January 2020

by Uncle Denny

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about

This January, I stood in front of a microphone in my basement studio every night with a single objective: write and record something new every day. The song had to be brand new each night (no previous ideas). I had to free associate and follow whatever came out and once I had an idea I liked, I gave myself three takes to finish it. I didn’t listen to anything I recorded until the last week of the month. What resulted is a mix of very short song-thoughts, a few long-form autobiographical free-association songs, songs about the day’s world events, and several songs that are more similar in form to what you might hear on one of my albums. They are imperfect. So am I. The result is 20 songs.

On the heels of working for 2 years in the studio on an album I am very proud of and can’t wait to share with you (my studio album, American Foursquare, will be released in May 2020), I wanted to throw something in to the world that was a bit of an opposite. I wanted to make something alone and fast. I wanted to minimize the third eye that looks back on me when I’m in the studio, telling me, “do another take… sing it a little better… this tempo is off… this arrangement needs tons of work… these lyrics don’t quite lock in.” There is a time and a place for that, but this time I wanted to try something different.

January 2020 is a choose-your-own-adventure album. It is a conversation starter between me and you. Please let me know which songs you like best. Please create your own track order and share it with me. It’s possible some of these might be demos for my next album. Which songs would you like to hear more fleshed-out studio versions of? January 2020 will be initially available exclusively on Bandcamp. I will likely pare the songs down and release some other version of it more widely on other formats later.

I hope you enjoy the songs. They were all written and recorded late at night in headphones. I find listening in headphones serves them best for some reason.

Xo
Uncle Denny

credits

released February 21, 2020

Recorded & engineered by Denison Witmer
Mixing assistance & mastering by Andy Park
Cover photo by Denison Witmer
Cropping/Layout assistance by Amy Mees

license

all rights reserved

tags

Track Name: January 1 - Hello 2020
Hello 2020

Be careful of your heart this year
Don’t let yourself give in to rage and fear
Be careful of your time
Don’t waste your life
And try your best to be kind

Hello 2020
’19 wasn’t funny though it still felt like a joke
I hope this year I’m woke

I’ve read that if you are running down a path
Don’t focus on the obstacles ahead
You should focus on where you want your feet to land

Hello 2020
’19 wasn’t funny though it still felt like a joke
I hope this year I’m woke
Track Name: January 2 - Be Kind / This Is Water
Be Kind / This Is Water

Sisyphus pushed a big rock up a hill
Only to watch it roll back down again
Sometimes parenting feels a lot like that
I walk my kids to school at 8:15 and pick them up at 3:00
And all day in between, I stand at a table saw and workbench
I build things for people around town

Today I built a table for a woman who is 63…
Just lost her husband to cancer
And when I dropped it off, do you know what she said to me?
She said, “The little things like taking out the trash or eating alone
or grocery shopping are like pushing a rock up a hill.”

David Foster Wallace gave a speech at Kenyon College
It’s called “This Is Water”
And it’s one of the best takes on empathy I’ve ever heard
It’s a reminder to be kind
Everybody’s pushing a big rock up a hill
Everybody’s watching it roll back down again
Everybody’s pushing a big rock up a hill
Track Name: January 3 - Bluebirds
Bluebirds

Bluebirds dancing in the backyard
Bluebirds dancing in the backyard
Blue jay chasing a sparrow

Grey squirrel running on a sycamore
Grey squirrel running on a sycamore
Grey sky… January rain

The piano in our room
Where our oldest child plays
And our youngest sits and draws on a page
With a smile on his face

If I could only freeze this day
With my Bluebirds
Track Name: January 5 - Asking For a Friend
The President just dropped a bomb and killed a horrible man
All my life I have been taught “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
These are the things that keep me up at night

“Love it patient, love is kind, it does not boast, it does not envy, it is not proud”*
Does that sound like the kind of man all these Christians gather around?

