It Ain’t Enough

 

FDR Four Freedoms Park

One positive thing about social media  is that it allows me to test out what photos of mine people respond to. Of course I have the usual sort of doubts about my photographs like anyone does. Some I know are good the moment I press the shutter release.  Others I decide are flawed in one way or another and rejected as I curse at myself internally and asking  what were you thinking? Others I have to come to grips with, asking whether I like the lighting, the framing, the movement of the photo. Those are the ones I am especially grateful for reactions from people on Instagram and Facebook. Yet I still often wonder, is it enough?

Case in point, the photo shown above. I took a day off last week. It was a warm August day here in New York City but I wanted to go for a long walk and take some shots. I decided to head over to nearby Roosevelt Island and eventually I wound up at the southern tip of the island, which now comprises the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. It was the last major work designed by famed architect Louis I. Kahn  It slices through the landscape culminating in a tree-lined pathway leading to a statue of FDR and a wide expansive view of the East River. While walking between the rows of trees I knew that the linear aspect might look interesting. I chose a few different angles and perspectives, made some adjustments to the camera settings and hoped it would be enough. More on the results in a moment…

For just over 20 years the best band out of Newfoundland, Canada (and one of the best out of Canada period) was the Celtic folk rock styles of Great Big Sea. Until their unfortunate demise a few years ago they combined the traditional songs of Newfoundland with their own originals, an infectious combination that won them a lot of fans worldwide. Since the breakup, their high energy main singer Alan Doyle (no relation!) has released two albums, with a third on the way  and relentlessly tours all over the place. A few days after going to Roosevelt Island I played Alan’s first solo album-Boy On Bridge, a solid collection of all out rockers and some nods to more folk sounding material. I love the album, and my favorite song on it is the rocking I’ve Seen A Little. Hearing it the other day again, certain lyrics of the song really struck me, and I saw in them a correlation to my photography. Maybe not anyone else’s, but I saw myself, camera in hand in the lyrics.

The heavy use of the word ‘ain’t’ might be a grammar teachers nightmare, but hey…this is rock and roll and anything goes! I was struck by a few lines in particular-

‘It ain’t what you got its what you’re looking for’

‘It ain’t what you’ve done it’s what you’re gonna do’

‘It ain’t where you been its where you’re going to’

And finally the line I chose for the title of this post- ‘I’ve seen a little but it ain’t enough’

Photography like any art is about exploration. Finding something extraordinary in the ordinary. Discovering both new places and new ways of taking a photo. Experimenting with angles and perspectives. Striving to do something different. Maybe it has been done by others before, but is new to you. Hearing Alan Doyle’s song the other day reminded me of this. The lines quoted above are about seeking. In the context of the video for the song that is about being a bit of a rebel, but if you really think about it, these lines describe an approach defined by heading towards the new. It really struck me that when I sometimes get in a photography rut, it is because I fall into the trap of living in the first part of every line. In times like that I live in ‘what you got, what you’ve done, where you’ve been.’ Where I need to be is in the second part to those lines- ‘what you’re looking for, what you’re gonna do, where you’re going to.’ Most importantly, I need to remember that the things I have seen, the things I have done are great…but ‘it ain’t enough’.

Back to the photo now. In one direction, the path and row of trees ends in an abrupt dead end at the north end of the plaza. Regardless, I took a few photos from this viewpoint. I experimented with where I wanted to position myself-full on in the center of the pathway (which was thankfully deserted because it was a weekday) or off to the side? Wide angle focus which would clearly show both sides of the tree overhang or a narrow focus which would highlight more of the pathway? Standing upright so the camera would be inclined slightly downward towards the horizon, or crouching down towards the ground so it inclined slightly upward? Finally I had to decide if I should wait for some unsuspecting person to walk into the frame to give it a sense of movement. Lots of choices…

