[identity profile] cabaretlights.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] 5pm_weds

Fire and Rain
James Taylor
Greatest Hits

: I wasn't sure exactly what I was going for when I chose this theme. Back to basics? What basics? What does that even mean, musically speaking? Someone pounding stones together and throatily chanting? The first song I'd ever heard? Minimalism?

Well, after a lot of thought: I think a song exemplifying "back to basics" has to be something simple, musically speaking. Not many instruments -- maybe a guitar, piano, drum. Something sort of soft, gentle, though still profound. Something that takes the best things music can do, and doesn't overdo them -- just does them, well. Because most importantly, it has to be a song that swells with emotion, because that is the basic purpose of music: something that you can't help but feel, something that connects across generations and circumstances.

"Fire and Rain" is all of those things, and I'm surprised I didn't think of it sooner. But (this post is late), last night after a day spent laughing & drinking with Linds, we settled in at her kitchen table with stolen champagne and her laptop, and somehow ended up on YouTube searching out singer-songwriters (I think it started with Rufus Wainwright -- either way, there was definitely a belting, arms-outstretched singalong to "Tower of Learning"at some point in the night), exclaiming over the power of something simple, of brilliant lyrics and quality melodies, of a voice carrying its own weight without heavy production tossing it aside, of talent. And when we played "Fire and Rain," there were tears in both of our eyes and huge grins on both faces -- because, despite different lives and musical taste, we both understand what it is to go back to basics: to that simple, quiet, heart-wrenching joy of hearing something beautiful, feeling it deeply, and being able to look across the table and know someone else feels it, too: that we are both feeling something profoundly communal, profoundly human.

As always, though, there is more to the story. And I can't mention "Fire and Rain" without talking about my father, because -- of course -- James Taylor was of his generation, in his eardrums, and one of the earliest songs I remember hearing (and one of the tracks on the funeral mix I made for him). Tears in my eyes because of a beautiful song heard with a beautiful soulmate-friend, yes -- but also because of so many beautiful memories. Heartbreaking memories. That devastating feeling of those all-too-appropriate lyrics:
"I've seen fire and I've seen rain / seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again."

The summer after my father died, I was working as a hostess/busgirl at a restaurant near my house. I had to work the evening shift on Father's Day, and we were understaffed and overbooked. I bolted around, the only busgirl on both sides of the restaurant, not able to stop to think or feel. It was a rough shift, but when the tables were empty and I started cleaning them, "Fire and Rain" came on the radio. I remember my breath catching, the floor falling out from under me, and having to press my palms to a white tablecloth to steady myself. I was alone in the dining room, and I stood there, raw.

When I hear songs that were my dad's, nowadays, I often wonder at their timing. Wonder, only half-seriously, if he is somehow there -- present in the airwaves...though I guess it doesn't matter, because he is absolutely present in the music. And nights like those, when it hurts, there is something beautiful about going back to that sense of connection we all have, through music -- that basic sense of sharing something we love, and passing it on -- to our friends, or to the next generation. Reduced to raw feeling, back to basics: "you've just got to see me through another day."
More than anything, music -- and all the people with whom I've connected over it, because of it -- always does.
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