Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Song Mir Loves:
The Innocence Mission's
"Black Sheep Wall"

~
Ever hear a song for the first time and know for a certainty that you will love that song for as long as you live?

Yeah, I've got lots of those.

I'm listening to one of those right now, thanks to Rhapsody.com. (I misplaced my copy of the out-of-print cd, which irks, but hey, I'm chaotic.)

Title: "Black Sheep Wall"
Group: The Innocence Mission, one of those groups/duos that never got big press despite talent and a social conscience and spiritual glow. (Part of the profits from their albums go to charity, no fanfare, just do.)

Listen to it: "Black Sheep Wall"

It was maybe 10 years ago that I first heard them and bought their self-titled album, which released in 1989. (I am often lagging behind on the goodnesses of life.)

I don't know why some songs make happy pals with my soul, but in this case it's a little easier to quantify:

1. It's got a totally infectious beat and this captivating bassline and fun bits of piano and guitar not overshadowing the vocals, but adding just what's needed.

2. That supercool metaphor that works for a variety of relationships of black sheep ex-lover/parent/friend/sibling (I always imagine a romantic relationship here) and the metaphorical wall to keep the danger and pain out of her life:
This is how I love you:
I wish for a shade I can pull
I feel so afraid of watching you grow up
This love hurts too much
And I try and build a wall
So I don't have to see you fall
And I pray


3. Karen's voice. (She remindewd me of Kate Bush the first time I heard her, without the theatrics. In this millenium, you might think of Leigh Nash.) Love, love, love this woman's vulnerable and passionate and slightly quirky performance on this song. There is this weariness over this relationship, the regret, the residual tang of dangerous passion, the love that just won't go away regardless of the dangers. Who hasn't been conflicted over some guy or gal? (Okay, maybe not my hubby, but I"d say most of us.) Hear the ambivalence and torment when she sings, "Go away from my thoughts!"

4. The particular way Karen bends and phrases certain words. Amazing fun to listen to and fun to sing. (My voice is quite unspectacular and limited, but that doesn't stop me. For some odd reason, when I sing in public, folks compliment me and ask if I'm a singer, to which I double up in hilarity at the thought that my pathetic voice would do on a stage. I think I must be passionate and expressive and full of joy when I sing, so it covers up the multitude of musical sins committed by my one octave range and lack of breath control.)

Listen to Karen Peris' phrasing of "dangerous," and the magical connection of "fear" with the second syllable of "experiment," and that wonderful repetitive insistence in "close you out, I'll close you out" that speaks of obsession, all in the following passage:

But I play it cool
And keep my thoughts in a jar
Marked "dangerous"
And everyone says, "Never fear -
All boys his age experiment with their lives"
But my eyes want to close you out
I'll close you out
Why do you keep coming back
Over Black Sheep Wall?


Then her high, fragile-seeming but tensile voice moves into a softer, quieter, sadder place of spiritual illumination and shame and regret to sing:

Brother Black Sheep, love is strong
There's a shepherd out in every storm
And he's not afraid of a little rain


Then she just breaks and rises to ask:

Why am I?
Why do I keep building up
This Black Sheep Wall?


That almost hysterical "I" flapping up to God just kills me. And the thrice-sung "why do I keep building up" that mimics repeated wall constructions and the reluctance, because of persistent love. It's all THERE, sonically.

And then the vulnerability and ache spill out in a perfectly vocally phrased confession:

Oh, I love you so!
Do you really know how much,
How deep?
Black Sheep
This is how I love you:
With closed eyes
With turned back
With distance


Did you hear that downstepping in "sheep", like weeping. Gorgeous. And the repetition of the last four lines is like a chant and confession: this is how I love you, with closed eyes; this is how I love you, with turned back; this is how I loveyou, with distance.

Fabulous. For me, a perfect song I'll always want to hear and sing and wish I could do it as well as Karen. I'll be 90 and trying to sing this (badly, but with feeling).

The song is HERE at Rhapsody.com.
The complete lyrics are HERE.

Watch a video of IM's "Bright as Yellow" and "The Lakes of Canada" on YouTube.

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