As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. Just as we did for the songs on our first CD 13, we’ll post the story behind each song on our new CD Again here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 11 weeks.
Here is the story behind Paint Your Joy on the Wall as related by Allen Kitselman.
The song “Paint Your Joy on the Wall”
This song is for my son, Dylan.
I wrote the song after Dylan had been at college for the second year and the realization hit me that the kid who drives you crazy in high school, you miss terribly when he is gone. Then the replay reel starts playing in your head. I set out to write a song for him, now that he was making his way. The lyrical idea was to show the arc of life. The song was designed to progress like life with each verse a vignette of childhood, the teen age years, and the beginning of his independent life.
The first thing to come to me was the descending arpeggio guitar part. Somehow that musically captured the feeling I was looking for.
The first verse is about my favorite memory of Dylan as a toddler. We had a huge snow storm when he was about three years old. 36 inches of snow (or better) fell and we watched it pile up outside until it was time to go to sleep. In the morning he woke up and was chomping at the bit to get out there and play in that new magical environment. The snow was taller than he was and we told him it was pretty deep and maybe he should approach this with our help. He insisted that he wanted to take this on solo. He had this covered! So we bundled him up in his snow suit, got him prepped, and dropped him in over his head in the snow outside the back steps. In seconds he looked back at us with tears in his eyes realizing snow higher than your head was scary and I scooped him up. I suited up myself, grabbed a shovel, and we made a path into the deep back yard to make an igloo fort. This may have been the most joyful time of my life. I can still play the video reel in my head.
The second verse captures the period of life when toddlers become teenagers and the bonds are tested. Kids do dumb things. I did. He did too. He got caught one day. It wasn’t the end of the world. It was a valuable lesson and the police should also be ashamed of themselves for the episode in my opinion. The interesting part of this verse is the musical “casting” part that Gary McGraw suggested when I played the work in progress for him. The chorus is cut short and ends in this semi-dissonant “casting” phrase that brings across the feeling of worry, turmoil, even anger that all parents feel in those teenage years, and then…life goes on when the repeating descending arpeggio brings you back to the beauty of life’s arc and living through the tests.
The last verse is a scene I remember of dropping Dylan off at his first apartment in Baltimore in the beginning of sophomore year. We pulled up with a trailer full of stuff and sitting on the stoop was his girlfriend. It hit me how he was swimming on his own.
The world comes full circle.
The original working title of this song was Keep Your Joy in a Jar. The night I played the song for Gary he also suggested that this was rather silly and said, “how about painting that joy on the wall!” which instantly made perfect sense. Art school, a love of graffiti art, of course!
Paint Your Joy on the Wall, Son! Thanks Gary.