Ode to Louise

Day 1 of my (own twist to the) Three Day Lyric Challenge.

A song my father introduced me to is a song by Leo Kottke about a lady called Louise. Small town gossip said that “she’d act the little girl” but that in reality she was “a deceiver” and that we shouldn’t believe her, because “that’s her trade”.

The song describes how Louise received gifts from men, whose “intentions were easily traced”, insinuating that she was either stunningly beautiful and would lead men on with her appearance, or that perhaps she was even a prostitute who inadvertently had some male “fans”.

Halfway through the song Kottke describes how people thought it “kind of sad” when Louise was found dead in her room. The song paints a picture of a lonely and misunderstood woman who ended up taking her own life.

Kottke bids her farewell at the end of the song with the words “the wind is blowing cold tonight. So goodnight, Louise, goodnight”.

Leo Kottke’s guitar intermezzo is mesmerizing on its own, but with the lyrics he really tells a tragic micro-history. I am not sure when I really started to see the whole image but when I did, I really felt for Louise.

A second song has recently entered my life that has a similar effect on me. After having given it some thought I realized that it is actually the same story, but this time from Louise’ point of view.

The first time I heard the song it stopped me dead in my tracks and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This had to do with the singers vocal range and the pain he put into the song. It was only later that I learned that it is actually a cover of a Nina Simone song, called “When I was a young girl”.

The song, in the version of Marlon Williams, is over six minutes long and can be summed up by the last 4 lines (which he manages to spread out over two heart-wrenching minutes)

When I was a young girl I used to seek pleasure
When I was a young girl I used to drink ale
Out of the ale house and into the jail house
Right out of the bar room down to my doom

Be sure to listen to Nina Simone’s version too, which is beautiful as well (but less haunting).

Whoever this young girl is, all I can say is: I am sorry the world wasn’t kinder to you. Good night, sweet girl, good night.

 

 

 

 

Morituri te salutant

“Those who will die, salute you”, is what fighters in the gladiator pit supposedly said in ancient times, before fighting to the death in an arena full of bloodthirsty onlookers.

Athlete and silver medalist Marieke Vervoort could have greeted the crowd in the same fashion before her race last week. She is most certainly a fighter. Just like the gladiators of old she does not want to die. And just like them, it is likely she will die before her time. She is an athletic hero, named paralympian of the year in both 2012 and 2015. She also happens to have progressive myelopathy.

She has never made a secret of her feelings towards euthanasia. But when she declared the Rio Olympics would be her last, the interwebz exploded, convinced she was going to celebrate her silver medal on the 400m with a some super special suicide pill that she must have been saving for the occasion.marieke-vervoort-euthanasia

Last Sunday she took some time at a press conference to explain what she meant and basically told the world to take a chill pill themselves.

She explained how she had indeed signed papers several years ago, giving her the possibility to end her life and that these were partly what had kept her going for so long. Make no mistake, this woman is not choosing the easy way out. She is already dealing with a degree of pain on a daily basis that you and I can’t even begin to fathom. She explained it as follows:

Yes, I have euthanasia paperwork ready. I’ve had them since 2008. Because I can tell you it’s really hard to deal with this disease en endure the pain. But this permission I have for the euthanasia process, which I have in writing and carry with me, gives me a sense of peace. It’s this feeling that helps me live. I can enjoy every moment I have now. But when the time comes that I have more bad days than good days, I will have my euthanasia papers ready. But that moment has not arrived yet.

So, when she said these would be her last olympics she was basically just announcing the end of her topsport career, not the end of her life.

She will continue living her life to the fullest, as she always has. She will continue facing her pain and her progressing paralysis head on, as she will all the hateful fools that feel they have a right to judge her.

As her disease creeps on, she may completely loose her sight (it has already deteriorated to 20% of her original vision) and her epilepsy attacks will become more frequent. The cramps in her body will keep her awake during the night and the wheelchair she sits in will no longer be powered by the muscles in her strong arms. She lives in constant fear, not knowing which part of her body will give in next.

She directed her strong plea for euthanasia at the people and politicians of Brazil and other countries where euthanasia is still a taboo and a crime above that.

I hope people don’t feel [euthanasia] is murder. Just being in the possession of these papers, which is something I obtained legally in my country, gives me tranquility. If I did not have this option I may have already committed suicide.

You don’t just beat your opponents, you beat the odds. You don’t just break your personal (and world) records, you break taboos.

Right on, Marieke. I salute you.

Valentina, valentina

 

What shall we do with all these debates about the sky above
Help me, Valentina, as you have flown so far.
Tell me once and for all that there is no such mansion up there;
Tomorrow it will be built by mankind and its reason,
Oh my!

Obra-colectiva-Chants-pour-la-revolution-doctobre-1977.jpgThese lines are from a song. A revolutionary song. A song from a LP my parents loved (both of them 😮 )! The LP was called Canto A La Revolución De Octubre and contained songs of protest and marching songs, composed and sung by Chilean artist such as Victor Jara, Inti-Illimani and Isabel Parra.

There are several songs on this album that I listened to religiously as a kid, even though I clearly didn’t really understand them. I saw how my parents reacted to these songs and they often explained to me what they were about and what the historical context was.

Heaven.jpgThe song Ayúdame Valentina is an emotional plea to someone who has flown far away, to bring us some of her wisdom from the heavens above. I knew that critical thinkers, writers and singers did not befall pleasant fates under Pinochet, so I assumed Valentina must have been one of the victims of this cruel regime.

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I decided to look up if I could find out who Valentina was, and it turned the whole song upside down for me! Not only was Valentina still very much alive when the song was written, she has outlived most of the singers on the album and is with us until this very day!

Who is this wise woman that Isabel Parra calls upon, then?

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. 

I don’t know about you, but I had never heard about this woman…

Even though I grew up with her name ringing in my ears, I had never realized what a badass woman I had been serenading.

So… when Isabel Parra asks Valentina for help, she is not calling upon some spiritual force to come give her courage and reassurance, as I imagined. She doesn’t expect support from the heavens above; she is asking a woman who has flown to space and back to affirm that there is no such thing as heaven at all. Isabel asks a female powerhouse to come back her up in her attempt to debunk the threats and lies of the religious zealots she sees around her.

Finding out about the true meaning of this song made me look into the lives of those who wrote and sung them. I read about Violeta Parra, Isabel’s mother, who actually wrote this song and sung it herself with more verses than the version included above, which is the one I grew up listening to.

Violeta, who wrote on of my all time favorite songs Gracias a la Vida (I give thanks to life) ironically took her own life about a year after it was released. I guess Valentina didn’t answer her question about heaven and in the end, Violeta couldn’t wait any longer to find out for herself…