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A Quick Note April 15, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
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This is a quick update for my blog followers (or any other interested visitors) who are accustomed to seeing more frequent posts from me. The posts will be a little less frequent for a few months. I am at work on getting The Sultan and the Khan ready for publication. This is the sequel to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith. The Sultan and the Khan will also be published by Strider Nolan Media (the folks who brought you The Swords of Faith). I’m also at work on the third novel of his trilogy, The Ghosts of Baghdad, set around the time of the Fourteenth Century “Black Death.”

I am also recording tracks for my CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook.”

The track list:

1 – Fishbowl 4:28 (original)
2 – Hotel California 6:23 (cover)
3 – Magic 6:20 (cover)
4 – Mystic Tide 4:17 (original)
5 – Up from the Skies 5:03 (cover)
6 – A Hundred Thousand Friends 5:35 (original)
7 – All Blues 9:48 (cover)
8 – Chase this Mood 4:22 (original)
9 – Black Hole Sun 5:47 (cover)
10 – Purple Haze 3:52 (cover)
11 – Shanghai Noodle Factory 6:01 (cover)
12 – Avalon 6:36 (cover)
13 – Live Your Dreams 4:14 (original)

I hope to have this ready for release later this year.

But this blog will not be without posts! Coming up during the first part of May will be my final post on the nature of music, concluding a series of posts that turned out to be a lot longer and more involved than I thought it would be. And, in mid-May, I will post a Books-Into-Movies on “The Great Gatsby”—I’ll compare the book to the new movie release and to the Robert Redford movie of 1974.

Thanks for stopping by. Drop me a line any time at rwfcom@wgn.net.

Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:

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2013 – What I’ll Be Offering This Year at this Blog January 7, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
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2012 was a year of many posts here at CreativeEccentric, living up to the impulsive name I gave to my blog in 2010. My 820th Anniversary “Third Crusade” series, pertaining to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith, came to its conclusion, followed by a bonus Christmas post. (There will be two more intriguing bonus 820th Anniversary posts coming up early in 2013—stay tuned.) My monthly posts on the selections from my “Issa Music” CD also concluded with my recent January 1st post on Track 13, “West Meets East” (the final track on the CD). My series on the nature of music and music’s possible link between to physics and metaphysics is coming to its conclusion—I ended up with a lot more posts on this that I had foreseen. (Here’s a link to the most recent post on this subject, which has links to all the previous posts.) 2013, I suspect, will be a year of fewer posts. But with traffic multiplying as the posts multiply, readers can be assured I will continue posting on popular topics for the foreseeable future:

  1. Books-Into-Movies posts will continue—they are among the most popular pages here. There are two coming up in January—on “Anna Karenina” and on “Lincoln.” I will pick and choose these as they strike me. They may pertain to upcoming movies (and television miniseries), or to past classic movies. They will usually have a historical aspect to them.
  2. I will be posting commentaries about books written by authors I know. This will expose my readers to books they may not have heard of anywhere else, but may very well enjoy.
  3. I will be producing one, maybe two CDs in 2013. This will lead to posts about music (in addition to my concluding posts on the nature of music).

Beyond that, there is always the unexpected. Anyone who has been with me over the last the 2½ years of this blog will attest to that!

I hope everyone has a happy and productive new year and enjoys what I have to offer here, and through other creative outlets.

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Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:

Spock’s Beard – Top Ten List August 16, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Spock's Beard.
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This is the second of what will be a series of posts offering Top-Ten lists of selections from various progressive rock bands, past and present. (When I started this blog, I said it would be mainly for writing, but with some surprises. I have now posted a number of times about music, including a few posts specifically about progressive rock: The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes, The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, Flower Kings – Top Ten list, Music Review/Comentary – MoeTar and Beggar’s Opera – Rock Music Commentary. I released my own mystic jazz CD “Issa Music” late last year.)

A few words about this Top Ten list for Spock’s Beard—this list will pertain to the six studio albums released between 1995 and 2002 that included Neal Morse. For me, “Spock’s Beard” without Neal Morse sounds like a different band. Also, “Snow,” the final release of the six, is a dramatic whole. I have extracted cuts from that whole for this list, and have not treated “Snow” as one selection. I also treated “The Healing Colors of Sound” from “Day for Night” as one selection even though it is offered as six selections. It is as complete a whole as other long-form selections on the other CDs. This choice is arbitrary. “Snow,” for me, was uneven, and would not make this list as a whole. But selections from it are wonderful, worthy of consideration for the list.

For my tastes (please offer comments if your tastes are different—or, you can say if you agree), I found no Top Ten selections from their first CD, “The Light.” And I found many from “Kindness of Strangers,” “Day for Night,” and “V.” So, obviously, for people trying to decide which Neal Morse “Spock’s Beard” CDs to buy first, I recommend those three CDs.

So here’s the list, from Number Ten, finishing with Number One:

10 – “The Big Nothing” from “V,” 2000 (27:18)
One of Spock’s Beard’s epics with catchy piano riffs and poignant acoustic guitar riffs tying together melodic voice-chord song sections also punctuated with guitar and keyboard solos. The riffs stretch out into improvisational opportunities. They tie the big epic together near the end with the melodic electric guitar riff that started it off, concluding the nearly thirty minute selection with an anthem-like finish featuring two wailing guitars. The subject seems to be about music commerciality versus art.

9 – “The Devil’s Got My Throat” from “Snow,” 2002 (7:17)
This is a visceral, driving, tuneful song from Spock’s Beard’s opera “Snow.” It starts out with an ambiguous rhythm of hammering, thumping organ chords jumping in intervals, working its way into its dynamic hook—“The Devil’s Got My Throat, I’m going down, that’s all she wrote.” They slip into a few instrumental interludes, and even some vocal counterpoint, developing themes from the bass rhythm and notes, but the song’s strength is that driving rhythm and jumping, pounding chords.

