Category Archives: Music

The Liberating Power of Music

alex atkins bookshelf musicHave you ever wondered what life would be like without music? Undoubtedly, it would be a drab and gray existence, where one monotonous day slowly fades into the next — a week turns into a month, months quickly turn into years. You blink, and a decade has slipped past. And that is exactly what the inmates at the Shawshank State Penitentiary experienced in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, a profound allegory or preserving one’s integrity and self-worth in the face of adversity and hopelessness. But all of that changed for the prisoners on one memorable, transcendent day. That day Andy Dufresne, an innocent man who was framed for murder, locked himself in the warden’s office and played a song on the record player. The song, “Canzonetta sull’aria” (Italian for “A little song on the breeze”) is from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous opera, The Marriage of Figaro (1786). As the song was played over the penitentiary’s public address system, all of the prisoners in the yard froze mid-step, staring up at the speakers, mesmerized by the beautiful sound. It’s a remarkably beautiful moment as we listen to the two women singing, their voices both elegiac yet soaring. Dufresne’s friend and mentor, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, in a touching voiceover explains the profound impact that the music had on these weary, worn-down souls: 

“I have no idea to this day what them two Italian ladies were singin’ about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singin’ about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away… and for the briefest of moments — every last man at Shawshank felt free.”

Ah, the liberating power of music that stirs men’s souls. Sadly, Dufresne pays a steep price for liberating the souls of his fellow prisoners — even if for just a fleeting moment — by serving two weeks in solitary confinement. But even in his cell, Dufresne felt the liberating effect of the operatic song. When asked if playing the record was worth it, Dufresne responds: “Easiest time I ever did… I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company. Hardly felt the time at all… The music was here [pointing at his head] and here [pointing at his heart]. That’s the one thing they can’t confiscate, not ever. That’s the beauty of it.”

Let us return for a moment to Red’s narration. He raises a good question: what were those two Italian ladies singing about? The song, a short duet (known as a “duettino”) occurs in act three of The Marriage of Figaro. The words to the song (known at the “libretto”) were written by Lorenzo Da Ponte, an Italian poet and opera librettist who collaborated with Mozart on two other operas (Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutti). In this duet, the Countess Almaviva dictates an invitation to Susanna, her maid. The invite, addressed to Almaviva’s womanizing husband, Count Almaviva, is for a romantic rendezvous in order to expose his infidelity. Almaviva speaks a line and Susanna repeats it while she writes it down. Here are the translated lyrics without the repetition:

On the breeze…
What a gentle little Zephyr
This evening will sign
Under the pines in the little grove
And the rest he’ll understand.

It is only when you understand the context and meaning of the operatic song that you can appreciate the irony of its selection, whether intended or not, by Dufresne: the opera singers are writing a letter to expose an infidelity, while it is the discovered infidelity that indirectly leads to Dufresne being framed for the murder of his wife and her lover and being convicted and sentenced to prison.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Highest Rated Movie in IMDb: The Shawshank Redemption
How Do We Spend Our Time During a Lifetime?

For further reading: The Shawshank Redemption: The Shooting Script by Frank Darabont, New Market Press (1996), Roger Ebert: The Great Movies by Roger Ebert, Broadway Books (2002). 


The Amazing Healing Power of Love and Compassion

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my extraordinary life, it’s the amazing healing power of love and compassion. For example, I played the concert for 9/11 in New York in Madison Square Garden, which was an extremely moving experience because of the audience. Nobody came there worrying about whether the person next to them voted for another party, was a different color, was a different religion, had a different sexuality. They came there en masse, as a group of people to share love. And I I think we need so much more of that in our sick world, at the moment. Sometimes its hard to believe that we’re in 2019 and what I read in the newspapers — and its not just here– it’s all over the world,  cause I go everywhere. So I truly believe that love is the cure for what ails us at the moment. And this next song is all about that… [Begins to sing “Believe” from the 1995 album, Made in England]: I believe in love, it’s all we got / Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch / War makes money, cancer sleeps / Curled up in my father and that means something to me / Churches and dictators, politics and papers / Everything crumbles sooner or later / But love, I believe in love…”

Elton John speaking to the crowd at the SAP Center in San Jose, California, on January 19, 2019 during his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. Remarkably, at the age of 71, John is playing 300 concerts over three years across the globe in this final tour. In his 50 year career, he has played more than 4,000 concerts. As a philanthropist, he established the Elton John Aids Foundation in 1992. To date, the foundation has raised more than $400 million to support innovative HIV prevention, education programs, and care and support services to people living with HIV.


