#SaturdaySongs No.3 – Halley Came To Jackson

Week 3 of #SaturdaySongs and I’ve managed to keep it going this far! Having gone back to the 1970s and 1960s for my first two choices today’s song is much more modern. Well, the 1990s anyway. It is song with a very special, personal meaning for me, although it had not actually been released at the time it always makes me think of. Does that sound weird? Let me explain.

Today’s song is Halley Came To Jackson, by Mary Chapin Carpenter. This song is featured on MCC’s third album, Shooting Straight In The Dark, which was released in October 1990.  She is one of those artists who, during a career which has been thriving since her first album (Hometown Girl) in 1987, has been a conundrum for those who like to pigeonhole their music. Early associations with Nashville meant that she was seen as a country musician, and her albums have enjoyed much more success in the country charts than the mainstream ones, but if you look at Apple Music they seem to put her in a different category every time she releases a new album! To me, she is the writer of classy, intelligent lyrics, which are woven into beautifully crafted songs, all sung with her lovely warm voice. I had the great pleasure of seeing her play live several years ago, and the whole evening was an absolute delight: not only was the music fantastic, but her words between the songs were charming and witty. I’d have expected nothing less of her, to be honest. This is today’s song:

As you can tell from the lyrics, the song relates to the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1910, and was inspired by the writings of a lady called Eudora Welty, who told a story like this about her own childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. MCC also turned the song into a book for children, and several of the pictures in the video are taken from that. Halley’s Comet is only visible from Earth every 75 or 76 years, so the next appearance was in 1986 – as indeed the song tells us. Realising that I would have to live to 108 to see its next scheduled appearance in 2061, I didn’t want to miss my chance in 1986, even though it was only going to be possible to see it at some unholy hour.

The due date was 9 February 1986, which was five weeks before my first daughter was born. Not wanting to wake my pregnant wife – who needed her sleep! – I stayed downstairs until the time we had been told was most likely for viewing, then crept upstairs into the second bedroom, hoping to see the Comet. This was the bedroom that we had prepared as the nursery, for when our baby came, and was already decorated as such, complete with cot and other baby stuff. Standing in the darkness by the window, I could look round at the room, once my eyes had adjusted, and I felt an enormous sense of excitement and nervous anticipation about the imminent change in our lives, as we brought a new little person into the world.

I stayed there for quite some time, enjoying the tranquillity and silence of the early hours, waiting patiently for the Comet to appear. Several times I saw something vaguely bright in the sky – were these going to be my moment? Sadly, no! These were, apparently, the worst conditions in 2,000 years for viewing Halley from Earth, as they were on opposite sides of the Sun, a mere 39 million miles apart. In those days we lived quite near Stansted Airport, so it was much more likely that what I could see were distant planes. Oh well, it was a nice try, and I did feel a sense of something spiritual taking place, a kind of pre-bonding with my unborn child.

Then, four years later, along came this song. It tells a beautiful little story, and I could relate to the father holding his baby to see the Comet, as that is what I would have been doing if birth date and viewing conditions had allowed. From that moment on, every time I hear this I’m instantly transported back to 9th February 1986 and to what for me was a magical night, even if the two stars (Halley and Katy) hadn’t made an appearance. This is one of my favourite MCC songs, and one of the best narrative songs I know, so I’ve listened to it a great many times. I relive that moment, and feel that special bond again, every time.

That unborn baby of mine is now 30, and had her first book published yesterday. How times change! I hope that by 2061 she will be a mother and there will be a grandchild of mine sharing the next viewing with her. Maybe I’ll be there too, who can tell? 🙂

 

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30 thoughts on “#SaturdaySongs No.3 – Halley Came To Jackson

  1. Your narrative is beautiful in its own right. And this is a lovely song that I had never heard before but you can be sure I will hear many many times in my future – thank you. May I add my congratulations to your Katy on the publication of her book. My own Katy will be 30 in January …. not a writer but with all the flare of a comet’s tail as yours clearly is.

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    • Thank you, really kind of you to say that. I’m glad you like the song, I think it’s a little three minute masterpiece! Thank you for your congratulations and it’s wonderful you have your shooting star of a Katy too 😊

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      • I’m thrilled to have been introduced to the song – it is a 3-minute masterpiece without a doubt. I was equally thrilled to see that you have a Katy. I believe Katy’s name themselves and are particularly bright stars if we nurture them well 🌠

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      • Thank you, but I’d imagine this might not be one for your collection! It’s an academic study, based on her PhD thesis, and is aimed and priced at the university, library market. It’s called Erotic Performance and Spectatorship: New Frontiers in Erotic Dance. Available from Amazon UK for a mere £90. I bet you weren’t expecting an answer like that! If you want to look it up, I suggest you search by author name – Katy Pilcher. I proof read it for her, and it certainly broadened my horizons!

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      • Chapeau to you for proof reading it …. I had the much less glamorous task of proof reading a PhD on the mass evacuation of Alsace-Lorraine at the start of WW2 recently … actually I do have a girl (one of my Katy’s best friends) who would be really interested in the book. She is ‘in the trade’ and also has a business making costumes and exotic lingerie. I will pass the detail to her – she might put it on her Christmas list (she is an Edinburgh English Grad who we all thought would go the literary route 😂)

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      • She knows I’m a good nitpicker, ideal for proofreading! Your Katy’s friend sounds interesting! I hope it is of interest to her, she might get ideas from some of the illustrations 😉

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  2. Happy Saturday, Clive, What a lovely, touching story! I hope you have shared this with your daughter…what a special moment!

    I did not know this song, but my very favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs is from a that era, written by John Lennon in 1980 but not recorded by her until 1995. Doug and I had it sung when we had a renewal of our marriage vows for our 40th anniversary. It is called, “Grow Old Along With Me.” Don’t know if you know it but it also touches me deeply. (it’s on YouTube). Thanks for this beautiful post. Jo

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    • And the same to you, Jo! I told you today’s song was a special one for me! I don’t think I’ve ever told Katy that story, as far as I know she doesn’t read my blog so I’ll show it to her next time I see her. I love MCC’s version of the Lennon song. It suits her voice far better than his. It’s on an album called Party Doll, which was a kind of ‘best of’ with some recordings of her favourite songs. As you may have guessed, I have all of her albums! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Have a lovely weekend – hope all is going well with the move!

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      • You made go back and play a lot of her songs. She had sort of fallen off my radar. I also love “Between Here and Gone” and just now listening think I’ll write something on Shelter of Storms which reminds me of many abused women I worked with. Or maybe more positive on Place in the World. Thanks for the inspirations!

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      • You’re the second person I’ve done that to today! Over 14 albums and a bit she has made so much beautiful music that I find it hard to pick out favourites. I love both of the ones you mentioned, and still have a special liking for Come On, Come On too. So many inspirational songs of hers to choose from! I’m glad you’re revisiting them 😊

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  3. MCC was my first (and only) concert with my dad 🙂 Truly amazing. I remember her leaning into the mic, and saying something like ‘hey about that bass… turn it down.) . It was at the Hollywood bowl, I must have been somewhere between 6th-10th grade, (2000-2003 or 4 ish). Forgive my poor memory. But it was great. A truly memorable experience :that I will cherish forever 🙂

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