8 – “The Doorway” from “Beware of Darkness,” 1996 (11:27)
One of Spock’s Beard’s most thematically developed long-form pieces, with ideas worked over and varied as the song seems to describe a spiritual journey, though the exact nature of the doorway, and the “[who] are the doorway” that goes with the “you are the doorway,” is left open to interpretation. The anthem-like conclusion (followed by a brief coda) and the inventive development of this early Spock’s Beard piece puts it in the Top Ten.

7 – “At the End of the Day,” from “V,” 2000 (16:30)
Much of Spock’s Beard’s music, including many of the epic progressive-style pieces, evolve around strong songs—chords under lyrics in a great marriage of words and music. So for a number of the epic-length pieces coming up, it is a matter of taste, of what melody, what song, strikes the listener as most pleasurable. The hook “at the end of the day” is pleasant and so is the theme of not getting too wound up about transient events because “at the end today, you’ll be fine.” Also included is some solid development of the main melody, played by a french horn, and a B section reminiscent of a sort of Spanish-style chord progression/riff, with an electric piano solo played over the riff. The reprise of the main verse sections features a great running bassline pounding underneath with some wah guitar effects adding to the turbulent flavor of the final reprise.

6 – “Day for Night,” from “Day for Night,” 1999 (7:34)
“Day for Night” is another fine song, great melody and chords, winding out into a larger whole. It is a tighter construction than some of the epics, making it easier to grasp, so for me, elevating it on the list. The song climaxes with some wonderful vocal harmonies and counterpoint, making this memorable tune, well-developed and economical, one of the top Spock’s Beard tracks.

5 – “The Healing Colors of Sound” from “Day for Night” (selections 8 to 13) 1999 (total cumulative time 21:07)
In the tradition of Jethro Tull’s “Passion Play” (and even “Jesus Christ Superstar”), we have a story-selection (broken into different parts, but clearly meant to be taken in as a single whole) loosely based on the New Testament story of Jesus. Memorable themes, anthems that build in intensity—the “My Shoes” vocal line rises an octave as it evolves—make this a top Spock’s Beard effort. Along the way, we have the biting rock style of “Mommy Comes Back,” and the lighter rock style of “The Healing Colors of Sound” complete with fanfarish french horns. The whole selection culminates with a huge anthem, the epitome of the Spock’s Beard style, a reprise of “My Shoes.”

4 – “Flow” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (15:48)
This is a long form, epic piece with a few simple ideas—the biggest idea is the “true believer” who will never be a victim of the “great deceiver.” For my taste, the entire piece hangs together magnificently, with every instrumental interlude and new theme a joy with no real soft spots. And the concluding spiritual/mystical section (“Into the Source”) is one of my favorite Spock’s Beard musical moments, with its towering simplicity, musically and lyrically. After sections of turbulence and tension, the “Into the Source” finale invites us into a simple yet elegant state of mind.

3 – “The Good Don’t Last” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (10:04)
This is my favorite of the epic-length Spock’s Beard pieces (Number Two and Number One are shorter song forms). The opening jazz waltz, with one line working up while another works down until they are joined at the end of the phrase, lets us know we’re in for something special. The verses have a tuneful, memorable flow. The piece seems to refer to lost opportunities, to missed chances to accomplish greatness. But at the end, there is hope we still have a chance—“The radiant is still here… And it’s not going to disappear.”

2 – “June” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (5:29)
For the top two, I admit I am emphasizing music over lyrics, song-craft over epic-craft. This song simply has a wonderful melody and harmony, with images of nostalgia and “fire girls” dancing through it. Yes, it is the kind of song that sticks in your head for days.

1 – “Skin” from “Day for Night” 1999 (3:58)
This song is just simply a great combination of words and music. It’s catchy and there is depth to the lyrics as well. It is not as big in form as some of the grander Spock’s Beard epic cuts. But it is a song I can hear over and over and walk away singing. This makes it a great melding of progressive rock and tuneful, popular music.

Almost Made the Top Ten

11 – “Wind at My Back” and “Made Alive Again/Wind at My Back” from “Snow” 2002 (5:12, 8:28)

  • One of the big anthem selections from Spock’s Beard’s two-CD rock opera “Snow.” I listed the selections together because they both feature the “Wind at My Back” melody. There is an exhilarating inspirational quality to the song.

12 – “I Will Go” from “Snow,” 2002 (5:09)

  • Right before the big climax of “Snow” with “Wind at My Back,” comes this song of decision, rising, building from the depths of despair to the energy of determination.

13 – “Revelation” from “V” 2000 (6:04)

  • Starts as a dreamy song, with electric piano bouncing across the speakers, then hammered with a big hook about the “rain of revelation.”

14 – “Crack in the Big Sky” from “Day for Night” 1999 (9:59)

  • Driving-rock, guitar-riff oriented epic-length song about “Crack in the Big Sky,” with rain, but with “night staying and music playing” that “could not shame this high.”

15 – “Long Time Suffering” from “Snow,” 2002 (6:04)

  • Great hook on the lyrics “Long Time Suffering,” in this selection toward the beginning of “Snow.”

16 – “Gibberish” from “Day for Night,” 1999 (4:18)

  • Complex instrumental and vocal counterpoint, reminiscent of Gentle Giant’s “Reflections” give us an adventurous progressive rock song influenced by Gentle Giant, but with Spock’s Beard’s distinctive stamp.

17 – “Strange World” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (4:20)

  • “The bomber got his manifesto published in the New York Times.” It is a “strange world,” well described musically in his ditty-like, quirky song.

With this post, I have followed my Top Ten list for Flower Kings. These two progressive rock groups are more contemporary groups, issuing their CDs during the 1990s and 2000’s. My next Top Ten progressive rock posts will be more ambitious. I will tackle Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant. You can expect those posts over the next six months or so. In the meantime, feel free to offer your comments. Formulating a list like this is a way to share reactions to the music. Of course, there is no right answer to this sort of assessment. So please feel free to offer your own take on Spock’s Beard with your comments.

