Category Archives: Story behind the Song

A Kids’ Song Inspired by George Carlin Stand-up?

The Story behind Jam Packed by Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

George Carlin, a comedian who informed Jason Didner's sense of humorOne thing that makes my conversations and co-writing with Amy so great is our shared sense of humor. So, when we were walking in town and spotted a tiny 2-seat commuter car, I believe a SMART, we both started joking and laughing about how we would completely fill it with “stuff.” Lots and lots of “stuff.”

This led us to search for this George Carlin stand-up bit about people having so much “stuff” (see video at end of article) and to share some great laughs and the beginnings of some song ideas. We reflected back on our own experiences with “stuff” on our family trips, especially since when we travel, we’re often bringing our travel gear, beach gear and musical gear. We kept the feeling true to life, but added some tall tales for comedic effect. We also reached back to an earlier time in our marriage when we had a 2-door sports coupe that when we packed the guitar, my knees were actually squashed up to my chest.

This is also one of those songs where I combined music influences – like the unmistakable Bo Diddley blues beat happening through the verses switching right over into power pop in the choruses that could be a bit reminiscent of kindie music inspiration Justin Roberts.
You can hear the resulting track here:

Jam Packed in the Jungle Gym Jam minivan - with Lou DeMartino, Casey McCleary, Amy Didner, Jason Didner & Ross KantorOne thing that makes the track extra special is that it features the bass playing of “Mr. Lou” DeMartino. He really poured his personality into this one, especially when he hits that “filthy” high 7th chord at the end of each chorus. In his short time in our band, he made a tremendous impact on who we are as musicians, as professionals and as people. We miss Lou every day.

This is also the first-ever track where both Awesome Amy and Hoppin’ Holly contribute sung vocal parts (as opposed to spoken parts), making us that much more of a family band. I was also delighted to have the blues harmonica contributions of John “Foggy Otis” Raido, a longtime friend both from musical circles, and someone who, along with Amy, was a teacher at Montclair High School in a past life.

Lollipop Motel album cover - Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym JamThe song, as with the rest of the album Lollipop Motel, is produced by Marc “Baze” Bazerman, engineered by Matt Ryan at Homefront Studios in Caldwell, NJ, mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound in Maplewood, NJ. Ross Kantor did the honors on drums and Casey McCleary added her magical vocal harmonies. I sang, played electric & acoustic guitars and keyboards.

George Carlin has been a voice in my ear since I was 13 and my uncle Saul showed me a videotape of Carlin at Carnegie. I think I’ve memorized every one of his stand-up routines since, but “Stuff” really stands out as the way I knew George Carlin the best. I’m so glad I was able to create something tangible that honors that influence this comedy giant had on my sense of humor. I only wish he could have lived to hear it.

Here’s the bit about “Stuff” we loved so much. Warning: Parents, make sure to watch this after the kids go to bed; the language gets a bit “blue.”

Who are your favorite comedians and how have they helped influence you beyond giving you a moment’s laughter?

My Superpower – Story behind the Song, Lyrics and Chords

Recognition of the Moment for the Song

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam and Batman - secret identity Det. Genaro Ortiz, Newark NJ Police

Entertaining families now lets me see childhood experiences of superheroes in new ways.

Ever since reading Tom Jackson’s excellent book “Live Music Method” about giving live performances that emotionally satisfy an audience, I concluded that creating those moments onstage begin with writing songs with special moments of a show in mind. Having just organized a “Heroes Rock” Family Fun Day in my hometown of Montclair, set for this Sunday 1/18, I thought about creating a special moment in the show where I share what some of my favorite heroes mean to me.

As luck would have it, it also turns out that this year’s Summer Reading program in libraries across the U.S.A. features this theme: “Every Hero Has a Story.” This encouraged me that I can create that special moment all about my heroes by performing that song. Like the red phone ringing in my cave, I felt called to action to get to work on writing this song.

Approach to the Writing

As I was driving (usually where the song ideas come to me) I thought “What’s the most important thing we get from fictional characters?” Escape from everyday realities? A new way of seeing possibilites? A symbol or example to follow? And what is it about each superhero that could be of the most value to kids like my daughter, almost 4? What do I see in these heroes now that I didn’t when I was a kid who was simply fascinated with the colorful costumes and the “BAM! POW!” action?