So what I did first of all was turn around, utilizing the view of the path that leads towards the FDR monument. Next I determined that positioning myself dead center in the scene made the most sense visually. I used a wide angle focus to fully show the overhang of all the trees on both sides, and decided that crouching down so the scene inclined ever so slightly up looked much better. Additionally it really highlighted the little mounds of dirt under each tree, and the fallen leaves on the pathway. Lastly I tried all of the above with no one else in the scene and realized it was severely lacking some sort of motion. I waited until these two people entered the scene (and for the guy seated on the right to put his shoes back on!) and took the shot. And that is what you are looking at here, no editing whatsoever. I was happy with the results and the reaction I received for the photo. When that happens it makes me want to head out again the following day and try it again. I think Alan Doyle might agree with that approach because-

There might be nothing down that road
But you never know, you never know

I’ve Seen A Little-Written By Alan Doyle, Gordie Sampson, & Troy Verges

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Happy Landings Amelia

 

A few nights ago I learned what really happened to Amelia Earhart. That would of course be the scoop of a lifetime, and I would no doubt be lauded far and wide and there would be book deals, movie rights, TV appearances and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately I would have to eventually reveal that what I learned came from a slightly cheesy episode of Star Trek: Voyager instead. I never really thought much of the show at the time it first aired, but courtesy of Netflix we are working our way through the series. The particular episode had a solution to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance that was far simpler than some of the other real theories that are out there, but I will leave that particular one out among the Star Trek galaxy.

But it made me think of the appeal of an unsolved mystery, especially one involving someone so famous, and with so little clues left behind as to her disappearance in the South Pacific in 1937. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting an around the world flight in their Lockheed L10 Electra plane. Though a circumnavigation had already been done previously, Earhart was going via a much longer route and over the most open ocean which presented considerable risk. By virtue of her already long list of accomplishments in aviation up to that point, there was a sense of excitement and publicity surrounding it. At the time of the disappearance of the plane, Earhart and Noonan only had approximately 7000 miles of the journey remaining. At midnight on July 2, 1937 they took off from New Guinea bound for Howland Island, a speck of land in the vast Pacific Ocean with no inhabitants, just a hastily built runway. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was standing by for communication help. What is known for certain is that bad weather and communication problems almost certainly hampered Earhart’s effort to spot Howland Island, and her last communication was at 8:43 AM. After that is all speculation.

Some of the more dubious conspiracies out there regarding Amelia Earhart posited that she survived and took a new name and lived her life out in New Jersey. Another was that she joined with the Japanese and read propaganda broadcasts as ‘Tokyo Rose.’ Pretty out there stuff. But some theories are a little bit more believable. Chief among those are that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had to ditch at sea having miscalculated their fuel levels. Similarly is that not being able to locate Howland Island, they instead diverted to Gardner Island instead where the plane met an unknown fate. There are deeply technical interpretations of faulty radio communications and signaling that may have caused a problem. There is also the plausible possibility that Fred Noonan’s drinking problem played a role or that it was quite simply pilot error on Earhart’s part.

Another of the more plausible theories is that the Lockheed plane had been outfitted with sophisticated spying equipment, as a way for the U.S. to gauge new Japanese military outposts in the South Pacific, long before satellites were able to. Earhart’s popularity and success as a groundbreaking aviator would have made an interesting cover to do this of course. In the 1960’s journalist Fred Goerner uncovered evidence that suggested that Earhart’s plane was captured, and that she and Noonan were executed by the Japanese. None of these theories have ever been proven. There has been no ‘smoking gun’ for any of them. Though there have been some mysteries that have been solved in our lifetime-Titanic’s resting place or the Mars face, there are many more like Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance that are lacking any sort of absolute evidence.

Which is a good thing in some ways, because in the case of Amelia Earhart, it resulted in some songs about her. Plainsong were a short lived group in the early 1970’s, centered around the wonderful singer Iain Matthews. Their 1972 album was actually called In Search Of Amelia Earhart and featured two songs based around her final flight. Coupled with a cover of the traditional song ‘I’ll Fly Away’ some thought it a concept album, but in actuality it was just a great sort of country-rock album that happened to feature two songs on the same subject. Matthews’ own song ‘True Story Of Amelia Earhart’ is chiefly based on Fred Goerner’s investigation and expresses a sense of disappointment about such an ending-

“Oh Amelia it’s true, you’re the lady of the air & this I’m not disputing anyhow,

But if what Mr. Goerner says is only half the truth, then Amelia…Oh Amelia”

The other song-Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight sung by Andy Roberts is slightly dreamy and hopeful. The facts are presented but there is almost a hint of nostalgia-

“She fell into the ocean far away

And there’s a beautiful, beautiful field

Far away in a land that is fair.

Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart

Farewell, first lady of the air”

The facts of Amelia Earhart’s last flight may never be known at this point. Extensive searching of the area immediately after the crash resulted in no traces found, and subsequent searches and theories have yet to reveal defining proof in all the years since. But I think that is why we like a good mystery. We will never truly know what happened. That makes the story more pleasing in an odd way somehow. Even the hair brained theories that Amelia was abducted by aliens (okay…that was the Star Trek story) or broadcast propaganda for the Japanese during World War II keep the story out there. They allow for movies to be made and songs to be written. They allow for dubious stories to be passed down through generations from people who ‘claimed to be there’. In a world full of increasingly less mysteries, where everything and every place has been discovered few mysteries still remain. Amelia’s disappearance 80 years ago ties us to a time when adventure still existed and there were still achievements to seek. Now everything is an internet search away and we feel disconnected from that sense of adventure that Amelia Earhart sought. We may never know, but is that such a bad thing? Happy Landings.

True Story Of Amelia Earhart-Written By Iain Matthews

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight-Written By David McEnery

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Presenting: Toli Nameless

Toli Nameless

There was a very brief time in the early days of this blog where I actually considered doing music reviews or features about artists that are not so well known. I think I decided in the end that there are an awful lot of places to find music reviews, and doing artist features did not put ‘me’ out there in the way I wanted. So I quickly decided to stick with the original plan. That being said, I wanted to take a few moments now to introduce you to an amazing person. She is a singer, a songwriter,  a trombone player, a percussionist, she dances, she is an educator, she is an activist. I’m also deeply privileged to call her a friend of mine for years now. She is the unique and unforgettable Toli Nameless.

I first met Toli over 10 years ago at Tower Records. I had been working in the World Music Department there, and one day someone introduced me to Toli, who had recently started working in another department. It was a big store (3 floors full of vast amounts of music and video), open from 9AM-12AM every day so there were a lot of employees and  shifts that overlapped.  Which meant you tended to not see the same people all the time. I’m not even really sure how or why Toli and I seemed to hit it off and became friends looking back, but we did. Not too long after though, Tower Records went bankrupt and all its stores nationwide closed permanently. Though events like that can suddenly make friendships go by the wayside, she and I still managed to get together occasionally, having pints of Guinness in the pub or sharing laughs online.

It was while working at Tower that I learned that Toli was ‘a bit of a musician’, as were a few other people who worked in the store. Other than hearing her sing in a Christmas showcase the store had put on, I don’t believe I ever heard her own music until after the store closed however.  In the years since with the benefit of YouTube, Itunes, and other social and music media sites, I came to understand that my friend is actually an amazing musical talent and I have kept up with her adventures ever since. This has included time living  in Europe performing and working in music education. She is adept in a variety of styles-from  jazz to reggae to electronica and she can really wail on that trombone!  I enjoy hearing everything she does, but arguably the biggest appeal for me has been the music she created with The  Femm Nameless, a band she had formed years ago. They were  a mighty all-women Afrobeat band who recorded and toured regularly at the time. The reason for this post  now is an announcement that came out of nowhere a few weeks ago that Kooyman Records out of Los Angeles, is about to release a 10″ vinyl single (and available digitally too of course) of some classic Femm Nameless tracks newly remastered.  https://kooymanrecords.bandcamp.com/

I was so thrilled to see Toli’s name back out there in the place where it rightly belongs. The tracks may go back a few years, but they still sound incredibly fresh and relevant. The standout track is their take on See Line Woman. Performed by many people over the years, Toli & The Femm Nameless channeled the spirit of Nina Simone’s recording of the song combined with the deepest grooves this side of Fela Kuti to make something epic and truly unforgettable with flutes and funky bass weaving around the percussion and Toli’s vocals.   I also love how their version ends with the words ‘See Line’ and ‘Woman’ over and over. It makes the song even more compelling.

