Anna’s Birthday

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Depending on your device and connection, the song may take a moment to load.

Here’s Anna’s Birthday, a song that owes a debt to many fine musicians, including Lewis Franco, who sang the original demo for me.

Before you hit play, close your eyes and imagine a character from a Philip Marlowe novel, B&W film noir, where the hard-as-nails detective sits alone at his table in a smoky little jazz club. He’s seen it all, twice. Nothing gets to our boy, except one night a year, when he sits and drinks alone …

Anna’s Birthday
Written by John Carter, Andre’ Maquera, and Will Patton
Produced by Andre’ Maquera, Will Patton, and John Carter
Arrangement by John Carter, Andre’ Maquera, Will Patton, Paul Asbell, and Ben Patton
Bass: Will Patton
Drums: Caleb Bronz
Guitar: Paul Asbell
Piano: Peter Engisch
Saxaphone:
Chris Peterman
Vocals (Lead and BG): Ben Patton

Recorded at West Street Digital in St. Albans, Vermont.

Anna’s Birthday

Every year this day keeps coming around.
It’s Anna’s birthday, and I’m feeling down.
Who is that taking my girl out on the town?
Happy birthday. Happy birthday.

Dreaming of Anna, and feeling that ache.
She lit me up like a candle on her cake.
But the ring on her finger made it all a big mistake.
So happy birthday. Happy birthday.

Blow out the candles, and make a wish.
Every year there is a night like this.
I wish her happiness but miss her kiss.
It’s Anna’s birthday. Happy birthday.

Most of the time, I can just let it be.
It’s nice that we’re friends. We can all agree.
But it’s Anna’s birthday. And Anna’s not with me.
So happy birthday. Happy birthday.

She cuts the cake. She knows there an art
to carving a piece in the shape of my heart.
She’s so together when she’s tearing me apart.
Happy birthday. Happy birthday.

Blow out the candles, and make a wish.
Every year there is a night like this.
I wish her happiness but miss her kiss.
It’s Anna’s birthday. Happy birthday.

A toast to Anna. The night passes by.
I imagine a life where the birthday girl is mine.
Don’t think about who’s holding Anna tonight.
Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday.

©2016 Fifth Business Music LLC

Chipped

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Chipped
by John Carter

On her desk, she keeps an ancient blue tea cup
to whisk the spiders to safety,
outside.

When I kiss her,
I feel the spot on her front tooth,
chipped,
from when she fell.

Her gentle disposition
is the sum
of these tiny destructions.

This woman,
with her chipped tooth,
who keeps a cup
to save the spiders.

 

Deuterium

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Deuterium
By John Carter

The water in your glass
is older than the sun.
See your reflection.

The water in your glass
was a family of ice specks,
sailing in a cosmic cloud,
before the sun was set ablaze.

The water in your glass
seems so ordinary,
but you are mostly water, too.
Older than the sun,
and nearly as mysterious.

The water in your glass
is all the proof you need.
Open your eyes,
and behold.

The Allegory of the Long Spoon

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Today was my first visit to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, and there was a lot to like, beginning with this: Love is our doctrine, the quest for truth is our sacrament, and service is our prayer.

I also loved the fact that the second “hymn” was Bill Wither’s Lean on Me, very appropriate, since the focus of the service was on asking for help. Reverend Mara Dowdall noted that most of us identify with one of two groups – those who give help or those who need help, and how easy it is to forget that we are all part of both groups.

After noting that Unitarians do not believe that a loving God sends anyone to Hell, her sermon began with an allegory I’ve always treasured but had forgotten. My understanding is that the Allegory of the Long Spoon is part of many cultures and faiths – Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Oriental. The version below was adapted by Elisa Pearmain from Japanese and Chinese folk tales.

 

Long ago there lived an old woman who had a wish. She wished more than anything to see for herself the difference between heaven and hell. The monks in the temple agreed to grant her request. They put a blindfold around her eyes, and said, “First you shall see hell.”

When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was standing at the entrance to a great dining hall. The hall was full of round tables, each piled high with the most delicious foods — meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, and desserts of all kinds! The smells that reached her nose were wonderful.

The old woman noticed that, in hell, there were people seated around those round tables. She saw that their bodies were thin, and their faces were gaunt, and creased with frustration. Each person held a spoon. The spoons must have been three feet long! They were so long that the people in hell could reach the food on those platters, but they could not get the food back to their mouths. As the old woman watched, she heard their hungry desperate cries. “I’ve seen enough,” she cried. “Please let me see heaven.”

And so again the blindfold was put around her eyes, and the old woman heard, “Now you shall see heaven.” When the blindfold was removed, the old woman was confused. For there she stood again, at the entrance to a great dining hall, filled with round tables piled high with the same lavish feast. And again, she saw that there were people sitting just out of arm’s reach of the food with those three-foot long spoons.

But as the old woman looked closer, she noticed that the people in heaven were plump and had rosy, happy faces. As she watched, a joyous sound of laughter filled the air.

And soon the old woman was laughing too, for now she understood the difference between heaven and hell for herself. The people in heaven were using those long spoons to feed each other.

(Click here to see a very nice illustrated version)

So we learn that when we try to feed only ourselves, everyone goes hungry. But when we try to feed our sisters and brothers, we find enough for everyone. Amen.

The Story Behind Strange Fruit

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This is a fascinating story. Most people are familiar with the Billie Holiday classic Strange Fruit, but I suspect that many (including me until I read this) have no idea that the story behind the song includes Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – and Billy Crystal’s uncle.

I certainly can’t improve on NPR’s reporting, so click here to read the whole story.

