The Snows of New York

I wanted to hear a concert last night, and a shelf of DVDs were handy.  I reached for one I knew well: Chris de Burgh’s Road to Freedom.  Before her death in 2014, my dear wife Jody and I had watched it several times.

I remember our wine-coloured leather couch and our positions on it.  I’d be sitting at one end and Jody would be lying down, her feet in my lap.  We both loved the rubbing.  As familiar songs danced across the screen yesterday, I remembered our love.

Chris de Burgh evokes love … with his ballads and high ringing tenor voice.  So pure.  He stood alone on stage, accompanied only by his guitar and piano.  There were tears among the audience members.  Lighters and tiny glow sticks were waving in the dark, before our world of cell phones.

At one point, Chris launched into a medley of his songs.  Wearing a headset, he and his guitar came down from the stage and walked amid the multiple beloveds.  He got down on one knee to sing to an older woman.  He put his hand on the shoulder of a physically disabled young man.  And he smiled at everyone who was close to his path.

I knew what his final song would be: a soaring anthem called The Snows of New York.  The audience knew it as well.  Many of them sang.

You have always been such a good friend to me
Through the thunder and the rain
And when you’re feeling lost in the snows of New York
Lift your heart and think of me

I think of you, Jodiette … every day

Day Forty-One: JT

“Bruce, you’ve been on the go for weeks. Now that you’re in Toronto for a couple of days, wouldn’t it be wise to hunker down on Saturday night, watch a bit of TV … chill?”

So said voice number one. Voice number two had another opinion, however:

“Nah. Get your butt to Hugh’s Room tonight and hum along to classic James Taylor songs at the tribute concert.”

So I did.

I know Kinga at the reception desk at Hugh’s. She took one look at me and searched the list for my name.

“I’m Thomas Cruise.”

“Well, sir, we don’t seem to have a reservation under that name. You’ll have to leave.”

Alrighty then. I whirled around and walked out the door. Utterly pleased with myself, I waited on the sidewalk for two minutes and then reclimbed the entrance steps. Hand on door handle … pull … nothing! Through the glass, I saw Kinga busting a gut. After a pause to let me stew in my juices, she opened the door. Ahh … to be known and appreciated.

James wrote some stunning songs, well worth memorizing. What I didn’t know is that he struggled with depression and heroin addiction. How was he able to create such beauty amid such pain? The human spirit was alive and well in the words uttering forth from the performers. All ten of them loved JT and his music.

Here are some thoughts to live by, to be happy with, to be sad with, to be happy with again:

Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way you feel
Things are going to be much betterIf you only will

***

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

***

Well the sun is surely sinking down
But the moon is slowly rising
And this old world must still be spinning ’round
And I still love you

So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it’s all right
I don’t know no love songs
And I can’t sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I’m gone

***

Thank you, James
You sing for us all
And we sing back to you

Finding Home

Most Wednesday evenings, I go to a house concert, generously hosted by Christine and John. Jake does a first set on the piano, followed by the feature performer of the evening.

Not only does Jake entertain us, he teaches. Last night, he talked about “home”, the resolution of notes that sooner or later leads to a feeling of completion. Take John Lennon’s Imagine, for instance. Early in the song, we’re flowing upwards:

Imagine all the people, living for today

But at the end, John brings us down again with a sweet message, and we know we’re “there” … we’re comfy … we’re home:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Jake played the tune Misty for us, written by Erroll Garner. It’s a haunting melody and, at the same time, it wanders around, away from home, toying with us. For it seems that our dear human ears (and souls) want to go home. As Jake’s fingers caress the keys, it feels like I’m being seduced, drawn in and let go, again and again. Only at the last note do I breathe the sigh of “yes”.

Some songs are long ballads, where home shows up at the end of every four-line stanza. Take Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair:

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one that lives there
For once she was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any seam or fine needlework
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Where water ne’er sprung nor drop of rain fell
For once she was a true love of mine

The rhythm is hypnotic but there’s a sameness there that I yearn to break out of.

***

I guess it’s all in the ear of the beholder
Are we nomads?
Are we homebodies?
Or do we dance between the two?

Empathy

I listened to Stan Rogers last night.  His spirit and songs poured from the mouths of his loved ones.

Stan was a Canadian singer-songwriter who died on the tarmac of the Cincinnati Airport in 1983, of smoke inhalation.  He lives on.

Stan’s daughter Beth sang 45 Years to us.  It was a love song to his wife Ariel.  As Beth’s voice soared, I cast a few glances to Ariel, who seemed lost in love.  At the end, she told us that their 45th anniversary was a month or two ago.  Oh my.

Where the earth shows its bones of wind-broken stone
And the sea and the sky are one
I’m caught out of time, my blood sings with wine
And I’m running naked in the sun
There’s God in the trees, I’m weak in the knees
And the sky is a painful blue
I’d like to look around, but honey, all I see is you

The summer city lights will soften the night
Till you’d think that the air is clear
And I’m sitting with friends, where forty-five cents
Will buy another glass of beer
He’s got something to say, but I’m so far away
That I don’t know who I’m talking to
‘Cause you just walked in the door, and honey, all I see is you

Stan walked into the shoes of ordinary Canadians, feeling their pains and joys.  The poet helped all of us know …

1.  The Alberta Ranch Wife  (Lies)

Then she shakes off the bitter web she wove
And turns to set the mirror, gently face down by the stove
She gathers up her apron in her hand
Pours a cup of coffee, drips Carnation from the can
And thinks ahead to Friday, cause Friday will be fine
She’ll look up in that weathered face that loves hers line for line
To see that maiden shining in his eyes
And laugh at how her mirror tells her lies

2.  The Prairie Wheat Farmer  (The Field Behind the Plow)

Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight, dark rows
Feel the trickle in your clothes, blow the dust cake from your nose
Hear the tractor’s steady roar.  Oh you can’t stop now
There’s a quarter section more or less to go

And it figures that the rain keeps its own sweet time
You can watch it come for miles, but you guess you’ve got awhile
So ease the throttle out of air, every rod’s a gain
And there’s victory in every quarter mile

Poor old Kuzyk down the road
The heartache, hail and hoppers brought him down
He gave it up and went to town

And Emmett Pierce the other day
Took a heart attack and died at forty-two
You could see it coming on ’cause he worked as hard as you

3.  The Great Lakes Seaman and His Girlfriend  (White Squall) 

The kid was so damned eager.  It was all so big and new
You never had to tell him twice, or find him work to do
And evenings on the mess deck he was always first to sing
And show us pictures of the girl he’d wed in spring

But I told that kid a hundred times “Don’t take the lakes for granted
They go from calm to a hundred knots so fast they seem enchanted”
But tonight some red-eyed Wiarton girl lies staring at the wall
And her lover’s gone into a white squall

4.  The Nova Scotia Fisherman  (Make and Break Harbour)

Now it’s so hard to not think of before the big war
When the cod went so cheap, but so plenty
Foreign trawlers go by now with long seeking eyes
Taking all where we seldom take any
And the young folk don’t stay with the fishermen’s ways
Long ago they all moved to the cities
And the ones left behind, old and tired and blind
Won’t work for a pound, for a penny

In Make And Break Harbour the boats are so few
Too many are pulled up and rotten
Most houses stand empty, old nets hung to dry
Are blown away, lost and forgotten

***

Thank you, Stan
We hardly knew you
And now we know you