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"This song hangs on a simple, beautiful melody and builds from a quiet, introspective intensity, via a Peter Gabriel-esque groove, to a choral climax that turns the song's first-person narrative into something universal." -- J. Robbins
Reston, Virginia, Schipol Amsterdam and a trans Atlantic flight, 2010.
“My Father's Garden” is a secular gospel song. It’s built on a simple piano melody and polyrhythms made from beating the side of my piano at home, plus clave, triangle and a talking drum (a West African instrument that changes pitch with pressure).
My father was a career economist and Foreign Service officer for the US Department of State. When he retired, he planted a garden and still tends it daily. This song is a surrealist dream situated in that garden that came after an exhausting trip and a sad breakup. The garden, of course, is a metaphor for religion. The second verse contemplates physics and the unity of nature and God.
To demo a rhythm track for this song, I recorded myself slapping the piano like it was some sort of drum. We liked it so much that we kept it and built a Peter Gabriel-style rhythm section from there. (We were riffing a bit on “Mercy Street.”) If you listen close in the choruses, you’ll hear me doubling my own vocal an octave down, to blow up the sound. There are many little touches like that I enjoy on this record. In the final verse, deep in the track, is my father humming along in his garden.
I've heard some wonderful interpretations from listeners as to what I mean by my lost lover's “husbands.” Ellen Kittredge, who plays the French horn in this song, offered my favorite version. She imagines herself walking in a park with her future husband holding one hand, and her first husband Matt, who passed away from cancer several years ago, holding the other. What a lovely thought.
I've no ambition when I come back from afar
I only want to sleep and hold you in my arms
And sink into my father's garden
And sleep 'til everything's forgotten.
You're deeply in your books, carrying your charge
Captive & captivated by Russian writers' yarns.
And I will sink into my father's garden
And sink 'til everything's forgotten.
It's far too late, far too late -- for God and all his charms.
It's far too late, far too late -- to hold you in these arms.
Entropy's arrow we follow fast
Everyone integrated in elegant math.
And everything plays to a plan
When I'm quiet I can almost understand.
It's far too late -- sinking in, sinking in
[For God and all his charms]
And everything is what we made
And cannot make again.
You will walk with your husbands in the park
The Russian writers tucked under your arm.
And I'll sink in the garden in contempt and contemplation
Sink in the garden in some dire meditation
Sink in my father's garden gone
With God and all his charms.