Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

Out of the Forge: April 13, 2017

by John Fitzsimmons | Out of the Forge

In my forty years or so of actively singing and playing folk music and writing songs, I have played together with a remarkably narrow list of musical partners: Rogue, Wally and Barry with camp songs and Hatrack and Seth with literally everything. These last few years I have been playing some with Keith Jacques, Tom Sheppard and Geoff Copley, but really, it has either been me alone or me and Hatrack and Seth.

I could certainly do worse—or I should say, I don’t think I (or anyone) could do better. In many ways I am a victim of myself. I learned to play on my own and then I played and performed alone for a solid ten years before meeting Seth and Hatrack. My playing was rarely formal in any sense of the word. I played in any key that worked for me; I was loose with accepted ways of playing any song, and I was more loose with beat and meter. If I felt like slowing down, I would just slow down—and vice verse with speeding up. If some part of a song reminded me of a story, I would just hang on a chord until the story was told. I began songs with my own arbitrary count-in that was more like “Ready, set, go…” than “One, two, three, four…” 

None of that ever seemed to matter with Seth and Hatrack. They would just go with the flow. They still go with the flow in patient and accepting ways, though I can sometimes see the wry rolling of their eyes as I started a song in three different keys before finding that elusive sweet key. We harmonize amazingly well, though I know nothing about harmony, aside from hearing them banter about who will take the third and who will take the fifth.

I have been spoiled and nurtured by their collective genius. Seth on anything with strings and Hatrack on the harmonica. Really, few musicians are their equals. I am just incredibly blessed to have them as friends and musical mates.

When I play Thursday night in The Forge, which is advertised as “Fitz & Friends,” I never know which friend or friends is going to show, or if any friends will show. Sometimes “friends” is just the audience already there.

Tonight the friend was Hatrack who wandered in just as I was starting. My Bose system is only set up to record my vocal and guitar, so it is hard to get the real effect (and affect) of Hatrack’s inimitable virtuosity as he played along with me throughout a two hour set, but he is there in a regrettably muted way. Someday I hope to find a better way to record than the somewhat primitive method I am using, but for now, strain your ears to hear what Hatrack brings, which is as much in spirit as it is in skill.

Tonight was a fun night, full of requests for songs I rarely play, so my apologies up front for any lyrical adjustments I made trying to remember lyrics—especially on “Suzanne,” by Leonard Cohen, a damn good song that I plan to put back into my “list” in a more regular way.

Thanks for stopping by to listen. I do this for those friends of mine scattered around the world who still want a “taste of the inn,” though it is a watered down taste at best.

Ring of Fire: The Power of Simplicity

Ring of Fire: The Power of Simplicity

In fifth grade my mother finally let me go to the Concord Music store and buy a “45” single.  I bought Johnny Cash’s version of “Ring of Fire” written by his future wife June Carter and Merle Kilgore, a noted country songwriter of his day. There was no doubt in my mind back in 1966 what was the best song ever written. I pretty much feel the same way now.

“Ring of Fire” is about as simple and perfect as a song gets. It uses three simple chords, two verses, and two choruses, yet it is a profoundly moving and enduring testament to the power, mystery, and allure of falling, failing, and floundering in love. Only an absolute misanthrope would fail to sense the power of this song.

As you try to write your own songs, it is worth looking at and listening to and reflecting upon:

[Verse 1]

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell in to a ring of fire

[Chorus]

I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down,down,down
And the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire\
The ring of fire

[Verse 2]

The taste of love is sweet
When hearts like our’s meet
I fell for you like a child
Oh, but the fire went wild

[Chorus][x2]

The verses are two rhymed couplets of between 6-8 syllables per line. The song starts with a statement: “Love is a burning thing” and likens that love to a physical ring into which the author, “bound by wild desire” is drawn towards—come what may. I often wondered why the unknown character did not leap or jump, but rather “fell” into the burning ring. Perhaps it symbolizes the inescapable nature of wild, untamed and unthinking love, or perhaps it is just a play on the phrase falling in love. However you take it, it works.

The chorus musically rises in a crescendo—much like the flames that grow “higher and higher” as the protagonist falls deeper and deeper in love. It employs the time-honored technique of parallelism and tri-colon usage with its repetition of “down, down, down” with “burns, burns, burns” and employs only a single rhyme scheme with “fire” and “higher.” This love affair totally consumes the main character as it drags him or her inexorably deeper into the burning pain and complexity of love. I don’t always know whether to sing the couplet phrases of “ring of fire” as a warning, a lament, or an ecstatic vision.

The second and final verse totally shifts the tone of the song into something more akin to a narrative reflection—a reflection wizened by experience telling us only that the “The taste of love is sweet/ when hearts like ours meet.”  The final couplet of the song describes the predicament of love as laconically spoken as any phrase in literature: “I fell for you like a child” followed by the problem of love: “Oh, but the love went wild.”

