Archive for the 'songs' Category

Changing words

December 25, 2015

I hadn’t heard of Eva Cassidy until fairly recently, and I’ve been listening to the singing she left behind ever since.  Many of the recordings are covers, and sometimes I prefer her rendition, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes it seems she has changed the lyrics or left some out, and I liked the original version better.  Other times I am waiting for a particular vocal flourish that doesn’t come, or I find I am just too used to the original recording I heard.

While I’ve bought a couple of CDs of Eva Cassidy’s music, and tried to buy another (as yet without success), I’ve been listening to some of her work on YouTube, and there, the people posting a song aren’t always clear about who actually wrote it.

So eventually I looked into who wrote “I Know You By Heart.”  Diane Scanlon wrote the lyrics, Eve Nelson the music.

And I also learned that Eva Cassidy changed the lyric in the first verse from “I see your profile” to “I see your sweet smile.”  I learned that from the interviews on :

I love Eva Cassidy’s singing of the song “I Know You By Part.”  As Diane Scanlon says in those interview answers, Eva Cassidy “understood what I [Diane Scanlon] was trying to say.”  That comes through.  But the “profile” version of the lyrics resonates even better for me.

It’s clear to me that our guidance for others is limited because of our inability to see things exactly from where that other person actually is.  We look up, or down, from where we are and try to discern what they should do, but that’s not the same as actually being in their skin and hearing the guidance for them.

I guess I see the substitution of “sweet smile” for “profile” as a revelation of this Achilles’ heel from even such a consummate singer of songs.

It strikes me because I struggle with the issue of collaboration, of putting together the development of material with its dissemination.  I think there are trade-offs in terms of the skill sets needed for each, so a collaboration would seem to be optimal in a sense.  But maybe it’s the case that something is too often lost in the process, whatever the gains.  Maybe that’s okay, maybe the creator’s version and the covers all have their place.  But my sense stubbornly persists that changes in transmission of the original, as in the children’s game of Telephone, can make a difference and that we may end up “on a frolic and a detour” if we are unaware of the original.  I relate this hazard to the need for communication between human beings (I will forego yet another reference to the story of the blind men and the elephant), and that the resolution of the issue of collaboration lies somewhere in improving communication between creator and disseminator.


Heart and soul

July 28, 2015

There’s a recording on YouTube of Peter, Paul, and Mary singing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” with Andy Williams on his show.  It’s a Bob Dylan song.  For some reason, I particularly like this recording of it.

It’s a song.  I recognize that.  It’s only a song.

But I am interested in what I can see behind the line “I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul.”

Because sloshing soul material back and forth between lovers can be so wonderful, but trying to do that with ego-selves can be a disaster.

And I’ve never quite understood what we’re supposed to think about the relationship being implied by the break-up phase covered in the song.

Of course, some of what I see in the song, and in the line more specifically, has to do with how the singer(s) interprets the song.

I think the narrator missed the boat on this relationship.  I think this woman knew how to love as uninhibitedly as a child and she knew how to exchange love deeply, at the level of souls.  I think “the original vagabond” (Joan Baez’s words in “Diamonds and Rust,” usually taken to refer to Dylan) didn’t get it.

Men who have been overwhelmed as children by too much adult emotion (for example, from their mothers) sometimes assume it’s always going to be dysfunctional like that, that it’s going to be an exchange of heavy, human ego-generated emotions.  They shut down.  They won’t try again as adults.  They can’t try again as adults because they haven’t really developed in this area since that trauma.

The exchange doesn’t have to be about excessive ego-based emotions, but for it to be about something purer, the lovers have to know how to pull the ego out of the way so it can.  Then the souls slosh, back and forth (having the slosh go in both directions is very important).  It’s an incredible feeling.

Maybe it’s an incredible feeling to be adored by thousands of fans in an arena, I wouldn’t know.  And maybe Dylan has experienced the sloshing of souls back and forth, as well, I wouldn’t know that, either. (Dylan’s song “I Believe” gives me reason to think he might have at some point, although I may be reading into that interpretation the personal experience of the singers I’ve heard covering that song.)  But I don’t think the song “Don’t Think Twice” reflects that stage.

“If I Had My Way”

July 18, 2015

I have found myself listening to live recordings on YouTube of Peter, Paul, and Mary singing their version of the Rev. Gary Davis* song about Samson and Delilah.  They call it “If I Had My Way.”  It’s a pretty rousing song, so the live performances have a lot of kick.  I think I am caught on the idea that Samson is saying that if he had his way, he would tear this building down — leaving open the possibility that he won’t.

*I see that Wikipedia says that the original writer of the song was Blind Willie Johnson.

Rings of keys

June 9, 2015

I heard the song “Ring of Keys” for the first time when I clicked on the NYTimes “In Performance” feature about the Tony Awards nominees.  It was the first song in the video, and Sydney Lucas certainly gives a riveting performance — love the mobility and expressiveness of her face.

