Lyrical Love: St. Teresa

Painting by John Larriva

Let this year be a love affair with lyrics.  About 80% of my music library is comprised of instrumental music –classical, mimimalist, ambient, ‘world’, jazz—and of the remaining 20%, I’d say half of it is written in a foreign language of which I have little to no comprehension.  I rely on the chord progressions, melodies, and harmonies to get it.

Music has always been a spiritual experience, akin to worship, and as in worship, familiar words –literary or vernacular—often get in the way.  It’s as if the timbres, layers, colors, and cadences of the sound of music resonate in the eternal soul, while words exist here on this plane for communicating while confined by mass and matter: I pray in silence, yet the vibration deep in the soul is dynamic.  Ironic for a poet to be saying this, but same goes for poetry; I prefer no muddying of its purity with other voices, ie. forcing music upon it.

In my life, a large portion of my income has come from singing, and that portion is increasing. Since I’ll be singing more and more this year and beyond, I do realize that I need to make more of a concerted effort to sing from my heart in the language of my poetry.  God is beckoning me to come out from hiding away in faraway tongues!  To sing to you.

Each month I will seek out a song with English lyrics that I feel the music and words are “equally yoked,” as they say in the Catholic tradition regarding marriage.  I know I sound overly sensitive and/or critical but I believe, as in marriage, the two ought to complement each other so well that an outsider (listener) subconsciously seeks one while interacting with the other.  These are the songs that should never be covered because adding or subtracting one voice, a single nuance to a note or chord, would be musical adultery.

I hope that I may one day, not put my poems to music but have enough harmony within my own relationship to lyrical songs to write one or two from the heart.  This is a series of songs that inspire that hope.

The first song, St. Teresa, written by Rob Hyman and Eric M Bazilian, was recorded by Joan Osborne and released as the first track on her debut album ‘Relish’ in 1995.  Not a bad way to kick off your musical career.  Simply, it’s about a woman with a baby who works the streets to feed her drug habit.  But in my listening interpretation (not by reading the lyrics but hearing the song) I see the woman as an everyday saint, or a fallen angel, corrupted by a world and its vices that she was meant to infuse with grace. It’s a tragic story that asks the question, “They do so much for us, but who prays for the angels?”  A question that I want to answer by remembering them and their perilous plights.  They do walk among us, and some of them have lost their way.

This song reminds me of a film I saw years ago, of which I remember nothing but the angel who came in the form of a beautiful young woman to the man she guards, first averting him from suicide, then in order to help him make the funds needed to pay thugs, prostituted herself in the bathroom of a night club.  I won’t forget that character because it asks us to see deeper into people, despicable people at that, and the sacrifices they are making for the ones they love.  In the bridge/climax of the song, the onlooker/narrator is pleading to the woman, “Is there something you forgot to tell me? Tell me!” As if she finally sees this St. Teresa for who she truly is in all her glory, even if St. Teresa is too far gone to remember her holy task, and implores her to realize it once more.

To listen, click here:

St. Teresa

Sit down on a corner, just a little crime

‘When I make my money got to get my dime’

Sit down with her baby, wind is full of trash

She bold as the streetlight, dark and sweet as hash

Way down in the hollow leavin’ so soon

Oh St. Teresa, higher than the moon

Reach down for the sweet stuff when she looks at me

I know any man sees you like I see

Follow down the side street, movin single file, she say,

‘That’s where I’ll hold you, sleeping like a child’

Way down in the hollow leavin’ so soon

Oh St. Teresa, higher than the moon

Just what I’ve been needin, feel it rise in me, she say,

‘Every stone a story like a rosary’

Corner St. Teresa, just a little crime

‘When I make my money, got to get my dime’

Way down in the hollow leavin’ so soon

Oh St. Teresa, higher than the moon

You called up in the sky

You called up in the clouds

Is there something you forgot to tell me

Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me

Show me my Teresa, feel it rise in me

Every stone a story, like a rosary

If the song speaks to you in another way, or if you have a matched-music-and-lyrics song in mind, I’d love to hear from you.

©2017, Amaya Engleking

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6 comments

  1. Rob · January 6

    Stellar write and a lovely song choice. Really a great post

  2. den169 · January 6

    Thanks for sharing this!! 🙏

  3. inigo rey · January 6

    This seems to be new and deeper territory for you. It is powerful.

    Inigo

  4. Mark · January 18

    This particular song and style isn’t exactly my cup of tea but the closest artist and style I can relate to and love is Tracy Chapman. However, I do appreciate your song choice and lyrics, and as poetic with a higher meaning of sorts. I don’t attend church any more but I do have some values I employ in my life, or at least aspire to. Loving someone or connecting with someone who may have nothing to give back, offer, or even draws from you is hard, but noble. The connection I can draw from your message perhaps is more along the lines of imagining that that person is God, or a saint, and as valuable and significant anyone else. That maybe the extent I can draw this out.

    I fully agree, music can truly be a spiritual experience and perhaps the single greatest thing I miss from church, but I make up for it with all my lovely tunes, exploration of new tunes… and best of all concerts. I will be caught dead before I dance at a formal affair or a club, but get me a couple beers and a good band and I’m going all night.

  5. Mark · January 18

    By the way… the art… magnificent, stunning. So elegant and seemingly such simple brush strokes, but beautiful realism and timeless.

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