Did it grow wild and kill the love or is love a wild part of our nature that cannot be tamed or controlled? Is that love lost when the fire runs its course? “Ring of Fire’ does not tell us much more. We fill the gaps with our own tanglings with love. Is that enough?

I’ve been singing this song for over forty years, and I still don’t know the answer, but I can agree and know from experience how easy it is for the love to go wild.

The Queer Folk

The Queer Folk

True to my words of earlier this week, I finished this song last night, and at the time, I liked it–but in the clear light of day, too much of it seems forced, especially the rhymes. But that is part of the process. I think I am almost there. Let me get my saw and chisel and see where it goes. There is a tune in my head, but the flow is certainly not how it should be

Ginny came out on the weekly to the island:
and hid underneath her shawl her unborn child.
A babe who never made it through the winter—
those storms that came blasting harsh and wild.
She said his eyes shone blue as any ocean
that somehow gave her comfort for a while.

Ginny lived alone out by the headland,
and came down once a week to get her mail.
She’d read that letter sitting out on Craig’s pier,
her blonde hair blowing out like ragged sails.
Then she’d fill a box with flour, salt, and coffee
and disappear beachward in the gale.

She came here on a ferry out of Belfast
for stranger reasons we may never know:
two cairns of stone remain to tell her story—
it must have been some fifty years ago…

To the East there is a farm that’s grown to bramble,
somewhere off the path to Ephraim’s well;
looking hard you might even see the outline
of old beds lined with stone and shells.
They say the old Indian left a headstone,
but where it’s gone nobody’s left to tell.

No one really remembers much of Joey.
He showed up in 1917.
Some say it was the gas that left him silent;
others say it’s what he must have seen;
still, he scrabbled berries, beets and parsnips
with his one arm that wasn’t blown off clean.

Joey came here missing something;
and died with so little left to show—
a slice of stone he battled to its ending—
It must have been some hundred years ago…

Jacob set his lines out every morning
before the heavy fog burned clean,
pulling off the knots of tangled seaweed—
his torn hands clutching ancient dreams.
with hopes that laid deep in the Atlantic— 
though nothing is ever as it seems.

He built his shack with mud and scavenged driftwood.
His doorway a whale’s jaw bleached and dried—
and a window covered up with a seal-skin
that kept his thoughts somewhere deep inside.
He salted cod in barrels from the shipwreck
that hit the ledge in 1825.

Jacob came out here long before us
for silent reasons we may never know
when cold and dark waters filled his dory—
it must have been two hundred years ago…

Epilogue :
You can sometimes feel them in the breakers
Tightening the line in Anson’s trawl;
and other times you can hear them in the moonlight
echoed from some lonesome buoy’s call;
and they will answer if you let them—
but words sometimes don’t mean that much at all.

Maybe you’ll find them when the day breaks
in shadowed shapes and wisps of morning fog,
or hid away in lonely private places
buried somewhere deep in Caymans Bog.
Maybe once there was a story
scrawled in some forgotten Captain’s log. 

All we have are words told by Nancy
in whispered words that linger hushed and slow.
No one here knows how she remembers
the queer folk from so many years ago…

No one here knows how she remembers
the queer folk from so many years ago…

 

Ghetto of Your Eye

Ghetto of Your Eye

A Veteran’s Day Remembrance

I wrote this song back in the winter of 1989 in the dining car of a steam driven train, somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway, after meeting a group of Russian soldiers fresh from battle in Afghanistan—that poor country that has been a battleground for way too long–and, sadly, still is…

We stare together hours
at the snow whipped Russian plain—
rolling in the ghetto of your eye.
We share a quart of vodka
and some cold meat on the train—
you know too much to even wonder why;
I see it in the ghetto of your eye.

He turns to me and asks
if I’ll play a song about our war.
I know the war,
no need to tell me more—
asking with the ghetto of your eye.
So I play the most of Sam Stone,
in words he cannot understand;
still the tears fall as from a man—
falling from the ghetto of your eye.

I pass to him my guitar:‘Man, I know you’ll play a song;
something where nobody plays along—
no, nobody play along.’
His friends they gather ‘round
and put their arms around
the shoulders of the soldiers of the war,
their cold and crazy mountain war.

His song is barely spoken;
it’s more a whisper in the night:
whistles blow, trains pass each other by—
riding in the ghetto of your eye.
And Pasha, the young soldier,
whose strange and childish smile,
breaks down wailing like a child:
He tears his shirt; the shrapnel is all gone:
“Pasha, boy, the shrapnel it’s all gone—
Pasha boy, the shrapnel is all gone.”

Drunk to hell I leave,
and then I lay awake all night
waiting for the sunrise on the plain—
cold and snow-whipped Russian plain.
Songs of love and brotherhood
blow like rags of empty wind—
blowing through the ghetto of my eye;
building the ghetto of my eye;
staring from the ghetto.


