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


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


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.

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