Thursday, June 16, 2011

Where I Go / maggie and milly and molly and may

Where I Go (from the album Tigerlily)

Climbing under
a barbed wire fence
by the railroad ties

Climbing over
the old stone wall
I'm bound for the riverside

Well, I go over to the river
to soothe my mind
to ponder over
the crazy days of my life
just sit and watch the river flow

Find a place
on the riverbank
where the green rushes grow
see the wind
in the willow tree
in the branches hanging low

Well, I go to the river
to soothe my mind
to ponder over
the crazy days of my life
watch the river flow
ease my mind and soul
where I go

Well I will go to the river
from time to time
wander over
these crazy days in my mind
watch the river flow
where the willow branches grow
by the cool rolling waters
moving gracefully and slow

O, child it's lovely
let the river take it all away
the mad pace and the hurry
the troubles and the worries
just let the river take them all away
flow away


maggie and milly and molly and may (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by E.E. Cummings)

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

I think it's possible that the human desire to hide is inborn. After all, we start our life in incredibly cramped quarters. It's dark, quiet and, apparently, pretty comfortable. While we may have no conscious memory of being in the womb, it seems that there is some part of us that continues to seek out that comfort, in one way or another.

Think about Hide-and-Go-Seek for a moment. Do you remember someone teaching you how to play Hide-and-Go-Seek? I've been asking my friends this question and the answer is pretty unanimous. You don't have to be taught a game like that and I would argue that the reason for that is not just that the game is simple but that it comes so naturally to us. While there was a certain thrill in being the chosen Seeker, everyone knows hiding was where the real fun was.

As we grow up, we continue to seek hiding places (pun!), but they take on many different forms. Some of us simply hide inside ourselves, needing no outside influences at all to aid us. But most of us will also, at some point or another, search out a physical location that allows us to hide, sometimes in plain sight.

When I was around 10 years old, I briefly moved away from the city and into the country. Just beyond my backyard was miles and miles of...nothing. Just tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes and dirt. I had mixed feelings about this wilderness. I had been accustomed to pavement and buildings and noise (and, you know, the occasional prostitute and drug dealer) in the neighborhoods I'd lived in during my first decade of life. Being confronted with so much empty space made me feel both excited and terrified.

For awhile, I was friends with the boy next door and he often led me into these hinterlands armed with nothing but his overalls and a BB gun. We climbed trees, shot at random targets and engaged in battles with imaginary enemies. But for the most part, my adventures were solo. Because of some drastic changes in my family life, I was spending a lot of time by myself for the first time in my life. In my first few weeks in this new place, I taught myself to ride a bike and soon I was exploring my new surroundings every day. (Yes, I know it's sad that I didn't know how to ride a bike until I was 10 years old and that I had to teach myself. What can I say? It was a sad time.) When I left the countryside for good, I did so with little sorrow. I'm just not a country girl at heart. But I look back on those days of unaccompanied exploration with fondness because it was during that time that I began the difficult but necessary process of figuring life, and myself, out.

The thread that this week's songs seem to have in common is the idea that losing ourselves in the natural world, even temporarily, can help us find ourselves again. I generally avoid using what I perceive to be overly new age-y expressions in my speech and the phrase "finding yourself" comes pretty darn close to initiating my gag reflex, but I have to admit it fits here. Our lives tend to fluctuate between extreme stress and necessary but sometimes painful mundanity. Escape may only be available at brief intervals, but those intervals can save our sanity.

When I recently listened to Where I Go, I was struck by how young Natalie sounded to me. I've been listening to her newer material more lately and for some reason when I listened to this song the contrast really stood out. Do you realize that this month will mark 16 years since Tigerlily came out? Tigerlily is officially old enough to drive! How did that happen so fast? Anyways, while I am of the opinion that Natalie's voice has become more beautiful with time, I feel like the youthful sweetness in the way she sings Where I Go lends itself to the innocence of the song. Natalie sums up the inspiration for this song very simply:

“I live on the Hudson River and I go down to the banks often. That's my river.”*

I love the musical simplicity of Where I Go. It brings out some of the subtleties of Natalie's voice that might at times be lost with a bigger, more amplified band. I would love to have a whole album that featured just Natalie and a couple of acoustic guitars.

When I saw Natalie in concert last year, she preceded performing maggie and milly and molly and may by saying simply that it was a poem about four little girls who go to the beach and what they find there. What they find are simple objects that one would expect to find at a beach - seashells, stones, starfish. Their childish imaginations make these physical objects into items far more interesting, and meaningful, than the sum of their parts. I love this poem (by E.E. Cummings) and I love Natalie's musical interpretation of it. Those little girls, unshackled by the burdens peculiar to adulthood, playing with each other and inside their own imaginations, figuring themselves out - these ideas create such a vivid and beautiful picture.

There is a wonderful quote I read from Natalie, not about this song specifically, but about Leave Your Sleep as a whole, that I thought really lends itself to this week's post. When asked what she wanted her listeners to get out of listening to the album, she said this:

"To feel things and feel more human. That's what poetry and music both do for me. They make me feel connected to other people; they make me feel more in tune with what I'm feeling. Because sometimes there's so much noise around, and chaos; but I feel like I focus when I listen to music. It gives me a space to slow down and reflect. And I feel like this record has a lot of slow, reflective moments and it has a lot of moments for celebration."**

Indeed. While it's true that we often find a refuge in nature, I have a feeling that if you are reading this blog right now, you are a person who finds sanctuary in music too. Music helps us cope, helps us rejoice, and provides us a little shelter to hide ourselves away in at those times we need to learn something new, or remember something we may have forgotten.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea.

Or in the song.

Thanks for reading. A special thanks to those of you who have written me very thoughtful messages via e-mail recently. Your kindness always touches my heart. See you next week!

Click here to see a live performance of maggie and milly and molly and may

Download Where I Go at Itunes - Where I Go - Tigerlily

Download maggie and milly and molly and may at Itunes - Maggie and Milly and Molly and May - Leave Your Sleep

*KAXE Radio, July 2005
**Music OMH, April 2010

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