What Is the Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody?

alex atkins bookshelf music“Bohemian Rhapsody,” from Queen’s album A Night at the Opera (1975), is considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time. Despite its tremendous commercial success and influence, it remains one of the most enigmatic, inscrutable songs in the history of rock. It is like the Finnegan’s Wake of rock music. “Bohemian Rhapsody” joins the ranks of other famous chart-topping hits that are sung but never fully understood like Don Mclean’s “American Pie” (1971), Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (1971), and just about any song by Yes. So what exactly is the meaning of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody?

The short answer is — we will never know for sure. Freddie Mercury began developing the music and the lyrics in the late 1960s and finished writing it in his home in London in 1975. Although he was very deliberate in its writing, he took all of his secrets to the grave. In an interview, Mercury explains that the song, although very methodically composed, was a bit of a Rorschach test: “Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek and it was a mock opera. Why not?… It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.” 

In an interview promoting Queen Videos Greatest Hits DVD, guitarist Brian May stated: “What is Bohemian Rhapsody about? Well, I don’t think we’ll ever know. And if I knew I probably wouldn’t want to tell you anyway, because I certainly don’t tell people what my songs are about. I find that it destroys them in a way, because the great thing about a great song is that you relate it to your own personal experiences in your own life. I think that Freddie was certainly battling with problems in his personal life, which he might have decided to put [a lot of himself] into the song himself. He was certainly looking at re-creating himself. But I don’t think at that point in time it was the best thing to do so he actually decided to do it later. I think it’s best to leave it with a question mark in the air.”

To that we say: poppycock! A song, like a poem or a novel, should be carefully analyzed to find its true meaning. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined song is not worth listening to. Invariably, critical textual analysis always reveals important clues — whether left consciously or subconsciously — that lead to meaningful interpretations, revealing aspects of the writer’s character, beliefs, and/or life. To find our first clue, let us first turn to Lesley-Ann Jones, the author of Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography (1997). She interviewed him extensively for her authorized biography and got to peer behind the curtain — to fully comprehend the enigmatic musician and his life. She firmly believes that the song represents Mercury’s personal struggle with his sexuality and eventual decision to come out. In 1986, she asked him specifically about this, but he refused to give her a straight answer. However — and one cannot overemphasize the significance of this — Mercury did provide the key to unlock this decades-old musical mystery: he admitted to her that the song was “about relationships.” Bingo! Furthermore, Jones’ belief was also confirmed by Jim Hutton, Mercury’s lover. Soon after Mercury passed away, Hutton told Jones that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was about Mercury’s public admission that he was gay.

A close examination of the lyrics will reveal that the song is indeed about relationships — specifically the relationship of Mercury to himself, his spouse, family, and God providing the context for the struggles he faced in deciding to face the music, as it were, to come out. The second clue is that  Mercury “did a bit of research.” The song, like an T. S. Eliot poem, is filled with literary and musical allusions that support the intended meaning of the song.

Let’s begin with the title: Bohemian Rhapsody is a play on composer Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody.” A bohemian is a person who has unconventional social habits. A rhapsody is a free instrumental composition played in one extended movement, typically one that is exuberant or full of pathos. So from the very start we have some understanding of both the song and the narrator.

The first stanza introduces us to the narrator, who seems to be living a life that is surreal: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? / Caught in a landslide / No escape from reality.” He is not sure if it is real or a dream and it’s all happening so fast. With Queen’s meteoric success, Mercury was catapulted from a rather traditional, quiet life to a flamboyant rockstar’s life (filled with the obligatory sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll). Mercury is living in two worlds simultaneously: living as a straight man while concealing to his family that he is gay. Mercury felt he had to conceal his homosexuality since his parents practiced Zoroastrianism that specifically condemned it. The next lyric employs antithesis: “I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,” reflecting his ambivalence. Here poor is being used in the metaphorical (deserving of pity), not literal sense (not having money); in other words, he is saying “although I am deserving of pity, I really don’t need your sympathy.” He has accepted his truth, his fate, and does not need anyone’s sympathy. Expressed another way, he seems to mean “This is my life, this is who I am — don’t feel sorry for me.” The stanza ends with the line “Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me,” revealing that the narrator embraces nihilism, the belief that the world is meaningless, and he doesn’t care where destiny takes him. C’est la vie.

