Monday, March 15, 2010

It's the Joy in Your Heart

When a person who, alone in his or her last moments of life, arrives at the decision that they shall be his last, no one has the right to take it away from him. He could be the most loved person in the world, but his last act is his secret. How is rarely in question. But why can never find an answer. That is why I felt sorry for David Carradine when, in 2009, his family tried to take his last act away from him. He was found hanging nude from a curtain cord in the closet of a Bangkok hotel - which is exactly as the first police report had it. A few days later, his death had somehow come as the result of "accidental asphyxiation" - that curious malady that only seems to strike the rich and famous.

Listening last week to Susannah McCorkle sing one of the most beautifully joyous songs ever written, Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March," only reminded me of how she had ended her own life in 2001. She was an excellent linguist and I paid close attention to her own subtle alterations of Jobim's English lyrics, which he had chosen to write himself. It is such an accumulation of things, seemingly unrelated, that climbs up to the affirmation of the river bank that "sings of the waters of March."

The manner of McCorkle's suicide was dramatic: she threw herself from the 16th floor balcony of her Manhattan apartment. The reasons given were depression and some recent personal disappointments. By any reasonable standard, she had "made it," as a jazz singer. But being a jazz singer was, in itself, an agreement of sorts to suffering. The old lie that jazz is popular music is especially hard on artists who simply want to be heard. When just three per cent of world CD sales are for jazz music (a statistic that I find breathtaking), making a living at it is precarious at best.

Here are the published lyrics by Jobim, with McCorkle's alterations, where they occur, in italics.

Waters of March

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road,
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

[It's feeling alone]

[It's the weight of your load]

It's a sliver of glass,
It is life, it's the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It's a trap, [It's a knife] it's a gun

The oak when it blooms, [A flower that blooms]
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

[The mystery of life
The steps in the hall
The sound of the wind
In the waterfall.]

The wood of the wind,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

[It's the moon floating free
It's the curve of the slope
It's an egg, it's a bed,
It's a reason for hope.]

It's the wind blowing free,
It's the end of the slope,
It's a beam, it's a void,
It's a hunch, it's a hope

And the river bank talks [And the river bank sings]
of the waters of March,
It's the end of the strain, [It's the promise of Spring]
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road,
A slingshot's stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in the face,
It's a loss, it's a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, [A stake] a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

[The dew of a leaf
in the morning light]
A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, [A breast] a bump,
[It's the will to survive
It's a jolt, it's a jump]
It's a girl, it's a rhyme,
It's a cold, it's the mumps

The plan of the house, [Blueprint of a house]
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck, [A car stuck in the mud]
It's the mud, it's the mud

[A fish, a flash,
A wish, a wing,
It's a hawk, it's a dove,
It's the promise of Spring]
Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks [And the river bank sings]
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
It's the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump, [It's the stump of a tree]
It's a little alone [It's a frog, it's a toad]

[A sigh, a breath,
A walk, a run,
A life, a death,
the rain, the sun]
A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It's a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks [And the river bank sings]
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump, [It's the stump of a tree]
A lonesome road [It's the weight of your load]

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, [It's night] a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks [And the river bank sings]
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain, [It's the end of despair]
It's the joy in your heart.

McCorkle confessed that "Waters of March" was her favorite song. She recorded it on her 1990 album, Sabia. Jobim first recorded it in 1973. March, in Rio, is the beginning of Autumn rather than Spring, and it heralds the start of the rainy season, the sunny days over and gone. Of the song's many recordings, the one that best captures the playfulness of the Portuguese lyrics features a duet with Jobim and Elis Regina. McCorkle's recording, with some of her album covers and some oddly interpolated imagery, can be found here.

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