Measured Tones: The Interplay of Physics and Music (3rd Edition) – Ian Johnston June 27, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, Ian Johnston, Measured Tones, music.
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(This is the sixth of what will be a series of commentaries about a series of seven or so books – it looks now like the total will be around ten – about the nature of music. The first five commentaries of this series were about the books Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain, Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr and Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker. This series has been triggered as a result of  my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”  and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II).

Ian Johnston’s book Measured Tones is another excellent discussion of music and physics, probing in even more depth into the physics aspects than my previous reading on this subject (see above). As I have indicated, my interest in these books is to learn about the physics of music as part of a larger quest to examine the combining physics and metaphysics, and if somehow music offers humans, or even other intelligences elsewhere in the universe, a spiritual door to the metaphysical, a bridge between the material and the mystical. I will discuss Measured Tones in the context of these issues.

Johnston, a physicist by profession, tells us he wants to “develop the physical concepts and musical applications together.” This leads to a sometimes bumpy organization, with detailed, step-by-step chapters on the physics concepts pertaining to music punctuated by “interludes” that go into details about specific musical instruments (and with a final “interlude” about the human voice). He does attempt to introduce instrument “interludes” as he describes the physics concepts applicable to them. Of course, much of this material is covered in my previous reading. But Johnston’s attention to detail brought me to some new ideas on the subject of my concern:

From Chapter 1: Why these and not others?

  • Johnston discusses the pentatonic scale, the closest to a universal scale evident across cultures. (In Appendix 7: “Pentatonic scales,” Johnston examines pentatonic scales in depth, bolstering the assertion that this is the closest there is to a universal scale by quoting pentatonic scale tunes from cultures all over the world, including the unique Japanese scale, E-F-A-B-C-E, which has no third in it, and is perceived instantly as Japanese by anyone with even a passing exposure to Japanese music.) He relates planetary orbits to the same ratios that are evident in musical scales, a compelling relationship between the astronomical and the musical. He goes into great detail on the ratios of string bisection needed to create scales, making the case that there is something universal in the physics of what we hear as consonance and dissonance, and in the physics of music scales.

From Chapter 2: Music and scientific method

  • He examines the harmonic series and the behavior of “stretched strings,” building more physics origins for the scales and harmonies we experience, and continuing to build a case for some universality of how we experience music. In my opinion at this point, the best way to think of this is that physics does bring us a basic musical framework, basic “notes” that comprise harmonies and scales. But that basic framework is then subject to cultural influences. So while the octave, and the perfect fifth, and maybe even the pentatonic scale may be universal, the choices made by humans (or other intelligences capable of music) can vary a great deal among cultures, based on familiarity and tradition.

From Interlude 1: Brass instruments

  • We run smack into the overtones series again, a phenomenon inherent in discernible notes of all kinds, as we look at tone production for brass instruments.

From Chapter 3: Harmonies of a mechanical universe

  • Johnston elaborates on concepts of “universal harmony,” expanding on “the law of stretched strings” and other ideas as he surveys the evolving scientific thinking about physics as those ideas relate to musical development.

From Chapter 4: Overtones of enlightenment

  • Johnston expands into a meticulous analysis of the overtone series to offer a physics explanation for what became the tradition of “Western harmony.” He draws on the work of Jean-Paul Rameau, a composer/theorist known for his musical theories underpinning conventional “Western harmony,” intertwining those ideas with a developing understanding of the physics related to those ideas.

From Chapter 5: Over the waves

  • Johnston details the concept of waves in physics and offers us the simple but profound idea that sound is nothing more or less than energy waves. Sound is energy. Music is ordered energy. This is a huge idea from Johnston’s book for my area of concern.  I have discussed this in [post on how we are energy] that we are energy fields. So with music, we are feeding energy waves into ourselves, directly into our brains via our ears, sound energy waves organized by us, derived from tones with a universal quality to them because of the numerical ratios evident in the harmonic series/string bisection/string stretching principles. This could be the concept that brings music and physics and metaphysics together.

From Interlude 5: Woodwind instruments

  • Archeological evidence “confirms that nearly every society, however isolated from the rest of humanity, has always started off playing flutes.” Could this be close to a universal instrument for any intelligent creature capable of producing a column of air?

From Chapter 7: Summer in Heidelberg

  • Here Johnston goes down to the micro level to detail how the ear discerns pitch. With this is a discussion of how much our ears are capable of distinguishing—pitch-wise, overtone-wise—and how that relates to the perception of consonance and dissonance. He concludes “we have found a truly basic exclamation, in terms of the properties of the ear, for why these intervals should be pleasing to listen to.” As mentioned earlier, some basics can be considered to be universal: 1) an octave or perfect fifth sounded together will be considered consonant, 2) a half-step (or less) sounded together will be considered dissonant. For other perceptions of consonance, culture and tradition factor in. Also, we are left to wonder if the human ear is a unique sound perception tool, or whether other intelligent creatures would hear sound the same way we do. That is an issue will not be able to address directly for the foreseeable future—until we meet and greet intelligent extra-terrestrial creatures! But we may be able to speculate that if there is a basic nature of sound, the biological evolution of intelligent creatures to sense that sound as music could well be the same or similar to our own.

From Interlude 6: Percussion instruments

  • Johnson touches on Gamelan music (from Java/Indonesia) and its odd, nonstandard scales sounded with percussion instruments. I will want to hear this music in its pure form to see how my Western-traditional (but open-minded) ears perceive it. That will be part of the future study of this issue.

