Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Childhood: Calling My Children Home

Emmylou Harris: Calling My Children Home


My prayers go out to the community of Newtown, CT. In a recent bluegrass jam, I sang a rendition of "God Loves His Children" which I had learned from Flatt and Scruggs’ recordings of 1948-59. The gospel song wasn’t quite the same without an a cappella quartet and driven by Scruggs’ fingerpicked lead guitar work. It’s also difficult for some to make sense of the line in that song which states, “He will protect you anywhere you go.” If that’s true, why does he allow bad things to happen? One must consult the Bible for the answer and realize that God does allow bad things to happen, but there’s also a big difference between allowing those things to happen and causing them. God has his reasons, and he doesn’t have to explain them to us.

In any case, for this week’s theme, I’ve chosen another gospel song which I also like to sing entitled "Calling My Children Home." It has these simple but profound lines:

I live my life, my love I gave them,
To guide them through this world of strife.
I hope and pray we’ll live together,
In that great land here after life.

I can only imagine the grief and suffering which the people of Newtown are experiencing. Emmylou Harris dedicated her 1998 performance of the song to her close friend, bass-player Roy Huskey, who had passed on a few months before. Today, I dedicate it to those children, teachers and administrators who tragically died in Newtown. “I’d brave life’s storm, defy the tempest. To bring them home from anywhere.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Childhood: Kid’s Prayer

Dan Bern: Kid’s Prayer
[purchase City Folk Live X]
[Download the song from Bern’s Bandcamp page]

I am breaking my “no repeat” guideline this week, to post my second Dan Bern song, “Kid’s Prayer,” because it seems to be the most fitting song for this theme this week. I believe that the only official release of this song on CD was on WFUV’s City Folk II compilation from 1999, and re-released on the City Folk X disc in 2007. Bern recently posted it on Bandcamp for download with a “name your price” tag.

This song is Dan Bern at his most powerful. It was written after a school shooting in Arkansas in 1998. (Note-most of the information on the Internet says that it was written in response to a shooting in Oregon, which is what I originally wrote.  But Corny O'Connell, a DJ at WFUV, pointed out that Bern performed the song on the station in March, 1998--6 days after the Arkansas shooting, and a couple of months before the one in Oregon. Take a look here. So, I stand corrected, and reminded that what you read on the Internet is not always accurate) And since then, our country has taken the incredible position that gun laws should be made less stringent, and that an assault weapon ban should be permitted to expire. Thanks to the NRA and spineless politicians from both sides of the aisle.

The Newtown massacre has resulted in another bout of déjà vu. What Bern wrote in 1998 is exactly what I saw on TV over the last few days:

And all the world descends, and offers up their condolence
And offers up their theories what went wrong and who and why and when and how
It's all the killing day and night on television
It's all the movies where violence is as natural as breathing
It's guns and bullets as easily obtainable as candy
It's video games where you kill and begin to think it's real
It's people not having God in their lives anymore
Or it's all of it, or none of it, or some of it, in various combinations

Bern then offers up a secular prayer of his own, which is too long to quote, but the lyrics can be found here. His message is, essentially, treat your kids well and be open and honest with them. Encourage them, but set limits. I understand that much of the reason for the type of horrific incident that happened in Newtown is mental illness, and that no amount of good parenting can prevent that. But it can’t hurt.

And I hope that this incident finally galvanizes the President, Congress and state legislatures to restrict gun ownership. All the statistics that I have read support the argument that fewer guns, less widely available = fewer random shootings. Frankly, if strict gun control prevents just one mass murder (and it would likely prevent many more), I think that would be worth the restriction on the right to bear arms, as it has been (mis)interpreted (in my opinion). Constitutional rights are not absolute. The First Amendment, for example, does not allow unfettered speech.

So, for all of the politicians that read this blog, please get off your asses and do something. And for the non-politicians—tell your representatives to get off their asses and do something. I have, but in a somewhat more polite way.

Childhood: We Are the World


[YouTube link: click the image above]

We Are the Children. In my mind, there is no song more to the point of this week’s theme than this. It is at once a celebration of the best of many things: our children/our future and the voices of a collection of some of the best in music.

It is a song of hope and dedication. Hope for a better/brighter future. A dedication of the time and energies of some of our best voices to a purpose that focuses on our best hope for a better future: the next generation.

Part of the essence of Christmas is a celebration of birth: the birth of One who offered and promised a better future: in this world and beyond. And through this birth, we celebrate all births and lives, long or short.

Being that our time in this world is limited -  whether by a random bullet or a pre-ordained calendar that foretells a cataclysm that ends the world – it is up to us to make the most of our days, be they six years or six score years.

To me – and to most of us who live our days through the beauty of music – music is the essence of life. But life without the money to live in comfort and peace is also illusory. Thanks to the energy and dedication of Harry Belafonte, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie and the musical stars whose names appear on screen in the video, this song helped earned in excess of $10 million dollars for charity and further raised $40 million in donations – much of it directly related to and spent on  issues that affect children (birth control, food and similar humanitarian aid). $50 million dollars wont bring back to life the children and teachers of Newtown, but it did make a small difference for some of the world’s children.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Childhood: The Circle Game


The Circle Game was the first song I thought of to begin this week‘s theme. Joni Mitchell walks us though various stages of childhood, and into adulthood. The song can serve as an overture of sorts for what is to come. I was lucky to chance upon this video. As nearly as I can tell, a sixth grade teacher assigned his class the task of listening to the song, and creating an artwork inspired by a section of the lyrics. These artworks have been matched to their parts of the song in order. The result may not be museum-quality, and you might be tempted to say that Joni Mitchell herself could have painted better ones. She is a fine painter, after all. But these youthful interpretations have a quality that few if any adults can capture, and they honor the song beautifully.

Childhood: A Moment of Silence

As you can see above, our theme this week is Childhood. Before we get to the music, let me offer a moment of silence to honor the children and adults who lost their lives in Newton, Connecticut last week.

The holiday celebrations at this time of year center around activities for children. Indeed, Christmas celebrates the miraculous birth of a child, as did many older celebrations at this time of year. Those celebrations will be harder this year. It is my hope that our songs this week can help our readers find a bridge from the horror of last week to the celebratory mood of next week. Some of the tears shed this week may be ours. I hope you can join us, and I hope it helps.