Beeswing, by Richard Thompson


Every December I publish my playlist, the songs I’ve been listening to that year. I say that songs are stories too, even the ones without words. And I believe that. I’m still fumbling with the most elementary level of music theory, yet each baby step reinforces that belief.

The story I’m obsessed with right now, the one that’s making it hard for me to pick up a book, is a song by Richard Thompson, an English singer/songwriter and amazing guitarist whom I first heard as part of Fairport Convention. I hadn’t heard this particular song before this week, though I understand it’s been around for a while.

In a concert celebrating the launch of his new CD Land of Fish and Seals, Keith Murphy sang Thompson’s “Beeswing”. In it a man recalls being 19 in the Summer of Love and falling for a girl who refuses to be tied down. The chorus goes:

She was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child, she was runnin’ wild. She said
So long as there’s no price on love I’ll stay
You wouldn’t want me any other way.

As my friend Mary said later, the lyrics are so evocative of that time. I was taken right back to myself at 18, 19, 20. Freedom was a word often on my lips and in my journal. It was the beginning of the second wave Women’s Movement and we were ready to shake off our mothers’ strictures. The little white gloves and girdles and pleated skirts we’d been brought up in were laid aside for bell-bottom jeans and tie-dyed shirts.

More than that, more than having the new magic Pill, we felt like pioneers, exploring where our souls might take us, holding hands in the dark, and running wild in the sunlit cornfields.

Keith brought just the right mix of gentle sadness and nostalgia to the song. The way he lingered on certain words and his deft guitar playing made the story even stronger. I remember that we were nostalgic even then, even in the middle of that time, because we knew it would not last.

It was a rare time, a gossamer time, so light a breath of wind might blow it away.

What’s on your playlist?

7 thoughts on “Beeswing, by Richard Thompson

  1. Nichael Cramer says:

    This is not a song, per se, (for one thing, I simply cannot write if there’s anything “verbal” going on in the background; and this includes vocal songs, no matter how much I might enjoy them in another context), but…

    At the top of my playlist in recent months has been a version of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” recorded by the EphenStephen guitar duet (so-named because both members are named Stephen).

    I’ve always loved the Goldberg Variations, and, of course, have several versions on the keyboard (both of Glenn Gould’s versions, a recording by Zhu Xiao-Mei, etc) but the version by the EphenStephen duet is my current favorite.

    The GV are, to my mind, a complete universe in itself. And in this version, played on guitars, it is, if anything, even more peaceful. A wonderful experience, when I need to “get away for a while”.

    [For anyone who might be interested in a sampling, you can find a video of the duet playing the Aria from the GV by searching for “EphenStephen back goldberg” on YouTube.]

    • Nichael Cramer says:

      P.S. The search-string for YouTube should be “EphenStephen bach goldberg”, of course.

    • barbara says:

      Thanks for this version of the Goldberg Variations, also a favorite of mine. Like you, I’ve found I cannot write while listening to songs with words, even in a language I don’t know. I’ve even pretty much sworn off any music while writing. I seem to get caught up in the music and unable to concentrate on the writing. Also, once I started studying music theory, it became yet another language I’m struggling to understand.

      • Nichael Cramer says:

        Right, even setting aside the issue of vocal music, there’s certain music I can’t have playing when I need to focus, because I find it drags my attention away.

        Sometimes, though, I find I like some music in the background if only to help “take the edge off” of the silence.

        Quiet, soft chamber pieces are nice. Recently I’ve been finding Haydn Quartetts helpful in this regard.

  2. johanna says:

    I have the classical channel on when I write, and yes, like others say, words distract, even opera. Other times I love to hear anything that Dylan wrote and it takes me back instantly to the time of that specific song, and many of his songs to the time period this book describes. We still are those people of that time, but wizened and maybe disillusioned, but trying to pass on the inspiration to our children. My hope is: the next gen will pick up where we left off.

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