Romance in a Different Lifetime
There was grace and mystery in her
attitude as if she were a symbol of
something. He asked himself what is
a woman standing on the stairs in the
shadow, listening to distant music,
a symbol of.
James Joyce, “The Dead.”
The song began on a cold January day in 2011. My daughter had brought me her Casio keyboard to keep me company while she and her mother traveled in India. I love the preset rhythms on the old Casio and remember the time when it was the only drummer of our neophyte reggae band. As in the old days, I amplified the keyboard rhythm and played through our old One Drop PA system. I started playing with the rhythm and this song started to happen. It seemed a good time to make a song about romance and lifetimes. I know I was looking at a wind-swept snowscape when I imagined a warmer planet, “closer to the sun.” This is the first song Caitlin played on. One of her friends had cajoled her to volunteer to play on my recordings. I’ve been grateful to him ever since. This song was written in the dead of winter. I remember picking her up on one of the coldest days.
We played in a cold room. I knew very little about recording technology and made a lot of mistakes. Only one speaker on the keyboard worked. Still, Caitlin’s inventive piano parts shaped the song from the beginning.
In a different lifetime, I wrote a paper, “Romance and Marriage in ‘The Dead,’” for Professor Naomi Scheman’s philosophy seminar at the U. My paper focusses on the half-hidden image of a woman on a stair listening to distant music. Joyce invokes this symbol. The man at the bottom of the stair sees the beautiful woman standing there and desires her. He then finds out that she is indeed his wife. For her part, she is inclining toward the music because it carries the memory of her lost lover. Thus one of our symbols drawn from “the romance paradigm” emerges. Joyce’s main character imagines painting the scene, calling it “Distant Music.”
I tried writing the words out in prose form as many song writers do these days. One particular favorite, John K. Samson of The Weakerthans, was the immediate inspiration to try this style.
Mike Opitz: songwriting, vocals, guitar,and production
Caitlin Brutger: keyboard and vocals
Tom Daddesio: bass
Wish I knew you in a different lifetime, different from this one. Wish I met you on another planet, closer to the sun. The heat would rise from our bodies and melt into the air, ecological convergence, a bi-symmetrical pair. Wish I knew you in a different way than gender and despair.
Wish we had a different story with a different kind of plot. Wish we had some different meanings than the fucked up ones we’ve got. Where ancient connections find ways to be known. The aesthetic of being alive flowers and grows. Wish I knew you in a different time when it was possible to hope.
Wish we had a different symbol when I saw you on the stair. You were just seventeen, “you know what I mean when I saw you standing there.” Ah the dream-like figures half-hidden in the dark. Like unacted desire lifetimes miss their mark. Wish I knew you in a different way. Wish I loved you with a different heart