random music fridays : bonny light horseman (natalie merchant + lunasa)

I’m always curious about songs speaking supposedly from a woman’s point of view, addressing dead or dying menfolk. Typically because it wasn’t women writing these songs. So I always want to know if this is the way the men writing the songs want to be remembered? Or is it how they remembered their dead friends, and culturally they aren’t allowed to mourn properly, so they had to frame the song from a mourning widow or girlfriend’s point of view?

“Bonny Light Horseman” is one of these. Dating back, indeed, to the Napoleonic Wars it sings of, the song was distributed on broadsheets (which itself begs the question — was the whole damn ballad propaganda? was there, even in the 1790s, an office devoted to inflaming the nationalistic fervor of the people via song? was there a Napoleonic Wag the Dog situation going on?) published in London, Birmingham and Prestons. (Source.)

This version, done as a collaboration between Natalie Merchant — yes, the Natalie Merchant that filled the radio stations in high school — and Lunasa, is very much not the mournful drinking ballad. (It also makes me wonder if enough time has passed since Titanic for the general public to accept hornpipes again. I like hornpipes.) It’s too slow, for one. For another, it’s…oh, I don’t know. Do people even sing sad songs together anymore, drunk or otherwise? Do you keep needing to stand us up as vehicles for your sorrow? Surely not.

The idea that loss just flows in you like syrup and you can tap into it purely and fill a bucket with it, just loss, without having to filter out anger or flecks of yourself or something is terribly anachronistic. These songs that just have women wondering the moors in mourning are silly. We don’t just cry. We rage. At the ones who went off and died. At the people who sent them there. At everyone who didn’t care, or care enough, or cared too late.

As a resurrection of a historial piece, though, it’s pretty enough. These lyrics are the ones modified by Tony Rose in 1982. Interestingly, he changes the eagle of the earlier lyrics to simply “small bird.” I kind of want to ask him why. A small bird’s nest won’t hold the dead horseman’s heart, man, let alone his long cold body. Did you take our wide wings and pinions from us because you thought it too dangerous? Too unladlylike? Or too nationalistic? Mourning women have already been written into the national narrative; don’t try to make us clean again.

You could have at least let us keep our claws.


take my money, clarinets

Listen to these clarinets, from ESO: Summerset’s soundtrack. Just listen:

I love that the person who made the video advertises this segment as “not depressing!” Thank you my man. You know what I’m looking for. Just listen to that!

Those lone clarinets are absolutely the most magnificent part, but here is the preceding minute, with more strings and almost-but-not-quite locomotive buildup, which is beautiful:

I think that’s, what, an oboe in there? Goddamn. It’s so good. The high elves are so awful. But this music is so good. Every time my husband passes by me playing Summerset he pauses either to note, during a dialogue sequence, “god the high elves suck,” or, whilst wandering, “that music!” And he’s right. Shit. It’s great.


When I was six, I came sobbing into the computer room where my mother was gaming late at night. I couldn’t sleep, I said, and when she asked why I said it was because of the ticking of the Peter Rabbit clock on the wall — a recent gift from British friends who had since returned home.


One of the unending, little losses that pile up after a parent is gone is that fact that you can’t ask them, as an adult, what thoughts they had that never reached your ears, as a child. How they dealt with things; made sense of them. I have no idea how my mother interpreted this particular outburst internally, but outwardly she was extremely practical about it. First she ordered me back to bed, assuming (not without reason for suspicion) that I was likely grandstanding and making an unnecessary fuss about bedtime. Then when she still heard me sniffling down the hall, she came in, removed the clock, and delivered me into blessed silence.

It wasn’t as though I was sitting there contemplating my own mortality as a six year-old, of course — nor am I particularly given to melodrama when I hear clocks now. But I can hear the ticking of a watch on someone’s hand from all the way across a room. Whether it’s in the middle of a conversation or tolling dolorously from the wrist of someone who has fallen asleep in a chair, that infernal ticking drives me up the wall, similarly to the way people who can’t sit still and have to jog their foot constantly drive me up the wall. Just sit still, for fucksake.

It’s surprising to me, then, how staggered I am by the theme for The Crown, which in its best episodes sweeps in at the end over a series of cuts, imperious and inexorable. Rupert Gregson-Williams* does the score, and like Hans Zimmer’s theme for Interstellar (and for that matter Inception too), there is very much the ticking of the clock about its plunge onward, despite the travails, international and deeply personal, it oversees as it marches towards the end credits.

In the episode Dear Mrs. Kennedy, however, the same theme gives, for once, a constancy and a comfort more terrible, maybe, than when it streams forth unfeeling for those over whom it plays. Because what runs beneath the theme are, yes, vignettes, as before, but here they are all strung together by radio and television coverage of the Kennedy assassination. What runs under the theme, then, are words and images we already know very well, so rather than being tasked with the taking-in of new information we can take a step back — the same step back allowed to Elizabeth, who was not, this time, the primary recipient of the blows the fall during the episode — and let it, well, sweep over us. Sweep us, to some extent, away.

And the fact that this is a comfort, in this episode, is ghastly. But there it is. There should be something inexorable about that onward march of time, to be sure, but typically — both in the final minutes of each episode of The Crown, and in life — the inexorability is a thing to be feared. But here, that push onward serves the same purpose, musically, that religious people saying “this too shall pass” does. How horrific that something so damaging brings such comfort. But then, compared to the damage playing out on radios and televisions round the world at that time…compared to the damage Jackie Kennedy carried as stains, insistently and against the wishes of those who tried to clean her up…it is, perhaps, a lesser blow. A lesser evil.

