Just as the words say, my friend and collaborator in this project Dave Moore was riding on a European train after visiting a Dutch art museum, and his moment of vision was that the clouds he was looking at out the train window were, in some way, the same clouds that the museum painters had portrayed. He wrote a somewhat longer set of words about that thought. I edited them down and added the music.
That was an audacious thing to do. Dave allowed it, something I’m grateful for. Not just because I’m rather fond of the resulting piece, but because this was an early part of my journey to transform other people’s words and to set them among music.
Close listeners, you may hear in the catalog of museum painters the name “VanVliet”. Yes, there was a fine 17th century Dutch painter by that name. A few hundred years later a Californian added “Van” in front of his family name of Vliet, possibly seeking a connection to that painter. Audacity! Run paint run!
What a writer writes may come to mean something else to a reader, and what that reader thinks can change over time.
Many years ago when I was a young student, I had a mixed reaction to the American poets of the first part of the 20th century. I liked some of things found in the typical school anthologies: T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound. But Robert Frost was a sticking point for me: a fuddy duddy, I thought, using an epithet that was created around the time of Frost’s youth to characterize that now old man.
What? You think I’m being unfair to Frost? Well, my opinions changed over time. We’ll return to Frost later in this project.
There were lots of excuses for why I thought that then, but never mind. Our prejudices, our subjective likes and dislikes, will always contain unfairness. One of the joys of art is that there is so much of it, and for everything we dismiss, ignore, or are exposed to only from compulsory education, there are so many other things that we can fall in love with instead. One such example for me was Carl Sandburg, who was Frost’s contemporary. Just as with my young person’s dismissal of Frost, my like for Sandburg was a little hard to explain. One thing I liked was his expression of the commonalities of human experience.
So even as I write here about reading Sandburg, from where I was at that time, and as a particular individual, one of the things I liked about him was that his poems weren’t obsessed with such internal monolog. His poems are almost never about “here is this strange and plausibly interesting thing that happened to me” but instead about those strange and notable things that happen to us.” He helped me form one of principles I’ll try to follow here: “Other People’s Stories.” Even when I write in these blog postings about myself, that’s only a frame for the real art: the music and words in the audio recordings.
As I got older, in my middle ages, I forgot about Sandburg. By and large the world did too, even though during his life Sandburg had reached just about the highest level of celebrity that a writer can reach.
I started to re-discover Sandburg in the past few years. For one thing, I picked up a book of his poems in a little bookstore along Lake Superior and began to remember what had attracted me to him in my youth. And as I started to think about ways that music and words could combine for this project, I began to wonder what Sandburg, that poet who always seemed to have a guitar within reach, could add.
Then, as I was intensively testing my ideas of combining music and spoken words this past winter, David Bowie died. What could I do to respond to that loss? I could write some words myself of course, but instead I found this little piece by Sandburg, published in 1920, that just seemed to sum up something I was thinking as I reflected on all the work that David Bowie had put out over his life.
You should see an player gadget below which will allow you to hear the piece:
On January 11th I recorded the basic track “live” with The LYL Band, and later that week added the synth strings and finished the mix that is now available here. I hope you enjoy it.