Monday, January 25, 2016

SOME SONGS SHOULD BE LEFT ALONE

The setting is a small concert hall.  Everything is covered in darkness.  Slowly the audience recognizes that something special is about to happen.  The longer the darkness persists, the quieter the small theatre becomes until the noise of the crowd succumbs to the darkness.  It is dark.  It is quiet.  Then a spotlight clicks on and lights up the tall figure off to the left of the stage.  He slowly strums his guitar, picking out notes among the chords and begins to make the harmonica around his neck wail sadly and slowly.  The crowd recognizes the song but remains quiet, knowing that this is a special moment that the man on stage has been sharing with his listeners for over forty years now.  It is a special and private moment made public and from deep down in his soul, with a heavy heart and his body being drained of emotion for this moment in time, the singer begins to sing his song.  From the start you know the words are more than lyrics,  they are from a time long ago that the singer has never been able to let go of.   "I caught you knockin' at my cellar door ... I love you baby can I have some more?  oooh ... ohhh .. the damage done.... ".  Neil Young begins singing the story of a long lost friend who lost his life to heroin when both of them were just beginning their trip as artists in the music world.  Even though the crowd has heard him perform this song hundreds of times, the pain and emotion that Young feels still comes from deep inside him and you can feel it.  You can hear it.  His emotions begin to touch you and your emotions begin to seep through.  There is not another song on this earth that can bring about truth the way "The Needle and the Damage Done" can.  The audience respects Young's words and remain silent until he strikes the finishing chords, the spotlight goes out, and Young gathers himself to perform the next song.  The vast majority of Neil Young's music is written from his soul, his heart, his life experiences.  Each one carries a special meaning that no one can really understand except for Neil Young.  And so the concert continues as Young sings his life out to the crowd that has gathered.  It is a song that no one else should attempt.  No one would be able to do it justice the way Young does because the song is Neil Young personified.

There is a young teenager sitting in his sister's room while she is out.  She has recently received a few new albums by way of joining a record club.  He pulls out an album entitled "Chicago Transit Authority" and sets the needle down between two grooves on the record.  A soft piano begins to play and is shortly joined by a bass and a soft drummer before the the magical voice of Terry Kath comes slipping through the beauty of instruments to add the beauty of voice and soul to his ears. "As time goes on ... I realize ... Just what you mean ... to me....".  It is a song to Kath's love of his life and every word coming out is so filled with sincerity and love that the teenager knows that this man is real.  The song is real.  The words are more than just words, they transcend the world of words and become true heart felt feelings.  "Colour My World" will stick with the teen for the rest of his life.  Whenever he hears it from now on, that special someone in his life will appear next to his side in spirit, in his mind.  No one could ever sing this song and put their raw emotions on display the way that Kath does.  Terry Kath would be dead in four short years, some say suicide others say accident, but either way the voice of Terry Kath would be silenced .... except on the recordings he did and "Colour My World" would bring his emotions and his love pouring out to generations to come, touching souls and hearts with his love and his sincerity.

"He was born in the summer of his 27th year.... " and with those words John Denver begins to tell another of his stories of his life and his loves.  This one was the love he had found in Colorado, his love of the mountains, the nature that surrounded him that he could see so much beauty in.  He sang of his discovery of the Rocky Mountains and how it changed his life forever.  He sang with the same emotion as someone singing about a true love.  He sang of how his Utopian life was slowly changing as the beauty of Colorado began to be dismantled to make room for more and more people who saw the same beauty as he did.  The beauty they were experiencing was not comparable to the beauty he had experienced when he fell in love with the land, the wildlife, and nature in general.  It is a song of heartbreak and through his voice and his words, you can feel and hear the pain his soul is feeling.  His little corner of Colorado was changing and he wept for it.  It was a true love of his and he was losing it and only John Denver could express that pain he felt with his words.  Others might sing the song as a tribute to him, but they never came close because to John Denver, the song was a tribute to a beautiful land.  Only John Denver could sing that song with the depth that he was able to.

Don McLean wrote and sang of his quest to get rid of his lonely thoughts and the way his thinking brought him down emotionally.  He begged for help from an old friend to help him sort things out while realizing that no one could.  The song was "Crossroads" and was lost on an album filled with happier songs, hits like "American Pie", "Vincent", and "And I Love Her So".  He asks if anyone can remember who he was, what he was like and can they help him get back to where he was while coming to realize that every road he traveled in his mind brought him back to the same place of despair.  "Can you remember who I was?  Can you still feel it? Can you find my pain? Can you heal it?"  The answer is no.  They can't feel it, they can't find it and they can't heal it.  So he is left to suffer in sighs as he continues his journey that yields no answers.  Can others sing this song?  of course they can.  Can they put the understanding that was in McLean's mind and put that understanding into the emotion and endless desire that McLean did?  No.  Only Don McLean can sing that song knowing what is behind it in his mind.

I sit and I listen to Paul Simon sing about wanting to be left alone to protect himself from the pain that others bring about to him in his life in "I Am A Rock".  I identify with the song so very much that it chokes me up most of the time I hear it.  I can identify with it.  I can understand the words and the feelings they bring out.  The question is, can I feel or ever know how Simon felt as he wrote these words?  What his mind was going through?  How he felt about his life and everything swirling around it?  the answer is no, I cannot.  I can let his words speak to me, I can put them into my own situation but there is no way, even if I could sing, that I would be able to perform this song with all of the pain and desire that Simon feels when he performs it.  It would be silly of me to think I could.  It is a personal song written by Paul Simon for Paul Simon.  No one can give these words the power that Simon can give them.  No one should try to.  Not even me.

That is what this entry is about.  I have previously written about song writers being the philosophers of today.  I think that is slowly slipping away as these great writer/philosophers begin to age and leave us behind with a finite catalog of their work.  Some of the songs that these writers write should be handled very carefully and respectfully.  These words represent a person's life, their emotions and their pain as well as happiness.  Other artists can and will record covers of these songs and many will try to reconstruct the feelings that the writers poured into them, but they won't be able to match them.

There are so many songs and so many writers who fit into the class of these few examples that I gave here.  Jim Croce wrote about "Like the pine trees lining the lonesome road ... I got a name..."  Hank Williams wrote of being so lonesome he could cry.  John Lennon wrote of "I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round..."   John Fogerty wrote of his early years and "If I only had a dollar, for every song I've sung. And every time I've had to play while people sat there drunk. You know, I'd catch the next train back to where I live..."  The list truly does go on forever.  There are some songs that should be left as they are, remembered as they were meant to be remembered as.

Some songs should be left undisturbed so future generations can hear and feel the emotion that was coming out of these artists mouths as they told their story.

I AM A ROCK
Paul Simon

A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

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