In the second stanza the narrator is telling his wife (here “Mama,” as in Mother Mary, represents Mercury’s wife, Mary Austin) that he has killed a man: “Mama, just killed a man / Put a gun against his head / Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” But here, the killing is metaphorical, not literal. Mercury is saying that he killed his old self: Farrokh Bulsara (the straight, faithful husband) has been replaced by Freddie Mercury (the flamboyant, gay rockstar). The narrator regrets the pain that he has caused his wife so soon after their marriage had begun (Mercury and Mary had just been married seven years before his first homosexual encounter), fearing that he his thrown all of that part of his life away: “Mama, life had just begun / But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away / Mama, oh oh / Didn’t mean to make you cry.” At the end of the stanza the narrator says “If I’m not back again this time tomorrow / Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters.” The narrator is encouraging his mother (or wife) to embrace his nihilism in order to carry on without him if he continues his life as a gay man.

This is an ideal time to introduce the fascinating parallels between “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Albert Camus’s seminal novel, The Stranger, published in 1942. The novel’s protagonist, Meurseult, is a man (like Mercury) who feels like he doesn’t fit in; he is an outcast. Early in the novel, during an argument he kills an Arab man, is convicted and sentenced to death because he feels no remorse for his crime (the prosecutor accuses Meurseult of being a soulless monster). While awaiting execution, a chaplain meets with Meurseult to guide him to repentance and accepting God’s love and forgiveness. However, Meurseult disavows his crime, rejects God, and accepts the absurdity of the human condition. Ultimately, he finds comfort in his indifference toward the world and the meaninglessness of life. The novel ends with Meurseult happily awaiting to meet his inescapable fate at the guillotine: “And I too felt ready to live my life again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.” It is very possible that Mercury read this book as a young lad or while he was developing the song.

Let’s return back to the lyrics. The third stanza reflects the narrator’s ambivalence: saying goodbye to his old self (heterosexual), his wife, his family and friends, and his fellow band members, in order to accept the inescapable truth: that he is a gay man: “Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go / Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.” The ambivalence he feels tortures him to the point that he regrets being born at all, invoking pathos and using the antithetical construction we say in the first stanza: “I don’t want to die / Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” This is a very powerful sentiment that echoes one of William Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In Act 3, Scene 1, Hamlet questions whether he should exist or not: “To be or not to be: that is the question: / Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them?”

We now reach the operetta in the fourth and fifth stanzas that function as a sort of Greek chorus, shedding light on the narrator’s psychic and emotional turmoil. Mercury once described this part of the song as “random rhyming nonsense” to his friend, Kenny Everett, a DJ who worked in London. At first glance, just like many nursery rhymes, the jabberwocky of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or any of James Joyce’s inscrutable stream-of-consciousness ramblings, the text may seem like nonsense, but there is definitely meaning behind the madness. Mercury, who mentioned he “did a bit of research,” on this song, clearly chose his words carefully. Let’s break down this section, focusing on key words and lyrics.

The operetta begins with the narrator seeing the shadow of his former self: “I see a little silhouetto of a man.” The next lines, “Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the Fandango / Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me / Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, figaro, magnifico” suggest that the chorus is challenging the man (calling him “scaramouch,” translated from Italian, means a “boastful and cowardly buffoon;” often featured in Italian comedies, known as commedia dell’arte that flourished from 16th to 18th century) to do something outrageous, thereby shocking the sensibility of his former self, his family and friends, and society at large. The chorus of “Galileo’s” are simply expressions of shock and outrage by others in his circle, as if saying “Oh my God!” Because, the narrator, like Camus’s Meurseult, is a nihilist and absurdist, he doesn’t believe in God. So naturally, he appeals to a man of science, Galileo, a revolutionary (pun intended) who was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church in 1633 for teaching that the Earth is not the center of the universe but actually revolved around the sun. Figaro, of course, is the famous scheming Spanish barber who appears as in two eighteenth-century French plays (The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro as well as two operas (The Barber of Seville by Gioacchino Rossini and The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). In popular culture, Figaro represents an individual that is irrepressible, clever, and defiant of authority. Magnifico is another character from the aforementioned commedia dell’arte. The name is based on the Latin, magnificus, which means “doing great things.”Not surprisingly, these characters — Galileo, Figaro, Magnifico — that are outcasts on some level, resonate with Mercury — not to mention that they rhyme magnificently.

