I have a special keepsake from back in the days before I moved to Nashville. I call it my “wish book”. It’s just a dog-eared little green pocket-sized binder, but hundreds of hours of work went into that book.
I used to come home from a double shift of waiting tables (or one of the other four jobs that eventually paid my way to Nashville), turn on CMT, watch for a song that really moved me and then write the names of the songwriters in that book. Other nights, I would work the closing shift at the record store, stay into the wee hours of the night listening to new CDs, and crank the speakers until the floors shook while I copied songwriters’ names from the tiny liner notes into my book.
It wasn’t just a notebook of names, really. It was more than that. Each page in that book represented someone that I aspired to be. A master songwriter. Someone who touches your life…makes you laugh…makes you cry…someone that you respect. Writing down those names was like making a wish. Someday, I wanted to meet these people, to hear them perform, to learn the secrets of the craft from them and maybe – if the stars lined up right – to even count myself as one of them.
By the time I moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting, the book was getting pretty thick, and I knew it like the back of my hand. If you had told me you liked the song “Strawberry Wine”, I would have pulled out the book, showed you Matraca Berg’s page, and showed you that she also wrote “You Can Feel Bad if it Makes You Feel Better”, “Wrong Side of Memphis”, “Wild Angels”, and “Everybody Knows”. If “When You Say Nothing At All” came on the radio, I would show you Don Schlitz’s page (“The Gambler”, “Forever and Ever Amen”, “I Think About You”). If you were singing along with “I Think I’m on a Roll Here in Little Rock” I would show you that Tom Douglas had also written “Something Worth Leaving Behind”, “My Little Girl”, and “Love’s the Only House”.
I was thinking about this today as I was driving through Nashville on my way home from a co-writing appointment. I had a vision of myself ten years ago, sitting in that chair in front of the TV set in Toronto with my sore feet soaking in a bucket of hot water, writing Tom Douglas’s name in that little green binder.
Today I wrote a song with Tom Douglas.
And this summer, I performed with Don Schlitz in a songwriters’ round.
And last year, I hugged Matraca Berg as she walked off stage from her induction into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
Sometimes you don’t realize how far you’ve come until you look back at where you started.