Elton John had it wrong – or rather Bernie Taupin if you prefer. Sad songs are not the ones that say so much – it’s only a special type of sad song; where there’s hope peeking through, where there’s an attempt at stoicism – the head being held high, an aim to move on, an attempt at rebirth or a new direction. The song can convey the struggle but there needs to be a hope for resolution, a hint of a revelation.
There was one song I listened to this weekend more than any other song – and I’m not usually a guy to play the same song over and again – I still work through albums (occupational hazard) and I move on to the next in the pile before returning. Usually. It’s rare that I instantly repeat-play an album. But it does happen. That’s part of the (reviewing) process too. Eventually. But this weekend I was entranced – the magic of one song in particular sold me. It’s a new one by Natalie Merchant. She’s just released her new album, self-titled, it’s her first of original material in 13 years. And the whole album is a joy. There’s more than one amazing song on it – but the song Giving Up Everything just had me. From first listen. And then again. And again. You’d call it a career highlight – but Merchant has offered several on every album she’s released. Hers is an immaculate solo career. The only thing you could ever ask for is one or two further albums – but actually she’s got it spot on I think. The timing is always right. She’s delivering the right amount. There’s always a wait, there’s always the weight of expectation.
I love the new album.
But the song Giving Up Everything is what sold me. Check out the lyrics – it speaks to exactly what I was aiming to explain in that opening paragraph. A sad song, but there’s a freedom found. There’s something very special in this song.
Perhaps I’m at an age and stage too where I can happily admit to being a Natalie Merchant fan – though I think I’ve always sung her praises, at least whenever I’ve reviewed her albums.
I gave up any notion of being cool before I ever aimed for it – and of all the stupid lines and lazy taunts I receive daily, weekly, weakly, the dumbest – ever – is when someone tells me I "no longer have any credibility". I’ve never had any. Never aimed for any. Never wanted anything resembling that sort of arbitrarily assigned version of responsibility.
The very best time I played Giving Up Everything this weekend occurred at around 9.30pm Saturday night. I had just attended the concert for the Pike River Miners – Dreams Lie Deeper. There I heard the world premiere of two works and the Australasian premiere of another. had been commissioned to create a piece to sing with the Orpheus Choir. The song – a prayer – entitled This Love encompassed all that I require from a "sad song".
His was a plea for the souls of the 29 – and in that way he has the emotion was conjured through the shadowy guitar intro and building to the chorus. The weight of the choir added to the experience this time, obviously. There was a hugeness to this gesture – no doubt a thankless task in so many ways. You only had to scan Facebook to see too many goons who did not attend and had not heard the song poking fun at the very idea.
The concert was very good – James McCarthy’s composition 17 Days was extraordinary, a dizzying feat, combining existing poems and bible quotes with news reports.
So I’m back at the car and though silence might have been the best accompaniment to the drive home I can’t help myself. Most waking hours have some sort of soundtrack, a podcast, an album, a movie or TV show…that’s just how you fit it in…
With a few minutes in the car only I choose Giving Up Everything from the album of the weekend and it is the perfect reflection. Dobbyn, in a way, gave up everything to write that song. It would have been the tallest of orders: write a song to sum up how a nation is feeling and has felt, make suggestions of justice yet to come, of the impact of loss, of a hope for moving forward. And make it just right. Also, everyone’s entitled to their opinion so if a person who doesn’t hear it but has decided they don’t like any/all of your earlier work wants to mouth off about this as some sort of empty gesture then that’s fine. You may in fact have just lost all credibility, don’t you know.
Giving Up Everything was the perfect reflection.
Natalie Merchant’s song feels like a perfect song. I couldn’t imagine what went into the creation of it. Couldn’t imagine any suggestion that could make it better. You’d wonder if it arrived fully formed. An outpouring of an idea based – so clearly, so obviously – on the experience of a life. A huge life lesson.
It kept me sane this weekend. But more than that it feels like the greatest inspiration.
And in those words, and in the way they are framed, I heard and saw some beauty in this world.
So thanks Natalie Merchant. And thank you Dave Dobbyn.
Just a couple of songs. One world premiere of a commissioned piece. One brand new album – the first of original music in 13 years. How cruel to even say just – these are tasks that take a lifetime, that require all the living up to that point to exist, to be created. And then they’re passed on into this world. And my world was made a little better for hearing them. I feel especially lucky.
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