The next stanza takes us into the struggle inside the narrator’s mind. Here we see the dynamic interplay, a passionate debate, between the narrator and the Greek chorus, as it were, building to a crescendo. What is interesting here, is how the narrator progresses from soliciting pity (stanza five) to expressing outrage and defiance (stanza six). The initial line is the narrator trying to elicit sympathy: “I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me.” And the chorus (representing God) jumps in and validates this and wants to spare him from he difficult life he will face once he kills his former self: “He’s just a poor boy from a poor family / Spare him his life from this monstrosity.” The narrator appeals to an indifferent God: “Easy come easy go will you let me go.” But God, will have none of that (Bismillah is the Arabic word for god; literally translated it means “in the name of Allah”); the chorus (God) demands the narrator’s soul: “Bismillah [In the name of Allah], no we will not let you go.” This is quickly countered by an opposing chorus: “Let him go.” This goes back and forth several times. Finally, after a final passionate, and very Italian-sounding appeal, “Mama mia, mama mia let me go” the devil makes an appearance in this escalating confrontation: “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me.” There are two points to make here. First, is that the narrator uses the word “Beelzebub,” the name that appears in the Old Testament (specifically, 2 Kings 1:2-3), for the devil, alluding to the age-old conflict of good (represented by God) and evil (represented by the devil) found in the Bible. Second, the reference to the devil is a very clever allusion to the legend of Faust, that inspired many operas, plays, films, and novels (the most famous is the play Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). In the classic German legend, Faust, despite his success and wealth, makes a pact with the devil (Mephistopheles) to exchange his soul for unlimited worldly pleasures and infinite knowledge. (This is where we get the phrase Faustian bargain or Mephistophelian bargain.) Obviously, if he is making a pact with the devil, Faust must abandon God. In popular culture, Faust (or Faustian, the adjectival form) refers to an ambitious person who surrenders moral integrity to achieve tremendous wealth, power, or success. But even more relevant to the song is the concept of a Faustian bargain in the context of psychotherapy. Here, a Faustian bargain is a defense mechanism (or several of them) that sacrifice elements of the self in favor of some form of psychical survival. So in this context, we can interpret this last line as the narrator saying: “I must face my demon and strike my Faustian bargain with him: I must sacrifice my old self in exchange for the survival of my new self (my real self as a gay man) who will be rich, famous, and revel in worldly pleasures.”

The sixth stanza presents the narrator’s shift from pity to outrage. The stanza functions as a diatribe or rant, marked by an angry defiance to those who judge him harshly. Having struck his Faustian (or Mephistophelian) bargain, he seems to be saying: “I had to do this — don’t hate me for it!” It is ironic that this narrator, who has rejected God, speaks of his punishment in almost biblical terms: “So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye / So you think you can love me and leave me to die.” Another way to state this is: “How dare you judge me and punish me for who I am and how I must live my life. You can’t just love me and then abandon me.” He makes a final appeal to compassion (and one can assume he is referring to his wife): “Oh baby can’t do this to me baby.” In other words, he asks: How can you do this to me, Mary?” But the narrator knows this is a bad place; he needs to get the hell out of there — to escape a place of harsh judgment and condemnation: “Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.”

The seventh and final stanza (the “outro” in music jargon) begins with the chorus expressing their sympathy for the narrator’s plight: “Oh oh oh yeah, oh oh yeah” as if saying: “yes, of course — you are right, you don’t deserve this, you have no other option to run, to move forward with your life, given who you truly are.” The deliberation — the debate over how to be, how to live — has finally come to its natural conclusion, which the narrator believes should be obvious to everyone. The song comes full circle by returning to the themes introduced in the first stanza: “Nothing really matters / Anyone can see / Nothing really matters / Nothing really matters to me.” The narrator, like Camus’ Meurseult, ultimately finds comfort in the meaninglessness and “the benign indifference of the world” (to borrow Meurseult’s phrase). The stanza ends with quiet resignation: “Anyway the wind blows.” The narrator is resigned to go wherever destiny takes him. 

In short, “Bohemian Rhapsody” reflects Mercury’s personal journey — it is about the personal turmoil he experienced prior to finally coming out. Clearly, he wrote it for himself, as an artistic cathartic exercise. But it was also his gift to the world because the song speaks to so many — and this is why the song endures, resonating so profoundly with succeeding generation. In a larger sense, Bohemian Rhapsody is an inspiring nihilistic anthem about an individual who must accept his truth — to embrace who he is, and live according to who he truly is — regardless of what his family, loved ones, or society want him to be. Indeed, this is not an easy path and, inevitably, it comes with a cost — to the individual (the internal struggles, second-guessing, feelings of isolation, etc.) and to his many relationships (their feelings of pain, betrayal, disappointment, disapproval, etc.). But in an indifferent, meaningless world, Mercury believed, we need to simply discover who we are, accept who we are, and be who we are. So if we had to reduce Bohemian Rhapsody down to its simplest terms, it would be this: live and let live.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?
Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

