Tag Archives: Music Videos

“Spring and Fall: to a young child,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

“Spring and Fall: to a young child,” a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 — 1889) set to music by Natalie Merchant. From Merchant’s 2010 album Leave Your Sleep.

“Spring and Fall: to a young child”
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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“The Right Words,” Sarah Slean

From Slean’s Land & Sea

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The country music version of young adult literature

Every time I hear country singer Julie Roberts’ “Too Damn Young,” I think about how it’s essentially a young adult novel condensed into a 3 1/2 minute country song. You know of any other songs that might as well be YA?

Happy Friday, everyone.

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“Where’s the heart in me that made the one in you so cold?”

As you’ve probably noticed, I get a lot of inspiration from my favorite songwriters. In fact, I often create playlists to help me explore the themes of pieces I’m writing. One songwriter I return to again and again is the vastly underrated Jonatha Brooke. Her “So Much Mine” (recorded with Jennifer Kimball as The Story) came on my iPod the other day and I fell in love with it all over again. I defy you to find a more precise and haunting song about the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter.

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“And the heart is hit / In a city far away / But it feels so close”: Art, 9/11, and an Oregonian girl

This Wednesday I attended a reading at Nicola’s Books about Granta 116. The British literary magazine’s latest issue is focused on 9/11’s global impact. Granta sponsored similar events in fifty international cities. Panelists at the Nicola’s event included Jeremiah Chamberlin (fiction writer and director of Michigan’s undergraduate writing program), V.V. Ganeshananthan (novelist, journalist, Michigan visiting professor), Linda Gregerson (poet and Michigan professor), and Megan Levad (poet and assistant director of Michigan’s MFA program).*

As to be expected, the audience at Nicola’s was made up almost entirely of writers and passionate readers. Given the mutual interest in art and literature, the conversation turned to whether it’s possible to make art out of tragedy. And, perhaps more to the point, what creative expression the panelists felt best expressed their experience of the events of 9/11. Each panelist gave a thoughtful response that spoke to the very personal way that 9/11 affected each person. I found Levad’s response particularly interesting. She lived in New York City at the time of the attacks and shared that she found dance performances the most cathartic because of their physicality and use of silence. This made perfect sense to me. I hadn’t realized it before but my response, far separated from the immediate events, was latently physical. I remember being so sad and confused that I hurt. (Teenage angst may have played a small role.)

I had just begun my junior year of high school in September 2001. I lived far away from New York City and had never visited. Although I’d seen them in the New York skyline in movies, I didn’t even know those two tall towers had a name. We aren’t a family that listens to the radio in the car or watches Good Morning America so I didn’t know anything had happened until my friend Maura told me in the hallway. “You’re too happy,” she said. “You must not have heard.” My world was so small, I assumed she was talking about a pop quiz or some other high school trauma.

We were released early because my school was downtown, near government buildings, and no one knew if the West Coast would be attacked as well. When I called my mom and asked her to come take me home, the timbre of her voice was so calm and assured, it made me worried. My mother is a former nurse and only uses that voice when things are serious. Like so many other people, I spent all evening watching the news, watching the towers fall, watching bodies falling, watching newscasters cry.

Given my sadness and anger despite my geographical distance, the piece of art about 9/11 that means the most to me is the album One Beat by the Portland-based band Sleater-Kinney. Looking back, I don’t know if their Northwestern, feminist perspective was my own, or whether theirs shaped mine. In the months before I graduated from high school and embarked on my adult life, the lyrics of One Beat‘s title track seemed to say it all. “If I’m to run the future/ You’ve got to let the old world go.”

I’d like to highlight two stand-out tracks that refer specifically to the events of 9/11: “Faraway” and “Combat Rock.”

“Faraway” encapsulates the majority’s experience: watching the towers fall from a distance, on television, and being overwhelmed with fear, anger, and sorrow.

7:30 am nurse the baby on the couch
Then the phone rings
“Turn on the T.V.”
Watch the world explode in flames
And don’t leave the house

And the sky overhead
Is silent, waiting
Clear blue holds it’s breath

And the heart is hit
In a city far away
But it feels so close
Don’t speak of why you’re afraid
Don’t breathe the air today

(Standing here on a one way road
And I fall down,
So we fall down)
No other direction for this to go

Why can’t I get along with you?

