Origin of a Song: Summer ’29

True fact: I’ve written (and recorded) a song in a single day. Summer ’29, however took me ten years.

By 2009 I’d written the first stanza, filling almost exactly the first minute with chunky chords in the key of C and some of my favorite lyrics (then and still):

I pulled my ring from a calloused hand sir 
Went and pawned it for our daily bread 
We took our vows with dreams of for richer 
But we must make do with for poorer instead 
That July sun on my naked finger 
Burnt near bad enough to kill a man 
Walking dusty roads home 
To where my wife was waiting 
When I’d paid the rent 
With our wedding band 

And then I was stuck.

I’d been leaning on images of abandoned farms for inspiration (like this one). I worked on and off on finishing the song from that angle, but never felt satisfied the song was what it wanted to be.

A first stanza, rhythm, and melody I loved were left stranded at the altar, so to speak.

For years.

It was only when I started to follow a thread looking at photos of couples (Diamonds was inspired by one) that a different way forward started to dawn on me.

This image opened the door.

Title: White sharecropper couple near Hartwell, Georgia

Creator(s): Lange, Dorothea, photographer

Date Created/Published: 1937 July.

The agony of parting with the wedding ring to pay the bills wasn’t because love had been diminished, or hard times put it at risk. Entirely the opposite: because it endured. Because there was no question, for better or worse, it would last through hard times. I still didn’t know how to finish the song, but I could pivot with lines that snapped to the rhythm and melody:

Courtin' at the county fairs
And revival hall dances...

Things began to come together from there. The addition of an Am chord in the final stanza is a tried-and-true tool in the songwriting toolbox. In this case, it brings forward the ominous, but stands in contrast to shifting back to a major chord at the very end: we’re sad.

But we’ll endure.


Have a listen…