Steve Earle, Patty Loveless, The Proclaimers & Eddi Reader – My Old Friend The Blues

Lovers leave.

Friends will let you down.

You learn that as you fall in and out love and form friendships that flare bright before they fade away.

So, you’re left all alone with The Blues.

And, you can hug those blues close to get you through.

The Blues becomes your old and trusted friend.

But, remember, remember, sometimes you are the lover who walks away.

Remember, remember, sometimes you are the friend who’s doing the letting down.

So, don’t make The Blues your best and only friend.

We all get The Blues.

We all need The Blues to get through the lost loves and the failed friendships.

Loss and failure hurt.

But, they go with the territory.

Love and Friendship will be the treasures of your Life.

The Blues will see you through until you’re ready to face the joys and pains of Love and Friendship again.

Dont lean too long on your old friend The Blues.

Love again. Be a Friend again.

Meantime let’s have a hugely enjoyable wallow with our old friend The Blues courtesy of the young Steve Earle (this is a quintessential young man’s song).

Paradoxically it’s young hearts that feel the weariest.

Ah … a shiver of recognition and illicit pleasure in pain for all of us there!

Steve Earle, a natural songwriter, came out of San Antonio Texas fit to burst with energy and a desire to tell stories about the way the world was and the way it damn well should be.

‘Guitar Town’ from 1986 was his breakthrough record announcing him as a literate, rocking, rough, rowdy, romantic and righteous artist who was here to stay.

You could hear the influences of Folk Icon Woody Guthrie and Texas troubadours Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt

Add in a dash of on’ry ol Waylon Jennings and workshirt era Bob Dylan and you’ve got a very potent and occasionaly explosive mixture which near guaranteed a vesuvial flow of songs.

Steve Earle’s best songs have drama and impact and emotional reach.

Across the Atlantic in Scotland, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’ reached the tender heart of Eddi Reader who was surely born to sing room stilling ballads.

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Listen to her here bring the same focus and sensitivity she gives to the songs of Robert Burns to Steve Earl’s cancion Triste.

Eddi has a voice that can croon or keen.

A voice laden with ancient knowing.

A quiet voice that sounds loud in your heart.

A voice of balm for weary hearts wherever they may beat.

Staying in Scotland we now turn to twins Charlie and Craig Reid, The Proclaimers.

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Their Records are distinguished by the fierce commitment they bring to every song they sing.

Which, of course, brings even more allure to their tender moments.

The Proclaimers bring a stark echoing intensity to My Old Friend The Blues.

Patty Loveless is a blue Kentucky Girl – a State where lovelorn ballads are not exactly in short supply!

Patty made her mark at the same time as Steve Earle and like him she had done her fair share of hard traveling before she had the spotlight directed at her centre stage.

Playing small bars and clubs in nameless towns she learned a lot about lonely nights and weary hearts.

She also learned that if you have a voice shot through with plaintive grace you could offer a ray of hope to those battered hearts all around – including her own.

I’m showcasing a live version suffused with bluegrass duende.

 

Speaking of Duende, as we collect the glasses and turn out the lights let’s have one more take from Steve himself before we shut the doors.

Just when every ray of hope was gone ….

On those nights when sleep seems loath to appear and knot up ravelled care you can always turn to an old friend – The Blues.

Then, when dawn breaks, as it always miraculously does, take that weary heart of yours and go in search of love and friendship once again.

Doug Sahm, Garland Jeffreys, ? and the Mysterians : 96 Tears

‘One day Frank started playing a little organ riff and we all really liked it a lot. I kinda came up with the chord riff … then Question Mark said he had words for it … I thought he was just singing off the top of his head.’ (Bobby Balderrama)

The 1960s, as any Baby Boomer will tell you, was the decade when Rock and Pop music peaked.

A tidal wave of creative energy was unleashed which is never likely to be matched.

Pick any week from the Billboard Hot 100 chart from the 1960s and you’ll be near overwhelmed by the number of truly great records you’ll find (and the memories they’ll generate).

Competition was fierce.

So, to ascend to the coveted Number One spot was a real achievement.

Take the top 5 for the last week in October 1966.

