#8 THE THUNDERBIRD MOTEL
So, how’s this for timing? I arrived naturally at song number eight from THE STORY OF IT ALL just as it was announced that it is a finalist in the Best Song category of The New Mexico Music Awards 2015. (Night Circus is also a finalist in the Americana category, that I won last year with In Broken Sleep off JanuaryRising.)
There is a place called The Thunderbird in Santa Fe but it prefers to go by the title of inn, not motel. But it looks like a motel to me.
Anyway, I was driving along Cerrillos Road one day, past the Thunderbird, and out of nowhere I found myself singing…
You may find yourself in heaven – you may find yourself in hell – or in a lonely room at the Thunderbird Motel.
Luckily I was alone! The melody, for once, came with the words. Done.
I got home and wrote the words down. Then I lived with them for a while, figuring out what a song with this chorus would be about. It wasn’t difficult to arrive at the idea that the song would address the fact that we have no idea how our lives will end up. But I wrestled with the words at first. An early first verse was…
We all end up somewhere – often against our wishes – life has happy endings – as well as sad, dark finishes.
It was clumsy. Clunky. And impossible to sing. Not a great start.
But there was something about the rhyme, wishes and finishes, that intrigued me. And that line about life having happy endings, that was unusual for me…a positive note in what could become a very dark song. After a little time the proper structure and flow started to appear. Humming the melody to the chords I’d already worked out helped a lot. It told me where the syllables needed to land…
Life has happy endings – not as many as we’d wish – we all end up somewhere – we can’t predict the finish.
Yes. That made sense. Not too dark too fast. Just stating the case that we cannot see the future. We cannot predict whether we’ll be one of the happy endings or not but the notion that happy endings were possible was right there at the start.
This led straight into that chorus I wrote while driving.
I liked it. But I started to analyze those words a little more deeply. Heaven and hell are interesting because we all know the religious aspect…be good, go to heaven, bad, you go to hell. But that’s after death. We also say we can be in heaven or in hell here on earth. And to a non-believer like me that was the meaning I wanted. The “finish” referred to in the first verse was not the absolute finish, the end, but how someone lived the last part of life. That part when all the ambition and drive of youth is in the past, when the feeling of invincibility has been replaced with vulnerability and a realization that an end will come, when life is full of hard truths instead of wild dreams.
This is what the second verse strives for but selects love as the topic to sum up all the rest…
Love is what we chase for the whole time that we’re here – But how it really works is never quite made clear.
A bridge was needed and I felt it should bring the song back to a personal note. Although you will know if you are any kind of music fan that “I” does not always mean either the writer or singer. There’s a poem about that in my last book, The Momentary Truce…
I is not I
You is not you
This book is a dream
that perhaps came true
I must have written a dozen possible versions of the bridge before settling on the obvious. As a non-believer I was unlikely to find myself in heaven or hell, so I could comfortably put myself in that lonely room. Lonely but not alone. Lonely but not dead yet!
Tell me your room number – I’ll tell you mine – Just bring your willing body – I will bring the wine.
So ending up at the Thunderbird is not the threat it might have seemed at the start but a possibly comfortable end phase with “willing bodies” no longer struggling to understand the love from the second verse but merely seeking escape in each other.
I think the mention of wine led naturally to the next verse…
Every road we take is paved with good intentions – but demons walk these same streets no teacher ever mentions.
There they are again, those teachers failing to prepare us for the real world. (Go back and read what I wrote about Don’t Give A Damn #2).
On a separate scrap of paper there’s another verse that wasn’t right but which led to the final one…
Every night we live in dreams of how things might have been – We dream of all that ended or failed to begin.
I knew it wasn’t right but it survived through a couple of early demo recordings. Then, knowing I liked the first few words, it became…
Every night we live in dreams of how different things could be – If every choice we ever made we decided differently.
I was happy with that. It wasn’t as dark…no talk of endings or failures…just an observation that every decision we make in life, whether large or small, sends us down a slightly changed path. We can never know how different our lives might be had we made different decisions. That, to me, brought the song back to its original intent. Not to speculate, rather to say we just don’t know.
In keeping with that, the lonely room at The Thunderbird Motel may be a better option than either heaven or hell. What may have started out as a dismal mental picture of a possible suicide location may be nothing more than a symbol for real life. A little heaven, a little hell in equal measures…
Tell me your room number – I’ll tell you mine…
My thanks as always to Peter Farrell for the honky-tonk piano that is the backbone of this song. Jacy Oliver for electric guitars, bass and production. Ben Durfee for drums. Listen carefully from the second chorus on and you will hear me singing lower than I ever thought possible on the line “You may find yourself in hell” – in the mixing sessions we started calling this the Devil voice, so we knew which vocal part we were referring to!