Sings to a Small Guitar vol. I

Throughout my career, I’ve chosen, for whatever reason, to make my demos in epic sessions often lasting three or four hours, thirty or so songs at a time. Each one of these demos, though it is only me and an acoustic guitar, gets a name that ends up as the first working title of the forthcoming album: from Love Songs In The Face of Social Adversity (1988) to Dilettante’s Inferno (2006.) It’s the unedited, alternative history of my albums, and, since I’ve never owned any equipment that could remotely be described as a "home studio", it always takes place in someone else’s studio.

"JWH Sings To A Small Guitar" Vols I and II contain the best of these otherwise unreleased songs from the many sessions – none have been released, most have never even been played live. Often these songs were forgotten because I had written too many by the time I next made a record; sometimes because they didn’t suit the style of the album I wanted to make. Some get passed from one demo tape to the next, changing titles on the way. Some, including many you know, never got recorded as demos at all because they popped up at the wrong time.

You’ll find a complete sessionography of these tapes on a poster. You’ll notice that some of the tapes are in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order: I recorded them this way to stop me putting all my favourites at the top. Equal opportunities for all songs! Also, it’s interesting to realize things I couldn’t have told you (and to wonder why those things were): like the fact that 50/50 Split could easily have been on "Here Comes The Groom", or that When You Smile could have been on "JWH’s New Deal", let alone "Awake" and "Confessions", before it was finally rewritten to become the closing track on "Adam’s Apple", or that Byron Road was finally renamed Narrow Road after five years and three recordings. Why?

I am making my next demo of new songs next month, recording my next record of band new songs in November, and releasing Vol II of "JWH Sings To A Small Guitar" before the year is out.

In the meanwhile…
best wishes from
JWH

History in the Remaking

I thought you needed help
I thought they had you cornered
I didn’t mean to come on strong
I only meant to warn yer
The cash meant nothing to me
I’d have stayed in California

I’ve provided you with memories
Airbrushed all your photos
I’ve undercut the basic wage
And outbid the promoters
But nothing’s real important
Because I’ve paid off all the voters

It’s history in the remaking
It’s the sound of a big old lie and nerves breaking
And it’s history in the remaking

There’s nothing really happening at
The centre of Convention
Everyone agrees that there’s
A stark lack of dissension
And a couple of little genocides
That barely rate a mention

It’s history in the remaking
It’s the sound of a big old lie and nerves breaking
It’s a pleasure to be savoured and it’s painstaking
And it’s history in the remaking

The masters playing Risk
While all the slaves are playing Monopoly
It doesn’t even matter
If it’s fake or real property
And you will only realize
When you start playing properly

It’s history and it’s in the remaking
It’s the sound of a big old lie and nerves breaking
It’s a pleasure to be savoured and it’s painstaking
It’s the sequel to a movie that was box office breaking
And it’s history in the remaking

I hate you with a passion and I love you with avengeance
I’ll rewrite truth just one more time before I get my pension
But I’d give my right arm to see you in three dimensions

It’s history and it’s in the remaking
It’s the sound of a big old lie and nerves breaking
It’s a pleasure to be savoured and it’s painstaking
It’s the sequel to a movie that was box office breaking
And it’s history in the remaking

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Funny Old New World

Here's some middle english for you scholars of renown
Cave drawings of antiquity and artifacts I've found
It's still the middle ages, we're medieval boys and girls
It’s a funny old new world

The King is in his castle and the queen's gone underground
Everyone admires the plague which rages all around
They’re banking on insurance and they’re claiming force majeure
It's a funny old new world

The fabelled Tower Of Babel, well, they got it off the ground
When the pope's creative then there's always cash around
Presuming you can talk the talk, they'll make you Duke Of Earl
It's a funny old new world

From Homer to The Simpsons, they've kept us entertained
With things that seem to others to be simple or inane
One day it was John Milton and the next it's Milton Berle
It's a funny old new world

The futile system's still a joke, the witches still get ducked
Cash has changed to credit now, they'll never stop the buck
Jesus said ‘I’ll take the gold and you can keep the myrrh’
It's a funny old new world

The crusades never finished cos there’s always someone more
Who will not see it our way til they’ve lost the holy war
It used to take one hundred years, now it happens in a blur
It’s a funny old new world

Call me optimistic but I think we’re near the end
Perchance the renaissance is not too far around the bend
So bring on the Medicis, the Borgias and their Botticelli girls
It’s a funny old new world