Pure Pop for Now people from The Monkees with, ‘Last Train to Clarkesville’.

A deep Soul cry (from the Ghetto, from the battlefields of Vietnam, from a tragic Lover’s heart) roared out by The Four Tops with, ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’.

An aching morality tale from Johnny Rivers with, ‘Poor Side of Town’ (previously featured here on The Jukebox).

An unfathomably deep, nay eternal, Pop Classic from 16 year old Michael Brown and The Left Banke with, ‘Walk Away Renee’ (also featured on The Jukebox).

Phew!

What record could possibly have kept those masterworks from the very summit of the charts?

Well, a record cut by a bunch of unknown Mexican-American teenagers from Michigan, with a lead singer known only by the ? symbol (where do you think Prince got the idea!) that will thrill the soul as long as there is electricity or some other means to power a Jukebox!

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying!

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

You’re gonna cry 96 tears!

 

 

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidado Ahora!

Cuidado Ahora!

So, you take an insanely catchy organ riff, played on a Vox Continental or a Farfisa Combo Compact depending on which authority you believe, an increasingly crazed vocal extolling the sheer delight of anticipated romantic revenge (and who hasn’t felt that in their life?) a tempo that locks your attention in and you’ve got yourself a monster Hit!

This is Punk before Punk.

This is a wonderfully grimy garage classic just reeking of the greasepit.

This is a voodoo Mexican Folk Ballad.

This is pure unadulterated Rock ‘n’ Roll.

96 Tears lasts less than 3 minutes playing time.

Yet, I guarantee that everyone who hears it is chanting out:

’You’re gonna cry 96 Tears, You’re Gonna Cry 96 Tears, You’re gonna cry, cry, cry now’

with infinite gusto long before the 3 minutes has elapsed.

The definitive organ riff came from Frank Rodriguez who was all of 13 when 96 Tears was recorded in the Spring of 1966.

The guitarist was founding Mysterian Bobby Balderrama.

Eddie Serrano sat on the Drum Stool.

Bass was played by Fernando Aguilar.

The signature vocal was by the one and only hyper imaginative Question Mark ? 

GIven his determination to be known by this name alone I’ve resolved to use only this name throughout.

The Mysterians all came from families that had followed the lure of employment and the Dollar Bill from Mexico taking in fruit picking before securing jobs in the Michigan Auto Plants.

They started out playing instrumentals in the dramatic style of Duane Eddy and Link Wray. When the British Invasion hit and as they watched Shindig and American Bandstand they realised they had to have a dynamic lead singer and that a powerful organ sound hit home every time.

Once Frank came up with the immortal riff they approached Lilly Gonzalez, a luminary of the local Mexican community, who found them a small recording studio and pressed up 500 copies of 96 Tears on her own Pa-Go-Go label.

The song was then take  up by a relay of Radio Stations until demand became so great that Cameo Parkway took over and drove the single all the way to Number One!

My favourite moment in the song is the line where Question Mark ? momentarily pauses for breath before slamming home the killer line:

’And when the sun comes up I’ll be on top – You’ll be right down there looking up’.

Take that!

Now, it is a truth universally to be acknowledged that all Jukeboxes are in want of a Record which will get everyone onto their feet to dance furiously while rattling the walls and windows shouting out the chorus.

I think we can all agree that 96 Tears absolutely fulfils this need.

Which is why 96 Tears must take its place on The Immortal Jukebox as (what else) A 96.

Now, once such a Record is issued all over this wicked world gangs of young musicians hear it and think, ‘That will suit us very nicely indeed’.

The lead singer gets ready to hyperventilate and the organist thinks – they think they know how the organ goes on this one but they haven’t heard my version yet!

If they’re not in possession of an organ, Vox or Farfisa, the guitarist thinks – I’m gonna tear this one up so completely that no one will even remember there was an organ on the original.

Watch Out Now!

Watch Out Now!

Cuidad Ahora!

Cuidad Ahora!

A true message always gets through.

So, in 1976, frequenting London’s The Nashville and 100 Club venues I encountered a testosterone topped up the max outfit called Eddie and the Hot Rods who went full pelt at songs like, ‘Gloria’ and, ‘Get Out of Denver’ before thrashing the life out of 96 Tears.

