5 min read

Verdigris and Visuals

Verdigris and Visuals

Writing songs has always been also a visual process for me, believe it or not.  I see things, lots of things, in regards to my own songs, and I long for the day I have a substantial music video budget. I'd love to show everyone what I see.  I understand most music videos to be marketing vehicles, essentially; what I want to do is create an audio-visual experience that is intrinsic to the feeling-tone of the song, and greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately I have a very high budget imagination.  

Anyway, Verdigris is a great song, but if you could see what I see?, it would be one of my very best.  Verdigris, by definition, is a naturally occurring bluish-green patina or encrustation formed when copper, brass or bronze is weathered and exposed to air or sea water over time.  It's absolutely gorgeous — much prettier, in my mind, than polished metal:

In addition to being gorgeous, verdigris is also deliciously creepy.  Just think of all that shipwrecked wealth, down at the bottom of the sea.  

You know what else is deliciously creepy?  Stone angels in graveyards.  The older and more weathered and overgrown they become, the more PROFOUND they are.  They arise like something from our collective subconscious, standing guard over their charges, through every season and phase of the moon, in snow or drizzling rain or amid the quiet, radiant slough of autumn leaves.  They become more beautiful, more awful, more...more.  Just more!  

I used to spend quite a bit of time walking in a large cemetery in Minot, North Dakota.  I was working an oilfield job in the Bakken Shale, and I lived in a house with 13 co-worker roommates.  Getting out of the house was a priority.  Minot had been devastated by a flood, just the previous year, so many normal avenues were still impassable.  But up a steep hill from our house was a lush, lovely, massive graveyard, with graves going back to the 1800's.  (Most people seem to have died in the winter, per their dates.)  

Macabre as it sounds, it was significantly more pleasant than kickin it my 13 roommates.  On the rare occasions someone made as if to approach me in the cemetary, I would feign grief and they'd veer away again.  It was a spectacular place for alone time, with many deer and rabbit sightings as well.  I was jangled about some things.  My mom had recently died, I'd recently gotten divorced, everyone thought I was crazy to come work the oil field even though I was enjoying it for the most part.  Everyone in the dang oil field seemed to want to get to know me and I mostly wanted to be left alone, once I'd learned my job.  

"These graveyard angels really do not give a fuck," I remember thinking with quite a bit of admiration.  It was a year or two later I wrote Verdigris.  I was especially happy with the bridge leading back into the last verse: "Somehow this sacred heart never tells the time; fate's outrageous slings and arrows really only make the outside dull, where I used to glow, seem frozen stiff I move so slow but rivers burn and mountains blow, look in my eyes — you will know".

Another experience had risen up in my memory to inform this passage.  When I was 22 or so, I was on the Honor Guard team in my Army National Guard unit.  I was only an E3, so it was typical for me to assist in folding the flag at military funerals, and to stand and salute the process of the flag being presented to the next of kin by whoever my superior was.  (Most of these funerals were for very elderly vets who'd died, survived by their very elderly wives, usually.)  Everything is in accordance with rank, of course, in the military, and I'd saluted many next-of-kin flag transferrals, but it had never been my job.

But then, one day, it was, because I'm the only one who showed up.  The deceased's wife, to whom I must present the flag (important to identify the right person, you know) barely looked alive herself, to me.  I was young, and callous as all young people are, and she looked like a sad sack bag of bones, swaddled in a black dress, hunched like a laundry bag someone had tossed in a corner, with her arthritic stick legs and sensible shoes propped in front of her.  I'm not trying to be mean, nor was I then; I'm just being honest about what old people looked like to me, at that age.  

Getting the flag folded into a neat, tucked triangle on my own was an ordeal, and I was baking in the Prescott AZ heat, with my starched white collar, dress greens, ribbons and medals, and crisp white gloves.  I was excited to get back to my car and blast the AC.  I knelt down before the widow, one knee on the ground and one shoe with its mirror black shine supporting me, and extended the flag with one hand below and one hand resting on top, as I'd learned (and thank god remembered).  

Now: here's an important point.  We'd been taught, in the Honor Guard, never to actually look the next-of-kin in the eyes, when presenting the flag.  It was paramount we maintain our military bearing, and not risk be discomfited by their grief.  We were to gaze directly at the center of their forehead, which would appear to everyone as if we were making eye contact, without actually doing so.  

Well, I fucked up.  She didn't even seem that upset anyway, and at the crucial moment, I felt rather silly staring at her forehead.  My eyes darted to meet hers, and it was as if a howling void opened beneath me, or within me.  Tears slipped from my eyes, my throat closed as if someone was choking me, and I saw everything in her eyes.  Everything.  She was a universe unto herself, heartbroken and frightened and adrift; she couldn't even organize herself to perform grief.  It was, and I say this without exaggeration, one of those moments that lasts an eternity, until I tore my eyes away.  My world was reeling as I made my way back to my car, once everyone cleared out, and I had to just hold the steering wheel and breathe for a few minutes.  

That's the moment that arose, in my memory, relative to the bridge lyrics.  There's so much emotion and sensation I'd love to bring through with visuals on this song — the galaxies and constellations that wheel inside us as we stand, apparently frozen in our crumbling, majestic attitudes of protection over that which we guard, whatever that is.  

So, there's a little bit of what this song feels like for me.  It's not available to buy or stream yet, aside from the SoundCloud embed above, but will be in just a week.  Thanks for your time :)