Posted in music

My lifelong nightmare in music.

At some point, my grandfather was involved in a Mason Williams benefit concert to save the Willamette River from damming.  This portion of the Willamette ran right through where my grandpa lived, and my grandpa was very musical, so it makes sense he would’ve been involved.  The upshot being that we had a bazillion records of Of Time And Rivers Flowing (a product from the benefit) kicking around our house, and listened to them a lot.

Anyway, the following song was probably the worst nightmare I could think of.  I was fascinated by it and horrified by it and felt every part of it as if it was happening to me every time I heard it.  Living without water is a terrible thing.  Think about that when you hear of water shortages, water crises, people with no access to water, people sabotaging the water supplies of would-be immigrants, take this song to heart.  I did, I always have, I always will, even when I was a little fuzzy on who Dan was (a pack mule, although I’ve heard some people say he could be a horse as well, but definitely originally a mule).

Lyrics:

All day I’ve faced a barren waste
Without the taste of water
Cool water
Dan and I with throats burnt dry
And souls that cry for water
Cool clear water

Keep a-movin’ Dan
Don’t you listen to him Dan
He’s the devil not a man
And he spreads the burnin’ sands with water
Dan can’t you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waiting there for you and me?

The nights are cool and I’m a fool
Each star’s a pool of water
Cool water
With the dawn I’ll wake and yawn
And carry on to water
Cool clear water

Keep a-movin’ Dan
Don’t you listen to him Dan
He’s the devil not a man
And he spreads the burnin’ sands with water
Dan can’t you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waiting there for you and me?

Dan’s feet are sore
He’s yearnin’ for
Just one thing more than water
Cool water
Like me I guess he’d like to rest
Where there’s no quest for water
Cool clear water

Keep a-movin’ Dan
Don’t you listen to him Dan
He’s the devil not a man
And he spreads the burnin’ sands with water
Dan can’t you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waiting there for you and me?

Cool clear water

A mirage on the Mojave Desert, looking like water in the distance.
If you’ve never seen one, this is what a mirage can look like. That line about the devil spreading the sands with water is not really a metaphor. It actualy looks like water. Mirages are another thing that scared the crap out of me as a kid.  Water that isn’t water…

Also, always respect your environment if you’re headed somewhere like a desert because you just want to see its beauty or whatever other reason.  If you’re going somewhere without easy access to fresh drinking water, understand what that means.  Respect that you could die even if you know what you’re doing.  That should go without saying, but so many people enter harsh physical environments unprepared and don’t understand what that means.  If you don’t go in thinking you could die even if you’re prepared, you’re a fool many times over.  “Nature” won’t automatically provide and save you, “nature” may chew you up and spit you out dead.  Always respect the power of where you are, always respect your smallness in the world, always respect your fragility against the elements, always respect that if you get into trouble in such an environment other people may die trying to save you or locate your body (and still may not succeed).  Understand your responsibilities, understand danger, have some frigging respect, don’t undertake such things lightly.

More about the concert and the album:

“Of Time and Rivers Flowing” was a concert I put together during the summer of 1982. The concept was to present, in chronological order, songs about rivers and water that have been popular throughout history. The intention was to show our long-standing relationship with rivers –that they run not only through the land, but through our hearts and minds as well.

The idea of an entire program based upon rivers and water came about in this manner. In May of 1982, the Springfield Utility Board announced plans to put five hydroelectric dams on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, one of the most beautiful, wild, free-flowing streams left in the country, and also my favorite trout stream.

I went with several other citizens from Oakridge to a public forum held in the high school auditorium to discuss the matter. Everyone was adamantly against the idea of the dams. Feelings ran high.

However, one group at the meeting, the McKenzie Flyfishers, a small club of flyfishing enthusiasts from Eugene, Oregon, was organized with facts and figures about the negative effects this project would have on the river should it come to pass.

After the meeting, in spite of the fact that all felt they had done their best to speak on the river’s behalf, for me the idea persisted that if only somehow the river itself could have been at the meeting to speak for and defend itself at its own “trial,” so to speak, it would have made the most eloquent statement of all.

Music and water have much in common; rivers are like music and music is like a river. They speak well of one another. Both flow through time, purifying themselves as they go, nourishing life along the way.

Then it dawned on me that the river could have a voice, in the form of the songs and music it has inspired over the years. Music could bring the river to the meeting! I began searching for songs about rivers and water and managed to collect more than 400.

One of the people I met through the McKenzie Flyfishers was Jim Williams. An avid flyfisherman,he not only lives right on the McKenzie with a drift boat ramp in his backyard, he is a past president of the McKenzie Flyfishers and of Oregon Trout as well. He and his wife, Bonnie, became and continue to be my greatest allies and supporters.

In March of 1983, the McKenzie Flyfishers and I joined forces to present three benefit performances at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. We sold out all three shows and the Flyfishers used the money earned to successfully lobby a bill through the Oregon State Legislature. On July 6, 1983, the governor signed a bill formally adding the North Fork and its headwaters, Waldo Lake (the purest lake in the world!), to Oregon’s system of protected State Scenic Waterways.

Only two percent of the rivers in America are still wild, free-flowing streams. Federal laws set up to encourage energy development have not adequately addressed the numerous other benefits rivers can and do provide. In the ever-increasingly industrialized world in which we live, the natural river becomes a rare gem impossible to value, possessing an intrinsic reality unrelated to economic profit.

Today the “Of Time & Rivers Flowing” concert has continued to evolve in content. A reflection of “the river” metaphorically through time, it is a chronological river of musical history spanning almost 400 years.

The songs tell the story of our long relationship with rivers. Rivers have been the routes of exploration, the boundaries of territories, the highways of commerce, and they have sustained us with water, food, recreation, beauty and inspiration. We sing of it, and in doing so, reflect ourselves. Some of the more recent songs, unfortunately, speak of the degradation the rivers have experienced in modern times.

The concert serves to draw attention to the universal experience that is the river. Of Time & Rivers Flowing makes the audience aware of the potential of our collective personality. By giving the river a voice – a chance to speak to us through the music it has inspired – it can remind us of what we mean to each other.

– Mason Williams
May, 1996

I grew up going to Oakridge (loads of family lived there) all the time, I (sort of) learned to skip rocks in its streams, and went swimming in Waldo Lake and all these places they talk about, so I know this river and the water and terrain around it intimately.  Water mismanagement is rampant in the American West and even the parts that have not been hit hard yet will feel the effects before long.  My father, like many Okies of his generation, is from the two counties at the epicenter of the California water crisis — this is personal as well as everything else it is.  But Tulare and Kern counties are only the beginning for California and elsewhere.  If you don’t pay attention, you won’t know what hit you.  Listen to the song and think about what it means to be without water.  Whenever you hear of water shortages, of people being made to live without water or safe water, of water and waterways and water sources being taken away or polluted or misused, anything, understand what no water means.  Really understand it.

Author:

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

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