I remember a friend of mine, years ago, saying that it’s a miracle anybody lives to be five. We were talking about all the crazy risks that little kids take on account of fearless ignorance, stuff like being drawn to high and treacherous places, or how toddlers will automatically reach for shiny bright blades, and all the other things like that.
And it continues! As a species, we drive too fast, don’t always wear seatbelts, play dangerous games with fire, and who knows what all else. We take chances. This is one of the deep truths about being human. I bet there are people who still smoke in bed. What the hell, man? We are slow to learn our lessons. Mostly we get lucky, till we don’t.
This past summer, my youngest son Harrison and I went on a beach trip with my cousin Lynn and her family, and while we were at the beach, we went out on boats a couple of times, to go fishing. On one of these trips, we were on Topsail Sound, on this relatively small boat. We were near the south end of the island, getting ready to head through the inlet and out to the ocean, when the boat’s captain said, hey y’all, my radar shows a ton of weather coming right at us, like right now. So we hustled back, made it to the dock just in time, with dark clouds right on top of us, and I mean two minutes after we were off the water, the sky burst open and the rain hit as hard as you can imagine, so much force! The title line for this song just jumped out at me . . . Wow, we were just one step ahead of the storm! That afternoon I started noodling with the guitar, and had a lot of the chorus done right away.
My cousin’s husband, Tyler, is a really good musician, and also a good friend of mine, and he chimed in with a few ideas. The conversation turned to all the close calls we’ve all had. He was remembering going out with friends in high school, walking across these slippery rocks at the top of a steep waterfall, how easy it would have been for anybody to make one wrong step and plummet to their death. Or maybe someone eventually DID make a misstep on those kinds of risky misadventures, but they were miraculously okay, just broke an arm or whatever, and had to wear a cast for six weeks. I can think of many times my brother drove his Buick at insane speeds on dangerous roads, with me and my friends in the car. And you, reading this, I bet your mind is bringing up example after example of times you had close calls. So our conversation, and Tyler’s suggestions on some of the lines, as well as a couple of musical ideas, very much informed the song.
The whole trip was largely launched from the fact that my cousin and I used to spend a lot of time every summer at Topsail Beach at our grandparents’ cottage. Our moms were sisters, and we’d all vacation together a lot. We'd be there with all our siblings -- my older brother (who passed away in 2003; proof positive that some storms do in fact catch up to us) and Lynn’s two younger sisters. Then, you know, time passed, and all of our adult lives got going, and we scattered, and our grandparents sold their beach place, and life kept moving forward. Of the people that used to be on those family trips, we kids are now middle-aged, and most of the adults have passed on to whatever comes next.
Anyway, there we were, working on this song, when Lynn remembered something the captain had said about Topsail Sound, that while the water seems pretty placid, this current runs through it, just like a river. And Lynn suggested that line for the end of the third verse, and it’s my favorite line in the song.
I like the way “current” means more than one thing, you know? And this idea that in the midst of all these other lines about close calls and change and risk, danger bearing down on us all the time, the way all of us are lucky to even still be here, that there are also these steady forces moving everything forward, even when they’re hard to observe. What we see and notice are the big storms that blow in. But this other, subtler, steadier stuff is always happening too.
On our way back to Texas, Harrison and I stopped for a night at their place in Atlanta. Harrison is pretty tight with their kid, Ty, which makes me happy. I had finished the song by then, and Tyler and I recorded it in his home studio (Tyler is SUCH a good player, singer, and recording engineer). This song is very much a family effort, and my daughter Cassidy, who is a filmmaker and makes the videos on my channel, put the visuals together on this. Thanks, Cassidy!
And so here it is, a new song that comes out of an old truth about danger. Sometimes we court it, sometimes we find it, and sometimes it finds us. This literal storm happened, but of course I also mean it as a metaphor for all the things we’ve all survived ... coming in off the water, one step ahead of the storm.