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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Leon Russell, Shakespeare View Images On a Stage

"I've been so many places
In my life and time
I've sung a lot of songs
I've made some bad rhyme
I've acted out my love in stages
With ten thousand people watching
But we're alone now and
I'm singing this song for you

"I know your image of me
Is what I hope to be
I've treated you unkindly
But honey can't you see
There's no one more important to me
Darlin' can't you please see through me
Cause we're alone now and
I'm singing this song for yo"

"A Song For You"  Leon Russell

These lines are from one of my favorite songs. It is a composition that never fails to capture my emotions and to remind me of my own life. I consider some songs "magical" in their ability to eclipse notes and words. "A Song For You" is one of those magical songs. It was written and first recorded by Leon Russell for his first solo album Leon Russell, released in 1970 on Shelter Records. A slow, pained plea for forgiveness and understanding from an estranged lover, the tune is one of Russell's best-known compositions.

Andy Williams was one of the first artists to bring wide attention to the song. His version peaked at #29 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and #82 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. Elton John called the song "an American classic."

Russell, now 72, is one of rock music’s legendary figures. As a session musician in Los Angeles during the '60s, he was a member of the so-called Wrecking Crew, playing on hits produced by Phil Spector, the Beach Boys and others, before recording his own albums and composing other great songs such as "Delta Lady," "Superstar," "This Masquerade," and "Lady Blue."

Personalizing "A Song For You"

"A Song For You" has been performed and recorded by an array of artists, spanning many musical genres. Just consider the partial list of those who covered the song: Ray Charles, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Whitney Houston, Willie Nelson, Cher, Nancy Wilson, the Carpenters, Peggy Lee, Mavis Staples, Dusty Springfield, Herbie Hancock, Donna Summer, Amy Winehouse, Bon Iver, and Michael Buble.

I have heard many of the renditions mentioned above. But, I prefer to hear Leon Russell sing his own song his own way. To me, Leon's arrangement and voice perfectly evoke a worried soul speaking bare truths. The song presents a universal theme with its simple language set to a haunting melody, creating feelings that linger long after its last note -- it is a brief, emotional confession embodying longing, sorrow,  regret, and a slice of hope. 

To me, the verse of  "A Song For You" above is reason enough for its wide appeal. Who doesn't wish their persona portrayed an accurate image? I do seem to "act" out my life in stages, and I certainly regret the "bad lines" of my various performances. Others judge this marred reflection of my true intentions.

I think Shakespeare had it right in his work As You Like It. Perhaps, Leon had the melancholy character Jaques in mind when he wrote this song. Here are the famous lines from Act II Scene VII:

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages..."

Shakespeare continues the monologue by explaining the "seven ages" of man including "mewling and puking" infancy through "loving" adult to "severe-eyed" senior and, finally, full circle back to second childhood and "mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." 

You see, I wish that the people I love most could "see through" all the costumes and trappings of my existence and employ the transparency to reveal a pleasing reality. Yet, how can I really know myself by merely using my own perceptions based on personal reflections about feedback from others. At best, my words and actions project a fraction of my soul. My exterior conceals what I most want to be and do, to live and love.

Isn't it enough to question myself -- my truths, my mistakes, my image, and my love? What does Leon Russell want me to face and discover if I'm occupying all these various roles in my life? The lyrics continue ...

"You taught me precious secrets
Of the truth withholding nothing
You came out in front when I was hiding
But now I'm so much better
And if my words don't come together
Listen to the melody
Cause my love is in there hiding"

Although worth hearing, the "melody" of my various performances on the stage of life represents my best attempt to reveal what must forever lay hidden. The inflections and refrains of what I do and say cannot project anything but a role I perform in life -- the role of a husband, a father, a co-worker, a friend, a lover, on and on. Time changes my performances and my credentials in the eyes of those looking on.

The only constants of my character are my soul and the love it produces that lie somewhere unknown beneath all of this thick skin.

And with this, I understand the dilemma of living. What human being is willing to mine the soul of another to discover the golden vein of precious "love" so unique to one heart? First of all, the road that leads to this discovery is full of peril. To travel it would involve tremendous risk. And second, it is impossible to explain the procedure for finding this love because the map cannot be expressed in words, in writing, or by any other intellectual means. Where is it? To quote Russell, "my love is in there hiding."

Even if my love could be mapped, the very act of explaining how someone could find it would destroy all true intentions of the emotion. I believe we can only search for something so ethereal, so rare, and so divine when we desire to sacrifice all. Even then, we can never actually "find" all of something elusive evolving in constant progress. The boundaries of human existence eventually thwart us. At best, we think we know another.

"I love you in a place
Where there's no space or time
I love you for my life
You are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and
I was singing this song for you"

Where is the love? That singular fingerprint of affection that resides in each of us?  Does Russell mean it is in the eternal soul? When he sings, "I love you in a place where there's no space or time," I find consolation for portraying all of the many bad characters in my earthly existence. I think we intend to love each other the best we can during our little theatrical on the planet.

Alone, with a special lover, we push for a rare understanding that supplies comfort and hope. Still, the joy is the journey, and the love we seek transcends the understanding of our minds and the feelings of the flesh.

"We were alone and
I was singing this song for you"

So, I want to be "me," and I want to love "you," but we do our best when we just "sing the song." I hope everyone I was alone with and sang this song to does remember -- be it fumbling for love or practicing love. I can never perfect my love. God knows I've messed up many parts and played a few scenes without thinking.

There is one role that I hope some have caught a glimpse of -- my honest self. If I had to find words to explain that role to you, I just might copy the lyrics of  "A Song For You," and have you listen while Leon sings his song. Go ahead and click on the performances below.

YouTube: Leon Russell "A Song For You"

Ray Charles' version

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