Writing and Music by John Kirnan

Green to Gold

Posted by John Kirnan on December 30th, 2013

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Vintage recording on the brink of extinction saved in the nick of time!

Part 2

Why the same strange subtitle again? Well, “Green to Gold” was recorded in 1989, a year after “Out of the Blue,” and most of what I said in the post about the first album applies to the second one as well. This time though, I thought I'd focus more on the songs themselves and the memories connected to them.

Side One (remember when albums had sides?) begins with Questions for the Goddess, a song about chasing after an elusive dream. As it turned out, the whole thing was an illusion. Ah well, such are the ways of romantic young men. Actually, I still consider myself to be a romantic, I just won't chase anyone anymore.

White Man's Eyes was inspired by television news coverage of a Native protest back in the '80s. One of the protesters was being interviewed and was talking about confrontation. At one point, he said something like, “We see how the white man's eyes look at us.” I almost didn't include this song with the re-release of this album. It was suggested to me that its message might be misunderstood. I decided to include it and say that this song is about injustice and the need for always finding a peaceful way to resolve any conflict, no matter what side you're on. As I said in the song, “Force is not the answer / Man against man / Love's the only way / Peace, the only plan.”

Never Leave Me is a love song that's built around the feeling, “Never leave me, never leave me, and if you must, then say you never will.” Personally, I would always advise honesty in a relationship, but I wish the imaginary couple well and hope everything works out for them.

One of the things I wanted to talk about in this post was how much I enjoyed working with other people on this writing and recording project. After I'd written Cross and Chain, I decided that it would be better if it was done with both a male and female voice. I asked Michelle McColm (aka Zoë Kessler) if she'd like to sing on the track and, luckily for me, she said yes. Not only did she bring her beautiful voice to my version of a basement studio (two microphones, two cassette decks, and a couple of guitars), but had also written a harmony vocal for the chorus. I'd recorded my part earlier and was going to overdub her voice onto the tape. She suggested that we both sing it live together, but I thought I'd mess up the guitar part, so we didn't. Sometimes I wonder what it would've sounded like if we'd tried it her way. It might've been even better. Maybe we'll get a second chance someday. If you'd like to check out Zoë's website, here's the link: http://zoekessler.com. Her book, “Adoption Reunions,” is not only a fascinating read, but I'm sure a great help to anyone going through that process. Her newest book is called  “ADHD According to Zoë.”

She Just Smiled is what I would call a story song. It's about two people who meet on the road. This song always makes me smile. Over the years,  a few people have told me that I sound like Gordon Lightfoot. Personally, I don't see it. Having said that, I must say that I always love hearing it. Lightfoot was my first musical hero. His album from the '60s, “The Way I Feel,” is still one of my very favourites. When I hear his, “Song for a Winter's Night,” it takes me back to dream-like, stilled by snow evenings that haloed a small house in a small town surrounded by sleeping trees and winter peace. And of course, “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” is our real national anthem (though, at six minutes, a little too long to sing at the hockey game). What does all this have to do with my song? Well, there's a line in it where I can hear Lightfoot's voice within my own. It's only one line in the chorus, but it always makes me smile. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe I like the idea that those wonderful times of listening to his music, and his influence on my music, have somehow found a way to shine through.

Long before I looked into the blues, Going to Gamble was my attempt at writing a bottleneck blues piece. The guitar is tuned to an open tuning, probably open G, and played with a slide or bottleneck. Funny how little things stick out in your memory. The thing I always remember about this song is that there's a place in it where I made a mistake and hit the wrong string. It ended up sounding like a variation in the playing, right where it seemed like there should be one. I don't play much slide guitar. This is the only one I've ever put out there in the world, so far anyway.

Slipping Away is another song where I was lucky enough to get a great musician to play on the track. My friend, Dale Sewers, has been playing professionally ever since he was a kid. So when I told him I'd like to put a bass track onto one of my songs, he listened to it, wrote the bass part in about a minute and, when I asked for one, threw in a solo at the end. It was exactly what I was looking for. I have two other memories of that night. The first one has to do with how heavy his bass was. Have you ever tried to pick up a Fender bass guitar? Have you ever tried to pick up a Fender bass guitar in a hard-shell case? I was considering sitting it at the top of the stairs, hopping on, and riding it down into the basement. My other memory is of the strings on that particular guitar. There are only four strings on a bass, usually, as compared to six on a guitar, but bass strings are a lot more expensive. Dale had just put a new set on. Unfortunately, being new, they were a bit too squeaky for recording. He suggested putting some kind of grease on them. I said, “Oh, you don't want to do that, they're brand new.” He said, “That's OK, I'll clean them off afterwards.” I went upstairs and asked my mother what she might have that we could use. She had some old Evening in Paris cream she didn't want anymore. Dale slathered it all over his new strings and voilà, no squeak. So if some night when you're listening to “Slipping Away,” you find yourself reminded of The City of Light, it's just the magic of an Evening in Paris coming out of your speakers.

Side Two starts off with The Risk. Ever feel like a possible partner or current one seems a lot like Jacob Marley, the ghost from “A Christmas Carol,” in that, instead of dragging chains and heavy chests of coins behind them like Jacob, they're dragging the baggage of former lovers and all their cruel misdeeds? Ever wish that he or she could open their eyes wide enough to see that it's just possible that you might not be like all those problematic people of the past? Ever feel like you're the one paying for everyone else's mistakes? If so, feel free to consider this to be your very own personal theme song.

Sailor (not to be confused with that other song you may have heard, “A Sailor Lost at Sea,” which I hope to record and release in the near future) is about a seeker looking in the wrong places. When Don McLean was asked what song of his was his favourite, he answered, “They're all my children.” I know what he meant but, since we're not actually talking about children here, I'll admit that there are some of my songs that I like better than others. I was told recently that it's OK to like your own music. And by that, I take it the person meant that it's OK to say that. So I'm going to go ahead and say I kind of like this one. I admit it, I like it. There.

With Green to Gold, I prefer to let the song itself tell you what it's about. And since it's the title track anyway, I'm just going to include all the lyrics in this post. Here they are:

 

Green to Gold

Leaves are falling fast,
One life after another,
Gone from green to gold,
One more story told.

Raven in the wood
Speaks to me of hunger.
When will I know flight
From this moonless night?

Take me, take me,
Take me far from here,
To where those wild winds
Will blow away my fear.

I need your wings tonight.
I need to know that I
Am not just earthbound shadow
And that one day, I will fly.
I will fly.

River races sun,
Meets the sea in wonder,
Disappears from sight,
Movement turns to light.

Seagull on the shore
Speaks to me of distance.
Even in this hour,
Therein lies the power.

Take me, take me,
Take me far from here,
To where those wild winds
Will blow away my fear.

I need your wings tonight.
I need to know that I
Am not just earthbound shadow
And that one day, I will fly.
I will fly.

 

The lyrics for In The Hour of My Hunger were taken from one of my favourite poetry books, "Waking the Witch,” by Trevail. The way the music was composed was very strange. I read the poem, picked up my guitar, and wrote the melody and guitar part in about the time it takes to sing the piece. Here's where you can find out how to get a copy of “Waking the Witch” - info@mysticbookshop.ca

A Kind of Lazarus was taken from a poem by Sheila Satherley. I played around with some of the lines, added a few of my own to make the whole thing a bit more song-like, and then added the tune. Like Trevail's song though, what makes this one powerful is the strength of the poet's words. I always kind of think of these two songs as the best songs I never wrote.  Why never? I guess because it feels like I just took the energy that was already there and moulded it into another form. Sheila's song, like “Cross and Chain,” is about abuse and partly because of that, I've made this one a sample song. It has a message that I'd like to spread around. Sheila also drew the original covers for the cassette versions of both my albums, every one of them hand drawn. There's sisterly love for you. Thanks again, Sheila.

Within is a quiet little song about true love and compassion. This one is quite special to me because I believe that this kind of relationship is possible. Perhaps hard to come by, but possible.

Of the 26 songs that appear on my two albums, Why Rivers Run is the only one where I used an electric guitar. It's played in an open tuning, again probably open G (someday I'll check on that). The intro is fingerstyle and then it turns into a mix of lead and rhythm. If you're a guitarist, or just interested in why the guitar sounds the way it does, I can tell you that it's a Gibson SG II guitar played through an Electric Mistress flanger and then into a Gibson G60 amp with the reverb turned up. The song ends with a harmonic that fades to silence. I liked ending the album that way.

That's about it for the songs, but I should mention what the download contains. The "Green to Gold" album includes all 14 songs remastered from the original master tape and converted into MP3 format. It also includes a jewel case cover, two image files, and a 28 page PDF booklet. The booklet contains the lyrics for the songs, album and song notes, pictures of the original cassette cover, a new cover that uses a photograph taken by Louis Riel, and the complete guitar tablature for “A Kind of Lazarus” (see above). The two image files can be used to print out the cover separately, with or without the titles.

The cover for “Green to Gold” uses the same photo that Louis sent me to illustrate our “Shadows in the Woodlands” post. I've had the picture as my desktop ever since. One day recently, I was looking at it and suddenly realized that it was perfect for the cover. Strange how I missed that. When describing how I felt about the photo in the post, I said, “I love how the light seems to spill down from the sky like a flowing river of green and gold, curving across the leaves before reaching the ground below. There’s the little sapling, almost glowing at the beginning of its journey, while the older trees tower so far above as they rise up from dark through shadow and on into bright sunlight. There are patches of shadow we can see on the path, and shadows we can’t see through further on. The path turns to the right. Or does it? Maybe its existence is just an illusion, wishful thinking.” More connections. Then while looking at the photo's file info so that we could fill in a copyright notice, I noticed that the picture just happened to be taken on my birthday. Odd. There's another reason why I like using this picture though. Louis and I played a lot of music together when we were younger, but because of the distance between my here and his there, he never appeared on either of my albums. Doesn't seem right. Including his art in this re-release means a lot to me.

And so does the experience of working with everyone on this project. So, thanks so much to Zoë and Dale for the rare treat of allowing me to play record producer and draw their talents into the mix. It was a lot of fun to be able to arrange a piece by using someone else's abilities as a compositional tool. I imagine it's something like a painter being given more colours to work with. Thanks so much to Trevail and Sheila for allowing me to find a way to sing their poetry. And a third thanks so much to another pair of fine folks: Louis, for letting me use his beautiful photograph to visually represent my work and Marian Buchanan, as always, for helping me to weave another of my web projects into being.

As for the future, I always planned on putting out a third album back then. All of the songs are there, I just need to record them. And relearn them. I'm not sure when I'll get to that. But it's something I definitely want to do. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy listening to “Green to Gold” as much as I did creating it. Creating? Hmm.... Actually, that doesn't feel accurate anymore. Let's just say that my guitar and I happened to be sitting in the right spot when the music flew by.

 

Sample songs

To check out one of the songs from Green to Gold, right-click on this link and select Save Link As to download the mp3 file:
A Kind of Lazarus.

To check out another song from Green to Gold, click on this link: Why Rivers Run.

 

Download

"Green to Gold" music

"Green to Gold" booklet

 

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