Ever since my personal songwriting lesson with rock icon Melissa Etheridge in November, my conversations have changed. Now I refer to Melissa in almost everything I say:
“According to Melissa…”
“When I was with Melissa…”
“Melissa told me…”
“What I learned from Melissa…”
“Melissa puts it this way…”
My two hours with her were so impactful that I think about it every day.
I’ve listened to the audios (Melissa was kind enough to let me record my time with her) several times. I even transcribed the audios so I can get the information visually and not just audibly.
Apparently, life changed forever when I sat with Melissa in her home.
Since so many people liked my “Attracting Melissa Etheridge Part Two” post, I thought you might enjoy this third installment. If nothing else, it’ll give me a chance to say Melissa’s name a few more times.
When I sat with Melissa and her loving spouse in their kitchen, she wanted to know about my life in music.
“Music is sacred,” she said.
“Music is life. Music is nature. When you break reality down, and the dimensions down, it’s all music,” she said. “Tell me about you and music.”
So I told her about growing up hearing the crooners, from Frank Sinatra to Perry Como. But that was mostly because my father played their music. The breakout music for me was Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.
Melissa loves them all and added she is a huge Neil Diamond fan.
She held each one as if it were a blessed gift from above.
She studied the photos of my band and wanted to know about each musician.
She was impressed that my drummer has the same name as me.
I was really touched that she was so interested and present with my music and me.
And then she wanted to know about my current music.
“Let me see your journal with your song ideas,” Melissa said.
I handed it to her, which I’ve never shown to anyone.
“This is your safe place to write any ideas,” she said.
“You have to throw just anything in there,” she explained. “Believe me, I didn’t think my song ‘Somebody Bring Me Some Water’ was a good thing. And I almost didn’t put ‘Come to My Window’ on the album. I didn’t think anyone would understand it. We are the worst critics of our own ideas.”
I found that fascinating, shocking, revealing and encouraging.
If Melissa Etheridge can doubt her songs, then it’s okay if I do, too.
We just can’t let the doubt stop us.
“You need a safe book and a safe place and a good pen,” she said.
“I regard the connection to the Universe when you write as a sacred place,” she added. “And Divinity is only going to come when you are lined up with it.”
That’s when she told me to only write from inspiration.
“Get excited. Look forward to writing. I walk, read poetry, and I believe greatly in the power of cannabis connecting us to the Divinity,” she explained.
Well, she lost me there.
Cannabis isn’t legal in Texas.
I had given her a copy of my newest book, The Miracle.
I still kick myself for not taking a photo of her holding the book. I still see her in my mind, smiling bright, congratulating me on the new book.
Why didn’t I take a photo of that?
I told her I wanted to write a song about miracles.
“Miracles is your big overall subject,” she said. “What is it about miracles? You have to break that down to get to your core message.”
I showed her a few lyrics in my sacred book.
“Ohhhh, nice!” she said, clearly impressed. “Do you have any music for it?”
“You get to choose what you do next,” she explained.
“You can work on melody, chords, more lyrics,” she advised. “You get to choose.”
She urged writing from the first person, like I do in most of my blog posts and books.
“When you come from your personal space, the music is super powerful,” she explained. “So stay away from ‘you’ in your songs. Write from your own perspective.”
That was a big takeaway for me.
As a copywriter, I was trained to write about you, not me.
But as a songwriter, Melissa suggests I write from my view.
Writing from the first person is what I am now doing with the songs for my forthcoming new album.
“Our job as artists is to help people to ascension and a wakefulness,” she explained. “Thus we contribute to the societal reality that becomes better.”
She explained how she wrote the song ‘Pulse’ about the Florida nightclub shooting.
“What I’m trying to show, and the chorus is, you know, I am human, I am loved, and my heart beats in my blood, love will always win, underneath the skin, everybody’s got a pulse. So how simply can I say this big old thought that I’m trying to get out is yes, a man came in and shot 49 people, killed them all with a gun, and do you know why? Because he is in so much pain.
“And if I don’t look at him and feel as much sorrow and sadness for him as I do for everyone who died and everyone who went through that experience, then I’m losing out, then I can’t get past this. If I believe in the duality, if I believe in the good and evil and that there’s evil, well, then I give all my power to that. So how can I gather energy to forgiveness and even understanding beyond the forgiveness? Because forgiveness still implies good and bad.”
