Saturday, November 22, 2008

Midnight Radio (Stephen Trask)

From today's Writer's Almanac:

It's the feast day of Saint Cecilia, who was the patron saint of musicians because she sang to God as she died a martyr's death. She was born to a noble family in Rome near the end of the second century A.D.

She remained a virgin her whole life. When she got married, she told her new husband, Valerian, that she had a guardian angel who told her to remain a virgin. She sent her husband out to the countryside to be baptized, and when he came back, he found her in her chamber with the angel.

Both Cecilia and Valerian were martyred for their faith. First Valerian was killed, and then they tried to kill Cecilia in an overheated bathhouse, but she found the temperature pleasant. They then tried to behead her, but it didn't kill her. So they left her, and she lay there, bleeding and singing, before she finally died three days later.

Henry Purcell composed music in her honor. Raphael created a piece called "The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia." Chaucer wrote about her in the Second Nonnes Tale, part of his Canterbury Tales.

Ah, music - where/who would I be without it? I recently wrote the following in our folk club newsletter, as I attempted to pass the baton of editor (which never did happen, but that's a whole other story):

"Regardless of any official roles, I will always love the music and I spend a good bit of my day listening to and reading/writing about it - music is in my blood, my breath, my DNA. When I joined the BFC over 10 years ago, it was as an active, albeit alone, listener - my horizons have broadened beyond description and I'd like to think I'm paying it forward every time I post to the sf_folk list, attend a concert or recommend an artist...

Music is palpable and visceral and life-changing (oh my!) and it's heartening to find others who feel the way we do... w
hich brings us full circle to the life-long conundrum, attributed to many: "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." - ultimately, just find a way to allow the notes to course through your veins on a daily basis. Sing, pick, hum, strum, twirl, bop, snap, stomp - whatever it takes to inhale, release and spread the joy... Just Do It! "

Today's song came into my life via Dar Williams' new CD, Promised Land - I recall seeing Hedwig and the Angry Inch years ago, but don't remember much. When I listened to Dar's cover of Stephen Trask's song from the soundtrack, it finally resonated - as I had the opportunity to tell Dar in Atlanta recently, I find it to be the companion piece of her Are You Out There... to which she replied: "Me too!".

When I think of my most vivid music discoveries/immersions, I recall them taking place afterhours... in the dark... in the dead of night - as Dar writes in her song-by-song interpretation of End of the Summer: "This is my ode to all the small radio stations and late night radio heroes who changed the lives of millions of kids out in the suburbs. I never knew about Vin Scelsa's show growing up, but I did discover New York's Pacifica station, WBAI, and from them I learned the "politics of love and music" and felt like a secret radical."

In her intro to the song, Dar speaks of the crackly radio waves insinuating their way through the suburban hedges into the rooms of impressionable kids - I was one of those teens affected, who felt the radio was speaking directly to me. I recall discovering WREK and WRAS, the radio stations of Georgia Tech and Georgia State (respectively), and hearing songs that moved me waaaaay out of my comfort zone (which was already pretty expansive, I believe): Jukies Ball by Dan Hicks, You've Got to Suffer if You Wanna Sing the Blues by David Bromberg, Things I Think I Think I'll Find by Eric Quincy Tate, etc. - I perked up when I heard a tune that I just *knew* had to be Joni Mitchell on harmony vocals, but I had no clue who the lead singer was (until it was announced post-set)... and I went all over town the following day, finally tracking down Blue River by Eric Andersen (still a favorite).

I remember my senior year of high school, when it seemed all we did was drive around in... ahem... "an altered state of consciousness" (and I still graduated with top honors - whew!), singing at the top of our lungs: Traffic's Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, Elton John's Your Song, Neil Young's Heart of Gold - one night we were way out in the woods (think Blair Witch Project), passing the liquid-or-lit illegal-substance-du-jour (noir?) around... and someone had the wonderful idea of singing James Taylor's Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon in its entirety... which we did... :-)

I think of the hours in my college dorm room, having a Joni marathon, all her albums stacked and dropping one-by-one on the turntable spindle - I rewind to another in-the-woods experience with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, on the way to a Cat Stevens concert, unable to keep our hands off each other...

I flashback to Christmases past, decorating the tree with my children, ever-present candles and cocoa and The Roches' We Three Kings - I am reminded of many a road trip in which I am the only one awake, driving and singing to one of my latest mixes... or a Top Ten know-all-the-words-to-every-tune CD... or my iPod on shuffle.

Even today... I cry over songs in our UU hymnbook... I sigh when I listen to a favorite recording that goes straight to my heart... I grin when I hear a tune that I know will be on repeat play in my car (or kitchen boombox) until I've processed the words and melody - goddess help me, I hope I always will...

P.S. Another SMM...

[ Added 11/23/08: I found the following posted to one of my music discussion lists this morning - "Bill Moyers talks with Mark Johnson, the producer of Playing for Change, a remarkable documentary about the simple but transformative power of music." ]

Are You Out There by Dar Williams

BOOK: All Shook Up: Music, Passion, and Politics by Carson Holloway

POEM: I love the dark hours by Rainer Maria Rilke

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots

a dream once lost among sorrows and songs.

QUOTE: "Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life." ~ Jean Paul Richter


  1. Ah, Susan, even if I had read this post elsewhere, even if the author was anonymous, I would have known it was you. Beautiful, honest, thoughtful post, my friend.

  2. Hey, M ~

    Awww, thanks, my dear - it's easy to write about something one loves... especially when it's the connection to so many other things in life (or... maybe it *is* my life, and everything else is a consequence of the connection?)...