The Story Behind Wild Ideas and The Heart Chronicles!
I write books. Sometimes they’re made up of chapters; other times, they’re made up of songs.
Like the character I created when I was a child—Molecule Man—I’ve always wanted to save the world. Since I can’t fly or stop bullets, I’ve settled on sharing ideas as a way to help make things better. One of the most effective ways to share ideas is by writing books, and today that’s what I’m focused on. The fun part is: Sometimes my books are made up of chapters; other times, they’re made up of songs!
Not every song contains a profound idea, but over the years, I’ve tried to write a few songs that do. One thing was always clear to me: If a single song can communicate something of value, a group of songs working together can take that to a higher level, telling a bigger story or making a larger point. The result is a more substantial piece of art — and something akin to a book.
Currently, I’m creating two new album projects that I like to think of as “musical books.” Each of the two new albums contains songs that work together to convey a larger idea or experience. The first project, Wild Ideas, uses a group of thought-provoking songs to ask the question: What if everything you think you know about the world is wrong? The second project, The Heart Chronicles, uses songs to tell a chronological story about a young man’s experiences as he discovers that falling in love is awesome — but staying in love takes a lot of work.
Each of these “musical books” has a unique backstory. Wild Ideas actually started out as a traditional book that I was planning to write(!). Several first-hand experiences with “unusual” phenomena caused my world view to change dramatically, and I wanted to share those experiences with others. I’d gotten as far as creating a detailed outline for the book — with the same working title, Wild Ideas — when I realized that it would take a staggering amount of time and effort to provide the kind of supporting stories and evidence from other sources that I wanted to include. So I shelved the book idea.
At some point it dawned on me that I’d already written songs about many of those experiences. So, instead of writing a book called Wild Ideas, I could share those experiences through an album of songs dealing with issues like the nature of our beliefs, optimism versus pessimism, the pitfalls of certainty, and more controversial topics such as telepathy, reincarnation, lucid dreaming and people’s ideas about God. Not surprisingly, almost all of the songs that make up Wild Ideas are topical. Furthermore, each song contains some life lesson I learned as a result of those experiences.
The Heart Chronicles is structured following a different premise: it uses a series of songs about relationships to tell a chronological story. Creating something like this has been on my mind since my earliest days as a songwriter; in fact, I performed a one-man show along these lines in New York City in my 20s. (I have no doubt that Joni Mitchell’s album Court and Spark — a masterpiece that uses brilliant, insightful songs to tell the story of a failed love affair — motivated me to attempt it.) In those days, I wasn’t in a position to record an album, so after doing my one-man show I set aside the idea. But I always knew I’d come back to it. Today, with many more songs in my repertoire about the challenges of being in a relationship, I can assemble a pretty compelling story. That story is now The Heart Chronicles.
In the past, a project like these “musical books” might have been called a concept album, but that’s a less-than-ideal description. In fact, nobody’s ever been able to define exactly what a concept album is. For example, many people think of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper as a concept album, but John Lennon himself pooh-poohed that idea, noting that the songs on it don’t have any unifying theme. Also, the idea of telling a story through a series of songs might make you think of the cast album from a Broadway musical, but in reality the songs in a Broadway musical rarely tell the story by themselves; the dialogue and actions of the characters do most of that. In The Heart Chronicles, the songs tell the story.
One side point: As you may know, my current modus operandi involves releasing fully produced individual tracks from these projects as I complete them; I only publish a complete CD after all of the individual tracks from a project have been released. Given this strategy, it makes sense to have an individual cover for each song, treating them as singles. So, my wife Lynn, a graphic designer, creates the covers for the songs as I release them. We work as a team: Usually, I select an image for the song and she takes it from there.
Breaking this pattern, we’ve elected to use a single, unifying image for all of the Heart Chronicles songs. However, every song on Wild Ideas is about something completely different, so I’ve selected a unique image for each of those songs. We followed this same approach when creating my Earthsongs album, and we ended up with a block of images representing all of the songs; we liked it so much that we ultimately put it on the inside of the CD jacket. Because the lineup for the Wild Ideas album already exists, we’ve decided to present that block of cover images at the beginning of the project, to act as a teaser for the complete album. The result is the composite image you see below. As each song is produced and released, Lynn will be adding the title and adjusting the group image to reflect it.
Because I’ve always felt I had something to say, I see assembling groups of my songs to tell a larger story as a natural extension of writing the individual songs. At this point I have enough unrecorded material to continue to create new “musical books” like Wild Ideas and The Heart Chronicles for some time. Eventually, I may catch up with myself, because I’m recording songs faster than I’m writing new ones. Until then I expect to release a series of albums that hopefully will bring pleasure — and perhaps some new ideas — to those who listen. To me, this is an exciting process and a natural step in my creative journey. I hope you’ll join me on the trip!