For further reading: Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography by Lesley-Ann Jones
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Faust: A Tragedy by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2015/10/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-queens-bohemian-rhapsody
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/11519641/10-songs-nobody-understands.html
https://www.songfacts.com/facts/queen/bohemian-rhapsody


What is Most Covered Song of All Time?

alex atkins bookshelf musicSome songs are so admired by fellow musicians that they can help but honor it by recording it, adding their own spin to the famous song. Some of the covers are inspired, some are dubious, and some are outright disasters. Of course, purists always prefer the original song. Hey, why mess with a classic? So what is the most covered or recorded song of all time? Think Beatles. Have you guessed it? Here is the first verse: “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.” That’s it — “Yesterday,” which was released in 1965 on the album Help!

In the song, the narrator/singer regrets something he said to his loved one that leads to their breakup. Musicians must really dig sad love songs, because “Yesterday” has been covered more than 2,200 times! The song’s melody popped into Paul McCartney head while he was sleeping. When he woke up, he rushed to the piano and played it to make sure he wouldn’t forget it. Later he and John Lennon developed the lyrics we all recognize today. So before the song had lyrics and a title it was simply referred to as “Scrambled Eggs.” In terms of royalties, the BBC reported that as of 2012, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” had earned more than $25 million! Who knew that a lover’s lament could be so lucrative?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers

The Best Books About The Beatles

For further reading: The Beatles Lyrics: The Stories Behind the Music, Including the Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs by Hunter Davies (2015)
All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release by Philippe Margotin (2013)
A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song by Steve Turner (2005)
From Me To You: Songs the Beatles Covered and Songs They Gave Away by Brian Southall (2014)
100 Best Beatles Songs by Stephen Spines and Michael Lewis (2004)


Songs that Inspire: Don’t Let the Moment Pass

alex atkins bookshelf music“Youth has its glory,” wrote Lois Kaufman in The Ageless Soul, “but it is only as we begin to grow older that we can fully appreciate the fullness that life has to offer. We have gained  more freedom and flexibility, and the opportunity to venture into fields that perhaps never seemed to be available to us before. New perspectives bring new challenges and new successes well. We do not worry so much about failure, because we have learned to persevere. This is the ‘daylight saving time’ of life, the time to take advantage of every hour, and to give meaning to every minute.” It is this realization that was the inspiration for Eric Woolfson’s beautiful and poignant ballad, “Don’t Let the Moment Pass” from the stage musical Freudiana, based on the life of Sigmund Freud, that premiered in Vienna in 1990. Woolfson’s timeless metaphorical lyrics and lush orchestration paired with Marti Webb’s tender and, at the song’s crescendo, soaring vocals delivers a song that is sure to touch your soul. It is no wonder why the song is often played at weddings, celebrating the importance of love and living each moment to the fullest.

Progressive rock fans may recognize the name Woolfson. Woolfson (1945-2009) was one of the founders of the very innovative progressive rock band, the Alan Parsons Project (APP), that sold more than 50 million albums worldwide — without ever going on tour. The music from the musical was released on the album Freudiana. The original material for Freudiana was to be for APP’s 11th studio album, however due to creative differences with Alan Parsons, Woolfson, and Brian Bolly, a frequent collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Weber, adapted the songs for a musical. Alan Parsons wrote one song on Freudiana and produced the album. Several guest vocalists that collaborated on many prior APP albums also sang on the album. Another APP song with a similar theme (the wisdom of age), and equally as beautiful, is “Old and Wise” from the Eye in the Sky album (1982), featuring the powerful vocals of Colin Blunstone and soulful saxophone work by legendary Mel Collins.

Below are the lyrics of “Don’t Let the Moment Pass” from the album Freudiana.

Don’t Let the Moment Pass by Eric Woolfson

This golden day will be mine
For every moment in time
If time should lose her way

A symphony in the night
Of stars that dance in the light
And music far away

They say that love is but a dance
Don’t let the music fade away
Don’t let the moment pass

Without reason or rhyme
The sweet bouquet of the wine
Will vanish in the air

The innocence of the rose
She leaves where she goes
For all the world to share

Some days when clouds are drifting by
I open my eyes and watch them go
And wonder where they fly

Some nights Orion runs too fast
I look to the stars as if to say
Don’t let the moment pass

But soon a golden age is past
Just when it seemed that miracles
Where not too much to ask

And though the world may turn too fast
If it should seem like paradise
Don’t let the moment pass

Share your thoughts about the song in the comments section.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: The Ageless Soul: Golden Pathways to Wisdom by Lois Kaufman

