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Getting On That Train (Living With a Non-linear Mind, Prologue)

Sometimes my mind just runs along all on its own, and I couldn’t tell you what I’m thinking about if you asked me.

And there are moments when that rambling mind grabs up many of its assorted ideas and weaves them together into a new whole, something special, that was not there before.

The ideas conglomerate and shift until they make a new picture, or a new set of pictures, like a kaleidoscope. And when that happens, I often feel like I have to go with it. I have to get on that train, and take those ideas where they are going to go. For a couple of reasons.

First off, if I do let go of that new set of ideas, I’m taking a risk. Something might happen to scramble them all – I might get distracted and forgetful, and just drop them all and they’ll lie shattered in a confused pile for a long time before I can take them up again.

More likely, though, I just won’t be able to concentrate on anything else. My mind will have grabbed that set of ideas, and if I don’t go with it I will find it difficult to concentrate. My dreams will be full of confusion and shifting scenes that I can’t keep track of. My conversations will tail off and people will wonder if I’m having a stroke.

So I have to, if you will forgive the cliche’, seize the moment. If everything has come together into a complete picture, I have to somehow record that assemblage of thought. It’s a kind of drive, which is equal parts unpredictable and infrequent.

So what counts as a goal for me, is to in some way make progress toward my larger goals – even small progress – on a daily basis. Blog. Practice guitar. Do things around the house so that I can be more efficient or have free time later. Listen to music I haven’t heard before, to stimulate my mind. Anything.

Because I can’t count on inspiration, but I can do my part to be ready for it if and when it comes. If I’m gonna get on a train, I better make it to the station on time – so attending to the daily tasks are what gets me there.

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Lyrics for ‘Perfectly Happy (Wedding Song)’

Gave the whole story of the song last blog post, but forgot to post the lyrics. Oops! So here they are.

PERFECTLY HAPPY (WEDDING SONG)

I’ve been called particular,
Although I often laugh.
It’s true that I know what I want,
And most don’t know the half.

You caught on pretty fast-
I must admit that I’m impressed.
The state of this union
Will surely be blessed, because I’m…

Perfectly happy,
perfectly happy, ooh –
perfectly happy with you.
Yes I’m perfectly happy,
perfectly happy,
perfectly happy with you.

I know precisely
You are the one for me
And I can say exactly
That where you are’s where I want to be.

I’ve given this some careful thought
To conclude that I love you a lot.
So let’s pick out a special day,
And then we’ll find a spot… because I’m…

Perfectly happy,
Perfectly happy,
Perfectly happy with you.
Perfectly happy,
Perfectly happy,
Perfectly happy with you.

This could change the way I’ll be addressed,
Yes the…
State of this union will surely be blessed.
Whatever circumstance we may go though,
I am perfectly happy with you.

Yes I’m… perfectly happy with you,
Perfectly happy with you,
Perfectly happy, perfectly happy,
Perfectly happy with you.

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How I Came To Write ‘Perfectly Happy (Wedding Song)’

‘Perfectly Happy (Wedding Song)’ seems to be the most popular song from my debut EP. It was a song I wrote for my sister’s wedding. I could tell about the nuances of the lyrics, but it wouldn’t mean much without telling about my sister and what she means to me, because that is where it comes from.

My sister was 15 years old when I was born. She and my two brothers were old enough already to be fairly independent, and when I came along I was a bit of a surprise baby. My parents had started going out in the evenings on their own more often again, and this continued while I was little. I was regularly left in the care of my older siblings, and they did a great job of taking care of me, especially my sister.

Of course, my siblings got older, and along with that they moved out of the house and had their own families. My sister moved the furthest away, from going to University in Ontario, studying and working in Germany, and after she got married to her first husband Tim they went to work as teachers in Botswana in the town of Kanye. They were working for an agency subcontracted by the Canadian International Development Agency, teaching at the Seepasitso Secondary School.

Although my mom at this time had been fighting cancer, she had a period of remission, and my parents decided to go visit my sister and her husband in Botswana, with stops in Europe to do some vacationing and to visit with my Uncle and his family in the Schwarzwald area in Germany. Since I was still quite young, they took me along. This trip probably set the tone for my willingness to be a bit adventurous and take some risks in my life. My sister and her husband were gracious hosts, and I felt very comfortable in Botswana, where I enjoyed playing soccer in the street with some of the local boys. (The rest of the trip was great too).

