News Column

What the Mockingbird Heard

June 27, 2013

YellowBrix

June 27--I have been playing a lot more guitar lately. Or trying to play, anyway.

I have the time to do it. My wife and daughter are out of town, tending to an ailing parent. My strumming and caterwauling no longer interfere with nap time or other people's sensibilities.

So while it makes sense that I'm filling my "alone time" with music, my song choice can attest to how quickly that has turned into "lonely time." I've fixated on a particular tune: "She's Gone" by Bob Marley & The Wailers.

I guess it's sort of a deep cut from the "Kaya" album it doesn't usually show up on Marley's best-of collections and is overshadowed in popularity by "Is This Love," "Sun Is Shining" and "Satisfy My Soul" from the same record. But it's become my favorite Marley track. It probably helps that it's easy to play four chords repeated in the same sequence.

It's hard to sing Marley songs without adding a faux-Jamaican patois and some of his songs lose their edge without that exotic lilt but this one is different. It's a country song at heart, and would probably work just as well with a Southern twang, were I capable of producing one. But it's the content, not the delivery, that's important.

The title really says it all. Marley has lost his love and is left looking for answers. He tries to puzzle it out and maybe realizes that she was trying to tell him about her unhappiness all along. He emphasizes his loneliness by pleading with the birds in the trees:

"Oh mockingbird, have you

ever heard

Words that I never heard?"

It's a heartbreak song, and while I'm not all that familiar with heartbreak, I'm becoming more familiar with loneliness, which is at least one item on that sadness buffet.

And ain't that the blues? Every pop song perhaps every American song has its roots in the blues. Marley, despite being Jamaican, was drenched in American music, including the blues. We want nothing more from our music than emotion, and that is the blues.

I've always enjoyed and even demanded powerful emotion in my music, but I always assumed that, as an emotionally reserved person, I would never have it in me to produce the sort of emotion needed to make or interpret music. Good music. And I'm probably right.

I'm probably never going to live the sort of life that inspires great songs, or even the sort of fluffy breakup songs that cram the pop music charts. But with my wife and daughter absent, I feel like I'm being at least a little more authentic when I sing "She's Gone." I can feel it.

I feel it not because I've lost anything but time, but because I have something more than time to lose.

I hate to be a sappy new father here (YouTube "David Cross kids" to get my favorite response to such parental confessions), but my daughter has changed how I listen to music.

I'm now fairly convinced that the most faithfully sorrowful songs of love and loss aren't written by heartbroken teenagers or blindsided lovers or jealous BFFs, they're written by parents.

The flood of love that my daughter brought to my world came with a debilitating fear of living without it. I have a family now, and I never want to be alone again.

And so I sit at home, strumming my guitar and waiting for my girls to come back.

"And, oh, my children, if you

see me cryin'

My woman is gone."

JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: Rasta Miles at 909 Saloon. A reggae trio from Suffolk on a national tour swing. Thursday at 8 p.m.

OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Anita Baker at Wolf Trap in Vienna. This legendarily smooth Grammy-winning R&B singer is well worth the trip. Saturday at 8 p.m.

LISTENING TO: "New Slaves" by Kanye West. His new album, "Yeezus," is an evil monstrosity, but certainly worth a listen. And maybe only one.

Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036 -- jbeals@freelancestar.com

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Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome

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