I am absolutely blown away by your latest album Real Life!Jerry
…there is a common thread of your life story moving throughout each songTony
It is great, obviously, love your candor in the notes.Pat
Your CD is amazing! … The sound is terrific, the instrumentation sounds top-notch. Listening to it requires more than listening; it requires thought and even a little meditation, as the words are so engaging …Thanks for letting me and the rest of the world in like that.Bruce
“Real Life.” I’ve got it stuck in my head at the moment.Lynn
Your way of singing your thoughts, sometimes just listing them, is an unmistakable signature.Bob
This record is incredible!Ryan
Great job. Nice singing, great unique song [“Ain’t Gonna Watch No News”], pleasant mix, very musical. Really great Lee!Corky
When I was a kid I wanted to be a priest. I had a serious altar in my bedroom. I said the rosary. I had a nun doll. Why a priest? I’m not sure, but:
- I was an earnest boy who believed authority figures (nuns), and
- the most educated men I knew were priests, and
- maybe I knew I was gay and my only single male role models were priests.
Better yet, I imagined becoming a monk—isolated, I believed, from the real world with its bullies and other torments.
Then came algebra. Math actually made sense to me. Instead of tying my head in knots trying to believe the incomprehensible, I could understand and believe in equations. Answers that were true. Answers that were certain. It was a long road to completely surrendering my Catholic faith but ever since doing so I’ve lived in mathematical heaven.
I still love the trappings of religion, however. I still watch Christmas Eve midnight mass at the Vatican every year. My family gave me a robe. And I finally bought a real, albeit deconsecrated, chalice.
The Real Life cover represents my arc from monk to math. The expression on my face? General disgust with the state of the world, especially our beloved America.
Stream the full album here
or selected songs with commentary and lyrics below:
Real Life (2018) : My friend Josh plays brilliantly on this succinct elucidation of all I know about the real meaning of life.
A walk on the beach: sand castles built by toddlers’ dads A walk on the beach: sand penis / spring break undergrads Real life is nothing like A walk on the beach A walk on the beach: she’s going topless on a dare A walk on the beach: he’s seeking last night’s underwear Real life is nothing like A walk on the beach Real life isn’t paying off your student debt (although you should) Real life isn’t working out until you sweat (although you should) Real life is wandering around the Met Real life is soaking in a bubble bath with a glass of Chardonnay, a string quartet pondering philosophies that you don’t get yet A cruise on the Nile: feluccas, palm trees, piles of stones A cruise on the Nile: Tut’s treasures—poor guy—skin and bones Real life is nothing like A cruise on the Nile A cruise on the Nile: young sunbird, peristyles, crocodiles A cruise on the Nile: old goatherd, tourists massacred Real life is nothing like A cruise on the Nile We walk on the beach—you look down studying something on the ground You wouldn’t notice someone drown or beautiful bodies turning brown You’re seeing the driftwood’s rusty nails and durable plastic—shovels and pails You’re missing a schooner’s filled-out sails You’re missing a pod of breaching whales Real life isn’t paying off… A drive up the coast: white clapboards, northern mockingbirds A drive up the coast: Moose Peak Light, tempest-tossed, Robert Frost Real life is nothing like A drive up the coast a clambake, Yankee pot roast An inn with a ghost—I saw her—really, almost Everything’s quaint; real life ain’t
Ain’t Gonna Watch No News (2018) : This was a wise resolution. I haven’t kept it.
I ain’t gonna watch no news no more (I just want to be happy) the latest scam I shouldn’t fall for celebrity shenanigans conservatives abhor last night’s historic game’s amazing score environmental crises I should not ignore I ain’t… the local news at ten makes me snore the mayor’s corrupt the traffic’s bad it’s really gonna pour don’t want to bring us down and get specific ‘cause national and world are far too horrific I ain’t… I’m outraged-out—I wish the news were a bore I try not to care when my TV is dripping blood and gore from halfway around the world another war that’s being fought in my name leaves my psyche sore I ain’t…
I Can Tell (2019) : Noticing that, for a while, the only things I ever talked to my husband about were my diet, my new car’s features, and my sore back, I realized he might be getting sick of those topics and sick of me.
