by Rob Wynne
TTTO: “Secondhand Songs” by Jonathan Turner

Sharing songs in the filkcircle
I hear a tune that’s quite new
And I know at first listen
It’s one that I’d like to do
But I cannot decipher
Just the way it should go
So I ask for the chords
And he looks at me bored
As he says “Well, you know

I write thirteen chord songs
Songs in tunings bizarre
I don’t expect you to play them
You won’t know what they are
The patterns aren’t simple
It’s 7/4 time, it’s long
Oh your fingers will burn
If you sit down and learn
one of my thirteen chord songs.”

I’m not much with an instrument
I guess I play well enough
All my strumming is simple
Sometimes my changes are rough
And this song that he’s playing
Remains just out of my reach
But if i’m put to the test
I will still do my best
As I battle with each

Of these thirteen chord songs
Songs with rhythms complex
I don’t know why I try them
They always leave me quite vexed
My fingers are cramping
But still I soldier along
As I struggle to wrest
Some kind of tune from this mess
Of a thirteen chord song

So I went to my best friend
He plays much better than me
He said “This song’s not as tricky
As he’d like you to believe
Half these chords are for colour
And these two just for show
Put a capo on three
Now the whole things in G
And you’re ready to go

With this now four chord song”
The arrangement is spare
It is slightly less nuanced
But I don’t really care
Because now I can play it
And it doesn’t sound wrong
You can keep all your tricks
and your riffs and your licks
In your thirteen chord song

You can keep all your tricks
and your riffs and your licks
In your thirteen chord song

Although it’s down to four
I still need stamina more
’cause it’s an eight minute song

I wrote this song years ago, but somehow never got around to posting it, and then came across it again while putting together my OVFF 2018 Toastmaster concert setlist, so I saved it to include there before putting it out into the world.

I should note that while the original idea for this was based on a true story, no one was has ever dismissive and rude to me when I’ve asked for chords. I just thought it was funnier to imagine someone who was. 🙂

The original song, by New England area filker Jonathan Turner, is terrific, and I recommend seeking it out if you can.