"Steer Your Way"
It’s almost mischief night. Tomorrow is Halloween. It’s raining here. It’s pretty though. I’ve always liked melancholy weather. Serious and cool. I like to think of these skies as silver rather than gray. When the light starts to dim the tree trunks and branches turn black. But you can still see the leaves all glowing with their orange and red, some even darker with a kind of deeper, bruised purpled brown.
There’s nothing I can say about Leonard Cohen that hasn’t been said. I never thought of him as an acquired taste. As much as I like a toe tapper, I prefer that irresistible sensation of something like wisdom. I came upon Cohen’s work via the vinyl collection by my parents’ record player. Those giant speakers. The hum when you turned it on. The sound of a needle dragging over earth.
“Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” was the first one that grabbed hold of me. It put me in my place. It made me feel as though I was a word in a sentence.
I recorded “Steer Your Way” just after Cohen died. I was asked to do it for a tribute. I wouldn’t have leaned so quickly had I not been pushed. There were so many songs that came to mind to do. I could list them, but it would delay the what and why it became obvious that “Steer Your Way” would be my choice.
To live in a system where destinations are the glimmering prize while life itself is a series of great escapes, well, there comes a weight. It’s almost as if what we’ve designed and welcomed is at odds with our nature, our hearts, our experience. And maybe that’s the point. This song is a prayer. Maybe? I hesitate to even pretend to express what he meant. He had earned his points of view. He’s many floors above me.
So I’ll just say, “Steer Your Way” is the best song I’ve ever taken the honor to sing. It has acted as a kind of bandage for me as we move through this era, this age of dissonance. I wish everyone could feel these words the way I do. The fullness of them. I’m sure some of you do. I only sang it once. It’s humbling to read the past and the present and the future via such poetic concision while trying not to get the wind punched out of you.
“As he died to make men holy,
Let us die to make things cheap”
That’s not cynicism. That’s what it is. That’s where we are. And the lyric implores you to steer your way away from that, knowing that you probably won’t, because you never did. And still, it hopes you will. That’s some Dylan Thomas light right there, do not go gentle into that thing that keeps dogging you.
What a gift.
I did the best I could with it. David Henry played the cello. And Olly Knights of Turin Brakes sang the beautiful melodies and backing vocals toward the end.
Special thanks to Rand Foster and Brian Brinkerhoff. My version of “Steer Your Way” will also appear on The Future Was Beautiful.
The Future Was Beautiful releases (again) on most digital and streaming sites this Friday, November 1st. As I’ve already said, I hope you’ll revisit the songs as intended, in sequence. One into the other. This is my way of making a slower case, and hopefully a fuller inhabiting of these songs. It may feel redundant. But I mean well.