And just in case NPR takes the link down, here’s a summary (their writing – not mine):

The man behind “Strange Fruit” is New York City’s Abel Meeropol. In the late 1930s, Meeropol “was very disturbed at the continuation of racism in America, and seeing a photograph of a lynching sort of put him over the edge.”

Meeropol once said the photograph “haunted” him “for days.” So he wrote a poem about it, which was then printed in a teachers union publication. An amateur composer, Meeropol also set his words to music. He played it for a New York club owner — who ultimately gave it to Billie Holiday.

(See Billie Holiday sing Strange Fruit here.)

“Abel Meeropol’s pen name ‘Lewis Allan’ were the names of their children who were stillborn, who never lived,” says his son, Robert Meeropol. He and his older brother, Michael, were raised by Abel and his wife, Anne Meeropol, after the boys’ parents – Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – were executed for espionage in 1953.

Robert Meeropol says that in the months following his parents’ execution, it was unclear who would take care of him and his brother. It was the height of McCarthyism. Even family members were fearful of being in any way associated with the Rosenbergs or Communism.

Then, at a Christmas party at the home of W.E.B. Du Bois, the boys were introduced to Abel and Anne Meeropol. A few weeks later, they were living with them.

“One of the most remarkable things was how quickly we adapted,” Robert says. “First of all, Abel, what I remember about him as a 6-year-old was that he was a real jokester. He liked to tell silly jokes and play word games, and he would put on these comedy shows that would leave me rolling.”

There is something else about Abel Meeropol that seems to connect the man who wrote “Strange Fruit” to the man who created a loving family out of a national scandal. “He was incredibly softhearted,” Robert says.

For example, there was an old Japanese maple tree in their backyard, which sent out many new seedlings every year.

“I was the official lawnmower,” Robert says, “and I was going to mow over them, and he said, ‘Oh, no, you can’t kill the seedlings!’ I said, ‘What are you going to do with them, Dad? There are dozens of them.’

“Well, he dug them up and put them in coffee cans and lined them up along the side of the house. And there were hundreds of them. But he couldn’t bring himself to just kill them. It was just something he couldn’t do.”

Strange Fruit took extraordinary courage both for Meeropol to write and for Holiday to sing.

(Note: in the comments of the story, I found this: With regard to the courage shown by Meeropol and Holiday in writing and performing the song, a little credit is perhaps due to the man who had the guts to actually record it and issue the record: Milt Gabler, the owner of Commodore Records in New York. As one more fascinating coincidence, Gabler was the uncle of actor/comedian Billy Crystal.

A Tribute to Chet Atkins

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I had to post a link to this great story about Chet Atkins.

I love guitars and guitar players – never get tired of listening to what a master can do with this amazing instrument. So give me an hour of legendary guitar players sitting around RCA Studio B in Nashville, and I’m hooked. But I think anyone who loves music will enjoy this.

If you’re short on time, here are a few highlights to look for:

43:10. The story from Doyle Dykes about Chet giving him a guitar. All the preaching in the world may not move me, but this simple story from a man of faith restores something in me.

And right after that, at 44:20, Pat Bergeson tells the story of – the day he arrived in Nashville – Chet driving him to the musicians union and paying his dues, saying, “It’s a right-to-work state, but if you’re working with me, you gotta be in the union.”

45:06. A great message about hard work from John Knowles, “I’ve heard a lot of people say he had a gift … but he rolled his sleeves up, too, and he put his work in.”

And a lovely line where Knowles says, “There’s a handful of artists out there – Fred Astaire dances that way; Chet plays the guitar that way – where you do all your work, and then you step beyond the work you’ve done into an area of grace and elegance, and Chet absolutely had that.”

One of these days, I’m gonna sit next to Chet’s statue and take a picture, which I will post here. That’s on my bucket list for sure.

Watch the video here.

 

War Chickens

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I’m enjoying playing around with ideas that remind me of the great Gary Larson. I can’t even approach his level of funny, but trying to do this (it’s hard!) makes me appreciate him even more.

With thanks to Cal Souza for a fantastic art job!

This Little World

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Depending on your device and connection, the song may take a moment to load.

I’m late posting this song, written and produced several months ago, but it’s the culmination of a lot of years of thinking about starting a song with the cautionary line from Act 2 of Romeo and Juliet, where Friar Laurence says to Romeo, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.

Somehow, that got mixed in with a bit from Act 2 of King Richard II: “This happy breed of men, this little world.” Toss in a Lewis Carroll reference, and you end up with … a song? A wish? A prayer? I’m not sure, but I loved creating this with the talented folks below.

This Little World
Written by John Carter and Andre’ Maquera
Produced by Andre’ Maquera and John Carter
Arrangement by John Carter and Andre’ Maquera
Bass: Will Patton
Guitar: Andre’ Macquera
Piano: Peter Engisch
Vocals: Shane Murley

Recorded at West Street Digital in St. Albans, Vermont.

This Little World

Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.
We move through this darkness bearing ghosts from our past.
Praying for traces of love. Yes, we’re praying for traces of love.

I’ve been looking for answers from angels.
And searching for faces in fables.
Praying for traces of love. Yes, I’m praying for traces of love.

This little world spins around and around. Lives are unfurled as we fly.
This little world spins around and around and around.
And it carries us all where it will. To the destinies that we fulfill … in this little world.

Who are these shadows that fill up my nights?
How can I bring them out into the light?
Where I’m praying for traces of love. Yes, I’m praying for traces of love.

The Red King is dreaming of all that we see.
If he wakes up, where will we be?
Praying for traces of love. We’ll be praying for traces of love.

And it carries us all where it will. To the destinies that we fulfill … in this little world.