Jamie O. SongNotes: Hey Kid by Michael Smith

Additional note: Read Jamie’s August Enewsletter here, featuring Hey Kid and somethin’ of Michael S. from Jamie’s audio archive. https://mailchi.mp/jamieoreilly/jamie-o-aug-enews-fall-preview-the-story-of-hey-kid

TRIPTYCH, a reminiscence

Triptych, a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works
intended to be appreciated together

Jamie and Michael

SongNotes: Hey Kid
Jamie O’Reilly
August, 2022

Summer of 2019 change was in the air, my family-home long sold, I enjoyed a new place and a new neighborhood. I saw a third grandchild (Cosmo) born that winter, and by summer, with my daughters’ expanding social-circle of like-minded millennials set-on staying in the city, I was reassured they’d stay nearby. We were doing okay.

I redesigned my website that winter, trimmed-away from its pages myriad roles I claimed as arts coach, producer, teacher and group leader, and narrowed my focus. I was now a singer and blogger. I worked with John Erickson, a pianist with a nice mix of skill and musicality, and a willingness to try new things.

The audience liked what we did. And so did I.

Michael Smith, my musical partner liked it too. We featured a bunch of his songs. He wrote music charts for John, and came to see us work.

By mid-summer it was clear it was time we record. I scheduled a session at WFMT, with engineer Mary Mazurek at the controls. I’d worked with Mary over the years, and knew our connection would provide the kind of familiarity and shorthand I needed. This would be one of many recordings I made there with Michael and others. And there was the piano, a 12 foot Yamaha grand!

Winifred Giebel O’Reilly

What I haven’t said yet, because it is still hard to put in print, is my mother Winifred died that spring, at age 94 of natural causes. My mother, whose love of classical music had a huge impact on me. Her childhood was spent living off Foster Avenue, mere blocks away from the radio station. It was my mother’s mother, Margaret, who coached her in the parlor song-style I use on Love’s Sweet Song, the first track of my EP In Old Chicago.

I wanted to sing for my Mom. The session took on a kind of melancholy as I sang through the other tunes. My normally buoyant and lilting voice, a superior vocal microphone, and a wonderful accompanist could not ease the sorrow. After 50 years of bringing my work for my mother to approve, there’d be no anxious waiting for approval. No moments of listening together, her tears inevitably coming, as the music swept her into a kind of dream.

I was on my own.

All the places we remember, they remember us.

After several hours, the final track I recorded was Hey Kid, the soaring anthem Michael Smith wrote inspired by the work of artist Leopold Segedin, for our show Hello Dali: From the Sublime to the Surreal. I sang it in the show as the act-opener, surrounded by images of Leo’s paintings: landscapes of a childhood on Chicago’s Westside in the 30s.

Here it would be the finale.

Hey Kid, Jamie O’Reilly sings, John Erickson, piano, from In Old Chicago

In the late 90s, Michael and I had an offer from Blair Thomas to sing something at an MCA event, and we came up with a few tunes. Then Michael brought me Hey Kid, after we’d been to see Leo Segedin’s paintings at Byron Roche’s Gallery. He’d been listening to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On on the radio, and said he wanted to create a power-ballad for me.

What came about was purely Michael: true as could be, deeply personal, heart-wrenching and comforting in the same breath. An ode to childhood, the things we’ve lost, the things we long for.

I always sang Hey Kid at a brisk-walk tempo, picturing the Chicago streets Michael so richly describes, streets I walked myself, entering-in the moments of golden afternoons, autumn leaves blowing in empty school yards. Like Leo, I too, curiously took-in crumbling brick buildings and cluttered back porches through el-train windows. We three knew the ennui those memories provoked.

Of course Leo’s paintings inspired this glorious song. But to me, Hey Kid was always about Michael. Written when he lived at the corner of THE Lincoln Avenue of folk-music fame, when open bar windows released a cacophony of songs from stages and juke-boxes into smoky night air. A wild turf for restless middle years. Late nights ‘stranded in the moonlight’ after gigs.

