Spéir

I started piano lessons at the age of 11; I’ve never stopped playing since. I’ve continued to perform in public at least weekly for most of that time; often, I perform music I myself have written, such as the simple piece attached here.

We had books of old Scottish and Irish folk songs in our house when I was a teen, and my mother could sometimes be prevailed upon to sing if I ever played them. No one in my family really liked singing solos, so these were rare and memorable events. There was a connection to the old countries in this music, for her, and for me, and they make for some of my fondest memories.

I wrote this piece as a tribute to that music, trying to capture the feel of it rather than anything specific.

“Spéir,” by the way, is the Gaelic word for “Heaven”.

Favorite Songs: “Linden Lea”

I have a lot of hobbies and pursuits of passion, but probably the deepest and longest of those is what today is called classical music.

In my years playing classical music, by far my favorite type of playing is to accompany soloists, whether vocal or instrumental. You get to be part of the music, and you have the best seat in the house.

This song is a relatively simple one, but the lyrics are beautiful. This performance, by Natalie Merchant of “10,000 Maniacs” fame, I found to be particularly endearing.

“Linden Lea”

words: William Barnes
tune: Ralph Vaughn Williams

Lyrics:

Within the woodlands, flow’ry gladed,
By the oak tree’s mossy root,
The shining grass blades, timber shaded
Now do quiver under foot –
The birds do whistle overhead,
The water’s bubbling in its bed,
And there for me the apple tree
Do lean down, low in Linden Lea.

The leaves that lately were a-springin’
Now do fade within the copse,
The painted birds do hush their singin’
Up above the timber tops,
The brown leaved fruits are turning red,
In cloudless sunshine overhead,
With root for me the apple tree
Do lean down, low in Linden Lea.

Let other folk make money faster
In the air of dark roomed towns.
I don’t dread a peevish master,
Though no man may heed my frowns –
(For) I be free to go abroad,
Or take again my homeward road —
To where, for me, the apple tree
Do lean down, low in Linden Lea.

Influences: “Another Grey Morning”

This is a series I’ve thought about for years (around four), and the idea is, artistic works that actually changed the way I approached what I do, how I thought or felt. Many of these are not particularly well-known.

I have hesitated to start this series because I am frankly admitting how much of what I do is consciously derivative, in some sense. However, as I posted elsewhere yesterday, being unoriginal doesn’t mean you have nothing worth saying, as long as you say it honestly.

Each one of these has a story that goes with it, of course, and I will tell those in as much detail as seems appropriate. – S.B.


I was twenty years old, and she was nineteen. She was a singer, and lived with her father in a fabulous house on the beach. Her parents were recently divorced; and her father was gone months at a time in the oil business.

The first night I spent with her at that house was more of a graduation for me than anything I went through at the end of high school or college. She was (by my standards) wild; and she poured herself into everything with more passion than I had ever witnessed first-hand.

We had gotten to know each other on a tour bus; we were at different colleges, but the two schools had a joint traveling chorale we each belonged to; she, the future professional singer, and me, the amateur crasher from the mathematics school.

On that bus, where we were for ten days, she listened to a lot of music she shared with me. One of her greatest passions, at that time, was the music of James Taylor, who I was of course familiar with, but not to level of fandom she was. The “JT” album was something like 5 years old at that time, but that was one of two she listened to repeatedly at that period, and  as we got more into each other, I listened to it, too.

I only knew one song from that album, but it had been, previously, my favorite James Taylor tune, “Handyman”. As I got to know the other songs on the album, each one spoke to me in that way music does when it is just the right music at just the right time in your life.

One song, in particular, struck me, listening to it at that fabulous two story house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on a spring morning with the windows open and drapes blowing slowly in the breeze:

When I feel as though my love is sinking down,
The sun doesn’t want to shine —
When it feels like she won’t face another day,
Life is unkind, she’s frozen in time —

And here comes another grey morning.
A not so good morning after all.
She says “well, what am I to do today
With too much time
And so much sorrow.”

She hears the baby waking up downstairs.
She hears the foghorn calling out across the sound.
Repetition in the morning air
Is just too much to bear,
And no one seems to care.

If another day goes creeping by
Empty and ashamed,
Like an old unwanted memory
That no one will claim —
The clouds with their heads on the ground,
She’s gonna have to come down.

She said “Move me, move me,
I’m locked up inside.”
Well, I didn’t understand her
Though God knows I tried.

She said “Make me angry,
Just make me cry.
But no more grey morning,
I think I’d rather die.”

Three things about the song struck me. The first was, this song seems to be at least partly about postpartum depression. A male singer-songwriter, writing and singing about the feelings of a woman facing depression was a new thing to me, and was fairly new in 1977 when the song came out.

Secondly, and I might be imagining this, the song seems to be implying some sort of affair being initiated at the end, as the woman in the song seems desperate to feel — well, anything other than depression.

