Friday, February 26, 2010

GET BACK ON THAT PONY

I can hear the sudden crash of metal on metal; feel the seatbelt cinch tight at my hips as my flesh wrapped around the strap across my chest. Even after all these years such vivid memories play out in slow motion. I had been driving down Main Street, Farmington, when a car crossed into my lane, plowing into me head-on at the intersection at Shepard Lane. I had been listening to a newly written song, demoed in my basement studio, as I made my way to my monthly Utah Songwriters meeting. I remember undoing my seatbelt and leaning forward to turn off the stereo, when a knife-like stab went through my chest. Fearing a heart attack, I sat back in my seat, praying for direction. I pressed my fist to the horn, hoping someone would hear and come help, since I had seen, briefly, the occupants of the other car and I knew they were elderly. Within seconds an EMT was at my side, talking me out of panic, checking me for shock. They placed me on a board and took me by ambulance to the hospital, where a few hours later I was released with a broken collar bone, cracked rib, bruised sternum and knee, as well as torn ligaments in my hand and arm among other injuries. Nothing life threatening. Just painful. I was unable to lie down, the injuries to my chest intensifying under the weight of gravity, so for the next six weeks I sat in a chair while the miracle of healing spun through my flesh and bones. My mom was visiting my sisters in California, so Dave drove over to her place and lugged her big blue leather easy chair down her stairs, into the back of the van, then over to our house and up the stairs to our bedroom. I lived in that chair for all those weeks. I remember being frustrated that I HAD to sit for long periods of time, at a stage in my life when I had 4 young kids and lots to do, and yet I could not even play my guitar. The arm, hand and chest injuries kept me from that pleasure. So while I sat there I got to thinking. I got to thinking about driving again. The more I thought about it the more I worried. I’d close my eyes to rest and I could hear the thunderous crash repeat itself like the cymbal in a discordant symphony. As time passed and I became able to walk comfortably, then considered driving, the fear turned to panic. As I sat there I analyzed the emotion. The writer in me recognized it as a universal theme, so I started a lyric. I turned the car into a horse (you can do such things as a songwriter) and it started like this:
Seven years old on a grey palomino
I sat up tall with my face to the wind….
I remembered my Uncle Archie and Uncle Jim’s horses, and our once-a-year leg straining, butt bruising romps on Blaze and the other ponies in the corral. I clamped my legs so tight around the horse’s middle it probably gave the beast a hernia. None of us wanted to get bucked off. But inevitably one of us did, and the uncles always did the same thing. First they laughed. They paused for a second till they were sure we saw them, then they made their way over to us lying there in the muck; picked us up and patted off our rumps, then put their big leather covered hands around our waists and hoisted us back on the beast.
That became Verse I.
Fortunately, I knew enough about what I didn’t know and I looked up Palomino. I needed a four syllable horse, and that was the only one I could think of. So when I looked it up in the dictionary it said:
Palomino: a yellow horse.
I changed the lyric, turning the pony from gray to gold. Good thing I looked, huh? If you’re going to fake that you know about horses, you should at least fake intelligently.

The chorus led to the hook (main theme of the song, power line and usually title) which was…you guessed it… “Get back on that pony and ride.”

Verse II brought new light to the chorus. Love. Love…the universal theme of 98% of the songs you hear every day. Love lets us down. Sometimes hard. Sometimes so hard we don’t want to try it again. That was Verse II.

Then back to the chorus.

I had gotten this far on the yellow legal pad on which I was writing the lyric, when I finally felt able to hold my guitar and start writing the music. I had the melody in my head, but the chords gave it life. I was sitting on my bed, my leg tucked under me and my arm propped on a pillow as I played, and I was feeling pretty good about the way it was all unfolding, when the phone rang. I answered it, recognizing immediately that the voice on the other end was that of my publisher, Dude McLean. We chatted a minute, reconnecting after months, and I asked if we had heard anything more from Linda Ronstadt’s record label. Linda’s sound engineer had told Dude months earlier that Linda had completed the recording of my song The Builder, and we were waiting for a release date.

“Bad news,” he said.

Turns out Linda had had a falling-out with her producer of many years, Peter Asher. They had parted ways. She also left Elektra Records, and with it the project she had recently completed. Elektra owned the rights to the recording, so when she left, the album was placed on some random shelf at Elektra records, unreleased and unheard. I faked that it was ok, that’s just how life goes. But after we hung up, I paused there on the side of my bed, trying to process what had just happened and how much hope I had placed on that one little event in my songwriting career. It would have been my first major cut, with a major artist on a major label. Everybody knew Linda Ronstadt. It would give me instant credibility. That little demon that hovers over my left shoulder whispered, “Ha Ha, told you so. You are just a simple housewife in small-town Utah and you will never make it as a songwriter. I told you to quit trying. See…you would not feel so bad about this if you hadn’t put so much hope on it to begin with. Quit now, and save yourself the shame and hurt in the future.” I heard this in my head, and I am sorry to say I believed it for a second. I sat there, my eyes blurred with emotion, and looked at that yellow legal pad on the bed in front of me. Then I saw the lyric:

“Stand up again, shake it off if you can, then get back on that pony and ride.”

That’s when I wrote the bridge:
“I’m not sayin’ forget what you lost
I suppose there’s a purpose in pain
But what we make of ourselves has a cost
And it’s paid every time we take hold of the reigns”

Then VERSE III, a message to myself.

Merlyn and I recorded this song for the album, Out of the Blue. The whole album was a compilation of demos, songs to be pitched one day.

