It seems like a lot of people spend so much time looking for love instead of  making it.  I’m not saying you should stay in a relationship if there is something fundamentally wrong; working on love just means making a little effort every day to improve it.

 

For our 5th anniversary, Sabrina told me to get into the car and wouldn’t tell me where we were going; it was a surprise.  We ended up spending two days listening to Blues at the Novellara Blues Festival (it’s in June just north of Reggio Emilia—don’t miss it if you’re in Northern Italy!).  Believe me, it’s not easy living with a musician, even a part-time one.  We could have gone up into the mountains somewhere for a little peace and quiet.  Instead, she took me to the Novellara Blues Fest.  That was working on love!

 

This song features Stefania Martin, who made an incredible creative contribution and Stefano Bertolotti on drums (my brother John is a drummer so I am particularly sensitive to that).  Gianni Azzali plays sax and though I don’t do jazz, I love featuring him because of his fine taste and all he has done for the Piacenza Jazz Club, Jazz Fest and Milestone, a great place to hear live music.

        

6) Damn Thing Behind (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars and vocals: David Stockdale

acoustic guitar & mandolin (Paolo Codognola)

fretless bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

Cut to a train.  A woman is sitting near the window.  She doesn’t want to arrive, just remain suspended between departure and destination.  She’s leaving the past behind: a history of drug abuse, careless love and a broken family.  When she reaches the border, she steps out, content to be someplace she is totally unfamiliar with. 

 

The border guards pass by with their drug dogs and her mood changes.  She feels fear again.  The dogs stop.  The guards look at her.  She freezes and the camera moves up over the station, revealing her new frontier to the music of Ennio Morricone, just like in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”.

 

My parents and godmother Page (who financed my first trip abroad when I was 14 and this CD) have always encouraged travelling.  It can help to leave the damn things behind, but they catch up if you are not careful.  We can live anywhere once we are at peace with ourselves, but I still try to follow the Dalai Lama’s advice of visiting someplace new at least once a year.

     

I started writing this song with Kris Kristofferson in mind.  It features some great fretless bass lines by Alex Carreri and Paolo Codognola on acoustic guitar.

 

7) Paradox (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars, congas & lead vocals: David Stockdale

electric guitar solo: Mario Chiesa

harmonica: Max Lugli

background vocals: Andrea Zermani & Stefania Martin

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

I re-cycled this from my first CD, Light Touch.  It’s a tribute to Luis Bunuel who once declared, “I am fanatically anti-fanatical!”  I hoped this version would do the song more justice. 

 

On the original electric version, I had wanted Mario Chiesa to do the solo but got tired of waiting for him and did it myself.  On this acoustic version, Mario’s guitar is the only thing that’s electric.  It was fun to track my voice alla J. J. Cale and play congas.

 

My lyrics are of particular importance to me and the words to Paradox translate into English several popular Italian sayings, including:

 

 “L’amore non è bello se non è litigarello” (love is not beautiful unless it involves arguing, which I translated as “no good love without a fight”),

Piove sempre sul bagnato” (it always rains where it’s wet, to say, for example, it’s usually the rich who win at the lottery, which I translated as “always wet where it rains”) and a quote from Il Gattopardo,

Tutto deve cambiare perché tutto rimanga lo stesso” (everything must change so that everything remains the same, which I translated as “to stay the same, everything must change”). 

 

It’s surprising how easily the Blues has adapted itself to other countries (check out my links) so I decided to put a little Italian culture into this Blues song.

 

That closing line is Max Lugli’s.  Translation?  Let’s just say Max gets so totally wrapped up in what he is doing that all parts of his body are affected! 

          

8) Riding Into a Storm (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars, congas & lead vocals: David Stockdale

mandolin: Paolo Codognola

electric guitar solo: Mario Chiesa

background vocals: Andrea Zermani

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

Cut to a lone highway in a big valley.  One car and a driver.  Behind the car is a horizon line; in front, the makings of a very serious storm.  There is no stopping or turning back, so the driver steps on the gas and launches the car forward into the wind, rain and lightning.  It’s up to you to figure out if this is the beginning or the end of the film.

