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Something Like Breathing

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I like writing about songs, and singing, and the music that accompanies it. The political stuff is on hold. 

Ah well. That might be the end of it. Just lately, with personal stuff to think about, I’ve found myself uninterested in the cut and thrust of Social Media. Twitter’s a nest of transmit only vipers, and appallingly designed; Facebook’s overloaded with advertising nobody needs; Instagram used to be refreshingly just about pictures, now it’s a mess; I have no idea what Tiktok is for; and nobody much has time for blogposts any more.

Cancel out and pass on. Like literally everybody I know, I’m horrified by the behaviour of our current government, and impotent in the face of their egomania. They think they’re Masters of the Universe, and all we can do is wait for them to discover what happens to anyone who believes that. All we have left is the vote, and by God we need to use it.

Meanwhile: Twitter account deactivated, Facebook reserved for gig news and dialogue with friends, and my blog page cleaned up. Political comment deleted. I might kick off in Facebook from time to time, but I’m sick of the shouting, and online publication always leaves me feeling... unclean, somehow.

The only stuff to write about that makes sense is the music, and the songs. Those are non-negotiable. Sacred, even. I’ll continue to write those posts, because life is for learning and that’s what interests me, and if non-one chooses to read... well, I understand. We’re all distracted, aren’t we?

It was because of those distractions that I haven’t listened to much new music recently. I’ve been playing and recording, in my fumbling way, but somehow I forgot to crank up the CD player as often as I should.

That’s how I missed Look Long. I bought it, because it was the Indigo Girls and they’d been quiet for a while, but somehow it got put on the shelf unheard, and I only just tripped over it a couple of weeks ago.


Look Long is everything I’ve loved about these two since I first heard Closer To Fine and Kid Fears, way back in the 1980s. I love their harmonies, and the instinctive interplay of their voices, and their intelligence, and the way they write songs about something rather than just replaying the last love affair.

And their band. I like surprises. Psychedelic guitars. Soft country harmonies. Arpeggiating pianos. Funk. Layers of string. Unexpected hooks that keep you from sleeping at night. In a good way. Distant echoes of The Beatles, even.

Wikipedia describes Indigo Girls as ‘folk rock’. I dunno where they get these categories from but I’m here to tell you there’s more to Look Long than that. I’ve yet to find a track I want to skip.

#lovelykeys @carolisaacs

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It’s early morning. A man is stealing out of the house, leaving a woman sleeping.

He’s dressed in railroad boots and a leather jacket. That’s all he needs.

Feeling his way in the dark, he passes some broken wind chimes.

Outside, he takes a scarf off the clothes line.

He curses the rain. The goddamn rain.

That’s it. That’s Ruby’s Arms.

Half a dozen details that break your heart. The woman’s heart is already broken.

It’s Tom Waits’ song, but it’s sung here by Patti Griffin. Beautifully. I know: this is always subjective, but it’s my favourite version. Not least because Patti utterly swerves the convention that a story told from a male point of view should be sung by a man.

It doesn’t matter a good goddamn. I dunno why. I’m not even going to offer a theory. I don’t want to break the spell. If anyone in the hive mind can explain, please leave a comment.

I do think I know where and how and why this song breaks hearts. Put it down to the details, but there's also that vocal leap again, cursing the goddamn rain.

That’s the whole story. Right there.

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Updated: Jan 16

Strange synchronicity. I came home last night to the news that Jeff Beck had died. Shockingly sudden. The news was accompanied by a short clip, without a lot of biography, of the great man playing Over the Rainbow.

An obvious choice, given the primetime news audience. They could have run Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers; or Behind the Veil; or Beck’s Bolero; or even Guitar Shop (Well, maybe not that one, though it would have been fun).

It’s tragic that we lost him, but this isn’t really about Beck. That very evening, you see, my band had been running through Over the Rainbow, so it was fixed in my head when it popped up on the news.

Not only had we attempted it, but we’d had the conversation we always have, about how to start the song. And while I don’t want to disparage Eva Cassidy’s memory - because her acoustic version is beautiful and delightful and different - I stick to my guns every time and demand that it starts with that joyous vocal leap. Some and Where, a whole octave apart.

Which of course is how Judy Garland sang it, her whole life long.

So what, you may say, and you’d be right. It’s one of the great songs, and that’s probably why it’s open to so much successful variation. The Eva Cassidy version. The Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version. The Eric Clapton version. The endless American Idol versions. The Ariana Grande version. And the Jeff Beck version, which starts with the leap, natch.

Take your pick. They’re all lovely, because the song is lovely. But just this once I’m going to be uncharacteristically fixed, and stick to the way Judy sang it.

Because, IMHO, that first octave takes you right over the rainbow, above the chimney tops, with the clouds far behind. And we all need a bit of that, right?

RIP Jeff Beck.

(Please treat this as a beta blog post. I’m experimenting, to see if this is a good thing to do. Should I carry on? Your comments will be welcome, either on the blog or in the Facebook hive mind. I’ll worry about Twitter another day.)

PS: I've just noticed. If you stick with the Judy Garland clip to the end, you may notice that there ain't no octave leap at the start of the last verse. Which sets her up gloriously for the end of the song. You learn something new every day...

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