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  • Writer's picturePeter Markes

Behind the Music: "What Is Success"

This is the first of several blogs to tell the stories behind my songs. In the end, all songs are really love songs. Over the last 20 years since I wrote What Is Success, the love song has morphed over three phases. First, it was for my Grandma Dorothy, the central character; second, to my children and students; and finally, we have to love ourselves first - this is a song about the life I know I'll love as I grow older.

The first verse is told from my voice, with the "man" and "he" really being my grandma as poetic license goes. The second verse is from her voice, telling me about her success. The song was written in my parents' breezeway, and first recorded in 2001 on an album titled Outside the Box (give it a listen under my Music page!). It was re-recorded in 2016 on a Horseshoe Road album, Fear or Faith.

I originally read Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, "Success," in 1999 while awaiting a meeting with my education advisor at Oklahoma City University. An aspiring teacher and someday a parent, it was immediately poignant to me. Right away, I thought of my Grandma, Dorothy Semrad Markes. Still living at the time just a quarter mile from my family home in Waukomis, Oklahoma, Grandma fulfilled nearly every vision one might imagine - soft, indulgent, funny, and alive. With the tough farm memories well behind her, she still kept alive a small garden patch in her front raised beds. With over 20 cousins, aunts and uncles living within two miles of each other, we would gather each Saturday morning at Grandma's house. Every visitor was encircled with the same full hug, welcomed equally. I now know, this was truly a last vestige of the "extended family." That was her success.

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