As I’m writing this, I’m also watching the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I’m fearful that a mad person is going to do something seriously stupid but, otherwise, it’s a very significant, optimistic and inspiring occasion.
Today marks a big change in the hopes and fears of the whole world. Joe Biden has promised to take the pandemic more seriously and he will expect social distancing and mask wearing on federal property. He is promising to vaccinate one million people a day for the first hundred days. He intends to extend a moratorium on evictions and home foreclosures. He has promised to give every citizen $1400. He wants to reverse Trump’s tax cuts for the rich, to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and to reduce emissions. He wants to lay out a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. He is going to stop the construction of the USA/Mexico border wall and promote LGBTQIA rights.
Kamala Harris has just been sworn in and I am in tears of joy. I don’t especially like Lady Gaga but her rendition of the American National Anthem was very emotional and she looked incredibly honoured and happy to be there. Now Jennifer Lopez is singing a Woody Guthrie song, “This Land Is Your Land”. I can only hope that the phrase “this land was made for you and me” represents a beginning of the healing that America needs. President Joe Biden is now speaking. “Today we celebrate the cause of democracy. Democracy is precious, fragile but it has prevailed. We come together as one nation.”
So we say goodbye to hatred and say hello to love.
Tim Buckley’s second album contained five songs that he wrote himself and five songs (including the title track) where he wrote the music and poet Larry Beckett wrote the words. “Goodbye And hello” is either a naïve view of life or an optimistic, hopeful song that was typical of the view in 1967 that young people could change the world for the better. There was an article in today’s Guardian which asked various celebrities if they were working in bed during lockdown. There was then a rather supercilious piece about famous beds and it poked fun at John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed in for peace, in which it stated that their “peace protest” made no difference. All I would ask is how many statements in favour of peace made over 50 years ago are still remembered? Joni Mitchell, in “California”, sung “they won’t give peace a chance – that was just a dream some of us had.” Personally, despite my friends calling me a pessimistic curmudgeon, I like to believe that the world can be a better place and Joe Biden’s speech and Larry Beckett’s poem are a force for good and a better world.
Each verse of the song describes a world in which people the older generation are transfixed by greed, fear, corruption, pragmatism, exploitation and violent conflict. Each verse ends with “And I wave goodbye to… And smile hello to….” where the missing words are iron/air, speed/rose, Mammon/stream, murder/rain, ashes/girl. The chorus is “I am young. I will live. I am strong. I can give. You the strange. Seed of day. Feel the change. Know the way.” Over the top of the chorus another verse is sung simultaneously, describing how the young people will use peace, love, courage, joy, nature, creativity and a higher consciousness to create a better world. The final words of the song are “And I wave goodbye to America and smile hello to the world” which I used to think was foolish because the rest of the world is no better than America but I now think means that we are all human beings on one planet and we should all come together in peace and harmony. What is so funny about peace, love and understanding? It’s idealistic but if I can’t feel idealistic today, having seen the new President of the USA promise to work for unity and heal divisions, when can I?
(Reading through the above paragraph again, I don’t think my argument holds. Comparing Joe Biden’s speech and Larry Beckett’s poem doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Joe Biden is seeking to bring the whole country together. “Goodbye And Hello” says, get out of the way, you old people – the young ones are coming through. We know better. Our way is better than yours. To put it more simply, “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand for the times, they are a-changin'” By contrast, Joe Biden is promising to listen).
The music for the track “Goodbye And Hello” is baroque folk-rock. It’s heavily orchestrated by producer Jerry Yester and he closely followed the remarkable 12 string guitar playing of Lee Underwood who was a long time Tim Buckley associate. His counter melodies were used by Jerry Yester to provide an ornate orchestral backdrop for this eight minute song. It might sound overblown, pretentious and simplistic to a cynical ear but to me it’s glorious.
There are some other fantastic songs on this album. “I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain” is written by Tim Buckley to his ex-wife, Mary (mother of Tim’s son, Jeff). He never asked to be someone that she looked up to, someone that would feel responsible for her. He tried to live life to the full at every opportunity and she didn’t understand him. Over 6 minutes, a torrent of words is accompanied by frantic acoustic guitar playing undercut by fierce conga playing by Carter C.C. Collins and dramatic bottleneck guitar playing by Tim Buckley. In Lee Underwood’s book “Blue Melody”, he describes this music as “assertive and free, full of pathos, drive and transcendent emotion”. The range of Tim Buckley’s voice from falsetto to baritone was never better.
“Morning Glory” is a remarkable song. The singer feels safe in his house until a “hobo” arrives, at which point he patronises him by asking him to tell some old stories from the road. The hobo refuses to be patronised and walks off at which point, the singer shows anger, then fear and finally begs forgiveness. The song has been covered by many artists including Linda Ronstadt, Blood Sweat & Tears and This Mortal Coil.
My favourite song on the album is “Once I Was” which describes the sad ending of a relationship in which the singer wonders if he’ll ever be remembered. He used to be a soldier, a hunter and a lover but now he is “searching through the ashes of our ruins for the days when we smiled”.
Goodbye to Donald Trump and vindictive, narcissistic, money grabbing hatred. Hello to Joe Biden.