"When Dragons Were Real"

(Listen to the song on any streaming service or preview and buy from my "music" page)

"We were knights in armor of shining steel
fearless in battle on our noble steeds
When you scraped your knee
or got scared in the night,
you would run to me
and I’d make it all right
I could be brave
if you could believe
Back when unicorns danced
and dragons were real

Maybe one fine day we’ll be heroes again
standing proud and true on our own homeland
We will chase away monsters from under the bed
Find happy ever after in the lives we have led
We will believe
and we will recall
back when unicorns danced
and dragons were real

Now my armor’s rusted and paint’s begun to peel
There are bills to be paid and deadlines to meet
Words are our weapons
 we hurl in the abyss
Wounds from wars
don’t heal with a kiss
You don’t believe—
you don’t even recall
Back when unicorns danced
and dragons were real

Close your eyes
(just close your eyes)
Wish on a star
Don’t let this hard world
break your heart in two
Magic still lives
in you

I wrote the song "When Dragons Were Real" four years ago when my first child was about to leave home for college. During rehearsals with my bass player, Cheryl, we spent more and more time talking about how we were dreading our oldest children leaving for college. Finally she announced: “You have to write a song about this!” I had attended several songwriting workshops and started my own weekly songwriting group but had only written a few songs at that point. I told her I didn’t think I could do it. Nonetheless, every week she asked how her song was coming along. So I worked at it—and wrote terrible drafts with sappy lyrics. I wrote and rewrote lyrics about being happy to let my child go into the world and discover new adventures. But all my background notes and journaling were about how sad I was. As I reflected on my sadness, I knew I was dreading simply missing him. But mostly my sadness was about this part of my life being over. Part of the wonder of being a parent is getting to relive your own childhood (if you were lucky enough to have a happy childhood). You tell remembered stories, go back to forgotten places, act silly, and (at least pretend to) believe in magic. You get to be the hero in your own life. But now, with both of my children well into adolescence, the magic of childhood was over. Again

Fortunately I had two therapists in my song-writing group (thank you Mark Larson and DeWitt Crosby!). After the second time the song had been taken apart in critiques, Mark finally said “I don’t think you are writing a song about letting go. I think you want to hold on.” Aha. But the struggle didn’t end with the lyrics. I had to figure out how to play it on the guitar. I knew I wanted to create a “magic” sound in the musical riff. Nanci Griffith’s harmonic ping for the elevator at Woolworth’s in her song “Love at the 5 and Dime” was the perfect inspiration (see my youtube cover here). In order to get the harmonic ring sound with a chord, I knew I would need to write the song in open tuning. Although I only knew one song in open tuning at the time, fortunately, Nanci's was the song I knew.

Chris Rosser and I play guitars in the recording; however, I took the unusual step of crediting the piano player, Chad Lawson, in the song title because I was so moved by his interpretation of the song. Chad is a chart-topping classical musician who interprets classical and early 20th century composers as well as writing his own original compositions. His gift is creating magic in the silence between notes. He knows when to be restrained, and when to cut loose. I had hired him to record three other songs but not this one. When he said he’d worked on an arrangement, we went ahead and recorded him. I’ll never forget hearing him bring this song to life on the piano. The hairs on my arm stood up and tears ran down my face—a beautiful moment of creation for which I am so grateful.

After months and years of work, I am finally releasing this baby song into the world. You never know where something you create might end up—the ripples in other lives—but you hope for the best and let go.