“That’s the thing about unhappiness,” Elizabeth says to the screen, in answer though to her mother, who has just asked about Jackie Kennedy’s marriage. “All it takes is for something worse to come along for you to realize it was happiness after all.”



*Who was nominated, incidentally, specifically for the score for the Hyde Park Corner episode, the first one which had me crying as I watched it, splicing as it does between the ailing king singing with one daughter (and being urged by her to turn and see the people who love him as he sings past his stammer), and trying to look after the other through speaking with her husband with this, the last of his strength and quite literally his breath, and then fading into the mist…

random music fridays : river

I was very close to turning this off once we left the chorus for the first verse. The clapping and yelling I can get behind; that coquettish murmur is very much no.* But there’s more yelling and less flirting later. The bass is a bit overkill, but it’s something other than sad or helpless or fecklessly horny**, so I’m a fan.

*For me.

**Not that there’s ever a good time for this, but this moment in history is so not the time.

Choke this love till the veins start to shiver
One last breath till the tears start to wither
Like a river, like a river
Shut your mouth and run me like a river

the last hamilton holdout bows down

I don’t like musical theater.

Loyal beyond all reason, right? That’s why. A guy put a girl I knew in a psych ward when he banged the whole cast of a show rather than the girl, his girlfriend. My friend. Whom I loved. So fuck him and the entire ensemble, the entire enterprise, was my way of thinking. Even if she recovered (she did), I, vis-a-vis musical theater, did not. I remember being surprised, watching Lin-Manuel Miranda break down saying love is love is love during an acceptance speech around the time of the Pulse massacre. Is this to look good? I thought. Is this to curry a kind of favor? I had neither seen nor spoken to the girl in years, but I never forgave the…system? culture? social apparatus? that threatened to take her from me. And here was this guy choking up for people he didn’t know. Appearing genuine in it.

Plus the show has been inescapable, and I have this temporary unlimited music trial thing, so. I listened. So many people I admire love it so I listened. Half the memes I encounter reference it so I listened.

And, ah.

I’m actually listening to people sing a story I’m interested in hearing. Which is one thing I did not expect. I guess it’s foolish to have doubted. I’ll drag my unskilled ass through a game I’m no good at, after all, if only to get a few lines of dialogue that present the possibility of a different shade of meaning to a side-plot. Is a melody so much more to ask?

But, also. Dear Theodosia and all the dads I’ve heard snag their voices in their throats trying to say how it spoke to them. And how the “you’re going to blow us all away” line was said with love but rang of warning too, veering so close to the blind faith and indulgence that led so many parents to tell us there are no limits when there are. To tell us we could be anything when we can’t. “This is going to come back to haunt you,” you think, and it does. It does!

Barricading melodies up in single songs is so not the way a story should work (because it is not how life works), and this doesn’t. Motifs should tangle up and intermingle and be present, insistently so, despite sometimes one’s attempt to move beyond them. And this does that. Maybe this is normal? I wouldn’t know — again, I avoid this stuff, typically. But bringing that Dear Theodosia melody back, I immediately thought oh no. Oh no no no. You said it and he took it in, we all take in what you (parents) say in love and with the best of intentions, and we (and you) think those are enough to protect us and they’re not.

They’re not.

And I didn’t know we got to see any of that here. I thought it was just rah rah history, rah rah. And I love history but not the revolution; I was overexposed to the duller side of it as a child and had no interest in yet another retelling of the Constitutional Convention.

But I didn’t know he becomes the theme of every other book I pick up (by accident I assure you): another broken parent with a dead child, and a spouse they hurt too, either through their action or inaction or through simply being alive when their child is not. I didn’t know we see him being a normal, wrecked person, instead of that visage glaring down from the biographies shelf, stern and lifeless like all the others, immortalized for precisely the qualities that make him seem more like a bust than a man.

I didn’t know musical theater people were into singing about actual people; I thought they were more into hurting them.


I would like someone to write a musical about dementia, please, and I want it to carve everyone’s hearts out and leave them steaming on the floor before them. Because loss goes both ways and I want some ragged motif given in love and in strength to be whispered in straggling breaths having ruined a family and shadowed a life. Lives. Do it, someone, please. Wrench them.

Loss isn’t a competition, but a dead child features in every other book because people give that horror its space. You are allowed to be wrecked by that. But not the other way around. The other way around is treated as expected. Maybe a little earlier, but still. It’s a tidy kind of loss, we are told.

There is nothing tidy about shitting yourself because you’re so lost in your own head you forgot where the bathroom is in your own home. Again and again and again. And there’s nothing tidy about getting a five AM phone call from your father who ostensibly wants you to explain a Swiffer WetJet to him but who really wants to rant and rave about what is happening to his wife, then hate himself for hating her for it, then rant and rave again. And again. And again. Until she’s dead, and there are no more phone calls, and it’s quiet as hell uptown.

Someone write the damn musical. And drive that knife deep. So more people give you the space to fall apart, when the person who built you up shatters irreparably.

Do a Dear Theodosia on that shit. I will not want to see it. But I will want to know other people feel it.