Response to a musical challenge: It is exactly what it was like.

My friend Chris over at from the bungalow posted a challenge the other day and there was no way I could pass it up.  The toughest thing about it was picking just one song.  So for what it’s worth, here it is:

I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s vehicle while she ran into some store or other to pick something up or exchange something.  “I want you to listen to this song,” she had said just before she got out, setting up a particular track, leaving me with the stereo on and the CD liner notes in my hand.  It was December, cold and snowy outside and I was feeling warm and cozy in the truck.

When she returned I was in tears.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just wondered if that’s really what it was like, how true a portrayal this is.”  It is exactly what it was like.

My friend had given me a copy of Karine Polwart’s Under this Earthly Spell CD as a gift months before.  I had read the liner notes and lyrics (as I am wont to do).  I had listened to the CD any number of times already.  How had I missed this?  How did this not knock me flat the very first play-through?  I know for a fact that I had read the bit about this song being written for an AIDS project.  I know for a fact that I had read how it was dedicated to a real mother and a real son.  I know for a fact that I had listened to track 6 already.  More.Than.Once.  Apparently, however, while I had indeed listened, I hadn’t ever heard it.  I’m guessing I just hadn’t wanted to hear it.  It is exactly what it was like.

copyright Karine Polwart / hegri music

This time, this December day, in a month that was still such an enemy to me, while I was safely ensconced in what amounted to a den of love and compassion, this time when I listened to Karine Polwart’s  “Firethief,” I actually heard it.  And hearing it, really hearing it for the first time, I felt it.  I felt it from the tip of my intellectual brain down to the foundation of my very being.  I felt it in my head, in my eyes, in my throat, in my gut, in my heart, in my nerve endings, in my spirit and in my soul.  Had I not been sitting in a cushy heated seat, I would have been flat on the floor.  My brother died of AIDS in December 1993.  It is exactly what it was like.

There was a period of time after my brother’s death that I couldn’t listen to a certain song; it made me cry no matter where I was.  Other selections take me back to long nights of pogo-ing together at university pubs.  There are recordings that transport me to the quiet weeks before BlueEyes was hospitalized.  Music was like a life blood for him; it’s the same for SkinnyGuy (my other brother) and me. I am all about music and lyrics: pick up any scrap of paper in my house and it will have snippets of lyrics scribbled on it; I hear music in the wind rushing through trees and in the photocopier spitting out paper.  I have never before had a song paint a picture for me and take my breath away like “Firethief” does.  It is exactly what it was like.  And I love it.  It’s a glorious song and for all its inherent heartache, it lifts me up.  It courses through me and envelopes me in love.  Thank you, Karine.  Thank you so much for writing this song.

If you would like to hear Karine sing this amazing selection, please follow this link:  Firethief Live

Categories: music | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Response to a musical challenge: It is exactly what it was like.

  1. So very sorry for the loss of your brother. Amazing what you hear when you really listen instead of just hearing something.

  2. Such a beautiful post. I am sorry for the loss of your brother and I am happy that this song in some way delivered a sliver of healing. Sometimes to have a song say, yes, this is exactly what it was like, is like a weight coming off of you. Thanks for sharing this story.

  3. A lovely post. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    for all its inherent heartache, it lifts me up.

    Beautifully stated. I agree with what Mary and Shannon have said. And I know what you mean about hearing a song without really hearing it. It’s amazing what you discover when you’re ready to really hear what the universe has to say, especially when it comes in the form of a beautifully written song.

    • Thanks, Chris. Yeah, you have to be ready .. and it never struck me so fully that I wasn’t until it was right there and I literally thought, “how did I not relate to this before?”

  4. Finding you and this post at this time, hearing Firethief’s haunting lyrics and reflecting on the ephemeral nature of existence; all of these things are part of the perfect weave of the tapestry that is life, my life, with a thread, a color of you now in it. Thanks for writing your beautiful post. I know your brother lives in your heart now as my father does in mine. Keep him there with you until you meet again. I know it’s a good place to be.

    The name of my blog, Ironwoodwind, was chosen because it is the music of the wind in the Ironwoods that follow a fence line outside of my study’s window. I hear them softly sighing all the time. They fill my nights and they urge me to write. I hear them always.

    Nice to meet you.



    • Thank you for your kind words, Doug. I love ironwood trees. I love hearing the wind sing as it caresses whatever leaves hang available for the strumming.

      Very nice to meet you as well.

  5. oh! I will listen when I’m not sitting in a Starbucks where everyone would (rightly) glare at me. It’s amazing how music (and smell too) can evoke memory and therefore emotion. Thanks for sharing one that’s special to you.

    • I would love to be sitting in a Starbucks. 🙂

      I am amazed at how many people look at me like I’m nutso when I mention how certain smells not only remind me of things but can transport me to a different time and place.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  6. elainemansfield

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Victoria. A sad song and a sad tale. I’m so sorry about your brother. It sounds like his love is still with you, and I find that so much solace in this life. Yes, you are a writer and you speak from and to the heart. So glad I stopped by–and now I will move my body from the underworld realm out into the sunlight before the skies darken at 5.

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