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.

 

Christmas Cornucopia First Day

First Day featuring:

A Painting by Piero della Francesca (1415/20 to 1492)

Music by Bobby Helms, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Arvo Part

Poetry by John Clare (1793 to 1864)

For 2016 I am presenting The Christmas Cornucopia first seen in 2014 with significant added material.

Many of you who have joined the Jukebox community since 2014 will not have delved so far back into the Jukebox Archives. For you it will all be new!

For my much cherished veteran supporters I hope you will relish re reading the original text but also appreciate the new elements.

Each post now includes a favourite painting related to the Nativity Story and an additional piece of music.

I believe one of Christmas Tide’s greatest gifts is the opportunity it offers us to take a long, slow breath and still our hearts.

An opportunity to listen, to contemplate, to open ourselves up spiritually.

Each of the paintings and additional pieces of music featured this year has been chosen because they seem to me to be works of contemplative grace.

Christmas.

A time much anticipated which yet seems a surprise each time it occurs.

We wait, in hope, in full hearted anticipation for Christmas.

As Mary waited, full hearted, watchful and still for the longed for the birth of her son.

His birth was a miracle. As is every birth. For every birth changes the world absolutely.

I know of no work of art which captures that sense of awed anticipation with such tenderness as Piero della Francesca’s, ‘Madonna del Parto’.

Piero somehow manages to make present through drawing and paint both the vulnerability of Mary in all her humanity and the immanent divine.

pdf-pregnant-mad-br

To maintain the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’.

Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist.

I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time future bloom before us through his music.

Christmas comes but once a year. For some of us the very best of times – a reliable pleasure that grows more intense and treasured as the years go by.

Sadly, for others – the worst of times and an ordeal to be feared as it approaches and then endured until all the tinsel has been packed away for another year.

I am firmly in the Christmas is a glorious celebration camp. I love bright stars in dark December skies with flurries of snow dusting the earth beneath my feet. I love the gathering sense of anticipation as the season advances.

I love seeing people smiling to themselves as they go about their routine business now charged with a ‘this is the last time I’ll do this before Christmas’ awareness.

I love hunting out our well packed away- some would say well hidden – Christmas decorations and wondering if the expensive new lights from last year will work or should I have bought the sets I saw at such a discount only yesterday.

I love firmly deciding that of course only a real needle shedding tree will do with a wreath for the door and a crib for the hearth as well. I love the excitement of the children’s last week at school – what shall we buy for the teacher and this terms best friend?

I love remembering Christmases past: the ones when I was a child oblivious to all the work involved in ensuring everyone and everything was thought about and properly looked after.

The ones when I was a carefree and careless student carousing through every day and every night certain of my own immortality and soon to be recognised global significance.

The courting Christmases where love bloomed and plans were whispered for the Christmases we would make so magnificent in the years and decades ahead. The just married Christmases freighted with a ‘Are we really in charge now we and can do anything we want?’ thrill.

The ‘Now there’s a baby in the house Christmas here really is Christmas’ Christmas and the ones after where we solemnly said, ‘Well, he will expect us to maintain all our family traditions again this year’.

I remember and cherish the Christmas where the star present only arrived late on Christmas Eve packed by demonic elves who ensured only a chainsaw could remove the vacuum packing.

This was the star present that came with no assembly instructions apart from a minuscule diagram and a list of 56 parts to be tortured together before dawn broke and we all agreed that Santa Claus had got it exactly right this year too.

I remember the first Christmases after my father and my mother died when their absence was an ache that filled my stomach to bursting point and when I barely spoke their names for fear of breaking down.

I remember the Christmas when suddenly I started saying, ‘Mum and Dad would really have loved this’ and realising that I would always share that Christmas and every Christmas with them – for where did I learn to love but from them?

I remember the sound of off key Carollers outside our door somehow making it all the way through, ‘Silent Night’ and the sound of our rehearsed to infinity local church choir hushing the packed congregation with their perfect rendition of the same work and thinking both versions were what we needed to hear at that precise moment.

I remember lighting Christmas candles and knowing that my prayer would be answered even if I wouldn’t be able to recognise how or when.

I remember many, many Christmas songs from many different eras in many different styles (as you might expect if you are a regular Jukebox patron) that I resolve each year to start listening to earlier and earlier to get into the Christmas spirit.

So, harvesting a selection of personal favourites I propose to share a score or so of these with you over the next fortnight until we all raise our Christmas glasses in celebration of a birth and a beginning that continues to offer a blessed eternal hope for all mankind.

Let’s set this sleigh on its way with a Christmas classic from 1957. Bobby Helms’, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ always raises good cheer every December (come to think of it the same can be said when we listen to it, as we do, in February, May and August).

This song summons up the, ‘I like Ike’ Ozzie and Harriet days of the comfortable blue skies 1950s for me like no other Christmas song. I’m surprised Bob Dylan didn’t include it in his tender and wholly successful homage to the era, ‘Christmas In The Heart’.

1956/1957 was Bloomington born Bobby’s golden time. He had a great country and pop hit with, Fräulein’ followed up with another substantial success in, ‘My Special Angel’.

But his pop immortality was sealed with the toe tapping, smile inducing, always coming up fresh and welcome 45 issued just days before Christmas in 1957, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.

Written by Joseph Carleton Beale and James Ross Boothe the song has become a much loved and much recorded staple of the Christmas season.

Under the,’A’s’ alone I see it has been covered by everyone from Chet Atkins to Arcade Fire to Alvin And The Chipmunks (which I think we can all agree is quite a stretch!). Yet, no one has come anywhere near matching the easy charm and relaxed swing of the original. I’m already looking forward to hearing it next year!

Next a very different tone from one of the premier singer – songwriters of the modern era, Mary Chapin Carpenter.

‘Come Darkness, Come Light’ is the Christmas meditation of a schooled professional with a sharp eye and a battered heart.

Mary recognises that the spiritual message of Christmas is that a gift has been granted not to the grand and the deserving alone but to the broken and the wounded,the fearful and the doubting (which is most of us) as well.

It is those who know the fell dark who turn most gratefully to the light. So whether you come running or walking slow towards the light know that it was made to shine on you and that the darkness no matter how deep can never extinguish this light.

Mary has the confidence and steadiness of soul to let the song speak with minimal accompaniment. This is the title song of her 12 songs of Christmas CD which comes highly recommended along with her entire cannon.

Each post during this season will also include an extract from a favourite seasonal poem. Today it is, ‘December’ by John Clare a poet who was deeply atuned to the turning of the seasons and the rhythms of rural life.

‘… And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy’s infant ecstacy;
Laughing with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies’
Of people pulling geese above,
and keeping Christmas in the skies.’

 

 

Christmas Song Cornucopia – First Day

Christmas comes but once a year. For some of us the very best of times – a reliable pleasure that grows more intense and treasured as the years go by. Sadly,for some others – the worst of times and an ordeal to be feared as it approaches and then endured until all the tinsel has been packed away for another year.

I am firmly in the Christmas is a glorious celebration camp. I love bright stars in dark December skies with flurries of snow dusting the earth beneath my feet. I love the gathering sense of anticipation as the season advances. I love seeing people smiling to themselves as they go about their routine business now charged with a ‘this is the last time I’ll do this before Christmas’ awareness. I love hunting out our well packed away- some would say well hidden – Christmas decorations and wondering if the expensive new lights from last year will work or should I have bought the sets I saw at such a discount only yesterday.

I love firmly deciding that of course only a real needle shedding tree will do with a wreath for the door and a crib for the hearth as well. I love the excitement of the children’s last week at school – what shall we buy for the teacher and this terms best friend? I love remembering Christmases past: the ones when I was a child oblivious to all the work involved in ensuring everyone and everything was thought about and properly looked after. The ones when I was a carefree and careless student carousing through every day and every night certain of my own immortality and soon to be recognised global significance.

The courting Christmases where love bloomed and plans were whispered for the Christmases we would make so magnificent in the years and decades ahead. The just married Christmases freighted with a ‘Are we really in charge now we and can do anything we want?’ thrill. The ‘Now there’s a baby in the house Christmas here really is Christmas’ Christmas and the ones after where we solemnly said, ‘Well, he will expect us to maintain all our family traditions again this year’.

I remember and cherish the Christmas where the star present only arrived late on Christmas Eve packed by demonic elves who ensured only a chainsaw could remove the vacuum packing. This was the star present that came with no assembly instructions apart from a minuscule diagram and a list of 56 parts to be tortured together before dawn broke and we all agreed that Santa Claus had got it exactly right this year too.

I remember the first Christmases after my father and my mother died when their absence was an ache that filled my stomach to bursting point and when I barely spoke their names for fear of breaking down. I remember the Christmas when suddenly I started saying, ‘Mum and Dad would really have loved this’ and realising that I would always share that Christmas and every Christmas with them – for where did I learn to love but from them?

I remember the sound of off key Carollers outside our door somehow making it all the way through, ‘Silent Night’ and the sound of our rehearsed to infinity local church choir hushing the packed congregation with their perfect rendition of the same work and thinking both versions were what we needed to hear at that precise moment. I remember lighting Christmas candles and knowing that my prayer would be answered even if I wouldn’t be able to recognise how or when.

I remember many, many Christmas songs from many different eras in many different styles (as you might expect if you are a regular Jukebox patron) that I resolve each year to start listening to earlier and earlier to get into the Christmas spirit. So, harvesting a selection of personal favourites I propose to share a score or so of these with you over the next fortnight until we all raise our Christmas glasses in celebration of a birth and a beginning that continues to offer a blessed eternal hope for all mankind.

Let’s set this sleigh on its way with a Christmas classic from 1957. Bobby Helms’, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ always raises good cheer every December (come to think of it the same can be said when we listen to it, as we do, in February, May and August). This song summons up the, ‘I like Ike’ Ozzie and Harriet days of the comfortable blue skies 1950s for me like no other Christmas song. I’m surprised Bob Dylan didn’t include it in his tender and wholly successful homage to the era, ‘Christmas In The Heart’.

1956/1957 was Bloomington born Bobby’s golden time. He had a great country and pop hit with, Fräulein’ followed up with another substantial success in, ‘My Special Angel’. But his pop immortality was sealed with the toe tapping, smile inducing, always coming up fresh and welcome 45 issued just days before Christmas in 1957, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’. Written by Joseph Carleton Beale and James Ross Boothe the song has become a much loved and much recorded staple of the Christmas season.

Under the,’A’s’ alone I see it has been covered by everyone from Chet Atkins to Arcade Fire to Alvin And The Chipmunks (which I think we can all agree is quite a stretch!). Yet, no one has come anywhere near matching the easy charm and relaxed swing of the original. I’m already looking forward to hearing it next year!

Next a very different tone from one of the premier singer – songwriters of the modern era, Mary Chapin Carpenter. ‘Come Darkness, Come Light’ is the Christmas meditation of a schooled professional with a sharp eye and a battered heart.

Mary recognises that the spiritual message of Christmas is that a gift has been granted not to the grand and the deserving alone but to the broken and the wounded,the fearful and the doubting (which is most of us) as well. It is those who know the fell dark who turn most gratefully to the light. So whether you come running or walking slow towards the light know that it was made to shine on you and that the darkness no matter how deep can never extinguish this light.

Mary has the confidence and steadiness of soul to let the song speak with minimal accompaniment. This is the title song of her 12 songs of Christmas CD which comes highly recommended along with her entire cannon.

Each post during this season will also include an extract from a favourite seasonal poem. Today it is, ‘December’ by John Clare a poet who was deeply atuned to the turning of the seasons and the rhythms of rural life.

‘… And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy’s infant ecstacy;
Laughing with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies’
Of people pulling geese above,
and keeping Christmas in the skies.’