I was unfamiliar with Greg Brown before I moved to Montana. I quickly learned that if I was going to be able to chat with any woman who I was remotely interested in I’d best become familiar with his music. Like all good folk prophets, he has the shaky, gravel bar of a voice that evokes wisdom and timelessness.
About the time I was leaving Montana the first time, in the late fall of 1999. Brown released his album Covenant. I pretty much had that CD on repeat for about a year after I bought it. Middle-aged heartbreak and longing are what I heard, something my late 20s self-thought was pretty appropriate for me.
The song, Rexroth’s Daughter, is still a favorite. I suppose it has something to say about the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth. I didn’t then and still don’t know much about the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth. Good art, good thoughts, good writing, good songs are vague enough to allow the audience to glean what they must and that certainly was true of this song.
“Coldest night of the winter working up my farewell
In the middle of everything under no particular spell
I am dreaming of the mountains where the children learn the stars
Clouds roll in from nebraska dark chords on a big guitar
My restlessness is long gone i would stand here like an old jack pine
But I’m looking for rexroth’s daughter the friend of a friend of mine
I can’t believe your hands and mouth did all that to me
Are so daily naked for all the world to see
That thunderstorm in michigan i never will forget
We shook right with the thunder & with the pounding rain got wet
Where did you turn when you turned from me with your arms across your chest
I am looking for rexroth’s daughter i saw her in the great northwest
Would she have said it was the wrong time if I had found her then
I don’t want too much a field across the road and a few good friends
She used to come & see me but she was always there & gone
Even the very longest love does not last too long
She’d stand there in my doorway smoothing out her dress
& say “this life is a thump-ripe melon-so sweet and such a mess”
I wanted to get to know you but you said you were shy
I would have followed you anywhere but hello rolled into goodbye
I just stood there watching as you walked along the fence
Beware of them that look at you as an experience
You’re back out on the highway with your poems of city heat
& I’m looking for rexroth’s daughter here on my own side
The murderer who lived next door seemed like such a normal guy-Greg Brown, Rexroth’s Daughter
If you try to follow what they shove at us you run out of tears to cry
I heard a man speak quietly i listened for a while
He spoke from his heart to my woe & then he bowed & smiled
What is real but compassion as we move from birth to death
I am looking for rexroth’s daughter & I’m running out of breath
Spring will come back i know it will & it will do its best
So useful so endangered like a lion or a breast
I think about my children when i look at any child’s face
& pray that we will find a way to get with all this amazing grace
It’s so cold out there tonight so stormy i can hardly see
& i’m looking for rexroth’s daughter & i guess i always will be”
Good songs, good art has a message for every year of your life. Though I didn’t know it then the line “I think about my children when I look at any child’s face and pray that we will find a way to get with all this amazing grace” breaks me down now, in a way that it never did so many years ago. Sure, add a marriage, add some kids, add the hills and valleys of life, the fear of the future world my kids will inherit. Time shifts worries. 19 years ago, I’d play this song on a cheap Japenese guitar, over and over again. How is that a line that can break me down now was a throw away twenty years ago?
Of course, the only thing that is constant is change. As much as I can I can’t slow down how fast they will grow, I can only hope that I’m present enough to be fully conscious of how beautiful this amazing grace is.
Thank you Greg Brown for brining me to my knees, then and now.