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excerpt from Chapter 6: to venus and back
Sometimes I feel the songs through other people. "1000 Oceans" comes from a few places. It started with a dream I had. Some months ago, as I was working on my new album in Bude in Cornwall, I had a really important dream. A voice appeared in my head. I call her my dark angel. She was a soul sister, an old African woman, singing the melody to me. And she was singing to me, this woman, in a way that made me know that we're never alone. It wasn't a language I knew, it was tribal. I only understood the melody and it only had a few measures, but she was humming the first couple phrases.
And she pulled me out bed -- I was woken up in the middle of the night at about half past five or six o'clock in the morning or something. So, I crawled out of bed, and Husband didn't know what I was doing, I ran out of the house, threw on a pair of jeans on my way out, and went over to the studio. I found my way to the piano, in the dark, and I recorded the melody on a little tape recorder (which is always on the piano) so I wouldn't forget it. And then I went back to bed. From this melody the song "1000 Oceans" developed. And during the next few weeks I started to shape and sculpt it, looking at Mark, who just lost his father. It wasn't about one event.
The old African woman from my dream was pretty ancient, and I couldn't understand a word she was saying, so I had to figure the words out. When I look for lyrics I go hunting. So, as I was looking through all the maps and finding places, I was looking on maps of Dartmoor and I was working with a lot of different regions. And finally it hit me that it was "through the solar field," and it wasn't listed on the maps. Because I was being dragged away from the maps to go to sort of a physics book, actually an astronomy book, a book on all sorts of laws and principles of the universe that Marcel had. And, as I finally found "solar field" it was like I started to feel her jump up and down. Sometimes the songs do that. You get a sense that they really are alive.
It was clear to me that there was this endless determination that the song had to reach her love. And I don't know if that was a child or a lover or a friend who the song couldn't seem to be able to make contact with anymore. What I kind of got from it was the depth of love that song had for somebody or something -- it could be for this planet, I don't know. But the idea that this voice that was coming through very clear, finally I understood when I got the phrase, "through the solar field." It all completely aligned, because I knew we were following maps: I was hunting down what the song was trying to tell me.
You know, there's always galactic reference going on in this record. There's a scientific vocabulary going on in this record. "Suede" is about seduction, but there's always a science reference, a physics reference, because that's the realm of Venus. So I hung maps all over, and I knew I didn't have it right, coming up with things. Then finally I got that whatever dimensions the song had to cross to find the being that she was devoted to, whether it was her mother or her sister or her lover or her friend, nothing could stop her. That kind of resilience was a real anchor for the record.
Sometimes it takes an incredible amount of time for me to understand a song I have recorded, because I am so much in it and I can't distance myself from it. Sometimes I don't really understand my songs until I go on tour and live with them. They are like girls for me that keep me company. But sometimes I only understand my songs through the reactions of other people. This was the case with "1000 Oceans."
So, my husband had just lost his father. The two were very close, because Mark was an only son. Before the death of my father-in-law, they talked on the phone every day. His father fooled us into believing he was getting better. He had cancer and some day he was just dead. It was a shock for Mark, because he had really believed it got better. They had already made plans for his father to come to visit us in the USA. He had never been there.
After the old man had died, my relationship with Mark got very difficult. He was inconsolable. You can't do much for somebody who has lost the most important person in his life. I often held him in my arms and took long walks with him. I was just there for him a lot, but I never really got through to him. I still have my mother and my father, so I didn't have that experience. I only reached him with "1000 Oceans."
After Mark heard the song, he would swing by where I was playing, and he would sit down next to the piano and say to me, "Could you play that one again, the ocean song?" And I would play it to him. Through that, we got in contact once again, and that seemed to be sort of a way that we would talk about his dad when no other words could work. They were so incredibly close that "1000 Oceans" seemed to be the only thing that could bring him out of his sadness. I took him back from that other galaxy he was in a million miles away from me. It became about feeling close to people you can't reach, seeing this depth of love for this person who was gone. So, that dream was very special to me. It renewed the connection between Mark and me.
There was a moment when I realized I saw different pictures than him about this song. I felt a deep love feeling when he "came in" the song, associating it to the memory and search of his father, because we don't know where those who leave this earth go. Sometimes, the love feelings of my songs come from someone else and I'm just there to look at it. So, I think it means different things for different people. But the sense that I got was I couldn't measure the amount of love that this song had for the person that she was singing it about. And it was quite... it moved me. It was like a resolve, an endless resolve to follow her love. And she's not a stalker, by the way.
In the song there is this ferocious commitment to finding this person. I don't know who the song is singing about -- it's different for different people when they hear it. She has this depth of love for a daughter or whoever it is. I think some of the other songs look to her sometimes for that kind of resilience. "Juarez" is the other extreme, when you're so cut off and severed from any kind of humanity that you can mutilate another person. You've got to be pretty close to soul-death, to lose your own soul, to do that to another person. And that's happening right now, it's been going on for the last ten years.
To Venus and Back is about the power that flows from passion. Power that you can use for the best or the worst. Like the evil in the song "Juarez," which deals with the monsters we turn into when our hearts are broken. But both songs are about the things you can do, when your heart thinks there is no other choice. I didn't know that passion could spread to friendship, to a marriage. There's a line in "1000 Oceans" -- "I've cried a thousand oceans / and I would cry a thousand more / if that's what it takes to sail you home." If you know you're capable of feeling that for somebody, you know that the body snatchers don't have you yet.
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