From Interlude 8: The sublimest of instruments, the voice

  • Johnston mentions that from “the very earliest writings, we know that people have always sung, and that singing has always had religious associations.” So humans use their bodies, through the process of running air through their vocal cords, to generate tones/sound energy waves that can be absorbed by other humans—and by the humans themselves who are doing the singing. This is an inherent quality. Are we looking at a key argument for music as a bridge for humans between the physical and metaphysical, an aptitude wired in, perhaps even placed there by a greater power as a conduit of communication, placed there as part of a process we have yet to understand, or that may even be unknowable to us?

Music Review/Comentary – MoeTar May 9, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in MoeTar, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music.
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There are a few times in my life when I have heard new music and was stunned. “What exactly was that? I’ve never heard anything like that before. What the hell was that? I need to hear it again—and again—and again.” Some instances I can recall: 1) As a teenage kid hearing “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, 2) As a slightly older teenage kid hearing Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus,” 3) Around the same time—“Dance of the Maya” by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, 4) As a college student hearing Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for the first time, 5) Later in adulthood hearing Dimitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, particularly the leaping slightly off-kilter fanfares that start the piece, and 6) “Cult of Personality” by the late 80s/early 90s group, Living Colour. Now we can add to that “Dichotomy” by MoeTar. Thank you Magna Carta records for keeping me on your mailing list and letting me know about these people.

“Dichotomy” is one of a number of really captivating cuts in the MoeTar style. I’ll discuss each cut individually. Generally, we have the crystal clear female vocal stylings (except for occasional raspiness in the upper range) of Moorea Dickason over adventurous rhythms and harmonies (most writing credits are attributed to bassist Tarik Ragab) producing a sound that is hard to compare to anything I’ve heard before. Certainly influences from progressive rock both past and present are evident. But this really is an original sound. And during some sections, if you want to sing along, you are going to have a challenge keeping up with Moorea Dickason as she sings complex vocal lines in unison, and sometimes in harmony, with the guitar and keyboard. Do I think MoeTar will break through the way Jimi Hendrix did? In this current music climate, probably not. This music takes effort to absorb—effort well worth expending, by the way—and often in our culture now it is the simple, sometimes overly simple, pounding drum and bass lines under step-like melodies with easy leaps that catch our attention, then fade quickly as their shallowness causes our attention to drift to the next banality. But those of us who like our music fresh, and inventive, and adventurous, need to stick up for acts like MoeTar. And—encourage them to produce more music!

My comments on the cuts:

Dichotomy (3:57) – It’s in eight. Not two 4/4 measures. It’s in eight. The rhythm throbs along with a strange bass accent at the end of the eight that had me searching for an unconventional time signature. So the rhythm calls out for attention. After a rousing introduction with quick instrumental flourishes, in comes the lilting, jazzy vocals: “Doom architects, skin cineplex infiltrate dynastic manifest…” Here we go! The lyrics fly by—it took a few listens just to pick out a few lines I really love: “…masters of our own banality,” “…experiments on supplicants, social engineering detriments”—with the closest to a vocal hook being “paradox dichotomy,” recurring throughout the song. In the middle of the song, we have an interplay among bassist Tarik Ragab, keyboardist Matt Lebofsky and guitarist Matthew Heulitt reminiscent of Gentle Giant. In fact, the song reminds me faintly of “Cogs and Cogs,” though “Dichotomy” is no clone of that progressive rock classic! The lyrics and music sail by so fast that I was compelled to listen over and over—to try to figure out—what the hell happened here! Once I got a handle on it, I could only marvel at how wonderful the song is, and hope for more of the same. This is my favorite on the CD, but others come close as I will discuss.

Infinitesimal Sky (3:01) – Starting right out with the line “where’s that idiot clown,” this song features block chord shifts over a quirky driving rhythm in five. The lyrics—“Burn up. Burn down. So much for you.”—bring us to a climax of sorts.

Butchers of Baghdad (4:19) – The underpinnings of this song—the bass, keyboard and drum rhythm section—could be a chord progression/arrangement for a late Beatles song. But over the top is a flurry of lyrics and complex vocal lines sung in perfect unison with the guitar. A few lines speak out absent the guitar doubling, offering a contrast of clean purity against the turbulence of the unison sections. A performance of this song is featured in MoeTar’s video at their web site http://www.moetar.com.

Random Tandem (4:11) – A light carnival feel here, with alternating long note melodic sections and flashes of quick, leaping lines (a trademark of the MoeTar style). The exotic doubling of the long vocal notes with a lilting instrumental note adds to the creepy carnival effect.

Ist or Ism (4:57) – This starts out with a hard rock riff stated by the guitar, developed into the main A section, also with a heavy rockish feel. The A section is then wonderfully contrasted with a lighter B section, with a jazzy, swinging rhythm, consisting of scat sections that would make the scat-master female vocalists of Manhattan Transfer proud.

Morning Person (2:54) – Lumbering tribute to waking up slowly, with some wild instrumental interplay at the end.

New World Chaos (5:39) – Dickason’s overdubbed vocal pad provides the gentle, haunting pulse for the song—the guitar, keyboard, bass and drums flit around through the shifting, calm-within-the-storm vocals. Through this section, the vocals are the rhythm section. This matches the title’s implied mood perfectly. The guitar, keyboard, bass and drums calm down with the lyrics: “Blue skies. Green scenes. White light. Red dreams.” This creates a mystical repose with the rhythm section and vocals in sync again. But it is a masterful out-of-sync before we get to that repose!

Screed (4:40) – This one starts out with a big Gothic theme and develops into one of the more straightforward cuts on the CD, still recognizable as MoeTar, thanks to the lyrical style of Moorea Dickason’s distinctive vocals.

Never Home (4:50) – Gentle ballad about never feeling at home in New York City, in a light, slow, jazz waltz style. MoeTar dresses it up at the end with the jam-like coda section.

