Monday, March 22, 2010

The Trapeze Swinger by Iron and Wine

If you ever write a 9 minute song you would hope it would be a good one. There are only a few 9 minute plus songs in my song collection but "The Trapeze Swinger" by Iron and Wine is one that stands out. If you have any familiarity with it you may remember it from the end credit sequence in the moderately memorable movie "In Good Company."

Hypnotically repetitive, I would occasionally put this song on repeat to fall asleep to when I lived alone during my palliative medicine fellowship (and my wife had to be in another city for her fellowship.) At first I took the 'please, remember me' line to be more about my long-distance relationship with my wife, but as I continued to listen to it falling asleep after long days of being surrounded by dying people at the hospice house the meaning clearly evolved.

Since the song is so long go ahead and start listening to it as you read the rest of this post.


Iron and Wine is really a one man band led by Samuel Bean. The simple strong structure repeats through the song with little accents placed on each verse by different instruments or Bean's voice. The back and forth nature of the song structure reminds me of being at the beach watching the waves come crashing in and then slowly recede.

The intro begins with soft wind chimes and what sounds like sea shells or a rain stick followed by the basic guitar melody and a chorus of 'oohhh-ohhhhhs.' As the song advances we hear a ton of different instruments: slide guitar, bass guitar, wood blocks, tom toms, percussive metal, an organ played in reverse, tympani drums, upright bass (around 4:53 - my favorite part!), a song played in reverse, piano, and finally a toy whistle. All of these instruments begin to layer into an increasingly complex sound. I can't imagine being the sound mixer on this song!

The lyrics obviously focus on a theme of rememberence and like the instrumentation the repetitive nature allows for different takes on the same theme. here are the first lines of all the verses laid together.

Please, remember me happily
But please, remember me fondly
And please, remember me that Halloween
So please, remember me mistakenly
And please, remember me as in the dream
But please, remember me, my misery
And please, remember me seldomly
So please, remember me finally
The perspective of the dying person wanting to instruct those still alive on how to keep the memory (and the legacy) alive is commonly seen in hospice and palliative care. How we as friends, family or staff enhance or suppress this legacy building is not often talked about as openly as this song manages. How would caring for a person who is dying be different if we spent some time with them asking how they would like to be remembered?

There are many religious references in the song, but each of them comes with a little bit of the singer's reality. Imagining the heaven with obscene graffiti, or rushed angels who want to get all the new souls through the door place an potentially unknowable realm in earthly terms.

Overall, Bean gives us a bit of poetry mixed with american folk and indie pop that allows you to discover a little something new with each listen. Please share any lines in this song stand out the most to you.

Lyrics by Iron and Wine (aka Samuel Bean) 2004

Please, remember me happily
By the rosebush laughing
With bruises on my chin, the time when
We counted every black car passing
Your house beneath the hill
And up until someone caught us in the kitchen
With maps, a mountain range, a piggy bank
A vision too removed to mention

But please, remember me fondly
I heard from someone you're still pretty
And then they went on to say
That the pearly gates
Had some eloquent graffiti
Like "We'll meet again" and "Fuck the man"
And "Tell my mother not to worry"
And angels with their great handshakes
Were always done in such a hurry

And please, remember me that Halloween
Making fools of all the neighbors
Our faces painted white
By midnight, we'd forgotten one another
And when the morning came I was ashamed
Only now it seems so silly
That season left the world and then returned
And now you're lit up by the city

So please, remember me mistakenly
In the window of the tallest tower
Calling passers-by but much too high
To see the empty road at happy hour
Gleam and resonate, just like the gates
Around the holy kingdom
With words like "Lost and found" and "Don't look down"
And "Someone save temptation"

And please, remember me as in the dream
We had as rug-burned babies
Among the fallen trees and fast asleep
Aside the lions and the ladies
That called you what you like and even might
Give a gift for your behavior
A fleeting chance to see a trapeze
Swinger high as any savior

But please, remember me, my misery
And how it lost me all I wanted
Those dogs that love the rain and chasing trains
The colored birds above their running
In circles around the well and where it spells
On the wall behind St. Peter
So bright, on cinder gray, in spray paint
"Who the hell can see forever?"

And please, remember me seldomly
In the car behind the carnival
My hand between your knees, you turned from me
And said, "The trapeze act was wonderful
But never meant to last", the clown that passed
Saw me just come up with anger
When it filled with circus dogs, the parking lot
Had an element of danger

So please, remember me finally
And all my uphill clawing
My dear, but if I make the pearly gates
I'll do my best to make a drawing
Of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl
An angel kissing on a sinner
A monkey and a man, a marching band
All around a frightened trapeze swinger

12 Responses to “The Trapeze Swinger by Iron and Wine”

Earl Q said...
March 23, 2010 at 8:18 PM

Listened to the song last night and it triggered many thoughts and ideas.

I'm always looking for different ways to teach during IDT - white board and pens (my favorite), video clips, role plays, and *guest" team members. Today I tried music.

It came up like this...

We were going through mundane plan of care stuff. I was trying to get the nurses to say something besides, "symptoms managed, monitoring safety, no changes..etc...".

Thankfully "what do patients really want" topic came up. The first thing that was mentioned was "to live", then things such as: denial, closure, control, comfort etc...

Last night when listening to The Trapeze Swinger, I thought about my friend who is dying...he talked about what he read on tombstones.