I’m asking for a friend…

*(1 Corinthians 13:4)
Track Name: January 6 - Jury Duty / Keith Killed His Family (SENSITIVE CONTENT WARNING)
Jury Duty / Keith Killed His Family

I don’t have a lot of energy to write a song tonight
So I’m just going to free associate
Half music, half spoken word
And I know the whole thing is absurd
17 year old Denison would have never put up with something like this
Even now I’m not so sure but here we are

I was summoned for jury duty today
So my wife drove me downtown
I grabbed a coffee at my friends café
And I walked over to the courthouse
And found my seat – Juror #85

There was audible complaining in the room
It was clear that no one wanted to be there
So they had a judge come in and talk about our civic duty
And you could feel a change in the air
Even I was wanting to be picked for a jury

Then they called my number
In the middle of 40 others
They said that we would shortly move up to a courtroom

We were going to hear about a criminal case
Something about sexual violence and child abuse
And I started to feel uneasy…thinking about the things that humans do to each other
And the hubris and violence of men

They took us to the courtroom
They sat us in a line
They said, “We’re going to ask you all some questions…
Just about an hour more of your time.
Have you or anyone close to you ever been a victim of sexual violence?”
And to my surprise half the room stood up
Each person with their own story
I mean that’s an outrageous number
People are crazy

Even I have my own story
I was in the 7th grade
I went to a local elementary Mennonite school
And one of my best friends there went on a rage
And to this day I don’t think he knows what happened himself

Anyway, I was invited over to his house
To play games and watch Monty Python
But I couldn’t make it over that night
And then I’ll tell you what happened

The next morning when I came downstairs
My mom was sitting on the couch
With a newspaper in her lap
And she was in tears
She said, “Your friend Keith did something horrible last night.
He took is parents’ and his sister’s life and tried to rape his cousin in a barn.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing

I said, “But mom, I was supposed to be there last night.”
She said, “I know, the cops are on their way. They’re going to ask you a lot of questions. I’ll be here to hold your hand. Just be honest and tell them what you can.”

I didn’t really have that much to say
I didn’t understand the situation
And to this day I can’t make sense of it
And I haven’t seen Keith since

He used to call me from the prison
I remember the phone on my parents’ kitchen wall
Ringing and then picking it up
And a pre-recorded message:
“This is a collect call. Do you accept the charges?”

Keith called me all through high school
And I always tried to make the time to talk
Though I always felt a deep sadness inside because the older I got
We only talked about the same things from 7th grade
Like we were frozen in place

Anyway, I didn’t tell the lawyers or the judge about this story
I didn’t think it would keep me from being fair or impartial
I mean it happened so long ago
And I’ve tucked it away somehow

They didn’t need me for the jury
They up and sent me home
Maybe they didn’t think I had what it takes
I really don’t know

But it’s ok with me
I’m glad that I’m home tomorrow
It’s my youngest son’s 4th birthday
I’ll probably bake a chocolate cake
And be thankful for our lives
And pray to God that none of us get crazy
Or become a victim of a crime
Track Name: January 11 - Slow Motion Snow
Slow Motion Snow

Slow motion snow falls from the sky
I pull the covers over my eyes
Out in the hallway my youngest child cries
He comes to our room and leaves with my wife
Every day

The incoming sound of my oldest child’s feet
He climbs in my bed and puts them on me
I roll away, I say, “Your feet freeze!”
He laughs and says, “You’re so warm, dad.” and falls back asleep

Now I lay awake and thoughts fill my mind
Have I made good use of my friendships and time?
I take day by day
All you can do is try

Slow motion snow falls from the sky
Track Name: January 12 - Something Out Of Nothing (Trick Mirror)
Something Out Of Nothing

The last book I read was Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Gave it to my wife for Christmas this year
I haven’t felt all that creative for the last couple days
I don’t know what it is
I heard the planets are in retrograde

So I scrolled through my phone
I felt lonely and alone
What a stupid thing to do
Scrolling mindlessly is a creative killer
It doesn’t go anywhere except further into itself
Which doesn’t really go anywhere
Then your night is gone

I tried to figure out a song by Salena Gomez
I thought it would make my kids laugh
Instead I read about Florence Pugh and Zach Braff

But then I sat down with my guitar
And no/though I didn’t get very far
This is what I came up with
And I know it's not very good
But I made something out of nothing
Which is more than where my night was going