And the president hides
While working men rush in
To give their lives

I look to the sky
And ask it not to rain
On my family tonight

I love that the song opens with a line about breast feeding. When’s the last time you heard that in a rock song?

Much as Levad found solace in the silence and wordlessness of dance, I remember thinking that the loudness and distortion of “Faraway” were just what my ears needed. Corin Tucker is known for her powerful vocals and here they are put to full effect. The chorus is a keen that transcends its simple, child-like question: Why can’t I get along with you? At face value, the question is posed to the terrorists. But of course Tucker is also questioning the American government, where class distinctions and social standing determine who is put on the front line (“And the president hides/While working men rush in/To give their lives.”)

By the time of the album’s release, in August 2002, America had begun seeking retribution, leaving many citizens uneasy. Hence, “Combat Rock.”

They tell us there are only two sides to be on
If you are on our side you’re right, if not you’re wrong
But are we innocent, paragons of good?
Is our guilt erased by the pain that we’ve endured?

Hey look it’s time to pledge allegiance
I love my dirty Uncle Sam
Our country’s marching to the beat now
And we must learn to step in time

Where is the questioning?
Where is the protest song?
Since when is skepticism un-American?
Dissent’s not treason but they talk like it’s the same
Those who disagree are afraid to show their face
Let’s break out our old machines now
It sure is good to see them run again
Oh gentlemen start your engines
And we know where we got the oil from
Are you feeling alright now?
Paint myself all red, white and blue
Are you singing let’s fight now?
Innocent People die, uh oh
There are reasons to unite
Is this why we unite?
If you hate this time
Remember we are the time!

Show you love your country, go out and spend some cash
Red, white, blue hot pants doing it for Uncle Sam
Flex our muscles show em we’re stronger than the rest
Raise your hands up baby, are you sure that we’re the best?

We’ll come out with our fists raised
The good old boys are back on top again
And if we let them lead us blindly
The past becomes the future once again

When I first heard this song, I, like many Americans, was disillusioned and skeptical of the way our government was conducting itself. “Combat Rock” burst into my life and let me know it was okay to question. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself “Since when is dissent un-American?” while watching the news.

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*Read the Michigan Daily article about the event here.

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I’m Reading A Book, Julian Smith

Man, who hasn’t wanted to read and drive? But I must say, it’s terrifying when you actually see someone doing it. True story.

Thanks to Jess for the link.

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Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant

Leave Your Sleep isn’t just about my putting poems to music. It’s about the poets themselves.” – Natalie Merchant

Although not marketed as a “children’s album,” Natalie’s Merchant’s 2010 album Leave Your Sleep was inspired by poetry written for children or by children. Merchant, who began the project as a way of documenting the “word-of-mouth tradition” she employed “to delight and teach” her young daughter, collected a diverse set of poems that span several centuries and cultures. Several works will be familiar to poetry buffs but, on the whole, the collection is an impressive roster of little known gems.

The original poems may have been written for children but this is an album for adults. Not because of the subject matter – though some material may prove too complex or frightening* for young children – but because of tone. As Peter Pan remains a child while Wendy continues to mature, the poems selected capture the ethereal nature of childhood, a country to which we can never return once we’ve left. Only grown-ups can empathize with Charles Causley’s (“Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience”) confusion at no longer seeing the world through a child’s eyes. It’s a jarring moment in any life, and though some, like the poets represented, are better at mimicking that perspective, it can never be regained once it’s lost. It isn’t a coincidence that “Nursery Rhyme” opens the album.

I don’t mean to imply that children can’t enjoy this album too. There are many fun tracks (“Janitor’s Boy,” “Adventures of Isabel,” “Bleezer’s Ice-Cream“) in which young children will delight. But I believe older elementary and high school students would best be able to enjoy the album in its entirety. Perhaps it’s best to say that this is an album that will grow with you. 

The album consists of two compact discs (1 hour, 53 minutes) along with a companion hardcover book that provides the complete poems and brief author biographies. iTunes sells the digital edition with a PDF version of the book.

The EPK explains the project and Merchant’s inspirations in more detail.

Concert excerpt that features “Spring and Fall: To A Young Child”

Video of “The Man In The Wilderness”

Video of “Calico Pie”

Video of “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience”

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* “Spring and Fall: to a Young Child” explains death, “The Sleeping Giant” talks about little boys being eaten whole, and “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” concerns the inevitable loss of innocence as we age.

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