Here’s their, ‘Live at The Marquee’ version from 1976 – I think I may have lost a few pounds while this one played and needed to sink a fair few pints to restore balance.

Such is Youth (and Thank God for it!)

The message certainly got through to Brooklyn.

That’s where Garland Jeffreys grew up listening to every style of music with a keen ear and  the determination to meld these styles together in his own songwriting and performances.

Garland Jeffreys is one of those secret heroes of music whose prominent influence and regard among musicians is in stark contrast to his stature among the general record buying public.

Be assured The Jukebox will feature a  considered tribute to him later.

For now let’s enjoy his distinctive take on 96 Tears.

The Band really got their groove happening here!

 

A true message always gets through.

And there was no more true hearted custodian of American Music than Doug Sahm – who is always warmly welcomed at The Jukebox.

Whenever Doug got together with Freddie Fender,  Augie Myers and Flaco Jimenez the music flowed and everybody got to have a glorious party.

Let’s take 96 Tears down South to Texas with Doug and his faithful compadres.

They sure shake the flavour all over every one of those 96 Tears!

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying.

Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on.

Oh, oh, oh, believe me, when the sun comes up …

You’re Gonna cry 96 Tears.

Youre gonna cry 96 Tears.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

I’m gonna  count every one.

Every single one.

96 Tears.

96 Tears.

 

 

Notes :

? and The Mysterains predictably fell foul of Music Biz moguls which resulted in long drawn out litigation, inadequate financial reward and a very messy discography.

However, there is a now a substantial collection of their Cameo Parkway material which amply demonstrates they were far more than one hit wonders.

Other versions to look out for are by:

Big Maybelle

Thelma Houston

Suicide

David Byrne & Richard Thompson

The Stranglers

Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.

The Kinks, The Pretenders (and more!) : Stop Your Sobbing

The Kinks debut LP was rush released in October 1964 to capitalise on the enormous success of their third single, ‘You Really Got Me’ which shot to Number 1 in the UK Charts in mid September before hitting the Top 10 in the U.S.A.

You Really Got Me is the standout track from the LP.

Of course it bears saying that it was also one of the greatest and most influential recordings of the 1960s.

It exploded into the consciousness of listeners and fellow musicians all over the globe searing synapses with its astounding energy.

Dave Davies’ guitar solo, a product of fire and fury and a slashed little green amp, remains one of the most seismic ever recorded.

The Kinks couldn’t match the intensity of that performance on the other 13 tracks that made up, ‘The Kinks’.

Lightning is not caught in a botte to order.

11 of the other cuts on the LP are covers of Rock ‘n’ Roll and R&B classics from the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Slim Harpo.

The Kinks approach to these songs is not that of knowing reverential devotees like The Rolling Stones.

Rather,  The Kinks come at these songs slant wise and when their feral energy locks in the results can be tremendously exciting.

But, as Ray Davies knew in his bones, the core of his and The Kinks creative energy was an amalgam of his (correct) sense that he was not like everybody else and thus an ideal observer of the world around him coupled with deep fraternal harmony only exceeded by fierce fraternal dischord.

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The Kinks and Ray Davies in particular didn’t dream of being American.

Though they loved American Music and were inspired by it they sensed their own songs, if they were to have authenticity and authority, would have to be reflective of their own lives – reflecting Muswell Hill rather than Blueberry Hill.

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The song on that debut record that demonstrated that Ray Davies and The Kinks could convey nuanced emotions and beguile an audience,  as well as exhaust them,  was the only other Ray Davies original present, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’.

 

 

Pure Pop for Now People!

Well … Pure Pop in the fragile melody and tremulous arrangement.

Pure Pop in the way Rasa Davies’ ghostly backing vocals shadow Ray’s lead.

Pure Pop in the way Dave Davies’ chiming guitar rhymes with our hearts as the song progresses.

Pure Pop in the way Pete Quaife and Mick Avory unobtrusively hold everything together.

But, but .. not so Pure in the emotional nuances of Ray Davies’ lyric and vocal.