When I asked the team what is written on tombstones, up came "beloved wife", "loved", "remembered"

*CUE IN COOL INDIE MUSIC AT THIS TIME*

Started playing "The Trapeze Swinger" from my lap top. It was like a Zach Braff movie when the camera zooms out and he is talking to the team but there is a monologue in his head.

The song lead to discussion about remembering good and bad. Discussion went to remembering the mistakes and addressing suffering with brutal honesty. It lead to discussion of strength that comes through the whole, including suffering. It lead to "what is meaning" which lead to "love and be loved". We concluded that our actions as care providers should catalyze meaning, catalyze love (though that's not what is written on POC).

Music set up an environment where the team could move from the mundane to the present. In the present, it allowed a safe place, a structure for emotion.

"The Trapeze Swinger" provided the perfect segue to discuss bereavement.

As all good comedies go, as I was transitioning, I heard the screech off the record as flow came to an abrupt halt I was reminded that the nurses weren't done reporting.

Back to the mundane but music certainly added life.
@equijada


Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, DCC said...
March 24, 2010 at 8:32 AM

Beautiful and moving, gentlemen. Thank you both . . .


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
March 24, 2010 at 10:11 PM

Best comment ever Earl. And I have read a lot of comments. Thanks so much for posting here.


misshum22 said...
July 11, 2010 at 6:46 AM

Have you heard the live version on his album "Norfolk"? Reduces me to a weeping mess. Also, another touching song in this vein, also by Iron & Wine, is the song "Each Coming Night."

(I stumbled on your blog looking for an audio clip, btw.)


Christian Sinclair, MD said...
July 13, 2010 at 8:12 PM

Just found the live version on You Tube. (embeded below http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU_12ZKLZck ) Listening to it now. Will look up the other one too! Thanks for commenting misshum22 and for telling how you found us. Aren't blogs grand for connecting people and ideas?

(Sorry for the delay in moderation)


Emily said...
July 20, 2010 at 11:28 AM

Iron&Wine is is one of my favorite artists of this time - maybe even my very favorite. His songs seem to be very related to concepts of death and dying, or at least related to discussing how to live a life in the face or shadow of death. Even if it isn't an immediately impending death, just the death that we all know is out there, somewhere, waiting for us.
Mu husband and I listen to these albums over and over on road trips, and for anyone wanting to inspire some deep conversations with your spouse, significant other, children, parents, friends, well, nothing does it quite like time in a car, alone with Iron&Wine to get one going.


Emily said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Iron&Wine is is one of my favorite artists of this time - maybe even my very favorite. His songs seem to be very related to concepts of death and dying, or at least related to discussing how to live a life in the face or shadow of death. Even if it isn't an immediately impending death, just the death that we all know is out there, somewhere, waiting for us.
Mu husband and I listen to these albums over and over on road trips, and for anyone wanting to inspire some deep conversations with your spouse, significant other, children, parents, friends, well, nothing does it quite like time in a car, alone with Iron&Wine to get one going.


misshum22 said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Have you heard the live version on his album "Norfolk"? Reduces me to a weeping mess. Also, another touching song in this vein, also by Iron & Wine, is the song "Each Coming Night."

(I stumbled on your blog looking for an audio clip, btw.)


Inspired said...
November 9, 2011 at 3:16 PM

I find new meaning in this song every time I listen to it, but I think the song may be a sort of suicide note to this friend of his, who was there with him through his trapeze-like highs and lows. He discusses making it into heaven as a possibility, and obviously everyone here is struck by his wanting to be remembered so vividly, and him wanting so much control over how he is remembered. I think the image that struck this interpretation in me upon listening again recently was his standing upon the tallest tower calling out to passersby, people who are presumably absorbed in their own lives, and him not even realizing that the street below was empty - there was no one there to listen to him. There WAS, however, more of this graffiti, the kind of graffiti that is reassuring to those worrying but is also a bit regretful. "Tell my mother not to worry," "lost and found," "someone save temptation," etc. I was also struck by his uphill clawing, which was either in life, or uphill clawing to the pearly gates. I think what I'm getting at is he wants to be remembered for the extremely high highs and the lowest lows as well, and especially the point when he realized that the trapeze act wasn't meant to last, and there would be no more swinging taking their lives, and they pray that someone will have mercy, because "who the hell can see forever" when life is nothing but uphill clawing anymore? 

This definitely speaks more to the idea of palliative care, and of people dying and finding resolution. There are few moments of clarity that we receive during life, when nothing will slow down when you want it to, but at the end of life, I'd like to think that we all had this much control, and this much clarity to know how we wanted memories of ourselves to live on...the clarity to know what mattered in life, what was transformative in our experiences, and what really didn't matter at all.


Franco, Diane said...
April 15, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Thhis is the song the man earlier was looking for.  he said Everyone told him it was Over the Rainbow, but that wasnt it, I think it might be this one?>  Its worth a try....Diane


Franco, Diane said...
April 15, 2012 at 6:27 PM

 Do you remember what Movies this came after, ending soundtrack in other words.  I know there was one totally blew me away, it was a faster verson...cant remember the movie.  This song just speaks to me for some reason...love it when a song does that.....diane


Kim Ginther said...
May 24, 2015 at 9:02 PM

If you haven't already listened to Gregory Alan Isakov's performance of this song in his Chapel sessions you are missing out.

For me personally, it reminds me of first husband. We grew up together, got married and grew apart. As our marriage fell apart so did his mental state. It ended in him killing our 4 year-old and then killing himself. I have forgiven him, but at times I don't forgive myself for my part in our ruined marriage.

Perhaps eventually forgiveness finds us when we aren't looking for it.