Category Archives: Essays

Thoughts in the Belfry: Essays on the Songs

Listen to the album here

Thoughts in the Belfry

Introduction

Welcome to the listening experience of a lifetime, of eight songs I wrote years ago that never got their fair shake in recording technique, arrangement, nor execution, as well as one new thirteen minute epic poem set to two chords and a classic folk melody line (full disclosure, I wrote the words to the tune of “Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan).

What follows in this document are the brief stories of the songs chosen for this retrospective, their origins and their writing and anything else I can think of today.

Please listen to the record at a high volume, preferably with a pair of decent headphones, or in your car.

Gloria

This was the first song I wrote after getting out of the hospital, March 2012. My first full blown manic episode resulted in psychosis and internment at a psychiatric facility in Cleveland, Ohio, where I met people who I thought were other people, and where I doodled and rambled all over my hardcover copy of The Prophet, being both convinced that I had written it – albeit in a different lifetime – and that it was the one true bible of existence. I still have the latter feeling, and have since bought a clean copy to read and peruse. I rarely look at that first, hospital copy.

Either way, I got out after a week of thinking the food was made of plastic, and demanding I be let outside to smoke a cigarette. A carton or so later, I was sitting in my sister’s attic – which had become my bedroom, thank god – and wrote this song. It is chock full of words and phrases that can be said in different accents and rhyme in different ways, or not rhyme at all sometimes. The scheme of those rhymes is ostensibly random, but which also were wrought with great care and precision.

The lyrics go a number of ways as it progresses, but the hook of the song – some variation on “Oh my god” – is a natural viewpoint of my mindset after those ill events of 2011-2012. I can’t speak much about it because one, I don’t remember those years too well, and two, I was at fault for just about everything bad that happened, though I can’t blame myself. Bipolar Disorder is a funny thing, and mine is very very bad unmedicated. Oh well.

The arrangement for this recording, as with all of the songs on this record, was generally improvised at the point of recording. A few takes here or there incurred, but without question I couldn’t do it again if I tried. It’d still be good. But it’d be different for sure.

At the End of the Day

I remember thinking of the line, “I’m just a magazine on the newsstand at the end of the day,” and it floored me. I immediately sat down at the piano and bam, a few minutes later had a finished song. I say it about a lot of my songs, but this is perhaps the best I’ve written. Oddly, I’m sure I’ll say that again before this essay is finished. So be it.

It’s a funny thing, songwriting. At both stages of the writing of this song, I thought that it was perfect. And both versions are indeed. The original I released as a single from a recording I made on Islesboro, Maine, on a piano with more dead keys than live. The video of that performance still exists– probably on my Facebook page somewhere. Either way, it can be heard on some or other single somewhere else on my bandcamp page, which is where you bought this. Bandcamp. Dig.

Obviously, this version of this song is not played on piano.

One day, as I was sitting in our New York apartment playing guitar, I stumbled upon this riff and immediately knew it was for this song. I added the intro from a melody that I’ve been whistling for over a decade. This is a fucking good song. Thanks goes to Allie for suggesting I delete the double tracked vocal. It’s better for it.

The lyrics, as mentioned with that first line I thought of, are all about being forgotten. And the end line, “God save the queen ‘cause I love her eyes,” is a summation of my feelings about revolution for the sake of it. Truly we need one, yes, the world over, but I can’t condone stabbing anyone in the heart, as it were. “Fit for kings, not a nod to the knights,” is me saying, “aren’t you soldiers just hired killers?” Protect me if you might, but the clearest purpose you serve is to rattle the world into oblivion with your bombs and your guns. Cold-hearted, brother. Makes me ill.

Devil Driven

“Devil Driven” was written on guitar, but there’s a piano version floating around that I like a lot. This version is an attempt to combine the two, and I like how it turned out.

It was the first song I remember writing and thinking, “I’m pretty good at this.” There’s little structure to the words beyond their rhythmic nature, but the song I think flows nicely and without hiccup. The “devil” in the lyrics, putting his hands out to play on the baby grand, I do believe has taught me how to live and love…rock and roll as a product of Earth means it inherently holds a sort of evil, though amidst a sort of heavenly abode as well.

However, it should be said that throughout the song, I’m writing about my Dad, straight up. “Dry your eyes, my son, and lift your head to sing. Anywhere you are contains most everything,” is exactly what I would have expected my Dad to want to say to me after he died. “I’ll swear by you for my eternal life” are his words to me somewhere outside of space and time.

