Dark & Stormy Night

For many reasons, watching movies is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s for different reasons that I love going to the movies, the chief of which, is that I really enjoy hearing an audience laugh as one unit. When different races, genders, political ideologies, etc, are all united in humor, I find it super cathartic. I find that being a part of a random & diverse audience laughing in unison, jumping in fright, or delighting in triumph is proof positive that there is much more in common between us all than social media would have us believe. As Sting would say, ‘the Russians love their children too.’

Of course it’s true, by and large, people who are on opposite belief spectrums love their children. The vast majority of us want the same things- we want to love, and live, and be safe and successful. We all gasp at heartbreak, and flinch at trauma. We all laugh, we all cry, and we all hope, dream and clench in fear. These unifying threads, when woven into stories, become archetypes. Combined with a bit of finesse and perhaps some technique, it’s one of the things that make a great movie, or a timeless song. Even to audiences with different beliefs. I love being in a movie theatre audience much the same way I love performing with a symphonic ensemble- it’s ground zero for the harmony.

Now, the harmony felt in a movie audience may be wide, but it can also be shallow. It’s not like you’ll be meeting people and making life long friends. But there are those rare works of art that really unite a fandom. It’s an unusual artist that stands for something so cleanly, that to hear that someone is a fan, I know enough about their personality to reasonably suspect that we’d be simpatico. Perhaps the Inklings, perhaps the great satirists: if you love Mark Twain- we can probably hang. Above all, there is perhaps no fan that I feel more of a rapport with, more of an affinity to, than the fan of cartoonist Bill Watterson.

His series Calvin & Hobbes was they key laugh trigger was I was little. In my life, before Star Wars, there was Spaceman Spiff, before any Marvel or DC hero, there was Stupendous Man, and before Jurassic Park, there was Calvinosaurus. His hard-boiled detective alter ego Tracer Bullet was my absolute favorite.

The thing about Calvin & Hobbes, is that it grows with you. It works when you’re in 3rd grade, and it works when you’re an adult too. As I grew older, I needed to know what inspired Mr. Watterson’s insanely lucid imagination. Researching Tracer Bullet, led me into Film Noire, which then led me back to a time before television. A time of pulp detective fiction, and serialized radio. Philip Marlowe, and Sam Spade, hard-boiled gumshoes with an unpolished grit that captured the imagination of a society that struggled with industrialization, prohibition, depression, and organized crime.

What a stark historical image, and highly stylized moment. Dark & Stormy Night is just the first of what I hope to be many adventures starring my detective, ‘Arthur Devlin’. In this song he is fresh off the case, having discovered that the “Garter Belt Strangler” was none other than his own secretary! We join our hero on a Dark Night as he seeks to drown his troubles in alcohol, but his ‘adult swim’ is interrupted when in walks trouble…

In this song I sought to pay homage to my hero Mr. Waterson, as well as the genre. It’s an intimidating legacy that goes directly back through Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and even beyond Edgar Allen Poe. In the Album version of the song I included a faux radio broadcast in the manner consistent with the process nearly a century ago. The full version is available on my album Born of Fire, which can be found on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify, etc. One day I intend to do a whole album featuring my detective, Mr. Devlin and his misadventures, so stay tuned listeners, and don’t touch that dial!

Songcraft | James Taylor’s Copperline

 

I love this song. After the New England winter, months and months of snow yield to a rain somehow colder. By the time the air is dappled with the perfume of the spring’s first blossoms the hope of thaw has been fully exorcised. I’ve been tormented for so long that such memories have become foreign. The smell of spring is beautiful, but surprising and elusive in its familiarity. What is this perfume? I remember it from somewhere, perhaps a different life or a dream. I pause, Oh yeah, I remember this now, this is lilac. It means the cruel winter is finally releasing her grasp, and I can at last lower by guard. What was at one moment a glint on the horizon of memory becomes an all consuming flood. I remember lilacs, I remember the feel of grass underfoot, the sound of laughter by the beach, the smell of BBQ. I can FEEL it. The sun kissing my skin. It’s an unfolding. JT’s Copperline effects me the same way the soft spring air’s first trace of lilac does. The song, it too is an unfolding, and it’s deeply personal. I wonder if the significance is lost if you didn’t have the appropriate childhood. Specific songs speak to specific people.

There is something magic about the time and place you happily spend your childhood. The memories are especially sweet if you move away before you get too old. Once you’ve grown up and learned about the traffic and the bill paying of a particular area, the place loses a bit of wonder. The first bit of my mostly happy childhood was rather country-mouse. Since my family moved before I grew up, I never really learned what an adult life in the country was all about, and from what I hear it’s a lot of work.

I’d say the country childhood is the best type of life for a child, but I am rather biased. Empirically, there are some things best for adult perspectives, and I’d argue the inverse is true as well. I’d say one of the best things seen from the perspective of a child is the wonder of a country pond froze over for the winter, ripe for ice-skating. Or going horseback through the trails with an imagination lost dreaming about dragons, quests, and adventures. Slightly less epic, but certainly as magical is the experience of catching fireflies barefoot sprinting across wild meadow grass. It’s for falling into childhood memories like these, that I love this song. Every relisten beckons with a fresh journey. What started as a glint on the horizon, becomes an all consuming flood. It’s an unfolding.