Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The evocative power of song and lyric: Eliza Gilkyson's "Midnight on Raton"

Its Snowin on Raton
come morning I'll be through these hills and gone...

Bid the years good-bye you cannot still them
You cannot turn the circles of the sun
You cannot count the miles till you feel them
and you cannot hold a lover that is gone

Tomorrow the mountains will be sleeping
Silently the blanket green and blue
All that I shall hear the silence they are keeping
I’ll bring all their promises to you

Townes Van Zandt
Snowin on Raton

The Raton Pass is a narrow mountain pass along the Colorado- New Mexico border in the USA. The Pass provides a way through the Sangre de Christo Mountains which form a formidable barrier between the eastern US states and Mexico, Arizona and California.

The Raton Pass plays a prominent part in US history and iconography. It was the highest point along the Santa Fe Trail  which was the path used by settlers travelling westward during the colonization of the American West in the 19th century. 

The Raton Pass was used by invading armies during the US Civil war and the various US-Mexican wars  It was also the primary route for the railways as they moved westward after the US Civil War.
The Raton Pass features in songs by two of my favourite singer songwriters from the southwest states of the USA- Eliza Gilkyson and Townes Van Zandt (Articles about Van Zandt appear regularly on this blog).

Both Gilkinson and Van Zandt use the Raton Pass as a metaphor and analogy for posing deeper existential questions, whilst drawing on personal touches and experiences from their own life.

Eliza Gilkyson's song Midnite on Raton features on her most recent CD Roses at the End of Time. It is a beatifully atmospheric song, written while staying overnight in a budget motel on the outskirts of Raton. Like many of her songs Midnite on Raton bridges both the personal and the political. The song echoes with fragments, observations and experiences from her daily life, while raising important socio-political issues.

Gilkinson's song is also a tribute to the memory of Texan singer songwriter Townes Van Zandt, whose own song Snowin on Raton is one of his most revered.  Van Zandt who moved between Texas and Colorado regularly travelled through the Raton Pass as it is the shortest route between Texas and Colorado.

In his biography of Townes Van Zandt Robert Earl Hardey rates Snowin on Raton as one of Van Zandt's  most moving and most haunting statements about resignation and acceptance at the end of life's journey. Hardey writes that Van Zandt's song is profoundly poetic, posing the question- when the beauty of life and love are gone, will memory sustain us? 

Here is a link to the You Tube clip of Eliza Gilkyson's performing her song live.

“Midnight on Raton”
Words and music Eliza Gilkyson
GilkySongs BMI 2010

Sitting in a motel on the outskirts of Raton
How the years have flown
Since Townes passed through these hills alone
I got someone who loves me
But it’s too late to phone
I wanna ride this road forever
And I’m dying to go home

Out there on the interstate the hurryin’ of the cars
High above room 28 the swirling of the stars
And I draw the vinyl curtains like a veil across my skin
I turn the bedside lamp down
And I let my shadows in

Cause I feel so full and so empty handed
In a world so cruel I don’t think I understand it
Are we still the fools
Who don’t know right from wrong
Here at midnight on Raton?

I find a crumpled napkin and I fumble for a pen
Chase a fleeting moment like it was my long lost friend
And I curl up ‘neath the blankets and dream until the dawn
But come morning I’ll be through these hills and gone
Come morning I’ll be through these hills and gone

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