Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cowboy Junkies -- "Anniversary Song" (1993)

And I don't know how I survived those days
Before I held your hand

I first heard about the Cowboy Junkies years ago, but I've never actually listened to any of their music.

Their 1988 album, The Trinity Session, made a lot of "ten best albums of the year" lists.  It was recorded live, using only one microphone, at the historic Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto.  The Trinity Sessions was not mixed, overdubbed, or otherwise edited – what they played is what you get.

The Cowboy Junkies
The Cowboy Junkies' music has been described as alt-country, country rock, folk rock, blues rock, indie rock, and "Americana" (despite the fact that they are Canadian).  In other words, no one knows how the hell to describe them.

Suffice it to say that The Trinity Sessions includes covers of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline songs but also a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane."  None of those covers sound anything like the originals, mostly because the tempos on the album are (in the words of the Allmusic review of the album) "heroin-slow."

Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity
The Cowboy Junkies' guitarist, Michael Timmins, persuaded his sister Margo to become the group's lead vocalist despite the fact that she had never sung in public before.  (A third Timmins sibling is the group's drummer.)  Margo was so shy at first that she routinely stood with her back to the audience as she sang.  

According to Wikipedia, the refrigerator in the old farmhouse where Margo lives with her husband and son is covered with pictures of celebrities she has met over the years, including Sean Penn, Sylvester Stallone, Molly Ringwald, Meat Loaf, and Bruce Springsteen.    

Margo Timmons in 1990
Margo has quite the crush on Springsteen.  When she got married, she told her husband that if Bruce ever wanted her, she "would be his."  Margo once made People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list, so maybe she's got a shot. 

"Anniversary Song," which was released on the group's Pale Sun Crescent Moon album in 1993, is a little over top when it comes to lyrics.

Here are the song's first lines: 

Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
As that of the rain-soaked purple
Of the white birch in the spring?

Do white birches really turn purple when they get rained on?  

Here are the next lines:

Have you ever felt more fresh or wonderful
Than on a warm fall night under a mackerel sky
The smell of grapes on the wind?

In case you don't know, a mackerel sky refers to a sky mostly covered by altocumulus clouds because such a sky is said to resemble a mackerel's scales.  

I don't see that myself, but maybe you do:

A mackerel sky
A mackerel sky is a sign of an old, disintegrating weather front, and usually indicates dry weather.  Hence, the old saying "Mackerel in the sky, three days dry."  (I'm sure you've heard that old saying many, many times.)

But let's not get distracted and forget what follows the "mackerel sky" reference in the song: "The smell of grapes on the wind"?

Songwriter Michael Timmins eventually calmed down and wrote some nice, simple lines.  For example:

Have you ever seen a sight as beautiful
As a face in a crowd of people
That lights up just for you?

Have you ever felt more fresh or wonderful
As when you wake by the side of that boy or girl
Who has pledged their love to you?

Much better than purple rain-soaked birches and mackerel skies, n'est-ce pas?

So why am I featuring "Anniversary Song" today?  After all, we just celebrated the 5th anniversary of 2 or 3 lines on November 1, didn't we?

Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson
of the Flamin' Groovies --
exactly one year ago today
Yes, we did.  But today is the anniversary of my attending the Flamin' Groovies show right here in Your Nation's Capital.  Of course, that wasn't as big a deal as the 5th anniversary of my wildly popular little blog, but it was still a very big deal.

"Anniversary Song" isn't a great song, but it seemed like a better choice than the alternatives.  

For example, there's "The Anniversary Song," which was first recorded by Al Jolson in 1947 and subsequently covered by everyone from Dinah Shore to Guy Lombardo to Rosemary Clooney to Frank Sinatra.

The music used for "The Anniversary Song" was a waltz originally composed by the Romanian Ion Ivanovici in 1880.  He gave it the name "Waves of the Danube," and it is sometimes confused with Johann Strauss's much more famous waltz, "The Blue Danube."  (To further complicate matters, "The Anniversary Song" – which is a waltz – is sometimes confused with "The Anniversary Waltz.")

Here are the first two lines of "The Anniversary Song":

Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed
We vowed our true love, though a word wasn't said

When I was a kid, I would occasionally accompany my parents on their Saturday-night excursions to Hidden Acres, a supper club in my hometown (Joplin, Missouri).

Hidden Acres had a two-man dance combo that would play requests, and every time they were asked to play a song for a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, the pianist would preface the request by singing a slightly modified snippet of "The Anniversary Song":

Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed
We danced and we danced, 'cause our folks had the bed

Here's "Anniversary Song":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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