From these Small Seeds (5:19) – Okay, here’s another one—“What the hell was that?” Turbulent harmonies and off-kilter rhythms underpinning lyrics like “harbinger of dreams…  Precognistic themes… Apocalyptic dreams and memes…” This goes on until the jumble stops dead with the wonderfully harmonized words “who cares.” There’s something of a swagger with this line, as if we are caught in a mismash of pretentious abstraction, and so we throw up our hands—“who cares.” And then we shift into a clearly stated hook: “I’m past the point of no return.” But that line cadences off the home chord of the key we are in, leading us right back to the wonderfully controlled chaos that permeates most of the song, including a vocal interplay at the end that leaves us unsettled—the song is not going to give us an easy way out. If I had heard this before “Dichotomy,” it might have been my favorite. It is a close second for me.

Friction (3:07) – Great finishing cut. “Golden prizes fill your eyes to fill your head…” A big soaring melody over an unconventional chord progression. (No I-IV-V-I’s for this group!) The shifts from four to three give the cut a wandering feeling, shifting, drifting, searching. The chords themselves seem in search of a resting place but simply will not arrive there. The cut seems to be in any number of keys all at once. And if you think the final chord will give you that resting place, forget it! “Fear and deny. Turn from the cry. Now.” I consider this in my top three favorite cuts from this sensational album.

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MoeTar indicates on their website that they’re working on a new CD, possibly as you are reading this right now. I say to them—bring it on! I suspect there is an enormous amount of creative opportunity within this style!

Flower Kings – Top Ten List March 25, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Flower Kings, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Uncategorized.
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This is the first of what will be a series of posts offering Top-Ten lists of selections from various progressive rock bands, past and present. (When I started this blog, I said it would be mainly for writing, but with some surprises. I have now posted a number of times about music, including a few posts specifically about progressive rock: The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes, The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, Flower Kings – Top Ten list. I released my own mystic jazz CD “Issa Music” late last year.)

My first two posts will be about two more recent progressive rock groups, my favorite contemporary (within the last decade or so) groups. The first is a Top-Ten list for Flower Kings. (The next Top-Ten post will be about Spock’s Beard. Those familiar with this music know that key members of Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard, Roine Stolt and Neal Morse, combined their prodigious talents in the progressive rock super-group, Transatlantic.) I am not sure why we don’t hear a lot more about Flower Kings. I sort of stumbled on them a number of years ago when playing around at CD Universe, looking at “customers who bought this also bought this.” Flower Kings have produced album after album of fresh, dynamic material, big-themed, sophisticated development of musical themes—everything we can ask from progressive rock groups. I think their style resembles most closely the progressive rock group Yes, but also includes elements of Gentle Giant and King Crimson within their influences. And make no mistake about it, they have their own unique style!

Coming up with this list was not easy! It was mainly a challenge of narrowing things down.  I’ve included a second ten as well. (I won’t do that in every post.) I limited myself to the studio albums of the 1990s and 2000s (no live cuts included). I included Roine Stolt’s “The Flower King” album which includes many of the same personnel of the Flower Kings group—it really seems like a first Flower Kings album. It was not easy comparing shorter songs with longer ones. (In the case of Flower Kings, we’re talking about songs under six or seven minutes as short.) But, all disclaimers and explanations aside, here is my list. Of course, offer your own at the comment page! Or your quibbles…

10 – “Driver’s Seat” from “Adam and Eve,” 2004, 18:22
A rock epic about taking control, getting back into the “Driver Seat’s.” The middle section brings us a really wonderful alliance of a driving harmonic and rhythmic momentum carrying vivid lyrics, dramatizing how out of control our circumstances can get. This sets us on a musical journey ending with a repossession of the “Driver’s Seat,” “a million options chiming,” but ending with an ambiguous line—“Time is such a bitch and fate its little liar”—did we get into the “Driver’s Seat,” or was that impossible from the start?

9 – “I Am the Sun” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, Part I, 15:03; Part II, 10:48
Progressive rock at its best, with motivic and thematic development, shifting moods, twisting and turning through various sonic-scapes. There is a nice section in the middle of Part I with the repeating phrase “break down doors,” which then moves into a hard-edged riff and off to some hard-driving rock guitar work. Part I ends with a haunting, utterly gorgeous section, minor key shifting to major chord cadences:

            “In time our heart will open, you’ll let her in
            To see we are one, this one that we are
            In time your eyes will open, time will tell
            ‘Larger-than-life,’ ‘revolve among stars’”

Part II acts as a long coda, as if it is a few comments after the journey in Part I. This starts as a gentle, casual coda, and finishes with a final statement of the main theme, followed by an extended musical journey moving through synth, bass and guitar lines migrating over continually shifting chords.

8 – “The Flower King” from Roine Stolt’s 1994 album “The Flower King,” 10:28
Roine Stolt, the undoubted first among equal artists in the Flower Kings, says in the liner notes of “The Flower King” album that he recorded this song as a counterweight “to the flood of destructive, dark ‘n-evil-hard-core-death-trash-speed-black ‘n suicidal metal music’ out at the time.” Basically this is a simple anthem, with some progressive rock type development, but at its essence a simple positive statement, lyrically and musically. It can be considered nothing less than the theme song for this great progressive rock group, a group with the courage to reach out with some positivity during a time when cynicism often rules and optimism is often thought of as a synonym for naivete. This song also displays one of Roine Stolt’s big strengths as a songwriter; he creates anthems—this song would be the first of many for “Flower Kings.”

7 – “Monkey Business” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 4:20
This is the shortest song on this Top Ten list, essentially a modified blues progression song with a bridge. This made the list because the verses are catchy; it’s a tight little song. Each of the four verses starts out with a protestation of what the singer is not, followed by some clever phrases about what he is—better than a monkey, but not better than much of anything else.

