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Fiddlin’ Around – May/June, 2015

Turrialba volcano

Turrialba volcano

By Nancy Buchan

Some friends of mine who were visiting Costa Rica last March found themselves in the odd position of having to call their families with the news that they wouldn’t be catching their scheduled flight home.  Odd, not because they had missed a bus, or because their flight was overbooked, or because the taxi drivers were on strike, but because there was a volcano going off and things at the airport were a bit messy….. The volcano that blew was Mt. Turrialba, in the Cartago Province – its last major eruption was in 1866, but it rumbled back to life in 2001 and by 2013 there were 20 seismic events per day associated with it. Now there are some 30 per hour. Yikes. Shifting tectonic plates plus local faults cause thousands of tremors here yearly, some short and jarring, others long and rolling. Scientist types say this frequency relieves pressure and keeps the ‘Big One’ at bay – there are some 200 extinct volcanos in this country, and a bunch of active ones that can disrupt all kinds of things, from airplane flights to bird migrations to cattle breeding.

The indigenous people of Guanacaste, the Mahua, believed that the god Tepeyollotl (heart of the mountains) ruled over earthquakes. He is pictured in drawings and petroglyphs as a fierce jaguar leaping towards the sun, representing the power and unpredictable nature of a temblor, or terremoto, as they are called here.

Singer and songwriter Carole King had a hit in the 70s with her song ‘I Feel the Earth Move’, using the comparison between love that knocks us on our butts and earthquakes that knock us on our butts. “I feel the earth move under my feet – I feel the sky tumbling down – I feel my heart start to trembling – whenever you’re around.” There’s a bunch of songs that talk about shaking – but I’m thinking it ain’t necessarily about seismic shaking.  AC/DC confessed “You Shook Me All Night Long”, The Cars sang “Shake It Up”, Elvis was “All Shook Up”, and wackjob Jerry Lee Lewis had “A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On”. Bill Hailey and the Comets were known for their stage shenanigans as much as for their music, but they used to perform a killer version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, a song that was also done by Big Joe Turner.

My old boss, head of the Parrot Heads, Jimmy Buffett, has a thing about volcanos. He and two of his band members, Keith Sykes and Harry Dailey, wrote a song about the then-dormant volcano Soufriere Hills in Montserrat when he was recording there in 1979, and later sang it on the island for a concert after it erupted in 1995. On one of his tours he had the crew guys build a giant volcano on stage, complete with pyro-technics and fake lava, only to have it get out of control and nearly burn down the whole stage…. Oops. Jimmy loves elaborate props and costumes and trapezes and such as a backdrop for his music – which is often about running off with some kind of circus.

“Now I don’t know – I don’t know – I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blow. Ground she’s moving under me – tidal waves out on the sea. Sulphur smoke up in the sky – pretty soon we learn to fly. Now my girl quickly say to me, Mon, you better watch your feet! Lava come down soft and hot – you better lava me now or lava me not! No time to count what I’m worth, ‘cause I just left the planet Earth. Where I go, I hope there’s RUM! Not to worry, Mon soon come!” After those lyrics are an ever evolving list of places he sings about where he doesn’t want to go, from NYC to Iran.

New Orleans after hurricane Katrina

New Orleans after hurricane Katrina

So, we got your earthquakes and volcanoes – what about all the other natural disasters that we go through on this planet? Here in Costa Rica we get unfreakingbelievable amounts of rain sometimes, with the resulting chaos of trees falling over, and rivers spilling into new places, landslides and homes being swept away. There’s plenty of songs about the sad and destructive influence of water… Delta Blues music often has themes about floods – obviously the rural, poorer and more isolated people suffered the most. Many of the blues songs about powerful water come from the gospel tradition, which draws from Bible scripture about the cleansing and punishment of water. After going through Katrina, I have plenty of opinions about justice and water and politics and gods retribution, but even after ten years I just can’t address that yet. Suffice to say, New Orleans musicians put out a flood of heartfelt and meaningful songs about Katrina and the ensuing flood of our town when the levees broke.

Weather and its huge influence on our everyday lives is a common topic for songwriters, and we can track some calamities by the historical references in songs. There are plenty of comparisons between love and life gone bad and the physical trauma we go through because of climatic changes and extreme weather.

Bob Dylan used weather themes to describe what was happening in the political and social realm, while relating to people on the everyday level of having to deal with the power and destruction of an irate and grumpy Mother Nature. I am fascinated by him and apparently he is fascinated by weather. Out of approximately 465 Dylan songs, the word ‘sun’ is found in 63 of them, ‘wind’ is mentioned in 63, ‘rain’ in 40, and ‘snow’ in 11. “I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warning. Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world. I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a fallin’. I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest. Where the people are many and their hands are all empty. Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters. And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard rain’s a gonna fall.” He really spoke the truth in what turned into his most prophetic anthem – “The Times They Are A-Changing”. “Come gather around people, wherever you roam. And admit that the waters around you have grown. And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth saving – you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times they are a changing.” All the tough questions he asked in what turned into an anthem for the times – were simplified into the simple statement – “The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

No matter what the weather does, Ben Orton and the Howlers play every Friday night at the beautiful and spacious Roca Verde, just south of Domical. Ben has a great original song called “I Like Rain” – and as the rainy season here kicks in, we better adopt that attitude! Ben and I are playing twice a week at Hawg n’ Bills” in Manuel Antonio, and there are several places in Dominical that are hosting live music, so get out and support all your local musicians efforts and don’t be afraid of a little extreme weather!

Storms never last, do they baby? Bad times all pass with the wind. Your hand in mine stills the thunder and you make the sun want to shine. Jesse Colter and Waylan Jennings.

And of earthquakes, storms, guns and war – Lord nothing ever hurt me more than that lonely sound of the closing of the door. George Jones

Through woods and mountain passes, the winds, like anthems roll. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Climate is what we expect – weather is what we get. Mark Twain


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