This month’s Song of the Month is “No Shortcuts” by Heather Maloney, a song that reminds us that simple instrumentation and vocal harmonies are sometimes more powerful than the loudest chorus – oh, and also, there are some parts of life you can’t skip, you’ve got to see it through.
About Heather Maloney:
I had the pleasure of meeting Heather Maloney in Cleveland two years ago at the Music Box Supper Club where she opened for Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show. Simply put, Heather is awesome. After a short conversation while she was managing her merchandise table, I gathered that she is a completely genuine person and someone who loves what they are doing, and it shows. Getting her start in 2009, she has produced several albums of her own, and also has collaborated with the quartet Darlingside on The Woodstock EP in 2014.
Maloney is a classically trained vocalist, having studied several styles such as operatic, improvisational jazz, and classical Indian vocal techniques. And while she has recently been busy singing and making music for all of us to listen to, shortly before she got her start, Maloney lived in a silent meditation center in central Massachusetts where she gave up music and kept mostly silent for three years. During this time, she kept a journal about daily life at her woodland cottage. It was during this time that Maloney found her knack for songwriting, and combined with her classically trained voice, picked up a guitar and the rest is history.
Every songwriter has a story to tell, and Maloney is certainly no exception. From the roots of jazz and opera, to silent meditation, to an outpouring of solemn reflection and honest experience, Maloney is a treasure to listen to and is certainly one of the more talented songwriters performing today.
About “No Shortcuts”:
No Shortcuts begins simply enough – Maloney and others are driving down a rural road. Where they were going, they don’t seem to be sure. Maloney sings, “Maybe we were running from the big city or maybe we were running to the mountain air.” Relatable. I guess when you’re young, you’re always running from or to something.
While Maloney and friends are driving, they happen upon a diner where the people there stare at them (probably wondering where this car of kids came from). Maloney asks for the fastest directions to the nearest Motel 6, explaining that they’re exhausted from driving all day. The people at the diner reply by telling them that there is one but there aren’t any shortcuts, there aren’t any highways nearby, and they’re going to have to drive all the windy back roads if they really want to get to where they’re going.
Now, if the song ended there, the message would simply be, don’t expect to find a Motel 6 in the middle of the woods. While that in of itself is solid advice, I wouldn’t be writing about this song if that was all there was to it. Moving on…
In the next verse, Maloney is laying on her therapist’s couch and again, like the backwoods road from the previous verse, she is unsure of why she is there – wondering what she is running from or to. She sings, “Maybe I was running from the big issues or maybe I was running to a listening ear.” She then breaks down in a “maze of emotion”, pleading with her therapist for the quickest answer to all of her problems – asking for directions to happiness – to be rid of sadness, rid of crying – rid of all of these issues that brought her to this point. Again, like the people at the diner, she is reminded with the chorus:
“Baby there ain’t no shortcuts on your way.
Baby there ain’t no highways in these parts.
You know baby gonna have to drive yourself down every little windy road,
If you really wanna get to where you’re going.”
In the final verse, Maloney is sitting in the meditation hall, which, if you don’t know her background you might just consider it a piece of clever songwriting. But, as you remember from the artist intro above, Maloney actually lived in a silent meditation center for three years before she began her singer-songwriter career. This time while in the meditation hall, she says she was “running from the noise outside or maybe I was running to the stillness there,” and in the midst of her meditation she comes across “greed, hatred and delusion.” As before, she tries to think of the quickest way through it – a shortcut – to “freedom and love, and how to rise above.” Alluding back to the chorus, whether you’re looking for a motel 6 while deep in the woods, happiness in the midst of depression, or freedom and love in a world filled with greed, hatred and delusion, we’re told again that there aren’t any shortcuts on your way, and you’re going to have to take the long way around to get where you’re going.
So, what’s it all mean?