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No Dad To Come Home To

No Dad To Come Home To

by John Fitzsimmons | Dawghouse

Rain’s falling outside of Boston—
Thank God I’m not working tonight.
I’ve got six of my own,
And a stepdaughter at home,
And a momma keeping things right.
I wonder if they’re at the table
With their puzzles, their papers and pens?
When I get off the highway
And pull in that driveway,
Will they run to the window again?

Daddy’s home, daddy’s home, I can hear you,
Though I’m still eighteen miles away.
This old station wagon’s
Got a muffler that’s dragging,
But everything’s going my way.

Momma put your head on my shoulder;
Let me hold you tight to my heart—
You’ve had a long day at home;
You’ve been working all alone—
Everyone’s doing their part.

She says, “Kaleigh is up in her bedroom.”
But she can’t really figure out why.
I find her upstairs
In an armload of bears,
And she looks at me softly and cries,
Was I sad with no dad to come to?
Did it hurt he was so far away?
Did I sit by the phone
And wait for him to come home
Like Margaret and EJ today?

Little girl, you can cry on my shoulders,
Though I can’t really say how it feels,
But if one thing is real
It’s this love that I feel,
And it’s one thing nobody can steal.
You had Nana; you had Papa; you had Mama—
And your momma was with you all day.
With her Ram pickup truck
And a boatload of luck,
You found me and you asked me to stay.

Now you’ve got your brothers and sisters.
You’ve got a step-dad trying to write songs;
You’ve got a momma who knows
How to make that love grow
Like them summer days coming along.

So, how about tonight we go dancing
Through every store in the mall.
If the kids don’t make scenes,
We’ll have food-court cuisine,
And wind up having a ball—
And if the kids don’t make scenes,
We’ll have food-court cuisine,
And wind up having a ball.

How about tonight we go dancing….

 

 

 

 

Calvary

Calvary

by John Fitzsimmons | Out of the Forge

I teach a couple of 8th and 9th grade English classes, and as a part of the classes I make them all keep online journals that we comment on and share with each other. It’s actually pretty cool. A hot topic always seems to be the belief—or not—in God. I am usually pretty impressed by the depth of their convictions, as well as the honesty of their confusions. Although I worked for a number of years as a youth minister, and even to this day trot my kids off to Sunday school, I am still somewhat agnostic—I just can’t totally convince myself that my spiritual experience reflects an eternal and immutable truth. But I can’t doubt that I do feel a power beyond what I am and who we are. I know I’ve experienced moments incapable of words. In those times I’ve felt closest to God, but the rush of even that wave cannot be sustained on the shores of my earthly life.

 

I guess you have to let go of what you cannot hold on to. Catholicism teaches that hell is being eternally separated from the God you know and love and feel. That, at least, makes sense to me. And maybe that is why I can still teach Sunday School. Maybe it’s why I can listen to and love my friends who think I’m a complete fool for even being a part of what they consider idiocy. In my cloud of unknowing I wait for the parting that will let in the light—the true and sustained experience of God.

 

I sometimes wonder though why we are in such a rush to know God. I wonder what we’ll say to each other when we finally meet, and I wonder how we’ll act with each other. Being brought up a Christian, I’ve always imagined what it would be like to be one of the Apostles. I’ve always wondered what Jesus said to them in private to give them the courage and eloquence to go forward and make the sacrifices they made. I’ve imagined sitting down with Jesus and fishing for horned-pout in the Concord River because I figure Jesus has already returned many times over, but we just haven’t reached that stage where we look in the right places and embrace the right kind of people to find him.  I’ve always wanted new words from Jesus to give me directly a true faith that I could freely live and speak, and act, so I wrote this song about meeting up with Jesus down by the Concord River in hopes that maybe someday it will happen.

~Fitz

 

It seems like it ain’t been a long time,
But I’m damn pleased your coming by again.
It’s been a while since we sat down and rambled
About this and that and why and who and then
You said that you had to get a move on,
Move on and leave a space behind.
So I spent a while hitting all those old roads:
Old friends and kicking down the wine.

But sure enough got sick of all the rambling;
The same stories and the way folks just are.
Who’d believe a hobo and a rucksack?
Who’d believe I really come that far?
Panning bread don’t give you much to walk on;
And I ain’t so free I don’t want nothing more.
It ain’t so hard to say what I believe in,
But what’s the sense to beg it door to door?

So I settled down right here by the oxbow.
I catch kibbers off the bank that’s caving in.
I’m sure glad you brung along your old lines;
We’ll chuck ’em out and catch a string again.

Yeah, I settled down right here by the oxbow.
I catch kibbers off the bank that’s caving in.
I’m sure glad you brung along your old lines;
We’ll chuck ’em out and catch a string again.

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