I hear myself singing a familiar song, in the middle of the night, in my dreams. I’m singing the lyrics to the popular song, “Have a holly jolly Christmas…” but you wouldn’t recognize it because the melody is different than the one you’re used to. In my dream, I’ve turned the happy melody into something more melancholy.
I feel as if that’s kind of become my brand in my “awake” life—my unwanted brand. I take happy things and make them sad. Or at least point out the sad. I guess it makes sense to do it in my dreams too.I suddenly wake up, the melody and lyrics fresh on my mind. Was I really dreaming? I get up to write down my ideas. It’s rather unusual for me to be singing in my dreams. Maybe this is something special so I better pay attention.
I usually go to the piano when I hear a melody and lyric, but since my piano is next door in my studio and it’s the middle of the night, I dig through the drawer looking for a piece of paper.
I scribble my ideas on a piece of paper, drawing little lines that go up and down across the page representing the melody so that I’ll remember it in the morning. As it turns out, when I revisit the idea, it’s the harmony I have actually noted.
I start to finish the song a few days after the dream…(at least I thought I finished it)
Here’s one fo the early drafts:
Have a holly jolly Christmas
Have a holly jolly Christmas
you can hear the music play
but as time goes on, on and on
Christmas doesn’t look the same each year
I go wandering ’round in a circular world
that doesn’t know where to end
in the midst of the lights
where do you belong, Jesus?
Show me the way back to the heart of Christmas
help me to see all that you meant it to be
I want to see youI want to know you better
show me the way, show me the way to You
All the family now is gathered
they have come from far and near
but the pain inside cannot hide
Christmas has its disappointing times
in the back of our minds
mem’ries there to remind
things are not as you wish
and in the midst of the tears
shed through the years, you wonder
where do I belong, Jesus? (Chorus)
Christmas is meant to be joyful
Christmas is meant to bring peace
but just like the story of so long ago
where things don’t turn out just right
Children lose their lives
royal men still lie
and families run for their life (A husband baby and wife)
still this prayer I offer you tonight
Show me the way….
I take this song to my manager (as well as many other Christmas songs I am writing) and his critique is consistent with what I’ve heard before. “Even your funny songs have an intensity to them,” he says, in reference to a non-holiday song I wrote called “Personalities.” Sigh. I’ve asked for constructive critique because I want to improve as a songwriter. So now I have to receive it, right?
I thought you might enjoy seeing my notes I wrote after he listened to Back to the Heart of Christmas.
I love the part where he asks, “Who’s the kids getting killed?”
Or the part where he says the bridge is too l long and introduces a whole new line of thought. I see what he means once he points it out. A bridge should simply carry us from one thought to another without building a whole new road. It should take us over the water, not muddy it.
In the broader story of the Nativity, other babies died, a King lied and the parents of Jesus had to run for their lives. So in this case, I felt the bridge in the song could help remind us all that life isn’t perfect, especially at Christmas. Sad is mixed in with happy, even in the Nativity. But in my desire to “set the world straight” I tend to try to say too much.
I’ve had to learn to stay focused on the one thing the song is about and not try to solve all the problems of life in just three minutes.
It took me decades to understand my own yearning for perfect holidays. To discover that much of it was tied to the fact that we didn’t have perfect holidays as a family. We were not a complete unit. We had lost people along the way and it was extra hard at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Just as my disheartened soul went through some healing and mindset shifts about the holidays, coupled with a better self-awareness of why I struggled with the holidays, the song also evolved. I wrote a much simpler bridge…
Help me to be like a child at heart
open my life to your love
setting aside the distractions of life
that keep me from the greatest gift of all
Of course, in my case, the distractions were grief and loneliness. They come in all shapes and sizes.
I started sharing the song (the re-written version) with audiences at Christmas events. Many times people would ask if I had a recording of that song. I knew that was a good sign.
All of these years later, after putting it on the album, keeping it in the annual show, I still feel the magic every time I sing it.