Read related posts: The Story Behind the Cat’s in the Cradle
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Songs that Inspire: I Look to You

The song can be heard here: youtube.com/watch?v=fR649gld7D4


The School Shooting that Inspired Elton John’s Song, Ticking

alex atkins bookshelf musicThere was a time in the history of America when mass shootings, particularly senseless and shocking school shootings, were not so commonplace. The 1960s was a time of peace, harmony, hope, and free love, punctuated by protests that espoused the sanctity of human life and strongly denounced war and violence. Make Love — Not War. Perhaps that era is best epitomized by that famous uplifting Coke commercial of teenagers coming together to sing “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” Things were groovy, man. But one horrific event in 1966 — long before the heartbreaking tragedies at Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech — shattered that innocence and inspired a famous music artist and his talented lyricist to write a song about it.

When Elton John sat down to perform this song at a concert in Exeter, England in July of 2003, he turned to the audience and introduced it this way: “We’re going to do a slightly more serious song now. This song was written for an album in the early 70s called Caribou [released in 1974]. It’s a song that deals with violence in America in about the year 1973. When Bernie [Taupin] wrote the song, we thought things would get better — not worse. Well, here we are 30 years on, down the line, and things have gotten worse. And so the song is more relevant [now] than when it was written and its called Ticking.”

It has been suggested that Bernie Taupin wrote Ticking as a response to the movie “Targets” [or “Before I Die” released in 1968], a thriller directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The film focuses on Bobby Thompson, a seemingly normal, quiet young man, who is a Vietnam vet and gun collector, and works as an insurance agent. One morning he just snaps and proceeds to kill his wife, his mother and a delivery boy. Then he climbs on top of an oil storage tank adjacent to a freeway and begins shooting at passing cars. The police begin closing in on Thompson and he makes an escape, finding his way to a drive-in theatre. The gunman shoots the projectionist and then begins shooting at the patrons. Thompson is finally captured by the police after being subdued by an aging actor, played by Boris Karloff. (Yes, of Frankenstein fame.)

Bogdanovich’s film is based on the shocking and horrific University of Texas tower shooting (also referred to as the University of Texas Clock Tower massacre) in Austin, Texas. On August 1, 1966, 11:25 am, Charles Whitman (1941-1966)  climbed to the observation deck (28th floor) of the Main Building tower and opened fire, targeting people on campus and a nearby city street where students hung out. The shooting spree, that lasted about 90 minutes, killed 18 people and injured 31 others. Whitman was shot and killed by police that afternoon. Up until then, this was considered the deadliest mass shooting in American history [today, it ranks as the eighth deadliest mass shooting].

Sadly, in the context of increased gun violence and far too many tragic mass shootings in America, the backstory and details seem all too familiar today: Whitman was a seemingly normal young man, 25 years old, a intelligent (IQ of 139), an Eagle Scout, who joined the Marines. He did very well in the military, earning a Good Conduct medal, a Sharpshooter’s Badge, and a Marine Corps Expedition medal. In 1961, he earned a scholarship to study architectural engineering at the University of Texas. There he met and married his wife, Kathleen Frances Leissner (1943-1966), an education major. Doing these years, Whitman struggled with a gambling addiction. His grades suffered, he lost his scholarship, and he was ordered to active duty at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. In 1963, he was court-martialed for gambling, usury, possession of a personal firearm on base, and threatening another officer. He was demoted and eventually honorably discharged at the end of 1964. Whitman returned to the University of Texas to complete his architectural engineering degree. He worked as a bill collector, bank teller, and traffic surveyor. But Whitman’ marriage began to crumble as he became violent and sought help for what he described in his daily journal “overwhelming violent impulses.” He was losing himself, overwhelmed by frequent “unusual and irrational thoughts.” Whitman even sought help, meeting with a psychiatrist at the university clinic to complain that he was haunted by a morbid fantasy of shooting people with a deer rifle from the top of a tower. Those red flags, unfortunately, were missed.

