Sunday, March 18, 2012

Memories and Madness (Part III)

I have held onto precious instruments and I have lost others upon the hearth of love. I have listened to the tunes written for cows and sea shells and been left wishing that I had seen an old cow of my own sink into the dark depths of some bog; longed for the sights and smells of sea shells and sand. A fool I’ve been many times in love, now a long lost memory. All of this is madness and somewhere along the way I think I may have forgotten to take my meds…

The following is yet another chunk of lyrics, these from a much more modern song by the band Placebo. The band was founded around 1996, and released the record that bears this track as its title in 2006:


I was alone, falling free,
trying my best not to forget,
what happened to us, what happened to me,
what happened as I let it slip.

I was confused by the powers that be,
forgetting names and faces,
Passers by, were looking at me,
as if they could erase it.

Baby...did you forget to take your meds?

This song hit the airwaves, so to speak, the following year. It was right around the time I felt I too was going a bit mad. The bands name, according to Stefan Olsdal, comes from the Latin for ‘I please.’ It was intended in someway to be a stab at the 90’s cliché of naming bands after popular drugs. It’s a band name that could resonate with anyone caught up in an unauthentic existence trying only just hard enough to please the people around them.

This Song, and several others by the band, has been floating around on my IPOD ever since. The rest of the lyrics drive home the meaning:

Baby...did you forget to take your meds?

I was alone, staring over the ledge,
Trying my best not to forget,
all manner of joy, all manner of glee,
and our one heroic pledge.

How it mattered to us, how it mattered to me,
and the consequences.
I was confused, by the birds and the bees,
forgetting if i meant it.

I’ve fallen. I’ve been left holding onto whatever once was. I’ve been confused by sex, lust, music, drugs, and who ever it is that really is the ‘powers to be ‘ (I’m leaning towards the thought that no one is really in control…).  And now I have come to the point where I truly believe I may not be alone.

Although my path in life seems dedicated to it, and Musashi being my one true guide, I have found a pattern in the winds. When I play the tunes of old pipers gone to dust in the madness of love and war, when I turn on an old album, or when I sit and watch the comings and goings of the world around me, I keep feeling it. That MacDonald, Raghnall, Placebo, myself… we are not just isolated incidents. A pattern emerges. We are all together in being alone.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Love and Childhood Memories (Part II)

 An album tells a story just as well as any Bard of old. Here is an excerpt from an Album I’ve had since I was a great deal younger. Purchased direct from its creature while I was a student of hers at the Ohio Scottish Arts School:

Lament for Ronal MadDonald of Moroar/
South in Autumn
…as featured on Ann Gray’s 1998 Album ‘Shouting at Magpies.’

“Oh lad of the brown hair, your are eyes are autumn
Leaves fall like tears; I cannot cry
In bitter wind, then, my heart is lonely
Lonely hills and sky

The fields are untended, the cattle scattered
Magpies quarrel overhead
My thoughts are stones to throw at them

If you can, come to me again
Travel by little known ways
Through the high passes, before they fill with snow”

At home now they’ll be turning the fields,
The shadows lengthening, the winter coming
The rooks will call from trees without leaves,
And oh now the seasons are turning…

And if my feet had wings to fly, then tonight in your arms I’d lie
But I’m two hundred miles South in Autumn…

The battles lost, the battles won – are as a dream to me now
Amongst the heather
Of fine rain and mist, we are its children
And I slowly turn for home


I think I shall not see you again, last night a vision to me came
The women they were keening ‘round a hearth grown cold
And I had gone to my last battle


The lament was written for Ronald MacDonald of Morar, known in his time as Raghnall Mac Ailein Oig, a celebrated hero and composer. The tune it self, according to Barnaby Brown, falls with in the Free Lyrical form of the classic Ceol Mor tradition of Scotland. It is ‘unfettered by geometrical repeated patterns,’ other wise so common to other classic Pibrochs’. It’s a good tune but not one I’ve had the pleasure of learning.

