Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Deconstructing Reality (Or Why I Wrote "Louisiana In The Dark")

PREFACE: Chrome has been in the public eye for over a year, and though I am grateful for the positive feedback, I get the distinct impression that not a few songs on the album are difficult to decipher. Though the following may, too, be abstract, it is my hope to offer clarity and insight into one (or more?) of the songs. Not that anyone specifically asked or cares. What follows are my reflections in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, Labor Day, 2008. The resultant song is "Louisiana in the Dark."

(9/1/08, Baton Rouge, LA)

Driving south from Tennessee to Louisiana in the pitch of night, several thoughts appeared over my mind’s horizon as the darkness opened its tree-lined jowls and welcomed me into the gut of impending reality. These are no ordinary days, no ordinary circumstances, and it was far from being a casual or relaxing drive into the oncoming path of a history-making hurricane brooding immediately off Louisiana's shores. As would prove to be the case, I was also driving to a funeral.

Pulling into my parents’ Baton Rouge driveway two hours before sunrise, Hurricane Gustav broached the shores of the state by 10am, and for the next 36 hours the wind blew trees older than World War II at 45-degree angles, toppling some, maiming many others, and deconstructing a capital city. My parents went without electricity for six days. Idling generators could be heard up and down streets. We cooked baked beans out on the propane grill as the oppressive September heat offered little comfort during the daylight, and much, much less at night. The rain fell in opaque sheets filling gullies, rivers and swallowing entire street blocks. The tempest quickly turned earth to mud, and so much of which eventually dried out remains forever buried, turning gain to loss.

My father-in-law, for so many years hampered by a litany of failing health, succumbed to the most treacherous of them all early that Labor Day morning at 3:35am, a mere cruel minutes before we managed to arrive in time to stand at his hospital bedside one final time to kiss his shriveled, bony face, and to wish him a final peace and Good Hope away, away from the shrunken fuselage of body and captor Earth. The spirit is always willing.

Vehement winds, days of constant rain, the capitulation of otherwise sound, elderly trees, and the deconstruction of life; few tragic-comedies could have been scripted with more accuracy. Tragic in that the gulf-laden skies stumbled across the region with a steamroller effect, comic in terms of the utter preposterousness of kicking someone already down. In the year 2008, my wife’s family suffered the loss of three family members in the span of five dubious months. We exhale something between utter consternation and a wry chuckle when reality persistently kicks at the battered realm.

There is no ordinary day, no ordinary darkness, and we are no ordinary creatures who inhabit their space. From dust we came, to dust we return, and though we open our hope-lined hearts to its jowls, reality does its best to deconstruct every ounce of hope in our possession. But we yearn for the light that shines with far more eminence than the thickest darkness could ever swallow, and we hope that the pain of loss and grief will eventually be bearable, habitable, even an altar unto life itself. Like the wandering Israelites finally crossing the River Jordan into the long-awaited Promised Land, stack stones upon your altar; proclaim both the blessing and the ache. Remember life as the fragile construction it is, cherishing the ones still present in your life. These are no ordinary days.

Louisiana In The Dark

Sleep in peace tonight
After a long, slow fight
We lost more than sleep
More ache than a soul can weep

When the daylight shows
That all you love is gone
And the only thing that’s left
Is the tempest’s aftermath

In my father’s house
The last and lonely sound
Is a breaking heart
Louisiana in the dark

We laid your soul to rest
With the earth still wet
Some days don’t feel like grace
When there’s a hole in a once-filled space

In my father’s house
The last and lonely sound
Is a breaking heart

In my father’s eyes
Must we say goodbye
To a breaking heart
Louisiana in the dark
No more breaking hearts
Louisiana in the dark


Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to listen to that song without sinking into a puddle of tears. Sad ones and happy ones, alike.

S.D. Smith said...

That comment was Gina, by the way.

Man, you are one of my favorite writers.

Also, one of my favorite song-writers. You are a treasure. Really.

Laura Ward said...

I have always loved this song, but it's taken on special meaning for me in the last week as I've sat vigil by my grandfather's bedside, waiting for his homegoing. Thank you, Eric, for putting grief to music and giving expression to the inexpressible.