At some point on July 31, 1966, Whitman just snapped. At 6:45 pm, he began typing up a suicide note. He began: “I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.” Soon after midnight he drove to his mother’s house and stabbed her in the heart. He returned to his house, to kill Kathleen, by stabbing her three times in the heart as she slept. In the morning he visited several stores to fulfill his lethal shopping list: at a hardware store, he purchased an M1 carbine (a lightweight semi-automatic rifle) and carbine magazines; at a gun shop, he purchased more carbine magazines and boxes of ammunition; and at Sears he bought a Sears Model 60 12-guage semi-automatic shotgun. Whitman returned home and placed these items along with 6 more guns, supplies (food, coffee, aspirin, water, knives, binoculars, radio, toilet paper, razor, and deodorant) into a footlocker and placed it on a hand truck. He drove to campus and reached the Main Building at the University of Texas at 11:25. Before reaching the observation deck, Whitman killed 2 employees and injured another one. The first shots rang out at 11:48 am. Initially, people mistook the sound of gun shots for construction noise, since there was construction site nearby. Four minutes later, a history professor realized that these were actually gun shots. Soon after police began to arrive. Eventually they made their way up to the top of the building, and one brave officer rushed at Whitman and shot him at point-blank range, killing him instantly. The time was 1:24 pm.

Let us now return to Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s song, Ticking. Although John and Taupin are best known for their top-40 hits, their genius is most often found in what DJ’s refer to as “deep cuts” — the songs that are neglected by radio stations, and appreciated by true aficionados. Ticking is no exception: it is an example of Taupin’s brilliant storytelling that is heightened by Elton John’s haunting melody and searing vocals. The title is a reference to the ticking of the clock of the proverbial “ticking time bomb.” The phrase, that appeared as early as 1893, means a person or situation that will likely become harmful or very dangerous in the future. The story begins with Taupin taunting us with a wonderful juxtaposition of the past and the present: we are presented with the image of a child who was a very good student and flash forward to the moment that his parents are notified of their child’s death. It immediately begs the question: what happened here?

Taupin then leads us through the life and qualities (namely, the ones law enforcement profilers recognize: narcissistic traits, paranoid ideation, and passionate hatred) of the troubled protagonist, taken right out of the news stories we have come to read in the wake of most of the most disturbing mass shootings. We learn that he is “a male caucasian” who seems to be a normal person, a quiet child, a good student, not competitive, obedient, grown up straight and true blue, repentant.” We get a sense that he has been brought up by a pious, and perhaps overbearing mother: “Grow up straight and true blue / Run along to bed… Don’t every ride on the Devil’s knee / Pay your penance well, my child, fear where Angels tread… Now you’ll never get to Heaven.” But the young man has felt alone, isolated and haunted with “strange notions in his head,” perhaps paranoia, that others “mean to do [him] harm” since childhood. At some point “his brain just snapped” and the troubled young man storms into a bar in Queens, the “Kicking Mule,” and kills fourteen innocent people. The police are called in, and soon after, the media descends on the scene and begins reporting: the scene is sealed, schools are closed and children are sent home. [Presumably, this is the time when politicians who value guns — and gun lobby money — more than human lives broadcast their two futile, trite messages: our prayers go out to the victims and thanks to the first-responders.] The police surround the bar, pleading for the gunman to surrender and come out with “hands held high.” As soon as he does, the police shoot him: “But they pumped you full of rifle shells as you stepped out the door / Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law.” Although the song conveys that justice is quickly served; it leaves you with a haunting image — a mother’s admonition coupled with the ticking of the clock. The suggestion here is that there is alway another time bomb in the making: when will the next one explode? Hear it. Ticking. Ticking. Ticking…

 

Ticking (music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin)

“An extremely quiet child” they called you in your school reports
“He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught”
So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive
To notify your parents of the manner in which you diedAt St. Patricks every Sunday, Father Fletcher heard your sins
“Oh, he’s unconcerned with competition he never cares to win”
But blood stained a young hand that never held a gun
And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son”Now you’ll never get to Heaven” Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Grow up straight and true blue
Run along to bed”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, tickingThey had you holed up in a downtown bar screaming for a priest
Some gook said “His brain’s just snapped” then someone called the police
You’d knifed a Negro waiter who had tried to calm you down
Oh you’d pulled a gun and told them all to lay still on the groundPromising to hurt no one, providing they were still
A young man tried to make a break, with tear-filled eyes you killed
That gun butt felt so smooth and warm cradled in your palm
Oh your childhood cried out in your head “they mean to do you harm”

“Don’t ever ride on the devil’s knee” Mama said
Remember mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Pay your penance well, my child
Fear where angels tread”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

Within an hour the news had reached the media machine
A male caucasian with a gun had gone berserk in Queens
The area had been sealed off, the kids sent home from school
Fourteen people lying dead in a bar they called the Kicking Mule

Oh they pleaded to your sanity for the sake of those inside
“Throw out your gun, walk out slow just keep your hands held high”
But they pumped you full of rifle shells as you stepped out the door
Oh you danced in death like a marionette on the vengeance of the law

“You’ve slept too long in silence” Mama said
Remember Mama said
Ticking, ticking
“Crazy boy, you’ll only wind up with strange notions in your head”
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Who is Major Tom in the Bowie Songs?
The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
Origin of the Beatles Name
How Rock Bands Got Their Names
The Most Misinterpreted Songs
Best Books for Music Lovers
What is the Meaning of Elton John’s Rocket Man?