Is he appalled by all the sobbing?

Or is he fascinated?

Does the sobbing turn him off or turn him on?

Is he a mixed up, frustrated, Lover or a disinterested observer carefully recording how the emotions play out?

Remember this is Ray Davies –  a man of passion who is also a man of reflection and contemplation.

A Lover who can’t stop being a Loner.

A writer who has that chip of ice in the heart that tells him, whatever the situation, to observe and record.

Observe, record and remember.

There’s a Song in this. There’s a Song in this.

Ray Davies never was and never will be just like everybody else.

And,  savvy songwriters with a sense of the history of  Pop songwriting  know that Ray Davies is a master of the craft.

A savvy songwriter like Chrissie Hynde who wanted the world to know she was special. That there was nobody else here and now like her.

She just had to have our attention and she was going to use all her resources to make sure she got it.

Most of all she was going to draw upon the deep well of her imagination.

An imagination that could relish the role reversal of a sassy woman singing, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ and singing the hell out of it.

 

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Singing with the seductive charm of oh, oh,  won’t you be my baby, Ronnie Spector.

Singing with the, you sure gotta lot of gall,  dismissiveness of Bob Dylan.

Singing with the,  Oh No, no, no, no, no,  dramatic soliloquy intensity, of The Shagri Las’ Mary Weiss.

Singing so our attention is immediately captured and never released.

Singing that inspired highly imaginative guitar playing from James Honeyman-Scott.

Nick Lowe produced The Pretenders version of Stop Your Sobbing in late 1979 but amazingly he thought they ‘were going nowhere’ and stepped away.

Nick, Nick, Nick – you got that one one Wrong!

The Pretenders proved to be unstoppable Hit Makers.

They had Style and they had Swagger and big time success with a Songwriter and Singer like Chrisie Hynde was guaranteed.

 

 

Now, if we are trawling the annals of  modern songwriting for the, ‘Not like everybody else’ category there’s one thing we gotta do – call up the unique sensibility of Jonathan Richman!

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Checkout Jonathan’s crazy campfire singalong version!

Get groovin’ to that addictive rhythm!

You can’t listen to Jonathan,when he’s in this kind of form, and not feel wonderfully refreshed and cheered

 

 

Another Songwriter with style and imagination, Pete Yorn, found, ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ getting under the skin.

I’ll leave you with a charmingly understated vocal duet version featuring Scarlett Johansson.

 

 

Their smiles at the end say it all.

Ray Davies recorded Stop Your Sobbing more than half a Century ago.

I think its good for another 50 years at least.

Dave Alvin : Border Radio

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Well, what do you get when you fall in Love?

Some will tell you that you’re opening the door to a whole world of trouble.

Oh, oh, you are wrapping chains that will bind you tight until you just can’t breathe anymore.

Look out! Danger ahead!

Pain and sorrow goes with the territory.

No doubt about it the hurting will be certain.

But, but, but … take a tip.

Take a tip.

Whatever you think and feel about it ; no matter how many times Love has let you down, you just won’t be able to live without it.

Won’t be able to live without it.

Oh, oh, and when Love is in bloom and your heart is singing aria after aria of Joy you’ll cradle mountains in the palm of your hand.

Rivers running slow and lazy.

Crickets talking back and forth in rhyme.

You won’t wonder why the world spins around.

You’ll know.

You’ll believe in magic.

You’ll know that no matter how deep the ocean is it’s not as deep as this feeling.

Love makes the world go around.

It always has.

It always will.

And, if you lose that love you’ll ache for it to return.

Ache for the heat of that touch.

The healing power of that touch.

And, in the midnight watches when the Moon looms in the dark sky you’ll hope and pray that somehow, somehow, that lost Love will be found again.

Found again.

Turning the late night radio dial you’ll search for a song you used to sing in whispers to each other and maybe, just maybe, far, far away, the lost one is listening too.

And, that song will be your midnight prayer.

Your midnight prayer.

Who knows what the power of prayer is?

Except those who really pray.

Pray with all their heart.

And, as the lost one, far, far away, sings to themselves maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember who they used to sing it with and realise how much they miss that singing, the heat of that touch.

