Song To Stay Awake – Song Bio


Spintunes 8, Round 1 challenge was to write a song to someone you miss and can’t be with.

This is a picture of my nephew, Dakota Smith, and I from the summer of 2004.  My song is to Dakota.


Here are the lyrics with slight explanation.

Song To Stay Awake

Awake in the starlight 
Hardly a world away 
If I misjudged the distance 
I’ll feel every inch today 

On May 14th (before the song picks up), my Dad had left a message on my answering machine (remember those?) to tell me that Dakota had an accident while at his father’s house in Lenexa, KS.  Dakota had fallen and bumped his head.  He was taken to the hospital (Children’s Mercy Hospital, which is a very excellent child hospital in Kansas City) and looked over.  He was okay.  I very clearly remember the last thing on the machine: “He got a helicopter ride out of the deal, anyway.” (Life flight) I remember smiling at that, thinking that Dakota was only 17 months old and he had gotten to ride a helicopter, which I had not.  I was going to have to tell him how jealous I was next time I saw him.  And after this, I wasn’t worried at all.  The doctors said he was fine.  Dakota still had his entire life ahead of him.

As the song starts… sometime around 6 am my Dad called me again.  This was the very first time I got a phone call at such an hour and knew, without a doubt, that it was some kind of terrible news.

A still-ringing gunshot
But only through-and-through 
And so many miles before 
My voice could reach you 

At some point after dad had left the message, Dakota fell into a coma.  There was a lot of frantic questioning.  You told me he was going to be okay, I remember telling my father.  He apologized, but there was no time to talk about it.  It’s more than 100 miles from my parents’ house to Children’s Mercy, and he had to go.

I don’t clearly remember when I decided I was going to make the trip home (which is around 700 miles, most of which is desolate highway).  I do remember taking a full 20 minutes to remember and execute the necessary steps to get dressed, and then loading up the car to make the journey.  I waited an hour or so both to get my head on straight and for my professors to wake up so I could explain in person why i was missing class (and probably wouldn’t be there for a week or more).

As far as I know you’re only sleeping 
Hope against hope you’re only sleeping 

At this time, although the situation was bad, aside from “coma” we didn’t know the scope of it.  Several people had seen Dakota and seen him move, but he wouldn’t wake up.  As I learned later on, when a person in a coma moves that often is actually a bad sign (see second link above).  But we (by which I mean, Dakota’s extended family) were choosing to see it as a good sign, like people in desperate and powerless situations are apt to do.

So much left to do 
So much to see 
Don’t cut your story short 
There’s so much left to say 
Life to be set free 
Things that I forgot before 

I sang this song to stay awake 
This song to keep us warm 
This song to make the miles disappear 

So, there wasn’t any one song, and the “song” wasn’t just music.

This was before iPods (for me anyway), streaming music from the Cloud using your phone, and all the other content delivery systems we now enjoy.  Partly because I was tired, and partly because I needed something to occupy myself other than numb worry, I turned on the radio and sang along with literally every song.  I sang “Teenage Wasteland”.  I sang “Friends In Low Places”.  I sang “Toxic” (that’s a Britney Spears song).  I sang old hymns I half-remembered from Methodist church, several years before that.  (As it turns out, when you’re driving across the whole of Nebraksa, you get a more diverse set of radio stations than you might expect.)  I think I probably sang the entirety of Counting Crows’ “Recovering The Satellites” twice until the batteries in my portable CD player died.  When I got tired of singing, I’d take breaks and inevitably get a little too lost in my own head.  Then I would sing some more.

I bought you a movie 
On the way to the town 
Prayed you’d see it with me 
A proposal turned down 

As my songs often do, I’m jumping around in time a little bit.  Before I left Chadron, I stopped off at Wal-mart to get snacks and drinks so I could stop as little as possible on the way home.  I think I was also going to try to grab an album to listen to on the way (remember: no iPods yet) but instead I saw one those big new release displays for The Incredibles.

I had seen The Incredibles in the theater and loved it, and I knew Dakota would too.  So, in one of the weirdest and most ineffectual acts of defiance in history I bought the movie with the intent to watch it with Dakota when all this coma nonsense was over.

At mile two hundred 
I sang with all I had 
To keep the car moving 
Taking the good with the bad 

Just outside Ogallala, NE (which is roughly 1/3rd of the way through the journey), my mental resilience was worn to nothing and I stopped paying attention (or, in the extended song metaphor, I got a little bit lost in the song).

I got stopped by a policeman and I was ticketed.  When people have heard this part of the story in the past, the usually say something like “what a dick!”.  I have neglected, in the past, to say exactly how fast I was going.  Lets just say that if I’d had a smartphone I would have been frantically Googling “is felony speeding a real thing” while I was waiting for the policeman to come ask for license and registration.  After I explained where I was going and why he knocked 15 mph off my ticket and gave me a very firm (but not unkind) warning to slow down.

I did slow down, and I remembered the most important driver education lesson which is The Other Drivers Don’t Know Or Care About The Day You’re Having.  It was the sort of tap on the shoulder/gentle slap in the face that someone needs when they’re about to fall asleep operating heavy machinery.  In summary, he probably saved my life.

Like I have not escaped this wreck yet 
Worse could come then dying young and perfect 

This was all nine years ago this March and the right mood can still put me right back in the middle of it.  Without getting too melodramatic, sometimes I feel like I’m still on the road.

So much left to do 
So much to see 
Don’t cut your story short 
There’s so much left to say 
Lost time to be set free 
Things that I forgot before 

I sang a song to stay awake 
A song to keep our eyes open 
This song, to hold reality at bay 

The “song” was music but it was also hope against all available evidence.  A candlelight vigil on the highway, the blindest kind of optimism.

Not long before I got that ticket (again, I’m reveling in the non-linear nature of musical storytelling) I got another call on my cell phone.  Dakota had been declared brain dead.  He was given no chance of recovery.

The story didn’t end there;  it actually got much uglier.  But that isn’t what this song is about, and I don’t see a need to elaborate at the moment.

And I unwound, I unraveled 
Added verse for every hour I traveled 
At 1 in the morning i’d reached the end 
Of the elaborate game of pretend 

It may not be surprising to learn I’ve tackled this topic before in my Fu/Spintunes career (one of those times actually being in Spintunes 7), although this is the least obscure I’ve been about it.  (If you want to hear the Song Fu one, you’ll need to go to the link, download the whole round’s zip file from the bottom of the page, and find “Travis Norris” in there.  “Finite” is one of my favorite of my Fu tunes and I’ve been meaning to add a bridge and re-record it for awhile.)

This is a song to stay awake 
This is a song to change the world 
This is a song to erase time that was taken away

Thanks for reading.



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