Every once in a song really does arrive all at once and effortlessly—a gift of the songwriting gods. So it was with “Here,” the closing track on my album Humming My Way Back Home and often a concert closer too.

Below is the story of how the song came to be, and here’s a version just recorded (May 2017) for World One Video in Maryland.

The writing

In the fall of 2007, when I was in the final stages of recording Humming My Way Back Home, I took a trip down to Philadelphia to do an story for NPR’s All Things Considered on Issa—the artist formerly (and currently) known as Jane Siberry. Along with renaming herself, Issa had gotten rid of almost all of her possessions except what fit into a small backpack, and she was on tour without even an instrument of her own.

At the time, I’d recorded 13 songs for my album, and I had this lingering feeling that I needed one more small statement to make the project complete. But that was in the back of my mind—I had an interview to do.

On the way to Philadelphia, I drove through the pouring rain on Rt. 81 south into the Poconos. The car stereo was off; for me, one of the keys to writing is having silence and open space (a concept that doesn’t always make sense to my college students, raised in an era of earbuds and screens that fill every moment of downtime). I don’t know whether it was the influence of Issa or the melancholy weather, but a melody and words came to me. I have no explanation for this rare and magical occurrence—suddenly, here was a song (or, I should say, “Here” was a song).

I had a recorder with me, and fortunately I soon came upon a rest area up near Clarks Summit. I parked and sang nearly all of “Here” right into my recorder as the rain pounded on the windshield and hood.

I continued on my way to Philly and had a very moving conversation with Issa that resulted in this story.

When I got home I was sure that “Here” would be an a cappella song, with three or four vocal parts. On my laptop I fooled around with multitracking my own voice, but I was never satisfied with the result. Very few singers, to my ear, can pull off multitracking their own voices in a choral style—it often comes off sounding like a weird hall of mirrors. The key to making it work, I think, is inhabiting different voices/characters for different parts. I know from interviewing Martin Sexton and Joni Mitchell, for instance, that both think about their background vocals in this theatrical way.

Ultimately I picked up my guitar and tried playing a super-minimalistic part in dropped-D tuning—just a hint of harmonic support—and everything fell together. I added an instrumental interlude, but the whole thing still clocks in at a little over two minutes. There’s something deeply satisfying about writing a song so short that feels so complete.

The recording

The album version captures just about the first time I ever played through the entire song with the guitar. I invited my friend Hanna Richardson, a jazz singer, to duet with me. In the last verse, she added a subtle third harmony. The album track is quite a bit slower than I play the song now—like most songs, “Here” has definitely evolved in performance.

Lyrically, “Here” is a song written purely from a feeling, without any idea or topic in mind—my preferred way to write. These days, Wendy Sassafras and I often step offstage and into the audience and sing “Here” unamplified, and it’s a special moment—like a benediction in song.

—Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

The lyrics

Hand
A hand
Gentle touch of a hand
I am reaching
Face
A face
Open eyes on a face
I am seeking
In a glimmer of light
In the eye of a storm
I am here
You are here

Hand
A hand
On a silvery string
I am playing
Voice
A voice
On a delicate wing
I am praying
In a glimmer of light
On the cusp of a dream
I am here
You are here

Way
A way
We are dreaming a way
Through the tangle
Chance
There’s a chance
If we turn
To a different angle
At the end of the day
This is all I can say
I am here
You are here
We are here

More

Behind the song

The Complete Singer-Songwriter