‘The Price You Pay To Fall’

Consider “December Dream,” singer/songwriter John Braheny’s languid song of love lost:

I can see her slowly walking
Through the empty streets of morning
Who she’s with I cannot tell
His face fades with the others
In the endless spell of dreams I know so well

Though she walks with him, no more with me,
And I know she’s where she wants to be,
Her happiness is there for all to see,
But I find that I still wish it was for me

I can hear her voice still ringing
Through the empty songs I sing
It seems that all the words I find
To say the things that crowd my mind
Only bring me closer to the things I’d rather leave behind

Though I know the game’s been played
I know the mistakes I’ve made
I know I shouldn’t be afraid
To love, for love for any time at all
Is worth the price you pay to fall

Here’s what the Stone Poneys (of which Linda Ronstadt was a member, of course) did with it on their first album, Evergreen Vol. 2, in 1967:

Braheny died at age 74 in 2013. His web page is still up, and there, he noted – not at all surprisingly – that he wrote the song in 1964 after his girlfriend “had a fling with another guy that just destroyed me.” The song later won a songwriting contest in a Cambridge, Massachusetts, festival, and was published in Sing Out! magazine.

One of the musicians Braheny knew in the Boston area was Pete Childs, who – a few years later – was a guitarist for the Stone Poneys sessions. When the Poneys came up light on songs to record, Braheny’s web site says, Childs suggested “December Dream,” which ended up as the first track on the Poneys’ album.

(As it happened, Childs had also worked on earlier sessions by Fred Neil, the reclusive singer/songwriter, and had taught Braheny’s song to Neil, who titled it “December’s Dream.” The recording went unused, however, until it resurfaced in 1999 on the anthology The Many Sides of Fred Neil. It’s available at YouTube.)

Along the way, Braheny recorded a 1968 album, Some Kind Of Change, and left us his version of “December Dream.”

At his website, Braheny marveled that his song got any attention at all: “In retrospect . . . I never would have given the song a shot at being recorded. No real hook, no ‘commercial’ structure, no repeated chorus, a title that doesn’t show up in the song, not even a bridge. Sometimes emotional honesty, sincerity, a little poetry and a pretty melody win. Who knew?”

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One Response to “‘The Price You Pay To Fall’”

  1. Tim McMullen says:

    This is a funny connection: At a “tryout” for the LA Songwriters Showcase (run by Braheny and Len Chandler), John Braheny leveled the same criticism at my song, “Michael,” that he leveled at his own. “No real hook, no ‘commercial’ structure, no repeated chorus, a title that doesn’t show up in the song, not even a bridge.” The only part that he didn’t say about my song was about the title, since it is the first word of the song. He also criticized the fact that the song doesn’t rhyme, which, of course, is true (although it does have a bit of internal rhyme and some assonance as well). However, this non-rhyming was a deliberate choice since nearly everything that I write rhymes like crazy. In the followup call, I was told that I was number 13 out of 12 slots for the showcase (“and if anyone bailed, etc.”, but then they probably said that to all those who didn’t make it. I was basically told the same thing about a short story that I submitted to short-lived The Twilight Zone Magazine at around the same time in the mid-70s.

    The irony, of course, is that this was always my showstopper, sung at the end of a set, and nearly always guaranteed to get an encore. Even from the stage I could see the occasional tear and people coming up after the performance and saying, “That’s my song. That happened to me.”

    Michael

    Michael was the boy
    Who lived across the street
    In the big white house
    With the green door and shutters.
    He was four years old,
    And I was only three
    When our families moved
    To the neighborhood
    In the very same week.

    Strange and lonely world
    For two little boys;
    Each one watched the other
    From his curb.
    I had my big, blue dump truck
    With real wheels that moved;
    Michael had his tricycle
    Named “Thunder” on the driveway.

    I’d moved a couple mountains
    When I looked across the street;
    He was playin’ “two-square”
    With the wall.
    The ball bounced high
    Above his head and rolled
    Right off the lawn,
    Up the curb, and into my arms.

    And I’ve always wondered
    If Michael meant to throw the ball to me?

    Cowboys and Indians,
    Using sticks for guns
    And tree-house forts
    To stop the enemy.
    “Bang, Bang! You’re dead!”
    But count to ten,
    And then you’re on the run.
    And don’t fall off the curb
    ’Cause then you’re in the ocean.

    Next year Michael started school,
    And mornings sure were sad;
    But he was home at noon,
    And soon things would be fine.
    Then I started too,
    And that was pretty good
    ’Cause me and Michael
    Walked to school together.

    I guess we looked a lot alike,
    And it kinda’ made me proud
    When people asked us both
    If we were brothers.
    For we had more than once
    Pricked fingers with a pin
    And held ‘em close
    To let our brother’s blood flow in.

    Michael grew much more than me;
    He grew so tall and thin.
    I was always small,
    But it didn’t matter
    ’Cause I could climb the tallest tree
    Just as good as any kid.
    The best of friends were fast and firm
    As ever two have been.

    Then one day he moved away,
    And I still recall the pain
    Of the twelve year old
    Who had to stay behind.
    The old sedan was weighted down,
    I know Michael wished to stay;
    A wave and a tear were the last I saw,
    And the last he saw of me.

    And I think of him often
    Though I have never seen his face again.

    And I’ll always wonder
    If Michael meant to throw the ball to me?

    © 1971 Tim McMullen
    All Rights Reserved

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