Radio Nowhere

RADIO NOWHERE

Day 5 - Beautiful Stranger

Just about my favorite thing to do is to grab my guitar and keyboard, jump into the car and head out into the American West, which I do by heading…East. East? Well, when you live in California, you’re kind of west of the West, so you have to go east if you want to get anywhere interesting. Today, though, we’re really gonna need to hit the gas, because we’re heading to…Syracuse, NY.


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Click the big orange Play button to get the song rolling, then read on for more about the song, lyrics, and extras...

About The Song

Syracuse, New York? What the hell are we doing here? Pretty out of character for me, I admit, and a long way from my usual inspiration in the American West. Syracuse is a declining Rust Belt city with hundreds of grand but shuttered brick buildings downtown. I found these very exotic - which will probably make you laugh if you’re from back East - because in California we generally don’t have many brick buildings due to their tendency to disintegrate in earthquakes.

What was I doing in Syracuse?
Well, my wife grew up an hour south of there and the only family she’s ever known still lives there. I put it that way because my wife is adopted, and has never met her birth parents. When she was something like one day old, her adoptive parents picked her up from the Catholic Orphans’ Home in Syracuse…which was one of the shuttered brick buildings we were there looking at that day. 

There was something incredibly powerful
about standing outside of the actual building where my wife’s mother had given her up, and it started the wheels turning in my head. It occurred to me that there was no one in my wife’s life that she could point to as a blood relative, that she was essentially, elementally alone in a way that most of the rest of us are not. Zow. There had to be a song in here somewhere (and yes, unfortunately it’s pretty common for me to take semi-tragic situations and try to twist them to my songwriting advantage)…

I ran the idea backwards and forwards in my head, but just couldn’t find a way to turn it into a song. Then I just kind of stumbled on the words at the start of the bridge: “who are you? and who am I and how and why? and oh, what have you done now to deserve that alibi?” Something about that couplet just snapped things into focus, and the rest of the song came pretty quickly…except for the title. For a few months, this one didn’t have the title, or the “beautiful stranger” tagline at the end of the choruses. Fortunately, around that time, I was hanging out with my sister, who’s a serious Madonna fan. I probably heard Madge’s song “Beautiful Stranger” 5 or 6 times over a couple of days, and at some point it occurred to me that I could swipe that phrase for my song. It fit perfectly! (Just don’t tell anyone else that’s where I got it.)


About The Recording

“Beautiful Stranger” features some pretty amazing musicians, but my favorite parts are played by the incomparable Jef Labes on keys. Jef may be just a shade better known for also being the piano player on Van Morrison’s Moondance (he also played on a bunch of Bonnie Raitt’s records). His work on the Wurlitzer electric piano here is stellar. 

I had fun doing the programming on this one;
there’s a lot of subtle synth stuff happening underneath, probably best heard in the “BWOMP” that opens the song. This was all done at home, on my Logic Pro system. 

This take is actually probably a little too fast.
It’s the kind of thing that’s really hard to notice while you’re head down, working on the song, but at this tempo there’s not quite enough room for all of the lyrics to ring out. Oops. 

This was the last song we worked on.
I actually cut the harmony vocals during the mixing session for the song, which we did at San Francisco’s Different Fur Studios. This was unusual. Usually you finish tracking all of the parts well before the mix even begins, so it was a special treat that we were able to slip these vocal parts in at the last minute. I still remember the feeling as I checked the last items off my list, and I knew the album was finished. My reward? A super burrito at El Farolito restaurant, next door to the studio. Mmmmm….

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Lyrics

ohhh, i have so much to say to the moon
summer is turning to fall a season too soon
and i, i feel so lonely and i don't know why
i just want to see my reflection in somebody's eyes

and i can't stay another day/where do i come from
where do i go/down every road
looking for my beautiful stranger

and i travel around/my feet never touching the ground
i can't forget that i'm living in the lost and found
and oh, we'll never know
if she harvested just what she sowed
what was she holding on to when she had to let go

and i can't stay another day/where do i come from
where do i go/down every road
looking for my/why am i always on the way
wonder who sent me/invented me/alone
nobody home
looking for my beautiful stranger

  • well who are you, and who am i and how and why
    and oh, what have you done now to deserve that alibi
    in all the fairy tales that i was raised up on
    the princess always finds her face

    and i just need a friend/a blood sister cutting me in
    something thicker than this water flowing under my skin

    and i can't stay another day/where do i come from
    where do i go/down every road
    looking for my/why am i always on the way
    wonder who sent me/invented me/alone
    nobody home
    looking for my beautiful stranger

Today's Bonuses!

Beautiful Stranger - Original Demo

Check out the original demo for "Beautiful Stranger".  That’s a sample from Steve Miller’s “Threshold" that kicks off the song, and that you hear again at the end of the first chorus. I like the pace here better than the faster clip of the final version - feels like the song breathes better. Maybe I should track this one again?

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P.S.

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