#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? 🙂

 

Solidarité

Like most of us, I imagine, thoughts prompted by the terrible events of Friday evening are never far from the surface for me. Everywhere you look, you see the single word ‘Solidarité’ to express our support for the people of Paris and especially those most directly affected by the atrocity. I even saw it as the header on Amazon just now. But I am just one insignificant person in the great scheme of things, and although my solidarity with everyone is genuine and heartfelt I am not sure how much it can possibly mean to them at a time like this. So I thought I’d share a very personal thought with you, to try to give that some meaning.

K&D_WEDDING_0767These are my daughters, the two most important people in my life. This photo was, fairly obviously, taken at the wedding of my older daughter, Katy, for whom Ruth was Chief Bridesmaid. This was just over three years ago and was one of the best days of my life, alongside the two days when they came into the world. I think about them both every day, and I have thought especially about them since Friday. What happened in Paris can and, sadly, is likely to happen in other countries. Any country which supports the fight against ISIS makes itself and its citizens a potential target. For maximum effect terrorists strike in heavily populated areas and, as my two girls both live in London, I fear an attack on our capital city even more than I might otherwise have done.

What if that had happened here and my daughters were caught up in it? It’s a terrible thought, but one which any parent will have. I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to them, to tell them one last time how proud I am of them and how much I love them. They both came round to see me the previous weekend, with Katy’s husband, Dave. We spent a couple of hours together, which were filled with fun and laughter, with the sheer joy of catching up on the progress in their lives and the vivacity that they bring to anywhere they are. If this had been them, none of us would have known what was about to happen but at least we would have had that one last time together for the memory. That is why I feel so much for the families, friends and loved ones of the 129 who lost their lives in Paris. I just hope that they all have some special memories to sustain them through this terrible time.

Solidarité

 

Dreams

I was listening to music over the weekend and was struck by the differences in the way the word ‘dream’ was used. I don’t mean the weird things that go through our heads when we’re asleep, but rather the way people use the word to reflect hopes and wishes. A lot of the songs with ‘dream’ in their title seem to me to be about love, and the dreams that people have about the future: how it may be with someone special. And often the songs seem to be about the breakdown of a relationship, or the difficulty of maintaining one and the hopes we have for it. One of the simplest and most beautiful that I know is this from Tim Hardin:

 

Simple it may be, but the question posed is very deep. I was in my early teens when that song was released, and at that impressionable time of my life I had all the hopes and dreams that we all have. Now, nearly 50 years of alleged wisdom later, I’m not sure that I could answer Hardin’s question any better than I could back then! A variation on this theme can be found in this song by the Cranberries:

I love the ethereal feel to the video, which I think is a perfect match for the lyrics. The merging of ‘my hopes and dreams depend on you’ with ‘you’re a dream to me,’ to the point where the dividing line is indistinguishable, really makes me think about the meaning of life and love. But don’t expect any answers, please (anyway, as all Hitchhiker’s Guide fans will know, the answer is 42!).

Moving into the realm of hopes and dreams, another of my favourites is this Green Day song:

There’s a post-apocalyptic feel to the video which really drives home the message that broken dreams can leave you bereft of hope. Negative? Perhaps, but isn’t that a feeling that we’ve all experienced at some point? I’m not suggesting that Billie Joe Armstrong is an eminent philosopher, but I do think he portrays well the importance of hopes, dreams, ambitions etc for us and the void that remains when they have left us.

Expanding on this theme into a wider context, my final illustration is this one, from Talking Heads (the blank screen periods are deliberate, by the way):

You may know that Talking Heads are from New York, and that City of Dreams is one of the other nicknames for the Big Apple. By taking us on a journey from the past until now, the lyrics encapsulate the timelessness and continuity of dreams, in the sense of a vision for life now and in the future. They have always been there and always will be. The version I’ve shared with you is compiled by Idle No More, a protest movement started by native Canadians in December 2012 against indiscriminate and destructive legislation, which would otherwise destroy heritage and environment in the name of progress. I think the song fits this perfectly, and if you want to know more about the movement, their website is here. Take a look at some of their videos: their flashmobs are good!

In a short time I appear to have moved some way from my starting point. Or have I? Maybe not, as Tim Hardin’s question is universal: in whatever context, how exactly do we hang onto our dreams?