“Forgiveness still implies good and bad.”
I didn’t realize how deeply Melissa dug into her own thinking and her own soul to create such masterpieces as ‘Pulse.’ It made me reflect on my own songs and songwriting.
I decided right there I had to be even more focused on my messages.
“As a songwriter, you’re always coming up against cliché,” Melissa explained. “So I always dance around the simple, the cliché even, yet sometimes the simple is right on, and then take the thought one level deeper.
“My junior year English teacher gave me the best advice I’ve ever, ever had. She said, ‘As a writer, you want to write just above the masses, just above. ‘ You want the masses to be able to understand, but you want them to reach up.”
That was more food for thought.
Make listeners “reach up” to fully understand.
We talked more about my idea to write a song about miracles. She wanted me to brainstorm and ad-lib and free associate. As I did, she kept urging me to write it all down in my sacred book.
“Editing is the fun part. You can do that later. That’s where the craft of songwriting comes in.”
When I said I used the phrase “The Great Something” as a way to hint at God, Divinity, or the Universe, without alienating anyone, Melissa lit up.
“Oh, that’s good. The Great Something. Write that down,” she said, pointing at my sacred book.
And it’s going to be the title of my forthcoming album.
“Miracle is a little weak just from overuse,” she told me. “People say it was a miracle their car started. Well, not really. This is why I use a thesaurus. You want to dig deeper, find other words.”
She added, “Be as specific in your writing as you are in your writing.”
I loved that line, even though I had to think about it more than once.
“Be as specific in your writing as you are in your writing.”
As you can see, Melissa and I covered a lot of ground in just two hours.
At another time I might share her singing advice, which I also found profound, but let’s stop here for today.
Again, thank you, Melissa!
Come to my window!
PS – My other posts about Melissa Etheridge are at:
Note: You can watch Melissa Etheridge sing her song ‘Pulse’ here:
Before a recent massage session, my massage therapist (Mary Rose Lam) told me how she made a horrible mess that morning.
She accidentally spilled her blueberry smoothie all over her gray carpet. That left a big green stain. She was frustrated but told the story with a smile. I hadn’t been feeling well and the story made me laugh out loud. It shifted my mood.
“I’m really glad you spilled that smoothie,” I told her.
“Why?” she asked, looking surprised.
“Because you just brought a lot of joy to my morning.”
She laughed, knowing her sharing the story — even though it was a disappointment to her when the event happened — was pure entertainment to both of us when she related it to me after the fact.
I then told her I had somehow caught a bug and became sick earlier in the week. I rarely get ill, but this was alarming enough to cause me to cancel appointments and consider going to the hospital.
She looked concerned until I told her the rest of the story.
“On Wednesday — which would normally have been my time in the studio — I felt the urge to play the guitar. But when I picked it up, I didn’t have any strength for it. I was too weak. I put it down. But then I noticed my Dean Martin songbook. I flipped through it and saw the song called Smile. I put it on my music stand and sang it. To my amazement, it sounded great. I then pulled out my iPhone and recorded myself singing it. I emailed the song to Daniel Barrett, my music producer, and he said we should record it.”
I went on and explained that my new album, The Healing Song, is essentially done. We had just recorded ten songs and felt it was complete. Adding this new song would get it in under the wire, but that’s cutting it close. Yet I suspected and felt that I got sick to slow me down, so I could allow this new song to be noticed, and then added to my album. It would add something mystical and very different to the tracks. I felt the song was being pushed into my awareness by something greater than me.
What was pushing it into my awareness? We’ll look at that in a moment. Meanwhile…
My massage therapist was in awe.
“Every little thing is a miracle to you,” she said. “Even when you’re sick, you are led to a song that is going to transform your new album. You’re just so in the flow.”
She got me thinking.
Her spilling her blueberry smoothie seemed like it was “bad” to her, but the story an hour later made me laugh so hard I almost cried.
And my getting sick earlier in the week seemed “bad” to me, but it led to my discovering a song I am adding to my new album.
Well, what’s really bad then?
