Ride of Our Lives

I imagine even those who are familiar with this song don’t know that Ride of Our Lives was commissioned by the Board of Elders at Brentwood Presbyterian Church for an event celebrating the ministry of then Associate Pastor, Rev. Bill Barnes. It was a complex and uncertain time for the congregation, as the beloved Senior Pastor, Rev. Charles Shields was dying of cancer. No one was sure of the future or what would happen with the loss of our dear mentor, confidante, and friend, and there was palpable anxiety among the congregants. But we also had this unflappable sense of mirth, which was a gospel truth Pastor Shields had instilled in us: We (all of us) are The Beloved, he affirmed each week from the pulpit, and our Creator has plans for us: “plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.”


This was a daunting task for me, as I’d never written something by commission. As a songwriter, I always waited for inspiration, until my Muse spoke to me from the depths of untraceable mystery. How was I supposed to do this? I almost turned it down, but Jefferson Denim, the friend and artist who wrote the music to the song, nudged me. Well… nagged me is more like it. He has always been a firm believer in my gifts, and I imagine he was frustrated with my insecurities and lack of belief in myself. And so, finally, I surrendered to his belief.


I started with the knowledge of and desire to affirm that Bill was an avid surfer and a lover of the ocean. I wanted the imagery to feel like home to him, and so set the piece on water. I wanted to honor the tumult going on in the congregation and to acknowledge that we were in for a rough ride with the uncertainty of Charles’ health. I also wanted to bring a sense of hope to the song, a recognition that we were in this together, that we’d weathered storms before, and that we’d make it through this one, too.


Recording the song was a mixture of flying by the seat of our pants and surrendering to the magic of collaboration. It was also a reunion of sorts as my singing soul-sister Betsy Buenzow Petrie flew in from the midwest to do background vocals. We recorded in Sherman Oaks, at the home studio of Stephen Teller, who played drums on this track and whose production skills saved the entirety of the project at large (8 songs total) from the depths of mediocrity. I am eternally grateful to him. Is it not here, Stephen, that the imaginary Austrian band “Air Tambourine” was born? God, we laughed, and our only intoxicant was music. Well, perhaps a little tequila, but that was utterly secondary. It does warm the throat for singing, by the way.


I remember one period of panic in doing the background vocals: What were we going to do with this musical bridge? It needed something, but “oohs” and “ahs” alone were not gonna do it. Tracking along with the lead vocal on the word “Fly” wasn’t working either. It needed movement, we needed to propel the song toward the final chorus. We were fried from recording all night, and we didn’t have the luxury of sleeping on it and seeing what we could come up with tomorrow. Betsy’s flight was leaving in the morning and this was it. I think Betsy would concur that in a 30 minute period of time something magical happened, and neither of us could say from whom the idea came. It seemed to be a melding of creative minds, and as silly as it reads on paper, “ooh, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, ooh nuh nuh nuh nuh” under the lead vocal emerged. And it worked. Perfectly. It stands as my favorite part of the song along with the chorus that follows, complete with rich, descant-like phrases, lifting the song up and over, like a surfer catching the wave of a lifetime.


I hope I did Bill Barnes justice. I hope I caught Charles Shields’ irrepressible spirit of hope. I hope I gave at least a moment of encouragement to the congregation at the time. We were, indeed, on the ride of our lives and among the very best of friends.


The Ride of Our Lives
lyric by Kay Bess
music by Jefferson Denim & Kay Bess


Riding on the crest of a wave we know we never want to end
We look out on the sea and see we are among the very best of friends
And with nothing added, nothing taken, we will be restored
We have all we need to make it,
you and I together to the shore


High on the water we rise
We are setting our sights on the sky
We’re on the ride of our lives
What a way to fly


We are standing on the edge of a time we’re trying hard to understand
But in reaching to each other we experience the healing hand to hand
And with every test and tidal wave, we’re riding out the storm
We have all we need to brave it,
here we go together for one more


High on the water we’ll rise
We are setting our sights on the sky
We’re on the ride of our lives
What a way to fly
Fly. Fly. Fly….


Can you look out on the sea and see we are among the very best of friends?


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