By The Landlord
“I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.” - John Clare
“Beauty, like ice, our footing does betray;
Who can tread sure on the smooth, slippery way:
Pleased with the surface, we glide swiftly on,
And see the dangers that we cannot shun.” – John Dryden
“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” – Mae West
A warm welcome to Song Bar! Pull up a chair by the roaring fire. Have a hot toddy, or would you prefer a whisky, a brandy, or a gin and tonic, and some ice in that? Here at the Bar we like to choose topics that avoid the obvious, but sometimes the answer is at your feet, right under your nose, and all around you. Is it too obvious, like calling your dog Rover, or you cat Felix (or even vice versa)? But why not, if it works? And if you tread that apparently obvious path, it can sometimes lead to a view and experience that's refreshing and original, a landscape gloriously transformed, just like the best songs can do when they begin with known chords and rhythms. And so that’s where we’re looking this week, for those that refer to ice or snow in lyrics and titles, real or metaphorical, and all that means. It may be a winter wonderland or a dangerous frozen hell – beautiful, brutal, and yet perhaps it might also melt hearts.
Ice and snow could certainly be viewed as complete metaphors for human race. We’re all individuals (as they say on Monty Python’s The Life of Brian), but we have no meaning unless we are part of something bigger. Every snowflake is unique, but melts into nothingness without bonding together. And of course, all our lives are as transient as any fragment of water:
Even an inch of snow causes chaos in Britain. Our nation grinds to a halt in travel chaos, as if each time it’s a shock event. A mass hysteria overcomes people. There seems to be collective amnesia about such a thing ever happening before. It’s bit like when the sun comes out on a hot day. Flesh is bared, and people crowd in parks and on beaches like puffins on a rock, as if this is a once-in-al-lifetime opportunity. To use a phrase from Orhan Pamuk’s novel, Snow, it’s “... the endless repetition of an ordinary miracle.” Us British react like this dog, who has never seen snow before:
In a reversal of this, here’s a beautiful poem by Philip Larkin, First Sight, about lambs being born into snow. For them it is the norm.The shock for them will be when they first experience lush green countryside later:
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” says JB Priestley beginning an avalanche of visitors to the Bar, eager to tell us how they view the white stuff.
One of snow’s most abiding qualities, says the collective voice, is how it brings us together. “Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood, “ says the artist Andy Goldsworthy. “A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship,” says Markus Zusak in The Book Thief. Ah yes, that take me back.
And in A Child's Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas describes the tender and yet also brutal side of sibling play: ““It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” And it’s hard to better his description of the stuff in his Quite Early One Morning: Stories: ““The crisp path through the field in this December snow, in the deep dark, where we trod the buried grass like ghosts on dry toast.”
Snow is one of the most inspiration sights for poets, novelists and also for songwriters because of all that it can mean. “The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love,” says Margaret Atwood, who quite possibly inspired Kate Bush. While falling it hides your passage /When finished it documents your path,” says Richard L. Ratliff.
“Advice is like snow - the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.” says Samuel Taylor Coleridge (or is that ColdRidge?) calmly emerging from his Kubla Khan ice palace. “Inner peace is a quiet evening moonlight walk in the soft falling snow of our minds,” adds writer Wes Adamson.
Some get more philosophical. “If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?” says Jennifer McMahon in The Winter People. But few have more tender moments that Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Looking Glass books: “I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
There are so many other snow associations out there, from snow globes, and of course the cocaine slang connection, but for now let’s complete the snow part of this introduction with a song, which isn’t really about snow, but features it, and is a gorgeous part of any childhood, hopefully:
Ice in many ways is even more extreme than snow, both in associations of beauty, but also danger and death. “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice,” says the poet Robert Frost. The world. “Ice can kill as dead as fire,” says George RR Martin, enjoying a whisky with ice by the fireside. He’s quoting from A Clash of Kings, one of the books from A Song of Ice and FIre, on which Game of Thrones is based.
“I have a pathological terror of falling through ice. I nearly drowned once. I fell off a boat and got a cramp, and was rescued by an oil-rig diver, a great bear of a man who simply leant into the water and scooped me out with one finger,” recalls the car-obsessed dinosaur TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson. I’m not sure we serve his type here, mind. I don’t want to turn customers away, Jeremy, but some might wish you hadn’t been rescued, considering your blatant disregard for the future of the planet, and the effects of global warming and climate change. The ice is certainly melting as the planet warms, and ironically, this has become something of a spectator sport of our own armageddon:
When Ronald Reagan became US president and promised to make America great again, the comedian Robin Williams commented: “I believe Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was... a large Arctic region covered with ice.” A similar message, but in a melting to water context, could apply to Donald Trump. “Civilisation is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness,” says the film-make Werner Herzog, darkly. We may well be heading for that iceberg, like the Titanic.
“Yes. Ii’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water,” says Franklin P. Jones. This brings me to a song. Feel free to nominate this, but as I love it so much, I had to slide by it here. So let’s have some Alice by Tom Waits, a work of genius in which love towards the woman in question is skated around not only in the danger of falling into the cold waters beneath the lake, but in making the shape of her name:
It's dreamy weather we're on
You waved your crooked wand
Along an icy pond with a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice …
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
There's only Alice.
Ice of course has many other connotations, not merely in bar scenes with ice cubes, as well as ice palaces and hotels and amazing art, but also in terms of emotions. “You've got ice in your veins, but you're smart enough to keep it from freezing your heart.” says Tijan, in the book Sentiment Lost. “There is a fun, flippant side to me, of course. But I would much rather be known as the Ice Queen, says Siouxsie Sioux, warmly. What’ll you have, Siouxsie? It’s on the house. So we can also expect quite a few icy emotion songs too.
Ice really is extraordinary stuff, not only visually, but also aurally Here’s Ernest Shackleton, who really has seen plenty of it and describes with power and profundity: “The noise resembles the roar of heavy, distant surf. Standing on the stirring ice one can imagine it is disturbed by the breathing and tossing of a mighty giant below.”
And so to finish, here’s a video on the shores of the Russian Baltic sea of a crunching frozen wave:
So then, serving up plenty of ice at the Bar, sheltering you from the snowstorm and the cold, and tending to your every frozen and melting needs, I’m delighted to welcome as this week’s guru, the terrific takeitawayGuru. Place your snow and ice songs in comments below for deadline last orders o Monday 11pm UK time, for playlists published next time. I imagine there may be a blizzard of nominations, but the result will be beautiful.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.
A new option: add your own songs to this collaborative playlist: