Updated: Mar 12, 2019
I am probably not alone in my experience that the power of song can sometimes transcend ordinary life, edging into the realm of the supernatural. I have heard of other songs that "came true" for their writers but nothing could have prepared me for having "Bird in the House" manifest in such a profound & life-changing way.
At the time I was very unhappy. On welfare, addicted to booze, pot & cigarettes, I hadn't written a song in months. I was spending most of my time with a caveman heavy metal artist I didn't love because he provided for my addictions with only my self-respect in trade. One night he asked me to marry him. I had been considering this "career move" for awhile but his words sank into me like cold lead & I blurted out the truth - "I don't love you." His reply was blunt - "Well, what are you doing with me then?" My pride wouldn't allow me to say. I just shook my head. "You know what you remind me of?" he asked. "A bird in the house. You're bouncing against the windows and the walls & there's no way out."
This kind of metaphor was utterly out of character for him. I was transfixed by his words. For months, I had been growing obsessed with superstitions - ominous ladders, indoor umbrellas, black cats - grasping at straws, trying to keep myself safe. There is an old saying that when a bird flies into the house, it means there is going to be a death in the family. I felt death all around me. I went cold all over. I ran into the bedroom with my guitar. As I sat there shaking, the song "Bird in the House" poured out of me. I didn't write that song. Somebody else wrote it through me. Something inside me clicked.
I went back into the other room and told him it was over - I was going to change my life. He scoffed - but I made him take me home, where I faced my dark, dusty, windowless studio apartment alone with my thoughts & my song. I struggled for hours - pacing, crying, & wondering how on earth I was going to change. What would life be like without my addictions? How would I live? "No way," I thought. I can't do it." "But I have to do it, I'm dying," I argued with myself. I was totally stuck - so I played my song for courage. Finally I fell on the floor, exhausted. I gave up. "God, if you're there, and you'd better be, you have to do this for me. I can't do it myself."
A strange peace enveloped me out of the blue. Suddenly, I was certain that everything was going to be all right. I didn't know how - and I still didn't believe that I was going to be able to release my addictions - but I had a certain sense that I wasn't alone. I was loved, & the world was turning just as it should. After months of misery the feeling hit me like a wave. Such sweet relief! I fell asleep sober & peaceful for the first time in years.
For two weeks, I was able to stay away from booze. I felt very alone, but I had hope.
I thought a lot about that strange sense of peace. Had I imagined it? One morning I woke up feeling like I was ready to get drunk again. It had been two weeks - surely that proved I didn't have a problem with booze! I wrestled with myself all day, finally deciding to go & get a bottle. Just then, the phone rang. It was my ex - Mr. "Bird in the House." "Come on over. I miss you. Let's party!" I told him I'd been straight for two weeks & was going to stay that way - lying through my teeth. I wanted to party, but not with him! We argued. Finally I felt myself relenting. He had more money - I couldn't afford to stay loaded for long. But going back to him meant that "Bird in the House" meant nothing - that feeling of peace meant nothing. I was staring at the carpet, not really seeing it, listening to our conversation with one part of my brain & edging into despair with the other. "You're going to blow it," I said to myself. I opened my mouth to tell him to come and get me when . . .
A little grey bird walked across my carpet. "There's a bird in the house!" I yelled, amazed - I almost fell out of my chair. "Well, I guess that's the end of this conversation," he said, & hung up. I didn't hear from him again for months - & by then I was safe.
It took some doing to get the bird back outside. Somehow I had to get him out of my room, down a hallway & three flights of stairs. He spent awhile sitting under some recording gear in the corner of studio, & later perched on the shoulder of a jacket I'd worn when I won a songwriting competition. At that point, the little sparrow allowed me to carry him across the room on a hanger - staring at me calmly the whole time. When I got to the door, he jumped off the hanger & skittered under the recording gear again. Finally I got a broom & gently 'swept' him down the hall to the top of the stairs. He didn't seem inclined to leave so I gave him a little boost with the broom. He flew to the bottom of the staircase - and then started hopping back up the stairs. When a friend came up behind the bird & chased it out onto the street, I was sorry to see it go. And I knew things would never be the same.
I didn't drink that night, or ever again. A couple of years later, John Ellis heard me playing "Bird in the House" at an open mike session & offered to produce a demo of it. We submitted it to FACTOR & were granted the loan which enabled us to make this recording.
There's a funny little coda to the story. The day the CDs were to arrive from the plant, John got a last minute recording job, so we had to put off our celebratory dinner for a few hours. As we opened the boxes, he described the session & a funny suspicion stole over me. "A caveman heavy metal artist?" I asked. Sure enough - it was Mr. Bird in the House - the one who thought I would never change. The one who told me I was like a bird in the house.
So the circle closed. I began to understand my identity, a trapped bird finally freed from a phantom cage by a man I didn’t even love. By a tiny brown bird. By something big enough to reach right into my apartment, my mind, and my soul. Music.
LA '10 As published in Words and Music Magazine.