It has been awhile since I have been haunted by a song. When I first heard the Miles Davis Sketches of Spain album I was living in a concrete block apartment during a rough winter in Iowa City with two young children and few resources. I was caught in the need to flee the damp darkness of the middle of the country and the need to finish degree studies I’d started there. It was a strange world to me, this world in which the sun did not have dominion. I watched the Iowa River carry the sun away, and the river froze and there was no movement until the spring thaw. The sound of the winds through the dry leaved corn fields in winter made a music that anchored my loneliness. Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain gave my ears jazz. Miles knew how to make it across the ice river in the dark. He took me, with his cool horn tempered by fire, through the dark. I could make it to the other side of despair with the tunes on that album scrolling through me as I listened in the dark, far from what was familiar to me. That Spanish-themed music carried me to someplace so intimate I could not speak or sing it. Not yet. That album of songs still has that affect with me. It’s become the healer I go to when I have lost my way in the dark. And it has taught me about playing saxophone, how the dark gives torque and direction. And how playing’s a feel thing riding the rails of technical precision.
Now I am being haunted by Shallows, sung by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the remake movie A Star is Born. The movie wasn’t my first choice. It fit the time slot. I was drawn in quickly with the fine acting, the tale that wound around romance and human brokenness, and of course, the music. I’ve watched Lady Gaga from a distance for years in admiration but here I came to know her, for the tale was also about her struggle to break through to herself, which is my struggle and probably the struggle of so many of us who attempt to create change in our art. However what caught me most was how much the story was about being a songwriter and what it takes to create music, poetry, art, anything that involves diving in or falling into the terrifyingly beautiful unknown. I’m falling/In all the good times I find myself longing for change/And in the bad times I fear myself… Simple. Direct. And sung by earthy angels it winds around and through me. It haunts me. All of it, the melody, the lyrics, the voices…catches onto the downdraft of my heart’s fall as it deals with private griefs, my mind’s fall as it wonders how we are going to survive the evil of separateness and hate that was given a doorway by those parked at the head of this country. “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in/I’ll never meet the ground.”
We’re falling. We’ve been falling since we were born. This country is falling. This song lifts us up. Just as the whole album Sketches of Spain turned the falling into orchestral complexity that honors the spirits of those who wandered through the dark and never made it home, “Shallows” brings me home to what I am creating and living and why I am.