Anyhow, I sat by your side, by the water
You taught me the names of the stars overhead that I wrote down in my ledger
Though all I knew of the rote universe were those pleiades loosed in December
I promised you I‘d set them to verse so I'd always remember
That the meteorite is a source of the light
And the meteor's just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee
And the meteorite's just what causes the light
And the meteor's how it's perceived
And the meteoroid's a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee.
Another astral-themed epic song today with Van Morrison, and who better to also lose yourself into, and to gaze up at the stars with on a Sunday than this extraordinary harpist and singer-songwriter? From her second album, Ys (2006), this astonishing 12-minute track traverses time and space in a work inspired by, and reaching for her relationship with her astrophysicist sister Emily, with whom she was close as a child, but whose lives later took different paths. Rich in memory, myth and symbolism, and wrapped in a soaring orchestral arrangement, co-produced by Van Dyke Parks, it gives more and more on each listen.
Beginning with beautiful images of birds scattered to the sky by something falling, who are the Pharaohs and Pharisees who "dragged a comb through the meadow"? In an instant Newsom brings together ancients staring at the heavens alongside a childhood memory, of perhaps something rumoured to have fallen, and possible childhood memories of police or other authorities making a search near their home. And later she dreams of Emily “skipping little stones across the surface of the water” in a tiny metaphor of meteor landing. There are also hints of possible teenage pregnancy or other trauma ("And my clay-colored motherlessness rangily reclines/ Come on home, now! all my bones are dolorous with vines") and the narrator being brought a cold compress by her sister. And retrospectively memories of that experience that they will always share:
The ties that bind, they are barbed and spined and hold us close forever,
Though there is nothing would help me come to grips with a sky that is gaping and yawning
There is a song I woke with on my lips as you sailed your great ship towards the morning.
But alongside so much in this song, inspired by a mixture Appalachian music, folk and classical, comes the emerging emotional chorus, with the words shown above. Here Newsom attempts to define, perhaps incorrectly, the different meteor terminology, simultaneously evoking light streaking across the sky and looking for a connection with her sister, and also father (a jaws harp add on one chorus suggest him sitting at a porch during "Pa pointed out to me, for the hundredth time tonight / The way the ladle leads to a dirt-red bullet of light"). We then think of them all staring up at the sky at the same time, in different places, just as so many have before across the ages. We're all joined by that. A timeless work, where the word genius, for once, is entirely glimpsed with accuracy, and created by a shining star.
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