No Ship For Sailing

I was 19 years old, had just dropped out of college and moved to Asheville, North Carolina. I had played a house gig and a very talented local songwriter, and friend to my sister, et al, saw me and asked if I would open for her. So I did.

About halfway through my set of slow, sad songs – and one in particular with the hook “whose bodies are these?” …yikes! – a man from the back of the bar screamed, “The world is fine. Play something happy.” It goes without saying I took issue with it, and went home that night and wrote this song. It’s one of the first times I thought to myself, “how can I make this just really really catchy?” And I did. In some alternate universe, this is a hit single.

The nautical references ar a clear copy of Okkervil River, The Decemberists, and whatever else I was listening to back then (that’s about it, you could say) but I still like it because it takes the idea of sailing on a vast ocean and flipping it on its side, willing you to believe that all I want to do is sail, but I can’t figure out how. A later song on this collection, “And I’m No Boat” acts in a similar way, and to some degree is the slow, more plaintive version of “No Ship.”

Just FYI, the last lines of the song are, “I would send my patterns, thoughts and doubts as far to sea as I could shout. And you would do the same until it all ended up miles away. And by the way, it really shouldn’t end up miles away.” That’s important.

Fumblin’ Still

“Fumblin’ Still” was a strange song to write. For such an early song in my repertoire, it’s pretty complicated and it jumps around key signatures, strumming patterns, riffs, and melodies. It’s almost some kind of psychedelic rock, without the rock. All acoustic guitars, as was my custom throughout this record.

Using the opposite of the boat metaphor: the house metaphor. Originally meant for the Such a Sinister… album, I cut it because that album was too long as it was. It’s too long as it is, too. Nevertheless, it’s a really cool song. And the line “a gentleman in a three-piece suit is a fool. Unless it suits him well” is just great. I dig pretty much all of these lyrics. There’s good couplets everywhere. And the end, “it’s the grey skies that make me blue” is a lyric I know you wish you’d written.

Tricks of the Mind

Another manic episode song. This one was written in Portland, Oregon right in late winter, 2013.

It had been only a year since my first breakdown, and this time proved to be sooooooo much worse. After about six months of pretty constant decline, I erupted into oblivion (again around Valentine’s Day, my god) and ended up on the street, where I walked around for the next six weeks. And say “walked around” instead of “slept” or “lived” because neither of those words bring across the fact that I didn’t sleep and I almost died.

Sometime right before I hit the street, I wrote this song. The whole thing is me freaking out that my Dad didn’t want to be dead and buried in a coffin. I’ve always kind of had a thing about coffins, in a way. From my very real fear of vampires, to the idea that bodies aren’t at rest when boxed up…I dunno, but I know I don’t want one. That should be known. I also would prefer to die outside at night. Just so you know.

The recording of this version was really fun and it sounds just about perfect to me. That’s a clarinet (it’s a clarinet on a good few of these songs) and then the brass comes in, and my goodness. Terrific. Again, all these parts were effectively improvised, one after the other.

And I’m No Boat

A sweet little love song. The first one I wrote for Allie when we first met. I even include the line “…something I have written down in code,” like I wanted to make clear I thought she was aces, but I didn’t want to make it too obvious I was already writing songs about her. Goodness.

It isn’t really about her though. Really it isn’t. It’s that nautical theme flipped over on its head again. I’m the boat. Or no boat, actually. And I gotta wait for the wind, and even when there is wind, I’m being turned this way and that, but not really even this way and that because I’m following the stars, so God’s In Charge. Who knows.

I like this song a lot. Just guitar and vocals here. Nothing else fit.

Unwinding

“I don’t like this one. It sounds like you’re on an acid trip.”
-My Mom

It kind of is. Another song I wrote right after my first hospital stay. Originally, it was a beat Cory Maidens made, hence the writing credit. I ended up recording it not long after, full of noisy electric guitars and bad keyboard drums. This version is a simple kick drum, and “heavy metal organ” and I think it’s cool as shit. It doesn’t fit on this album at all, which is why it fits on this album so well, in my opinion.

The lyrics are just wordplay. They mean as much as you want them to mean, which means they don’t really mean that much. I mean, they mean something…you get it. It’s mostly just practicing internal rhyming and rapping instead of singing. This would prove to be the last song I decided was an okay variation on hip hop.

Thoughts in the Belfry

We’ve made it to the namesake, “Thoughts in the Belfry.” This is a long and complicated lyric on the guilt of living well in the time of suffering. It’s about recognizing the bullshit around you, especially those on the so-called “Christian Right.” More like Reich. Fuck them all, indeed. Neo-facism is no excuse for failing to live by God. Eat the rich.

