Cecilee Linke

I can write you a story, teach you French, sing you a song.

Thing A Week #12 – Ljubljana

Another song about a place I’ve never visited.

When I was a kid, I used to play on a European geography program on my computer. I learned all the capitals, imports and exports, and the location of every European country, at least, as of the early 90s (Bonn was still the capital of Germany and Yugoslavia was still one country).

One of the European capital names that always fascinated me was the capital of Slovenia, called Ljubljana. How do you even pronounce that name? It looks so cool though! I would wonder to myself. (I know now: lyoo-blee-yah-na)

Last year, I had a dream that I was wandering around that city with my best friend Valerie. I’ve never even seen pictures of that city, but there we were in my dream, wandering around an old cobblestoned city. I felt like I needed to write a song about this dream, especially when I began reading about the history of Ljubljana. Religious wars. Being split up during World War II by a barbed wire fence to keep out the resistance. Earthquakes. Fires. Floods. Constant foreign invaders.

This city has been through it all, it seems.

I likened it to the personal struggles that Valerie and I have gone through in our lives. And despite all of the bad things that happen to us, we keep going. Just like the city. Those struggles become a part of your history. Just like in a city like Ljubljana.

Thing A Week #11 – Far From Kankakee

I gave myself a challenge earlier this month: try to write a song about a place.

So I wrote about an Illinoisan city of about 30,000 that I’ve never visited.

However, I have a connection to Kankakee.

In my genealogy hunt, I have been trying to figure out what happened to a family member about three generations back. My great-grandmother was a single mother who raised her daughter (my grandmother) during the Depression. My grandmother never knew what happened to her dad. All she knew was that he left the family before she could even remember him. All she had of him was a yellowed obituary taped to the inside of a Bible. I only wish I had the picture file from when I took a picture of it with my phone about a year before my grandmother passed away.

About a year and a half ago, I found out what happened to my grandmother’s father: he spent the last twenty-five-ish years of his life in the Kankakee State Hospital.


Now the next question: why? Why did my great-grandfather end up in an insane asylum? I’d love to know.

Because the more I know about him, the more I can find out about myself.

I’m hopeful but also dubious.

Hopeful because maybe by some chance the records have been kept. Dubious because they might not exist or I may not be able to get a hold of those records because of bureaucratic nonsense.

At any rate, this summer, I plan to dig into more of how I can find out what happened to my great-grandfather. I owe it to my grandmother.

Click below to listen to this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe! 🙂

Image from My Life in Postcards

Thing A Week #10 – East

I was talking to my mom a few weeks ago when we somehow started talking about what it was like for my parents when they moved to the east coast in the early 80s. They are from southern California, so moving to Maryland in the winter was a bit of a culture shock for both of them. But they did it so that they could start a new life and raise their future children (ended up being me and my brother!) in love, leaving behind family dysfunctions I won’t get into, but suffice it to say, they had every reason to leave.

Sometimes I don’t like to sing a song as myself but rather as someone else. In this case, I’m my mother reflecting on leaving everything behind to start a new life. I have always grown up on the US east coast, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave everything behind and go somewhere far away to start over. The closest I’ve been to that was living with a family in France for three months, but even then, that was only temporary.

Also of note: since I wrote this in January, I’ve shown it to my dad, and he approved of the song!

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Thing A Week #9 – So Many Airplanes

When I was sixteen, I heard about a local songwriting seminar from my choir teacher. The event details were this: come together for a day and you could learn from industry professionals either how to be a better singer or take a songwriting class from noted songwriter Jason Blume and other pop and country writers. I had no idea who any of the industry people were but the event sounded fun. I’d started writing songs and I thought I could learn some things from people who knew more than me.

There were several takeaways from that day.

