The story of this song starts about a year before I ever thought of writing it. My niece Amy was getting married and asked me to Emcee her wedding, a very nice gesture to involve me as more than just a guest (and guarantee my attendance!). I agreed of course, not without some nerves looking ahead to all that public speaking, without the structure of a song to cling to, or my everpresent guitar to hide behind. But I am always down for a challenge and she was quite organized in the preparation of the evening, so really it wasn’t going to be all that difficult. Still, if I was going to be taking the stage I knew I wanted to come up with something special, from my own personal set of skills: in other words, I determined to write a song for the occasion, smuggle my guitar into the reception and surprise bride, groom and all the guests with it.
If you’ve never tried to write a song to order, it can be pretty difficult and frustrating. First of all, I wasn’t even sure what kind of music she really loved – I wouldn’t want to do a country song only to find out they hated that. Her mom gave me some hints, and some possible story points to mine for lyrics – none of which made it in – finally you just have to start singing and playing chords and force something out. I ended up with a fairly generic, “How’d I get it so good?” type song, about spending “the rest of my life with you” – a pretty good tune that gets its point across and it went over very well on the big night. Amy and family were definitely surprised, and I think the gesture got full marks, so – success!
The following year, my other niece Andrea (I have two, along with 4 still-unmarried nephews – girls move faster than boys it seems!) approached me to Emcee her wedding that summer. Of course, I agreed. But now I was in a bit of a quandary: obviously I would need to sing a song at her wedding too, at least a few of the same people would be there (though neither niece or her immediate family attended the other’s wedding), and I can’t be seen to be playing favorites! Most of all, I can’t just reuse the same song – nothing special about that. So, fine, I set down to go through the whole process again, and write a proper wedding song for her, from scratch. It was even harder to do this again, without repeating myself, and I was well into a composition that was frankly sucking badly when I threw up my hands and walked away, totally scrapping what I’d spent the day on.
I took a quick head-clearing break out on my glorious sunny floating deck, and because I am me, I took the guitar out there too, just in case. I was thinking it needs to be simpler, more direct, what is the essential point here? I picked up the guitar and started bashing out a high-energy A chord and just sang, “Baby, I love you” which I immediately liked, good opening. That led right into “I hope you love me too,” a fairly obvious next line, but which also sparked me to continue, as I switched up to D, “And you do; I already know it’s true” – of course you would know that, if you’re proposing, you must be pretty sure they’re going to say Yes! So this whole first verse came all at once; A up to D suggests a good ol’ bluesy progression that demands a turnaround into E major. I dropped into E and out popped, “Say I do, I wanna tie the knot with you,” with “tie” falling on a D and “you” landing back in the song’s key of A.
Now, I had something! “Say I Do” is a key phrase that boils the whole matrimonial process down to its essence. I love the simplicity of that sentence: in a mere six letters, two important verbs surround one subject. I knew there was something catchy about that line, falling so naturally on the standard 12-bar turnaround chord. The other verses came pretty quickly after that, each stage of the process following a natural progression. Loosely, the first verse is the proposal; the second puts the ring on the finger; third is planning; fourth is the actual “moment” to say those words, the wedding; and the fifth and final verse is the reception, an all-out celebration after everything’s Said and Done (ha ha, see what I did there?) I still needed another part, a chorus really (though the title phrase was already there at the end of every verse), so I was thinking about the real commitment we make when we marry, to stick with each other “for better or for worse.” And that’s how my uplifting chorus came to be a kind of cautionary, “Happiness comes and goes,” and recognition that there will be “good and bad times.”
There was more tweaking, I added a solo section to be filled later (admirably executed by the talented Steven Drake on steel guitar), I repeated a couple of “Say I Do” lines at the end to build the drama, and finally stopped all the instruments for the singer to croon the final line, “I want to … grow old with you.” There too is the real essence of marriage for me (happily unmarried to the love of my life for 11 years!) – that willingness to get old in front of one another in real time. Someone must be special indeed to be worth growing old with.
I played this song at Andrea and David’s wedding, again to great surprise and joy, but I already knew I had a tune with broader appeal. More than anything else in my recent life, this song re-inspired me to make something of my musical career – it was the spark that started my latest solo project and is absolutely the anchor of the new album, Songs of Serenity. There is much more to the story too, especially surrounding the video, but that will have to wait for another time.