Monday, June 20, 2011

Coming Back to Life

I wrote
previously about the brilliance of David Gilmour's musical skills, and I continue here with more. The song you'll find below -- "Coming Back to Life" -- captured my attention because of its arrangement and beauty. (You'll hear it playing in the background on my vacuum sealing video from a couple days ago.) But I hadn't paid attention to the words until this morning -- the rock genre has conditioned us not to focus on the words because they are often indistinguishable over the din of the music. But enough of the "Coming Back to Life" words seeped in to pique my interest. And once I read all the lyrics, and watched how Gilmour arranged this song -- volume, lighting, instruments, choral voices -- to enhance the lyrics, I was brought to tears. Literally.

I'm not sure why. It may be because it's a song about "coming back to life" after experiencing a personal loss -- perhaps the death of a vision -- a universal theme in all of human existence, but especially at the individual level. I can certainly identify with that theme, and the song may have touched a tattered hem that has yet to be trimmed and stitched into a new edge made serviceable for life.

But it's also because I, along with millions of other 'wannabes, want to be "David Gilmour." Not him specifically, but a person involved in the composing, arranging, and producing of music that moves human souls as this piece does. I know I don't have the talent for that, so am happy to revel vicariously in the fruits of those who do -- and enjoy the emotional catharses that arise unbidden in the presence of great music.

David Gilmour wrote this piece and it was first performed on a 1994 Pink Floyd album, The Division Bell. Wikipedia says Gilmour wrote it about his (second) wife, Polly Samson. Whether it is about her throughout the song -- both the dying and the rebirth -- or whether it is only about her role in his rebirth, I don't know. And it doesn't matter for my purposes here: the way arranging of music enhances the telling of a story. (There's also a Royal Albert Hall version available, but neither it nor the Pink Floyd version can match the one below for production value and emotional impact.)

This is the version from the 1998 Meltdown Concert and I think is far superior to the later version of the Royal Albert Hall Concert which lacks the power of the choral voices. Here are the lyrics and my interspersed notes on the arrangement:

[Dark stage, spare acoustic guitar opening, contemplating his pain,

the choral voices, like a Greek chorus, amplifying what he's feeling]

Where were you when I was burned and broken

While the days slipped by from my window watching

Where were you when I was hurt and helpless

Because the things you say and the things you do surround me

While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words

Dying to believe in what you heard

I was staring straight into the shining sun

[Guitar picks up strength and rhythm;

a glimmer of hope and possibility of life.]

Lost in thought and lost in time

While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted

Outside the rain fell dark and slow

While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the moment had arrived

For killing the past and coming back to life

[Lights come up, the audience buys into the story, full band enters,

underscored by the bass line, almost like a heartbeat,

bringing light and life to what he's just realized:

"the moment had arrived for killing the past and coming back to life."]

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the waiting had begun

And headed straight..into the shining sun

Of course, the audio on YouTube videos is never as powerful as on the DVD itself -- I can tell a significant lack of dynamics in this version. But hopefully it will be adequate: (this really only works if you have adequate speakers for listening to music via your computer -- a subwoofer makers all the difference in the world.) Hats off to Gilmour for tackling this kind of song on an acoustic guitar -- he uses electrics on the other two versions linked above.)

There is another reason this song resonates: it brings to mind Saint John of the Cross's 16-century treatise, Dark Night of the Soul. I am less familiar with Saint John's travails than I am with those of the apostle Paul, when he realized "the moment had arrived for killing the past and coming back to life:"

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him . . . [that] I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. . . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:8-14)

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