I can tell you’re sick of me Sick of my diet Sick of my new car’s features Sick of celebrity gossip You don’t care at all What Ringo said to Paul I’m afraid you’re bored with me Sick of my back pain Sick of computer crises Sick of reality TV You don’t want to know Who’s safe and who must go I can tell I’m blathering, you’re lost in your cell You’re phosphorescent blue, I’m pastel You’re single-malt straight up, I’m pink Zinfandel I can tell You can’t tell I’m afraid You’re oblivious Reading French novels Medical journals Writing your conference paper You would be surprised You don’t realize I can tell…
I Know I Annoy You (2019) : Bob and I have been together 28 years. In real life we don’t annoy each other very much. Also, Sondheim would not approve of “rhyming” “mean to” with itself.
Every time I fast You are aghast Every time I binge you cringe When I am spendthrift You’re miffed When I am a cheapskate You berate me I know I annoy you It’s so easily done I know I annoy you and surprisingly fun It bugs you when I make a grammar mistake If I like a song You explain why I am wrong It bugs you when I snore It bugs you when I breathe every time I slam a door you seethe I know I annoy you… Although I annoy you Honestly I don’t mean to I know I annoy you Though I know it’s so mean to But I can’t help it It’s just the way I am less a fleece-white little lamb No I can’t help it I’m more an ancient Roman battering ram And you can’t help it It’s just the way you are with your finely-tuned radar No we can’t help it Together we can rapidly go too far If I ask a question You claim it’s hiding a suggestion Any music I admire you disdain Any policy I favor you consider insane or at least inhumane I know I annoy you…
Couldn’t Go Wrong (1978 & 2019) : At a songwriting workshop I mentioned that I’d written a self-referential song a long time ago and sang the first few lines. Two fellow songwriters (Erik Dionne and Elise Adelmann) loved it, so I dug it out of the archives. It was mostly crap but had some good elements, so I reworked it.
I sat right down and wrote this song ‘bout things that couldn’t go wrong but do like buying used cars from Honest Dan and falling in love with a girl like you Couldn’t go wrong I better beware of this new app and looking for love on my iPhone you never know what’ll land in your lap I never woulda signed up if I’d known Couldn’t go wrong If I were more skeptical I wouldn’t fall under your evil spell If I weren’t so naive I wouldn’t be caught in that web you weave I wouldn’t go wrong I sat right down and wrote this song ‘bout things that couldn’t go wrong but do like being talked into just one more or falling in love with a girl like you Couldn’t go wrong I better beware of this great deal I better think twice ‘cause it’s a steal and I better figure out just who screws who—who screws who? Before we’re at the altar and you say “I do!” Couldn’t go wrong If I were more skeptical… I sat right down…
Outside / Inside (2016) : I’ve always been baffled that we put so much work and resources into building buildings and then want class to meet outside on the quad. I want to meet inside.
Outside is cold or else too hot; inside is not. Outside is dry or else too wet; inside's an indoor cat to pet. Outside it’s raincoats, or gloves and boots. Inside it’s sweat gear or birthday suits. Outside are bad guys, rapists and crooks. Inside it’s me and TV and art books. Outside smells like diesel fumes or Ginkgo trees or cow manure. Inside my antiseptic rooms it's filtered, air conditioned, pure. Outside is cold… On the other hand: Inside's a humorless overdue math book—I don't get, something about some unique paradoxical—finite set; a new improved probably buggy OS—to download; an incomprehensible Shakespeare sonnet—to decode. Outside’s too dark or else too bright; inside you simply adjust a knob until the light’s just right. Nevertheless, nevertheless: We humans spend a lot of money, energy, and time designing and constructing buildings. Isn't it a crime that some of us eschew our hardwood floors and Persian rugs to crawl around on dirt and weeds with garbage, snakes, and bugs? Outside, monsters—are real, behind—the wheel, sometimes—with guns. Inside, they’re in—my head, but for—the ones, under—my bed. Outside is cold… Outside’s tornadoes, and hail, and snow, footballs to fumble, the lead to blow, hunters and fishermen haunting my barbershop, glasses to break and a pop fly to drop, climbing the grown-up pool’s high diving board, escaping the after-school Protestant horde. Inside I’m building a giant cathedral with Girder and Panel construction kit steeple, Lincoln Logs, Gilbert Erector Set, miraculous Infant of Prague statuette, Tinkertoy, plastic American bricks, baldachin, candlesticks, monstrance, and crucifix. Outside is cold; outside is wet. Outside is cold or else too hot; inside it's not.