I made something out of nothing
I made something
Track Name: January 13 - Put It Outside With A Free Sign
Put it outside with a “FREE” sign
I guess I thought, “enough is enough.”
Hoping somebody might drive by and stop and put it in their truck
I probably won’t miss it very much
Everybody has got so much extra stuff
So much extra junk
Track Name: January 17 - Poulsbo House
The oldest tambourine I’ve ever played had a clear dark sound
I think about the music that we made in that Poulsbo House
Brianna and her sister Caithlyn, Andrea, Deborah, Jordan, and Ben
And so many other friends
2001 was so much fun
Tonight I feel so sentimental

The morning light that stretched across the yard
Leading to the woodshop barn
The back bathroom that never had a wall
Chair marks on the soft pine floors
Upright piano in the living room
We all stood around a single microphone
And sang one of my own songs together
We sang “I have finally found a lamp to light my way. I have finally found a way to speak my mind”
If you could go back, what would you change?
Not a single thing

Tonight I feel so sentimental
Track Name: January 18 - Walking In The Miracle
Walking In The Miracle

I was walking down the street today
When a tree branch fell in front of me
It exploded on the sidewalk
I looked around and I couldn’t talk
If I was just two steps ahead
It would have come down on my head
I could be injured or could be dead

But I’m still walking through the miracle
I’m out here walking through the miracle
I have become so cavalier
Taking for granted my time here

2004 in San Diego
Week long rehearsal at a studio
I played guitar and bass and banjo
For a string of Sufjan Stevens’ shows

I went out walking on lunch break
I crossed the street to a Goodwill
A car came speeding around the corner
And it brushed against my leg
We both stopped and we made eye contact
They apologized and we both carried on
I went into the Goodwill
Just as they were setting out a Wurlitzer 200A electric piano
I paid $150 and walked it back across the street
I showed the rest of the band and the studio owner
He told me I would be the envy of every musician in San Diego
Coming to town and scoring such a great instrument right under their noses

But I was still thinking about that car
How that moment would have changed everything
So I never told the band
I guess I didn’t want to bother them

We drove the west coast in a miracle
We made music in the miracle
I kept walking in the miracle
I’m still walking in the miracle
Track Name: January 19 - Incandescent Light
Incandescent Light

Incandescent Light
I’m down in my basement late a night
Working thoughts out on my own
I don’t have much to say
So I’m just going to look around the room
And say what I see in front of me

Four record covers in cheap ikea frames
A Harmony tenor acoustic guitar my wife trash-picked one day
An old tour poster from a record I released in 2008
A hand-drawn picture of my friend William and I on stage
New Orleans House Of Blues
A red toy piano that my friend Andy bought me at a thrift store
he said it made him think of me
A statue of St. Francis that I purchased from a friend who works at a antique shop outside of Detroit
A rats nest of cables...computer and recording stuff and it’s all in a big pile on my floor
A rhyming dictionary. I thought I’d use it more than I do. I heard it’s a good writing tool
A Stanley tape measure. It seems like they just follow me around. I’m a carpenter and I need a tape measure all the time.
A picture of Jennie in a tan jacket and purple scarf, holding a coffee mug in South Philadelphia

Anyway -- I could do this all night but I don’t have the time so….
January 19 2020
(Side note - It's Dolly Parton’s birthday. I started listening to a podcast about her and learned that on her birthday)

Anyway…

Tonight was the last of my family Christmas get togethers and my kids ate so much sugar.
We got back home late and I told them we don't have time to read books and they both felt upset with me
Then I thought, “What kind of parent tells their child they can’t read? Another 30 minutes shouldn’t make a difference anyway on a night you’re already up so late. Everybody needs a little time to unwind and slow down their minds.”

So I made them a deal. I said, “I hear how you feel. I’m going to go downstairs and try to record a song. It shouldn’t take me very long. When I’m done, I’ll come back upstairs and into your room. I’ll climb into your bed. We’ll close your book. I’ll kiss you on the head. I’ll sing you some songs until you fall asleep. I probably will too, like I usually do. Around 3:30 AM, I’ll wake up and climb down out of your bunk bed
Track Name: January 20 - Which Way
Which Way

Which way back home will you go?
Which way back home do you know?
There’s a fire in my heart
There’s a fire in my head
Which way will you go back home?
Track Name: January 22 - How It Makes Me Feel
How It Makes Me Feel