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

The Dark Waltz

On a crowded dance floor, we held each other close
As the band played soft and low
They played a sad song which no one’s ever heard
And everybody knows
But they heard when you said that you loved me
Despite all of my faults
I know there’s a light at the end of this dark waltz
A light at the end of the dark waltz

And I didn’t know you, didn’t know your name
But I knew where you would be
All their eyes were on you, you looked straight through them
And you walked away with me
What’s the good if you find all that treasure
Lock it away in a vault?
Away from the light at the end of the dark waltz

There’s no use in pretending
This waltz will have to end
That won’t stop me starting again

When this dance is over, the band won’t play one more
And they’ll turn on all the lights
And you’ll move away from me, I’ll lose you in the crowd
As the singer says “Goodnight”
Will you watch as I stumble and stagger
Back to the place where time halts?
There must be a light at the end of the dark waltz
A light at the end of the Dark Waltz
A light at the end of the Dark Waltz

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Be with Him

I haven’t seen that look in your eyes
Since I don’t know when
Back when we started
Perhaps now is my time to try
An impression of a man
Who’s brokenhearted
Yes, you’re in love again
And it’s clear to see that it isn’t with me so…
Be with him
If you want to
I could never be someone you belong to
It can only get better, if you want to
Be with him

There’s no way I’m gonna say
Oh here’s your hat and
Where’s your hurry
My door’s always open for you
Sure enough
No need to worry
It’ nothing to do with love
It’s push and shove, I’ll rise above it
Be with him
If you want to
I could never be someone you belong to
It can only get better, if you want to
Be with him
If you need to
I’m your boy and Baby I can read you
Like an old love letter
If you want to, Be with him

I see how it’s gonna be
So neat and tidy
There’ll be no mess
There’s nothing that I can’t do
But I confess I can’t
Stop progress
There’s no way to fight the facts
I’ll get you back, but in the meantime

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Circles

The little corporal returns from another Moscow
Five foot two in his platform shoes
Speaks a little slow
Hail the retreat of a white messiah
Wading neck deep in the mire
Slinging his mud right in our eye
To see where it will stick

He’s standing on the soapbox now
Lathering into a frenzy
It’s all “his’n’hers” and racial slurs
And the displacement of your senses
If anyone wants to find the way home
It’s a paper chase papered with blood and foam
The loneliest long distance call
To a widow who’s watching the war

Well, you can look at the numbers
Watch them mount
Who gives a good goddamn about the body count
History is guesswork
And we’re going round
We’re going round in circles
We’re going round in circles

The weather got hard at the end of March
And the wind cut like a knife
Blew into our faces wherever we turned
We were holding on for life
It looks like we’re gonna go straight to hell
And he’s got big ideas but he just can’t spell them
Whose idea was this anyway and why is it never mine?

Well, you can look at the numbers
Watch them mount
Who gives a good goddamn about the body count
It’s rising like clockwork
And we’re going round
We’re going round in circles
We’re going round in circles

Why is it he will never agree
To the truth of his biography?
His secret’s safe with us
We’ll take it to the grave

The air vent’s locked and the ceilings closed
Energy levels at an all time low
Tone deaf people playing musical chairs
Die slo-mo in the snow
Nothing or less, you can take your pick
A rose without thorns or a pointless prick
Did I ever tell you that you make me sick?
We’re laughing deep inside

Congratulations for all your lies
I hope the moment you died, you felt justified
History’s more than homework
And we’re going round in circles
And we’re going round
We’re going round in circles
We’re going round in circles

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

The True Story of Buddy the Kid

Buddy was a guitar slinger
H was known to be the best
And he played it with his left hand
He was the fastest in the west
He was born in Lubbock, TX
In the year of ‘34
And he fixed his teeth up good
And went to Clovis to record

Pat Garrett, his producer
He was best friends with the Kid
Until the day they argued
Over how he’d be recorded
“Hand over that guitar, amigo
Give it to that session guy”
And Buddy said “Pat, That’ll be
The Day that I die”

Buddy the Kid
This is what he did
Buddy the Kid

So Pat booked him a tour
On a big old aeroplane
But all Buddy wanted to do was
Stay home with Marie Elaine
So he rounded up his posse
The Crickets was his gang
And they abandoned the whole tour
Ands they went down south on the lam

Buddy the Kid
This is what he did
Buddy the Kid

They holed up in The Land of Disenchantment for a while
Till someone phoned the studio:
“Tell Pat we’ve got the Kid”
Pat Garrett smiled.