The second video demonstrates more of  the political and empowerment side of Toli’s music.  Early on she chose to use ‘Nameless’ as her stage moniker as well as band name ‘to signify every female musician and unsung heroine whose name would otherwise be forgotten.’ The song Ibajekbe (What If) asks some powerful questions. What if the soldier put down his gun. What if the vagabond becomes rich, and the rich becomes poor.  Afrobeat  might be an intoxicating blend of styles musically, but it also speaks a great deal of  truth lyrically. With this song Toli & The Femm Nameless really present a powerful thought. What if, what if…what if.

You meet a lot of people in a lifetime. Some you gradually drift away from. Sometimes for good reasons,  sometimes for events outside your control. Others stay in your heart and though you may not talk on a daily or even weekly basis, you share a connection and relish the brief moments  when you might exchange a message on Facebook or via email. But when you have the time to catch up it feels as if there has been no passage of time at all. When Toli and I catch up these days that is what happens. Life gets in the way. Good times and bad, but the friendship survives.

I cherish my friendship with Toli, but I also am hugely inspired by her as well (something I have never told her). Not musically, I can’t compete with that of course, but having untapped this creative well inside of me, I find I appreciate her music even more for one big reason. Toli just goes for it full stop. Sometimes that may not resonate for some people right away. It might take awhile for them to catch up and understand. I have learned the same lesson the deeper I get into writing and photography. But you have to try, you have to put yourself out there.  I think that is why as her friend I have been so excited for this release from the moment I heard about it. We need to ask ‘What If’ more than ever before, we need music that traps you into a deep groove and doesn’t let go. We need reality and not fantasy.  We need artists like Toli to do it.  I hope you will dig deeper into Toli & The Femm Nameless’ music even further.

Toli Nameless

Official Facebook Page For Toli Nameless-https://www.facebook.com/tolinamelessmusic/

See Line Woman-Traditional, Nina Simone

Ibajekbe (What If)-Written By A. Szylagi/Santos & T.A. Nameless

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Classical Fireworks

Fourth Of July Fireworks

A sure sign of summer is the boom and the burst of a fireworks show. Colors streaming through the sky. Trails of smoke drifting in all directions. The oohs and ahs of the crowd with each shell shooting upwards. The anticipation of the final big bursts that signal the impending conclusion as rockets are fired in quicker succession.  A cacophony of sound and color overwhelming the senses in a massive display of power before your eyes. When it is over you almost feel a sense of literal electricity in the air amid the smell of wafting smoke.

Despite having to inevitably calm terrified pets or curse at amateurs setting them off late at night for some reason, I love watching a good fireworks show. Though the reasons for shooting them off might be vastly different around the world, fireworks are recognized as being part of a celebration of some sorts, be it Chinese New Year, July 4th or many other holidays. I have seen firework shows after graduations, concerts, sports events and weddings even. No matter where you are, when you see or hear fireworks, you know that good times are present.

One such occasion even prompted music by my favorite classical composer-George Friderich Handel. In 1749 he composed his Music For The Royal Fireworks. It was actually commissioned by King George II to celebrate the Treaty Of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the Austrian War Of Succession. I have always found Handel’s music to be utterly majestic. I think that is why his music resonates for so many people who aren’t normally classical music fans. Most people can correctly name (and hum a few notes) of Beethoven’s Fifth, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon or Handel’s Messiah.  As one classical musician I spoke to once said-there is a lot to remember with this music. Thousands of composers with countless works of music, each with multiple movements and arrangements. The fact that casual listeners can remember both the composers name and the work among so many options is telling. It speaks to how wonderful those compositions really are.

I think the reason Music For The Royal Fireworks, just like Handel’s other key works The Messiah and Water Music resonate so deeply is that the music  just…feels so right. It grabs you deep inside. You feel the music. I’m not sure if this was his plan, but Handel seemed to go right for the ‘hook’ at the start. No subtle string section buildup here.  Fireworks Music begins on a grand scale, with massed woodwinds and percussion. Apparently at the original performance there was a bit of a disagreement between Handel and the person providing the fireworks over Handel’s desire to have strings added to the orchestra. Not long after the original performance Handel re-scored it for a full orchestra, which is how most people are familiar with it today.

