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The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” November 16, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
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2 comments

(I have offered posts at this blog a about the poetry of Jimi Hendrix (“Castles Made of Sand,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “Up From the Skies,” “Axis: Bold as Love,” and “House Burning Down”). This is the second post that expands the idea to the progressive rock group Yes. The first was about “Awaken” from the album “Going for the One.”)

This post concerns a short section of the huge Yes opus, four LP record sides for four pieces, “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” I’m zeroing in on approximately two minutes of music and lyrics at the beginning because I find it to be one of the most powerful passages of progressive rock music ever recorded. This short passage has brought me to tears, to a feeling of a mystical connection to something beyond worldly power that has me revved up but somehow at peace at the same time. I won’t try to go into all of “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” or even all of this Part One. I am here concerned with this fourteen lines of chant-like introduction at the beginning.

(My apologies to Yes—one of my favorite rock bands—but after the extraordinary power of this introduction, I found the rest of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” to be anticlimactic. It would have been hard to match the power of the opening. For me, the rest didn’t. But that does not detract from the greatness of those two minutes!)

Some Background
In the liner notes for “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” Jon Anderson writes that the piece was inspired by “the four Shastric Scriptures which cover all aspects of religion and social life.”Anderson found the Shastras “so positive in character” that he and Steve Howe, and eventually the rest of the group, created four large-scope progressive rock pieces that became “Tales from Topographic Oceans.”

The “1st Movement” is the “Shrutis.” (In researching the meaning of this term, I found that it can refer to something that is heard, and that it can also refer to the notes of the Indian music scale.) In the liner notes, Andersonwrites: “The Revealing Science of God can be seen as an ever-opening flower in which simple truths emerge examining the complexities and magic of the past and how we should not forget the song that has been left to us to hear. The knowledge of God is a search. Constant and clear.”

*******

The lyrics in this introductory section are chanted in a tight rhythm. The chanted lyrics provide the rhythm of the music. And the effect builds, with accompanying music encircling the chant, and with the chant itself rendered more powerfully and intensely as it goes. There are comments I could offer for nearly every phrase of this amazing lyrical/poetic procession of rich metaphysical allusions. I will focus on phrases that struck me. I invite comments from readers on what struck them.

The passage breaks into four sections, each starting with “Dawn of:”

  • Dawn of Light
  • Dawn of Thought
  • Dawn of Our Power
  • Dawn of Love

This progression itself takes us on a mystical journey—culminating with love.

Dawn of Light
Genesis tells us that God said “let there be light,” and existence then began. Modern physics might actually confirm that light did indeed come first. Light is the one constant of the universe—even space and time vary. So the phrase “Dawn of Light” starts us at the beginning of existence, a powerful start. We have one voice, Jon Anderson’s thin, delicate vocal sound offering these powerful words. A few simple notes of bass and guitar imply what will be a fairly simple harmonic underpinning. Other phrases that struck me in this section were “in moments hardly seen forgotten” and “we fled from the sea whole.” “Moments hardly seen forgotten” for me refers to the idea that we still look to that ultimate beginning for ultimate answers. Those beginning moments were “hardly seen,” and certainly not forgotten. Science looks far into the distance with powerful telescopes, backwards in time, trying to see that initial burst of light. Science also looks at the behavior of basic particles at high energies, at conditions prevalent at the beginning. And we know, if we can ever solve the beginning, the “Dawn of Light,” we may find ultimate physical and metaphysical truth. “We fled from the sea whole,” with a distinct pause between “sea” and “whole,” brings to mind the evolution of humanity from a carbon-based chemical soup in the ocean (likely near the coasts of primordial land).

Dawn of Thought
This section appears to refer to the beginning of humanity’s search for ultimate answers. With the phrase “revealing corridors of time provoking memories disjointed but with purpose craving penetrations offer links,” we reach for it, occasionally touching these answers. The phrase “we took to the air a picture of distance” evokes humanity’s emergence into space, with the deepening understanding of our physical world, but still struggling with the “self instructors sharp and tender love.” Keyboard chords emerge faintly, growing, offering more structure to the rhythm. A second lower vocal line adds depth to the chant. We know now we’re building toward something.

