In my last post I was reminiscing on my time spent in Frigiliana, Spain in 2006, in the early stages of writing songs for No Straight Lines.
It is an extraordinary thing to hole up in a place like that to write songs. You bring your instrument, your tape recorder, your notebooks, your rough ideas. You know no one, though you always make friends. Everything around you has a newness to it. You arrive full of hope. What you might possibly draw from your surroundings you can never know, and that’s why you go there. Fes, where I spent time in 2004 writing, was a relentless beehive of people. Frigiliana, arriving as I did during the rainy off-season, was a silent, whitewashed dream. Ironically, in each place I got exactly what I wanted — total anonymity.
I love literature easily as much as I love music. Many times during the writing of No Straight Lines I re-read Lorca‘s inspiring “In Search of Duende” essays and many times over his poetry. Modern flamenco owes a lot to Lorca, having organized with Manuel de Falla the legendary 1922 Concorso de Cante Jondo in Granada, that helped flamenco begin to be appreciated for the incredibly deep art form it is.
An amazing recording from that event exists. A number of years ago Sonifolk, a label in Madrid, released a CD of performances from the Concorso along with various selections from both de Falla’s and Lorca’s personal flamenco collections. It’s quite a slice of history. I naturally had that with me in Frigiliana as well.
Songs are miniatures. I often think of them as akin to pottery, certainly not high art. They’re hand-thrown objects that might at best hold a few ideas, assuming the listener wishes to store something there. The lyrics have to fit around the outside. Half of the time they crack in the oven. They most likely get thrown out and only rarely passed down through generations. If I consult the higher arts for direction now and then, it is only as someone seeks a flashlight in the dark. I love being informed by what is out there in the world. But I can’t fit into my own pants from ten years ago, let alone a larger figure’s shoes.
Stumbling down the hill to Frigiliana’s central café every morning, I blew through two café con leches at the bar thumbing through yesterday’s emails on my Blackberry while the the chief of police nursed a breakfast sherry next to me. Afterwards I trudged back up the many steps to my rented house, where I spent the day hard at work writing, as the shape of the album began to finally take seed in my mind.
Songs like “I Threw Your Heart” and “Came So Close” off of No Straight Lines became highly influenced by flamenco lyrics. For a really nice, concise collection, check out “Gypsy Cante,” selected and translated by Will Kirkland. In the meantime, below is an Andalusian poem in a similar vein, one of my very favorites. As the writer (and lawyer) José Monleón once aptly remarked, “Flamenco is a tragedy in the first person.”
In my house
I am keeping a garden,
so I can sell flowers
for you if hard times come.
I went out to the fields to cry
like a mad man screaming,
and even the wind kept telling
me that you loved someone else.
From your neck hangs a cross
Set in gold and ivory.
Let me die on it
And crucify myself there,
On that cross that hangs from your neck.
I have bought three knives
For you to end my life,
So that I will not have to
Suffer the pain
Of hating you.