But the song took me a while to follow.  The ring of keys moment startled me, for example.  I actively dislike my ring of keys.  It’s a pain in the neck, it doesn’t always fit into my pockets, it reminds me of people places and things and experiences that I don’t always want to be reminded of, including particular people I have known who relished their rings of keys and wore them, as I am assuming the woman in the song must, on the outside of their clothing.  Yes, they can symbolize power but that kind of power I don’t cotton to.

Years ago, when I first found myself with a sizable ring of keys, I thought about the ring, its keys, and what it meant to me.  I related it sometimes to the idea of “keys to the kingdom,” and I thought that, in that regard, it’s all wrong:  there is only one key, and it’s listening.

But I like the song, it has sort of grown on me.  In that particular video, the child actress’s face seems at times so worldly and so much older than her years, and I find it interesting to observe those flashes.

I also find it interesting to put my experience of keys along side the song’s use of the object and the narrator’s experience of it.  It helps me understand why I don’t fit in with the joyful keyring bearers of whatever gender and orientation.

The Wailin’ Jennys

August 8, 2014

I finally got around to listening to this group when I noticed they had a cover of “By Way of Sorrow.”  (Here it is live.)  I had already been taken by their name (a pun on Waylon Jennings).  And their music, in my opinion, lives up to the (high) expectations I had for a group with such a clever name.

Down here

May 9, 2014

I may just be looking for an excuse to post a link to this, Richard Shindell & co. playing a couple of tunes, but I thought I could reasonably freight the second song, “Your Guitar,” with a deeper meaning.

I can hear it as being about how some of us feel about being born into this world.  We do hope that a song may flow forth from us, even as we wonder what this world is all about and what we are doing here.


April 23, 2014

This caught my attention for many reasons, some more obvious than others.  It’s about a red-tailed hawk that died, one town over, and a woman named Moses who cared.  For me, the soundtrack is “Reunion Hill.”

“Country Roads”

April 11, 2014

I am well aware not everybody enjoys John Denver’s music.  I had some college suitemates freshman year who couldn’t bridge their John Denver / Bob Dylan divide, so for the second semester I gave up my single in the suite to share the suite’s lone double with the John Denver maven, just to keep the peace.

I like both Denver and Dylan, it depends what I’m in the mood for.

But I really like this duet performance of Denver’s “Country Roads,” because there seems to me to be such a joyful energy being generated between the two performers — I don’t think my enjoyment is particularly about the song itself, I think the song has become a vehicle for something even more satisfying, and that’s what I’m enjoying.

Anyway, the video makes me smile.


April 5, 2014

When I went to hear Richard Shindell in concert last month in Harvard Square, I had a chance to have a brief conversation with him before the show — I was basically asking if there was any chance he could play “Abuelita,” because I had been listening to it a lot lately and it’s such a beautiful song.  He was very sweet about it, gave me some sort of encouraging answer, but didn’t actually play it.  It was a different sort of show, I think — great energy but a different mix of songs from the last couple of times I had seen him in concert.  I enjoyed the concert a lot, as I think everybody else in the room did, too — he gives a great show.

So I was tickled to see his Facebook posting with regard to his sitting at a table in a cafe in Ann Arbor as President Obama comes through.

The posting asks for a caption, and I submitted a few lines from “Abuelita”:  “I will wait at the fountain in the square / You can find me there / And I will tell you a story.”

Those lines are slightly different from their written incarnation here, on RS’s website, where “at the fountain” is “with the others”  —  folk singers and singer/songwriters do that, change or vary the lyrics slightly.

Someone “took” me to that concert, I am not sure who, but at the empty bus stop on the way in to Harvard Square, I found a $50.00 bill on the sidewalk.  That covered the price for the ticket.  It is also encouraged me to buy a couple of the CDs on sale at the concert at the front desk, as a form of sharing, even though I already owned them — I figured I’d give them as gifts or use them as extra copies for listening in the car.

I once found a $20.00 bill in the snow and ice I was shoveling at the bottom of my driveway, shortly after I had bought a small painting of an ice-covered window from an artist.*

I don’t have a great theory for pulling this all together, and, in fact, my suspicion is that while it’s not just a matter of completely random events (as I’m sure they come across to other people), it’s also not a coherent narrative — maybe it’s just a bunch of old connections and intermingled energy from the past (I think of it as “old karma”), trying to work their way out and dissipate.

I’ve always suspected we achieve that dissipation, or liberation, when we’ve figured out how to change or vary the encounter.  I think that once that’s done, some connection may even still remain, but it feels lighter and less vexed.


*I save such bills I find, I put them in an old Quimper teacup, and when I see my way clear as to what to do with them, I will do it.

If you’re talking about it at all …

March 23, 2014

I was listening to a recording of “Cold Day in July” sung by Suzy Bogguss (my internet searching turns up Richard Leigh as the song’s composer), and it struck me as providing a good vehicle for explaining the kind of things Willy saw, how he saw through the surface.

He would have offered as third party’s response to the lament, “Well, if you were already talking about his leaving or not, about your love lasting forever, your relationship was already in trouble, or the issues would not have come up.”

So he would not have been surprised that the cold day in July came.

But it’s a great song.