Dawn of Our Power
The chant is less gentle now, moving forward with driving emotion. A lone synthesizer note blasts over the top, questioning whether this “Our Power” has brought us the peace and love it should have. We are “redescending,” maybe misled or deceived by “misused expression.” We look for love, but we end up with “passion chasing late into corners.” (“Passion chasing late into corners” is one of my favorite lyrical phrases of this selection.) Here we are, modern humanity, so educated, so materially successful, yet so utterly destructive. Our passions, misguided reaches for love ending in hate, box us into corners, trapped in the destructive modes of behavior that killed more humans over the last century than less “civilized” humanity killed in previous millennia. But we “danced from the ocean.” Have we emerged again? (I hope, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, that we have.)

Dawn of Love
The music now pulses toward a climax—but make no mistake about it, the rhythm of the words still drives the piece. “Dawn of Love sent within us” begins this section. We have the “colours of awakening” (Yes deals with spiritual awakening in their masterful piece “Awaken” from the album “Going for the One.” See my previous blog post about the Poetry of Yes). We culminate with powerful music and words, offered with almost a singing shout—“As the links span our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting.” “The freedom of life everlasting” is an extraordinarily powerful phrase offered at the peak of emotion. It brings the momentum of this driving rhythmic procession of words to a fitting dramatic climax. Ultimate truth may well reveal how mind/soul might exist outside of material time and space. That would grant us an immortality, not of body, but of mind/soul, of consciousness. If consciousness never dies, could that be considered freedom, ultimate freedom? So we seek “endless caresses” of that freedom, the “freedom of life everlasting.”

 *******

 Of course, with any sort of analysis like this, I run the risk of people telling me I got this totally wrong. That’s fine. There is more than one way to experience these lyrics. My attempt is simply to enhance enjoyment for those who love this music (and lyrics/poetry) as much as I do. All reasonable comments will be posted!

*******

Complete lyrics of the opening of “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales form Topographic Oceans”:

Dawn of Light lying between silence and sold sources.
Chased amid fusions of wonder. In moments hardly seen forgotten.
Coloured in pastures of chance dancing leaves cast spells of challenge,
Amused but real in thought. We fled from the sea whole.

Dawn of Thought transferred through moments of days undersearching earth
Revealing corridors of time provoking memories. Disjointed but with purpose,
Craving penetrations offer links with the self instructors sharp
And tender love as we look to the air. A picture of distance.

Dawn of Our Power we amuse redescending as fast as misused
Experssion, as only to teach love as to reveal passion chasing
Late into corners. And we danced form the ocean.

Dawn of Love sent within us colours of awakening among the many
Wont to follow. Only tunes of a different age. As the links span
Our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting.

Tales from Topographic Oceans

Tales from Topographic Oceans

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The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes October 13, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
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1 comment so far

I have offered posts at this blog a about the poetry of Jimi Hendrix (“Castles Made of Sand,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “Up From the Skies,” “Axis: Bold as Love,” and “House Burning Down”). This post expands the idea to the progressive rock group Yes. I will very likely offer other posts along these lines as mood or inspiration strikes for Yes, and for other rock artists.

Yes lyrics, with credit usually given to Jon Anderson, are among the most esoteric, enigmatic rock lyrics ever created. Many of these lyrics work as poetry, as a flow of words creating moods and feelings, with precise meanings hard to pin down. Themes of the lyrics are generally mystical/spiritual, exploring subjects far different from the often earthy, base subjects of rock songs. In fact, the term “song” really doesn’t fit what Yes does. They write pieces with developed themes, like pieces of “Classical Music.” (I discuss “Classical Music” in more depth in the article at my Internet column, “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”) In fact, as I address the poetry and music of Yes, I know I will find myself turning a little to analytical skills learned during my conservatory training (eons ago). As I did with Jimi Hendrix, I will select some personal favorites, pieces that touch me as particularly poetic.

