It’s getting late, so I’m going to keep this simple and save further writing on this topic for an upcoming post, probably the next one. For now, I just want to share a song that my son Micah shared with me the other night. It’s the perfect protest song but it’s also the perfect coping song for the sort of feelings many of us have had here in the United States since November. Frank Turner, a native of England, empathizes and in this new tune coaxes us along from disillusionment and hopelessness to activism and purpose.
The first version was from January 16th with a small gathering at a Holiday Inn in Morgantown, West Virginia. There is a whole intimate concert in that video that you might want to rewind and watch later, but the embedded video below will start you off just before the song in question. The second version is even better, not because it’s live on stage, but because the ending lyrics are even more precise and energized, not just hopeful, but determined. Spoiler alert: The phrase where I start cheering is “sand in the gears.”
Thank you for visiting us again, Mr. Turner. And thanks for the encouragement and fuel.
On the Saturday Song feature this week I shared a classic Christmas tune sung by Tori Amos. It’s one of those songs that every musician alive has covered. No, seriously. Every. One. You’ve heard Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble but even Coldplay has recorded it (To be honest, their version is quite nice). Kenny G. and Neil Diamond have done it! Twisted Sister opened a concert with it, Santa hat and all. Heck, even the French garage band High Fans, whoever they are, has a version of this song on YouTube!
But my favorite will forever be the original from the 1944 hit movie Meet Me In St. Louis. Six years back, NPR did an interview with writers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine about the original–and very dark–lyrics and how Judy Garland refused to sing them. Still, Blaine and Martin’s final version has more than a bit melancholy to it. The scene has such an intimate blend of sadness and faint hope. Few people seem to be able to carry it off in their renditions. So here is a clip from the movie, shocking snowman scene and all.
Why not share a link to your favorite cover of the tune in the comments?
There’s still a little time left for a Music Monday Feature, so for the four or five you out there who are not yet familiar with the Broadway hit Hamilton, this post is for you. I was talking to Jonathan, my middle son, last night, and he at least said he was “familiar with it.” Traditionally he’s had an aversion to anything that’s popular, but he’s learned as he’s aged that sometimes popularity happens because of a combination of excellence and timely cultural relevance. Okay, so he didn’t say that; I did, but I can see him nodding his head.
I’m not sure what I have to offer when it comes to informing you about the musical that won 11 Tony Awards this year. You’ve probably already seen the interviews and behind-the-scenes videos with creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and if you haven’t, you can easily look them up, or follow the suggested links from the video below on YouTube. What I can share with you is how this musical has affected me, even without seeing it.
I’ve watched only clips, but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack, a gift from a lovely friend and co-worker in the children’s department at the main branch of our library downtown. Now as I drive through town with the windows down I look and sound like I think I’m a real bad ass, when alas, I’m just the gay, white male stereotype, listening to Broadway musicals on my stereo. Continue reading “Music Monday with Hamilton”
I was writing this last night, while it was still Monday. Let’s just say it was a very long Monday in my world. Now it’s Tuesday, and too late for the Music Monday post. But I’m a poet, since when do I follow all the rules? What’s love got to do–got to do with it? Wait. That might not be a related question. We’ll get to the Tina Turner part in a moment.
It’s been a while since I made a Music Monday post, but usually these differ from the Saturday Song features in having a bit of poetry, or poetic explication to go along with the song. Sadly the word “tune” doesn’t have that same connotation, or connection to poetry that the word “music” does, but it’s all I’ve got to work with tonight. And personally, I need this post right now, and can’t put it off until next Monday, so Tuesday Tunes it is for today.
The last couple of weeks have been so hard. From the slaughter in Orlando to the killings in the streets of citizens and police officers alike. And one little paragraph, or even ten or twenty won’t be enough to count the sorrows. Bombings in Bagdad and Bangladesh. Brexit, and Trump, and a thousand other worries all over the planet. Many of us have been avoiding social media and the news, and for our mental health that is probably for the best. There is only so much of a load our battered spirits can take on. It’s okay to take a break. But this does not mean that we are, or that we should hide from evil and pain. We need to face it and confront it.
I have more than once recently explained why “Black Lives Matter” is not an exclusionary phrase. To make the point I’ve shared this little comic (click the image to go to the original) which the artist wasn’t going to post anywhere but on his patreon page, but it got tweeted and quickly became his most shared cartoon.