And, maybe, just maybe, they’ll drive all the way home – tuned in again, listening to the border radio.

Maybe, just maybe, the boy asleep in the next room, who looks just like his Dad, will wake up and hear his voice – not metallically on the phone but in his very room.

Call up to hear that song one more time again.

One more time.

Border Radio

One more midnight, her man is still gone
The nights move too slow
She tries to remember the heat of his touch
While listening to the Border Radio

She calls toll-free and requests an old song
Something they used to know
She prays to herself that wherever he is
He’s listening to the Border Radio

This song comes from nineteen sixty-two
Dedicated to a man who’s gone
Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio

She thinks of her son, asleep in his room
And how her man won’t see him grow
She thinks of her life and she hopes for a change
While listening to the Border Radio

This song comes from nineteen sixty-two
Dedicated to a man who’s gone
Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio

They play her tune but she can’t concentrate
She wonders why he had to go
One more midnight and her man is still gone
She’s listening to the Border Radio

This song comes from nineteen sixty-two
Dedicated to a man who’s gone
Fifty thousand watts out of Mexico
This is the Border Radio
This is the Border Radio

Border Radio first appeared on a 1982 CD from The Blasters which included Dave and brother Phil among its members.

That version is modern day Rockabilly and has the punch of the old Sun studio sound. I think Dave knew that the emotional core of the song – it’s sense of longing and loss and desperate hope had got somewhat lost in that production.

By the time of his solo record from 1987, ‘Romeo’s Escape’ he had figured out that the song needed to be performed slower and with more emotional intensity for it to fully bloom in the listeners imagination.

So, this version drips with emotional humidity.

There’s a palatable ache in Dave’s vocal and a tender tremor to Greg Leisz’s guitar and Katy Moffatt’s backup singing.

The song is now a country ballad – but a country ballad infused with southern soul stylings.

Like that song from 1962 Border Radio lingers in the mind echoing on and on as it encounters and colours the particular incidents and memories it evokes in each listeners own life.

Which is to say that Border Radio is a Keeper!

Dave Alvin is well aware of its merits and that its one of those songs whose power only grows over the years.

That’s why you can’t imagine a Dave Alvin concert without Border Radio.

And, it’s one of those songs that other songwriters, hard schooled in the craft, instantly recognise as a classic.

Here’s a live take on the song featuring David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and accordion maestro Flaco Jimenez that crosses back and forth across that borderline and rocks out too!

 

Why do we let time stand still and live in memory of the lonesome times?

Why not, by an act of will, stop this troublesome loving?

Useless to say.

Because, while you’re alive you’re in search of love.

Might as well ask the waves to cease surging to the shore.

Such folly!

Yes, but divine folly.

If you won’t risk being a Fool you’ll never find Love.

Oh, you’re crazy for crying and crazy for trying but it’s all worth it for Love, Love, Love, Crazy Love.

It often doesn’t travel on the broad highway.

No, true love often travels on a gravel road.

You can’t start it like a car – you can’t stop it with a gun.

And, in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.

One more midnight, one more prayer, one more turn around the floor with the Border Radio playing that song from 1962.

One step for aching and two steps for breaking.

I can’t stop loving you.

Those happy hours that we once knew.

Those happy hours.

She calls toll free and requests an old song.

She prays to herself that wherever he is he’s listening to the Border Radio.

The Border Radio.

 

Bobby Charles, Doug Sahm and Mark Knopfler : Tennessee Blues

A true message always gets through.

Songs that speak truthfully to the ebbing and flowing tides of our lives take on a life of their own cutting distinctive channels in our hearts.

Such songs as Bob Dylan says ‘get up and walk’ away from their composers and become community treasures.

Treasures cherished by what I still think of as the ‘record buying public’ and perhaps even more so by fellow songwriters who recognise a classic song with such lyrical and melodic grace that it seems to demand new interpretations.

The song taking pride of place on The Immmortal Jukebox today is an absolute Peach – ‘Tennessee Blues’ written and first performed by the late, great, Bobby Charles.

I can imagine brows being furrowed at the name – Bobby Charles?

