58: My List

58: My List

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

My List

Story by Rand Bishop

Song written by Rand Bishop and Tim James

Recorded by Toby Keith

“My List” was the idea of my writing partner, Tim James. Tim and I had been collaborating for several years and were good friends. He came in one day and said, “You know I always make a list of things to do every day. Let’s write a song about that.” And I thought, “That’s good enough for me,” so I started picking on my guitar and the first line just fell out: “Under an old brass paperweight / is my list of things to do today.” We wrote it in one session basically. We changed one line the next day and then did the demo.

This was in 1999, and both Tim and I had been dropped by our publishers. I started working for the Census Bureau. Tim was painting houses, so we got together on rare occasions when we had the time to write. We wrote this at my house, which was a rental on Natchez Trace Avenue, near Vanderbilt. It was a little Tudor and I had a studio in the attic.

After we wrote it, Tim said, “So are you going to start changing your priorities now that we’ve written this song?” And I said, “Are you kidding? I’m trying to make it in show business. I don’t have time for that stuff!” Really, though, this was a message that I needed to hear myself, even as I was writing it. I didn’t think it was a particularly original or fresh idea. I thought it was a well-written and well-constructed song, but I didn’t know if the world really needed another song like that.

When we finished it, it just sat around for about two years. No publishers really took note of it. The only artist that showed any interest was Dan Seals. He had recorded a couple of my other songs, but then he decided against it.

Tim called me one day and said, “Did Dan Seals ever cut that song, ‘My List?’” I said he hadn’t and then asked him why. He said, “Because there’s a good chance that Toby Keith is going to cut it today.” Toby Keith had started his own publishing company and the first writer he signed was Tim.

By then, I had basically retired from the music business. I was very grateful for the opportunities that I had. I had about 200 of my songs recorded. One was a Grammy nominee and one was a BMI award-winner. But I felt like I had put my family through so many ups and downs. So I started another business selling legal representation plans for small businesses and families. But Tim just kept knocking on doors. Thank God for him because Toby cut the song. It’s been the kind of gift that keeps on giving. It got released on three different CDs: once on the original album, then he did a greatest hits album, and later a boxed set.

When the record came out, it was right after 9/11. It was the perfect time for people to hear a song like this, because Americans were really beginning to reevaluate their priorities. It’s an incredible experience having a big hit song, but it’s even more gratifying when it’s a song that has affected so many people’s lives in a positive way. One time I played it live and the audience applauded the song after the first chorus. They actually interrupted the song with their applause. It was the only time that had ever happened to me. It was like being on one of those TV shows where the audience is instructed with the neon signs that say, “Applause, Applause!”

We got so many e-mails and letters from people whose lives had been affected by the song that Tim and I later decided to write a book based on it, and we got it published by McGraw-Hill. It’s called, My List: 24 Reflections on Life’s Priorities. The letters came from people who were having financial problems, or had lost jobs, or had family or health challenges, and they wrote us to tell us how that song helped them cope with those challenges and reminded them of their real priorities. In the book we expounded on every line in the song, with an essay or short story and then a prayer or affirmation. A lot of the other books like this are more like an extended greeting card, but this one was a little more substantial; it was kind of a self-help book.

That success of this also got me really passionate about working outside the three-minute song genre. I wrote three screenplays and a stage play that was produced here in Nashville and I’ve written three more books since. And it was all because of the experience of writing the book based on “My List.”

My List

Under an old brass paperweight

Is my list of things to do today

Go to the bank and the hardware store

Put a new lock on the cellar door

I cross ’em off as I get ’em done

but when the sun is set

There’s still more than a few things left

I haven’t got to yet

Like go for a walk, say a little prayer

Take a deep breath of mountain air

Put on my glove and play some catch

It’s time that I make time for that

Wade the shore, cast a line

Look up a long lost friend of mine

Sit on the porch and give my girl a kiss

Start livin’, that’s the next thing on my list

It wouldn’t change the course of fate

If cuttin’ the grass just had to wait

’Cause I’ve got more important things

Like pushin’ my kid on a backyard swing

I won’t break my back for a million bucks

I can’t take to my grave

So why put off for tomorrow

what I could get done today? Like. . .

Go for a walk, say a little prayer

Take a deep breath of mountain air

Put on my glove and play some catch

It’s time that I make time for that

Wade the shore, cast a line

Look up a long lost friend of mine

Sit on the porch and give my girl a kiss

Start livin’, that’s the next thing on my list

Raise a little hell, laugh ’til it hurts

Put an extra five in the plate at church

Call up my folks just to chat

It’s time that I make time for that

Stay up late, then oversleep

Show her what she means to me

Catch up on all the things I’ve always missed

Just start livin’, that’s the next thing on my list

Under an old brass paperweight

Is my list of things to do today

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