I Could Be Dreaming
This week (okay… fortnight), I found myself in a song: not wrapped up in the music, or playing on stage and lost in the performance, but actually experiencing the lyrics of a song.
I should pause at this point to acknowledge the fact that the song I experienced wasn’t the song I was listening to - that would have been too neat and, frankly, trite. With this in mind, this post will come in two parts: the “story” song, and the song I was listening to in the story.
So, what song was it that I lived out in real life recently? “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, as made famous by Roberta Flack and again by The Fugees. It wasn’t written by either act, although The Fugees certainly rearranged it somewhat and gave it a new name.
The song was originally written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, to be sung by Lori Lieberman. So the story goes, Lieberman went to see Don McLean in concert, was struck by her own reaction to his song “Empty Chairs”, and told Gimbel of her experience. Gimbel then wrote the lyrics for the song, culling the title line from an Argentinian book he’d been given by Lalo Schifrin, and Fox wrote the music to pull it together.
As with all good stories, this one is debated by those involved, and as with all the stories I tell, this one is the aesthetically most enjoyable version I’ve heard. Regardless of the tale’s veracity, however, the words and meaning and story of the song are unmistakeable.
There he was, this young boy,
Stranger to my eyes,
Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing my softly
Sometimes it really is possible for someone else to write and sing exactly what you feel, to get inside your life and sing your secrets out loud for all the world to hear. And it’s pretty unsettling when they do, which brings me on to my own experience.
I was listening to a man who couldn’t possibly be described as a young boy, but who nonetheless kills me softly with his song from time to time. Who is it that can get under my skin so reliably? Ben Harper.
I’ve been a bit of a Ben Harper fan for a long time now: he’s one of the illustrious artists that graced my childhood through passive listening. The walls of the house that I grew up in were anything but thin, but my brother wasn’t exactly shy of the volume control on his hi-fi. At the time I hated the intrusion, but it shaped and informed my music tastes to an extent that can’t be denied.
The song that was playing when I realised I was living a Roberta Flack song was Walk Away, but I’m sure if you investigate Harper’s back-catalogue you’ll find something that does the trick for you. And from then on, you can rest easy knowing that whenever you need to feel your letters have been found and each one read aloud, you’ll know where to turn.
I’ll see you soon.
This is from the