Birth of a Song

How Sophie, our pandemic puppy, became my muse

I thought it was a bad idea to get a puppy in April as the pandemic took hold. What if Darlene or I got the virus? How would we take care of a dog? Luckily, I lost that argument big time. And the result is a new song.

It’s not finished yet, but it’s getting close. I’ve been working with my masterful guitar teacher, Steve Netsky, on it for about four months. I originally wanted to call it “Corona Coaster,” but Steve gently dissuaded me from that jokey name for a topic that deserved more nuance and respect. He was right, and he helped me to drop direct references to COVID in the song. This makes it, I think, a better way to remember what it’s been like this past year, how strange it’s been and sometimes wonderful.

Here is how it begins:

D FMaj7

Oh that summer in Maine,

Em A

the year they shut us all down.

D F Maj7

You and I and a puppy named Sophie

Em A

got there and just stayed around,

Em A

got there and just stayed around

D

all summer. Bm Em A D

That’s when I learned to do dishes just for

the pleasure of getting them done.

I thought the puppy was a bad idea

before she taught me how to have fun,

before I learned how to have fun

that summer.

[B Section]

G D A Bm

I couldn’t tell if I was going crazy.

G D A Bm

Sometimes it seemed like the summer would never end.

A Bm A

But summers always end, you know.

I love working with Steve on a new song. He’s like a midwife, or what I imagine a midwife is like. He nudges a little here on the melody, suggests changing a single word, gives believable encouragement when something works, and lets me know when something isn’t working without luring me off the scent.

Since our last lesson, I have been refining the song, which is a very fun part of the process. I have all the verses and the chords and melody down. My job is to keep singing it and hearing where there are little hitches, places where the rhythm stumbles or a transition balks. I usually wait until Darlene and her sister Deb are out on a walk or bike ride, so I can sing at full volume in the high-ceilinged rental house on Sanibel Island.

On Saturday, I noticed that Sophie was lying next to me, as if she was waiting for the parts about her. I set up my iPhone across the room and took a photo with my Apple Watch. The light, the look on her face, and the orange slippers all make me smile.

One of these days I will head back to the demo studio in Cambridge, Mass., to record “Oh, That Summer in Maine” and two other songs I’ve written in the past year or so. One was a tribute to my mother, who passed away on August 6, 2019. It’s titled “Put You in Light.” The other is “Battle of Malta,” the tale of a disagreement Darlene and I had on our way to our niece Liz’s wedding to Jamie in Germany.

Steve is already guiding me toward my next song, which he suggests might center on a generic topic instead of personal experiences. I like that idea, because it’s fun to keep doing new things as a creator.

Sophie is resting on the bed behind me, waiting for Deb and Darlene to return. Which reminds me—I’ve got 40 minutes available before my next appointment, just enough for a daily practice session in the living room.

Let’s go, Muse!