(c) 2007 This Amazing Grace, Chris Falson
Early 2007 a writer/producer with whom I often work called to see whether or not I had my own (vocal) version of Amazing Grace. He was in the final edit of a documentary about a Prison and was at odds with the score for a particular scene…… he had tried placing several songs into the situation including Sufjan Steven’s recording of Amazing Grace and had yet to find ‘the one’. As he described the scene I could imagine the sound of an old, gray headed, blues singer (John Lee Hooker) sitting on a porch, playing a beat up guitar and singing to nobody in particular. But I wasn’t the director of this documentary was I……..
I wouldn’t have been calling me, or Sufjan for that matter (though he’s a great writer/singer)….. If I was the director I would like to think that I was fighting for the rights to some crackly old recording of John Lee, or Muddy Waters or the like…. telling a story…. a story the singer had lived himself…. a story he was able to pass on to me….. a white boy from Sydney….. a story of grace in the midst of pain, suffering, guilt, shame….. and hope.
I think I may have been thinking out loud during this conversation and had given the producer an earful…. still he kept asking me for my version….. which I didn’t have. This producer is a dear friend and I knew that he was really asking if I would make a recording….. in my ‘voice’ …. just for him and his project. On that day I remember being on a tight deadline for another project and a sensible person would have said no. But I am a sucker for distractions. And, until that moment I had never considered recording this song….. too many people had butchered it….. and what a pity for such a glorious piece of poetry set to music. But I was intrigued…………
So, of course I relented and promised to have something to him by the afternoon. I opened Logic, set up a few mics…. testing 1. 2. 3…. closed my eyes…. began strumming and sang the verses that came to mind. I could hear (in my head) the sound of a Dobro and so allowed some space for an overdub. If only I could leave things alone…. for then I wished too that I was wearing my old boots so I could tap along on the wooden floor….. and believe it or not I did that as an overdub too. Yeah I know…. there’s a word for that kind of behavior……!
However, despite my issues with over production I enjoyed the moment….. the several hours of recording and mixing…. where the guitar(s), the song and my soul connected. It didn’t matter if the track ever made it into the documentary….. it was such a moving experience during the recording of it….. that was my reward.
I was in Switzerland several years ago….. sitting on an old chair by the window, staring out on a forest…. and I was teaching myself how to play a baritone mandolin. I stumbled upon a little chord progression and from there began to hum a lovely simple melody. My natural reaction was to find pencil and paper and write it down…… but as I got up from the chair there was a gentle voice (in my head again) asking “will it be any less beautiful if you allow this piece to stay here…. and live only in this moment?”
What a strange concept!
I began to consider flowers and butterflies that live for but a day…. they are indeed beautiful….. even if no one ever sees them. What about a sunrise, or a walk in the forest, or the first kiss…. here for a moment and then gone, but not forgotten….. am I crazy or what!@#$%^&?
I played that piece for about an hour and when I got up I left it there….. in that mandolin…. in that old chair…. by that very old forest. It was a moment….. and though I cannot remember how the piece of music goes….the moment remains a special memory…. and this is probably more crucial to my being than many pieces I have written and still perform.
This little version of Amazing Grace is not quite as special as that moment in Switzerland…. but it is a moment none the less….. probably not the best recording or interpretation… it is a poor thing but mine own.
The producer, on receiving my mp3 (that afternoon as promised) was ecstatic…. full of my praises….. “the best version I have ever heard” etc etc etc….. he is a producer after all and understands the power of flattery….. who needs money after all that blarney?
He passed the track onto the director…. who also appreciated it’s honesty….. but asked if I could do it again and make it a little faster and a little happier.
Hmmmmmm….. I should have known better.
I explained my mind set, my time frame and my sense of this recording…. in that the producer had asked me to record the song….. meaning that he knew me and trusted me to give of myself….. me and the producer go way back…… (imagine two fingers crossed…. we are like that).
But this did not impress the director at all…. “that’s nice Chris, but just do a faster version and send it over”.
If I had been the original composer on this project the director’s request would have been quite the norm. Work for hire is basically that…. you write as part of a team and you rewrite whatever the Dr orders. But this was not the case at all….. and because of the subject matter…. the prison story…. the concept of grace….. and of course the song and what it meant to me…. well….. I said no….. I mean no thank you.
The director’s response was not very nice…… he told me that he had expected better of me. Another bridge burnt I guess.
Of course I wanted to answer back and tell him where he could stick his documentary. But that wouldn’t have been very gracious of me………….