Life could be sweet (songwriting)

Writing “Sugar Ridge”

For years I drove past the signs on Route 25 that pointed to Sugar Ridge, and I often passed Sugar Ridge when taking Mercer Road north to get on I-75 at Route 582. I knew Sugar Ridge was a little town by the CSX train line.

The sound of the name got into my head, and I thought I might write a song about the sweet life in a place with sugar in its name. I played around with a blues version, but I couldn’t come up with anything that conveyed what I thought I wanted to get across.

This was before I joined the GRÜBS, and before I had a real reason to write songs.

closeup of resophonic ukulele

The trick was to have the music first. It’s not always that way, but this time I was listening to Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub” and I just kind of got a groove in my head. I picked up the ukulele and out came the riff that was the core of “Sugar Ridge.”

I already had some rhymes for “ridge”: bridge, fridge. I had fooled with something like “sounds so sweet to live in Sugar Ridge” but I couldn’t get it to scan right. Then it just hit me: “Life could be sweet out in Sugar Ridge.”  -idge is not very sonorous, so once I wrote the verse with “freeway bridge” and “beers in the fridge,” I looked for a new rhyme. “Out in Sugar Ridge you know where you are.” Uh-huh. “Car.” “Bar.”

Out in Sugar Ridge you know where you are / By the grain elevator and the church and the bar 

Then I realized what the song was about: it’s about wanting to feel at home someplace, but it doesn’t quite work. The things that seem to make a place a unique are usually shared by other places. So whether you were born in Sugar Ridge or you decided to move out to the country, finding yourself there is a dicey proposition. You’re still you, and even a nice place is just a place. Life’s worries don’t go away. And so I wrote a bridge based on the relative minor (A minor) that listed some of the small and large everyday troubles you have whether you have found a home or not:

Mortgages and auto loans

(Ah! Good! What rhymes with “loans”?)

Internets and cellular phones / Orange plastic fences and traffic cones / High blood pressure and kidney stones

So there you have the financial, the technical, everyday obstacles, and health. Just about covers it!

And the consolation of being out in the country is that at least you don’t have to talk to people very much:

Out in Sugar Ridge there’s almost no one around / But at least there’s hardly anybody bringing me down

And of course, “down” rhymes with “town,” but it isn’t really a town, in fact, it’s hardly a village, but there are some modern suburban homesteads nearby along with the old houses, and there’s the freeway nearby, so it doesn’t exactly feel like a village:

It smells like a village and it tastes like a town. 

Jason got the idea of ending with a reprise of Life could be sweet out in Sugar Ridge, after a rubato version of the riff.