So I pulled off the road, parked at a bagel shop and walked in with my iPad. I started with thinking about one outstanding trait from each of a few fictional superheroes, like the patience demonstrated by Jedi masters in the Star Wars stories. What continues to strike me about Batman is that he has no supernatural powers, but a keen mind and the resources to bring his mission to reality. In the 1966 Batman movie, he’s so prepared and organized that when a shark (an exploding shark as it turns out!!!) unexpectedly grabs onto his leg, he’s able to call up to Robin in the Bat-copter to hand him the Shark Repellent Bat Spray. The camera reveals that he has a whole lineup of various oceanic repellent sprays lined up and neatly labeled. Now that’s preparation!

I felt that many real-life heroes possessed a singular trait that could be added to the mix. When I came home after work with my new ideas, Amy helped me narrow down my choices of real-life heroes and describe their outstanding traits. The resulting song presents a wealth of admirable qualities of character a child could combine in thinking about his/her path forward in life. And I do believe that kindness is an awesome superpower! Enjoy!

Video of the Song (Solo acoustic performance)

Lyrics and Chords

My Superpower

(C) 2015, Lyrics by Amy & Jason Didner, music by Jason Didner

Theme (Intro):

| C | / | G/B | / | Bb | | F | |

Verse 1:

C
I can be patient as a Jedi

G/B
With the galaxy he serves

Bb
And ready to go like Spider-Man

          F                Ab
With his quick and nimble nerves

        C
And I'm tough like Wonder Woman

         G/B
Who will only take the truth

     Bb
And fair like Thurgood Marshall

               F
Who judged on evidence and proof

Chorus:

G               Am
When you need a hero

      F            C 
It'll be my finest hour

        G        Am    F    C
'cause kindness is my superpower

G        Am     F   C
Kindness is my superpower

Theme

Verse 2:

I can be prepared like Batman
Who always thinks ahead
Or loving like Mother Theresa
Making sure that all were fed

I can be gentle as mighty Superman
Helping cats down from the trees
And persistent just like Anna
Til she ended that deep freeze

Chorus:
When you need a hero
It'll be my finest hour
'cause kindness is my superpower
Kindness is my superpower

Bridge:

    Em            F
My hero's Martin Luther King

          Em         F
With the noblest of dreams

     Dm                 F
Let righteousness roll down

               G
Like a mighty stream

Solo (over theme 2x)

Double Chorus:

When you need a hero
It'll be my finest hour
'cause kindness is my superpower

When you need someone to stand for you
I will stand just like a tower
'cause kindness is my superpower
Kindness is my superpower

Theme

An Amazing Gift from Santa to a Jewish, Grown-up Songwriter

Jason Didner from the Jungle Gym Jam welcomes Santa to The Outlets at Bergen Town CenterThe big guy. The ultimate gift-giver. The purveyor of delight for kids all over the world. He and I became friends last winter when he arrived at Bergen Town Center and I was singing holiday songs.

That day, he gave me a gift so enormous that I couldn’t fully comprehend it until this holiday season. That gift was his story, a tale that absolutely screamed to be put into a song. And he told that story to me, not some other songwriter.

And it came so casually and easily to him. After he said “Nice set!” which was hard to get my head around Santa saying that to me, we talked about the places we’re from. Of course we all know where Santa comes from, but what he volunteered next blew my mind. He told me he likes to spend his summers at…wait for it…Wildwood on the Jersey Shore! Wait…it gets better. He runs an ice cream stand and likes to bike on the boardwalk…beard and all! As a Jersey rocker with a deep and abiding love of the shore, how could I not write this song? I started on the song then; Amy and I have been gradually modifying the song over the course of the past year.

The result is “Summertime Santa.” I feel it really captures the essence of this essential symbol of generosity of spirit toward children and their grown-ups.