At the bottom of this post is a clip of the entire performance, but for a shorter example of why this is such a wonderful work one only has to listen to the section called La Rejouissance. The progression of notes, the interplay of instruments is so fitting for a celebration. When one describes joyful or exuberant music, pieces like this truly fit. I think King George II picked the right person for the job! Perhaps because conditions are usually best for fireworks in warmer weather, this piece also feels like a great match for spring and summer. When I hear it, I envision crowds of people on a warm evening, spread out on a blanket with food and wine waiting for darkness to come and the start of a fireworks show.

Regarding the photo above, though of course here in New York we have one of the largest fireworks shows around on the 4th Of July, it was actually taken at a smaller display in Astoria Park, Queens last year. For years I have attempted to take a good photo of fireworks, but it is not easy. Luckily last year I was in good position and was able to steady the camera to catch the streaks of light. I fired off several shots of which the one here is my favorite.  Perhaps this year if I go back to watch them in the same park, I’ll just put Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks on the headphones and imagine being in the audience at the original performance!

Now a bit of an announcement. As I mentioned in another post recently, I seem to be having a hard time lately writing my music posts. I have absolutely no intention of stopping this, rest assured. But I feel like I may take a short break from having to  feel like I ‘must write a new music post’. I’d rather it happen organically, and fill my notebook with ideas inspired by music and my own photographs. I will continue with Monochrome Mondays every week though, so I will still very much be around. And I still will be writing because (Second Announcement!) I have been working on a book! Yes, you read that right. My number one bucket list desire has always been to write one, and I have been slowly and steadily been working on it. So that is something to look forward to!

Music For The Royal Fireworks-Composed By George Friedrich Handel

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50 Years Of Fairport Convention

Me with SImon Nicol of Fairport Convention

In just a few hours from now, a band will take the stage at a concert hall in London. One more show yet again from a band in the middle of yet another tour. While that may sound terribly routine, it is in fact anything but. For tonight marks 50 years to the day that Fairport Convention performed for the first time at another London concert hall way back in 1967. At this point I have written about Fairport Convention and many of its former members here several times, so I will not repeat myself, but I wanted to do my small part in celebrating this very special occasion. It certainly is not everyday that a band has a milestone such as this, but here we are.

It bears repeating though that tonight’s concert is by a group that have never had a number one hit. In fact they have never really been commercially successful. Band members have come and gone. They started off as an American sounding rock group but became the standard bearers for British Folk Rock. They have suffered the loss of band members over the years. After essentially disbanding in 1979 they realized at a reunion show the following year that more people had actually come than had to their ‘farewell’ gig. They used this idea to start and run their own very successful festival every year in the quiet little village of Cropredy which continues to this day.

Not resting on their laurels, this year saw the release of the album 50:50@50, a combination of live and studio recordings, old and new. It includes guest performances by longtime friends of the band Robert Plant and Jacqui McShee. The band also continues to tour steadily.  Bass player Dave Pegg recently quipped that though other bands might be older, they probably have not played as many gigs as Fairport has in  their lifetime. And he’s probably right about that!

So Happy Birthday Fairport Convention! Thank you for your music. Thank you for continuing on purely for the love of music and performing. In my 30 years of being a fan you have given me incalculable hours of joy. Fairport are just the type of band one stays loyal to. The type of band that the audience sings Happy Birthday to spontaneously. The type of band who appreciates their fans, always willing to pose for a photo or sign a program. The type of band who give a lot of time and support to a multitude of social causes. A band with a great sense of humor.  They are just very special to me. Congratulations to all who have been a part of it! Here’s a song about the band written by their good friend Steve Tilston. It looks back to Fairport’s history while reminding us that good things can still come ‘over the next hill.’ Cheers! Pints will be raised tonight in your honor!

Dedicated to the memory of Martin Lamble, Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, Bruce Rowland, Roger Hill and Dave Swarbrick.

