One Sunday Morning
I’m trying out something I thought you might be interested in: sending you occasional links to interesting music.
Since I connected my TV to the internet in June I’ve been using YouTube for a lot more of my music listening. As a result, I’ve been introduced not only to more new music and artists but to programs like the innovative NPR Tiny Desk Concerts.
And I’ve been sharing more tunes with a tight circle of fellow music lovers.
I wondered if a few more people might be interested.
I’m calling it Kurated. It’ll always arrive with a link to some music. Sometimes I’ll include lyrics, a personal note, an article, a Wikipedia link or something else.
It’s an experiment! Let me know what you think.
BTW you need to let me know if you want to give this a miss. The last thing I want is to add more unwelcome email to your inbox. Kurated is going out to some of you who aren’t music enthusiasts but may find this interesting. Or not. It’s also directed at many of you who I know are devoted music fans. You may not like the selections I make. Just say so and I’ll stop sending.
I ran across an article about this song in the March 13, 2016 issue of the New York Times magazine which popped up out of a pile last weekend. The feature is titled 25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going. I’m somewhat familiar with Wilco and have heard enough of Jeff Tweedy’s work over the years to know I like him and the group (which sometimes features his son on drums.)
The smart and short accompanying essay by author George Saunders gave me good reason to search out the song. IMO, it’s a beauty!
The lyrics follow that.
ALSO: A link to a song many of you have probably heard:
A SONG AS SALVE IN AN AGE OF RANCOR
by George Saunders
author of the story collection “Tenth of December”
How does a song work? What does it actually do? It doesn’t instruct, exactly, or teach, necessarily. A song, I’d say, causes the listener to assume a certain stance. Through some intersection of melody/lyrics/arrangement, it causes a shadow-being within us to get a certain expression on its face and fall into a certain posture. (Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” for example, would cause my 1970s teenage self to assume a, well, Thor-like posture: stoic, windswept, capable of enduring any hardship while, you know, holding my head up.)
In my favorite songs, this stance-causation is essentially moral-ethical — it makes me feel more able to go out and live. In the current bombastic and frightening political moment, I find myself listening obsessively to Wilco’s 12-minute opus, “One Sunday Morning,” which induces in me, reliably, a suite of feelings I might describe as patient quiet-mindedness + firm resolve to love better, and serves as an antidote to the harshness of the moment; a reminder that, with enough patience and fellow-feeling, things can sometimes prove workable between people, even if they disagree.
How does the song accomplish this? Was that the intention? I’m not sure. Like much of Wilco’s work, it’s fundamentally a damned good popular song (simple chords, compelling melody), rendered symphonic by a process by which the song, seemingly rebelling against its own simplicity, seems to be seeking higher levels of emotionality via sonic complexity. This led me to assume the song had to be a result of weeks of arranging. But reportedly the band recorded it in one take, learning it from the songwriter Jeff Tweedy as the tape rolled. The song starts with a catchy eight-note guitar riff, to which it keeps returning, like a well-intentioned guy steering back to his mantra. Via inventive instrumental fills and a false ending (from which it rejuvenates with renewed purpose), it manages the strange task of seeming contemplative while escalating like crazy. It puts me in mind of a group of lifelong pals on a front porch, trying to musically solve some existential problem they can’t quite articulate.
What does the song mean? Well, a great song means beyond simple sense. It means by how it sounds. The lyrics, already beautiful — Jeff Tweedy is one of the great conversational poets of our time — are made additionally beautiful (are made “song-beautiful”) by the way Tweedy sings them. His voice is that of a good friend, singing the story of some strange trip from which he’s just returned: self-effacing, dear — a wry voice, rich with love for the world. The trip cost him something but was so deep that he has to share it. The song is, yes, O.K., “about” a father and a son, “about” religious belief — but really, what it’s “about” is the way it sounds, and the way it keeps joyfully overflowing the formal banks it keeps spontaneously making for itself.
The effect of all of this on the listener — this listener anyway — is transformative. Listening to “One Sunday Morning” (every time) fixes me — like some sort of aural medicine. I feel a positive alteration in my body and mind: a renewed sense of humility at the sadness of the world, and a corresponding resolve to keep trying to be better; freshly reminded of the stakes of being alive, and of the fact that there are, at my disposal, more positive resources than I am currently employing. In this, “One Sunday Morning” serves, for me, as a reliable 12-minute prayer. ♦
And a bit more about George Saunders
One Sunday Morning This is how I tell it O' but it's long One Sunday morning O' One son is gone Against the weather dawning Over the sea My father said what I had become No one should be Outside I look lived in Like the bones in a shrine How am I forgiven O' I'll give it time This I learned without warning Holding my brow In time we thought I would kill him O' but I didn't know how I said it's your God I don't believe in No your Bible can't be true Knocked down by the long lie He cried I fear what waits for you I can hear those bells Spoken and gone I feel relief I feel well Now he knows he was wrong Ring 'em cold for my father Frozen underground Jesus I wouldn't bother He belongs to me now Something sad keeps moving So I wandered around I fell in love with the burden Holding me down Bless my mind I miss Being told how to live What I learned without knowing How much more I owe than I can give This is how I tell it O' but it's long One Sunday morning One son is gone Songwriter: Jeff Tweedy