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Fiddlin’ Around – April 2015

By Nancy Buchan

There’s just nothin’ like being somewhere remote and far away from human pollution and influences – and gazing up at a beautiful, clear night sky. After traveling all over and living in a variety of locations, I realize I’ve always managed to put myself in places where I could see the nighttime stars. Occasional boat experiences were mostly fun for me because of the vast scope of the heavens surrounding us. It was easy to feel like we were all part of them. When I lived at 9,000 feet in Colorado, I would get home from a gig at like 2 or 3 am, grab a sleeping bag and pillow, traipse up the hill to my favorite boulder to curl up on and ponder the stars. They were so close. They seemed so important and ancient. Meteor showers that were so in-my-face they were almost alarming. Northern lights that moved and pulsated and that you felt no one else could possibly be witnessing. I’ve never been good at remembering the names of the celestial bodies up there, but it really doesn’t matter. One night recently I sat on a comfy piece of driftwood next to the mighty Pacific – again humbled and awed by the stars – and started singing ‘star songs’ to myself. Every civilization and culture and geographical area has produced songs about stars, whether they were simple musical rhymes to help sailors navigate, or explanations of people’s religious beliefs, or pop ditties about starshine and stardust….

Starry nights

There’s a beautiful Woody Guthrie song called ‘California Stars’, the band Alabama put out a song ‘Southern Star’, Kenny Rogers had a song called ‘Evening Star’, Willie Nelson had hits with ‘Stardust’ and ‘Blue Skies’, the Beatles sang ‘Across the Universe’ and the funky band Earth Wind & Fire sang about a ‘Shining Star’.  Madonna recorded a song called ‘Lucky Star’ and the Grateful Dead performed the epic ‘Dark Star’.  ‘Good Morning Starshine’ was a hit from the musical “Hair”, and the Blue Oyster Cult did ‘Stairway to the Stars’. However, my favorites are a couple of old songs, and they have some interesting history.

Meteor shower in Alabama 1833

Meteor shower in Alabama 1833

There’s a 1937 jazz standard that was performed by everyone from the Guy Lombardo Orchestra to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to Jimmy Buffett, called ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’. Back in 1833 there was an extreme and spectacular occurrence of the Leonid meteor showers, which was visible in the southwest U.S., especially in Alabama. These showers happen when the Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet and encounters the dust particles and other solids that were dislodged when the comets outer surface begins to melt as it gets closer to the sun. People totally freaked out – there were some 30,000 streaking comets per hour going on – and many folks believed it was Judgment Day. They were repenting of their sins, praying and writing their wills. The only people who apparently weren’t scared were the Native American Indians, who interpreted meteors as a sign of good luck. It is the unofficial song for Jacksonville State University and it was stamped on all Alabama license plates for many years. “We lived our little drama, We kissed in a field of white, And stars fell on Alabama last night. Moonlight and magnolias, Starlight in your hair, All the world a dream come true. Did it really happen, was I really there, Was I really there with you?”

Perry Como (anyone remember him?) won a Grammy, got a gold record and his last #1 hit with the song ‘Catch a Falling Star’. It has been featured in many movies, including “The Princess Diaries”, “Love Actually” and “Never Been Kissed”, as well as the TV series “Lost”. “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket – never let it fade away. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket – save it for a rainy day. For love may come and tap you on the shoulder some starless night. Just in case you feel you wanna hold her, you’ll have a pocket full of starlight.”

In 1944 Crooner Bing Crosby was having a writing session with the guys working on the musical film “Going My Way”, when his kid starting acting up and saying he wouldn’t go to school. Bing answered him by saying if he didn’t go to school he might grow up to be a mule. The writers turned that into lyrics for the song ‘Swinging on a Star’, which Bing sang in the movie, backed up by the Williams Brothers, including a young Andy Williams. Lots of artists have sung and recorded this song, many of them for children’s albums. “Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar? And be better off than you are – or would you rather be a mule? All the monkeys aren’t in a zoo – every day you meet quite a few! So you see it’s all up to you – you can be better than you are! You could be swingin’ on a star!’

It’s pretty unusual to have a song interpret a painting or the painter, but in 1971 singer/songwriter Don McClean (of ‘American Pie’ fame) wrote a song called Vincent, sometimes known as ‘Starry Starry Night’. This is an achingly beautiful song both lyrically and musically, and was written as a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. I remember having a cheap copy of Van Gogh’s painting of the same name many years ago, and its’ moodiness and dark colors and swirling images always profoundly affected me, as they must have affected McClean. When I saw the actual original painting at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam I was moved to tears and just could not quit looking at it. McClean had just read a book about Van Gogh’s troubled life – he was often called crazy and many people were critical of his humanitarian efforts and kindnesses to social outcasts. Today Van Gogh, and his brother Theo, would probably be labeled as schizophrenics. The song by McClean and his own paintings reflected the pain and unhappiness of Van Gogh, and Starry Starry Night was painted while he was in an asylum. Van Gogh’s struggles with depression and mental illness ended when he took his own life. “Starry starry night. Portraits hung in empty halls, Frameless head on nameless walls, with eyes that watch the world and can’t forget. Like the strangers that you’ve met, the ragged men in the ragged clothes, the silver thorn of bloody rose, Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow. Now I think I know what you tried to say to me, How you suffered for your sanity, How you tried to set them free. They would not listen, they’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will……”

Get out and listen to live music! Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers (Ben Orton, Tim Rath, Arturo Alcocer and myself) play most every Friday night at the beautiful Roca Verde in Dominical, and there’s live music at Dos Locos, Hawg n’ Bill, and a few other spots under the stars!

“To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”     Vincent Van Gogh

“Musicians want to be the loud voice for so many quiet hearts.”   Billy Joel

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”                Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

2 Responses to “Fiddlin’ Around – April 2015”

  1. Diana said:

    Yet an other grand article by this very accomplish musician. Thanks Nancy!

  2. Jan (Baudoin) Tucker said:

    Wonderful article, Nancy! Thanks.