 

Over The Next Hill-Written By Steve Tilston

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Terra Firma

Terra Firma

There are moments when you reach for your camera that you can envision the exact result you are looking for. A quick and fleeting thought you may not even necessarily be able to explain in the moment, but something deeper down you know you recognize. A reminder of a time or place in your past, or something embedded deep in your psyche, to be released only when the time is right. Within seconds, the camera is switched on, lens cap removed. Ideally you have time to compose it using the standard tricks-ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed. There are other times when you know you only have a moment or two to record what you are seeing due to variables such as light and weather. It’s Now Or Never as a famous singer once sang and you hope that wisp of an idea becomes a reality once the shutter has been released.

Those of you who have been following me for awhile know that once we moved to a place where we could easily view the shifting clouds and colors of the sky that it has became a common theme to my photography. The other night it happened again, but instead of the varying colors of sunset featured here before, what I saw instead was blue. A contrast of rich, deep blue together with billowy clouds that I had not quite seen before. Instantly, one of those sudden ideas popped into my head. I knew what it reminded me of. I knew I wanted to capture it, and I fired off a few shots in the hope that one of them would express that idea successfully once I saw it on my computer screen. I made just a few minor adjustments to the camera settings. The end result is what you see here, with no manipulation to color or texture from the way I saw it.

What I was thinking is that the pattern reminded me of those topographical maps you will often find in an atlas. You know the ones- where they take away all the place names and borders and instead just show the terrain of the earth from above. Snow capped mountain ranges and dry deserts. Deep oceans and winding rivers. Just our earth as it looks from a distance…as another famous singer once sang. I recognized that the clouds set against this particular shade of blue looked similar to the way cartographers draw terrain, making the two dimensional three dimensional. As I looked at them on my computer I imagined the same things-the blue colors delineating the oceans that make our planet so unique.  The cloud patterns-swirls of white contrasted with darker specks reminded me of mountain ranges and deserts or the polar regions.

As I have gotten further into writing these posts, I seem to be finding deeper inspirations and connections than when I first started out. When I posted one of these photos from the other night on Instagram, I somehow felt the need to simply call it ‘Earth’. I knew fully well that it was nothing more than another cloud photo, or cloud porn as some people call it, but it felt more substantial to me. There are a lot of times here where I stumble on something I want to write about. A basic idea built around a song, and defined to my own logic by my photos. But they usually happen with a lot of thought and ideas that become connected.  Seldom have I taken a new photograph and felt the need to immediately write about it, but this was one of those times.

I think I wanted to call the photo ‘Earth’ because I seem to be increasingly concerned about the fragility of our planet. Concerns about global warming, violence,  hunger, fear, pollution and endangered species have been present for awhile of course. But those problems seem more urgent now and not so easily reasoned away internally by saying future generations will have to worry about it, not us. The problems seem more timely and pressing now. They also seem to be worse because we are ignoring the warnings by the real experts in favor of people more concerned with their wallets.

Years ago I used to play the computer game Civilization by Sid Meier. As anyone who has ever played it knows, there were different paths to victory, but no matter what path you chose, you had to finish by the year 2100 or thereabouts. The reason being that in the game, humanity had overstayed its welcome on a now ravaged planet Earth and those that remained would start civilization new again on the planet Alpha Centauri. The idea of having to vacate an entire planet seems like a bit of science fiction on the one hand, but on the other can we honestly say that in our real world we are not already on a path where it might become a conceivable reality?

It is precisely in moments of realization such as this that I inevitably seek solace in music, art and science. None of them provide the answers, but at least the heart is in the right place in recognizing the severity of the problems. One such artist is the British Indian musician, composer, arranger, and producer Nitin Sawhney. I came across some of his work years ago. His albums combine electronica with a multitude of other sounds from India to South Africa and beyond and explore a number of themes.

When I was taking the photos the other night though, a few bars of the instrumental Breathing Light from his album Prophesy popped into my head simultaneously. Some might call this chill out music but for me there is something more profound to it. The underlying piano notes are ethereal, while the flutes and other electronic sounds weave around the melody making it feel like a musical journey. Or maybe just a journey through the clouds and out above the atmosphere, where names, places and people become secondary to the wonders that make our planet so unique.  I realized that the photos reminded me of this way of looking at our world.  It would be nice to keep it that way I think.