It’s also about the passage of time, and the willingness to change amidst a changing society. But again, it’s about the bullshit entrenched in the thinking behind the movement. Sometimes people are dumb and don’t notice. And on the other side of the spectrum, so corrupt they don’t notice. “To steal is fine as long as you’re a company man” is just about the summation of it all for me. We have Socialism for the Rich and the Powerful. Bail out the banks, bail out big business. Don’t take me on my word that I need your help…but again, not Me. I’m living well. And there again is the guilt.

This song turns into a song about family, acceptance, forgiveness, and love. I call my Mother royalty. I call my stepdad father. I remind my sisters to be original and regal, because they are.

And then the end comes, after thirteen minutes, and the album is over.

Thanks for purchasing. Thanks for listening. Thanks for reading.

Toodles.

What Belongs in the Future Runs Off With the Past

Hi, hello. This is Michael. The Supposed So. M.C. Guire. I’ve got too many names. Regardless, I’m coming at you in a different sort of way, because I don’t usually write in this manner, sort of conversationally, or whatever, unless I’m writing long-form fiction, and I haven’t been doing that so this part of my brain hasn’t gotten exercise, and needs exercise, so here we are.

I have an album out on Bandcamp today. It’s a good little 6-song EP entitled What Belongs in the Future Runs Off With the Past. Themes of home and memory, the fictional world, and the representative. Each song works as an essay on the past, on my musical influences and hangups; my body of work, and the process of creating art with semantical figments of rhetorical pondering, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, synths, and a drum pad played by hand through a midi keyboard. Indeed, a lot of the atmosphere you experience was made with that midi keyboard, which I bought at a garage sale in Oakland, NJ for the right sum of $10. Never been used. Almost stole it.

My life during the time of this EP (written and recorded all in the past 3-5 weeks) was fine. Nothing ridiculous. School. Papers, essays, reading, class. The Fall. Allie. Things afoot. Moves to be made. I think the record tells the story. Enjoy.

Listen at thesupposedso.bandcamp.com and on your favorite streaming services December 13th.

a college admissions essay i didn’t need to submit

My name is Michael McGuire. I am a 30-year-old songwriter, poet, and author. This is the brief story of why I have yet to graduate from college.

To start with childhood, I spent most of my time alone, listening to baseball games on the radio, reading or playing guitar in my bedroom. I was a Beatlemaniac and also dreamed of becoming the next Bob Dylan. As I grew into my High School years, and the last of my three older sisters went off to college, it was to happen that my Dad was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I, as already an angry teenager, felt embittered with the world around me, and my relationship with my father was as strained as any could be, for convoluted reasons. To leave out much of what was happening in my life in those formative years, it is as much to say that I ended up graduating from High School with a 3.2 GPA, even as I was watching my Dad deteriorate all four years. As a Senior, I went to school at 6am so I could leave early – driving my Dad to the pharmacy or wherever – and I eventually ended up graduating early as well, leaving school in March to begin work as an Environmental Education teacher at the age of 17. It was around that time my Dad’s health plummeted, and by late May, he was dying. I remember I was teaching a class when the Camp Director let me know it was time I go home; that He was on his way out. My sisters came home some time in the next day or so, and our last week together as a family of six was the most intense situation I’d ever been in. Oddly, my situation years later would trump the emotions of that week.

My Dad died on June 1st, 2006, and I walked to get my diploma that weekend. A few days later, I left to continue working at that Camp, where I spent the summer in the Nature Department leading hikes and discussing more of what the natural world can tell us about life than the names of trees and plants. As someone who wasn’t even of voting age, I was already deeply philosophical about existence, and with small town Ohio seemingly the only thing standing between myself and my dreams of becoming a serious writer and musician I finished the summer and went off to the University of Cincinnati to begin school. Interestingly, I found that a big city wasn’t yet my bag and I transferred to Ohio University after one quarter. I liked OU enough – even coming back after working at the same camp for another summer – but when I went back for my sophomore year, I realized school wasn’t what I then needed. I dropped out in October and moved to Asheville, North Carolina to begin what I assumed was going to be a career as a performing musician.

Time went by. I went back to Camp for one last summer- this time as the head of the Nature Department. I moved back to Asheville again. Then I moved to Cleveland. All through this time, I was fervently writing songs, amassing enough material for three or four albums, which I would make and release on my own over the next year.

It was around this time, at the age of 23, that things began to get a bit wild for me. I had been struggling with my mental health for most of my life, but my early 20s found me riddled with regret and I decided to go back to school to become an Audio Engineer. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed, and I stopped going to class, stopped going outside, stopped doing much of anything but smoking cigarettes and drinking. My writing became everything that mattered. Then, in late winter 2012, I had a full-blown manic episode, was hospitalized for a week, and ended up flunking out of school.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. So I bummed around for the spring and summer, couch surfing with family. I eventually moved to Portland, Oregon, where I had a friend with whom I had been playing music before. I wanted to leave everything behind me; wanted to pretend a Bipolar I diagnosis was beneath me. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could beat it without trying. A few months of work and no medication, and I was back in full-blown mania. This time, it landed me homeless.

I lived on the streets of Portland for about 6 weeks in late winter/early spring 2013, playing music sometimes for money until my guitar was stolen. In a state completely impossible to describe in the confines of this essay, what I was doing was writing. And writing and writing. Down to a measly 110 pounds, I still went into coffee shops or bars – depending on the time of day – and rarely asked for anything more than a cup of water and a pen so I could sit, warm up, and write poetry (this poetry became a series I’ve self-published, entitled Just Napkins because of what I was writing on). Reeling, reckless, and nearly dead, I at some point checked myself into a hospital, where I would stay for the next 5 weeks.

Finally to the point where my condition could be labeled a disability, there was simply no way I was going back to work any time soon. The next three years found me moved back to Cleveland, where I spent a great deal of time crafting a portfolio of music releases, poetry collections, and novellas, all of which I would self-release in one form or the other.

To date, I have self-published two works of poetry (Just Napkins; The Wasn’t Tide), a collection of poetry and essays (Time and Essence), and over 200 songs in various form (LP, EP, etc). I am in the process of editing and rereleasing my prose, which add up to four separate novella-length works of fiction (The Will and The Won’t; A Way To Go Sideways; The Way It Is (And The Way It Never Will Be); Oh Yes! or, Pink Lady) that I am certain all add up to an impressive body of work for a 30 year old.

All of this aside, my wish is to go back to school. I’d like to better harness my abilities; to learn how to edit wisely; to finish what I started; to somehow make the memory of my Dad, my Mom, my sisters, proud to see me come all the way back around and finish what I started…school is the only thing I’ve ever begun to never finish. And I’ve gone through too much in my 20s not to start my 30s off by doing so.

Remembering Scott Hutchison

Scott Hutchison’s body was found last night. As of the last I read, an actual cause of death hasn’t been revealed – or known, perhaps – but it isn’t too difficult to come to a conclusion. That no matter how it happened, why it happened is that he wanted it to. It’s a sort of frozen blanket to me, in a sense, that his death should come today, after a very long winter, and year, in the lives of so many.

I think about death sometimes, when it strikes close to me. I wrote at length what it has meant to me this past season. And yet when a person makes a decision – instead of nature’s course being taken – there is so much more at hand to think of. Indeed, I think of suicide as it relates to my own life…who I’ve known and loved who have taken that bow from their mind and dipped into it, knowingly. People who take that step do so in a haze I’m familiar with. That so many are familiar with.

I was conversing today with the one who first showed me the music of Frightened Rabbit. The Midnight Organ Fight was the album, and it is important, I believe, for so many of us to listen to. Perfect pop songs drench what could be depressing sentiments. Grant the person Scott as much as he deserves in that respect. He knew how to sing along with the pain that is in each of us. That pain, he brilliantly heralded through the words he spewed; with the melodies he harnessed; with a perfect wall of sound arranged in heartstopping form. I love this man for it. And seeing them perform, now 10 or so years ago- that picture of him is laid inside me. We are lucky enough to have his music still. And I hope his spirit is safe somewhere…somewhere his pain can’t find it.

The Feeling Of When: A Personal Essay

I try to trust in the will of some god that I feel around me sometimes. It’s a funny sort of trust- that which denies itself some days, and justifies itself as well. It happens sort of randomly, I’ll say that much; the back and forth of it. And yet as I go about certain days, I shimmer with the breath of the trees- that breath which I can feel, can smell, can taste when I’m trying.

It’s often in that nature I am most comfortable, laying in the dirt or feeling the grass beneath my feet. Folding blades of green that seem to reach into and through my skin as I walk, or as my toes dig mud freshly softened. I wait in those moments, for the love of the god that seems so often breached in the world we as human beings have contrived for ourselves. I beckon the specks of light; the dust of stars which glitter before me when I least expect them. And when I know I need them. But they’re always there, I’m sure. I really am.

The past six months or so have been a wild dance amongst a city in which I’m still learning to live. Working and working so much for a while, that I sort of forgot to breathe as I once proclaimed to a woman in a hospital was so necessary to remain focused. She replied so earnestly that we are all such shallow breathers too often. And she was correct in that response. We all don’t take the air in our lungs to which we are intended. Though there are moments which take that breath away, regardless as to how we are breathing.

For me, most recently, it was just before Christmas, when this world lost a man named Paul, whose last name I’ve forgotten how to spell. He was a Grandfather to me growing up, and his love and generosity to my family will never be lost to me. We were a family of six at the time; my parents worked hard and loved deeply, and raised myself and my sisters to be as what we as humans are for: immersed in a sort of Love that so many go without in this life. Both my Mom and my Dad made whichever house in which we lived into a home with sheer determination, always. And Paul arrived – at least it seems to me now – at the door of those homes within that sort of randomness I feel god. And when he did arrive, he did with bags and bags of groceries; flats of flowers for my Mom to plant in her always beautifully conceived garden; hours long discussions with my Dad about whatever the two of their minds came across in the moment. I think back on Paul now with a tinge of regret in that, as I grew a bit older and went off to Camp and College to find my own path through our collected wilderness, I forgot those times he showed up at our front door. In looking back now, I suppose it is only that I was too young to realize what he was doing. And too sad with so many things to offer him the same as he grew older; as his face drooped with Bell’s palsy; as I left Ohio again and again, rarely looking back at much but with regret. Making people into memories before they had a chance to become them to life’s reality.

Not long after Paul passed – or maybe it was before – another Grandfather figure in my life also quietly changed address, as my Dad once put it. His name was Gene, and he was my Great Uncle on my Mom’s side. My memories of Gene are different, of course. Uncle Gene and Aunt Helen weren’t in my life all too often. But every year the week of Christmas, without fail, whomever of my family who were still in town would make the drive down to their home in Akron, and we would sit around their basement. My Mom would request almost immediately to build a fire in their fireplace, if there wasn’t one already going; Gene would shuffle gaily to the bar to make Bloody Marys. Aunt Helen would be busy building a feast for us, all the while drinking cheap beer from a can. A football game – any football game – would be on their TV. The Christmas Tree stood hung with ornaments, some gorgeous, some hilarious; children’s toys from their childhood would be seated underneath. I would go for those toys at some point. And always nearly empty their many dishes of candy by the end of the afternoon. Gene would eventually sit back with a pipe, and the smell of it would fill the room.

Aunt Helen was the life of those parties, as I recall. She and Gene would bicker, like couples will do I suppose, after so many years together…they shared 70 years of marriage. It’s almost too much to fathom to me, two people spending so much of their lives together. And wouldn’t it be, that just a few months after Gene died, Helen joined him. And wherever they are, I can’t help but believe they’re together. As I see it, they were probably the same being to begin with.

This winter of sorts, with Earthly death surrounding, brought me crashing into Spring without a helmet on, so to speak. I lost myself in grief again; tended to too much out of my hands; thought I was different than who I am, and what my disorder entails I do and do not do.

I’ve spent most of my life trudging into this moment in time, and yet have made it difficult on myself to be well, I suppose. My mind is often found to me with brilliant claps of thunder, as metaphor, but they are no more thoughts I have than thoughts that appear. I jot them down sometimes; usually give them a melody to sing along with. I’m mainly a songwriter, at any rate. I try and pull from the ether- true that the ether seems too often spent these days.

So to say, I am recovering from regret. And from the guilt my church of confirmation too often shades its members with. But I’m working forward with a sense of purpose, perhaps. And absolutely with a renewed faith in the Way.

Institutions, I remain with an immense distrust. Most are buildings locked when you need most to go inside, or with entry fees too steep for the lowly to afford; with brand names refusing to pay their workers to live well; vaults stacked with pipelines and deep ocean drills; or with guns too loaded with racism and injustice.

I am built this way: to seek life in a sky of blue. And to stand with my face up in the rain. With my head held high when I can. My soul trying to be an open door. To feel the sun and the rain. And to sing; my fingers flying across six strings I’ve spent my life conversing with.

So I sit here tonight remembering Paul and Gene and Helen: Just the three people close to me who have most recently moved on. Some may hope they rest in peace. I have this idea that their Peace is in eternal movement. And when the next time I stand amongst the trees, or with my feet in the dirt, or when sitting alone pulling songs from the unconscious, I will remember them fondly. And will seek their spirit in the eyes of my neighbors. For I know it is there and everywhere.