There are a lot of poetic Yes selections to choose from. But the one I will start with is “Awaken” from their 1977 album “Going for the One.” This piece has moved me to tears more than once with the incredible power of the combination of music and words. At times, I have felt as if this music connected me to some power beyond what is evident in the material world. So I will start “The Poetry of Yes” with a look at “Awaken.”

I will not deconstruct any Yes pieces word by word. There are too many ways to go with these lyrics, and trying to analyze them line by line would be silly. What I will do instead is speak of the piece in terms of overall effect, quoting lyrics as part of the process. (And I will post  complete lyrics at the end, as I did in the Hendrix posts.)

“Awaken” is a piece consisting of five distinct sections, building dramatically to the climax—and then a denouement. Part One is a hint of where we will end up. For me, the lyrics of this section, and the end, refer to an awakening of a dormant spirituality, a dormant connection with something beyond mortality, but recognizing our material limitations. “High vibration go on,” calls to mind an energy beyond what we can touch and quantify. And we “wish the sun to stand still,” and reach for that objective while realizing “now” is where we exist.

Part Two bursts into an edgier section. “SUN HIGH STREAMS THRU” and “STRONG DREAMS REIGN HERE” glide above the imperative throbbing of “AWAKEN GENTLE MASS TOUCH.” This is a call to awaken, to stop what we are doing and rediscover “GENTLE MASS TOUCH.” But the call to awaken will not be so simple.

During Part Three, Yes takes us to the “workings of man.” The music cycles through a dizzying succession of chord changes, as if struggling to stay centered. And the words and music, though hinting at the struggle, do stay centered. Despite all the chord changes, each stanza migrates back to the tonic, back to the tonality of the piece. The words refer to the “workings of man” possibly causing a separation from the awakening, but each stanza ends with lines like “all restoring you” and “is promised for his scene is reaching so clearly.” We are back to the coming awakening. The section ends with “all is left for you now.” “All is left”—for the “awakening.”

Part Four is the section that takes me to the flood of emotions I referred to earlier. It is like a mystical prayer offered in a chant-like style, calling to mind images of monks praying in unison to God, to the spiritual force. The vocal line rises, step-by-step, rising as if to touch the heavens, to touch God Itself/Himself/Herself. We have the same shifting chords. But they are less frenetic, rising and falling methodically, with each deliberate cadence taking us a step closer to the piece’s spiritual objective. The stanzas start out “Master of images,” “Master of light,” “Master of soul,” “Master of time”—I see this as a supplication to a singular power, a massive enveloping power, in control of “images,” “light,” “soul,” and “time.” And we ask the “Master of light” to allow “the closely guided plan” to “awaken in our heart.” We shed doubt. And as we look “forever closer,” we bid “farewell.” For me, this is a farewell to the slumber. This is the call to “awaken” the piece refers to. Here is the climax—the “awakening” has occurred.

With Part Five, we’re back to the beginning, which was a hint of the ending. But added are the lines:

Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing next to me

This, to me, is a piece about reconnecting with a spiritual force, ever present, but easy to lose track of in a world that can seem harsh and difficult, often mired in the material.

No doubt, there is more than one way to experience these lyrics.  I invite your comments.

*******

Complete lyrics for “Awaken:”

High vibration go on
To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
Past a mortal as me
Where can I be

Wish the sun to stand still
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past all mortal as we
          Here we can be
          We can be here
          Be here now
          Here we can be

AWAKEN        SUNS HIGH STREAMS THRU       AWAKEN
GENTLE         STRONG DREAMS REIGN HERE  GENTLE
MASS                                .)(.                       MASS
TOUCH          STAR, SONG, AGE, LESS            TOUCHING

Workings of man
Set to ply out historical life
Reregaining the flower of the fruit of his tree
All awakening
All restoring you

Workings of man
Crying out from the fire set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing his reaching so clearly

Workings of man
Driven far from the path
Rereleased in inhibitions
So that all is left for you
            all is left for you
            all is left for you
            all this left for you now

Master of images
Songs cast a light on you
Hark thru dark ties
That tunnel us out of sane existence
In challenge as direct
As eye see young scars assemble

