Archive for Music

Girl from the North Country

 

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I want to tell you a little bit about Annika, the pink-laced lass pictured above, whom I met on a recent visit to northern New York, or where locals refer to as “the North Country.”

During a period of downtime in the school library, Annika came to have her book signed. I had remembered her face from an earlier presentation. She had that kind of presence, the way she leaned in and listened. When I talk to a group, it’s natural to scan the gathered faces. The bored ones, the curious ones. I’m grateful when I find a student who is fully there, like a friend, smiling, enjoying it.

So now here she stood, still smiling, asking for me to sign her book. Of course, I was honored to do so. We got to talking. About movies and books and stuff. Neither of us in a particular hurry.

I later learned that Annika happened to be the daughter of the school librarian. “Ah,” I said, the pieces falling together. I was also informed that Annika was not merely an avid reader. She was a trapper, too. Like her daddy. “She earned $500 last winter,” her mother told me. “Skins ’em herself, too.”

Really?

Oh, yes, really.

“She’s a real North Country girl,” her mother said. “Here, let me show you a photo . . .”

And so she did.

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That’s one of the reasons why I love to do school visits. They get me out of the house, out of my small world. I see new places, try to look around if I have some time, open my eyes a bit wider. Some days I get to meet seven-grade wonders like Annika, and I am always glad for it.

Meeting Annika reminded me of a favorite song by Bob Dylan, “Girl from the North County,” off the Freewheelin‘ LP.

The lyrics:

If you’re traveling the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she has a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me if her hair’s hanging long
For that’s the way I remember her best.

I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night
In the brightness of my day.

So if you’re travelin’ the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was the true love of mine.

Dylan wrote this song in 1962, soon after spending time with folksinger Martin Carthy, who introduced Dylan to a great many traditional English ballads. You can hear in the syntax of the lyrics, the entire setup of the song (the instructions to the listener, “If you’re traveling,”), and even in the song’s closing lines, borrowed verbatim from an old ballad, “Scarborough Fair,” later popularized by Simon & Garfunkel. Importantly, while the traditional lyrics of “Scarborough” call on the lost love to perform a series of impossible tasks, in Dylan’s tune he wishes only for her warmth and remembrance.

I love the understatement of this lyric, the quiet poetry, the things not said. Remember me to one who lives there. He wants to know, simply, that she has a coat to keep warm from the snow and howlin’ winds. He wants, only, for her to remember him, as he remembers her after all these years. Through time and absence and cold winds. Just beautiful.

 

RE-POST: Pretty Lights on the Tree, I’m Watching Them Shine

Sometimes you can hear a song a hundred times and on a random afternoon it will hit you in a new way. Whap, right upside the head. As a huge Bob Dylan fan, that happens to me frequently, where I’ll suddenly appreciate, say, Dylan’s piano technique on “Blind Willie McTell” — and need to hear that song every day for weeks.

That happened to me recently with “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” written by Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, and Phil Spector.

Specifically, these simple lines:

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching them shine
You should be here with me

Those lines have all the qualities of a successful haiku except for the syllable count — that attention to concrete detail, the lean clear prose (no purple or wasted words), and a darting movement from exterior, objective reality to an interior emotional state, where “outside” and “inside” become linked through juxtaposition.

I admire lines that can be as unadorned as, “Pretty lights on the tree/I’m watching them shine.” I love how that straight description conveys an inner depth (I’ve talked about that quality before, most recently here). I think it’s difficult to pull off, using simple words, yet evoking a depth of feeling that lies somewhere below language.

“You should be here with me.”

And, absolutely, it’s Darlene Love’s vocal performance that puts it over the top.

A lot of people have done this song, with mixed results: U2, Death Cab for Cutie, Mariah Carey, John Martyn, Hanson, Bruce Springsteen, etc. But nobody, but nobody, touches Darlene Love’s version, produced by Phil Spector on this 1963 LP: “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.”

On this essential disk, Spector lends his signature “Wall of Sound” treatment to a number of secular holiday tunes, enlisting the vocal talents of the Ronettes, the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, and Darlene Love. A few years back, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #142 on its list of 500 greatest albums of all time — not bad for a holiday album.

Here’s Darlene Love on a 2012 visit to “Letterman” — just a stunning version, given the full arrangement it so richly deserves. Violins and cellos, nine backup singers, a horn section, random percussionists pounding on the kitchen sink, and . . . snow!

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The snow’s coming down
I’m watching it fall
Lots of people around
Baby please come home

The church bells in town
All singing in song
Full of happy sounds
Baby please come home

They’re singing “Deck The Halls”
But it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

Pretty lights on the tree
I’m watching them shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

They’re singing “Deck The Halls”
But it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

If there was a way
I’d hold back this tear
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home

Here’s Bono and the gang giving it a go:

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In this recent cover by Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard eliminates the celebratory element that has crept into recent versions, to capture the sadness and longing that is at the song’s (true, I think) core.

If there was a way
I’d hold back this tear
But it’s Christmas day
Baby please come home.

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Some Photos from Our Vacation in Ireland

We just enjoyed a dream vacation in Ireland and now, Dear Faithful Reader, sit back while I show you more than 700 photographs . . .

Wait, no. Just kidding!

It really was a special trip — a place I love in a very deep way, the literature, the music, the lanscape, the people, the beer — and I was so glad for my wife, Lisa, and our children to experience it.

A few shots:

My reading is usually thematic — I go on little jags, basically — and it’s been Ire-centric of late. Some highlights . . .

As for other matters, we are still conducting further research . . .

Here Comes the Sun: Flashmob in Madrid Unemployment Office

Know this: Unemployment in Spain is at 26 percent. The country, and its people, are going through a very tough time. High taxes, plunging salaries, confusion, bitterness, anger, fear, desperation — with record numbers applying for jobless benefits.

So one recent day at the unemployment office in Madrid, a flash mob of musicians came along to brighten the day, at least for a few minutes. Watch, please.

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My thanks to Lauren Frayer, at NPR, for first bringing the video to light.

Music Video Friday: Teenage Fanclub

I don’t know how I landed on this song, except that it always makes me happy — and Teenage Fanclub from Scotland is one of my all-time favorites. Here they are doing their Byrds-influenced, harmony-dripped jangle. Have a great weekend.

“I Don’t Want Control of You,” Teenage Fanclub, from their great CD, “Songs from Northern Britain.

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