Jack Hardy and his daughter, Morgan Hardy, in 2006
Jack Hardy and his daughter, Morgan Hardy (2006)

Two of my short pieces (a story and an essay) that will be published within the year include lyrics from Jack Hardy’s songs. (Read some posts about Jack here.) In my response to his family’s  granting permission for me to use his words, I wrote:

His music has been (and continues to be) the tea in which my soul steeps, often, almost without thought, which must be why the lyrics make their way into my writing.  I know that part of what he intended with his songs was that they be incantatory.  I hope that in immortalizing them in these short pieces, his incantations will ripple outward…

This is how life works. And what glorious tea in which to steep!

(What are you steeping in right now? How does your life-tea suit you?)

“the briar grows before the rose, and neither grows alone.”

Thinking about Jack Hardy today, this May Day.  (Here’s my homage to Jack.)  I can’t find a clip of him playing the song, but here are the lyrics, for your edification, on this fine first day of May…

May Day by Jack Hardy

it's not like pan to play his flute
for those who dance for fun
the fire flickers through poison roots
where chance is on the run

it's not elves to hide their gold
where fortune seekers dive
though pirate lore and island shore
yield only ransomed lives

there's may day and may wine
and may i please come home
but the briar grows before the rose
and neither grows alone
we'll dance tonight 'til we faint in the light
of the dawn's sweet song of spring
'round the may pole like a day stole
like our feet are borne of wings

it's not sirens to sing their songs
for sailors with cautious ears
they lure no coward right or wrong
and trade not death for fear

it's not like kings to yield their wines
for hundreds of years of war
though drop by drop the ancient vine
paints blood on every door

(repeat chorus)

it's not like girls to give consent
to men of ragged prose
though poets sing of nursery rhymes
their cradles are filled with hope

it's not like me to give my heart
in these drowsy daffodil days
though dreams they douse the timid spark
where sleep presents its plays

(repeat chorus)

it's not like saints to tell their tales
of nights on windswept moors
where death defies the dreams of fate
to close the cellar door

it's not like shepherds to lay them down
when wolves are on the prowl
though songs they scare the waking town
an ill wind has no howl

(repeat chorus)

“I’ll dance tonight, wear holes in my shoes…”

In the car this morning, listening to my daughter’s “mixed tape” (a CD, actually) that includes Jack Hardy’s song, “Blackberry Pie,” I got sad again about Jack’s passing.  Since he died, I haven’t not been sad about it, but there are moments when there’s an upwelling I can’t ignore or fake my way out of.  I told my daughter that it makes me happy and sad to hear Jack’s songs.  After she informed me that I should not sing the song because, “I’m Jack Hardy and I get to decide who sings my songs,” we had an interesting conversation about how he wrote those songs, and how they are his, but he also gave them to us, so they are also ours.  She agreed.

Here are the lyrics:

Blackberry Pie

i stopped all day to pick wildflowers
down by the banks where the blackberry grows
all in the shadows of the late autumn hours
all in the brambles and the late blooming rose
i picked all of the white ones and picked all the blues
for those are the ones that would go with her dress
and i'll dance tonight, wear holes in my shoes
'til i am the one that she loves the best

so dally down where the river runs
where the forest bathes the senses clean
dally down where the fiery sun
and the rhythm moon makes a faery dream
and you might think that my heart would lie
that many a girl had caught my eye
but my heart all along belongs to the girl
who baked me a blackberry pie

though i've stayed single all of these years
'tween the twisting rope and the wounding wind
never staying long enough to see the spring
where i had seen the harvest in
and i don't give a tinker's damn for the road
though many they say i'm bound to roam
and i just might be the last one in
though i will be coming home

(repeat chorus)

and many a glass i'll drink tonight
where the wine-red hand is from work or fight
there is no judge more fair than time
for there is no one to change his mind
each time i look in the parting glass
those years that look both ways to know
i'll sing the last song of my youth
but i'll sing it again tomorrow

(repeat chorus)

Today the line, “I’ll dance tonight, wear holes in my shoes/till I am the one that she loves the best,” made me think about writing.  About what I’m willing to do, what I even want to do when I write.  I am willing, I want to wear holes in my shoes so the thing (the novel, the essay, the story) is good, is good enough.  To extend the metaphor, I was thinking an editor might be the “she” in that phrase, but more than that, the “she” is also me.  So I’m the dancer, and I’m also the “she” who the dancer wants to impress, from whom the dancer want to earn love.  Crazy geometry.  An illustration of how Jack’s songs are about so many more things than what appears on the surface.  And how they belong to him, but they also belong to us.

And the sadness comes from my pushing against this: I know that no one lives forever, but I always thought he would “sing it again tomorrow.”

Shut up and sing the song

Jack Hardy’s (magic) green velvet coat

When a songwriter at Jack Hardy’s weekly songwriters group would explain what he or she was about to sing, Jack Hardy would say, “Shut up and sing the song.”  Abrupt, and to some, rude, but a valid procedural point for a workshop, even more notable in its good advice to the writer.

Let the work speak for itself.  If something is  important enough, yet is not on the page, or in the lyrics, put it in there.  Rework or revise it later if you need to, if what you mean is not conveyed through your magic lattice of words, sounds, syllables.

I’ve stolen Jack’s  line when approaching fiction workshops: it applies.  I feel very rude ever telling someone to “shut up,” and usually preface it with context.  As an imperative to action, “Shut up and sing the song” is simple and worth doing.  (I’m talking to myself, too.  For years, I whined about how I wanted to write and yet was not doing it.)  Shut up about what you want to do, wish you could do, mean to do, intend to do.

Shut up and sing the song.

Jack Hardy (household icon)

Jack Hardy playing at my wedding

When Jack Hardy and his band played the Studebaker Family Reunion in 2001, he and the band stayed at our house.  I came back from work that Saturday afternoon to a kitchen full of fiddles and song; they were warming up for the evening’s gig.  Five years later, he came back with a band that included his bright-glowing daughter, Morgan.  I haven’t met his other family, but was so impressed with Morgan.  She seemed wise and mature for her years, and full of talent.

Jack Hardy sang and played at my wedding.  Jack’s presence filled whatever space he inhabited, no matter the scale and scope.  His songs seep into my soul.

My daughter might be his most fervent three-year-old fan.  She loves and sings so many of his songs.  “The moon is full, it’s just not hungry anymore,” she sings, looking up at the moon.  When the recent ice storm truncated our willow tree, she wanted to play Jack’s Willow Song.  (She looked out the window, told the tree to listen as we played it inside.)  In the mornings when we make oatmeal, first she has to pick up the 1 cup metal measuring cup–it’s her telephone–and call Jack Hardy to tell him to come over and play “Blackberry Pie” or “Sheila” or her recent favorite, “Willie Goggins’ Hat.”  My husband and I had been saying we should call him on the actual phone, and let the girl talk to him for real.  I wish we hadn’t waited so long.

His ways of knowing and telling about nature and human nature will help form hers.  Jack Hardy is part of her landscape and her narrative, and she will never get to hear him play his music in person.  I ache when I think about what his children and family are going through.  But the hardest thing for me to release at the news of his passing is that Merida won’t be able to hear him play live.

There’s a hole in the world now.  True of anyone’s passing, but the gap Jack leaves here is so large, and will echo, as do the strains of his music, through time and space.