Letters Home

by John MacLean

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about

Baltimore will always be my home. I was born and raised there, became an adult there. But for the last 20 years I've lived in New England, married, and helped raise our family. This, too, is home. Indeed, so is any place where I can find family, friends, or memories. There are also events outside of these places that strike home, and they count too. And so for me, each of these songs is a letter home.

credits

released July 23, 2008

by Seth Connelly, Humming Lake Studio,
Brookline, NH www.sethconnelly.com
MASTERED by Dana White
Specialized Mastering, Framingham, MA
www.specializedmastering.com
ALL PHOTOS by Nick Rellas, taken at the
Belmont Hill Coffee House, March 7th, 2007
www.nicholasrellas.com
GRAPHIC DESIGN by Leslie Lee

All songs by John MacLean a John MacLean,
unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.
www.johnmacleanmusic.com

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Track Name: Blind Willie McTell
Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, “This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem.”
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard that hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
Hear that undertaker’s bell
Nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell
There’s a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He’s dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There’s a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in His heaven
And we all want what’s his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I’m gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell
Track Name: Baltimore
She rode the train from Lawyers' Hill
He sailed from Halifax
Her journey home but one short hour
For both there was no turning back
Two separate roads boldly taken
Crossed near the waterside
A glance and smile and a heartbeat
Forever changed two lives

He dreamed of fame and fortune
She of Paris and Rome
Those dreams were detoured in Baltimore
And there they made their home

The blue-eyed raven-haired beauty
And her dashing handsome Scot
Believed their deepest dreams fulfilled
But in truth they sadly were not
The lovers discovered in marriage
His ambition and her love of gin
Would drive him away until late at night
And slowly do her in

Before all tumbled to ruin
Children's laughter rang out there
But the dark secret slowly twisted
Young dreams into growing despair
So a boy and a girl with blue eyes
And two more with the darkest brown
Learned well the lessons of imperfect love
Before each of them left town

The long ago star crossed lovers
Were once again all on their own
They lived out their lives together
While each in fact lived quite alone
With their passing not one single sibling
In the city was to be found
But there were long nights spent remembering
One's bitter and sweet hometown

Some have found fame and fortune
The others restlessly roam
But all visit the graveside in Baltimore
The town that will always be home

She rode the train from Lawyers' Hill
He sailed from Halifax
Track Name: Courage To Care
You've slipped in again like late autumn wind
Cool respects to pay
Even though it was years ago
You quietly stole away
I still see your eyes flashing angry
Warnings that never will end
While you were never much good for a smile
You were good to us all 'til the end

Beneath that mask of iron will
And coke spoon so debonair
Lay a girl who lost all her dreams
But still had courage to care

His cocaine and wine went down fine
Chaser to marriage gone bad
But you never let your new best friend
Touch the real friends you had
You were just so terrified
Of ending up old and unknown
You held him so tight most every night
In a bed that wasn't your own

You tried to be strong but then in the end
After two years clean and alone
You took every pill then took your leave
While sitting next to the phone

My turn to leave sweet Annie
Pardon I do gently pray
Your visit begs such solitude
And this is our family day
Unlike you I did find love
Laughter rings out in this home
But I won't forget you never found
A family of your very own

Beneath that mask of iron will
And coke spoon so debonair
Lay a girl who lost all her dreams
But still had courage to care
Track Name: Still Waters
They named their child Grace Frances
Last born shy little girl
Surrounded by words she mostly watched
And kept to her own quiet world
Alone on a pond, cold moon lit nights
Was one place her dreams rang out clear
Though her silvery skates whispering on ice
Was the only sound you could hear

Chorus
We rush through our days never seeing
Those who their own counsel best keep
Just remember while rivers at times rush and roar
Still waters are what run most deep

Well childhood dreams get faded
And for some that's the end of the road
But Grace Francis just turned to the future
And took on her real life's load
You might think she chose the wrong line of work
So full of loud classrooms and all
But she loves to hear children cry out their joy
And they love to heed her soft call

Chorus

Quiet, firm, and determined
Do not every man's interest keep
But beneath all that fearsome beauty
Lies a beauty much more than skin deep
Later than most do she married
And the girls get their voices from John
But you know when those two are sad at night
It's her voice they depend upon