Months later I was frantically dressing for an afternoon PTA meeting. My sister Ann Marie was visiting. The phone rang, and I asked her to get it, please. She called up the stairs:
“Can you take this call?”
“Who is it?”
“It’s Chris.”
“Chris who?”
“Chris LeDoux”
“Chris WHO?!”
“LeDoux.”
“I’ll take it!” I took the phone and sure enough, it was Chris LeDoux, the cowboy rodeo champion singer and songwriter who was making quite a splash at Capitol Records in Nashville. He had just come off a long tour with Garth Brooks and was preparing to record a new album.
“I was wondering,” he said softly, “ …I was wondering if you’d mind if I sang your song on my new album?” He went on to tell me how much he loved what it said, and how it was said, and that he had a yellow pony when he was small and his dad used to pick him up and put him back on when it bucked him off in the hills of Wyoming. (Good thing I made that pony gold!)
He sang the song with much tenderness. He released it on his album Under This Old Hat and again in his retrospective Box Set.
One evening we drove to Salt Lake City, my family and me, and we walked into the Delta center for a Chris LeDoux concert. It was a rockin’ show! Chris was a wild bareback cowboy sort of entertainer. But the lights went low at a certain point, and the pace slowed, and the melodic strains written on the side of my bed started up, echoing against the large cement walls of that auditorium.
“This is my favorite song”, he said, “written by a woman from right here in Utah named Cori Connors.” My family and Merlyn cheered, and so did the rest of the audience, though I am not so na├»ve as to think they were cheering for something other than their home state.
He began to sing. I watched a young couple sitting in front of us sink down into their seats, her head leaned over onto his shoulder. Then slowly, around the perimeter of the stage and up into the rafters of the Delta Center, I saw Bic lighters waving in the darkness to the beat of the song.
That’s how you know you have really made it; when people wave their Bic lighters to your ballad! Though now days it would be the lights of their cell phones, or the Bic lighter app on our iPhones.
What a great memory.
Chris was always so gracious. A true gentleman and true to his word. Because of him I started my publishing company, Seven Roses Music. I’ll tell you the story about that name sometime. Right now it is nearly 3 am and this little song-story is WAY too long.
But remembering it has been awfully sweet.

GET BACK ON THAT PONY
Seven years old on a gold palomino
I sat up tall with my face to the wind
I’d seen them prance at the circus in Reno
So I dug in my boot heels and pulled on the reigns

CHORUS: And Blaze, he took off a runnin’
He tossed me down on the side
Then my uncle Jim picked me up once again
Said, get back on that pony and ride
Get back on that pony and ride

So lift up your head boy I know how you’re feeling
You say you won’t ride with a chance you might lose
You’ve fallen from love and your head is still reeling
Your heart and your pride have been shaken and bruised

CHORUS II: Like Blaze, she took off a runnin’
Love tossed you down on the side
But stand up again, shake it off if your can
Then get back on that pony and ride
Get back on that pony and ride

Bridge: I’m not saying forget what you lost
I suppose there’s a purpose in pain
But what we make of ourselves has a cost
And it’s paid every time we take hold of the reigns

So dust off your blue jeans, get back in the saddle
Freedom’s a chance to begin with an end
Getting back up there is half of the battle
And love, like a pony, should race with the wind

CHORUS III: Like Blaze, it takes off a runnin’
And it may toss you down on the side
But stand up again, shake it off if you can
Then get back on that pony and ride;
Get back on that pony and ride;
Get back on that pony and ride.



You can hear my version of Get back on that Pony by scrolling down to the blue music player with songs from Out of the Blue. Here's a YouTube version of Chris singing it (with someone's home made video pictures).
Sadly, Chris LeDoux died a few years ago, from liver cancer. A loss to all of us.

7 comments:

  1. where was i during this accident and why didn't i come to help you! colorado? boston? so sorry i wasn't there. owie! but it sure gave you a good song. good things from pain once again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had heard about your Chris Le Deaux connection. Cool story! Funny what good things can happen to a mom just before a PTA meeting. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love these stories. I'm sorry you had to have the accident and I'm awfully glad you are healed; body and soul. Also, I think you shouldn't be hard on yourself for experiencing self-doublt periodically. Even Christ, on the cross, uttered these words "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?".
    (You should see how I spelled utter before I read this before posting. Spelling never was one of my strong points). And I love the time you do these postings - whoever said night was for sleeping?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am wedged into my corner of the couch, just weeping. So many things. Your account of the accident was so vivid, mostly through your understatement. And the process of the birthing of the song. And the idea of a childhood with even a gray horse in it. And the waiting for Ronstadt - for that amazing promise of a window (there was once a time when I could say that anything I had written had been published. In the last six years, it has been one disappointment after another. One failure after another. And the spirit of it just lay down and pushed me away). And love. And everything.

    And then Mr. LeDoux. A surprise. A good surprise. An amazing surprise. And that he was kind, and you could admire him. So that the song, becoming his favorite, was as though you had given him just a bit of the gospel - because it was a bit of truth, and of your own life, and pain and healing.

    Yeah. This is cathartic for me. I needed this story. And I love the song, too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kristen- It must have taken your whole afternoon to read my blog! Goodness!

    Thank you, always, for your thoughtful words; both in response to my posts, and in your own posts. Makes me feel like we have been buddies forever!

    Cori

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love this song. It is one fo my favorite songs that Chris sang. I too play a little guitar myself and I was wondering if you could post the chords to the song. I have wanted to be able to play it but I just cant get the right chords by ear and I cant find them anywere. I hope everything is still working out great for you.

    ReplyDelete