Song 39 – Rachel’s Song
This one’s for my sister. She has always been the big reader in the family. For every book I read, I’d make a safe bet she reads a hundred. A long time ago she got into Flannery O’Connor and drew me into that strangely-familiar and strangely-strange depiction of the American south. Since then, I’ve read all of her books three or four times each. What brings me back are the characters. Each one seems so familiar, as if I’m reading about a not-so-distant relative.
Flannery O’Connor’s most famous character is Hazel Motes from her book Wise Blood. Hazel, who often went by “Haze”, was a mixture of extreme personality traits and easily spotted by his fierce hats. Here’s a quote that describes Haze’s hats and shows a little bit of who he was:
… [Haze] went to a dry-goods store to buy a new hat. He wanted one that was completely opposite to the old one. This time he was sold a white panama with a red and green and yellow band around it. The man said they were really the thing and particularly if he was going to Florida.
“I ain’t going to Florida,” he said. “This hat is opposite from the one I used to have is all.”
He went outside and took the red and green and yellow band off it and thumped out the crease in the top and turned down the brim. When he put it on, it looked just as fierce as the other one he had.
Hats aside, he was a drifter; looking for something with a uncommon intensity, even if he didn’t know what it was. The kind of man that throws himself, body and soul, into each new half-baked plan he comes up with, each one crazier than the last. Add to that an overwhelming innocence that rendered him child-like. He acted like he knew everything, but inside he was confused and overwhelmed by it all.
As for the song, it came to me at The Scientific Retreat at the Beach, 2015. We had the afternoon off from science and I’d just had a delicious superburger at El’s Drive-In. Satisfied with my meal, I had this idea: what if Hazel Motes was real and I knew him? I doubt I would know him well – I don’t think anyone would make that claim. Instead, he’d be one of those people I ran into from time to time, or heard a story about. Crazy Haze, what’s he gotten himself into to this time? What new scheme had he come up with?
Back at the hotel I pulled a chair onto a tiny balcony overlooking a parking lot, grabbed my ukulele and started to strum. The verses came easy, but the chorus didn’t show up until I put the ukulele down and walked on the beach for an hour. Like a rogue wave, it hit full force and I sang it all the way back to my room.
Folks, it’s one thing to write a song, and another thing to have it arranged by such talented musicians. I feel blessed to have Miriam Chicurel-Bayard, Mara Shea and Robert Cantrell helping me out with this one. They brought their own ideas to the studio and all I had to do was blend them together. And speaking of studios, the drums sound is perfect because we recorded at Warrior Sound. As always, Al skillfully captured the magic. I hope you like it – if so, please share it with your friends. And if you’d like to sing or play along with it, here’s the song sheet.
Oh, and if you missed the show at Mystery Brewing, here’s a video of the premiere of this song: