Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Collaborate with dead people

Ha. I don't mean to sound grim. But I've had two pieces of music stuck in my head that are making me think on local history and how inspiring it can be. One piece of music is this Natalie Merchant record called "Leave Your Sleep." It's a project that Merchant worked on for six years or so. I really admire how she gave herself permission to remove herself from pop-star life and take some time, serious time, to explore and discover something new. Or in this case, something old.

Merchant dug up old American and English poems, studied the poets, and set their works to music. What I've heard of "Leave Your Sleep" is about as far from a churned out pop record as you can get. (Not that I don't also love pop. Believe me, I do).

For a deeper look at "Leave Your Sleep," check out this TED performance. I also recommend buying the record. I plan on buying and giving several copies for Mother's Day. And just to make this post super local, I think Judy Hyman and Richie Stearns from the Ithaca Horseflies are on the record. I know for sure that they are doing live performances with her. They were on Good Morning America the other day. Seriously. Look for it.

The second piece of music that's on my mind is a rendition of The Erie Canal Song recorded by Suzanne Vega and Dan Zanes. I suppose it's common for folk singers like Vega to look to the past for musical material. But we non-folk singers should also look to the past any time we are in explore mode (which for me is almost always).

I stumbled on the song bc I drive along the Eerie Canal almost every day. Sometimes I walk along it. Every once in a while I read some history about it. What I love about the history of the canal is how crazy the idea of it seemed before it got built. And yet, there were a bunch of crazies who poured tons of effort and money into trying. They didn't even have real engineers in this country yet, but everyone was trying to build this thing. What a hoot. When it finally opened, barges were pulled by mules (like "Sal" from the Erie Canal Song). Then later, barges were powered by diesel. Did you know a gallon of diesel can carry a barge about 10 times more distance than the same gallon can carry a truck? Man, I wish that we could find the same mojo to create a carbon neutral transportation system....

The work of all these dead people gets me a thinking, for sure. Read more about the canal here. And when looking for new ideas, don't forget to collaborate with dead people.

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