Is There "Magic" In a Waltz
Do you remember the song "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor? A classic of songwriting elegance, it was one of those rare songs that could always "take you back," no matter what else you were doing, wasn't it?
And, didn't it always feel like there was something a little extra--something more to "Sweet Baby James" than a simple enumeration of its basic "parts" . . . of its melody and its lyrics?
There was something about the feel. Something about the rhythm.
Yes. "Sweet Baby James" is a waltz.
I heard it said once that the waltz rhythm (3/4 or 6/8)carries its own magic, because it works to bypass the listener's left brain--his or her inner engineer, if you will--and move the listener immediately to the more emotional--and artsy-fartsy, if you will--right brain.
Here's a more palpable way to look at it. Can you name me a single piece of more traditional 4/4 music anywhere which could have held a candle to Stanley Kubrick's inspired choice of the waltz, "On the Beautiful Blue Danube," for his iconic earth-orbit dance, which would transport "2001, A Space Odyssey" from a film's simple opening scene in an ancient savannah and into all of our memories and into all of our futures?
You wouldn't want a steady diet of waltzes, no; but occasionally they really can really work their magic, can't they?
Permit me then to present you with a sweet bit of country, simply entitled "Waltz," by Martian Acres.
Something Borrowed. Something Blue.
Many of us of a “certain age” remember clearly the Time Magazine cover which dealt with the death of John Lennon. It featured a painting of Lennon, and the words: “When the Music Died.” Those four words constitute one of those rare journalistic “captures” which get themselves woven into a society’s collective memory.
The underlying news story was most assuredly “blue.” But, the capture? Most assuredly “borrowed.” Not only that, it was borrowed from the unlikeliest of places.
The virtually identical phrase, “The Day the Music Died” is the line which leads into the chorus for “American Pie,” Don McLean’s 1971 paean to early rock and roll, as embodied by Buddy Holly. Of relevance here is the fact that Lennon and the Beatles came in for a lot of unvarnished criticism in “American Pie.” The upshot of the criticism is that they helped to wreck the genre.
And, to be sure, McLean had a point. Anybody who played in a rock band which happened to span the period before and after the arrival of The Beatles can attest to what the Fab Four did to Rock and Roll. They complicated it. They layered it. They made sure that it would never be the same. And when they left it, most of us would never be the same.
John Lennon was murdered on Monday evening, December 8, 1980. I was a young District Attorney at that time, with a pretty insane case load. I had worked well into the evening on an upcoming trial. As a result, I wasn't watching Monday Night Football. I still have never heard Howard Cosell's spontaneous, yet apparently pitch-perfect, announcement.
My wife, Lael, was a full-time student at the time, and we had a four-year-old daughter at home. Both of us were oblivious to any and all sources of news when the phone rang. It was my dad, of all people.
Time was made to crawl during that conversation. I can still see the loose threads on the cheap living room chair that I was sitting on. I can still see my cheap (“typical D.A.”) sport coat that I hadn't yet taken off.
The only words I could register were these: “Lennon is dead.” Dead? Lennon? My brain went immediately to a safer place. Why is my dad telling me about Vladimir Lenin?
It simply couldn't be the other guy.
Cuz that would break my heart.
Quite a few years later, Bob Story and I wrote, recorded, and produced the song “The Road to Hell.” It was released as a Martian Acres project, and, for a while, the song got some nice attention and some decent airplay in some really disparate places. Chile, Japan, and France, for example.
Not long after the song's release, though, Bob received a most unexpected email. It was from the UK. It was from a representative of Yoko Ono. The Road To Hell had just received a John Lennon International Songwriting Award as a 2005 Finalist.
How Cool, we though. Then, we did what you’d expect. We celebrated., probably with a fair bit of beer. In truth, though, it was a pretty forgettable night.
After that, we got back to work. We had a lot of other material to arrange and record. We banked our very modest winnings; and life went on. Certainly, the sales of The Road to Hell were fairly good for a while. But, the award was hardly a life changer for either of us. And, in reality, you can't lose sight of the fact that there's always a fair bit of serendipity at work in these kinds of competitions. Really: if one of the judges, for example, had had a tough time getting to sleep the night before listening to our song . . . well, we’d have never been any the wiser.
But, there was also a most delightful gift in the serendipity of our song’s little moment in the sun.
Just as I can remember my chair and my sport coat and my dad’s crazy take on history on the night the music died, I can remember where I was sitting and what I was wearing and the texture of the sheet of paper in my hand and the color of the ink . . .
. . . when I sat in my little home office and wrote a personal letter of thanks
. . . and addressed it to Yoko Ono.
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