Michael sings Hey Kid beautifully on his album There (which was used as a soundtrack for a video of Leo’s paintings). It is definitive and strong. An identity piece to-be-sure. 

The song is also Michael’s September Song of later years, with the street’s glory days long-gone, when he sat in a pub with the New York Times and a glass of cabernet, then watched evening shadows fall on the short walk home. 

“We’re simpatico. We look at our life the same way.” 

(from Leopold Segedin A Habit of Art, Outbound Ike Publishing, 2018)

At its heart, Hey Kid is a visit with the ghosts of the past, and the ache that comes when we realize, time waits for no one. Leo’s painting/Michael’s song are about home — making a mark on a place and its mark on you. 

Prepping for the studio that summer of 2019, I decided to record my Hey Kid. I love to sing it but it’s a hard song to navigate vocally. The melody sits better for a guy. That day, I hoped with John’s solid piano beneath me I’d get to a new place with it.

There was a pull of melancholy as I sang each verse of Hey Kid with newfound tender care; each phrase strong and specific. I sang to Michael as he was then, during what would be his last full summer. Quiet, aging, searching the horizon for inspiration to get him through his days, making sense of the past. Taking in the beauty around him with grace and gratefulness.

With no reason to hurry and in a desperate attempt to hold-on, I unconsciously slowed every phrase, willing the song wouldn’t end. And then I began to say goodbye.

Hey kid, hey kid, where’s the world that we lived in?
Where ya been? I’ve been looking for you.
Way down, lonely avenue.

Last chorus
Hey Kid I

View Hey Kid, Leopold Segedin paintings and listen to Michael Smith sing.

This is my dream, that all the places we remember
They remember us. That somewhere we are always children
At the movies. On a bus.

Last verse of Hey Kid
Michael and Jamie 1997, writing Hello Dali

Mike Smith, 1970s photo by Jim Polaski

Michael Peter Smith passed away peacefully on August 3, 2020. He was 79. He left us with an unmatched treasury of songs and recordings. His wonderful spirit lives on, inspiring, comforting and teaching us. The space will never be replaced.

Leo Segedin, photo by Mike Green

Leopold Segedin is still painting at the age of 95. His self portraits will be exhibited at Rare Nest Gallery in Chicago’s Albany Park, opening September 10. 3433 N Kedvale
Chicago, IL 60641 MORE: https://www.rarenestgallery.com/leopold-segedin

Hey Kid
Words and Music by Michael P. Smith
Here’s where I walk.
I walk this lonely avenue.
Looking for a patch of blue
Though I feel the wind
the wind’s no more colder than you’ve been to me lately.

Here’s what I hear
I hear it whistling round the buildings
Whirling cross the yard
I hear somebody’s radio singing of a life lived mighty hard

I hear the cars, feel the rumble in my feet
The juke-box bars down deserted lonely streets
Hey Kid, hey kid, where’s the love we used to know?
Don’t you know, I’ve been looking for you
Way down lonely avenue

Here’s what I love
I love the way the light shines on the buildings
Looking for a place to glow.
Golden afternoons
the house is golden, now the factories
All the golden candy stores

Here’s what I seek.
I seek a truth hidden in daylight
Standing in plain view
I wonder if I even find it, will it take the place of you?