Here’s a live performance of it on video for your enjoyment:

P.S.: Yes, that is the Frozen Snow Queen in the audience. We figured, since she learned to thaw frozen hearts, she’d help warm up the crowd.

Development of the Song “Summertime Santa”

Since the above performance, the song has been modified a bit more; a few lines have been rewritten, including a new bit I had to make room for — a new summer story from Santa when I saw him again this year!

The band has recorded the latest version and it’s currently awaiting some vocal harmonies and mixing. It will be ready to rock for this summer and next holiday season. Meantime, my 3-year-old daughter asks for it over and over again, favoring this song over her favorite tunes by famous artists. The test marketing is pointing to a smash hit…

My Jewish Upbringing and Santa

My New York Jewish family has always maintained both a strong Jewish identity and an assimilation into the New York melting pot. Trips to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and visits with Santa at the local mall were not uncommon for me growing up. My public school band and chorus always performed a program with both Christmas and Hanukkah songs at the annual holiday concert. Where Santa was concerned, there was no insistence in my family on “believing” or “not believing…” just the fun that was commonly shared and understood by kids of different walks of life — the stories, the songs, the spirit, with no pressure either way. I never really paid much thought to the notion that it was Santa bringing me the stuff I craved as a kid, but my affection for his kindly presence wasn’t dependent on stuff. Now that I understand just how wonderful and potentially life-changing Santa’s gift to me was, I truly get it that the greatest gifts are not material — it’s the stories we share between us, stories that build bonds and make us feel connected, stories we can pass down to our children.

And my daughter will receive the same gifts – the stories and the fun without the pressure to “believe” or “not believe.” But she already gets the most important gift from St. Nick.

Thank you Santa! You really do give the best gifts!

The Jewish Songwriters’ Tradition of Writing Christmas Songs

Lauren Markoe at The Huffington Post offers this fascinating article about the tradition of Jewish songwriters writing timeless classic Christmas songs like “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and more. In that article I learned how much of these Jewish songwriters’ experience my grandparents shared and how they really nailed the European immigrants’ sense of wonder at how the Christmas season is celebrated in New York City, a sense of wonder passed down to me, transcending religious lines.

How about Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a cherished experience in our family, ranging from my mother’s phenomenal latkes to the mystical glow of dozens of menorahs providing the only light in the sanctuary of my synagogue to the deep gratitude for ancestors who fought for religious freedom no matter how long the odds in favor of the oppressor.

Here’s my version of the glorious “Rock of Ages” in both Hebrew and English.

And by the way, after Amy and I put our daughter to bed, we get our annual fix of laughter along with Adam Sandler’s The Chanukah Song.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about sharing in Santa and Christmas related stories and traditions outside the Christian religion? Now that we’ve experienced the 2014 holiday season, what do you believe are the greatest gifts? Use the comments below to discuss.

Where is Your Happy Place? Let’s Discuss…

My latest song “Your Happy Place” is meant to be a show opener, establishing that everyone in the audience, of all ages, is free to follow their imagination to their happy place during the run of the show and when thinking about the show afterward.

One cool thing about this song is that it ties together the settings and scenes of many of our other songs, so this song really sets the tone of the songs and stories to follow in a live performance. It also engages the audience in conversation to ask “Where’s your happy place?”

So I’m asking you! Use the comments below to tell us about your happy place for you and your family (real or imagined – it’s all good!)

New Song “The Ultimate Frisbee” on Storyteller Tuesday

This week on Storyteller Tuesday I introduce “The Ultimate Frisbee” and teach kids about the art of making up “tall tales” as a form of creative storytelling.

I’ve always enjoyed playing Frisbee; it was hard for me to learn to make a good throw as a kid, but I kept trying and getting better and better, a mindset that helped me get better at making music as I went along. I always loved making the running, jumping catches too.

What stories do your family share that are tall tales? Superhero stories and movies count! Do your kids make up their own tall tales? I’d love for you to comment about them below.

Storyteller Tuesday is a weekly custom at the Music Marketing Mind, the most active independent music marketing group in all of Facebook.

Here are all five YouTube videos I’ve shared on Storyteller Tuesdays if you like the format. I sure like sharing the stories behind my songs!