In stark contrast to the chaos swirling around me the previous day, this song was written in one of the most devastating silences imaginable: an empty house that’s empty because of a death.
If you’ve had the sad occasion to be involved in the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one, you know that it’s filled, perhaps mercifully, with an amazing amount of work to be done. Funeral arrangements, obituaries, family decisions and the diplomacy that has to accompany them, the phone ringing non-stop, telling the same story to a million friends and strangers, all with raw emotions and an odd mixture of sleepless exhaustion and guilt-tinged relief.
- Let's Shoot the Moon Ray Toler 4:41
But on this day, the family went off to do most of those things where they needed to be done and I was able to sit by myself for a few hours – a needed respite. I spent about an hour outside looking at an empty cornfield and watching the birds going about their day. I wrote what some might call poetry, but I don’t think it’s worthy of that… it was just thoughts put to paper.
And as those thoughts continued to ramble and I reflected on the previous 25 years of being part of this family, and wondered how things would change in the days and months to come, I thought about all of the family stories that I’d heard. The honeymoon by the sea. The road trips in the Beetle. The vacations, the domino games, that Vegas jackpot. Every family has these stories, all of them different, yet all of them the same.
I went inside, back to my card table studio with just the barest dust-speck of an idea, and about three hours later had finished this song except for the vocals. Since I knew I wouldn’t be doing vocals (there was no way I could sing these lyrics on that day), I spent most of my time getting either the performances or the arrangement correct, going back, rebalancing things, changing a part here and there, adding a sound, removing a sound, and so on. It was as much work to keep myself busy as anything.
Over the next few days, I found myself opening up the project and just listening to it or playing along with it. I didn’t add anything, but it was comforting. I was also singing the lyrics in my head, but didn’t want anyone else to hear what I’d written. I’m not sure if that was because I wasn’t sure about it or because I didn’t want to upset anyone further.
We stayed in Texas for another few weeks before having to leave, sadly to attend another funeral in California. After an emotionally grueling month, we rolled into the driveway on the evening of February 28th. I hadn’t wanted to write anything since writing this song on the 2nd.
Since 2020 was a leap year, I had one day left. On the 29th, rather than write something else, I opted to record the vocals and replace the drum loop with a more dedicated drum arrangement. There are a couple of things in the background vocals that I think I’ll eventually change along with some other minor tweaks. The main mistake, if you can call it that, is that it’s just a bit too low for me. When I was singing this softly to myself, it was fine, but when trying to do a full-on performance of it, those lowest notes sounded strained. They’re well within my range, so maybe it was just being out of practice. I have a feeling, though, that taking it up a full step may correct a variety of issues.
Whether this song is good or not isn’t something I’ve really thought much about – it’s a special song, and it has special meaning. I do think that it stands up pretty well from a craft point of view – the narrative is complete, it rises and falls emotionally, and I think it has a nice climax and denouement.
To end on a completely trivial note, the artwork I had planned for my 2020 Song-A-Day work was obviously no longer appropriate. The artwork you see consists of an amazing cloud pattern I saw from the backyard and a statue from the cemetery.
Anne and Joe are in the car Driving to the sea Life spread out in front of them So much they will be Watching birds and clouds and waves Making all their plans Endless strings of future days Stretch across the sand Anne says to Joe, Look up in the sky That's a place that we could go, a place that we could fly But I'm content to hold you here in my arms on the dunes We'll keep each other safe from harm Make love in the afternoons And we'll build a giant balloon Let's shoot the moon! Anne and Joe are on the road Driving 'cross the land Girls and oranges in the back Future firm in hand Summer breezes, winter snows Miles and miles behind Miles further yet to go Destination undefined Anne says to Joe, look up in the sky That's the place we thought to go, a place that we would fly But I'm content to travel the highways with you Let's park the car and look for stars It's gonna be night time soon We're building our giant balloon Let's shoot the moon! Flowers swaying in the grass Branches in the wind A million heartbeats now have passed He looks at her and grins Joe says to Anne, look up in the sky That's the place I'll wait for you, the place that we will fly And every night you'll know that I'm still watching over you Travel on until the dawn Do things that you want to do But don't be in a hurry, love, there's still plenty of time I have to say, it's a beautiful day I feel I can finally fly I'm your midnight and you're my noon You're my dish and I'm your spoon And we built an amazing balloon We shot the moon! Copyright © Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.
- Drums: Roland Integra-7
- Percussion: Stylus RMX
- Bass: Trilian
- All other instruments: Omnisphere
- Effects: Nectar 3, Neutron 3, Valhalla Plate, Valhalla VintageVerb
- Mastering: Ozone 9