I’m sure you can come up with a list of things that most people would agree is bad, but what about these little snags and stumbles in your life?
Is getting sick bad?
Is spilling a smoothie bad?
Perhaps they’re all just miracles.
(Or am I “bad” in suggesting so?)
While you’re thinking, let me continue the story…
That Wednesday when I was ill and led to the song, Guy Monroe’s name kept coming to my mind. He had helped me with his vocal coaching for my album, Strut! His name was occurring to me again as I felt he could help me smooth out my singing for the song, Smile. I’m used to writing and singing songs that “holler and rock.” Smile is slow, relaxed, soft and meaningful. I felt I needed help with it. But I resisted the idea. (I was sick, remember.) It was easy to dismiss calling him.
But then something happened.
Guy sent me a text message.
He never texts me.
But he sent me a text message, just to say he was grateful for me being in his life.
That’s how the universe works. You get the messages internally first. But if you don’t listen, the messages start coming from the outside.
I’ll repeat that:
That’s how the universe works. You get the messages internally first. But if you don’t listen, the messages start coming from the outside.
I finally listened.
I called Guy. I told him about the Smile song. He instantly agreed to see me. We worked on Smile for three hours. And when I went into Daniel Barrett’s studio to record it, Guy met me there for support.
We recorded four versions of the song. The last seemed to be the best, and we left the studio that day feeling it was “in the bag.”
But something kept nagging at me.
Back home, I kept singing the song. I love the words and message and melody. But I don’t usually keep singing the same song over and over and over again. The only other time was with the acoustic version of the Rob Thomas hit song, “Lonely No More.”
Why was this song still haunting me?
When I went back into the studio with Daniel, and we listened to the version we thought was it, we both realized it wasn’t quite right. There was a word or two “off” in the song. Daniel is dedicated and persistent, so he kept trying hi-tech ways to correct that one word. Nothing was working. Neither he or I were going to settle for second best, either. We wanted this to be perfect. After all, three Grammy winners are involved with this album. I didn’t want anything less than the best.
So I did something new for me as a musician, especially at the point where the album was essentially done.
I offered to re-sing that song.
Did that mean my sessions with Guy were bad?
Did that mean the previous four takes of the song were bad?
No. If nothing else, the sessions and takes were rehearsals. They prepared me for the best and final take.
Daniel was instantly agreeable to my recording the song one more time. He’s a joy to work with and goes with the flow. He set up the equipment and turned on the mike. I sang Smile.
When I was done, Daniel looked at me truly moved, totally quiet, with a tear in his eye.
“That was some of the best singing I’ve ever heard from you,” he said.
I’m usually critical of my own music the first time I hear it, but I had to admit, singing Smile that time around felt right even to me.
Now stop and think about this:
It appears that “something” was directing me to this song, and “something” was urging me to continue rehearsing it, even after I thought it was recorded and done. That “something” kept with me until I re-recorded the song and got the take we all agree is stellar.
So here’s my question for you:
What is that “something”?
When you get a “feeling” or a hunch or an inner nudge, where is it coming from?
When you have an intuition, what sent it to you?
Who sent it?
For me, it’s the Divine directing your life. As Dr. Hew Len (coauthor of Zero Limits) has often said, we aren’t in control. Either unconscious programs are or the Divine is.
We have to keep cleaning and clearing as most of what operates us is our programming. We’re run by our beliefs. What we want is to be so clear that all we hear is the Divine whispering direction to us.
I followed the whispered signs and signals and ended up with a masterful version of a famous hit song.
The end result is a song that will send chills up your spine when you hear it on my new album: The Healing Song. (Available in August.)
Back to my massage therapist.
I told her all of this and she again smiled and said, “Joe, every little thing is a miracle for you, isn’t it?”
It’s a miracle for all of us — including you — we simply don’t acknowledge it.
We judge it as “bad” or “out of flow.”
But is it?
So if you get sick, or spill a smoothie, or get a nudge from within to sing a song or call a friend, note they are important signals.
They are the miracles.
And it’s all good.
PS – Lots of stars have recorded the song Smile since it was written in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, which they based on an instrumental in the Charlie Chaplin 1934 movie, Modern Times. Here’s Dean Martin singing it on his TV show in 1974: