Words and Chords
Story Behind the Song
This song has lot of interesting elements to the back story.
Firstly it was actually inspired by a chimney part. Unusual, right? I am the wood stove and chimney guy at Gray Creek Store, and I needed an unusual part, so I was describing it to Todd Ayley, my chimney guru. In our email I wrote, ‘The ring is the thing’.
Todd responded by saying it would make a great title to a country ballad about a woman having regrets about being free and unattached but ultimately lonely. I figured I’d give it a try.
Before I get into the writing of it I want to mention that this recording features the fine fiddle playing of the amazing Caleb Hunt, my good friend and award winning violinist (or fiddler, I’m not sure what he likes to be called). He was 13 when we recorded this and it’s his first time appearing on ‘record’. I’m playing acoustic guitar, mandolin and octave mandolin. I feel like my vocal inspiration is a combination of Stan Rodgers, John Prine and Carolyn Mark – can you hear it? So about the song…
Usually when I write a song I get a key phrase which suggests a melody and just hammer it out, usually in one or 2 sessions. Another songwriter was telling me about her technique; she writes down every possible thing she can think of and uses the notes to fashion a tune. So I made 3 pages of notes about everything I could think of that relates to a ring – boxing (didn’t make the cut), a circus, going around in circles, and a wedding ring – and used the notes to guide the writing. This isn’t far off of my usual technique but the extra step was pretty helpful – come up with ideas, then make them poetry.
One challenge was that the phrase ‘the ring is the thing’ is kind of Dr. Suess-ish and sing-songy that didn’t match with the heaviness I wanted to portray. As it turned out the secret was to put the phrase at the beginning of the line and not at the end, and that blended it in nicely.
Ironically I’m not really a proponent of marriage. I had a crappy one myself and it really occurred to me that since women are no longer property, a long term contract with them still only has as solid as her desire to continue with the relationship so what’s the point? I see how works for some and I believe everyone is entitled to make the same mistakes I did, but still… (by the way I cry at weddings).
As of writing this I am still technically married to that woman. I have many reasons (excuses) for this, but the important thing is I am in a wonderful relationship with my girlfriend / paramour / domestic situation and we’ll be celebrating our 13th anniversary this spring.
It seems a little odd that a big old dude like myself would be writing about the second thoughts of a wild and free young woman.
I previewed the song for a group of musician friends, and had my head down, feeling very self conscious and uneasy as I sang. Did I have the right to tell this story?
One of the group, a wild and free-type younger woman was sort of laughing and carrying on as I sang; I didn’t want to look up to see what was happening, I was feeling more and more self conscious by the minute, and wanted to power through and just get it over with.
I finally look up at the end and it turns out she was pretty upset by how well she related to it and was laughing at how each line hit really kicked her in the gut, and she ended up in a weeping heap on the ground. Her mood picked up considerable when she found out it was inspired by a chimney part (and not her). Her verdict was that if I sing this to a crowd or random women 1 in 5 will break into tears – now THAT’S what I was going for!!
It’s a long standing and re-occurring theme of mine that there is a price to pay for what you get in life (and the price of freedom in particular) and this song is one of those.
Finally the tag line at the end: “Though I proposed it again and again, she still won’t except one from me” (ring that is) is a shout out to the good guys who want to be there for a woman who is not ready, or just not interested in them. It’s a situation many guys have been in, and I’m sure there are lots of you who have shared that feeling of sadness, disappointment, confusion and rejection. This song is for you too – at least we’re all in it together.
Song written in the summer of 2018 at home in the Mountains surrounding beautiful Kootenay Lake, BC.