Sunday, February 10, 2013

Song Note Sunday #2: The Minnie Pearl (or How Art Breeds Art)

The story behind this song is a story about how art cross-pollinates.

Lunch in Hall's Harbour, NS

One summer's day more than 17 years ago, when I was just beginning to write songs, my mom, my nana and I went to Hall's Harbour to get lobsters for lunch. Hall's Harbour is just a hop, skip and a jump from my nana's cottage in Harbourville* (sense a theme here with the harbour thing? We have a lot of harbours in Nova Scotia.)

It was a beautiful day, perfect for driving across the North Mountain of the Annapolis Valley and seeing the sights. Hall's Harbour has been more tourist-y than Harbourville (at least for the past 20 years or so). In addition to the lobsters, we knew there would be a couple of shops to go into. It would be the perfect outing for a fine day.

While our lobsters boiled and the seagulls wheeled and cried overhead (looking forward to the lobster shells, no doubt), we went into John Neville's studio**. The studio was full of amazing wood block prints. John Neville's wife was there and she avidly told us the stories behind the prints in her authoritative British accent.

Art breeds art

I remember one print showing a bunch of local women pushing a rum-runner's shack off a cliff in retribution for providing their sons and husbands with liquor. But the print that really caught my eye told the story of a man who bought a boat that sank. He raised her up and fixed her up and took her out fishing again. She sank again. So, he raised her up, dragged her up on the beach, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.

The print was entitled, So I Burned the Bitch.

I loved the story. The bloody-mindedness of that fisherman caught at my heart. I loved him. I loved that he would go to all that trouble to destroy something that had broken his heart. (I am prone to doing those sorts of vindictive things myself – or at least fantasizing about doing them.)

The story haunted me, but I didn't even try to write the song for another 8 or 9 years. When I did try, the lyrics came fairly easily, but the tune and accompaniment bogged it down. About 5 years ago, I workshopped it with my voice coach, Deanna Yerichuk, who told me to sing it as if I felt each emotion as it came up in the song: ambition, pride, devastation, triumph, despair and vindication. That helped a lot. It brought my passion for the song's subject to the fore. But it wasn't until I ditched the guitar and sang the song a cappella that it truly came to life.

There is was: bare and sparse. The sort of song you might sing into the wind while something that has betrayed you burns to wreckage behind you on the beach.

You can listen to The Minnie Pearl here.

*My nana's cottage is still in the family and I still spend time there every summer. For more information about Harbourville, visit the Harbourville Restoration Society Web site.
**John Neville no longer has a studio in Hall's Harbour. The last I heard, he was living and working in Maine.

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