Mick Kinney: A Song in His Heart and a Pencil in His Hand, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced you to Mick Kinney, a musical omnivore, and discussed his songwriting, which finds sources in a variety of genres. Part 2 analyzes one song.

mick at the pianoMick’s song “Spare Us the Verse,” from Secret Songbook, illustrates the music hall style, while it also comments on the history of songwriting in the 20th century.  The narrator recaps “theatre’s guilded days” in which songs were used to introduce characters and plot.  “The patrons left the show still hummin’  it/ And you’d know you had a hit, or not…/ If sheet music vendors sold a lot (or not).” But  the advent of piano rolls and gramophones and radios made such lengthy songs impossible to publish. The narrator then tells of a chap who hauls his trash, once a songwriter who stood his ground and refused his publisher’s advice.

 They told him:

“Give us a good old chorus.

We don’t really need the verse.

Just write a chorus for us.

Just start with the chorus first.

Folks just want a plain refrain

They don’t have to rehearse.

Give us a good old chorus.

Don’t really need the verse.”

The songwriter, his hat in hand, suggests a slow and somber bridge  “To add a touch of drama and suspense!?”  But the publisher, “who looked like Freud/ Across this desk he glared annoyed,” replied,

“Give us a good old chorus.

We don’t really need the verse.

Just write a chorus for us.

You don’t have to bore us first…”

Kasper Stranger Malone

Kasper “Stranger” Malone

This song works on multiple levels—it mimics the music hall style, and it tells the history of music in the first half of the 20th century, but it is also full of inside jokes. The verses are about verses, the chorus, choruses, and the bridge, bridges. In addition, Mick is playing a posthumous joke on his old friend Kasper “Stranger” Malone, who, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, had the longest career as a working musician, from 1926 to 2003. When Mick and his wife Elise Witt were sorting through Stranger’s effects, they found snippets of ideas, poetry in verse. (Stranger had called them doggerel.) There among the scraps of paper, Mick found the words which make up the chorus, onto which he built a 300+ word song.

How did this former kid from Milwaukee, who describes himself and his brother as once looking like The Beaver and Wally, transmute into a cool cat, a walking encyclopedia of musical styles, someone who plays so many different instruments that he’s lost count of the total? Childhood influences included a wind-up Victrola and a chest full of records as well as a piano (banished to the basement), which Mick learned to play listening to the old 78s. But he started his songwriting journey in 1975 when he hiked the Appalachian Trail, ending in Georgia. He carried a “petite guitar” and wrote songs about his adventures along the 2000 mile trek.  And so his songwriting is self-taught, or, rather, taught by immersion in the masters: the Gershwins, Hoagy Carmichael, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, clever wordsmiths like Kinky Freidman, Leon Russell, and jazzman Mose Allison.

Part 3 of this series will return to the initial comparison of poetry and song, and discuss how Mick views his craft.

If you want to hear Mick performing his songs or purchase Nothing left To Chance,  go to http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mickkinney . For Secret Songbook, contact Mick directly. See below. If you’d like to hear Mick the Fiddler lay some rosin down with his bow, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qFsSYjj5iU  and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9M82kVkb1o

Want to learn to play fiddle, banjo, guitar, or piano in any of the styles mentioned here? Want to commission a song or score? How about a special performance for your next party? Go to mickkinney251@yahoo.com .

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