A song I wrote in Kentucky, at a time when I was obsessed with the color white. But not, this time, the clear icy white of the stars, but rather the thick and milky white of the moon.
During the summers I would cover myself from head to toe in the euphoric, almost dirty scent of jasmine flowers, stuffing handfuls of them in my shoes as well, and walk around for hours in the night, through the country and through the town. The moon and the humidity would mix to create a feeling of hope and possibility that soothed the despair which plagued me during the days.
Well, I guess this would be my free love song… I wrote it while living in L.A.
In L.A. the element of freedom was absolute. Finally, a place where people were free to explore past lives and send golden beams of gratitude to their guardian angels, but also a place where Hugh Hefner was free to parade around in his silky underwear. The sheep could roam freely, but the wolves could eat openly, so all in all it was hard to say if you were better off or not.
So at any rate, this made me nostalgiac for Kentucky, where there is little tolerance for non-conformity of any sort. The land of yellow and green squares, fences, and bread baskets. A place where Hugh Hefner is only free so long as he keeps it within the family.
I always felt fascinated by the Ohio River because it separates Kentucky, where I grew up, from Indiana, the Emerald City-State, where everything is possible, where hopes and dreams come true by the minute. I love driving through Southern Indiana with its endless golden fields, gambling machines, and 64 oz polar pops. I love the flatness and lack of variety which make the land seem to stretch out forever, hypnotically, like a golden ocean. I love their cheeseburger hotdogs and American flag bandana-shorts, which encourage you to release the vain pretenses of the city and just be yourself, a human being, who loves tasty treats and the feeling of wind in your hair.
At other times, though, I hated Indiana and the Hoosiers who lived there. Sometimes it seemed like Kentucky was the promised land, a buttery gold corn fritter, while Indiana was a slimy side of spinach, basking in Kentucky’s sunlight and giving nothing in return but ghosts, which crossed the Ohio at night in hordes, seeking a better life in Kentucky.
I was determined not to write this song because it seemed quite weird to me and my ambition at the time was to be the most normal person in the universe. Nonetheless, it would not stop singing in my head, over and over, until finally I relented and wrote it down.
If I had to speculate on its meaning, I would guess it is a mating song for some member of the vegetable kingdom. Their ways are not our ways. I think many of the songs (and other ideas) that end up in our heads are placed there by plants.
When I wrote this song, I was scared all the time. A feeling of absolute terror and doom was a constant in my life. If I was taking a shower, I would feel like a psycho was just about to pull back the shower curtain. If I was walking outside, I would feel like a car was just about to screech to a halt and force me inside at gunpoint.
Because of that, I suppose, I tried to surround myself by things that were as non-threatening as possible. Everything in my apartment had to be pale pink (or white when that wasn’t possible). Pictures of unicorns had to fill every wall (preferably baby unicorns being protected by their mothers). I only read children’s books and rarely ate anything other than dessert. I would spazz out and begin to cry if James mentioned anything remotely dangerous or violent from the news or world events.
Smells would especially freak me out. I couldn’t tolerate the smell of any savory food. And perhaps due to living in such a smell bubble, my sense of smell started to get more and more sensitive. Soon, I could tell what James was thinking about through subtle “smell puffs” he would release. Cupcake or baked good puffs meant he wanted to spend time with me, and the faintest puff of meat and tomatoes meant he was thinking about work, with garlic and onions being added if he was angry at his boss.
When I wrote this song, I thought everything would be better if we could all be savage beasts living in the wild. I liked to imagine the olden days when humans lived in tightly-knit communities, close to nature and richly steeped in tradition and ritual. By contrast, modern life felt sanitized and disconnected from nature, meaning, and other people.
A few years later, my dreams of living in a mud hut have died, but I still have savage fantasies of another sort. I wish that our minds could be restored to a more natural state, where our dreams, feelings, and perceptions would not be reigned in so much by artifice and conformity.
Humans seem (to me) to take on the traits of their environment, and I wonder if the prevalence of metals and machines causes us to strive to be more and more machine like- hard, glossy, competent, predictable and flawless, while cutting down the more soft, subjective, and chaotic aspects of our nature. Almost as though we are absorbing and internalizing the dreams of our computers.
On the other hand, considering that computers are made from the beautiful mineral silicon, maybe the dreams we absorb will not be all bad. Maybe going through a phase of learning to be more mineral-like is a natural part of human development.
After I wrote this song, a couple of Baptists told me they had been singing the chorus over and over again as they drove from Kentucky to Tennessee, and for me, that shed a lot of light on the song’s meaning.
Although I do think many, if not most, religions are mind control cults, the biggest cult of all is probably our mainstream culture which hypnotizes people into chasing meaningless dreams, valuing things that have no value, and seeing beauty where there isn’t any. It lures us into believing in a flat but challenging world, and casually dismisses as unreal every point of view that doesn’t come directly from our movies and universities. Nobody is really “of this world,” because the world as we understand it is a creation of our own minds. But we, ourselves, were created by a mind other than our own, and are part of a larger world that may be impossible for us to grasp and define.
So, at least, we could recognize that our view of reality is subjective, and not tell people to “get real” when they don’t buy into our ideas. Telling them to “get with the program” might be more appropriate.
I wrote this song after being inspired by a story about cranberries in Martha Stewart’s magazine. My love and respect for cranberries has only grown over time- they are such an unique fruit- equal parts passion and stoicism. If I had to choose one word to describe them, it would be resolute.
In honor of cranberries, here is my own cranberry sauce recipe- more delicious than ice cream, and as beautiful as a jewel. I like to eat it hot and liquid, but for a more professional touch, allow it to solidify.
Julien’s Famous Cranberry Sauce
1 cup water
12 oz washed cranberries
1 cup sugar
Bring water to a boil- add cranberries, sugar, a splash of vanilla, and as much honey as you like. Return to a boil, then lower heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 11 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool.
I wrote this song when I met James. Could it have been inspired by him? I don’t know- but just in case, it had to have an unhappy ending. As we all know, songs are a little bit like Dorian Gray’s picture- they push the bad feelings out of our system and onto the other side of the looking glass. That is why it would be extremely foolhardy to write a song like “Oh honey, I love you so much, you are the best wife ever” unless you are hoping for a divorce. I’m not sure who Eric Clapton wrote the song “Wonderful Tonight” about, but with a song like that, you can bet they are no longer together.
On the other hand, the opposite superstition also exists- that you should only speak, think (and presumably) sing about positive things because positive words lead to positive outcomes! I tried to live with this philosophy for a while, but it was a lot of pressure, and I think it could lead to insanity if a person pursued it for too long. Every now and then, a musician comes out with an album that tries to be extremely positive and uplifting and I always take this as a sign that they are on the verge of a mental breakdown.