By Morgan James
Brilliant, over the top, thematic lyrics with a touch of humor and a lot of sass hum through the microphone backed by the pedal tone of a slide guitar. This is no doubt a song by the infamous Jim Holiday. I had the great fortune of first meeting Jim when he signed in to play a song at the CV Open Mic Competition two and a half years ago. Holiday freely shares the personal nature and purpose of his music each and every week with the audience stating; “Music is really the last of our freedom of speech,” then going on to explain in deeper conversation one-on-one that “Music is an area that you can make political, social, and spiritual change. When you get enough people coming into that collective understanding that we, together, now have this idea and it can either be incredibly wonderful or incredibly bad.”
I have personally seen the powerful effects that Jim’s performances have on audience members from time to time as his lyrics can knock a person right between the eyes. Finding out that Jim got his start in music just a few years ago at 63, I was inspired to hear what brought on this motivation and where he expects to go with it all.
MJ: What brought you to the decision to begin writing music?
JH: “I was in the movie business for years and then I wrote scripts. Well with the length of time to write a script and then trying to get someone to actually read your script, by the end of it you are doing all this effort for nothing. So I thought that I could write lyrics, based on an idea I had for a rock opera, which is based on this spectrum of life where basically two rock n roll bands determine the fate of the human race. It starts with a guy who is blazing through Shiprock, New Mexico, chewing on peyote and he picks up these two guys, one the devil and one the Holy Spirit. These two talk about holding a show where the audience will determine their fate based on the outcome of the two bands playing. So you have God and the devil, a yin and yang kind of thing, and they are playing cards at the table. The devil is stacking the deck and gives God really little to deal with. So then at that point you peel off and go into different directions the audience become participants in some respect. My dad had this Native American artifact with all these clock like workings and I thought wow, this is what I wanted ‘The A-Rock-A-Lips’ to be. The stories go around in a clock type fashion, in the round, in the audience. I thought okay, let’s write these songs that depict these stories and we can have these conversations about these topics. The main thing is that it is thematically driven so you don’t really have to stick to the same songs. We make it like a movie with a beginning, middle and end but outside of that it can change based on the feeling.”
MJ: What are your plans for this theatrical piece and your songs?
JH: “Well I give credit to my friend Riz Orchestra who kicked me in the butt by saying you never are gonna really do this rock opera thing, you won’t get the balls to go out there and sing out the words. And that really motivated me to go out there and do it. Stars made, they don’t just show up. Once you create that myth it becomes a life form of its own. I figured that it was the only way to get the lyrics out there. I had to do it myself. So I wanted to take this show on the road and we would be coming to different towns with a skeleton music crew. So I began to gather all this equipment- I am a good gatherer- so I own the show, I own the sound system, take it to places and the dream is really good, but the reality check comes when you try and make it happen. I mean you really need backing for it. I began to think about ways to do it without backing- at least get the idea on the road. I thought I could video it and stream it out there and see what kind of hits you get on it. And create a kind of twilight zone effect. That way you have complete control of your environment. You could do a green screen in the background and add in whatever you want later. You know, Hollywood, the magic of it. So I’d go find a word that will segue or rhyme out the sentence and the faster you make these things rhyme the faster things start to go. Most of my songs are really kind of stories and for me they are easy to tell. The changes are on the lyrics. Guitar players come and they tell me that the changes don’t work out that way and I thought you know 3 minute songs didn’t work that way in the 60’s but nowadays we’ve got 10 minutes songs. My thinking is that ‘If you can say it, you can sing it, and if you can sing it you can play it.’ That’s my thinking on all this. The other main thing is to have fun with your writing, you know, make yourself laugh or make yourself cry, don’t try to force it too much, and overwrite the hell out of it!”
MJ: Share with readers an example of your songs’ themes?
JH: “Well for example “Made it Big Rig” came from this guy calling me about a 45 foot bus. This guy in my song is going on about how rich and famous he is going to be, quadruple platinum albums, going to music award ceremonies every other week. I poke fun on the absurdities of the music industry where I say I will collect an arm-load of awards based on those people you see who have like 8 Grammys. I talk about the commercial aspect, where talks about selling his autographs on eBay. After the show he goes on about the paparazzi and how everyone wants to know about him but before he can finish his answer they are moving on. So I try to create characters that are multidimensional even if my guitar chords are not. Finally he’s had it and hey there’s always some new guy with an A list Hollywood doll on the side and from that he goes on to talk about his bus, and makes himself a real hoke and poke and interesting character.”
“I currently have about 5 songs I’m working on. One of them is really cool, it is a road trip basically, a moonshine deal. My brother John just came out of Kentucky and bought this 4 door Cadillac with no plates. I’m sitting there listening to him, and he talks about the Texas I30, going out of Little Rock into Dallas and then you get into the GB Narrows, the George Bush Narrows, and the freeway is a knotted mess in there. They have these billboards that say President George Bush and there is construction and destruction going on kind of like the Bush’s political dynasty is crumbled to the ground. The song goes ‘I got this 4 door Caddy and its set up right, gonna make a runner shine tonight’ and part of it is like ‘I wonder what Ville I should take my Deville and start off load off tonight and it rattles off Ashville, Nashville, Clarksville,’ all these Villes you know… ‘Made a few Lefts and Made a few Rights. I’ve got another delivery here tonight.’ Being from the film business and having written scripts, what I try to do lyrically is to add as much information with word usage to tell the story in a way that lets people imagine it. And then I clip it to rhyme.”
“Love songs are something I’ve had a hard time doing. I’ve been dabbling towards it. Some songs I do I call trolling songs like “Looking for a Lady,” another one is called “What Can a Guy Like Me Say to a Gal Like You to Win Your Heart.” In the song the guy puts these different scenarios together and says “Will it take a million dollars or two for you to stop and say how do you do.” I’ve been wanting to do that but I’m not going to do love songs in the bar due to the demographics. With “Looking for a Lady,” I had someone else do it and thought to myself, wow this really works. So even if I can’t make it work, he was able to and that’s how I knew the writing is good.”
MJ: What are your views on the music industry?
JH: “Here we’ve got the Coachella Valley, which now is basically the biggest music venue in the bloody world- why are we struggling? Why can’t local be part of that deal? Somehow or another, collectively in this place, with the amount of entertainment people this should be a breeding ground for talent like Nashville. There is an immense talent pool out there to take from, but the industry shoves what they want to shove down your throat and drives this direction and it’s all kind of contained. There is a bunch of people who say they are doing very well, but it always seems to end suddenly- entourages are expensive I guess! If you talk about things too much people think you are crazy. If you write it down, people go wow this guy is really a genius. If you sing about it people may call you a prophet, but it’s mostly non-profit.”