I’ve been thinking a lot about patience today
How everything has its own timing
How to trust it
How to follow and idea but also lead the way
I’ve been thinking a lot about patience today

Two years ago, my fans gave me money to make a record
Let me tell you how that made me feel

First thing I felt was gratitude, of course. How couldn’t I?
Second thing I felt was responsibility and desire
to give something I believe in and give it back to them
Made me think a lot about process those days

Spent a lot of money on musicians and studios
Tried my best to write the best songs I possibly could

Something a lot of creative types might not tell you is about the time in between
When you finish your project and when it’s finally released
It feels like it sits inside of you and starts to scream,
“LET ME OUT!”
So now down here in my basement I think I’m having some kind of reaction
I need something fast -- Some kind of instant satisfaction

Less about the music and more about the words
Or maybe it’s
Less about the words and more about how it makes me feel
Track Name: January 23 - Mapped Out
Mapped Out

All the stars above you
All the ground below you
Everything around
Is mapped out on a grid

Tell me all about you
Tell me what you love
All the things you’ve done
And things that you undid
I’m 43
I still don’t know what I want to be

Do you remember how it felt when your parents let go of the seat
and your bike was swerving, handlebars all over… and you thought you’d end up out in the street?
You found your balance and you rode out into the world

I have two kids now
My dreams are somewhere between my own and theirs
There’s no other way to say it except, “I care.”

Tell me all about you
Your history
What you did and what you undid
Don’t let your life be mapped out on a grid
Track Name: January 26 - Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
You've got the whole city crying
Over you

When I was 23 I lived in Philadelphia next to a restaurant named Kobe
I don’t know if its true, but the story I was told
Was your parents saw the sign and then named you
I always thought that was cute
Now I’m so blue

I think about your wife and all of your daughters
The one who was with you
Her friend and her friend’s parents too
And the helicopter in a gray sky
I wish that it was blue

Now I’m so blue

Kobe Bryant
You've got the whole city crying
Over you
Track Name: January 27 - It's Okay To Live A Quiet Life
It's Okay To Live A Quiet Life

It’s okay to live your life as quietly as you want
It’s okay to disappear for awhile if you need
You don’t have to prove a thing to yourself or anyone
You don’t have to prove a thing

It’s okay
live your life
As quietly as you want

It’s okay
live your life
As quietly as you need

You don’t have to prove a thing to yourself or anyone
You don’t have to prove a thing

Maybe you should let go
Fall free
Track Name: January 28 - Not Feigning Ignorance
Not Feigning Ignorance

I don’t feel like finding out
So i’m not going to ask
Is this what they mean by “life comes at you fast”

I’m not feigning ignorance
I just think that it’s better for me right now

I’m not feigning ignorance
I just think that it’s better
Track Name: January 29 - True Love
True Love

Whose heart are you looking for?
Is it mine, love?
Whose heart are you looking for?
yours or mine, love?
Is it me?
Is it you?
Are you true love?

I’ve always seen my life like a piano, love
decisions laid before me in a line, love
And you can choose
You can make your own song, love
But its true sometimes it’s a dissonant mess
And I have to admit sometimes I like that

Do you have regrets?
I have a few love
Do you have regrets?
I have a few love
But not with you
You are true
You are true love
Track Name: January 30 - Constitutional Crisis (EXPLICIT LYRICS)
Constitutional Crisis

Constitutional Crisis
Imagine you were choking on a meal
Looking all around the room
Not knowing what to do
People staring back at you
They told you, “The answer is right here… The doctor is in the next room.”
But they didn’t want to get up
And lose their seat at the table
And help you even though they are able
And help you even though they can
Really? What the fuck, man?!
What the actual fuck, man?!
Track Name: January 31 - Tired Metaphor
Tired Metaphor

Stars in the sky
Gone long before both you and I
A river runs dry
Gone long before both you and I
An idea is never born and never dies

100% of zero is zero
That’s what I’ve found
An apple falls down
Becoming a tree or becoming ground
An idea passed through me and onto you
An idea passed through you and onto me

So I went to the mountain
I climbed to the top and I turned around
And I thought to myself,
“You sure covered a lot of ground”
A tired metaphor
That’s what I came, that’s what I stayed here for
A tired metaphor
That’s what I came and I stayed here for

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