6 – “Devil’s Playground” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 24:30
Here is one of those epic song/pieces characteristic of progressive rock. “Devil’s Playground” is about making a deal with the devil to survive. The Flower Kings call us out in this one:

            “This is how you raise the Cain
            This is what you teach our children
            Back on duty, dog eat dog
            Clueless in the Devil’s Playground”

The music backing this section is memorable and effective. They use it frequently within a number of musical settings. They seem to implore us to reconsider our activities on the “Devil’s Playground,” after working us through a musical journey. The 24 minutes holds together as a unified whole—provocative, evocative and musically satisfy.

5 – “In the Eyes of the World” from “Stardust We Are,” 1997, 10:38
A brilliant song about that insecurity people have all felt, that everyone watching us finds us to be ridiculous. From the driving organ ditty that starts it off, clown-like, leading to the weightier parts of the song, what makes it most effective is that the chorus starts well away from the tonic minor key and drifts toward it with a series of unresolved chords that finally payoff at the end of the line—“I’m just a clown in the eyes of the world.” There is some nice development, reminiscent of 1970s Gentle Giant. The song has an everyman allusion in it—that feeling that every mistake we make is on display for all to see.

4 – “Chicken Farmer Song” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 5:09
I admit it; this one is here because I simply love the way it sounds. I love the cascading vocal harmonies in the verses, the driving triplet-laden rhythm, and the fun chorus about being a “chicken farmer.” This is just a flawless song, gorgeously arranged, dreaming of the simpler life—no big spiritual/mystical event here, just a fun, well-crafted song! 

3 – “Genie in a Bottle” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 8:10
Another catchy one from the Floral Royalty—Yes, this one has a real sticky little hook!  “Look to the left, look to the right, I’m looking for a Genie in a Bottle!” But to go with that catchy hook is actually a much deeper song. It’s about that last hopeful dream when all hope seems lost—that desperate wish for a magic miracle that will solve all problems, that will lift the dreamer from the depths:

            “All I need is another dream
            All I need is some self-esteem
            Can you take me, can you take me this time?”

Just looking for that big miracle, that “Genie in a Bottle.”

2 – “Psycedelic Postcard” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 9:50 (that’s that way they spell it on the album…)
This one starts out quirky, almost as if it is a joke song—“the world is all in the hands of a juggler.” The timbre of the vocals could be called the Munchkins Tabernacle Choir, telling us about strange, maybe even drug-induced images. But by the end, the tone is much more serious—and uplifting. It is possible to be free of the absurdity of these images–

            “My Mind’s Eye can still see…..,
            Can’t take that away from me
            In My Mind’s Eye I’ll be free….,
            Freedom believer, Freedom deliver”

The journey of the song, from absurdity to uplifting anthem, puts it near the top of the list.

1 – “Love Supreme” from “Adam and Eve,” 2004, 19:50
“Coming up, growing up, looking for a bigger understanding
Coming up, growing up, speaking of respect for all the planet
Coming up, building up, new religion sees the light of day
Coming up, building up, changes ahead but don’t you be afraid”

For someone like me who loves progressive rock for the big themes, the ambitious song subjects, the long forms developed, forged with peaks and valleys, this is my favorite of the Flower Kings album selections. It shimmers with Steve Howe type leads and Yes-like vocal harmonies. We have the song of19:50culminating with almost a gospel-church feel—“…all my wanting is down to understanding,” “…all my longing is focused to be justified… I’m finding out just who I am.” When the musical journey charted by this epic ends, engaged listeners will feel as if they have been through a mystical experience.

The Second Ten

11 – “The Truth Will Set You Free” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 30:04

  • Great chorus for the title line, well-developed in this lengthy selection.

12 – “The Merry-Go-Round” from “Stardust We Are,” 1997 8:17

  • A musical whirlwind in five, shooting through changes like a fast merry-go-round! (It does move off into a more conventional four.)

13 – “Slave to Money” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 7:30

  • Strong, powerful piece about the perils of being a “Slave to Money”—“God may look at what we’ve done, knowing we are the ugly ones.”

14 – “Underdog” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 5:29

  • Classic Roine Stolt anthem/epic complete with bagpipe sounds.

15 – “Garden of Dreams” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 59:57 (18 parts)

  • Eighteen part epic disjointed and uneven at times, but “Don’t Let the d’Evil In” and “Love is the Word” are classic Flower Kings brilliance.

16 – “Silent Inferno” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 14:25

  • The “Silent Inferno” appears to be a reference to insomnia over second thoughts; the verses flow through a dark but gentle chord progression.

17 – “Deaf Dumb and Blind” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 11:09

  • Poignant piece about spiritual wisdom lost, with a great litany in the middle: “gone the spirit, gone the gold; gone the justice, so we’re told…”

18 – “Paradox Hotel,” from “Paradox Hotel,” 2006, 6:30

  • Hard rock riff gives this relatively simple song big energy.

19 – “Road to Sanctuary” from “The Rainmaker,” 2001. 13:50

  • Big wall-of-sound theme with driving guitar riffs contrasts with gentle emotional sections in Roine Stolt’s classic anthem style.

20 – “Monsters and Men” from “Paradox Hotel,” 2006, 21:19

  • Musical call for rejection of fanaticism, and for reconciliation, includes poignant vocal harmonies: “the more you look, the more you try; the more you free the inner eye; there’s a mountain we can climb.”

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (IV) – “Up from the Skies” February 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music, Uncategorized.
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(This is the fourth of a series of posts about the lyrics of rock super-guitarist Jimi Hendrix. This is certainly what I meant when I introduced this blog and said “So my readers should expect all kinds of digressions, everything from some musical musings to an off-the-wall comment about the world.” I am a musician well as a writer, writing and performing. I cover nine Hendrix songs (here is a current playlist of what I perform with my drum-bass machine set-up). This series of posts is not about songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Little Miss Lover.” A handful of Hendrix songs glisten with a lyrical inventiveness, uniquely poetic and musical, words and music existing in a smooth symbiotic combination. The lyrics drip and glide through the songs the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar notes drip and glide through auditory space. These will be the songs I will discuss in these posts. Of course, these posts represent my interpretations of these lyrics. This is not an exact science. Your comments, agreeing and disagreeing are invited.)

