Home By Dark Words & Music by Steve Gillette
Growing up a few decades ago as many of us did, so many things were different from what we see today. Even as young kids we were encouraged to go out and play, and we extended our range of exploration to reach quite far afield. Parents didn't have the same anxiety that parents have today, and certainly no one would have criticized my mother for allowing me to venture forth unsupervised.
When we perform the song we introduce it with the idea that we did have that kind of freedom. It seemed that the only rule was that we be 'home by dark.' When the street lights came on we were expected to be in the house or at least on our way. There's another theme that is hinted at in the song. Didn't it seem like we got into some situations that we're just so glad that nobody ever had to find out about?
One exception was when my buddy and I had our bicycles stolen when we carelessly left them in a bike rack at the park while we watched a baseball game. My friend's mom was home when we called and she came to pick us up. I remember being so disappointed in people; to think that I would need to have a lock for my bike. That may be an indication of just how far we've come.
It wasn't long before my parents bought me a much better bike, a ten-speed Schwinn. We lived on a hill and I had to walk the bike up the hill for several years before I grew enough to make it the whole way. There was a sense of triumph in that moment that I've never forgotten. I think of it as a combination of maturation and determination. My paper route eventually included similar hills in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Anyway, all of that nostalgia has gone into this song. But as I developed the idea, it wasn't long before the sense of home and homelessness began to speak to me. The first image that came in that regard was of a soldier far from home, sheltering from danger as well as weather, and how I wished the same sense of belonging and reassurance for him or for her and for everyone. Sad to say there are degrees of deprivation everywhere, so I guess this song is an expression of hope more than an offer of a solution. But it's a hint of how my eight-year-old self would like it to be.
Musically, this song has some unique features. The verses are again a two-part structure, but in this case both halves are the same. We do the song in the key of D, but the sense of key is hidden slightly since the song doesn't 'land' on its home chord until the end of the chorus. The verses uses e-minor (the ii minor) and A (the V) and then another form of D with an extra note in it. This extra note is a C# (or the major seventh degree of the D scale.) It doesn't quite come to rest the way D major chord (the I or the tonic of the key) eventually does at the end of the chorus.
This chord is one of the features of the song that in my mind make it special. I play the chord by sliding the third finger of my left had up to the fifth fret on the A string. Then I bring my first finger up behind it to the fourth fret of the D string. Then the note that makes the chord special is played by the little finger on the sixth fret of the G string. It has the effect of keeping the melody suspended between the minor chords and the major chords and holding a gentle tension and, I think, a pleasing dissonance which supports the poignancy of the words.
The chorus takes a positive step up to the G chord (the IV) as is the case with so many choruses. It's that 'lift' that producers look for. It's followed by that D-major seventh form. Then back to the e-minor and A-major and e-minor and A-major to end the first half of the bridge. Then the same sequence again, but this time just the one e-minor, the one A-major and then the normal D or home chord for the sense of resolution and coming to rest. Safe at home. Then back to the A to set up the next verse.
The bridge, as is so often the case in my writing, departs from the key by using chords that are native to the key of D, but altering them to lead the ear into more interesting territory. The first chord of the bridge, the f#-minor is normal to the key of D, but then I turn it into an F#-major chord by raising the A note on the G string to an A#. This chord leads nicely to the b-minor for the rest of the phrase to finish the first half of the bridge.
The second half of the bridge starts with an e-minor chord which is then changed to an E-major chord by raising the G note on the third string to a G#. This chord acts as a borrowed dominant as we have discussed in other articles and brings a new authority to the A which follows. The A is the V (or dominant) chord in the key of D, and is the natural way to get back to the home chord of D, but the A is itself strengthened by its own dominant, the E major chord and in sequence, they give an added satisfaction to the final D.
All this may seem complicated but will make more sense when playing along with the video. The songbook with the sheet music for "Home By Dark" and 46 other songs is available here.
The sheet music of the single song is also available as a downloadable PDF here.
As I write these words we are traveling at thirty thousand feet on a flight from San Jose to Chicago. We have one more flight after that to Albany where we'll pick up our car and drive home to Vermont. It's Tuesday, the 17th of March, and within the last week, the Covid-19 virus has suddenly altered everyone's lives. Our four-week tour of California has been cut short and our concert dates canceled.
Our songwriting workshop in Santa Cruz was also sacrificed at the last minute to concerns of safety and containment. Other events of the last few days have cast a shadow on our getting home as travel is increasingly restricted. Major cities in the world, and indeed, whole countries are locked down. So much of what we had taken for granted has given way to uncertainty and fears. Our sense of home and what it means to us is one of the ways we cope with fear. In times of trouble, so often, we just want to get home.
Here Cindy and I sing the song at the Rose Garden Coffeehouse:
Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen perform "Home by Dark."
This version is from our CD "Home by Dark"
Audio from Steve & Cindy's CD "Home by Dark."
Our CD "Home by Dark" is available for purchase here.
Here are the lyrics as we sing it:
My first two-wheeler was old when I got it It was new-found freedom, it was red on black Those big wide tires would slide on the gravel When I'd ride along the railroad track Straight down hill on Skyline Road, no hands, no brakes. I was lucky I know But the wind was singing in my ears and I never looked back Just be home by dark There'll be time enough tomorrow But there's a place where they know you And love you for who you are When there was color in the sky and the street lights are comin' on I'll take the corner like a stolen base and be home by dark. Now that I've got a daughter and a son I get to figure out how it's done But the clock is cruel, the boss is anxious And little pictures have great big ears We worry that we can't provide all the things that this life requires But somehow just being in that circle banishes all my fears And I'll be home by dark There'll be time enough tomorrow But there's a place where they know you and love you for who you are When there's color in the sky and the street lights are comin' on I'll finish up working and be home by dark So many people in this hungry world travel that journey alone What I would wish for everyone is just what I want for my own To be home by dark, and time enough tomorrow A place where they know you and love you for who you are When there's color in the sky and the street lights are comin' on The sunlight fades away, tomorrow is another day, But there's always that longing to be home by dark
© 2010 Compass Rose Music, BMI