Christmas Eve in Tokyo

One of my favorite singer/songwriters of current times is Richard Shindell. I first ran across him thanks to my brother Thane, who has turned me on to more new music than anyone else in my life, bar none. The first Shindell tune I remember hearing was a song of love gone wrong called “Are You Happy Now?”, from his 1992 CD “Sparrow’s Point”. It began “You took the toaster when you went, you didn’t pay your half the rent…”; he went on to lament that he was left sitting in the dark on Halloween night, afraid to answer the door, because the love of his life had even taken the trick-or-treat candy from their communal stash.

It was his next CD, 1994’s “Blue Divide”, that simply bowled me over with its lyrics, though. One song, entitled “Mary Magdalene” is exceptionally unusual, in that a man (Shindell) sings the part of a woman (Mary Magdalene) in the first person:

“My name is Mary Magdalene, I come from Palestine

Please excuse these rags I’m in, I’ve fallen on hard times

Long ago, I had my work, when I was in my prime

But I gave it up, and all for love, it was his career or mine…”

I had been trying to write a Christmas song for some time, but I kept getting hung up on the perspective. As a decided fence-sitter where religion is concerned, I am nonetheless moved sometimes by the tenderness and hope that characterize the Christmas story. Richard Shindell helped me realize that I needn’t be bound by the convention of writing a song just from my own perspective; if I wanted to write it from a woman’s perspective, and even sing it that way, there was no hard-and-fast rule in place to stop me from doing just that. And so, out of that epiphany, arose “Mary’s Song”, a first person narrative of a young woman a bit overwhelmed by the cold, the Holy Spirit, and a role in history that she had never bargained for:

Bethlehem in late December, overhead one star shines bright

It’s so drafty in this stable, no room at the inn tonight

I am Mary, wife of Joseph, the child I carry is not his

I have no wish to bear this burden, but I must accept what is…

 

Chorus:

The Holy Ghost slipped in my bedroom window, and touched me like no mortal man could do,

Though with human eyes I cannot see him, I have faith that faith will see me through; I have faith that faith will see me through

 

Three wise men from far off Persia, brought their finest offerings

Why could they have not brought blankets, food and drink and useful things?

In this bed of hay and straw, on my breast the baby lies

A halo of illumination, I think he has his Father’s eyes

 

Chorus:

The Holy Ghost slipped in my bedroom window, and touched me like no mortal man could do,

Though with human eyes I cannot see him, I have faith that faith will see me through; I have faith that faith will see me through

 

Bethlehem in late December, overhead one star shines bright

Lights the road for weary pilgrims, on this cold and holy night

May the giving spirit of the holidays infuse you, no matter your religion or lack thereof. Merry Christmas!

Mary’s Song; copyright 2000, Bruce Tierney; PS, if by some odd chance you are dying to hear Mary’s Song complete with music, I may be able to email you a copy. I am still unpacking, but I am pretty sure that I have a CD of it somewhere in my apartment.

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One Response to Christmas Eve in Tokyo

  1. Trisha says:

    Have you heard the version he recorded with Lucy Kaplansky & Dar Williams on the album Cry Cry Cry? Fantastic. thanks for reminding me about this wonderful song.

    Merry Christmas Bruce!

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