Master of light
All pure chance
As exists cross divided
In all encircling mode
Oh closely guided plan
Awaken in our hearts

Master of Soul
Set to touch
All impenetrable youth
Ask away
That thought be contact
With all that’s clear
Be honest with yourself
There’s no doubt no doubt

Master of Time
Setting sail
Over all of our lands
And as we look forever closer
Shall we now bid
Farewell farewell

High vibration go on
To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
Past a mortal as me
Where can I be

Wish the sun to stand still
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past all mortal as we
            Here we can be
            We can be here

Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing close to me

Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing close to me

© 1977
Anderson/Howe

Going for the One - Yes (includes "Awaken")

Going for the One - Yes (includes "Awaken")

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (VI) – “House Burning Down” May 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in House Burning Down, Jimi Hendrix, music commentary, poetry, rock music.
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3 comments

(This is the sixth 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 everything 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.)

For me, “House Burning Down” has some connection to “Up from the Skies” (recently discussed at this blog). In “Up from the Skies,” the narrator of the song returns from somewhere, maybe from space, to “the smell of a world that has burned.” This song seems to me like a prequel to “Up from the Skies”—consciously or unconsciously.

Again, we have the narrator of the song arriving at the scene and asking what is going on.  And no one seems to know! There is smoke, there is hell-fire red, flames creating a ghostly whine—and no one knows what is going on! In addition to that, this ignorance is casual. The narrator does eventually tell us “the truth is straight ahead so don’t burn yourself instead—try to learn instead of burn…” This comes after someone emerge “from the crowd nineteen miles high” and adds to the mess. I have to say, I’m not sure why the narrator says “we paint red through the sky.” It may be he is admitting getting momentarily caught up in the “burning” before offering his message of “learning.”

At the end, “a giant boat from space” comes in and takes “all the dead away.” Is this the arrival of the narrator from “Up from the Skies,” coming to “the smell of a world that has burned?”

It appears to me the song expresses the preference for refraining from “burning” anger which leads to destruction. He calls for mutual understanding—“learning instead of burning.” He wrote his songs at the time of the specter of nuclear war hovering over the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and phrases in the song allude to nuclear bomb type destruction. But “learning instead of burning” is a great phrase for our time, or any time, as well.

Musically, Hendrix again perfectly joins sounds to words. The “Look at the sky turn a hell fire red” chorus starts the song as nearly shouted over pounding attention-getting rhythms and the I chord, with an added flat 7 flat 11 (a common blues chord allowing both the major and minor third of the key to be sounded at once, creating a bluesy dissonance). It’s the less reflective, more emotional part of the song, a call for immediate consideration. To get to the more reflective portion of the song, there is a sudden move down in major seconds and an abrupt shift of key to a major second lower than the original key. Now the background chords and rhythms are more subtle, with more room for tasty licks as the narrator processes the events around him and comments. This is a simple minor key progression—i-i-i-i/iv-iv-iv-iv/i-i-iv-v/i-iv-i—. He then jolts us with a sudden move back to the chorus. There is no transition. He jolts us right back to the hell fire red because it is a jolting image!

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix (CD)

Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix (CD)

The Poetry of Jimi Hendrix (V) – “Axis: Bold as Love” March 26, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Axis Bold as Love, Jimi Hendrix, music commentary, poetry, rock music, Uncategorized.
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(This is the fifth 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.)

We could spend a lot of time looking at these lyrics, charged with wonderful ambiguity and poetic force. Overall, two features of the lyrics are striking—the use of colors, and the reference to the all-knowing Axis, “Bold as Love.” And can we assume that Jimi Hendrix felt this song was important, with his second studio album named after the song, a song that did not get as much attention as others on this album?  (Or did some record company executive make this decision?—Hendrix experts, I welcome your comments.)

Colors-First Verse

“Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor.”

  • Purple often means royal—is this a person of status or power who enjoys being angry, who enjoys dominating through that anger?

“Queen Jealousy, Envy waits behind him…”

  • As if to galvanize that anger, this angry powerful person calls on “fiery green” Envy (capitalized in the album lyric sheet), Queen Jealousy—she “sneers at the grassy ground.”