Although, according to Highland legend as recorded by folklorist Calum MacLean in his 1959 book The Highlands, MacDonald may have composed another tune I learned as a young man:

‘There is one very lovely pibroch called, MacCrimmion’s Sweetheart… Tradition in the Arisaig district has it that the pibroch was composed… by Raghnall Mac Ailein Oig to a sea-shell that he picked up one day as he strode along the shore.’

According to Iain Macey, who taught me how to play the tune while I was attending his course on beginning piobroch, a different account of its creation could be given. His version, also recorded in MacLean’s book, told how one MacCrimmon wrote it for a favorite brown polled cow that fell into a bog…

Brown pulled cows aside, the tune holds too much emotional weight for me to play a note of it without the memories of my own love past filling my heart with remorse. It carries enough baggage for me to sink my own heart in any bog or swamp.

South in Autumn is a track that tells a tale of a man far from his love, unable to return to her side. At face value it would seem that the war that has separated him from his sweetheart would be difficult to relate to for you or I. But the emotions that come out are universal. The kind of emotions found in millions of love songs and thousands of lines of verse.

Something about being alone, far from the one you love. It strikes a cord deep inside anyone’s heart. Love; Lost or destroyed, in madness or death. That love ‘which paints the petal with myriad hues, glances in the warm sunbeam, arches the cloud with the bow of beauty, blazons the night with starry gems, and covers earth with loveliness.’ In the Highlands or Lowlands, the waters in the north or the mountains to our south. No difference is perceivable in what was and still exists in the hearts of all.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fools and Love (Part I)

Coffee shops are a good place to tell stories. The following story immortalized Murdoch MacDonald as the “The Harper of Mull” and comes from M.P.A. Ramsay’s ed. of Tamahill’s Poems:

“In the Island of Mull there lived a harper who was distinguished for his professional skill, and was attached to Rosie, the fairest flower in the island, and soon made her his bride. Not long afterwards he set out on a visit to some low country friends, accompanied by Rosie, and carrying his harp, which had been his companion in all his journeys for years.

Overtaken by shades of night, in a solitary part of the country, a cold faintness fell upon Rosie, and she sank, almost lifeless, into the harper’s arms. He hastily wrapped his plaid around her frame, but to no purpose. Distracted, he hurried from place to place in search of fuel, to revive the dying embers of life. None could be found. His harp lay on the grass, its neglected strings vibrating to the blast. The harper loved it as his own life, but he loved his Rosie better then either.

His nervous arm was applied to its sides, and ere long it lay crackling and blazing on the heath. Rosie soon revived under its genial influence, and resumed the journey when morning began to purple the east. Passing down the side of the hill, they were meet by a hunter on horseback, who addressed Rosie in the style of an old and familiar friend.

The harper, innocent himself, and unsuspicious of others, paced slowly along, leaving her in converse with the stranger. Wondering at her delay he turned round and beheld the faithless fair seated behind the hunter on his steed, which speedily bore them out of sight. The unhappy, transfixed with astonishment, gazed at them. Then, slowly turning his steps homewards, he, sighing, exclaimed –

‘Fool that I was to burn my harp for her!’

Before the Bagpipe took hold in Scotland, the Bard and the Harper held dominion on the Battle Field and by the hearth. They where the keepers of the cultural store house, so to speak, of the Isles and recounted genealogies and histories, tragedies and tales of adventure. MacDonald, in many accounts, is referenced as the last of the Harpers. He reportedly died in 1789 just a few years after the Highland Society began its first Piobaireachd competitions in Scotland.

I could never claim the innocents of the Harper in this story. I have though sacrificed an instrument before for the purpose of visiting a fair flower of my own. One that was long gone before my feet ever took to the road… thankfully it was not my pipes.

I wonder how far MacDonald’s feet carried him before Rosie was pushed from memory. If ever he could, how did he move on? Harps are replaced easily. A little time and money and a new instrument replaces an old one. Although, I'm sure none of the Harpers I have known in my life would agree. 

It should be left at that. A harp, a set of pipes, a fiddle; none are equivalent to the love of ones life. But who among us knows for sure whom that is, in till our lives are already completed. In the mean time we keep walking. As MacDonald, we let our feet carry us forward down the road, even as we are forced to leave the one we loved behind.

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