And somewhere in a grave
Beyond Highway 84
Lies the body of your Buddy
By his favourite record store
He was shot down by his producer
For being true to his own art
And that is where his life ends
And his legend starts

Oh, Buddy the Kid
I’ll tell you what he did
Buddy the Kid

Oh, Buddy the Kid
That is what he did
Buddy the Kid

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Good for the Ratings

There’s a war on TV
And it’s good for the ratings
There’s a madman kissing babies
And it’s good for the ratings
No-one likes to hear swearing in an interview
But if word slips out in some well-placed previews
Well, who knows?
There’s some live suicide and it’s good for the ratings
A plane goes down, some relatives cry
And that’s good for the ratings
It’s OK to exploit public tears on a face
Provided we appear to disdain it on the surface
That’s OK

And if it’s good for the ratings
It’s good for you
You get better quality programming too
And if it’s good for the ratings
It’s good for me
I love my TV
And if it’s good for the ratings
It’s good for us all
We just gotta hope the ratings will fall

I hate to see a bad loser
But he’s good for the ratings
And some gun-toting lunatic
Always good for the ratings
If he’s gonna do it, it’s not my problem, it’s his ‘n
Hey, man, that’s what I call good journalism
Well, whatever…
There’s a game show on TV
And I’m not concentrating
There’s another squeaky soap
You know I’m still waiting
I just flick through the channels
I watch them zap by
I’m waiting for something to catch my eye
Hey! Look at that

And if it’s good for the ratings
It’s good for the world
It keeps the flags unfurled
And if it’s good for the ratings
It’s good for your soul
Everyone needs to be told
And if it’s good for the ratings
It makes you stand tall
You just gotta hope the ratings will fall
I hope the ratings will fall
I hope the ratings will fall

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

The Splendid Life

In a single moment it was gone
I was in the back and you were driving
At first, I thought it vital that we won
Then I was relieved to be surviving
I always knew that getting there was fun
I wish it wasn’t ruined by arriving
Oh, the splendid life, yes it’s over
Oh, life in clover, that’s all gone
Oh, the splendid life, yes it’s over
What went wrong?

Your tracks they led me half way round the world
You left a trail of paperbacks behind you
You took some yarn and spun it through the maze
Only I was bothered to come find you
No matter all the bridges that you burned
You’ll always have me here to remind you
Oh, the splendid life, yes it’s over
Oh, life in clover, that’s all gone
Oh, the splendid life, yes it’s over
What went wrong?

Sometimes you’ll kid yourself
Into believing it didn’t exist
But it did, but it did

The verdict’s in and there’ll be no appeal
Check the papers, it’s not April Fool’s Day
I heard the crash before I heard the squeal
Now everywhere is turning into Safeway
If you don’t believe that this is real
Just read the memo waiting in your in-tray
Oh, the splendid life, yes it’s over
Oh, life in clover, that’s all gone
Oh, the splendid life, yes it’s over
What went wrong?

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

I See You

I see you
Standing in front of a firing squad
When they ask what your final request is
You say: “Is there a God?”
I see you
Holding your own hand on Lover’s Lane
Whispering sweet nothings in your own ear
Self-serenading “You’re So Vain”
Say I’m not free
But that’s not true
You don’t see me
But I see you
I see you, I see you
You’re see-through

I see you
Stretched to the end marks of sanity
Saying “What else can you give me?
I can take it all”
I see you
Martyr yourself over trivia
Because you thought you’d look good walking on water
When you can’t even do the crawl
Say you’re so free
But that’s not true
You don’t see me
But I see you
I see you, I see you
You’re see-through

Well, I see you
Lecturing a world full of volunteers
About the intricate workings of the jigsaw
If they’ve got ears, they won’t hear
I see you
Lying about yourself and believing it
Living a life out of selfishness
Missing out all the good bits
Say you know me
Of course, you do
You don’t see me
But I see you
I see you, I see you

I see you – Without doubt it’s getting worse
I see you – driving backwards in a hearse
I see you – no reflection in the mirror
I see you – saying stuff that I can’t hear

I see you
Drowning in a sea of complacency
Even your death throes impress you
To end your life that perfectly
I see you
Extolling the eternal flame of doubt
When if someone lit a candle
You’d try to blow it out

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

It’s Never Too Late

Look at the kind of man he is
Look at the sort of human you are too
Look at how we never change
Though we think we do
And when you look down on all the things that you did
All you’ll see is the things that you’re keeping hid
It’s never too late
It’s never too late
To change your mind

All he left you was a dream
Some clothes to dress up in and a dialing tone
When you get the message, girl
It’s time to hang up the phone
And when you look back, it’s gonna be with a smile
Cos when you’re paying the bills, it’s your turn to dial
It’s never too late
It’s never too late
It’s never too late
To change your mind

