The Round Road Home

As a child of four in Houston, my parents put me to bed with the radio on. Every night I fell asleep to the  detective tales of Doyle, Hammett and Chandler.  When the sleuths packed their leather suitcases and moved to television, my older brother, a terrific late ’50s rock singer, turned the dial to KYOK, Houston’s fabulous rhythm & blues station. Night after night I listened: Ray Charles, Etta James, Fats Domino, Freddy King and Lightnin’ Hopkins. I loved music so much, but I couldn’t imagine making any of it.

At sixteen I took Tami Fox on our first date to Sand Mountain, the best folk coffee house in Houston, . The performer was a lanky young man with a crunched-up cowboy hat and a pearl-button work shirt. Townes Van Zandt was his name, and he sang beautiful, desolate songs about lost love and the people he’d met on the rails and roads of Texas. The longing in his voice and the syncopated rhythms of his guitar spoke to me directly.

I lived through the thrills and ills of teenage friendships, romances, and Texas road adventures from Houston to Alpine, the mountains of northern New Mexico, and the cantinas along the Mexican border. I lost my girl to my best friend over the last summer of high school. At the end of August, he was killed in a boating accident, leaving the girl and me to reconcile in a long and torturous downward spiral. (Listen to “The Gulf of Mexico.”) Everywhere I went in those days I bathed myself in the folk, blues, country, and border music of the local radio stations. I bought a guitar and tried to put a few of my stories into songs, but they never felt ready. 

At twenty-three I married a beautiful, bright gypsy girl named Springer. Soon after, I began to sing covers and a few of my own songs in intimate Austin folk clubs like the Cactus Cafe.  A year later we had a beautiful boy and took off for Marin County, California, on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I opened a small guitar store in Mill Valley called Hunt & Son Guitars. I taught songwriting at the former Family Light Music School in Sausalito. I performed my own music in local clubs like Mill Valley’s Sweetwater and Fairfax’s Sleeping Lady Cafe.  I was unbelievably lucky to be the student and friend of blues virtuoso Michael Bloomfield. I wrote a book called Songwriting: How To Write Music and Lyrics that was published in Los Angeles where I ached to go. Springer agreed to live there for two years while I tried to become a successful songwriter.  I wrote a number of songs that came to me as the soundtracks of dreams. I recorded demos and performed them at small venues. I won a prize at the Len Chandler and John Braheny’s L. A. Songwriters Showcase. Things were looking up for me. But it seemed I still had a long way to go to meet my goal, and my two years were up. So, we moved back to Austin where I suddenly gave up playing, and turned to writing screenplays. 

To write well, I knew I had to learn how the worked up close. We moved in an arc across the northern states. With our own hands we built a solid house on ten acres in Vermont. Our son and I got our black belts in Michigan, where I was a foreman in a plastics plant. Springer got her masters in social work.  Along the way my scriptwriting improved. Most screenwriters live a junky’s life.  Writing is the revel and the rush. Rejections are the crashes and cravings. In all those years, my literary agents managed to get two scripts optioned, but neither were bought. The end came when I asked a professional Hollywood script reader how many scripts that read, did he recommend for production. “Two in twelve years,” he said. “Neither movie was made.”

Springer and I moved to Seattle where I studied IT and became a software engineer.  By 2002, I was writing middle-grade novels. I hardly touched a guitar in those years.

In 2011 I returned to Houston for a high school reunion where, quite unexpectedly, reconnected with my old friends.  It was as though I had been living in darkness and someone switched on the lights.  Reading between the lines of my friends’ faces as they told me their stories, I circled back emotionally to who I was then. (Described alagorically in “Round Road Home” below.)

Returning to Seattle, I began to have vivid dreams flooded with music and the few words I needed to stitch the images into songs. And not just songs, but story songs. It turned out that those years of screenwriting had prepared me that moment. I knew where the beats should be in the stories; how to show and not tell; the elegance of brevity; and how to use setting, gesture, metaphor, symbolism, and imagery to tell a compelling tale. The first were the stories of my old classmates. (Listen to “The Last Light” and “Bueno the Roan”.)  I wrote a second batch later chronicling the difficulties of people I knew more recently.  (Listen to “Broken Not Beautiful,” “Door in the Dark,” “Like a Stone” etc.) For sixteen months I played my songs in my own Sand Mountains of the day: the clubs in and around Boise, Idaho where we live now. Recently I recorded eleven of the songs at Rainshadow Studio in Port Townsend, Washington. The result is Story Songs. The album is of exceptional quality for reasons you can read about by clicking the “The Making of Story Songs” menu tab. 

Sperry Hunt April, 2022

“The Round Road Home”

I learned to sail to write a book
I wrote the book to learn about time
I learned about time in the time it took
To learn to sail this boat of mine

 I took longer than I thought
The truest course always does
‘Twas when I lost what I sought
I found that home was where I was

As the moon wheels round the Earth.
As the earth reels round the Sun 
We swing in circles
Running down the round road home
As the stars bend the light
Circumnavigating sight
We swing in circles
Running down the round road home

I took angles on a star
I drew lines upon a chart
I knew the poles were just so far
I knew the heavens by heart

Now I don’t know about all I see
And I’ve not seen all I’ve known
If you go from A to B
Don’t miss the round road home

As the moon wheels round the Earth.
As the earth reels round the Sun 
We swing in circles
Running down the round road home
As the stars bend the light
Circumnavigating sight
We swing in circles
Running down the round road home

Header photos by Jim Gilmore

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