William Fitzsimmons: A Songwriter With Vision His parents were blind, but he grew up with music everywhere. And after years as a mental health therapist, he's returned to the aesthetic of his mother's favorite folk records. Fitzsimmons discusses the music and heartache of his latest album.
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William Fitzsimmons: A Songwriter With Vision

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William Fitzsimmons: A Songwriter With Vision

William Fitzsimmons: A Songwriter With Vision

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GUY RAZ, host:

This next story is about a musician that's coming to terms with his own past.

(Soundbite of song, "If You Would Come Back Home")

Mr. WILLIAMS FITZSIMMONS (Musician): (Singing) If you would come back home, we could start all over.

RAZ: You're listening to the music of William Fitzsimmons. He was born outside Pittsburgh to blind parents. So, he grew up reacting more to sounds rather than sights. While his classmates were rushing home to watch television, he would join in the music his folks played at night.

In college, Fitzsimmons gave up music to study psychology, and he became a practicing mental health therapist. But music kept calling him back.

(Soundbite of song, "If You Would Come Back Home")

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: (Singing) I could fix you lunch, or take you out for coffee.

RAZ: William Fitzsimmons is a full-time musician now. His new CD is called "The Sparrow and the Crow." He joins me from the studios of KUOW in Seattle.


Mr. FITZSIMMONS: Hello. How are you?

RAZ: Fine, thanks. You've written a little bit about how growing up in a blind household, helped you focus on sound. What was it like inside your house as a kid?


(Soundbite of laughter)

When you're without a sense, the other ones, you know, I think a lot of people know how to become very important. And there was always something going on between - you know, my dad had a pipe organ in the house. And whenever he would come home from work, he would turn that thing up full volume and get everything single neighbor within, you know, a square mile really, really upset at us.

And my mother had a lot of - she actually raised cockatiels and parakeets and things like that in the house. And my dad hated that, but we kind of liked having birds flying around. We thought it was kind of funny.

RAZ: I've read that your parents were amateur musicians and there was a lot of music in the house. What kind of music were you drawn to as a kid?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: I mean, I suppose we always have a penchant for liking whatever our parents listened to when we were younger, at least some of it. But my mother was - she was very much into folk music: Joni Mitchell and Peter Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan, and all those really, really wonderful artists of that time.

And my dad was - he wouldn't have any of that hippy music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

He was a classical organist, and so he pretty much just listened to orchestral and organ records.

RAZ: Can we hear any of those influences or whispers of that music in any of the work that you write?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: Yeah, I think so. It probably leans more towards the folk than the classical. The classical is too hard to do. I could never get into that too much. But I've always been drawn to folk music, and I inject a lot of that into the work that I do. A lot of those artists could make you feel something very, very saliently without, you know, hitting you in the face with volume or anything like that. They use their words, and sweet melodies and things like that. So I try to emulate that as appropriately as I can.

(Soundbite of song, "We Feel Alone")

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: (Singing) Mom and dad parted ways. We were young, and got good grades and trees in yards meant to climb. We left home but never looked behind.

Music is a very bittersweet experience for me. It was a beautiful thing to share with my parents and it still is. But it also kind of highlighted the distance between myself and my mother and my father, and there was kind of a chasm that couldn't really be breached.

RAZ: A distance because the music wasn't connecting with them?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: The distance because the music was only, you know, so much of a bridge. It was only maybe three-quarters of a bridge in order to be able to communicate fully with them. You know, I've never met eyes with my mother, for example. And there's a part of that that's always - especially when I grew up, that always kind of broke my heart, 'cause she doesn't know what I look like. And now there's my father. And, you know, the music was a good thing but it was also a - it highlighted that distance between us.

RAZ: We're speaking with singer and songwriter Williams Fitzsimmons.

The music for this new CD "The Sparrow and the Crow" was written during the breakup with your first wife. Is that right?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: That's correct.

