One of the more remarkable women of history was Eleanor of Aquitaine. In an age where women were often relegated to the dusty margins of of the historical record, she strode confidently to the middle of the page and demanded space – two generations worth, in fact.
A child of the troubadour generation, raised in the lush hills of today’s Southern France, many of her stories made their way into the tales and songs of the era and passed into legends. In one of the more bizarre mismatches of royal matrimony (Charles & Di — nothing on these two), Eleanor was wed to the “wanna-be monk, damn I’m King” Louis VII. Of course, her “vast tracts of land,” which almost doubled the size of France played the largest role in that particular courtship. She stayed married to him for 15 years, the time marred by conflict, wars and lots of piety. Finally, she convinced him, the church and the French court who really liked big France that she was done. She got the marriage annulled – quite a feat for anyone, not so much for the strong-willed Duchess of Aquitaine. Lest you think this was an elaborate ploy to make you love history (isn’t it cool?) — one of her stories is the point of all that background.
“Once upon a time,” as soon as she rid herself of the saintly Louis, Eleanor knew that a woman loved for her wealth, she would be a target. In a fit of petulance, the French court didn’t send a “troop” to protect her on the journey back to Aquitaine. So the 200 or so miles would be full of dangers for an unwary and rich divorcée. Luckily, Eleanor was as smart as she was lovely. She laid false trails with maidservants dressed in finery, and for herself eschewed the trappings of royalty and made the journey on horseback. Despite her precautions, as she neared the border of her duchy — she was discovered and the last miles were a frantic race to escape capture and a forced wedding.
She was racing forward — in an era, where no one would have faulted her for “going with the flow,” and letting some man coerce her into an alliance. Of course, she fell madly, passionately, politically, romantically in love with the younger Henry of Anjou (later Henry II of England) shortly afterward and began one of the most storied, tumultuous love affairs that shaped the history of a continent….. always moving ahead, leaving the past in its archives….
I love that — open to a future of possible, turning the pages as the past fades into the mist. I’ve tried to teach the girls that while the past is back there (and you can wave if you like), the now and the dreams for the future are what sustain and nourish you as you move forward. Today’s poem echoes the “life is meant to be lived” approach. If Eleanor is my ultimate heroine, in the forefront of the poets who spur my imagination and my delight is Langston Hughes. An authentic American voice for 40 years — he defines the notion of moving forward with and despite the vicissitudes life can bring. Turning the page, Hughes writes a new verse scrawling free and forward on its blankness….
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love—
But for livin’ I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
Life is Fine –> Langston Hughes
- Always Look on the Bright Side (from Spamalot) — originally a Python number from Life of Brian — this cheerful mockery of optimism is one of the most delightful numbers ever — with is pragmatic approach to life it offers refreshment without sentiment….
- What about Now (Bon Jovi) — “don’t be afraid to breathe”, I love him/them probably more now than I did originally — just because they are having so much fun
- Sleep (Allen Stone) — he’s called a “hippie with soul,” which is just cool. This lovely little paean to night owls — is quite perfect.
- Open your Eyes, You Can Fly (Lizz Wright) — gorgeous voiced jazz singer, with wonderful lyrics like, “Catch the way, the change, the doubt/Have the courage to be free’
- Bitch (Meredith Brooks) — and now for something completely different — sort of a one hit wonder, female empowerment — shock to the system song
- Somebody that I used to know (Gotye with Kimbra) — sort of the perfect starting over song, and there are really good covers out there…
- Promised Land (Grateful Dead) — such a cool cover of the Chuck Berry song — when the Dead performed it, they just rollicked through it
- Come on Up to the House (Sarah Jarosz) — the best anti-martyr, get over yourself song ever — and I just smile every single time it plays–
- Lessons Learned (Carrie Underwood)– she can’t do Maria von Trapp — but country ballads she can handle, and this straightforward little song is fine.
- Strong Enough (Haim and Lorde) — this may be my favorite cover in a long time — Haim, their acoustics, and Lorde’s rich vocals make Sheryl Crow’s song just resonate
- Keep on the Sunny Side (Johnny Cash & the Carter family) the un-ironic bright side song — the Cash & Carter version is my favorite — the peppy melody roughed up around the edges by the rawness of the harmonies.
- I’m set Free (Velvet Underground) — so not the pureness of the Cash/Carter sound, but this song works so well — and I know it’s probably about heroin — or moving from one “illusion” to the next, but….
- Moving Out (Billy Joel) — not really sure about Anthony — but everyone has had this moment, this experience. It’s one of Joel’s gifts that he can translate NY Italian neighborhood to a little NC girl and I can get it…. he is able to make a song universal
- Brand New Day (Sting) — I know, not everyone shares my deep and abiding passion for him. One of the delights for me is his willingness to try new sounds…. and this echo of the mediterranean plays well.
- Something Better Beginning (the Kinks) — you kind of feel like petting them and singing the “soft kitty” song — the Kinks as domesticated kittens….
- Starting Over (John Lennon) — John Lennon, ’nuff said. Unless you want to say he was a musical genius… and for kicks, you should check out the film, Nowhere Boy
- Put ’em in a box (Doris Day & the Paige Cavanaugh trio) — you feel all 50s and generally you should be wearing a frock and sipping a Manhattan — and saying the most polite “FU” ever devised.
- White Blank Page (Mumford & Sons) — probably my favorite song of theirs — it just flows and the melody is just dark enough to be interesting
- Further to Fly (Paul Simon) — from Rhythm of the Saints, Simon’s South American followup to the incredible Graceland. This song is a little Robert Frost with a hook in the melody that is irresistible.
- What a Wonderful World (Joey Ramone) — there is just something phenomenal about the relentless guitars and Joey’s “life” roughened voice singing this most beautiful song. It perhaps underscores the tenderness of the lyric in a way no other cover does.
Life is like a book. Some chapters sad, some happy and some exciting. But if you never turn the page… you will never know what the next chapter holds –> anonymous