A tweet by someone else mentioned that when one talks about breast cancer, there is no need to scream, “But what about testicles!?” It’s a focus group, not an man-hater club. And who has ever burst into a Chinese restaurant screaming, “But what about tacos? Tacos matter!”
While I have made such arguments myself this week, one must be careful trying to take on all of the angry, hostile comments on the internet. Remember what I said about peace of mind and mental health.
There are other ways to confront violence, and opposition though. My niece shared this video from CNN(Please take a couple of minutes to watch it!), in which Black Lives Matter protesters decided to go talk to some counter protesters. It ends with them all hugging and praying, black, white, police officers, all of them. It brings to mind the oft quoted words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
I am not a religious person, but I can get behind this sort of solidarity, this kind of unity. I feel something, call it spiritual, when I walk in the woods and admire what others call creation, as Richard Dawkins might say, the apparent design, the beauty and grace of it. I feel peace while watching the birds from my porch, and I feel connection with other humans through a look, a touch, or a word. We can call that spiritual, I think. We don’t have to believe the same things to agree on most matters of the heart.
Certainly some beliefs, dogmatically and literally taken, can cause, and absolutely have caused a world of pain and suffering. I contend that one can feel wonder through science, through discovery, through exploring and understanding the real. I am also a big fan, as you know, of poetry and metaphor. For me, that is what religion is, or should be, not a literal dogma to exclude, or to control.
And so a sort of meditation for us all on this Tuesday. I’ll be posting some more poetry readings this week and next, and many of those poems could be called mindfulness poems. I’m all about being mindful, being present, especially if that involves being kind and being good to each other, and taking care of the world we live in.
The following information is from the Tina Turner Blog and the YouTube video description. More about the practice of the mantra here.
Video clip for the Hindu Mantra recorded by Tina Turner, Regula Curti & Dechen Shak-Dagsay for the album ‘Children Beyond’ released in 2011 and available on Amazon (See links at the bottom).
Clip created with footage from the “Children Beyond” documentary.
Video: Xaver Walser
Music: Regula Curti & Roland Frey (NJP Studio Zurich)
Videoclip Editing: Benjamin Degrèse (TinaTurnerBlog.com)
Om Om Om
Sarvesham Svastir Bhavatu
Sarvesham Shantir Bhavatu
Sarvesham Poornam Bhavatu
Sarvesham Mangalam Bhavatu
Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
May there be happiness in all
May there be peace in all
May there be completeness in all
May there be success in all
I was just 7 days shy of turning 7 months old when Simon and Garfunkle released the album Bookends in 1968. The third cut from that album is one whose harmonies and key changes has haunted me in such beautiful ways my whole life. If you’ve ever traveled cross-country in a bus, this song will take you back. But even if I you haven’t–how do I explain it? Well, the music does it for you. It takes you on the journey; you’ll swear you were on the bus.
1968 was before the age of music videos, but you didn’t need a video with a song like this. It was written so well you conjured it up in great detail in your head. And the lyrics blend so artfully into the music, as good music should. You can’t help feel nostalgic. It’s even one of those songs in which I think the lyrics could stand on their own. But at this point, nearly half a century of radio time later, how you could ever read the lyrics without singing them? And likewise, how could you hear the music without singing along. That’s a hallmark of a good classic folk song.
I’ll include the lyrics below the video, and I will include another video below that, along with a link to a new blog I’ve been writing on this week. Yes, I have been working on some new poetry, and I read a little of it at my reading at Priestley Chapel last Sunday, but the new blog isn’t a poetry blog. In times like these it’s hard for a poet to not get political, even in primaries where opponents are, usually in many respects, at least ideally on the same side of the issues.
I’ve been slow to share the other blog here, not because I’m worried about people disagreeing with me on an already niche-poetry-site–after all, artists are often activists–but because some of my dearest friends either plan to, or have already voted for the other candidate, and I do not want anyone I care about to think that I am disrespecting them or their rights to vote their conscience. So, please, if Bernie Sanders is not your candidate, I respect that, and won’t feel slighted in the least if you chose not to follow the links. But if you support him, or are curious about whether you should, I’d be grateful if you clicked and checked out The Case for Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders, as you will see from the videos below, is who has got me thinking of this song “America.”
