My dad was a photographer most of his life, and his bread and butter back in the old hometown was the family portrait. There must be hundreds of homes where his work hangs still, mementos of a single moment in each of the many families who he photographed. He had a way with people, and always brought out the best in those who sat before his camera, with a wry comment, an irrepressible grin and sometimes off-color comments to catch people off guard. Because people off-guard is what you want to capture – not stilted wooden poses, but an instant of abandon where you completely forget a camera is stuck in your face.
In the early days after suddenly losing him to heart failure, I wrote a few songs, transported by grief, struggling to process the welled-up emotions. This one started off with a sad-feeling picked guitar part, which came out in a lilting 3/4 waltz time, and the lyrics quickly gravitated to personal details about my dad. I truly felt lucky to have him as a father, to have the family I did. Once I hit the chorus the refrain and title of the song was clear, the whole thing would hang on the imagery of photography. This includes a cheeky made-up word, “photomagical” which my father had coined to cover the more experimental shots he loved to take, especially after he ‘retired’ from the business of portraiture. (Like most artists, photographers never really retire, they just shoot something different.)
Musically, the chorus was still in 3/4 at first, which felt clunky and seemed to drag, so one day I had the bright idea of changing it to 4/4 and stepping up the tempo. The song needed a positive life-celebrating interlude anyway; now it makes a perfect upbeat complement to the more pensive sad verses. After the 2nd chorus, there were no more words necessary, so we pop back into the 3/4 sad time for a blistering heartfelt guitar solo that I let do the rest of the talking for me.
Picture of a Life It’s my father that gets most of the credit For whatever I've become, and what I will do yet I wish I told him more times when he was alive What it meant to me – to have that bringing-up, I knew it growing up, That it was more than luck to be in our family Now that you’re really gone It’s a long time to carry on … another minute more We’ll keep your memory here but it’s a Poor substitution for your latest photograph, The grinning way you’d laugh, And all those little things that only you could portray Take a picture of a life - so you can Look into memory When you capture the world in a moment You will photomagically see I can’t get used to the thought of the past tense Referring to you – so present in our minds With the constant reminders of a story That’s still being told – as we go through it all, The times that we recall Are keeping you around for all of the rest of our days Take a picture of a life - so you can Look right through memory Fill the viewer and frame it forever Putting portraits of people together When you capture the world in a moment You will photomagically see…
© 2022 Scott Perry (SOCAN/BMI) Recorded by Jackson Gardner at Flash Recording and Adrian Buckley at Chez Miaou Mixed & Mastered by Adrian Buckley Scott Perry: Vocals, Guitars Eric Lefebvre: Bass Derek Macdonald: Keyboards Adrian Buckley: Drums