Chorus

You can waste half your lifetime looking
For the one who will bring your heart peace
So remember while rivers at times rush and roar
Still waters are what run most deep
Track Name: New American Way
You need not say a single word
I can read your angry eyes
Yes I've had a drink or two
With all the day shift guys
Indeed we closed down Ernie's
In a most rememberable way
With bitter words we made our toast
To the new American way

I've raised my glass forty years or more
To brides and newborn babes
Tonight I hurled it to the floor
They stole our dream today

At Nine A.M. those Boston brats
Shut this old factory down
That was just the first mean blow
They laid on this old factory town
They're parsing out but two weeks pay
For all our years of sweat
We asked about our pensions
No answer did we get

I've raised my glass forty years or more
To brides and newborn babes
Tonight I hurled it to the floor
They stole our dream today

We drove four hours to corporate towers
To ask our so called bosses
To reconcile their new found gains
With our profound new losses
But Ammerman, McGrath, and Potter
Hid from Jimmy, Jenny, and me
While a stiff and stammering Boston cop
Marched us back down to the street

Jimmie Lamore turns sixty-four
With no retirement pay
Charlie Hall who's lived here all
His years tomorrow will say
There is no future here my son
You must move away
And as for you and me, my dear
They stole our dream today

I've raised my glass forty years or more
To brides and newborn babes
Tonight I raised then hurled it down
To the new American way
Track Name: Reunion Hill
Must’ve been in late September
When last I climbed Reunion Hill
I fell asleep on Indian Boulder
And dreamed a dream I will not tell
I came home as the sun went down
One eye trained upon the ground
Even now I find their things
Glasses, coins, and golden rings

It’s ten years since that ragged army
Limped across these fields of mine
I gave them bread, I gave them brandy
But most of all I gave them time
My well is deep, the water pure
The streams are fed by mountain lakes
I cleaned the brow of many a soldier
Dousing for my husband’s face

I won’t forget our sad farewell
And how I ran to climb that hill
Just to watch him walk across the valley
And disappear into the trees

Along there in a sea of blue
It circles every afternoon
A single hawk in God’s great sky
Looking down with God’s own eyes
He soars above Reunion Hill
I pray he spiral higher still
As if from such an altitude
He might just keep our love in view
Track Name: Touch A Name On The Wall
Well, I guess you could call it our summer of freedom,
the year that we both turned eighteen -
We hitch-hiked to Denver, straight out of high school
man, we were sights to be seen.
And that was the year that you dated my cousin, 'til
they took us away in the fall.
Now I dearly wish you were standing here with me as
I touch your name on the wall.

[chorus:] Touch a name on the wall,
Touch a name on the wall.
God help us all
Touch a name on the wall.

Every time I come here I wear my fatigues, to honor
the men that I knew.
I touch every name that came from my outfit, and I
read them out loud when I do.
Now some people say that they all died for nothing,
but I don't completely agree -
'Cause this brother here didn't die for no country - He
died for me.

[chorus]

Now, usually walls are made for division
- to separate me from you.
But God bless the wall that brings us together,
and reminds us of what we've been through.
And God damn the liars and the tin-plated heroes who
trade on the blood of such men.
God give us the strength to stand up and tell them -
Never again!

[chorus]
Track Name: Liar's War (Letter Home)
Dear Sally I just came in from patrol
And now it's quarter past four
I hope you're sleeping safely tonight
I don't sleep much anymore
If I could I would reach out and hold you
And whisper what's inside my head
I'm sending good soldiers to their desert deaths
And I'm wishing it were me instead

Three boys gave up their lives tonight
And a brave young girl makes it four
We're right back where we started a lifetime ago
In another liar's war

I'm thinking of my brother William
He died leading his men tough and true
And while it's now been more than 35 years
His passing tonight feels brand new
He died in a long ago Asian war
But now more have died on the way
Down a long bloody road that ends right here
But began back in Cam Ran Bay

Three boys gave up their lives tonight
And a brave young girl makes it four
We're right back where we started a lifetime ago
In another liar's war

