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John Brown's Body, the second Civil War, pining for the fjords, and the Point Richmond Acoustic Music Series.

by Noctambule
December 09, 2014

Ooo-wee, have we been writing up a storm of late! Most of the poetry that we have been setting to music have been excerpts from a remarkable 150-page poem about the American Civil War written in 1928 by Stephen Vincent Benét, entitled “John Brown’s Body” – remarkable for its lyricism, yes, but also for its trenchant understanding of the human psyche. From the Introduction to the 1943 edition: “(Benét’s) forte was the illumination of...anfractuosity (def: the condition or quality of having many twists and turns)." There are no faultless heroes or nefarious villains, really – merely vulnerable humans who are paradoxically united in their shared predicament of having unwittingly galumphed into one of the most savage conflicts in our nation’s history. And we are working on our fifth song from this epic work.

Of course, we have been asking ourselves, “so why this poem?” Apart from its compelling characters and melodic verse, it appears to us oddly topical: that is, we have the intrusive suspicion that we may be currently living in the midst of an undeclared “civil war” in America. Having seceded from the Union (or at least from Participation in the Common Good), a small cadre of billionaires have opened fire on those that would promote access to health care, voting rights, and a living wage, while claiming the moral high ground in the process. And “Walmart” is, at best, an indecorous name for a modern-day plantation.

But back to the music. While we believe everything we have written above, we (sanctimoniously) deplore any hint of sanctimony, and now have the video to prove it. We returned to a favorite recording venue, to wit, a parking garage in Berkeley, California where this time we perform “A Sweetish Tune.” This tune, composed mostly by Marla, sounded quite “Swedish” to us, but because neither of us know very much – alright, anything – about Swedish music, we refrained from calling it anything that suggested a rhapsodic return to Stockholm or pining for the fjords (wait, those are in Norway; that much we know). However, we did think it was kind of “sweetish," hence the name. We are joined in this video by the multi-talented Aryeh Frankfurter (who does know a lot about Swedish music), and who emerges from the shadows with a strange-looking stringed instrument (later identified as Swedish nyckelharpa). What we hadn’t counted on was the degree of traffic in the middle of the night, which makes for some interesting, er, counterpoint, and ultimately results in a finish that has us brilliantly bathed in the red glow of tail lights. Enjoy!


Friday, January 9, 2015 at 7:30 pm


First Methodist Church

201 Martina Street

Point Richmond, CA

This is a wonderful series in a physically and acoustically beautiful room, put on by Claudia Russell and Bruce Kaplan, themselves highly talented singer songwriters. And it is an honor for us to be invited to perform in it. Opening the evening’s festivities will be our dear friends Susan Spurlock & Kyle Alden. It promises to be a magic night!

Our thanks to you for coming with us on this noctamblog – we hope you’ll join us for further noctambulations in the future.

Bruce and Marla

Tags: Guitar, Mandolin
Category: Peghead Partners

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