“Once happy Turquoise armies lay opposite, a ready…”

  • And so his anger is used to galvanize these armies, and the blue “life-giving waters” seem resigned to this. The armies, the troops, aren’t so sure. They are turquoise—a combination of blue and green—a combination of the life-giving waters and green envy. We feel the implication that this fight may not take place.

Colors-Second Verse

We shift now from a description of others to a more personal perspective. Is Hendrix referring to one of those troops, “wondering why the fight is on,” or is the singer the one “towering in shiny metallic purple armor?” The song could work either way.

“Red… confident… trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria”
“Orange… young, full of daring… unsteady for the first go-round”

  • The colors start with a powerful color, red, a seeming confidence. But as the verse proceeds, doubts creep in, and that confidence fades. Red, to red/yellow (orange) to-

“My yellow in this case is not so mellow…”

  • The folk-singer Donovan handed him this one, which fits right into the creeping doubts! This is generally the color of cowardice. He is not emphasizing the “unsteady for the first go-round”—that would be green, already used for envy in the first verse. So it’s cowardice. What is the singer afraid of?

“…giving my life to a rainbow like you.”

  • When I first heard this, I heard it as a romantic, boy-girl type commitment, and thought the line reduced the impact of the song. But I do not believe that is what Hendrix was talking about. He may be deciding whether to join forces with that smiling anger. The “rainbow” implies that the person or entity he is going give his life to is also multi-faceted, with shades of doubt, like his.

Axis: Bold as Love

All those colors, those different elements of the singer’s make-up, those turquoise armies and blue life-giving waters—if we want to know about them, we can just ask the Axis, the all-knowing Axis. The Axis will tell us if all these elements are “Bold as Love,” and the implication is he will agree they are. So what is this “Axis?” The only conclusion I can come up with is the obvious one, that he refers to a profound spiritual force—possibly God. And God knows all these aspects, these colors, are “Bold as Love.”

So to me, the song places the affairs of humans within the purview of the spiritual force, with love as the key to understanding it. I admit, there could be other interpretations. It is another Hendrix song with a wonderful flow of lyrical images. I invite comments with other interpretations!

_______

Again, the music with the words adds to the effect. The chord progression is simple, as well as the song’s construction. The first half of the verses are I-V-vi-IV (there’s a move down to I with the third in the bass used as the transition to the second half of the verse). This is a very tame, major-key, gentle set of cords. The second half of the verse creates a little more tension. To create this tension, Jimi Hendrix makes a very simple “blues” move. He takes the whole chord progression up a perfect fourth. That simple. Hendrix often described himself as a bluesman. This psychedelic song uses a blues move. So the second part of the verse is IV-I-ii-♭VII. The ♭VII introduces the flat 7th of the tonic scale, allowing a little edge to creep in. It also allows that signature Hendrix chromatic move up from ♭VII to ♮VII to I to transition to the chorus, which is virtually the same as the verse, but with the ♭VII chord instead of the IV chord at the end of the progression. Then the chorus has a tag: I-ii-♭VII/♭VII-♮VII-I.

Complete lyrics of “Axis: Bold as Love”:

Anger he smiles towering shiny metallic purple armour.
Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him.
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground.

Blue are the life giving waters taken for granted,
They quietly understand.
Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready,
But wonder why the fight is on.

But they’re all, bold as love.
Yeah, they’re all bold as love.
Yeah, they’re all bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.

My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war
And ribbons of euphoria.
Orange is young, full of daring but very unsteady for the first go ’round.
My yellow in this case is no so mellow.
In fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me.
And all of these emotions of mine keep holding me
From giving my life to a rainbow like you.

But I’m bold as love…
Well, I’m bold, bold as love.
Hear me talkin’, girl.
I’m bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.
He knows everything. Yeah, yeah. 

Richard Warren Field plays Jimi Hendrix.

Axis: Bold as Love

Axis: Bold as Love

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.
Tags: , , , , , ,
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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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(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