Now, you may not be a fully paid up, got the T Shirt and the Box Set, fan like me but believe me you know and can croon along to several Bobby Charles songs.

How about, ‘See You Later Alligator’ or ‘Walking To New Orleans’ not to mention ‘Before I Grow Too Old’ or ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do’ for starters.

Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Frogman Henry had the Chart hits but they all came from the pen and piano of Abbeville La native Robert Charles Guidry – Bobby Charles.

Bobby’s own versions of his songs are uniformally lovely with, ‘Tennessee Blues’ from his glowing 1972 album produced by The Band’s Rick Danko winning the garland for the most lovely of all.

 

From the ‘Trust us, we’ll take our own sweet time with this one’ opening bars you just know Tennessee Blues is gonna be a Keeper!

There’s a free flowing lazy certainty to the way the song proceeds.

Everything feels natural, unhurried, ripe and right.

Listening you feel like you’re gently rocking to and fro, deliciously half asleep, in a summer hammock.

By now, having lived with this song for decades, as soon as the song starts I can feel the tears welling up and my Boot Heels get ready to go wandering once again round the dance floor with my Darling.

And as we twirl, lost in the Music, we find a place where we don’t have to worry.

A place where we feel loose.

A place alive with the sound of running water and the trills of birds in the trees.

A place to forget all those regrets.

A place where we can settle and stay.

A place to be at peace.

To be at peace.

Oh, a place where you lose all those blues.

All those Blues.

Those Tennessee Blues.

Here, Bobby Charles has written and sung a Song that enchants.

A Song that’s balm for the bruised heart, the weary mind and the thirsty soul.

I’m not 100% certain of the musician credits but that’s surely Amos Garrett (of Midnight At The Oasis fame) playing the tender guitar licks and The Band’s instrumental maestro Garth Hudson playing the heartbreaking Accordion.

N. D. Smart on Drums and Jim Colegrove on Bass.

Violin courtesy of Harry Lookofsky (the Father of ‘Walk Away Renee’ writer Michael Brown.

The sense of ancient sway they create together is truly magical.

A magic that was recognised by one of the most good hearted of all musicians San Antonio’s own favourite Son – Doug Sahm.

Doug cuts deep, imbuing Tennessee Blues with tender Texas Soul.

 

 

Doug’s vocal takes us up to the Mountain Tops and down to the lapping lake side waters where we might bathe and be born again.

Born again.

Across the wide Atlantic Ocean Mark Knopfler, taking time out from his leadership responsibilities with Dire Straits, found peace and nourishment returning to the Americana sounds that had first inspired him to take up the Guitar and search out the chords for the songs he would write himself.

His companions, collectively The Notting Hillbillies, were Steve Phillips and Brendan Crocker.

In their hands Tennessee Blues takes on the character of aching night prayer – a compline service for lost saloon souls.

We are all searching for that place.

That place of shaded valleys and cool reviving streams.

That place where our regrets and worries dissolve in the warm breeze.

That place of peace.

Bobby Charles’ Tennessee Blues takes us there and gives us the strength to carry that peace within us as we travel on.

 

Notes :

Tennessee Blues can be found on the Rhino Encore CD ‘Bobby Charles’ – unreservedly recommended!

I also love:

The Bear Family compilation, ‘See You Later Alligator’

‘Last Train To Memphis’ from Rice and Gravy

‘Home Made Songs’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’

Bobby Charles died in 2010

His songs will endure.

Mary Chapin Carpenter : When Halley Came To Jackson

‘It’s not every night a comet comes around’

The current President of France Emmanuel Macron is a man, as you might expect, of Gallic flair and charm as well as vaulting ambition.

Un homme pour Le Grand Geste.

So when he visits other World leaders and presents a gift it’s not going to be a silver salver!

When he went to China Emmanuel gave his host a throroughbred Horse – Vesuvius.

And now, in a master stroke of diplomacy, he has decided to ‘cement’ relations between France and The United Kingdom by loaning us the priceless artwork The Bayeux Tapestry (which just happens to commemorate the successful Norman invasion of England in 1066!).

I will be at the head of the queue to see the Tapestry because it is a great work of art and craft with immense historical interest and significance.