“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And walked off to look for America
“Kathy,” I said, as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitch-hike from Saginaw
I’ve come to look for America”
Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, “Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera”
“Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat”
“We smoked the last one an hour ago”
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field
“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, thought I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America
Let’s just call this a Saturday Song on a Sunday. I’m sure I’ve broken the rules on this before, but usually I save the music and poetry combo posts for the Music Monday feature. Again, who said I have to follow the rules? It’s my blog, and as the old pirate says of the Code, they’re “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. So welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner!”
Sorry, I’m getting carried away again. Okay, where to start? Have you listened to the music of Elle King? Sure, “Ex’s and Oh’s” (despite the questionable punctuation) is delightful and naughty, but her appeal goes deeper than that play on words. You really should dig into her stuff. Sometimes the lightest songs end up on the top 40 charts, while the real pearls are to be found on b-sides, LPs, and especially in concert. And sometimes songs move me like the best poems. Something about the combination of lyric and music, the rise of a note on just the right word, the haunting harmony that somehow mirrors the lyrics.
A musician recently asked me to work with him in his studio. He was looking for poems to put to music, “the darker, the better.” But no matter how much I tried to politely explain that I am not that sort of poet, that lyrics and poems are not the same thing, well not usually, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally had to change the subject and hope he would not bring it up again.
You see, I cannot say that one is harder to write than the other, only that I am incapable of writing one, and hopelessly doomed to attempting to write the other. What does it take to find the right note for a particular word or phrase, the right chord that mirrors the mood of a lyric? I haven’t a clue. I haven’t that talent or tendency. It’s not that poems are easier, but they are certainly more selfish.
Most song lyrics will limp along without the music. They don’t have all their power without the notes that go along with them. Granted, there are the rare songs whose lyrics can stand on their own, but if we know the tune, we will invariably find ourselves humming it as the words are spoken. And if we hear the tune that we associate with the lyrics, we are helpless to stop our brains, if not our lips, from mumbling out the words as best we can remember them.
Poems are on their own though. They get no help from he guitar or the horn, except as background at a coffee shop open mic. Even the percussion must come from the linguistics, the stresses and stops of the language. They must find music in the turning of the line, if not the meter and the rhyme, in the sounds a voice will makes to produce the language into something audible, even if only in our heads.
And when I write them they really don’t give a damn what a musician might want to do with them. They give no thought to whether a word goes best with f sharp, or what key change might best mirror the metaphor. They stand alone and leave that work for those who might have the rare talent of wrapping music around them after they have been created. They will rebelliously go their own way. This is what I mean when I say they are selfish. Or perhaps it is my way of saying, I’m no good at writing song lyrics.
Again, let me stress for my musician friends, as well as for my beloved poets, I am not saying that one sort of writing is superior to the other, only that they are necessarily different. They are mediums that can blend and work together, but they are not the same. This poet will never be a song writer, and I am okay with that. I prefer to listen to the musicians work their own magic, and if we can combine forces now and then to create an artistic experience, well that’s wonderful. But please don’t ask me to help you write a song. It will be a disaster, I assure you.
Some poems, Wallace Stephens’ “Sunday Morning,” Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” Robert Frost’s “Birches,” Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and so many others, can move my soul in ways that I cannot explain. And granted, sometimes a particular voice can add music to the poem that brings a tear, when another voice might bring a wince.
Similarly some song lyrics will leave me cold unless they are wrapped with the music that an expert artist composed for it, the way the anticipation of enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich will disappoint when you realize there is only bread and jelly in the house. I do not know how artists like Elle King work their magic, I only know that as I drove a dark woodland road Friday night, on my way back home from taking my youngest boy to his mother, this song moved me. It moves me in the day time on the way to work, or while I am washing dishes. It works somehow through the alchemy of lyrics, voice and music.
I will include two versions of the song, one live in concert, and one more intimate, and without a microphone. You can look up the studio version for yourself easily enough. Below the song I am including a poem by Mary Oliver from her book Red Bird, a book which my son Micah picked up with his gift card at the book store where we met up with his mother on Friday.
How do the song and poem interact? How do they respond to each other in their meanings? In their music? And how does the poet create her music without a voice, just words on a page which you read out loud or in your head?
Whatever songs and poems come your way, may your coming week be nourishing and beautiful, like these two bluesy pieces of art are to me.
Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.