Robust curiosity and a passionate drive to experience an exciting life has been the driving force behind Nashville Hall of Fame Songwriter Layng Martine Jr.’s challenges and successes. The Watch Hill summer resident now adds accomplished author to his accolades as he shares his life stories in his new memoir: Permission to Fly, A Memoir of Love, Crushing Loss, and Triumph.
“I am obsessed with this book, I love the people in my book, they made my life” says Layng.
For the past 10 years, Layng has reworked every sentence and relived all the stories. Finally, he is able to celebrate his self-published memoir and looks forward to people reading about his experiences. While still in the working stage of writing his memoir, Layng received some advice from an editor friend: “She read the book and said ‘your mother gave you permission to fly, and that’s what you should call your book.’”
She also advised him to not begin the book with the story of the crippling car accident that deeply affected his wife and family but to start instead at the beginning of his life, “Take people by the hand and lead the reader through your story.”
“My mom threw me out in the river, and gradually I learned to swim in rough water. At first, through small childhood challenges, and later from the more complicated ones of adulthood. She gave me the freedom to learn how to take care of myself.”
As a young boy growing up in North Stamford, Connecticut Layng was interested in everything: New York City, his tree hut, baseball, music, riding his bicycle, exploring the creeks in his neighborhood. “We had two general stores in my town, places to buy baseball cards, and popsicles, and I could ride to get a coke. I felt free to go anywhere, do anything,” says Layng.
His mom was a columnist for Family Circle Magazine.
“She was often late meeting her writing deadlines. She had five kids and her hands were full,” says Layng. “When the column was late she and I would drive into New York at night to bring it to the editor. I just loved that adventure. I loved the lights and excitement and the honking. I loved going in the tall building while my mom circled the block and up in the elevator to deliver the pages to the editor.”
At a young age, Layng had the need and curiosity to turn over every rock and discover what was underneath.
“I just had all these things I wanted to do, and my mom let me do them,” says Layng.
He sold greeting cards door to door at 8, rode a train into New York by himself when he was 12 to see the Yankees play, took 20-mile bike rides all over the place, and later on in college hitchhiked 7,500 miles around the United States.
“Her attitude was usually ‘Why not?’ Mom was a great encourager, encouraging me to try things. But she made it clear that if I ran into a problem, it was my problem,” says Layng.
His adventures and love of the big city led him to college life at Columbia University where he studied history but really preferred to major in life. He spent a lot of time at the Apollo Theater in Harlem absorbing all the music and culture that reverberated from its legendary performers.
“For a dollar and a quarter I would sit in the balcony and listen to Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder (he was 12), one right after the other. It was there for the taking. All you had to do was do it!”
From age 14 on, Layng was obsessed with Elvis but his first attempts at songwriting didn’t come until he was 21. His first guitar came from his wife at their first Christmas together. He was 23. He taught himself simple chords, playing songs he loved, like “All Shook Up” and “Whole Lotta Shakin.”
“One summer painting a house a great record called ‘Abilene’ came out of the radio and it made me wonder if I could write a song,” said Layng.
He wrote one. Made a demo of it in a New York studio and was hooked. Instead of following a more traditional path and not being true to his independent spirit Layng pursued his dream of writing songs, moving to Nashville. Music City USA. Forty-nine years later he had written songs for such musical sensations as The Pointer Sisters, Barry Manilow, Reba McEntire, and yes, his idol, Elvis!
In 2013 Layng was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“I couldn’t believe it, because when your writing songs you’re just trying to survive and the last thing you’re thinking of is someday being in the hall of fame.”
Not wanting to give all the suspense away about his journey…the losses and the triumphs…check out Permission to Fly.
“Life is all about starting over in big and small ways. We all have to do it many times. I’ve had a lot of training in that because I’ve been trying things, stumbling, and starting over since I was little,” says Layng. “After a costly wrong turn into a business I knew nothing about and cared nothing about, I decided I would never again get involved in anything I didn’t love and understand. Seems obvious, but I had to learn it.”
“I first came to Watch Hill at age 11 in 1953 and fell in love with it instantly. When Linda and I were dating we drove up here together one day and she loved it, too.”
In 1983, they bought property in Watch Hill, where they and their three boys began spending every summer. Layng and Linda still summer in Watch Hill and the boys always visit. After 40+ years of a successful songwriting career Layng has stepped back from that part of his life and is working to bring his memoir to as many readers as possible.
Messages from his mom have resonated now and throughout his life, especially when excited by a new idea or contemplating a new step in the unknown: “Try it. Pay the price. You may have to start over, but so what? It also may be the greatest thing you’ve ever done!”