I’d Never Get Up (2017) : I’m good at sleeping. I like bed. Sometimes I’m depressed; usually not. Lots of Fermilab references.
Thank God songs have imperfections; thank God kitties need injections. I’d never get up. Never get up. Nope. No. Thank God poems need redacting; thank God protons need extracting; thank God I love interacting with my fellow man. I’d never get up… Thank God computers need assistance liquefying Helium, and aromatic volatiles reach my olfactory epithelium. Thank God bladders are not infinite. Thank God love exists and I’m in it. I’d never get up…
I’m Not Bald (2019) : On my family’s Alaskan cruise we saw several bald eagles. I had to wonder what they think about being our national symbol.
You don’t know What I’m called You don’t know (repeat) You think you own me; I do not consent There’s no way I will ever represent Your military or your government Especially your current president You don’t know What I’m called Let me go I’m not bald. I don’t exemplify I will not glorify I will not symbolize Hypocrisy and lies You don’t know… You put me on your twenty-two cent stamp So kids could lick me writing home from camp You put me on your quarter dollar coin I’m in your pants from LA to Des Moines You don’t know What I’m called Let me go I’m not bald. I am not your ideal I’m flying off your seal Can’t take it any more I won’t stand for your Marine Corps Eat fish Make love not war
You Think You Know Me (2019) : My life is good. My worst complaints are utterly first-world. But part of me sometimes wants to break out and do something wild.
You think you know me inside and outside You think you know me You got me classified You think you know me But someday You and the real world will collide You think you know me You got me categorized You think you know me I’m thoroughly analyzed You think you know me You think you know me But someday Someday you might be surprised You think you can predict The outcome Of every conflict You think you know in advance Who runs this show Who wears the pants No! You think you know me You’ve got my folder filed You think you know me I’m just a fifties child You think you know me But someday Someday I might do something wild! Like having that third glass enrolling in a square dance class Like camping out on my back lawn Like birding at the crack of dawn Like practicing piano daily Like buying one more ukulele I’ll get a cause like passing laws banning straws You think…
Last Night Meant Something (2014) : OK, this was 2014’s unrequited love song, I guess.
Last night meant something. Those words meant something. What we did must have meant something to you, you too. Last night meant something… What we did was kinda fun. What we did can’t be undone. I’m hoping, I’m hoping, still hoping, for at least one rerun. What you said I can’t ignore. What we swore was pretty hardcore. What I said, what I said, I never said before. Last night meant something… Last night was New Year’s Eve. You rarely drink like that. Your flight is your train is your taxi is about to leave. You’re allergic to my cat; You’ve barely time to chat. You think I, you think I, you think I, I am so naive. What? You're right. But… Last night meant something…
This Love (2019) : I wanted to enshrine one of my favorite clichés, “Scientists are baffled,” but not write about things that actually baffle scientists.
Scientists are baffled They can’t see How anyone in his right mind could possibly still love me Scientists are baffled So what’s new? They don’t know how anyone with half a clue could Still love you This love of ours is blessed With superpowers This love of ours will last Like plastic flowers not the kind that fade or look homemade or totally disintegrate in toxic micro-particles of hate the kind whose beauty doesn’t stop whose petals never drop the kind that just grow fresher under pressure This love They can not explain love is real how stomach flu, psoriasis, and chronic pain It can heal They’re not all that smart They can’t feel They don’t comprehend the fine and subtle art of the deal This love of ours is blessed… So this love we’ve built on trust, not guilt on honesty, integrity, no lies, and lots of compromise, compromise After all we’ve said this love should be dead After all we’ve done Life should not be fun But it is We learn and we live We fight; we forgive but scientists are baffled by this love They don’t know what elementary particles it’s made of This love
It’s Time (2019) : This is the only “live” recording on Real Life, inspired by the boss of my writing group, “Words on Water,” deciding it was time for a change in the organization’s structure. She made that a prompt.