RAZ: And so, in sense, this is your sort of divorce album.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: Yeah, I guess everybody's got to have one, right? You know, the irony of the whole thing is that I already wrote one of those about my parents, and the "Goodnight" record was actually about my parents and their divorce. And it was in the process of making that, the things in my own relationship started to kind of head southward very quickly.

The irony isn't lost on me, but it's not the good kind of irony that gives you, you know, a belly laugh. It's the other kind.

RAZ: Let's listen to one of the songs from your new album. This one is called "I Don't Feel it Anymore."

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Feel It Anymore")

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: (Singing) Hold on. This will hurt more than anything has before. What it was, what it was, what it was. I've brought this on us more than anyone could ignore. What I've done, what I've done, what I've done.

RAZ: What I've done, what I've done, what I've done. Now, William Fitzsimmons, tell me about this song. What have you done?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: Well, I guess, candor is called for. I was the one that was honest on the records so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

I was not a faithful person in the relationship, and it cost me dearly. And, yeah, that's what that song is about. It's the things that my wife said to me and some of the things that I imagined that she would have said after the fact.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Feel It Anymore")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I've worked for so long just to see you mess around. What you've done, what you've done, what you've done. I want back the years that you took when I was young. I was young, I was young, but it's done.

RAZ: It's subtitled "Song of the Sparrow." There's another song, a few tracks down, which seems like the counterpoint, may be. It's called "Please Forgive Me: Song of the Crow."

(Soundbite of song, "Please Forgive Me: Song of the Crow")

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: (Singing) I left you out at sea. I left you there to plea. Please forgive me.

This is the answer, I guess, to the accusations and - but it's still a little bit fresh to talk about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

This was me trying to - when I finally came to my senses, I, sort of, was hit in the face with everything that I did. And I just, you know, I just wanted to say that I was sorry and find the way to get the forgiveness that I didn't really deserve.

RAZ: It seems like through the arc of the CD, you cover the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. And have you found forgiveness from your first wife?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: Yeah. There was a very difficult period for both of us. And I think I did, I found the forgiveness that I needed. And she's a very graceful soul. And, you know, she found a way to move on and she herself has actually remarried now and just had her second child.

You know, even in the midst of all the darkness and all those things, I think that there is some sort of joy that can come out of those things. You have to go through them. You can't go around them. But, yeah, the forgiveness was there and it was real. And it was a relief when we were able to get to that point, finally.

(Soundbite of song, "They'll Never Forget the Good Years")

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: (Singing) But they'll never take the good years. There are some that never pass. No, they'll never take the good years. God, I wish I would've learned.

RAZ: You were a counselor and you dealt with all kinds of grief, people who were dealing with it. I mean, you are writing about a divorce, and you're essentially revisiting it over and over and over again, as you tour through the country.

Do you think as a counselor, you would give somebody this kind of advice, in a sense, to sort of revisit what they've been through?

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: No, I don't think I would.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I think I would tell them to move on, you know? Take up a different hobby or something. I'm sitting here every single night reminding myself and other people of the worst decisions that I've ever made in my life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I don't know if that's really a wise thing to do. There's a little part of me that I think secretly is very excited about time passing and, you know, moving onto new music.

RAZ: Do you think you could write a happy album? Or do you think you'd want to write a happy album?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: I'm beginning to think I don't have it in me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And I'm worried about that. And I'm in a place where I'm ready to write different songs, and I'm so thankful for that. I've been waiting for this time to come. I don't think I'm ready to write about ice cream and puppy dogs, or anything like that. But I definitely think there will be a lot more sunshine and stuff to come.

RAZ: Singer-songwriter William Fitzsimmons. His latest CD is called "The Sparrow and the Crow." This weekend, his tour hits Bellingham, Washington and Portland, Oregon.

Mr. Fitzsimmons, thanks so much.

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: Oh, thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Goodmorning")

(Singing) You will find love.

RAZ: You can hear a few tracks from William Fitzsimmon's CD at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Goodmorning")

Mr. FITZSIMMONS: (Singing) You will find love. You will find love.

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