 

9) Head Bowed Down (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitars and vocals: David Stockdale

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

We are now floating on an ocean and it is strangely calm, quiet.  Something is wrong; this stillness is unnatural.

 

Cut to a group of nine year old children who are bowing their heads and standing silently in class.  Their teacher, me, has informed them of Steve Irwin’s passing and we have decided to dedicate a minute of silence to him. 

 

There are two pictures of Steve in the classroom: one with his two children and an anaconda wrapped around them and another of him hugging a young crocodile. 

 

It’s hard for me to believe there will be no more of his documentaries.  Not that he hasn’t made enough of them; it’s just that now I must face the fact all things end.   It’s less of a problem for my students; they’re just going through the motions.  They love his documentaries, of course, watching him handle and hug all those incredible animals we are taught to be afraid of, but I’m the one who wants to cry because a minute of silence for Steve won’t change their future.

 

Steve was Australian and I spent ten days in and around Melbourne in 2000.  Genevieve, my host, took me to a little park in the middle of the city one night.  She stood at the bottom of a tree and took something out of her purse.  To my surprise, opossums climbed down the trunk, reluctant at first, then braver and ate bread out of her hand.  To quote the great Van Morrison, “No guru, no teacher, no method; just you and I and nature.”

 

In reality, this song could have been about a lot of people: Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy, for example.

 

“Is it luckier where you are now?” is a reference to a poem by Walt Whitman.  Walt writes in Song Of Myself :

 

“They are alive and well somewhere

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,

And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not

   wait at the end to arrest it,

And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

 

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

 

10) New POV (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitar and lead vocals: David Stockdale

acoustic guitar: Andrea Biasini

electric guitar: Mario Chiesa

clarinet & background vocals: Andrea Zermani

string bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

female voice: Stefania Martin

 

One of the first films I worked on was a documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans with Renaud Chavannes.  We were attending Indiana University and Renaud was a foreign student from Switzerland.

 

There was no one quite like Renaud.  He used to sleep in a sleeping bag with the window open in winter and drive like a madman through the streets of Bloomington, Indiana.

 

After university, he moved to L.A. and was an illegal alien, but since he always registered his changes of address with the post office, the U.S. government never bothered him (that was before 9/11...).  He got his certified pilot’s licence and then ran his private plane into a mountain during a sudden storm.

 

I will never forget our ride down to New Orleans, tailgating fast semis to save on gas.  Maybe he had to live fast because he was going to die young.

 

Thanks to this film, I came into contact, through the lab in Chicago that sold us 16 mm scrap footage, with Tom Palazzolo, a truly exceptional man and great documentary filmmaker.  He had a unique POV (film talk for “point of view”).

 

This song features Andrea Zermani on clarinet.  Stefania Martin and I threw in a little French at the end—“Selon moi, il a besoin de lunettes!”—which means, “If you ask me, that guy needs glasses!”   

 

11) On Dit (words and music by David Stockdale)

acoustic guitar and vocals: David Stockdale

electric guitar solo: Mario Chiesa

fretless bass: Alex Carreri

drums: Stefano Bertolotti

 

Cut to a French, anti-war song.  Please excuse me if you don’t speak French.  I don’t mean to be a snob.  It’s just that I love languages. 

 

I have been asked, “Why French and not Italian?”  In my opinion, French is a more musical language in that it has more rhythm.  Rap, for example, works well in French but not in Italian because Italian is full of vowels and flows instead of beating.  I prefer the beat for the kind of music I do.  (I’m not saying you can’t do Rap in Italian; it’s just that you have to change the Italian a little.)

 

Here is a non literal translation of On Dit in English:

 

They Say

(words by David Stockdale)

 

They say there’s always been war,

That it’s the human spirit and style;

They say it cannot change, what’s more

That men were born to die.

 

I wonder how we can cover up

Distance  ourselves, day by day,

From this stony cruelty

No time will wash away

 

It’s all a big mistake,

There’s no shelter from the rain

If the blows of one warrior

Generate others in endless chain.

 

Let’s stop the macabre dance,

Put an end to this fruitless pain.

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