Backstory & lyrics
In February 2012, I met Mike O'Donoghue at the Berlin Country Music Festival. He was a German singer-songwriter who loved performing Irish folk and drinking songs. He told me of his latest project idea, a concept album about an Irish lad who leaves Ireland and his best girl behind during the Great Potato Famine in 1847 Ireland, striking out for a better life in America. The album chronicles his journey over the highs and lows of the next few years as he tries to find his bearings in his new world. It is not at all as he thought it would be and the song "Dancing on Wheels" explores the depths of depression he feels in New York City where he is drinking and gambling his life away to the time he contemplates a satisfied yet still apprehensive new life in the small town he chooses to settle in.
Mike approached me to write the lyrics/story of this transition. He was looking for an authentic American songwriter to handle this song because he felt his English would be limited. He also had the title of song for me, "Dancing on Wheels." I also tapped the talents of Bill Knopf to provide a banjo track which I felt was a real driver for the music. The track was later incorporated into the song.
Dancing on Wheels by Mike O’Donoghue/Allan Frank
One morning barely waking, as darkness held the dawn
I stumbled to the window with the curtain barely drawn
Looked out upon a vista so far away and strange
Then a single ray of light broke through and said “It’s time to change.”
“This ain’t no place for me,” I thought. “What am I doing here?
I spend my days just like a slave. At nights I drown in beer
I’ve left my land and lass behind for higher hopes and dreams
But gambling and alcohol is all I do it seems
“I’ve been spinning in circles and fighting my way
To keep my nose clean, but the end of the day
I fall back to habits I enjoy, but it feels
Like I’m losing my balance and dancing on wheels
I’m losing my balance and dancing on wheels
“Don’t recognize my so-called friends, just losers, bums and thieves
They’re takers and they’re users but I ain’t none of these
I work my way and trust a man who’ll look you in the eye
There’s no one here I can trust. I’ll bid this place good-bye
“Maybe take a look ‘round this great land, for a place to plant my crest
I’d like to see New England or maybe head out West
Hear they fought a war with Mexico, and California’s free
There picking gold up off the ground and apples off a tree
“But I’m sitting here in the bowels of this city
My hopes and my dreams replaced with self-pity
As I cry out to God with prayers and appeals
Trying to find me a balance while dancing on wheels
Find me balance while dancing on wheels
So I set out to find a life and keep myself in tow
But the pain and habits follow you no matter where you go
And it wasn’t long before I found myself back in a mess
Cuz a gambling man will buy you drinks till you loose your common sense
So I worked the railroad moving dirt with a shovel and a pick
Then stayed away from gambling bars, (tho’) some nights I’d have a nip
Yeah, I tried to live a sober life but that was too dam hard
Giving money up to strangers though, just wasn’t in the cards
And out to the country I go for a while
Saw families, churches, and folks with a smile
And music was playing those hornpipes and reels
And on top of a wagon they were dancing on wheels
On top of a wagon they were dancing on wheels
“This place seems like home, I thought. “I like this little town.
My wheels are always moving, might be time to settle down.
Work hard and save my money. Of the Lord not ask too much.
Send for my girl from County Down who’d bring her gentle touch.
I know it will be hard at first but it’s what I’ll have to do
Find good people for companions, maybe make a friend or two
I could go to church on Sundays, (and) pray to Him to see the light
But it wouldn’t be so bad if with some friends I shared a pint
Glad God is forgiving cuz he knows that I’ll fall
I’ll give it my best. I’ll give it my all
But I’ll be content; I’m through making deals
But I’m living my life as I’m dancing on wheels
Yeah, I’m living my life as I’m dancing on wheels
Yeah, living my life as I’m dancing on wheels