Week Ten

HOW COULD I NOT? (ADAM’S SONG)
By Kim Davidson © 2010

I saw him for the first time at a funeral…
He was standing with my brother, his face a mask of pain
And I found out later that he’d barely known the man who’d died…
And I found out later that Adam was his name.

CHORUS:
And how can I explain something poets can’t define?
How can I begin to understand this fragile heart of mine?
It’s never beat by reason or by logic or intelligence
It’s never failed in making sense
There’s no point in asking just what I was thinking of
He was crying over a stranger… so how could I not fall in love?

He was working on the island for the summer
In Marine Biology, at the station with my brother John
And I tried not to think about how strong my feelings for him were
And I tried not to think about how quickly he’d be gone

CHORUS:
And how can I explain something poets can’t define?
How can I begin to understand this fragile heart of mine?
It’s never beat by reason or by logic or intelligence
It’s never failed in making sense

There’s no point in asking just what I was thinking of
He was singing to the dolphins… so how could I not fall in love?

BRIDGE:
And I was so young and so confused in those days
Riding on emotions, that swelled and broke like waves
And he was fighting demons of a past love casualty
But losing in his fight to not love me

And there was much to cry about that summer
Death and sadness followed on our heels, or so it felt
But through it all he kept the light within his heart and in his eyes
He saved me from the darkness, and saved me from myself

CHORUS:
And how can I explain something poets can’t define?
How can I begin to understand this fragile heart of mine?
It’s never beat by reason or by logic or intelligence
It’s never failed in making sense
There’s no point in asking just what I was thinking of
He was turning cartwheels on the sand… so how could I not fall in love?
He was crying over a stranger… he was singing to the dolphins… he was turning cartwheels in the sand…

–Inspired by the book “A Ring of Endless Light” by Madeleine L’Engle, (c) 1980

Well, this is exactly the kind of seemingly random synchronicity I love. I was at work (clearly not working), surfing around and catching up on Timmy Riordan’s Song Bomb 2010, which you may remember I participated in a few weeks back. There’s a lot of talent in the group of guest writers, and I was really dying to hear what everyone had written, so I decided now was as good a time as any. It’d been a busy week, and I kind of needed a little down time and a little inspiration since I was a day behind my regular writing schedule already and had no idea what my song was going to be this week.

One of the wonderful things I discovered on Timmy’s blog was this great entry about songwriting. I love it—especially the final line, which is excellent advice.

Hit Songwriters

I’ve talked to and listened to a bunch of people who’ve had some good success in their music: Darrell Scott, Steve Seskin, Josh Ritter, Lisa Loeb. Of those folks not one said they sat down to write a “hit” song when they started writing. Steve might be the one who comes closest and he’s still just writing the songs he wants to. Darrell says he just writes what comes to him for the most part. Lisa knew Ben Stiller and Ethan Hawk when an independent movie they made happened to explode her career. When I was in her workshop she talked more about trying to write outside people’s expectations than working towards pop perfection. “Stay” is maybe [one of] the least formulaic hits of the last 20 years.

These people all write songs because they have something to say and because it’s fun, and because writing songs is something they love. When you’re trying to imitate successful people the best thing you can strive for is to imitate their love and their passion for what they do. –Timmy Riordan (reprinted with permission)

Next I listened to the tunes of Jacqueline Francis and Betty Soo—both amazing singers and songwriters, so naturally their contributions to Tim’s project were just stellar. I was thinking about them, and thinking about Lisa Loeb, and about Tim’s quote, and wondering what I had to say and what I wanted to do that might be outside the box in my attempt to say it.

Then I came to Charlene DiCalogero’s song. Charlene is a member of the songwriting group I belong to, and she’s just an amazing writer and vocalist. I’m always blown away by everything I hear her do. At any rate, I was reading her bio, which talked about her “Amphibious Wrecks” project, where she takes the story of Homer’s “The Odyssey” and recounts it in song. I started thinking, “What book or books would I want to or could I do that with?” Okay, well a project of that scope is probably far beyond what I can put on my plate at this point in time, but what DID come to me was a flash of one of my all-time favorite books, which is Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.” And immediately I thought of Adam Eddington (because I have met many Leos and many Zacharys, but am always wondering just where is my Adam Eddington?) And the image of Adam in the boat singing to the dolphins came to me. It’s always been as enchanting to me as it was to Vicky Austin. And so that was where the idea started, and it snowballed from there.

When the song was finished I read back over the lyrics and suddenly it hit me that my first line of the song is nearly identical to the first line in the book. Obviously after reading it numerous times over twenty years, it was buried in my subconscious and I wasn’t even aware that I had come up with it on my own until I’d read it back a couple times. The difference is that Ms. L’Engle’s line is “I saw him for the first time at the funeral.” Because of course it leads right into the story, which begins at Commander Rodney’s funeral on Seven Bay Island. I was conflicted about many things when I realized it was the same line. First, obviously, I worried that it was plagiarism and I could get into trouble for using it. Since it was inadvertent, and not so specifically proprietary (in my estimation), I’d like to think I’m off the hook. Secondly I wondered if I should just use it as if it was intended that way right from the start, and change the line to be a verbatim quote. In the end I decided that since the song is not clearly about that book unless you know that book, it made sense to keep the meaning more broad and leave my change in article.

I did take a slight bit of artistic license in that first verse, as far as the book is concerned. Adam doesn’t actually cry over Commander Rodney’s death, but I think using the word “crying” loosely to encompass showing any kind of grief works well enough; and using the word specifically serves the song better. It’s a minor infraction, I think—and I love that book as much as anybody else out there ever could. If I’m all right with it, hopefully anyone else who hears it will be as well.

Back to the question of plagiarism… Even though I think that using a single line (or the essence of a character) out of an entire novel does not constitute theft (one could even argue it’s a tribute), I wanted to check Ms. L’Engle’s website for a contact person so I could send the song along and offer to change that line if there was a problem with using it. This was how I discovered that she died over two years ago. I was stunned, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was 88 when she died and I’ve been sort of preparing to hear about her passing for years. What did surprise me was that I didn’t hear about it. She passed in September, 2007, and I had no idea until this song sent me to her website. I’m not sure how she didn’t warrant more notice in the news and social media out there. I don’t know how I didn’t know at the time. At any rate, it makes me sad. I am planning to send the song to her granddaughter, Léna, who has a blog about her own writing. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome there.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the song. And if it prompts you to read “A Ring of Endless Light,” so much the better. Rest in peace, Madeleine.

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4 Responses to “Week Ten”

  1. peter Says:

    ROCK ON!!! WEEK TEN!!! DOUBLE DIGITS!!! Congrats!!! KEEP GOING!!!

  2. Léna Says:

    Great blog and song Kim! And nice sourcing of its inspiration too . . . It’s so wonderful how art begets art!

  3. newsongweekly Says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read, listen, and comment!

  4. Week Eleven « Kim Davidson: New Song Weekly Says:

    […] Kim Davidson: New Song Weekly 52 weeks. 52 songs. One songwriter's challenge to herself… « Week Ten […]

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