One: I was the only person in that room under the age of 30. But no one talked down to me or treated me like a kid, which was a welcome relief from the coddling I often got in school (no cough drops in class, you have to go to the clinic to get those. No pain relievers on you either; you have to go to the clinic for that. Don’t wear this. Don’t say that. Blah blah blah). I felt very grown-up that day, being around people who were all interested in the same thing as me and being on my own too. It was one of the first things I ever did on my own just for myself.

Two: I learned about something called a “hook book.” Anytime you hear an interesting word or phrase, write it down in a little notebook, and refer to that book when you are fresh out of songwriting ideas. They told us to always be aware of interesting phrases that come up in conversation. “That’s how the best songs come about,” I remember being told. The songwriters that day were pop and country writers, so they emphasized the importance of being conversational in your lyrics and in your title. “You want it to be natural,” was another thing they told us. While I don’t write pop or country music, I did take away that importance of having an interesting title.

I have kept several “hook books,” over the years, though they were never books. They were always documents on my computer. I found it faster to type my ideas rather than write them out by hand. For several years now, my “hook book” is a Notes document on my phone. It’s 2018, y’all, I’ve updated!

This week’s song was a phrase from my hook book.

Last year, I became good friends with a girl who’d just moved to the area and who, like me, spoke French. I got about a year of seeing her on a regular basis for Doctor Who marathons, Eurovision chat, and Busch Gardens trips before she moved away to find another job (she hated her government job here, for good reason). She now lives in Boston and is always super busy with her new job.

I was on Facebook one morning and decided to send her a message just to say hi because it had been a while. She’d been busy and so have I. To my delight, she wrote back a few minutes later saying hi and I got to chat with her briefly before we both had to go to work. She was somewhere in New Orleans for her job, so she didn’t have a lot of time to chat. She apologized for being so busy but her job has taken her all over the place.

“So many airplanes,” she typed.

I loved how that phrase sounded, so I immediately put it in my hook book. The phrase went around my head that week, and I began writing this song about my friend and her constant travels. I’ve known from the beginning that she was probably not going to stay in this area. She’s always been a world traveler (Malaysia, Turkey, and most recently, she posted pictures of a trip to Spain with her family!) and while she liked living in this area, she always talked about Boston and how much she loves that city. I was sad when she moved away, but I knew that it was coming.

Most of all, my friend is happy with a new and WAY better job.

And at least we have the Internet to be able to talk when life isn’t too busy on our ends! 🙂

Click below to watch my introduction and performance of this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe!

Featured image from: FreeVector.com

Girl and Piano #2 – Imagination (Clan of Xymox cover)

I may perform with just a keyboard and my voice these days, but I always have a soft spot for 80s synth pop.

In some cases, songs don’t hold up without the production. But in many cases, if you strip away the production, you have a song that can stand up on its own.

Like this month’s song.

If you grew up in Europe or went to dance clubs in the mid-80s, you probably heard this song at some point. Clan of Xymox (or Xymox) are a Dutch group whose music I’m honestly not familiar with beyond the music on their third album Twist of Shadows. I heard Imagination on a compilation CD of Dutch music, and this song stood out to me. It’s dark and danceable in a kind of New Order way, but with a female singer (Anka Wolbert). The danceable vibe grabbed me, then the lyrics did, and I was in love. This is one of my favorite 80s songs ever. The rest of the album is in much the same vibe as this song, but with a male singer instead (Roony Moorings).

Imagination was the third single from the Xymox album Twist of Shadows, released in 1989, and it only reached #85 on the Billboard charts. Their two other singles, Obsession and Blind Hearts, all did well on the Hot Dance Club and Alternative song charts in the US, however. Imagination remains the biggest commercial success of the group, and it’s my favorite song by them.

I didn’t use sheet music or even guitar tabs to learn this song. Instead, I began teaching myself how to play this song by ear. A few years ago, someone who I thought was a dear friend (and had been my friend for about a year at that point) ended up ghosting on me. Rather than talking to me about whatever it was that was bothering her (and I still don’t know to this day what I did wrong), she blocked me on Twitter, stopped returning my phone calls, and basically acted like the biggest coward I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.

This song gave me a lot of comfort during that difficult time. Her betrayal forever changed me. Because of her, I have major trust issues and am afraid to get close to people.

And when she comes to mind, this song helps me.

Thing A Week #8 – Celestial

I tend to write a lot of songs about space, it seems!

Like Nebulous, this song doesn’t mention the title in the lyrics at all! I’m honestly not sure what I will do this this song, though I do like how pretty it is! I wrote this as a part of a personal songwriting challenge to write a song in one hour, lyrics and music. Rather than using the title as a hook, I decided to write something that described the title. I thought about memories and how everything you go through makes up who you are, makes up your own personal sky.

Et voila!

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Thing A Week #7 – Spirals

Since Valentine’s Day is this week, I figured I’d share a love song of sorts!

I say a love song because while this does talk about a romance, it’s unfulfilled.

This week’s song, Spirals, was inspired by a story I read in a book about French culture. I think it might’ve been French or Foe. I can’t remember now! I’ve read a lot of books about France! In this book was a story of an American who was visiting France. While he was traveling on a bus, he locked eyes with a beautiful woman who was sitting toward the back of the bus. Without even saying a word to one another, they shared a mutual attraction. Then, the bus stopped, she got off the bus, and he never saw her again. But he always remembered that beautiful woman and the moment they shared together.

So this song is about that fleeting feeling you get when you see someone you find attractive, and you do it all without even saying anything to each other.

Click below to listen to this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe!


Thing a Week #6 – Ballerina

Where some songs begin with an interesting word, other songs begin with a picture.

This week’s song, Ballerina, started as a songwriting challenge. Last year, I attended a local chapter meeting of NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International), which some of you reading this (all maybe six or seven of you!) will already be familiar with. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an organization for songwriters looking to better their craft. You can have your songs evaluated, attend workshops, and all sorts of wonderful benefits all to help you be a better songwriter, whether for yourself or for other people.

That night’s songwriting challenge was to write a verse and chorus for any number of pictures given to us. Six different pictures were laid out on a table and we had fifteen minutes to pick a photo and write about it. The picture that stuck out to me was a black and white photo of a ballerina dancing on a rock in the middle of a calm body of water. I’m not sure what it was that struck me about it, but I ended up choosing to write about that picture. Maybe it’s because I took ballet lessons for a few years when I was a child, so I felt drawn to it.

Either way, I chose that picture. And I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find the picture I used as my inspiration, but I did after poking around on Google Images.

Here it is:

On the back of that month’s meeting syllabus, I began writing the required verse and chorus based on that picture. In fifteen minutes, I wrote in a stream-of-consciousness, and ended up with far more than was required. But that’s how I am (I was the kid in fourth grade who wrote a dozen pages for an assignment when all that was required was one or two pages). I still have the paper I wrote this on, though I’ll have to find it! And what came to mind was a song about standing strong when chaos is going on around you. And no matter what, you continue to be yourself, even when bad things are happening.

When it came time to share what we’d written, Michael King, one of the chapter heads, told me he was sure I was going to pick that ballerina photo. How he was right!

Click below to listen to me talking about this week’s song and to hear my performance. And don’t forget to subscribe!

Thing A Week #5 – Nebulous

Sometimes I’m inspired not by an idea but by a word. How it sounds. What it means. One of my favorite artists, Mylène Farmer, often picks words and phrases because they sound cool.

Everyone has depths that they hide from other people. I come across as pretty open in this blog series and in my videos, but even I have things that I never show other people. It’s those hidden depths in others that fascinate me to no end.

This song is about wanting to reach out to someone. You know someone who seems to hide a lot and you’re just trying to be friendly, not become BFF, just friendly, but they turn you away all the time and so you just give up on them because what’s the use. “You’ll always be……,” as I sang in the song.