And the night comes crashing in
Onto troubled hearts and open eyes
It took you so long to begin
So let’s cut to the goodbyes
Whatever the time, you can forget what you’re told
Cos nothing’s for keeps until the credits roll
It’s never too late
It’s never too late
It’s never too late
To change your mind

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

The Undercard

Our evening’s almost over
And it hasn’t yet begun
The main event is happening elsewhere
When I was unbeaten
Only you would try
Now it’s just like neither of us care

Someone offered money
If I’d go down in the third
They said we could consider it a loan
I turned towards the ring
Like I hadn’t even heard
But now I wish I’d never even known

We’re not the stars
We’re on the undercard
There’s a bigger fight than you and me
Somewhere in this town
I know it’s hard
To be on the undercard
When you wanna fight the heavyweight crown

Come home with me
We’ll watch the fight on TV
Wonder if we would have done the same
We’re on ropes
We’re cut but full of hope
Waiting for the bill to ring again

We’re not the stars
We’re on the undercard
There’s a bigger fight than you and me
Somewhere in this town
I know it’s hard
To be on the undercard
When you wanna fight the heavyweight crown

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Dear Lawyer

Dear lawyer, dear lawyer
I’ve noticed that you don’t return my calls anymore
Dear lawyer, dear lawyer
And your assistant Tim has made it clear I’m a bore
Do you remember back when everything was understood
You and me on conference calls to Hollywood
Laughing at the suits because we could
You whispered “Take the money”
Now I would

Dear lawyer, dear lawyer
Our meeting was for two and it’s a quarter to four
Dear lawyer, dear lawyer
Tim is kinda rude, and that’s what you pay for him for
Do you remember when I would play you my new song?
You tapped your fingers, sometimes sang along
You’d hold all calls, from your broker and Hong Kong
You were my friend back then
That was when I paid my bills on time
You were a partner, my partner in crime
You showed me how to write and where to sign
You offered me coffee then
Now there isn’t time

Dear lawyer, dear lawyer
You wave at me to sit down, I admire the decor
Dear lawyer, dear lawyer
There’s something I must say and it can’t wait anymore
I don’t know why we dragged this out despite the warning signs
The obstacle course and irreversible decline
I need someone whose interests intertwine with mine
You haven’t got the time for me
But now you’re listening, I’ll cut right to the chase
If this is nostalgia on your part, it’s misplaced
I can’t stand being your charity case
I’m dispensing with your services
You will be soon be faced
With my new lawyer

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Rock ’n’ Roll Code

You got a lotta love from the crowd tonight
Now you get to hang with your best friends
One of them burned you some new CDs
And one of them has a new boyfriend

Everybody lives on the far side of town
But give them a lift if you’re able
You’ll be together for breakfast again
Same hangover, different tables
Starbucks and half of a bagel

You’re doing alright
And you might explode
But you might break, might break, might break
The Rock’n’Roll code

You’re talking in tongues at the top of your lungs
A private and beautiful language
I seen you drinking your rock’n’roll tea
And eating your rock’n’roll sandwich

You don’t play with drugs unless they’re prescribed
By a quotable family physician
All of the things that you can live without
Are notable by their omission
Let other folks make the decisions

You’re doing alright
On overload
And you might break, might break, might break
The Rock’n’Roll Code

Open up the gates because we’re sailing to town
Just like the Spanish Armada
Here comes the Holiday, Hampton or Quality
Best Western, Comfort, Ramada

I got the tea bag, got the hot water
Baby, if you got the honey
We’ll coat our throats, go onstage, emote
And outlast The Duracell Bunny
Every day’s shiny and sunny

We’re doing alright
We might explode
And we might break, might break, might break
The Rock’n’Roll Code

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)

Write What You Know

I been writing a book for my ghosts
In return for the times that they did it for me
I been staying up into the night
The police have been helping me with my inquiries
They've taken my statement
And read through my diary
They say that the case is closed
And you should write what you know

They sat me in front of the judge
He said: ‘Just look around you and open your eyes
What’s wrong with the things that you see?
Here is the verdict, a word to the wise
There’s no need to make up
Those outrageous lies…’
He read out the sentence so slow
‘Write what you know’

I said: ‘I been singing a song from a dream
Like a letter that's sent for the pleasure of sending
I don’t care if it ever gets there
Or if it goes round the world on a road never-ending
I try hard to please you
Without condescending.’
The Jury said ‘Let that man go
Write what he knows!’

Music and lyrics by John Wesley Harding (Plangent Visions Inc., ASCAP)