You know best how proud I have been to serve
Thirty years in a tangible way
And to honor my brother's sacrifice
In that rice field an ocean away
But my proud serving days are over
There's no honor in burying men
For those who chose to start this war
But chose not to fight back then

Three boys gave up their lives tonight
And a brave young girl makes it four
We're right back where we started a lifetime ago
In another liar's war

Three boys lost their lives tonight
That young girl she died too
I miss you Sally so much tonight
And I wish I were there with you
Track Name: Beyond Our Time
I don't believe in God
I don't believe in ghosts
I do believe we live beyond our time
You won't find me in Heaven
I hope I'm not in Hell
I might be in our daughters' hearts and minds

And what will they remember?
What tales will they tell?
Will they recall sudden words of anger
Or draw softer tears from memory's well?

By the end of every day
I try to find a way
To give those girls reason to sleep well
But it's sometimes hard work praised
Sometimes voices raised
And sometimes we need a final bell

And what will they remember?
What tales will they tell?
Will they recall sudden words of anger
Or draw softer tears from memory's well?

Don't you hope that as they sleep
Our children only keep
Visions of happiness and light?
Alas it's surely true
The brush at times holds blue
As those dreamers paint memories at night

And what will they remember?
What tales will they tell?
Will they recall sudden words of anger
Or draw softer tears from memory's well?

I don't believe in God
I don't believe in ghosts
I do believe we live beyond our time
Track Name: Faraway Friends
I was long on the road and lonely
At Sandy's in the old Empire State
So after my songs were over
I stayed even though it was late
Sandy opened a Miller and dark Guinness Stout
Her east Texas black and tan
I moved to the farthest barstool
And reflected as I sometimes can.

The miles and years are many
Since I left my hometown
But I still wish I could find a way
To gather my old friends around

We were the damnedest collection of shipwrecked fools
Each nursing a big broken heart
Our collective convictions were failing
As our worlds were falling apart
We'd gather together to sing out some songs
Drink a cold frosty beer or two
Go out to bars and ballgames
And together we somehow got through

The miles and years are many
Since I left my hometown
But I still wish I could find a way
To gather my old friends around

They helped me to see that there could be light
In the midst of a dark bitter end
By showing how strongly they felt that I was
Worth having as one of their friends

I never told them they gave me the courage
To risk going so far away
And how that farewell courage they gave me
Makes me miss them to this very day
By the time Sandy softly bid me goodnight
My thoughts had become hard earned verse
I set those words to music
Laid 'em plain for better or worse

And so my long ago faraway friends
You helped me to write this song
When I sing it I'm saying what I should have said
When I long ago said so long

Oh the miles and the years are many
Since I left my old hometown
But at times when I sing you are right here with me
Old friends we have gathered around
Track Name: Pancho and Lefty
Living on the road my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath's as hard as kerosene
You weren't your mama's only boy
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams

Pancho was a bandit boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words
That's the way it goes

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness I suppose

Lefty he can't sing the blues
All night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty's mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go
There ain't nobody knows

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose

The poets tell how Pancho fell
Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel
The desert's quiet and Cleveland's cold
So the story ends we're told
Pancho needs your prayers it's true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Now he's growing old

A few gray federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose
Track Name: First Met You
Oh so many years on the run
Chances lost one by one
Chased by the past, future too
Until that evening I first met you

Childhood full of sunny days to keep
But also shadows that still cut deep
I learned to trust, but not too far
I just thought that was the way things are

As a young man I tried to build
Sturdy bonds but instead dreams I killed
The part of me I would not share
Proved much more than love could bear

So to this northland I moved away
To live out quiet and reflective days
Held scant hope of love anew
Until that evening I first met you

And though I write this song in room alone
You and our daughters fill this sturdy home
The day you opened up your heart to mine
Marks the end of my running time

What did I ever do to so deserve
Your constant love behind that calm reserve?
With love that's broken almost all the chains
And put peace in place of all the pain

I fear at times I am still too reserved
But your touch tells me your heart feels well served
As for my heart, it's been yours it's true
Ever since that night I first met you