In a very real sense we are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, but let it be in a manner to which we may look forward as worthy of our dignity.
This little passage from The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, written in 1950 by mathematician and philosopher Norbert Weiner, caught my attention recently when I read about it in my favorite newsletter Brain Pickings. (https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/06/15/the-human-use-of-human-beings-norbert-wiener/)
The suggested theme for week 36 of #songaweek2018 was “strength.” I wasn’t trying to use it when I started writing my song. I started with a couple lines I had jotted down in a flash of inspiration a couple weeks before: “the first thing I can think of is the last I want to talk about / how whenever you walk in the room it turns me inside out.”
A favorite part of the writing process for me is feeling partially in control, and partially along for the ride as I work on (with?) a song and it takes its shape. I thought this was going to be some sort of love song, but it became more of a hope-in-humanity song.
It wasn’t till I was working on the third verse, at the line “so your heart won’t sink,” and I was thinking through the next line which became “even if we’re bound to drown” that I remembered the Norbert Weiner quote I had copied and pasted into my notes for later meditation. I pulled it up and let it guide me through the end of the song.
And so, I came around to singing about strength after all. The strength of being kind and decent human beings even if and when all seems lost. Our future – individually, as a species, as a planet – is and has always been uncertain, clouded in possible catastrophes. I hope we humans can be wise and motivated enough to do the good we know to do regarding environmental degradation, military oppression, human rights violations, racism, etc., etc. – all the problems clearly leading to a bleaker future.
And at the same time, I hope we can be good and decent people in our everyday interactions with each other and all living things, that we could take each moment as a gift and seek to live it as a blessing, no matter where we seem to be headed, no matter how grim the outlook.
I think a musical influence on this song is Patty Griffin’s “One Big Love,” which I had been listening to as covered by Emmylou Harris on her album Red Dirt Girl not long before I wrote it. And which is one of my all-time favorite albums, in case I haven’t mentioned it before! Oh, wait, I guess I have. Oh yeah, more than once.
As per usual these busy days of late, I would have loved to give this song more recording attention. But at least I was able to give it the writing attention it deserved. Maybe the future will hold enough space for a better recording.
The first thing I can think of
Is the last I want to talk about
How the ghosts of old romances
Can turn me inside out
I can’t recant my faith in
The way we used to be
Young and foolish
Starry-eyed and free
But it’s alright now
We’re alright now
For another day
You’ll never hear me disagree
That there’s no time like today
To do the good you know to do
And give your love away
Cause when you let it flow you’ll find
There’s more where that came from
Like a winding river
Like the shining sun
Down in the hollows of my heart
A thousand love songs ring
We’ll never finish everything we start
But we have our whole lives to sing
So tell me all your troubles
And I’ll pour you a drink
Something stiff and bitter
so your heart won’t sink
and even if we’re bound to drown
we can still be true and kind
One brilliant second
On the face of time