From time to time I will post pieces like this that will examine the ideas and motivations behind the songs on my new album beneath a flagless moon,
CITY OF GHOSTS
I think the key to making sense of this song is the line “memories don’t die they just fall asleep.”
We go through life, I think, deciding what to remember and what to forget. It’s wrong, we are taught, to think of old relationships when you have moved on from them. But how can we do that, really? The fact that a relationship ends does not mean it was never good. We are changed by every experience we have, every person we are with (for however long or short a time).
So this is a song about waking up some memories. Or some memories waking up. Is the process active or passive?...I'm not totally sure.
Obviously the title of the album comes from this song:
Love and youth are sisters
And both were ending soon
As we held on to each other
Beneath a flagless moon
The moon was indeed flagless when, back in the 60s, I embarked on my first serious relationship. Its impact on me would be life-long.
So where is the City of Ghosts? New York, of course – where I spent a combined 17 years of my life.
This song was started in a bar there, glass of wine in hand. It was many years ago (my songs often sit around for years before they get recorded – and sometimes before they get finished). I scribbled on a napkin, “I’m trying to forget who I remember the most”. And the song grew from there.
So the first verse went back in time to that first girl. We did indeed spend our youth together. And it was in trying to find a way to describe what was special about those days that I came up with “beneath a flagless moon”. It captured an innocence that we will probably never know again. To quote Bob Dylan:
Man has invented his doom
First step was touching the moon
(from 'License To Kill' by Bob Dylan)
The second verse leaps forward in time to a different relationship that burned bright and brief – “second childhood fires burning in our veins” - and had much to do with the excitement of first arriving in New York City. The “long hot summer nights on 8th Avenue” were indeed long, hot and memorable.
Then come the rather confused days “on the west side of Manhattan” – and details are spared. At the time of writing the song I was not sure there would be a “true love” but I knew I was momentarily trapped between the past and the future. “Dark erotic nights” are fun of course but eventually you realize they satisfy the needs of the body but not the spirit.
By the time the last verse comes around the “true love” has been found. And an impossible request is made of her, “rewind all of this to the place where I came in”. Life would be easier if the memories stayed asleep or were different to begin with. But ultimately, yes, I am “stuck exactly where I’m at” just as we all are. But this is not meant to be a negative ending. Of course nobody’s love has the power to change the past, merely to accept it. In fact the real battle – and the entire basis of this song – is our struggle to accept our own past. If we are lucky enough to be loved by someone, then we’ve been accepted for who we are – with our past intact because it made us who we are.