As a songwriter, I hardly ever think of the words I write being presented without music to accompany them. But every now and then, someone else sees value in my words without having music attached. It is an honor to me when that happens.
Several decades ago, Everette Maddox, a legendary New Orleans poet and character, and I became friends. He invited me to perform my original songs at his weekly poetry reading at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans. That was the beginning of some beautiful friendships that I am proud to maintain today. After Everette died, Nancy Harris took the helm of the weekly reading. A fine poet herself, Nancy has extended the courtesy of an invitation to sing at the readings for many years.
A few years ago, John Travis, another New Orleans friend, asked me if he could include a few of my lyrics in Maple Leaf Rag: A New Orleans Poetry Anthology, a periodic book he publishes. I was honored and immediately said, “Yes!” Now, two of my song lyrics will be included in the 40th Anniversary Edition of Maple Leaf Rag. Again, I am surprised and proud that John thinks enough of these words to include them without the music attached.
Here are the two pieces: Below the Level of the Sea, inspired by New Orleans, itself, and Inspiration and Bar Scotch, whose inspiration was Everette Maddox. Song links are also included, in case you’d like to hear them, as well.
Thanks for reading and listening. As for me, I’ll keep on writing.
Below the Level of the Sea
The Maple Leaf Bar is down on Oak Street That always seemed ironic to me ‘Cause there ain’t no “Oak Leaf Bar” over on Maple But I guess that’s just the way it’s meant to be This is a crazy, mixed-up town; the dead are buried above the ground And a funeral is a party, yessiree You may have lost a life-long pal but soon you’re struttin’ down Canal You know, we do it all Below the Level of the Sea
Tennessee Williams used to live here He rode that streetcar named Desire to irony ‘Cause there ain’t no “Louisiana Williams” living up in Memphis But I guess that’s just the way it’s meant to be This really is a writer’s town – you live your life and you write it down Your story’s sticky like the humidity You’re just living what you think and it all comes out in the ink And you know we do it all Below the Level of the Sea
From the River to the Garden District, dramas do unfold Those crawfish-eating lawyers use Napoleonic Code Well-bred New Orleans debutantes can stand you on you ear Just like those little Cajun girls raised on Dixie beer
Carrollton Station ain’t no roundhouse But this lonesome streetcar’s here to get some juice Just like a streetcar, I have found out That rollin’ with the flow ain’t running loose Oh, I may never settle down but she’s my Lady, she’s my town Her rhythm and her blues are part of me And when those saints go marching in, you’ll see this lonesome boy again And I know we’ll do it all Below the Level of the Sea I want to be back down in New Orleans ‘Cause those saints go marching in Below the Level of the Sea
Words and Music ©1988 Les Kerr O.N.U. Music (ASCAP) Click to hear musical version
Inspiration and Bar Scotch
He could read for umpteen hours, summoning his powers To conjure up the syllables that kept us all enthralled Words were his best friends; they were with him at the end When he said, “He was a mess,” was how he’d like to be recalled
On that barstool toward the right at the Maple Leaf each night He quoted Twain and Shakespeare verbatim, as we watched New Orleans royalty, the King of Irony Eighty-proof poetry Inspiration and Bar Scotch
A distinguished man of letters, I’ve never seen one better He could climb out of his mind and into yours on just a phrase From New Yorker magazine to the streets of New Orleans He chose drinking and strong thinking as the way to spend his days
It wasn’t just the words, but the way he used to say ‘em That brought you in to know the joke on life that he was playin’
By the time I came to know him the seeds that he’d been sowing Had rooted deep and deadly and spread with kudzu haste Still, out of the dark shot his bright creative spark With his pen, he proved his life was no American waste
On that barstool toward the right at the Maple Leaf each night He quoted Twain and Shakespeare verbatim, as we watched New Orleans royalty, the King of Irony Eighty-proof poetry Inspiration and Bar Scotch Words and Music ©2015 Les Kerr O.N.U. Music (ASCAP) Click to hear musical version
Text and images copyright 2019