This was the name of a band I was in back in the 80’s, and as I was returning from the cancer clinic a number of months ago having learned I was to undergo radiation treatments, I resolved that this was a title that needed a song. A melodic sketch and rhyme structure dropped into place before I’d completed the 20 minute drive home.
The lyrics also came quickly tumbling into place over the following weeks. Around this time I came across the word “jeremiad” in Clinton Heylin, Dylan biographer and creator of some of the liner notes for Trouble No More (v. 13 of the Bootleg series which covers the so-called Gospel period of His Bobness). This word held a deep intrigue for me (Merriam-Webster defines it as “a prolonged lamentation or complaint”), and got me wondering if this is literary form that’s had an inextricable magnetic pull on what I feel drawn to write about.
As far back as the early ’80’s when I wrote News From On High (recorded on a demo tape with Harmony Storm and then again 25+ years later for my 2009 Gracious Window record) the “fire in my bones” besetting Jeremiah whose name is stamped on this literary form seems, in part, to also be my lot as one whose craft is writing songs. So I’ll try it on for size with this song, trying at least to curb the prolonged haranguing qualities that can cause the jeremiad form to be caricatured and miss the mark.
In The Lionsong On
I went to the UK last Fall to attend a 24-7 Prayer conference and go on a pilgrimage with some Hamilton friends to Lindisfarne, Durham Cathedral and the Northumbria Prayer Community. Having lymphoma seemed to motivate me to want to write a song while there (one doesn’t know one’s length of days at the best of times, let alone after the diagnosis I’d received earlier). I resolved to write words to go with a melodic sketch undeniably shaped by such Dylan jeremiads as Trouble in Mind, When Ya Gonna Wake Up? and The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.
While a title for this sketch was in place, I resisted taking down lyrics until I was in the UK; but I should know better that songs don’t often work that way. Instead, what wanted to drop in was a simple melody emerging from a daily singing of Psalm 8 with my pilgrim friends in our Birmingham hostel, as well as a deep fondness for this Hamilton-like city that had taken a hold of us. In the 90 or so minutes it took to straighten out a car rental miscue, I was able to take a final stroll with Denise Dulcimer along Birmingham's enchanting canals to see what else might download.
Before too long, glossolalia syllables morphed into “in the lion song” and a full two thirds of a lyric dropped into the banjo-esque licks that had gotten hold of my fingers in the cafeteria of Hatter’s Hostel. Subsequent pilgrim strolling through the thin places of Holy Island, Durham and Northumbria easily yielded the remaining words, the loose ends being tied up in Newcastle the night before our flight home.
Get Yer Armour
I’m not sure if radiation treatments constitute what’s known as a thin place, but it seems it was over my 12 times under the beam that an escalated download of what I was to take down for the UK chose to happen. The rides back and forth to the cancer clinic turned into a lyrical wrestling message in engaging with the jeremiad form without succumbing to its pitfalls of becoming an annoying harangue, even using a bit of whimsy in staring down the times when “your love runs out” and the light seems to be dying down. “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” And by Epiphany, the song was done.
There’s a deliberate word play that may well get missed in the armour (notice the Brit spelling) being connected to being “in your Daddy’s arms again.” “Yer” is connected to Yer Blues and Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out; and the astute listener should be able to detect Beatles, Peter Gabriel and Radiohead references without too much trouble. TIG
Peter playing the Stick Dulcimer, newly setup and tweaked by luthier Mike Spicer. Recorded and filmed by John Farr.
Have You Seen Evangeline
Have You Seen Evangeline played on the Stick Dulcimer. Recorded and filmed by John Farr.
All Content Copyright Peter Tigchelar