A year later, my mother’s cancer had returned, and she was confined to the hospital for a long time. My sister and her husband came home from their teaching assignment early in order to help take care of me. When my mother died, it was my sister who delivered the news. Time passed, and circumstances changed. My father remarried. My sister and her husband had children of their own. I went to University, and had some adventures on my own, eventually marrying and being part of my own family. What did not change was my sister’s continued caring support and openness in relationship to me and the whole family.

My sister is a gracious, caring, and authentic person. She laughs easily and naturally. One of her quirks is that, having studied and taken an interest in language for her entire life, she is a bit particular about using language properly – but this particularity about language never takes precedence over how she cares about people. She does know what she wants in life, and partly because she has always been good at knowing what she wants to achieve (mostly in the way of contributing to her community, but also in the things she likes), she has experienced success in achieving her goals.

A few years ago, suddenly and unexpectedly, her first husband died of a heart attack that he experienced during a weekly floor hockey game at their church. This hit her hard, of course. He had always taken care of his health and been active, so it was a huge surprise and shock. Their boys, now grown up, grieved with her and supported her.

Over time, my sister rekindled a friendship with a former teaching colleague of hers, and that friendship became romantic. This eventually resulted in their getting married, and the opportunity to write ‘Perfectly Happy’.

In the lyrics of ‘Perfectly Happy’, I sort of playfully take on my sister’s perspective regarding her new husband (and old friend), suggesting that she is a particular person who knows what she wants – and that he fits the bill. There’s a bit of word-play, comparing the relationship between the couple to a sort of ascendancy to the leadership of a country. A ‘State of the Union Address’ is a speech given by a President of the United States, generally addressing significant and emerging circumstances of note to the entire country. A marriage is often also referred to as a union; a ‘state’ is a condition; and ‘addressed’ can mean either ‘indicating a place of residence’ or ‘the way in which one person initiates discussion with another’. I like word play, and so does my sister – it’s part of the whole family’s sense of humour, really.

So there you have it – that’s how I came to write ‘Perfectly Happy (Wedding Song)’. I’ve changed it a bit since I first sang it at my sister’s wedding – it is now lower in pitch, for example, since I refocused my overall singing style to stay in the vocal range I’m more comfortable with – but basically it’s the same song I wrote at the time. I hope that you can feel the sense of affection and playfulness that I had when I wrote it.

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Healing Power of the Blues

Even very early in life, spirituals and blues music spoke to me on a very deep level. But why? I was from a middle class family of non-African descent, and most of my family memories involve games and laughter. What was it about blues music in particular that has always resonated with me?

Despite the family joyfulness and comfortable life I remember having, there was also always a deep unspoken sorrow that rarely surfaced. As the youngest in the family, born when my parents were older, quite a few years after the rest of my siblings, I was insulated from much of it.

My dad was born in 1918 in the Crimea, and as a result of the political instability that came along with the Russian Revolution he would lose his father when he was barely a year old to bandits who were aligned with the Bolsheviks. The family ran a store, and later when the store burned down all of the records of their debtors burned with it. The creditors, however, managed to remember the debt the family owed, and they lost the store not long after losing their dad. They were among a group of German-speaking pacifists who had been invited to farm in Russia in 1763 by Catherine the Great.

Robbed of their dad by bandits, and left without financial support partly by the machinations of their own community, my father and his 5 brothers and sister and mother were soon displaced and began their long journey as refugees. Eventually they came to Canada, and were granted land to farm (another story) by the Canadian government – just prior to the Great Depression.

They survived near-starvation and ultimately most of them moved off the farm and found work in cities. A fresh wound would be opened for the family in 1956, however.

I knew my dad’s brothers growing up, but never met his sister. One day when I was quite young and we were visiting with the uncles, I asked about where she was. Nobody answered. Everyone just turned ashen and looked away. It would be quite some time before I would find out that my Dad’s sister, her husband, and daughter were murdered in Vancouver. David and Helen Pauls and their daughter Dorothy were brutally killed and the identity of their killer was never discovered. Helen had worked at the docks, and her bosses were Russian, so one source of family suspicion was that Russian spies had been behind the killing when they discovered that Helen understood something of the Russian language conversations they had. Another source of suspicion was a member of their faith community, who had demonstrated violent tendencies and emotional instability but had escaped consequences due to a somewhat misplaced notion of ‘forgiveness’.

