Archive for November, 2013

“Baby, You’re My Wisconsin” Free Download Here!

Read the essay below about the “Baby, You’re My Wisconsin” songwriting project!  Then, download all eight songs, for free! You’ll also get a lyric/track sheet, and a copy of Kyle’s interview for Northern Illinois Public Radio’s “Winter Book Series” (December, 2012).

“Baby, You’re My Wisconsin”


Your kisses, like the waves at Little Sister Bay

Your bosom, like Devil’s Lake, is where I lay

Your embrace:  a squeeze ‘tween Mendota & Monona

Who can even compare? They’re full of Cudahy bologna



Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring

Come around and begin again

Baby, you’re my Wisconsin

Baby, you’re my Wisconsin


I don’t mind it when you say, “You betcha”

Wanna wear just green & gold? Baby, I’ll let ya

Your perfume of Leinie’s, and cheese, and rivers,

Fish frys, and pines, Darling, gives me the shivers



You’re where Illinoisans can only visit and cry

Baby, you’re where Canadians go when they die

Minnesota & Michigan: your ugly sisters

If Illinois departed, Sugar, I wouldn’t miss her



Baby, this ain’t no metaphor

(Darling, that’s what poems are for):

Wisconsin, you’re my Wisconsin


Your kisses, like the waves at Little Sister Bay

Your bosom, like Devil’s Lake, is where I lay

Your embrace: a squeeze ‘tween Mendota & Monona

Who else can compare? They’re full of Cudahy bologna

So, I wrote this song.

I had to.

It’s my job.

I am from Wisconsin, but I’ve lived in Illinois the last twenty-three years.  Thus, I am Resident Cheesehead, and Resident Packer Fan.  The job descriptions for these positions are trash talk, and smack talk, respectively.  Except in summer, when Illinoisans call a truce and need to go on vacation in God’s Country.  Then I become tour guide:  Where shall we go?  Where shall we stay?  Where shall we eat?  How shall we converse with Wisconsinites?  So this song is just part of the ongoing banter between myself and my Illinois friends.  And, yes, I count them as friends, these neighbors.

This song was an assignment I gave myself.  Usually, I write nonfiction. Essays. Some poems.  But, what would it be like to write a song?  Specifically, a love song?  The freedom to use all those terms of endearment, like Baby, Sugar, Darling.   And, the word bosom.  Naturally, it became a song about Wisconsin.  But, a song needs more than lyrics; it needs music. I don’t know the language of music, or the rules, so I put it out there on Facebook and on my website:  “Win a $100 stack of cash! Set Kyle’s ‘Baby, You’re My Wisconsin’ poem/song to music! This means chords & a simple recording (MP3). Contest ends November 5, 2013.”

There were lots of questions about how to pronounce Wisconsin names like Cudahy (CUD-uh-hay:  a meat packing town near Milwaukee), and Mendota, and Monona (Men-DOH-tuh, Muh-NO-nuh:  the lakes that squeeze the isthmus where Madison, the capital, is located), and Lienie’s (LINE-eez:  Short for Leinenkugel’s, a brewery in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin).  Part of me felt bad, because most of the people entering the contest were from Illinois.  I felt like I was rubbing their noses in something.  But, really, they were happily rubbing their own noses in it, which was cool to watch.  One Illinois woman said, “I feel guilty singing this. Like my dad would disown me if he found out.” But, we’re neighbors, and friends; we’re all in on the joke.  It’s the good teasing that is not only okay, but important, in community.  Even if it’s a creative, digital community.

I lied when I said I had to write this song.  I didn’t.  I just wanted to.  And, no one had to write music for the song, either.  They just did it.  The prize wasn’t that big.  But, one woman restrung her autoharp for this.  One high school girl got together with a friend from near the City and recorded it on a laptop, in a bathroom.  A friend, who missed the contest deadline, called and gave a private concert with the song.  A college student recorded multiple tracks.  Someone recorded multiple versions.  A married couple, late at night, after putting their children down, created something from scratch. Together.  All very busy people.  Very busy.

Soon, ‘though, the music started coming in.

It was much more than I expected.  I was just looking for some simple chords to complete a song, but these were real deal love songs.  Guitars. Ukuleles.  Mandolins.  Violins. Accordions.  A bass.  A beer bottle as a slide.  Percussion. Voices.  Harmonies.  The songs were sung and played with passion and seriousness.  Now we were really in this together.  Real collaboration with words and music coming together.  I decided I couldn’t judge them, so I sent the songs out to ten friends:  Californians, Missourians, Wisconsinites, Illinoisans, Ohioans, Canadians. And, these reviewers took their jobs seriously, too.  Some went beyond just picking their top two songs and wrote full reviews!  Here are some of them:

“Nice, downhome ukulele-accompanied-by-viola arrangement…Makes me miss my childhood home in Wisconsin, and I grew up in Illinois!”

 “… like beautiful, aural feathers.”

 “Loved it.  Made me think I [was]at a luau done Wisconsin-style: coconut bra slapped on over a parka.” 

 “Fabulous.  Catchy.  Conveyed a wistful longing for Wisconsin…yet with a fun vibe.  Didn’t make me want to slit my wrists.  The lyrics are campy and fun, so I felt the music…should echo that, without being weepy, and eye-roll inducing.”

“Jovial, energetic melody ambles along like a train. Great road companion – adding this to our ‘road trip’ playlist! Nice tambourine accompaniment.”

 “Warmhearted vocals and lovely accompaniment. This version feels like a…worship song to me. I wanted to wave my hands in the air, lift my closed eyes to the ceiling, and rock from side-to-side.”

Even the reviewers built a connection around what was becoming a communal art project, rather than a contest.  I started to feel like a hippie.  A very clean hippie. But even more, I felt like I was part of a creative community.  An arts community. I didn’t even think of the song as mine anymore.  I was reminded that encouraging others to be creative may be the most satisfying thing I do.

Why was this so satisfying for me?  For us?  Bottom line: it was Sabbath rest.  Yeah, I said Sabbath.  There were moments that felt like holy ground:  How did they come up with this? Why are they taking time for this?   It was enjoyable because we didn’t have to do it.  No one was looking to make a buck (the winner didn’t even want the prize), or to complete an assignment for a grade, or to strive in any way.  It was like Sabbath because there was nothing we had to do, and we could do anything we wanted.  It was playtime.  A “snow day”.  A freebie.  When’s the last time I enjoyed that?  When’s the last time you enjoyed that?  One guy even sent his song in after the deadline, ‘cause he wanted to.  We just played and shared together, to see what could happen.  And, the individual results were wonderful and unique.   The whole was even more intriguing.  So, I shared the reviews, and the results, and all the songs with the musicians. This is what they said:

“I loved this.”

“This is great! I loved hearing all of these.”

 “So. Fun.”

 “Let’s do something like this again.”

 “Such a fun project.  What’s next?” 

What’s the next thing we can do together, indeed!  They get it.

One friend who entered said: “I’m going to have a contest where I write the music, and you have to write the lyrics about Illinois.”

Yeah? Bring it.  That’s my dream job, neighbor.

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