Breathing Light-Written By Nitin Sawhney

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Under The Sun, Moon And Stars

‘Let happiness run under the sun, moon and stars’

There seems to be something universal about the symbolism of the above line. Despite all the distractions of life we inevitably suffer through, the imagery of being connected to those celestial objects is compelling. It does not matter where you live, or what year it is, the lure of the energy they provide has a strengthening  power. Whether it is waiting for a day off to ‘catch some rays’, or to get out of the city to more easily see the moon and stars, these ancient forces are a part of our life. They tend to bring us happiness, and for some people they even provide healing powers.

I suppose I am no different in that regard. After the darkness of winter the longer days go a long way towards re-energizing my soul. And boy have I needed that lately. I have not been writing as much as I want to here lately, and my music related posts seem to be scarcer. The cause has not been for a lack of musical inspiration on my part. Over the last few months I have acquired lots of new music I hope will make its way on to these pages soon. It also has not been because I am uninspired with my photography. A new camera and lenses have given me lots of toys to happily play with.

This blog has always being about making a connection between music and my own photography, but I have not been able to pull that off too much recently. Like the last time it happened though, instead of feeling pressured, I just waited until I felt I had something to write. And like some of the best moments I have had since I started writing, it was when a song hit me at precisely the right time.

While enjoying a day off from work yesterday I sat on our balcony reading and relaxing. I had some reggae music on by one of my favorites- the sublime Jimmy Cliff. A year or so ago I wrote about his classic song Many Rivers To Cross here. It is hard for me to adequately express how much his music means to me. He sings of Jamaica.  Of hardship and happiness.  Peace and poverty. Love and hate. No matter the subject it always comes from a place of love. Live he frequently ends his songs with the words ‘Give Thanks.’ A reminder of what is really important to him and his music.

One perception of reggae music is that it is all about chilling out on a beach with a beer and Bob Marley singing Buffalo Soldier, or Jammin’. I have certainly been guilty of that offense myself. It is easy to get lured by that beat and groove to a state of relaxation. So often though, when you read the lyrics to songwriters like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff the truth really comes out. The songs are quite often very powerful political statements.

Take the Bob Marley songs I mentioned for example. In Buffalo Soldier- ‘Stolen from Africa, brought to America, Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.’ Or Jammin’- ‘No bullet can stop us now, we neither beg nor we won’t bow.’ When you really learn about the music and the atmosphere it was created under, those good time beach vibes don’t quite feel the same. So while I was sitting yesterday, I realized that the words to Jimmy Cliff’s song Under The Sun, Moon And Stars are no different.

The music might have that relaxed vibe, but the song is actually a bit of a plea and a statement about not living life the way his forefathers did and not accepting it either-

‘My forparents worked, from sun-up, ’til sun-down
Peace could not be found now they’re under the ground

I’ve heard them complain and cried out in pain
Seeking peaceful gain under the sun, moon and stars

Won’t happen to me, I’m not blind, you see
I’ve got to be free, I want it right here on earth
Got to have some fun, ‘for my life is done
Let happiness run under the sun, moon and stars’

This idea that I started off with, of a universal symbolism to the sun, moon and stars comes perhaps from my own (mostly) happy life. Once I really listened to the song, I realized that even though we all live under those same elements, our worlds can be vastly different with people not so happy or fortunate. Just like so many other reggae songs, the message comes in an uplifting way however. When Jimmy Cliff sings, even though he sings of hardship and poverty he reminds us we all live under the same sun, moon and stars. No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what our situation is. We all need to remember that. Give Thanks.

*A note about the photograph. Moon photography is something I have always wanted to try my hand at, but to really do it justice, you need a lot of patience, and some special equipment generally speaking. But one morning a month or two ago, as the sun was coming up, the moon was still in clear view, and the contrast of the dawn colors and the bright moon was too tempting not to take a photo. I’m happy I did! Now how about ‘one more’ from Jimmy Cliff?

Under The Sun, Moon And Stars-Written By Jimmy Cliff

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle