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Still waters run deep in me

July 17, 2013

Things have been a little intense at the Toy Factory this week. One of my toys is nearing the end of its creation. It’s the biggest toy my department has created in a long time and there’s a lot riding on it. It’s been nearly ten years in the making and things have not gone smoothly all the way. So even though things now seem to be going well, tensions are running high and I’ve found it hard not to bring my work home with me every night, both literally (there is a pile of toy parts in my bag) and figuratively (I am not sleeping well and am having crazy work-related dreams).

It’s not helping that I’m running into one of my supervisors everywhere. He’s a very nice person, but he tends to make me nervous, an effect that has been exacerbated by the generally tense state of current affairs. Last night we ended up on the subway car. He saluted me with his headphones, which I think gave me permission to leave mine plugged in. We got separated in the crowds, each in our own little world. This morning, I got on the subway and got a seat. I instantly whipped out the toy parts and started working on them. Aside from the logistical problems of handling toy parts on the train (they’re kind of bulky and are so large I can’t see over them), it’s excellent subway work. I can concentrate better with the ambient noise and the time passes quickly. At the stop before mine, I put the parts back in my bag and discovered he’d been sitting directly opposite me the entire time. On the one hand, maybe it’s good that I was working on what was clearly something work related. On the other, I felt like a dork. This is a pair of hands with which I’m very familiar.

As always, I had my headphones in. Music gets me through. I play so much more than I did in Illinois. Some instrument or other comes out after dinner. Sometimes more than one. Mostly these days, though, it’s guitar. I’ve made some serious headway on Bron-Yr-Aur (possible recording to come soon if it ever cools off enough to take my laptop and guitar up on the roof). More and more, the process of learning new music feels like it’s recalibrating my brain — a reset button for the day.

Listening is not quite as good as playing, but one tends to lead to the other. On my ride home today (in which I knew not one soul in the car of my train), my iPod shuffled up one of the pieces our trio played a couple of months ago and Bron-Yr-Aur (both the Jimmy Page version and also a cover/reinterpretation by M. Ward that I don’t actually like all that much). But the song I stuck on auto repeat was “Still Waters” by Jim White.

I love Jim White’s music. I’ve written about him before (here and here). He writes with some variety, but the ones I like the best are the atmospheric ones with disturbing southern Gothic texts. Something about them feels like I wrote them myself, like they’re singing me. That kind of song is the one I have to get between my fingers and a fretboard as soon as possible. I’ve tried before. I’ve struggled with tabs for “A Perfect Day to Chase tornados.” They are difficult for my novice fingers, even when I feel like I am built of their chords. But no one seems to have attempted to transcribe the one that’s possessing me at the moment.

The video is a trailer for Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a weird musical documentary White made that I love to drown myself in every now and again. The song opens the film. White’s music features heavily in the film, but there’s other music too. If you watch the video, you’ll see a house surrounded by or floating on water. The two musicians on the front porch are The Handsome Family (I’ve written about them before too.)

The lyrics of “Still Waters: are supremely creepy. They set a tone for a film that’s eerie and fascinating and beautiful in unexpected places. And I can’t get them out of my head.

I’m determined to sort out this guitar part, but it moves too fast for me. The chords are easy — it’s a very simple harmony — but the picking patterns are difficult. But I chip away at it. A little every night. And every night I surf the web, hoping to find that someone else has attempted it first. And every night I fall asleep with that opening riff running through my head, the one with a glimmer of melody, my eyes closed, running in my mind through that mysterious forest, like I’m remembering it, like I was there. I half expect to wake up one morning suddenly able to play every note, because somehow, I know it already like it’s etched on my fingers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Benj permalink
    October 9, 2014 7:26 am

    Hello Harriet ,
    In looking for Jim White information I saw your interest in ‘Still Waters’ and how to play it .
    I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I would send you the links below . If you search on You Tube it is titled:-
    ‘Guitar Lesson – Jim White Cover – Still Waters’..
    here is the actual address:-

    His name for his site Florida Cracker Guitar Tips.
    The intro i’ve found to be hardest part. Ive not tabbed it out yet, its on my to do pile .
    But I do play it and other Jim tunes on a regular basis .
    So far this is the only info still waters info that I have .
    I hope that you can make use of it and enjoy playing it .
    Went to see Jim live last year, excellent entertainer , didnt stop smiling for a week .
    All the best

  2. October 9, 2014 10:24 pm

    Thanks so much for posting, Benj, I hadn’t seen this, but may give it a go. The intro is tricky. Because of the two guitar parts, it’s hard to hear what’s happening. But that moment where they come together and lock in is pure magic. I would love to see Jim live someday, and it’s always nice to meet a fellow fan!

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