I hear the cars, feeling the rumble in my feet
The juke-box bars down deserted lonely streets
Hey kid, hey kid, has the love we used to know, grown cold?
I’ve been looking for you
Way down, lonely avenue

Here’s who I am
a stranger in my own hometown
Everythings’ the same
No a thing that hasn’t changed.
Doo doo do do doo doo do do do do do do do do
Hey Kid

This is my dream, that all the places we remember
They remember us
That somewhere we are always children
At the movies, on a bus

I hear the cars, feeling the rumble in my feet
The juke-box bars down deserted lonely streets
Hey kid, hey kid, where’s the world that we lived in?
Where ya been? I’ve been looking for you
Way down, lonely avenue
Way down, lonely avenue

Games, Leo Segedin

Here’s what I love
I love the way the light shines on the buildings
Looking for a place to glow
Golden afternoons, the house is golden
Now the factories, all the golden candy stores.

from Hey Kid

More about Leopold Segedin, painter
I remember when I lived on the West Side of Chicago, when I first started out, when I was a little kid before I was eight years old. We lived at 3340 Polk Street. I remember the address. I could tell you the phone number if you asked me. The Jewish people were on one side of the street and the Italians were on the other side of the street.

We had no trouble. I used to walk to Gregory School all the way from 3300, all the way to Independence Boulevard. There was no problem at all. Later on there were gangs. Then, every so often, I’d be walking say, on the other side of Pulaski (it was stil called Crawford in those days), and some kid would accost me. He’d grab me on the shoulder, roll me around, and the question always was, “Are you a Jew?” And he scared the hell out of me. And I’d say, “Yes, I am.” And it stayed with me. That moment of fear, OK? But then I thought there’s a more general response to that. Anytime anyone challenges your identity, they say, “Hey kid.”

There’s something frightening about that challenge. And so I changed the name (of the painting) from Are You a Jew? to Hey Kid and that’s the concept that Mike Smith picked up.
He liked that. He said “We’re simpatico. We look at our life the same way.”

He and Jamie O’Reilly came to the Byron Roche Gallery and saw these paintings ad both of them responded in the same way. They contacted me. It resulted in Michael’s song, “Hey Kid.”

(from Leopold Segedin A Habit of Art, Outbound Ike Publishing, 2018)

About the show Hello Dali, From the Sublime to the Surreal

The song Hey Kid first premiered in Michael Smith and Jamie O’Reilly’s musical revue Hello Dali From the Sublime to the Surreal, first at Lunar Cabaret, then Theater on the Lake and at Victory Gardens Theatre, directed by Paul Amandes, where it received After Dark Awards for Best New Work and Best Ensemble, with Beau O’Reilly and Jenny Magnus in the cast.

At Victory Gardens it was a box office hit and had the honor of being part of the 2000/2001 season for which the theater received the 2001 Tony Award for regional theatre.

More on Hello Dali : https://playbill.com/article/2001-tony-honoree-for-regional-theatre-chicagos-victory-gardens-grows-new-works-com-96869

A Theater Review of Hello Dali
Chicago Reader
July 8, 1999
Jack Helbig


Jamie O’Reilly and Michael Smith’s cabaret piece is not the deepest show about art I’ve ever seen–that honor goes to Tom Stoppard’s Artist Descending a Staircase. But it may be the most playful. Especially when Smith and O’Reilly wax mischievous and provide alternative lyrics to the old pop song “Mona Lisa”: here the artist’s subject, played by the luminous O’Reilly, tells us what a pain it is to pose for a man like Leonardo. Or when Smith stretches his composer’s wings and sings some of his own witty tunes. In between these comic interludes the two sing folk versions of both familiar and lesser-known songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen–all concerned in one way or another with art.

A slide show of primarily 19th – and 20th-century paintings accompanies the songs, giving O’Reilly and Smith an excuse to call their show a multimedia event. But to be honest, these two are so strong in and of themselves that Hello Dali would be just as sweet without the slides. For this Theater on the Lake production, O’Reilly and Smith are joined by Jamie’s brother Beau O’Reilly and his sometime collaborator Jenny Magnus, both Curious Theatre Branch members who are no strangers to meditations on the nature of art. Theater on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore, 312-742-7994. Opens Wednesday, July 14, 8 PM. Through July 18: Thursday-Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 4 and 8 PM; Sunday, 4 PM. $10. –Jack Helbig