It’s time. It’s time to change. This time let’s not just rearrange the furniture. It’s time. It’s time to go. Let’s sell the house and overthrow the status quo. Let’s grow. Time to admit we had our run, let’s quit ‘cause we are done. Surprise! We had our highs. Time to debunk the lies. This ship has sunk. It’s time. It’s time to leave. This time let’s just admit we gave it our best shot but failed. Surprise! Our love derailed— not just a tiff we’ve sailed over the cliff. It’s time.
When You Just Don’t Care (2017) : In preparing this album I noticed a mistake in this song. It would have been cute to leave it in because I just don’t care, but I do care. Although the original files are mysteriously lost, Ahren and I were able, with much archeological and surgical effort, to reconstruct it. (My rhyming dictionary got a real workout here.)
Whether you're single, or half a pair, totally faithful, in an affair, playing on-line poker or solitaire: play it with flair. No need worrying whether everything's fixed or fair. Life is so much easier when you just don’t care. Whether you're glued to your easy chair, whether skydiving in midair, writing love poetry or web software: write it with flair. No need worrying… Whether you say your nightly prayer, whether you take more than your share, you can be a billionaire, you can be on welfare. Whether you're square or debonair, wearing white tie or underwear, fighting for peace, or germ warfare: fight ‘em with flair. No need worrying… Whether you're Leibniz or Voltaire, living in the best or worst possible world where you can be a common man, heir, or spare, either vin ordinaire or rare. No need worrying…
The One Thing I Want (2016) : I always tell people my songs are usually inspired by my real life but are not my diary—I make stuff up. This song is the perfect example. Bob and I went through a doing-crossword-puzzles-together phase. He got sick of them before I did so I did them alone for a while. It occurred to me that this would make a good symbol for a relationship slowly deteriorating. Bob and I are fine but the couple in this song is not.
Every day for years I'd go to work and have a million loving thought of you. Every day for years I’d take a break e- mail a kitty video to you. Then Every night for years Every day for years We'd have to work late and cancel our date Then Trips to Cleveland Now The one thing I want is for you to come back. Every night for years We'd sit and watch the nightly news and have a glass of wine Every night for years We'd talk about our daily blues and share some hopes and fears Then Every night for years we’d drink a second, drink a third, and do a crossword. Then I'd do it alone Now… But the one thing you want is Every week for years honest talks on nature walks in parks and woods with muddy shoes and autumn trees and snakes and bees. Then Every week for years the bookstore and Starbucks Then pumpkin scones, coffee clones, separate phones. Now… But the one thing you want is for me to stop asking for the one thing I want.
I’m Doing the Best I Can (2019) : As I was leaving physical therapy a voice in my head said, “I’m not confused, but my brain is.” Who said that? I’m confused.
I am not confused, but my brain is. Are you underused? (ten percent!) Take this brain brain quiz: Why do you think about nuns? Why do you think about ROTC? Why do you think about college roommates? Why do you think about our old boss? Why do you fret about politics? Getting upset about dirty tricks? Why do you have no answer for me? Nothing apropos? Could it be: That you are still that little boy big brat small fry? That you are still that baby-tot-kid-teen young guy? That you are still that middle-aged middle-class middle-man? I’m doing the best I can. Why do you think about things that people should do but don’t? Why do you think about things that possibly could go wrong but probably won’t? I’m doing the best I can. But you are always whining, undermining, assigning blame. Like I’m some imposition. Like we’re in competition. Like life’s a football game. Why keep interrupting With things to do Disrupting sleep With thoughts of me and you Thinking thoughts too shallow followed up with thoughts too deep. Why do you think about dropping dead? Wallow in existential dread? Why do you think about… I’m doing the best I can. stop blaming me, son, you’re the one obsessing on that nasty nun I’m trying not to be misled I try to think ahead instead avoiding bloodshed’s my ideal to sleep in bed not at the wheel I’m doing the best I can. Why aren’t you like me, talking, ever growing? instead of silently stalking, torpedo-ing? Why do you think about…
Whadda You Care (2019) : I used to hate fashion. Now I appreciate a cool runway show. But who cares what I wear?