Not least be because it includes one of the first representations of the appearance of Halley’s Comet.

Halley's Comet of 1066, Bayeux Tapestry Stock Photo

For hundreds of thousands of years a bit of heaven has orbited our Solar System. Shooting across the sky – bright as a torch to the naked eye here on Earth about every 80 years or so.

The Comet has been a part of recorded human experience since 467 or 240 BC depending upon which academic authority you rely.

Lets just say Humankind has been looking up into the heavens for a very long time and wondering what sign or portent the appearance of Halley’s Comet could signify.

In 1066 for England’s King Harold – defeat in battle and  death.

For William of Normandy – conquest and a Crown.

When it appeared in 1301 the great artist Giotto will have seen it blazing in the sky. It is surely Halley’s Comet that he used as the model for the Star over Bethlehem in his exquisite Nativity Of 1305.

 

Image result for giotto adoration magi 1305

Just as artists have always looked into the night sky for inspiration so too have scientists and astronomers avid to map the heavens, predict orbits and understand the mathematical keys to the music of the spheres.

Enter astronomer, geophysicist, meteorologist, physicist and mathematician Edmund Halley (1656 – 1742).

Edmond Halley Image 4

Halley would make important contributions in many fields of science and win numerous honours including the Posts of Astronomer Royal and Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford.

Yet, his immortality in the human imagination will undoubtedly rest on his correct calculation, published in 1705, of the periodic orbit of the comet now named after him.

As predicted by Halley the comet reappeared in 1758 some 16 years after his own death.

And, every 74-79 years it comes around again.

It comes around again reminding us of the immensity of the Universe and our small place in it.

When it came around in 1910 it shone above two great American writers – Mark Twain and Eudora Welty.

Twain managed to be one of those fortunate enough to be alive for two appearances of Halley’s Comet as he was born in 1835 and died in April 1910. Characteristically, Twain wrote, ‘It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet’.

As Twain went out Eudora Welty came in (she was born in April 1909).

In her wonderfully lyrical book, ‘One Writer’s Beginnings’ (get the Audio Book On CD she reads herself!) she makes reference to being a babe taken to the window in her Father’s  arms when Halley’s Comet loomed above her native Jackson Mississippi in 1910.

Among the admiring readers of that Book was Mary Chapin Carpenter one of the most highly literate and emotionally intelligent songwriters of our time.

Mary is a writer who ponders deeply the dizzy ups and downs of life’s carousel before capturing our situations in songs filled with feeling, wit and craft.

Her imagination caught by Eudora’s luminous prose she wrote a luminous, deeply touching, work of her own in, ‘Halley Came to Jackson’.

 

 

Mary’s melody and lyric are tenderly poetic.

Her vocal is both wistful and heartfelt while Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle reels in the passing years for all of us.

There is always flesh and blood humanity in Mary’s songs; a present sense of the social, moral, imaginative and emotional plenitude every life is heir to.

Daddy in the song will only get to see Halley fly this one time.

This one time.

Aware, as parents always hauntingly are, of the fleeting span of life we have allotted to us here he tenderly holds his infant daughter in his arms and prays that when Halley comes around again that, though he will be long gone, she will look up into the heavens and see it bright as a torch above Jackson again.

And to that I say Amen .. Amen .. Amen.

Halley is due again in 2061.

None of us can know what joys and calamities will visit us between now and then.

All we can do is have Faith.  Have Hope. And Love.

Make sure when Halley comes again and the wind is still that you look up and make a wish for the ones who will survive you.

Dream a little dream of a Comet’s charms.

 

 

This Post for Stephen, Irene, Kevin, Ronan and Hugh (not forgetting Cooper) with thanks for the welcome to The Kingdom and the hospitality.

I don’t hold you responsible for the hailstorms but I do for the good fare and good cheer.

Halley comes around again in July 2061. Given my dietary and exercise regime I hope to be around to share a toast then.

If not, raise a glass for me.

 

Notes :

In addition to being a wonderful song ‘Halley Came to Jackson’ is also available as an utterly charming illustrated book by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dan Andreasen published by Harper Collins.