For further reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/17/id-like-to-buy-the-world-a-coke-the-story-behind-the-worlds-most-famous-ad-whose-creator-has-died-at-89/?utm_term=.6d98c53a41ef
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/07/29/487767127/gun-violence-and-mental-health-laws-50-years-after-texas-tower-sniper
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/201506/identifying-the-next-mass-murderer-it-s-too-late
http://www.schoolsafety.us/media-resources/checklist-of-characteristics-of-youth-who-have-caused-school-associated-violent-deaths


Is There a Heaven?

alex atkins bookshelf musicImagine you are a father and your six-year old daughter, who is exposed to man’s inhumanity to man on a daily basis (broadcast on television and the internet), comes to you horrified; with a quivering voice she asks, “How can evil like this exist? Is there something better than this…? Papa, is there a heaven?” Those are challenging questions for adults to ask, let alone a child of six years. Throughout mankind’s existence, some very wise individuals have wrestled with these difficult questions. But here you are. How should you answer?

She’s not looking for a philosophical, psychological, or religious treatise. She is looking for some sliver of hope in what appears to be a cruel, violent world. It’s moments like this that you turn to poetry. As U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins noted so eloquently, “In times of crisis, poems, not paintings or ballet, are what people habitually reach for… The formalized language of poetry can ritualize experience and provide emotional focus… Poetry also can assure us that we are not alone; others, some of them long dead, have felt what we are feeling.” To that, I would add: and have thought what we are thinking.

However if you are Chris Rea, a talented singer-songwriter and guitarist, you write your daughter a beautiful, eloquent song that attempts to arrive at an answer and comfort her. Rea’s touching song, “Tell Me There’s A Heaven,” appearing on the paradoxically titled album “The Road to Hell” (1989) was inspired by such an event in his life, when his daughter Josephine was trying to make sense of a news report from South Africa about a man who was burned alive. Rea’s poignant words (sung in his iconic deep, gravelly voice) and music provide a reassuring message that is both haunting and hopeful. And just like Saint Expert’s classic fable, The Little Prince, Rea’s memorable song is not just for children — it speaks to adults, particularly those who have grown cynical or disillusioned about humanity. This song is a beacon of hope in an otherwise dark landscape, scarred by what seems to be an unending cycle of violence, hatred, and intolerance. For those who have suffered and lost their lives needlessly through violence, we can only hope that “they [the departed] sit with God in paradise/with angels’ wings… [and] they’re all happy now.”

As a child I asked that question: “Is there a heaven?” As an adult, as a father, who has witnessed those who have slipped away far too early and unjustly, I have had to answer that question: I tell her that it’s true. Because, sometimes, it’s the only thing that makes sense. If we can imagine a paradise where others are happy now, it just might give us the strength to muddle through the mayhem and the madness of this world. And if we can imagine a paradise, it helps us look at the face of a teary-eyed six-year-old and say that there is a place called heaven; a joyful place — in the distant future — for me and you…

Here are the lyrics to “Tell Me There’s a Heaven” by Chris Rea:

The little girl she said to me
What are these things that I can see
Each night when I come home from school
And mama calls me in for tea

Oh every night a baby dies
And every night a mama cries
What makes those men do what they do
To make that person black and blue

Grandpa says their happy now
They sit with God in paradise
With angels’ wings and still somehow
It makes me feel like ice

Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

So do I tell her that it’s true
That there’s a place for me and you
Where hungry children smile and say
We wouldn’t have no other way

That every painful crack of bones
Is a step along the way
Every wrong done is a game plan
To that great and joyful day

And I’m looking at the father and the son
And I’m looking at the mother and the daughter
And I’m watching them in tears of pain
And I’m watching them suffer

Don’t tell that little girl
Tell me
Tell me there’s a heaven
Tell me that it’s true
Tell me there’s a reason
Why I’m seeing what I do

Tell me there’s a heaven
Where all those people go
Tell me they’re all happy now
Papa tell me that it’s so

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
The Poem I Turn To
Why We Read Poetry
How To Grieve for a Lost Friend
Best Books on Eulogies

For further reading: The Poem I Turn To: Actors & Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them edited by Jason Shinder
http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/49944/


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