I worked with someone whose mysterious nature inspired this song. I never got to know her very well because every time I tried to be friendly, her attitude was really off-putting. She answered in short sentences and wouldn’t even look at me when she did talk to me. Very strange. So much for being her friend. I gave up, but always wondered why she behaved the way she did. Whatever she was going through, I hoped she was OK. I never want the worst for anyone.

This is an instance where the title is NOT in the song itself. I enjoy the music of New Order, an 80s band known for not putting the title anywhere in their lyrics most of the time (songs like Shellshock aside). Blue Monday. Bizarre Love Triangle. Love Vigilantes. None of those titles are anywhere in their respective lyrics. I felt like making the title more like the main idea of the song and using the lyrics to describe someone who is the title, rather than making it the hook. I’m all about trying new things when it comes to music: not putting the title in the lyrics, not having a traditional verse-chorus structure, not having a discernible chorus (I wrote a song recently that has no real chorus!), or even trying to write something in a time signature I’ve never written in before. What’s the point if you aren’t trying something a little different? 🙂

Click below to listen to my story about this song and to watch my performance! And don’t forget to subscribe!

Thing A Week #4 – Amerrir

The first time I ever sang in a non-English language was when I took voice lessons in high school. One of the books that my teacher went through with me was a book of 101 Italian art songs. After Italian songs, we moved to French and German songs. Of course, my favorite songs to sing were the French songs. I hardly ever sang in English. But that’s the nature of classical singing: you learn to sing in languages other than English. Because actually, singing in English is quite difficult, but when you’re a native speaker, you don’t think about it. You’ve been speaking the language since you were a kid, so it’s natural to you. I do notice how difficult English is as a language when I’m watching clips of native French speakers singing English songs on the French version of The Voice. Why they don’t sing in French more often I will never understand (cultural imperialism aside). The contestants sound so much better in French!

But I digress.

Why all this talk about singing in foreign languages? Because this week’s song is in French!

Mais oui!

I wrote so many French-language songs between 2015 and 2017, that I’ve been taking a break from writing in my second language. I do love writing in French. In some ways, I enjoy it more than writing in English. The sounds flow together so beautifully, more than in English, and the overtly nasal sounds lend themselves to singing higher, head voice notes. It’s for that reason that I enjoy singing in French more than I do in English.

When putting together my list of songs for my Thing a Week series, I realized that I only had one French song that I’ve written in the last few months! And it’s this week’s song, so youpi!

But don’t worry, I have included burned-in English subtitles so you can follow along with what I’m saying! It’ll be like a foreign movie, but with me singing!

I wrote this song after I learned a new word while watching an English movie with the French subtitles on: amerrir, which means splash down. It’s usually used to refer to planes making water landings (a Google image search for amerrir brought up a lot of screenshots and promo pictures of the movie Sully, that Tom Hanks movie from a few years ago about the Miracle on the Hudson!) I love how the word literally means “to the sea” (mer meaning “sea”). As I thought on this word, I got this idea of someone who’s always lost in their own emotions, maybe even letting themselves be carried away by them, and this person always has to be brought back down to earth by a loved one as a reminder that “hey, I’m here for you whenever you’re done.”

I don’t write love songs about needing someone desperately, I can’t live if living is without you, etc etc. The sort of “love” songs I write are more about being there for someone. I suppose that makes them more like “friendship” songs, but to me, love is a deeper form of friendship. I know that’s what Andrew and I have.

More often than not, between Andrew and me, I’m usually the one who has to be brought back down to earth. I tend to get lost in my own thoughts. But occasionally, Andrew becomes emotional too. So this is my version of a love song, but one that’s not “ooooh baby I love you and need yoooooooou.” It’s not co-dependent like so many love songs. It’s more realistic, more like a “hey I”m here for you when life gets crappy” kind of song.

Click below to watch and listen to this week’s song! And don’t forget to subscribe too, while you’re at it! 😀