seven songs of dying (and another) Song Notes

Song Notes by Braden Canfield

Braden Canfield - Seven Songs of Dying

seven songs of dying (and another)
Perhaps it is not advisable to explain things too much, but this CD is not likely to be among the great mysteries that anyone who listens to it encounters. So I offer here that this title came to me as I observed a theme of “death and dying” emerging while putting together this collection of songs. However, it is meant in the Buddhist sense more than the Macabre. As I understand it, in many Buddhist traditions one contemplates death as a way to elevate the significance of life. The suggestion that only seven of these songs are about dying while one is not, leaves it to the listener to decide which songs are and which song is not about dying. Personally, I’m not sure.

The Simplest Things We Do
Wrote this shortly after both my parents died, within a few months of each other. After mom died, it seemed like my dad, who remained quite energetic and active into his later years, “just let go”. It occurred to me that death, like many things in life, can be made much more difficult than it needs to be by our clinging.

Day 2 of the Rest of My Life
This is a reaction to the old adage, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” It seems to me that waking up every day with this philosophy loses its appeal after a while, especially later in life. Sometimes you just want to string 2 good days together. The imagery suggests a person struggling with alcohol addiction, but it certainly fits for anyone attempting to put together a new life. I asked John Cornell, who formed the string quartet, “Esca Del Salon” of which my son was a member, if he could compose a string arrangement for an instrumental break. He handed the task off to his talented son, Anders, who also played violin for the quartet. Anders did a marvelous job for this song and for “At the End of the Day”. Brian Wicklund added his musical stylings over the foundational strings. Ben Valine shows up at the end of this one with his amazing banjo.

Johnnie and Bennie
I went to see Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn perform on the St. John’s/St. Benedict’s College Campus where my son attends. At one point, Abigail asked the crowd (largely made up of current and alumni Johnnie’s and Bennie’s) if they liked murder ballads. The crowd erupted in such an enthusiastic cheer, that both Abigail and Bela actually looked a bit fearful for a minute. They responded with a couple fascinating ballads. I got the idea then and there to try one out for myself. It seemed only proper to name the doomed couple after the source of inspiration. That is where any semblance of similarity to the wonderful Johnnies and Bennies begins and ends.

This is about my dad, an avid fisherman who once served as a forward observer for an artillery unit in WWII. I used those two images for the substance of this song, along with the metaphor of the leviathan which for me embodies the great mystery. Dad was a true “life-long learner” who pursued knowledge avidly up until the day of his death. One of my favorite memories of him in his later years, was to watch him way off shore, waist deep in the waters off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, casting out into the sparkling waters, ever hopeful of snagging a big one. Thanks to Brian Wicklund for the stellar fiddle and cello, and to Jacob Ashworth for playing the musical role of the leviathan with is string bass. Just before calling it quits on this track, Randy Gildersleeve suggested we try some cymbal sounds (performed expertly by Peter O’Gorman). What he did with those crashes and scrapes was entirely Randy’s vision and it turned out exquisitely. Thanks Randy!

What I Got
A love song for the ragged and worn-out. When you just don’t have a flirt left in you and the shit is real.

At the End of the Day
I cannot count the number of times politicians have informed me of what really matters “at the end of the day”. This song is my attempt to breathe some life back into this ubiquitous and inane phrase. The tune has, for me, the flavor and feel of an Irish drinking song, thus it seemed only appropriate to gather a chorus of men for the last verse. The choir actually consists of Iver Hubert, Mark Trelstad and myself singing in my living room and over-dubbed until we sound like a bar full of mug swingers. We were sober for the recording as I recall, although I did pay them in beer. Linnea Mohn provides the gorgeous and lilting female harmonies. Thanks also to the rousing strings of Esca Del Salon, Brian Wicklund’s on-the-spot improvisational jig, and Peter O’Gorman’s pounding rhythms.

The music for this piece came around long before the words. The lyrics occurred to me while pondering a question: How did matter give birth to awe? I imagined a series of analogies attempting to describe the indescribable, interspersed with verses suggesting the mysterious birth of consciousness. Something like that, anyway. This guitar accompaniment is about as intricate as I get. What Ben Valine added with his viola is truly “sublime”.

Everything Shines Brighter
I have long observed this fascinating phenomenon at a certain point in the evening when the landscape seems luminous in contrast with the darkening sky, almost as if the light is coming from the earth, not reflected from the sky. The spectacle is enhanced at times when you catch some part of the landscape (a mountain, a boulder, a tree) lit up by a slanting shaft of light from the setting sun, to shimmer in contrast to the rest of the world. So it occurred to me that this may be an apt metaphor for the end of life when, perhaps, the world seems more precious in its brevity. The music owes everything to Linnea Mohn’s harmonies and Ben Valine’s banjo. Thanks to both of them for bringing this song to life!

Day 2: Reprise
As this CD evolved, the wonderful work of the string quartet, “Esca Del Salon” got sort of buried in multiple tracks. So I decided to add this reprise and give them the center stage they deserve. It turned out rather well!! … and is a nice way to end.

Hope you enjoy the music.