In any case, this was the subsurface emotional reality in my household, and I wonder if I sensed it. When my mother died of cancer when I was 12, I experienced a personal loss as well. The only grandparent I had ever known, her mom, had died about a year or so prior. So maybe that has something to do with why I always loved the blues. The blues, unlike other music, recognizes the reality of loss and injustice and wrong, but true blues music doesn’t glorify any of that. It’s like a recognition of realities that many of us prefer not to see, and bringing that reality into ‘the light’ allows for a feeling of relief and of peace.

Here are my lyrics;

Healing Power of the Blues

Your words exposed a wound
that I’d denied was there.
At first I thought the pain
was more than I could bear.
But when, what I’d been hiding,
was in the open air –
it finally started healing.
I got back some feeling.
The power of the blues was everywhere.

The blues, they have a power
to purify a soul-
like an old-time gospel hour
or like losing all your gold.
When you know a kind of peace
in the middle of bad news,
you know the healing power of the blues.

The analyst may say I need some sessions-
that my nature needs some nurture,
or my soul requires confession.
Bruised ego may be what behind my trauma,
or unconscious childhood forces may be causing inner drama –

But when I’m in the darkness,
clouds hanging ’round my head-
I’m drowning in my misery
while lying there in bed-
I’ll put aside the bottle,
take up the blues instead.
There I’ll find a peace,
like a prisoner released
from the chains those faithful blues helped me to shed.

When times were good, I could fool myself
that everything was fine-
while I was dying a bit at a time.
Then suddenly, the ground broke away,
and I was falling through-
when I was saved by the power of the blues.

The blues, they have a power
to purify a soul-
like an old-time gospel hour
or like losing all your gold.
When you know a kind of peace
in the middle of bad news,
you know the healing power of the blues.

When you know a kind of peace
in the middle of bad news,
you know the healing power of…
the blues.

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Writing Whenever You’re Ready

When I listen to songs on the radio, I listen for message and tone.

The ‘love’ songs I often hear often are trying to present some urgent need for accepting love as an immediate adventure, something that could pass at any moment. There are few songs that consider patience a virtue. So I decided that I needed to write a different sort of love song, one that would be accepting of the time and space of the other, and yet would indicate the desire and caring of the lover’s voice in the lyrics.

That’s where ‘Whenever You’re Ready’ comes from. (The ‘meet the dawn’ line is meant figuratively; to help the other get through a ‘dark’ time).

WHENEVER YOU’RE READY
Lyrics and Music by Art Koop (last revised May 7, 2018)

You’re feeling the weight
of a wildly spinning globe
upon your shoulders…

and right now you see
love as another complication

But look at me-
I’m not asking you
to help me carry on…
If you let me in,
I’ll understand
and help you meet the dawn

Whenever you’re ready
to be loved…

Whenever you
Are ready to
Be loved…

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved…

I’m ready to love you. (2x)

The burden you carry
you need not carry all alone. (2x)…

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved

I’m ready to love you. (2x)

So I say again
lie down, let me
massage your tired limbs –
and if you sleep,
some hope and faith can
shine into your dreams (2x)

Whenever you’re ready
to be loved…

Whenever you
Are ready to
Be loved

Whenever you’re ready
To be
loved

I’m ready to love you. (4x)
I’m ready to love ——
you.

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Avoiding the Letter S (and others) in Lyrics

Writing lyrics for songs is different than writing poetry, or writing a speech. One way is in the choice of words, and letters, to include, and leave out – and why – depending on who is singing and the style of the song.

One of my goals when I write songs for myself is to let my voice shine through, because my low voice is unique and in that way distinctive. One way in which I do that, is avoiding ‘non-voiced’ consonants as much as possible, especially the ‘s’. I would rather have the listener ‘fill in’ the letter s where it belongs psychologically, than write it in. That’s because the ‘s’ is not a voiced letter (f, t and p also fit in that camp), and so it tends to disrupt the flow of sound in singing. Sure, it’s a subtle point… but subtle points count, especially if often repeated.

So it’s true that I don’t sing my lyrics in the same way that I would speak my sentences, but that’s okay with me. Word (and letter) choice depends on a set of priorities, and balancing those priorities matters if I’m going to put out unique music for others to hear. If I were just to put out what people could find anywhere else, in a way that would not be respecting the listener, because I would not be giving people something new to hear. It also would not be respecting any message I would wish to put out, because if something is worth saying then it is worth saying in a fresh way, so that people may have fresh ears for it too.

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