Sitting in my crow’s nest with my two dachshunds, looking at downtown Manhattan from across the East River, feeling the wisps of Fall on my skin, the tingling doorbell to my memory rocks and sea, the keeper of all images and sounds that turn into my songs and paintings and stories.
I shot the video to the new As I Lay Me Down, not re-imagined; instead re-lived, re-experienced, re-danced and sung felt newly. We shot it against a red peeling wall in Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York barefoot on the stinging pavement, hurting because I was jumping and dancing by surprise. I was in a dress I’ve had for years but had never worn, on a morning in August, remembering a morning in February, when it did feel like Springtime, when I did live above a courtyard where birds did sing your praise. And I still recall it, as yesterday morning, the words that flew inside my heart and made me feel alright. You can watch the video on my YouTube page, or scroll to the bottom of this blog and play it right from here!
I cried then and I cry now because it is so real, and my reality is so spirit-full with moments such as this.
I struggled that decades-ago night with my first acoustic guitar, a classical undulating box that I still have. I wanted to write the song that was coming out on that instrument, being the only one I had in that Manhattan apartment on Prince Street and 6th Avenue at around midnight. I had returned from my shift at Souen restaurant on the corner, my belly full of daikon and squash, and bancha tea. I loved that food, that’s why I was a waitress there. Money, yes, but good food is much more a driving force in my life.
So I sat on the floor and strummed my guitar, following my melody which is always tucked into layers of harmonic sensation, longing for my piano, but committed to my guitar. The verse flowed first, and I loved playing it, singing the words as true as a letter. The search for the chorus went on and on, but what did I care, I was tired and in love with the images and tones that were provoking me. Suddenly came the chord progression, the humming melody, the words that only fit that combination, that delivered the feelings home, and I was taken as if by angels to God.
Teachers talk of surrendering, but I feel it’s more active than that, it’s holding on for dear life as you’re carried by a mythical beast to the state humans know about but don’t get to experience except by the grace of the perfect combination that opens the invisible door. And it’s never the same twice. I held on, I rode, I felt, and when I was sure, I went wild with the bridge. To this day musicians mess up the bridge to As I Lay Me Down on stage. I always have to re-find it at soundcheck because it’s so unexpected, leaping with boundless joy, almost a trick, but no, it’s bang on.
Writing songs is a calling for me, if by being called we mean being called upon by a timeless existence of creative truth.
I know when I am on that mythical beast going somewhere I’ve never been, and I know when I’m plodding along, effort upon effort, crossing terrain after terrain in a process of god knows what. All of it is so important. Separating the great, soaring songs like As I Lay Me Down from the “meh” ones in the body of work would be like separating the soul from the body. One needs the process of the other, but really, it’s the soul we are drawn to, or I am drawn to, and that makes recognition instant. Maybe that is a gift, and a burden, depending.
I thought this morning how we are given gifts and debts at birth, and so a great song, like As I Lay Me Down, has a good balance of both. A lucky human has a good balance of both, too.
I hope you enjoy this new take on my old classic. I call it As I Lay Me Down Deux.
Your faithful songwriter,
Sophie B. Hawkins