Come listen to my new song “Annie on the Stairs”, a collaboration with poet Bill Thibodeau. Welcome to my kitchen!
This Month’s Music:
Annie on the Stairs
© 2010 Tom Smith and William Thibodeau.
The family joke is that I have written several songs about each of our three children but none for my wife, Margo. I tried several times and failed. Perhaps the stakes are too high? Although at least nine out of ten songs in this world are love songs, I find them very difficult to write. How can one write a four minute expression of a love that is still strong after more than thirty five years together? Two weeks before this past Christmas, the inspiration came to me in the form of a poem by Bill Thibodeau. The song was finished (enough) to be sung publicly for Margo at the Amazing Things Arts Center holiday show. It is named for the poem that inspired it – Annie on the Stairs, but for me it is an expression of love for Margaret, my partner, my friend, the love of my life.
Bill Thibodeau, Carpenter, Poet
About two years ago I participated in a local open mike at which I met poet Bill Thibodeau. Bill read from his excellent book American Icon and other Poems, available for purchase at soloperformer.com. Bill is a member of the Carpenter Poets of Jamaica Plain: a group of men and women who gather after work once a week at a local pub to share their poetry about their trade and other matters. You can hear NPR’s Andrea Shea’s profile of the Carpenter Poets on Hear and Now. Bill and the rest of the Carpenter Poets are also featured in this Boston Globe article.
That evening when I met Bill Thibodeau he read an unpublished work, Annie on the Stairs. I asked Bill for a copy because I wanted to compose a musical accompaniment. Recently, I heard Bill read this poem again at Cheryl Perreault’s Wake Up and Smell the Poetry program. We talked about my inability to write an accompaniment for his poem, and how poems are different from songs. I asked if I could use his poem as the source of a new derivative work. Bill graciously consented, and to my surprise I left with a feeling of pressure to write a song that would be a positive reflection of the original.
With Bill’s permission, I have included his original poem below. Scroll down to the end of this page to view the lyrics to the song.
Annie on the Stairs (The Poem)
© William Thibodeau, All Rights Reserved, Used with permission
These pine stairs
Were once an inch thick
Now – in places – they’re about half of that
How they held up – I’ll never understand
At first sight – I held my breath
But looks can be deceiving – I knew they’d outlast me.
Annie was always after me to replace them, saying –
“But, Isn’t that what you do?”
“Yes” I’d say, then quickly change the subject
And she soon gave up her asking
How could I explain?
They were in rough shape when we bought this place
We were so young – and this house so old
And after a hard day on the job – in the heat
The dust and the noise – learning the ropes
On icy staging – in the wind –
With the snow-covered ground so far below
My fingers remember it all
After chores – and dinner with Annie
I’d hit those stairs and hear those familiar creaks and groans-
Each stair had its own pitch and tone
Like old pine piano keys on a world-weary board
I’d look forward to those sounds
Because I knew we made it through another hard day.
After cleaning up – I’d lie in bed – reading
Or thinking about the bills – or about time
And what an older version of us would be like.
Then – I’d hear Annie on those old stairs
Playing her own sweet melody
I knew that the door would soon be opening
And that I’d be putting to bed those old cares.
The kids came and grew
And stair music went from hesitant –
To playful and raucous
And more than once to anger
Yet at the end of the day
I’d hear Annie on the stairs
And on those later-than-curfew-high school – nights
When they thought I couldn’t hear
It was that safe-at-home-at last-music
That cut through my frustrations-my fear
And that’s when I knew Annie knew
The kids are since gone – the stairs
Are still holding up (mostly)
Every so often I tamp down a restless nail or two
A battle I know I’ll soon lose
On these long winter nights
When I feel as old as this house
I know I’ll be leaving that fight for the next guy
Just as long as I hear Annie on the stairs
Bill’s poem works very well as a spoken word piece – perfect, beautiful and moving. To transform it into a song, I retained most of Bill’s poignant imagery, used some of his phrases, enforced a rhyming scheme and added a few bits of my own. I feel honored to have been trusted with his work. The line in the second verse about “my body’s raging like a storm” is the result of a recent Rhode Island Songwriters Association show which required me to write a new song that includes the theme “storm”.
Annie on the Stairs (The Song)
© 2010 Tom Smith & William Thibodeau, All Rights Reserved
These old pine stairs were strong and silent when first made.
Now footsteps play their serenade on weary boards.
They were in bad shape when we bought this place.
It was a case of buying only what we could afford.
Four walls to keep us from the cold,
We were so young this house so old.
“Please fix those noisy stairs” she said. “Isn’t that the work you do?”,
but I grew to love their tune if truth be told.
I am a carpenter I tap down restless nails
to take the music from the stairs in other homes.
Sometimes at night I fight those nails within my head,
While in my bed my body’s raging like a storm.
I go from lost to found
When her slippers play their song.
On pine piano keys each with a pitch and tone,
a tune well known, I know that I am not alone.
Music fills the air.
A melody that is the soundtrack to my prayers
When I hear Annie on the stairs
Annie on the stairs.
The children came, they grew they played their own refrain.
â€˜Twas not the same as mine nor Annie’s. It was their own.
Long after curfew when they thought I could not hear,
it was the stairs that would betray they’re safe at home.
Our children are all gone,
But their echoes linger on
A kind of harmony with Annie on those stairs.
They need repairs but not the love that carries on.
~ Peace and Poetry,
(I invite you to leave a comment. Just scroll down to the end of this page.)
February 4, Thursday at 7:00 pm.
I will be doing a short 15 minute set at the Bull Run Restaurant, Thursday Concert Series “Sampler”. Hopefully this will generate some interest for my big show on March 4.
February 24, Wednesday. The Art of Song-Writing: A Night of Music with Five Local Song-Writers
I am sharing the stage with four great songwriters at the Hopkinton Public Library, 13 Main St., Hopkinton, MA 01748. Starts at 6:30 pm. Also appearing are Barbara Kessler, Dan Cloutier, Sasha Yatchenko and Kim Jennings.
March 4, Thursday at the Bull Run Restaurant, 215 Great Rd., Shirley, MA.
Happy Birthday to Me!
Help me celebrate my birthday in this split bill with Dylan-style folkie Nate Smith. No presents… just bring ears ready for some great music. Tickets are $10 in advance (from me), $12 at the door, or purchase online (with a service fee). Doors open at 6:00 pm. My 45 minute set starts promptly at 7:00 pm.
Click to view details and all upcoming shows.
Featured Non-Profit: Art beCause Foundation
The mission of Art beCause Foundation is to fund research dedicated to eradicating the environmental causes of breast cancer. Last month I was honored to share the stage with many wonderful musicians at an event sponsored by Strike a Chord Concerts for Charity to benefit this organization. Thanks to Ruthann Baler for organizing this special event. Please join me in supporting this wonderful grass roots organization.