YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Thirty years ago I was working at an advertising agency trying to edit some of my unpublished 3 minute songs of hope into 30 second public service announcements. Not knowing what to do with all the songs that refused to fit the commercial length format I tried to talk a small independent book publisher and retailer into adding music to their repetoire–namely mine. I knew that music wasn’t their specialty, but wouldn’t it be a natural fit to have some inspirational music sold along side the inspirational books. Made sense to me. The publisher wasn’t so sure.
The greatest concern was conceptual. I was pitching an album in which the “artist” was the songwriter. Several different singers would perform songs written by one songwriter. It was a bit of a stretch for a book publisher to release a musical album, but it was even harder to buy when the name on the record was of a guy who wasn’t the featured vocalist.
The working title of the album was YOU’RE NOT ALONE (taken from a song I’d written for a friend of ours from college who was going through a devastating divorce). For over three years I kept sellin’ but nobody was buyin’. This was not just true of the bookstores, but of several others as well. Companies I’d written snappy little commercials for in the past weren’t buying anything new. Old free lance clients weren’t returning my phone calls. A screenplay I’d worked on for a couple of years wasn’t ringing anybody’s chimes. The production company I worked for wasn’t sure what to do with me because my idea bank seemed overdrawn. I wasn’t just having a hard time sellin’ ideas–I COULDN’T GIVE ANYTHING AWAY!!!
I got so depressed with how things were going for me professionally that I went into hibernation mode. Took all my vacation and comp time and shut down. Didn’t shave, didn’t speak, didn’t write, didn’t sing….didn’t do much of anything…except eat.
That’s when I discovered fly fishing.
My father-in-law had tried for years to get me enthused about the sport, but it never appealed to me. I can’t deny that fly fishermen looked pretty impressive in the magazines, but they never showed what one has to go through to get as good as the guy in the magazine. Fly fishing was for people with too much time on their hands, nowhere else to go and nothing else to do…Wait a minute…that described me perfectly. So I headed for the Big Wood River in Idaho.
The appeal was three fold. One, it was beautiful. Two, my father-in-law tied his own flies and knew where the fish lived…and Three: the room at the condo was free.
The first fish I ever caught wasn’t very big…and I suspect wasn’t very smart. I’d been slappin’ the water with my fly line and cussin’ pretty loud when my line got tangled in the bushes behind me. Nevertheless, I did manage to get my No.14 elk hair caddis out into the stream long enough to hook a scrappy little rainbow and reel him in.
It was a thrill, and I didn’t exactly understand why. It certainly wasn’t because of the pride I felt in making an exquisite cast. It wasn’t because I’d tied my own fly and fooled a wily native trout. It wasn’t because I’d read the river brilliantly and matched the hatch. It wasn’t because I had caught dinner for my family. But it was a thrill just the same and I loved that little fish.
Before I placed him back in the stream I kissed his nose and told him that we had a lot in common…we were both young and not too crafty in the ways of the world, and that we should never attribute to stupidity that which can adequately be explained by hunger.
Though I didn’t think of it at the time, it occurs to me now that maybe what I loved about that trout was that in catching him I didn’t feel so alone. A fellow failure had snagged him self on my line and we were bonded forever.
Regardless of what deep psychological rumblings were going on inside, I was hooked–pun intended–and came back to the condo with the tales of my expedition. I relived every cast, ever strike, every happy moment I spent that evening knee deep in crystal clear water and bathing in blue sky and pine needles.
The next morning I raced to the fly fishing shop and bought some Ranger Hip Boots and more accessories than someone with my skill level deserved. On the rest of the trip I didn’t improve that much as a fisherman, but man, I looked like one. Seeing my bearded reflection in the window of the truck, all decked out in my hip boots, vest and the finest fishing hat ever, I found a new identity: Fly-Master Mike the River Roving Troubadour. I was singing again and didn’t care who heard me. All was right with the world. I even felt like I could face my recent round of rejections given the rejuvenating power of a great trout stream.
It didn’t last long. Three days after returning from Idaho, I was back in the same place I was before I left, aware of my failures and unsure how to proceed. It was Saturday and my escape route that day was a long nap in the basement. What woke me was a song.
Coming from the television in the family room was a tune that sounded instantly familiar…like the kind you turn the radio up for because you have a feeling you’re going to like this one. The lyrics seemed simple enough, but grabbed me in the gut. I was hooked and the melody reeled me up from the basement into the family room.
A young woman with a beautiful voice was singing to a large audience of women, and the performance was being broadcast live, via satellite to viewers throughout the world. My wife came over to me and gave me a hug. “Well that ought to make you feel pretty special. Not every songwriter gets their song sung round the world. ”
It was YOU’RE NOT ALONE. I was hearing that song for the first time, not as the one who had written it, but as the one it was written for. I’d been caught, like a trout on a stream by a song that filled a hunger deep inside.
HERE’S A LITTLE SONG TO HELP YOU GET ALONG
IT WILL SEE YOU THROUGH WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE
AND THOUGH IT’S NOT PROFOUND WHEN YOU’RE FEELING DOWN
SING THIS LITTLE TUNE AND YOU’LL FEEL BETTER SOON
YOU’RE NOT ALONE, EVEN THOUGH RIGHT NOW YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN
YOU ARE LOVED IN WAYS THAT CAN’T BE SHOWN, YOUR NEEDS ARE KNOWN
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
AND WHEN YOU CRY YOU’RE JUST LETTING GO A HEARTACHE DEEP INSIDE
SO TOMORROW THERE’LL BE SUNSHINE AND SKY AND LOVE CLOSE BY
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
WELL I KNOW THAT IT’S NOT EASY, BUT I KNOW THAT IT WON’T LAST
CAUSE ONE WHO LOVES YOU MORE THAN ME
IS SENDING BLESSINGS FAST
YOU’RE NOT ALONE…SAY IT ONE MORE TIME, “I’M NOT ALONE”
AND EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD TO FIND THE WORDS
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ALWAYS HEARD
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
The following Monday morning I got a call from my friends at the book publishing company. Apparently a lot of women connected with YOU’RE NOT ALONE, just like I had, over the weekend. They told me they’d been thinking a lot about my idea for an album, and believed that the timing may be right for it’s release. I didn’t disagree.
Had it not been for that broadcast and the willingness of a book company to take a chance on a songwriter who doesn’t sing that great I’d probably never have found the unique audience that has stuck with me through 24 albums, two books, three musicals, and oratorio….and now this. And I’m grateful, believe me I am….though at times I wonder if the writing thing hadn’t worked out how I’d have fared as a fishing guide.
You can listen to You’re Not Alone on my Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/michaelmcleanmusic