I know you’re a man of solid principle. You consider most behaviors inadmissible. Old men’s in particular are unforgivable, not to mention mine, which I’m inclined, to think you’d find despicable. I am impressed by your discipline, dear comrade, governed by rules undeniably ironclad. I am sorry that you’re forced to see miscreant reprobate fools like me, I know you’d indict me, arrest me, and try me in the fashion courts ‘cause I’ve been known to wear: cargo shorts! Whadda you care? And though it violates one of your deeply held beliefs, I’ve been known to wear: white cotton briefs! Whadda you care? How do you know? Did you follow me into the locker room? Do you spy on me? Or just presume? You’d forgo the justice system strip me naked lock me in ye olde towne square stocks throw stones, break bones, throw rocks ‘cause I’ve been known to wear: sandals with socks! Whadda you care? You’ve made me aware you’re cool, I’m square, I’m old, you’re young, you’re spring, I’m sprung. I am your fashion nightmare. But if you don’t like it, don’t stare! Whadda you care? Why do you care? Whadda you care what I wear? How dare you tell me how to dress? My guess: you dress for success, you dress to impress, ‘cause inside you there’s nothing but depressing emptiness! Whadda you care? Why do I care?
Self-Loathing (2017) : There’s a little bit of cute logic in this song. If the listener isn’t thinking he or she won’t get it. (I’m holding out against the singular “they”; and yes, I know, Shakespeare used it. But Sister Mary-Whatever definitely did not.)
When I mention: Chicago Your reaction: ice and snow When I mention: Illinois Your reaction: hoi polloi When I mention: the Midwest Your reaction: je déteste You hate everything I love. So you should be full of self-loathing. When I mention: Jackson Pollock Your reaction: alcoholic I love preaching modern math Making you a sociopath I love any chocolate Any of your pants still fit? You hate… Any Joni Mitchell song All her harmonies are wrong Any show by Stephen Sondheim Too complex, too much rhyme Sunday in the Park Act two jumps the shark John Paul George and Ringo No no no no no no The fifteenth symphony of Philip Glass I’m gonna take a pass I’m gonna take a pass I pass I pass I pass I pass When I mention: Frank Lloyd Wright Your reaction: urban blight All-glass curving curtain wall Tiny bathrooms, kitchen’s small Prairie style silhouette And the roof leaks I would bet You hate…
I Don’t See You (2018) : I’ll never understand why I didn’t want to say “hi” to my high-school friend when I ran into him. (In real life we never kissed—I added that to make the song better. My songs are not my diary!)
I don’t let mom drive much anymore. I take her out to a grocery store— fluorescent like a pastry-stocked OR. We hit the SNACKS and skip the SALAD BAR. A gangly guy, someone I used to know in algebra, a hundred years ago, who wrote the score for every high school show and walked full speed into a plate glass window. I don’t see you; you don’t see me. I wonder, is that your wife and child? I thought you’d end up like Oscar Wilde. You wonder, does he live with his mom? You probably did time in Vietnam. We sneak down the COFFEE CANDY aisle. I picture a hippy Gomer Pyle. You’re thinking, he used to play guitar; apparently did not become a rock star. I don’t see you… What’s wrong with me? Like why on earth did I pretend I didn’t see my drama club forever friend? What’s wrong with us? Too shy to reminisce about that yellow bus, that psychedelic kiss. It’s Tuesday, my turn to stay with mom. Since dad’s gone, she cannot be alone. We eat quick and clip a couple coupons and gossip until her favorite sitcoms.
Real Life Has Begun (2004) : Bob and I used to perform this but it was not popular. I think the reason may be that we played it too fast; this is a greatly slowed-down version. This song is meant to be a splash of cold water in the face of people who are always waiting for the next phase: in grade school waiting for high school, in high school waiting for college, then waiting for a career, then retirement, never realizing that real life has already begun.
Real life has begun. Some somedays have come and gone. Some races are already lost, some won. Real life has begun. Ten or fifteen billion years ago real life began. With the big bang, then the sun, and the slime, then the also-rans. It’s sad, it’s good, it’s bad, it’s fun but whatever it is, it has begun. The slime, the sun, will end one day but whenever it’s done, it is underway. Real life has begun… Whether or not your duck’s in the water when the starter’s gun shoots, it shoots. Whether or not you agree philosophically, real life’s begun. Despite this blindfold and despite these ten-megawatt headphones, despite rubber gloves, eventually somehow I sensed through these layers of fuzz real life had commenced. Real life has begun…