Monday, February 11, 2013

A Song Within A Story WIthin A Song


Remember Friday's post, where I was rooting for Janis Ian, who was up for the Best Spoken Word Grammy for the audiobook version of her autobiography, Society's Child?  Well, she won!

That's just cool.

While she was in Las Angeles, incidentally, Janis recorded some stories for the audiobook of the anthology she and Mike Resnick edited several years ago, Stars: Stories Inspired by Janis Ian Songs.  Among which is one that I wrote.  This is of particular note because my story wasn't in the anthology.

Let me explain.

Back when, Janis and Mike invited me to contribute a story.  Only rarely do I write stories for specific markets.  But I really wanted to write something for a song called "Mary's Eyes."   Janis has written somewhere that she wrote it after being greatly moved by a concert by Mary Black and that she was surprised when people thought she was writing about Ireland itself.  But if you have a drop of Irish blood in you, it's hard not to read that song as being about Deirdre of the Sorrows.

There aren't many songs that can make me cry, but they're all about Ireland.  This is one of them.

So I set out to write a story about what it means to be Irish-American, and all the tangled emotions that entails.  I put in the Easter Sunday when I was standing on O'Connell Street and Gerry Adams walked past me, accompanied by a single bodyguard and a local politico.  I put in my grandfather Michael O'Brien, dying in a railroad flat in New York City, his hair as white as a dandelion that's about to be exploded by a passing breeze.  I even put in the Fresca bottle of potcheen that the tour driver bought for my mother in a cinder-block bar he wouldn't let any of his fares set foot inside.  I put in a lot more personal material than normally goes into a story.

And by the time “For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again” was finished, the anthology had been out for years.

Not long ago, Janis had the sort of whim that genuinely creative have, and suggested that my story be included in the audiobook as a kind of extra for those who bought.  Since I'd originally intended the story for her book, I naturally said I thought it was a great idea.

That's the story, but it doesn't end then.  Inside the story, I needed a song for Mary to sing -- not in its entirety, just a couple of stanzas -- at a key moment in the plot.  So I went looking for a poem, something in the public domain, which  I could excerpt.  And I found "Deirdre's Lament," by Samuel Ferguson.  Ferguson was the child of Scottish parents who had moved to Belfast.  His father was a spendthrift and his mother was a noted conversationalist.  So it was nothing short of a miracle that he became a barrister and nothing less than inevitable that he also became a poet.

Janis tells me that that she made up a tune for the song, so that when she reaches the part where Mary sings, you can hear Janis sing the lyrics.

In the heart of the story that was written about Janis Ian's song is a song that was composed for the story.  I don't suppose anybody can be happier about this than me.  But I hope those who buy the audiobook when it's published come close.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

All those things may be themselves a good plot for a stoty: Writer, Singer and Magical Song