In his jazzy, bluesy “Up From the Skies,” the song’s singer approaches us—he just wants to talk to us. He seems to be familiar with us, but has been separated from us for awhile, maybe for eons, maybe returning from another world. (This is also implied by the juxtaposition of “Up From the Skies” just after the opening album-cut of “Axis: Bold as Love”—“EXP,” which refers to UFOs.) The singer is puzzled by what he finds as he encounters us. Through his questions, he comments on contemporary humanity:
• Why are we living on a “people farm,” in “cages, tall and cold?” With this inquiry, the traveler implies that the world we have designed for ourselves lacks a sense of free spirit.
• What happened to the “rooms behind your minds?” It looks to him like they’re empty, like a “vacuum,” though he considers he could be missing something. He asks if it is “just remains from vibrations of echoes long ago,” things like loving the world and letting “fancy”/enjoyment flow, which he implies are now missing Have we given up joy and embraced some form of dull, stifling rigidity? He keeps asking— “Is this true?” He wants to engage us to find out.
• He acknowledges he was here before—“the days of ice.” He could mean the Ice Age, eons ago, or just a cooler period.
• He has returned, and now finds “the stars misplaced, and “the smell of a world that has burned.” These are wonderfully poetic images that could mean many things. “The stars misplaced” could mean the world has changed locations. It could also be an astrological comment, that the future we should be enjoying has not arrived, that our path has been changed, not for the better, maybe irrevocably.
• “The smell of a world that has burned” could also have various meanings. In the late 1960s, nuclear annihilation was a persistent fear. Has this narrator returned after a nuclear holocaust? In “House Burning Down,” (a song I will discuss in a later post), he offers some similar images. The “burning” could refer to the casual violence some people appear willing to inflict on others. I do not believe this is an early reference to global warming, even though we have “days of ice” followed by a “the smell of a world that is burned.” This song came out about a decade before fears of a new Ice Age, and well before global warming became an environmental concern. I do suspect the references to “the world that has burned,” refer to some sort of human violence.
• Though puzzled, the singer is utterly fascinated with the changes he has seen, “the new Mother Earth,” and he wants to “hear and see everything.”

The bouncy to tone of the song implies that the singer is not agitated by these developments, though they seem to be dark, disturbing developments—“people farms,” “living in cages,” “smell of a world that has burned,” “the stars misplaced.” The song’s singer’s attitude of whimsical curiosity also suggests a detachment—he does not consider himself part of this world he is observing. The simple chords and driving beat combine with the music to create the glib flippant tone of the strong: IV7-I7 (with a few added 9ths thrown in), one key change up to step to another set of IV7-I7 moves, with a bridge that is just the V to the IV, cadencing back to I after a brief instrumental. It’s a simple musical backdrop for deceptively provocative lyrics, creating a wonderfully intriguing internal contradiction.

Complete lyrics of “Up From the Skies”:

I just want to talk to you
I won’t do you no harm
I just want to know about your diff’rent lives
On this here people farm
I heard some of you got your families
Living in cages tall and cold
And some just stay there and dust away
Past the age of old.
Is this true?
Let me talk to you.

I just wanna know about
The rooms behind your minds
Do I see a vacuum there
Or am I going blind?
Or is it just uh, remains of vibrations
And echoes long ago?
Things like “love the world” and
“Let your fancy flow”
Is this true?
Let me talk to you
Let me talk to you.

I have lived here before
The days of ice
And of course this is why
I’m so concerned
And I come back to find
The stars misplaced
And the smell of a world
That has burned
A smell of a world
That has burned.

Yeah well, maybe it’s just a… change of climate
Well I can dig it
I can dig it baby
I just want to see.

So where do I purchase my ticket?
I’d just like to have a ringside seat
I want to know about the new Mother Earth
I want to hear and see everything
I want to hear and see everything
I want to hear and see everything 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (III) – “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” January 14, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Burning of the Midnight Lamp, Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music.
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1 comment so far

(This is the third of a series of posts about the lyrics of rock super-guitarist Jimi Hendrix. This is certainly what I meant when I introduced this blog and said “So my readers should expect all kinds of digressions, everything from some musical musings to an off-the-wall comment about the world.” I am a musician well as a writer, writing and performing. I cover nine Hendrix songs (here is a current playlist of what I perform with my drum-bass machine set-up). This series of posts is not about songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Little Miss Lover.” A handful of Hendrix songs glisten with a lyrical inventiveness, uniquely poetic and musical, words and music existing in a smooth symbiotic combination. The lyrics drip and glide through the songs the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar notes drip and glide through auditory space. These will be the songs I will discuss in these posts. Of course, these posts represent my interpretations of these lyrics. This is not an exact science. Your comments, agreeing and disagreeing are invited.)

This is another song, like “The Wind Cries Mary,” consisting of words that sound good together, and shouldn’t be pulled apart too much with analysis. But one set of lines is one of my favorite song lyric passages in any song:

“It really doesn’t, really doesn’t bother me
Too much at all
It’s just the ever falling dust
That makes it so hard for me to see”

I have plucked these words out of the second verse, right out of context.  I just like the way these words flow together.

The song is about being alone. The title line has us picturing someone working hard on something, in the wee hours of the night, and into the next morning. The situation is overwhelming in some way, “just a little more than enough to make a man throw himself away.” But there is hope, expressed at the end of the song. The tone is gloomy, but there is some uncertainty at the end hinting that matters might improve. This is expressed with incredible poetic eloquence:

“Soon enough, time will tell
About the serpents in the wishing well”

We have wishes. Serpents lurk within those wishes. No one knows what the results will be when the serpents and wishes collide.

