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And just as Graham has learned how giving up his career goals can enable him to achieve ones he never imagined, a similar epiphany has happened with his songwriting. "I went through a thing when I was younger of trying to write songs, and it just never worked for me," he says. "The harder that I tried to write songs, the worse they were."
Now, instead of trying to write, he just lets the writing happen. "The songs announce themselves," he says. "I'll be driving or I'll be sitting at home or wake up in the middle of the night, and there it will be. Not the whole song, but there will be..." Graham pauses for a moment, then begins again. "It's like a visitor that just shows up at the house, and you go, 'Oh, this song is gonna be about this, or this song is gonna be called this.'
"It sounds so gay, but it's like--I don't know who said this--the songs are out there. We're just catching them. It's all were doin'. That's not to say that I don't spend a lot of time working on them or chasing 'em. But when they're ready to be caught, they're there. It's that Michelangelo thing about chipping away everything that doesn't look like the horse."
To complete the cycle, Graham is now happily remarried and just days away from the birth of his second child. No wonder he's gone from catching songs with such titles as "Faithless" and "Wave Goodbye" to tunes called "A Place in the Shade" and "Big Sweet Life." His life, career, and even music have gone from sad and defeated to joyful and contented.
"It's very sweet," he says of the place where he finds himself. "It makes me very happy. It's hard, and I've worked very hard at it, and there are barbs in it. But by and large, I'm in a place that I never could have anticipated being in, and I've got stuff going on that I never would have thought. Period. With the new baby and the new record, it's stuff that I never planned. And it's better than anything I could have planned. My ideas for where I was going and what was gonna be happening were pretty limited. And what ended up happening is way better than anything I could have dreamed up."
Jon Dee Graham performs June 11 at the Gypsy Tea Room. The Gourds open.