Thursday, August 27, 2009

"River of Love"

T-Bone Burnett
"River of Love"
(Image from Wikipedia)

A couple of days ago, I linked to a video of Sam Phillips singing T-Bone Burnett's "River of Love," a song that I first heard around 1987. I vividly recall the moment because I was back from Switzerland and had dropped by to see my friend Rachel Satory (now Saavedra) and her boyfriend, who were living in Berkeley at the time (and live still in the Bay Area as a married couple). I was just getting ready to take up the study of Greek and Coptic in the ill-considered aim of becoming a scholar in religious studies, so I could talk to them of nothing but Gnostic texts that I had at the time read only in translation.

They listened politely, perhaps even with some mild interest, then put on a CD of T-Bone Burnett singing his 1986 "River of Love," which instantly captured my full attention, but I didn't listen to it again for 22 years, though I never forgot the song and even recalled some of the lyrics from time to time. The words and tune came back to me two days ago as I was blogging about my family canoeing down Norfork River. I had canoed that river with my estranged father and his new wife when I was about 16, so that would have been around 1973, and the image of life flowing like a river formed in my mind as I looked at the recent photos of my wife, kids, and kinfolk floating down that same stream.

Anyway, here's a video of T-Bone Burnett singing "River of Love," and if you open two browsers, you can follow along to the lyrics below:
There's a river of love that runs through all times.
But there's a river of tears that flows through our eyes.
It starts when a heart is broken in two
By the thief of belief in anything that's true.
But there's a river of love that runs through all times.

There's a river of love that runs through all times.
But there's a river of grief that flows through our lives.
We fight through the night for freedom as it fades
Into a jail where we fail every time we make a break.
But there's a river of love that runs through all times.

I had to run before I knew how to crawl.
The first step was hard, but I've had trouble with them all.
But now the night grows darker and the day grows dim
'Cause I know I never will see you again.
And I almost made you happy.

There's a river of love that runs through all times.
But there's a river of fire that burns with no light.
The flame is the pain of dreams gone up in smoke
From the lies we deny and we breathe them 'til we choke.
But there's a river of love that runs through all times.
That was from his 1986 album, T-Bone Burnett, but the most heart-wrenching interpretation of "River of Love" was the one by T-Bone's then-wife, Sam Phillips, which I linked to in my post two days ago, because she seemed to be singing from heartfelt experience and even looks as though she's about to break into tears a couple of times. That was in 1988, as she was making the transition from a Christian recording artist under her name Leslie Ann Phillips to a more secular singer going by the name "Sam" Phillips, so I wonder if there was some degree of intense inner turmoil connected to that whole scene. Watch her performance youself, and see what you think about this. Listen not just to her voice but also to the background bar noise of glasses clinking and people talking and note how all that noise fades away in the emotion of the moment as customers begin to focus on Phillips, her voice, and her face.

For those interested, here are the websites of T-Bone and of Phillips -- and for more on the latter, here's Phillips doing a "Tiny Desk Concert" for NPR.

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2 Comments:

At 2:01 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

Wonderful! thanks for the links and the context!

 
At 4:53 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Welcome, and I'll get to your email soon . . . as soon as Sun-Ae and I can see the light through the upcoming semester.

Jeffery Hodges

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