When I was younger and growing up in Toledo, I’d occasionally make trips to Angola, Indiana just for something to do (seriously, it’s a pretty nice little town, you should check it out). Angola was an hour and a half away, and before GPS was widely available on phones, I came across the town completely by accident while going for a drive in my truck. I hopped off the turnpike at Highway 20 and kept straight for a while, eventually coming across Angola’s beautiful town square and the large monument in the center of it, surrounded by a traffic circle. I remember that there was a pizza shop, which is now called Monument, but, it may or may not have been back then, on the northeast side of the traffic circle where I’d grab a slice before turning around and driving the hour and a half back home. It really was a long way for a slice of pizza, yes, but when you’re 18 and living in Toledo, it’s the most harmless of hobbies imaginable. Was I running from something? I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted to discover something outside of my hometown. Maybe I wanted to discover myself. Probably both. But one thing was for sure, whenever you go an hour and a half in one direction, it always takes just as long to get back.
To that end, love is kind of like a long drive down a road you don’t know. You drive into it not knowing what you’ll find along the way, and sometimes you realize there is nothing down there, yet it will always take you just as long to drive out of it. Then again, sometimes you get lost on your way out. Sometimes you find yourself somewhere where you’d never thought you’d be. Sometimes you find better things along the way. You never know what is down the road until you look for yourself.
Affection can always be found in the people we meet or the places we see on the road, but when an object of affection is lost, it can be devastating and sometimes, almost crippling. I want to take a minute to write about that.
Since 2005 I’ve had to deal with death at least on a yearly basis, sometimes more frequent, both natural and otherwise. Partially this is a consequence of my mother being one of seven children, my father being one of five, and both of them being the youngest of their respective families and them not having me until they were both forty years old. It’s also partly a consequence of the times we live in, and different social issues that have been prevalent since then which I won’t be elaborating on.
To quote C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed:
“It is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible.”
To that end, and to expand on Lewis, grief is real too, and as much as we try to avoid it, pass it off, and pretend it isn’t real, and as much as we put our tough face on for the world, we still must to acknowledge it. Grief is a prized fighter with golden gloves. Its favorite punch is the sucker punch. Don’t give it the chance.
I’ve long debated whether crying at a funeral was tantamount to a lack of faith and/or extreme self pity. While I still haven’t come to a conclusion on that specifically, I’ve come to the conclusion that we experience grief inconsequently to the reality of “Death” as Lewis describes it. Whether or not you believe in the finality of death, loss leaves a hole here, and whether we are prepared or unprepared to meet it, it’s something that we have to emotionally adapt to over the course of weeks, months or years.
As Maloney writes in this song, there are no shortcuts, and you’re going to have to drive yourself down every little windy road, if you really want to get to where you’re going.
If you’ve lost someone through a sudden event, reach out to LLOST (Loss of Loved Ones to Sudden Tragedy), they can help you through the grieving process and may even be able to help with funeral expenses depending on the situation.
On a brighter note, success follows the same paradigm as referenced by Maloney in No Shortcuts.
A hero of mine, Colin Powell, once wrote:
“There are no secrets to success: don’t waste time looking for them. Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work, and persistence.”
You can find thousands of quotes, books, blogs, etcetera, on the recipes for success, but “don’t waste your time looking for them” is probably the surest advice someone could give. There are no shortcuts. Success is hard work and perseverance. Nearly every entrepreneur has a story of failure and having their back against the wall. Actors and actresses do too. Rodney Dangerfield is famously known for spending years using the name Jack Roy with little success, and quitting comedy for a decade to sell aluminum siding before renaming and rebranding himself into Rodney Dangerfield. Today he’s regarded as one of the best comedians who ever lived.
This song is ultimately about the parts of life that you can’t ignore, that you have to see all the way through. From long drives, to emotional healing, to building a successful life – each of these things require that you see them all the way through. This song holds a special place for me, because it reminds me of all of the tough times I thought I’d never make it through, and yet, somehow, I’m still standing here. I hope you enjoy it and carry it with you as much as I have. If you have a minute, be sure to check out the rest of Heather Maloney’s work. It’s all amazing.