As it with the other Jimi Hendrix songs, the music adds to the effect. Oddly juxtaposed chords follow the simple straightforward introductory riff that sets up the tonic. The verses then follow the riff: IV-II-♭I-III, then I (but after those moves, it doesn’t feel like I anymore)-V-II-IV, then IV-#IV-V (Hendrix’s trademark two-step chromatic move up). Then, after all those wild moves, the verse sits on the V chord before going back to the opening riff in the tonic key.  The shifting chords give the dark lyrics a great musical backdrop.

“Burning of the Midnight Lamp” was not one of Hendrix’s best known songs. I believe it was on the back of the “All Along the Watchtower” 45 single. But I recall playing this song over and over, more than the Dylan cover, enjoying the souped-up psychedelic arrangement, the poetic lyrics, and the inventive chord progression that seems to verge on going out of control, but somehow shifts back to home.

Complete lyrics to “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”:

The morning is dead
And the day is too
There’s nothing here to meet me
But the velvet moon
All my loneliness
I have felt today
It’s just a little more than enough
To make a man throw himself away
And I continue to Burn the Midnight Lamp, alone

Now the smiling portrait of you
Is still hanging on my frowning wall
It really doesn’t, really doesn’t bother me
Too much at all
It’s just the ever falling dust
That makes it so hard for me to see
That forgotten earring laying on the floor
Facing coldly towards the door
And I continue to Burn the Midnight Lamp, alone

Loneliness is such a drag

So here I sit to face
That same old fireplace
Getting ready for the same old explosion
Going through my mind
And soon enough, time will tell
About the serpents in the wishing well
And someone who will buy and sell for me
Someone to toll my bell
And I continue to burn the same old lamp, alone

© 1967 Jimi Hendrix 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Electric Ladyland

Electric Ladyland

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (II) – “The Wind Cries Mary” December 8, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in Jimi Hendrix, lyrics, music commentary, rock music, The Wind Cries Mary, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , ,
9 comments

(This is the second of a series of posts about the lyrics of rock super-guitarist Jimi Hendrix. This is certainly what I meant when I introduced this blog and said “So my readers should expect all kinds of digressions, everything from some musical musings to an off-the-wall comment about the world.” I am a musician well as a writer, writing and performing. I cover nine Hendrix songs (here is a current playlist of what I perform with my drum-bass machine set-up). This series of posts is not about songs like “Foxey Lady” and “Little Miss Lover.” A handful of Hendrix songs glisten with a lyrical inventiveness, uniquely poetic and musical, words and music existing in a smooth symbiotic combination. The lyrics drip and glide through the songs the way Jimi Hendrix’s guitar notes drip and glide through auditory space. These will be the songs I will discuss in these posts. Of course, these posts represent my interpretations of these lyrics. This is not an exact science. Your comments, agreeing and disagreeing are invited.)

I will admit; unlike “Castles Made of Sand,” I have no real clue what these lyrics mean. And, I think it could be a mistake to bollix them up with some sort of forced meaning. Poetry can simply be the music in the words or phrases, the way they combine, the sound they make as they glide from line to line. “The Wind Cries Mary” offers us those types of lyrics.

Of course, please comment if you have discovered a meaning you think is present. I will gladly add other perspectives to the commentary I am offering in this post.

My favorite phrase highlights;

“You can hear happiness staggering down the street”

  • I’m not sure what this means, but somehow I can picture it without explaining it, especially the way Jimi Hednrix delivers the lyrics.

 “A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife”

  • This is the one verse that does seem to crystalize with a specific meaning. The king and queen have somehow lost each other, or something special to them. And the rhyme of “wife” and “life” would seen forced in most circumstances. But here, the flow of the lyrics causes us to conclude there is other no rhyme possible here.

“The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow”

  • Hendrix was a bluesman—the traffic lights, the flow of traffic, of life, are caught up in the blues.

 “The tiny island sags downstream
’Cos the life they lived is dead”

  • I can picture a little island dragged by a river current out of its position—displaced. Whatever life that island, those people, that reality had—is gone.

“Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
With this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, ‘No, this will be the last.’”

  • Again, I hate to try to pin this down to a precise meaning. But the verse feels like a final verse, somehow nostalgic, bittersweet, with a wise old man making his way through a breeze, slowly, with little time left but with all the time in the world, listening to the wind answering the question at the beginning of the verse.

 “The Wind whispers/Cries/screams Mary”

  • I have no idea how to put the feeling of this into words. It means something felt more than understood, like the song. The song lopes along through the verses, but the chorus halts punctuated with ♭VII-♮VII-I chords gliding up, an easy move on the guitar. It’s that hesitation before getting back to I that gives the chorus its halting quality. The verses ooze along with V-IV-I, finishing with II to V, but then won’t settle on I right away, slipping back to ♭VII-♮VII-I before getting there. “Mary” starts on the ♭VII, as if it can’t start out settled.

I invite comments on these posts about Jimi Hendrix, and look forward to other ideas about this unique, wonderful artist, whom we wish had lived long enough to create much lyrics and music for us to experience.

_______

The complete lyrics for“The Wind Cries Mary”:

After all the jacks are in their boxes,
And the clowns have all gone to bed,
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street,
Footprints dress in red.

And the wind whispers Mary.

A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life.
Somewhere a Queen is weeping,
Somewhere a King has no wife.

And the Wind cries Mary.

The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow
Shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cos the life that they lived is dead.

And the wind screams Mary.

Will the wind ever remember
The names it has blown in the past
With this crutch, its old age and its wisdom
It whispers, “No, this will be the last.”

And the Wind cries Mary.

© 1967 Jimi Hendrix

 Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix Experience

Are You Experienced - Jimi Hendrix Experience

 

Previous “Poetry of Jimi Hendrix” post:

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (I) – “Castles Made of Sand”