Writing Songs

A Gift for Father’s Day

When I was a sophomore or so at KU, Father’s Day was rolling around and I realized I hadn’t gotten Dad a gift. I thought back on all of the things I’d gotten for him in the past, and decided I’d write a song about it. (“And I tried…Shirts and socks and underwear, cologne and clip on ties, billfolds and pajamas, dress shirts and Levi’s, boxer shorts and bathing suits I tried along the way, but I am at a loss again for a gift this Father’s Day.”)

I sang it for Dad on Father’s Day at Bob and Marilyn’s house in Topeka and Dad really enjoyed it. (In a real compliment to a song, I heard Bob signing it to himself later that day…)

Then, I basically forgot about the song for about 30 years.  For whatever reason, it came to mind when I was 58 and living in Kansas City.  I was sitting on the ottoman, playing the guitar and it came back to me. I sang it to the grand kids later that day, and it was an instant hit.

“Shirts and Socks and Underwear” has become a staple whenever we’re all together and the guitar is out.  The little ones love dancing to it and yelling “underwear?!” during the chorus. James has learned all the words.

I think Dad is smiling as he watches all this…

“Too Far Away”

Jayme and I dated quite a bit the first summer of my work in Oklahoma City.  Peat Marwick would let you bank overtime as extra vacation if you used it in the summer, so I had a total of five weeks vacation that summer.  Myron Klaassen’s dad had some rentals that needed to be fixed up, so I would work on those or my dad’s rentals with Jim Ledgerwood during the day, and hang out with Jayme, the guys, or both in the evenings.

As the fall came, I headed back to Oklahoma City and Jayme, back to K-State.  It was difficult dating from six hours away. We used the Greg Mertes idea of calling at 11 p.m. when the rates dropped.  We would meet back at Potwin/Towanda on weekends when we could. As busy season hit in January, I had to work the weekends and late at night, so the opportunities to visit or chat went down.

I wrote “Too Far Away” one evening, lamenting the distance.  (“Let’s make a run for it, if they find us we will say, we were too far away…”)

“It’s All Been Done Before”

I was in college at KU, and had recently seen The Deer Hunter, a movie about the Vietnam War.  I don’t remember what was going on geopolitically at the time, but I remember thinking that if a few things happened, I could end up, like my brothers, wondering if I would be going to war.  I thought that, while I wouldn’t be too excited about it, there’s no reason for a lot of sympathy or drama—it’s all been done before. (“And I know it ain’t the first time, that a man has gone to fight, Lord knows this ain’t the first war.  And I will kill my fellow man for a cause I think is right, like it’s all been done before.”)

“An Answer for Today”

Within a few months after I’d learned to play, I realized that most of the good songs are written in the same four or five chords.  This gave me the courage to take a shot at it. “An Answer for Today” was a sixteen-year-old’s shot at saving the world, one song at a time.  It’s about a young father who hears his children sleeping in the next room, but realizes the world is messed up and he needs to do something about it.  (“So he gets the urge to write a song, of peace and love and life, and leaves it with a farewell note for his children and his wife. He says he’ll try to be back soon…”)

I played it for my guitar teacher, Terry Unrein, who was student teaching at Remington that year.  He said it had a Christian message, and that the central character basically took the same approach that Jesus did, going to where the people were.  (“Playing in the nightclubs and the bars…”)





Leave a Comment