Countdown to Jam for the Fans #1

posted May 17, 2011

I am supposed to be writing a song for the Nields 20th anniversary/reunion finale at the Iron Horse. No pressure. It’s just supposed to sum up the last 20 years, be upbeat, have a great chorus that the fans can sing along to, and top everything else that we play. I started to write it Monday. Or rather, I started to write something; but what I wrote, while good, is not an end-of-the-show kind of song. It’s the kind of song that, in the days of the band when we all lived together and breathed in unison, we would have placed about fourth or fifth in the set. It grooves. It would have gotten everyone on their feet. But it never would have ended a show.

Men came today in a big red dump truck and hacked away at our back porch until it was gone. I thought this would be terribly depressing; after all, I loved that back porch. I wrote chunks of my books sitting on an Adirondack chair on that porch, and I (and others) sat on the floor, guitar in lap, and wrote songs. In fact, the song I mention above was started there. I kept spacing out as I was writing it, gazing at the beautiful flowery backyard, moping about the fact that I would never sit here again, never gaze at that view again. Then I remembered the whole point of the renovation is to create a ROOM in that very spot so that I can sit and gaze and write songs–from my new kitchen.

Two great surprises came from the porch demolition. The best one was that the men located Jay’s small Hess motorcycle guy (actually William’s–Jay stole it.) Motorcycle guy has been AWOL for over a year. He had been buried under the porch. Jay is apoplectic.

The other is the light. The light! Our kitchen is light! The porch had been blocking the light! Now I have a tangible, experienced vision to meditate upon when I lose heart for this project, as I will sometime in June when I wish for more than a trickle of water to wash my greens, or when one of my kids reminds me why it’s a really good thing to have a bathroom on the first floor (the bathroom is being gutted, too.)

Katryna said I could re-write an existing song for the finale. I actually had just done that.

For five generations now, our family has spent parts of our summers at a place in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks called Putnam Camp. This rustic place, nestled at the foot of Giant Mountain, hosted Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung along with William James while the two psychoanalysts made their first and only trip together to the United States. Cabins have names if not running water, and after each family style meal, guests climb the base of the mountain to have tea and dessert in a wall-less cabin affectionately known as The Stoop. This is also where folks pull out guitars, banjos, the occasional hand-made upright bass, and sing songs passed down from family to family for generations.

Putnam Camp has some traditions which require music, too; notoriously a song guests sing to latecomers to dinner called “Little Popsie Wopsie.” (Our mother lived in fear of being “Popsie wopsied,” and thus we girls were never once late.) But our favorite song is the one guests sing to the departing visitors. At the end of a stay (typically a week), remaining guests line up and hold hands and do a kind of modified can-can while singing this song to the car loaded with the departing guests as it drives down the mountain out to Route 73.

We’ll dance like a fairy
and sing like a bird
Sing like a bird, sing like a bird
We’ll dance like a fairy
and sing like a bird
And wile the hours away

In our family, we have taken this tradition and applied it at every possible opportunity to bid farewell to any guest at all. My kids would sing it to the postwoman if they could. My parents often sing it to us as we drive away from their house, the two of them holding hands and kicking their feet gamely back and forth, waving with their outside arms as our car follows the bend in the driveway.

Last Sunday, our friend Kris departed after spending a lovely day with us. “Dance wike a faiwy!” Jay shouted as she closed her car door, and so Elle and Jay and I sang and danced and waved as Kris made her way back home. As we turned to go back in the house, it occurred to me that the song needed some new verses. Probably this occurred to me because my son wouldn’t let me stop singing the one existing verse, and I was getting bored. Boredom is the doorway to creativity, says our friend Holly Near.

We’ll dance like a fairy and sing like a bird
Sing like a bird, sing like a bird
We’ll dance like a fairy and sing like a bird
And wile the hours away

We hope that your travels bring you safely home
You safely home, you safely home
We hope that your travels bring you safely home
And show you some fun on the way

We’ll hold these good times we had close to our hearts
Close to our hearts, close to our hearts
We’ll hold these good times we had close to our hearts
Until we’re together to stay.

We’ll wile all our hours away while you’re gone
Away wile you’re gone, away while you’re gone
We’ll while all our hours away while you’re gone
And then we will go out and play.

Don’t you think this would make an excellent finale to Jam for the Fans?

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