Finally, the song is through-composed as opposed to strophic, that is to say, it doesn’t follow the neat, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus form of so many popular songs. The form seems to have been dictated by the content. It also ends in a musically ambiguous position (i.e., not on the tonic chord).

I loved this song, and learned to play and sing it, which I have done (every so often) ever since. In addition, the idea of trying to describe what women who I have known might be feeling in songs and poetry didn’t seem like a complete absurdity or insult after hearing this song. The song takes an ambiguous perspective, and shapes it’s form as necessary to keep the feeling — all of these are devices I’ve used, consciously, in some measure due to my reaction to artistry of the song.

The woman I was dating then went on to a successful career as a professional opera singer; we are Facebook friends now, both married with kids. I’ll always be grateful to her for that time in my life, even though I’m not entirely sure she quite remembered who I was when I first reached out to her, memory being, of course, one of life’s great asymmetries.

Favorite Songs: But You Know I Love You

For years, my job involved a lot of traveling, and this song always seemed like the perfect love song for the traveling life. This is Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Lyrics:

When the mornin’ sun
Streaks across my room
And I’m wakin’ up
From another dream of you

When I’m on the road
Once again it seems
And all that’s left behind
Is a chain of broken dreams

But you know I love you
Yes, I love you
Oh, I love you

How I wish that love
Was all we need to live
What a life we’d have
‘Cause I’ve got so much to give

But it seems so wrong
Deep inside my heart
That the dollar sign
Should be keepin’ us apart

But you know I love you
Yes, I love you
Oh, I love you

And if only I could find my way back to the time
When the problems of this life had not yet crossed your mind
And the answers could be found in children’s nursery rhymes
I’d come runnin’ back to you
I’d come runnin’ back to you

But you know we can’t
Live on dreams alone
And to pay the rent
I must leave you all alone

‘Cause I made my choice
Many years ago
And now this travelin’ life
It’s the only life I know

But you know I love you
Yes, I love you
Oh, I love you

But you know I love you
Yes, I love you
Oh, I love you

Favorite Songs: Ghost In This House

I love Alison Krauss’s voice, and I love this song.

This isn’t the version of this song I’m best familiar with (it usually has her band, this has an orchestra) but the words she said prior to the song spoke to me, so I’m using it.



Lyrics:

I don’t pick up the mail
I don’t pick up the phone
I don’t answer the door
I’d just as soon be alone
I don’t keep this place up
I just keep the lights down
I don’t live in these rooms
I just rattle around

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m just a shadow upon these walls
As quietly as a mouse I haunt these halls
I’m just a whisper of smoke
I’m all that’s left of two hearts on fire
That once burned out of control
You took my body and soul
I’m just a ghost in this house

I don’t care if it rains
I don’t care if it’s clear
I don’t mind staying in
There’s another ghost here
He sits down in your chair
And he shines with your light
And he lays down his head
On your pillow at night

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m just a shadow upon these walls
I’m living proof of the damage
Heartbreak does
I’m just a whisper of smoke
I’m all that’s left of two hearts on fire
That once burned out of control
You took my body and soul
I’m just a ghost in this house
That once burned out of control
You took my body and soul
I’m just a ghost in this house

Favorite Songs: Evil Woman and Mr. Blue Sky

Hey, it’s a two-for-one special!

Same band as yesterday, Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Electric Light Orchestra). This performance is from the Grammy’s and is notable for the people in the crowd they caught enjoying it.

Lyrics:

“Evil Woman” (Abbreviated)

Hey, woman, you got the blues
‘Cause you ain’t got no one else to use
There’s an open road that leads nowhere
So just make some miles between here and there
There’s a hole in my head where the rain comes in
You took my body and played to win
Ha, ha, woman, it’s a cryin’ shame
But you ain’t got nobody else to blame

Evil woman
Evil woman
Evil woman
Evil woman

“Mr Blue Sky” (Abbreviated)

Sun is shinin’ in the sky
There ain’t a cloud in sight.
It’s stopped rainin’
Everybody’s in the play.
And don’t you know
It’s a beautiful new day
Hey, hey

Runnin’ down the avenue
See how the sun shines.
Brightly in the city on the streets
Where once was pity.
Mister Blue Sky
Is living here today
Hey hey

Mister Blue Sky
Please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long
Where did we go wrong?
Mister Blue Sky
Please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long
Where did we go wrong

Hey
You with the pretty face
Welcome to the human race.
A celebration
Mister Blue Sky’s up there waitin’
And today is the day we’ve waited for

Mister Blue Sky
Please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long
Hey, there
Mister Blue
We’re so pleased
To be with you look around
See what you do everybody smiles at you.

Favorite Songs: “Junk”

Motor cars, handlebars
Bicycles for two
Broken hearted jubilee

Parachutes, army boots
Sleeping bags for two
Sentimental jamboree

Buy buy says the sign in the shop window
Why why says the in junk the yard

Candlesticks, building bricks
Something old and new
Memories for you and me

Buy buy says the sign in the shop window
Why why says the in junk in the yard

– Music & Lyrics by Paul McCartney