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I'm currently working on arranging one of my own songs for assessment. It's an interesting process - lyric writing is very different from prose or poetry - you can not only get away with being quite simple and bold (and even cheesy), but the song form really demands simplicity and boldness. The images need space, and the musical texture needs to be able to share your attention (without fighting for it). Cliché almost seems to have a different threshold in songwriting, you still have to be careful, but writing in the oral tradition seems to allow for broad strokes - often it's all you have time for.


The Howling Ages

 

to the howling ages I was born

with a howling rage

and the devil’s song in my heart

 

raised by wolves

and dusted with blood

reared in the law

of the fang

and the club

and the howling ages

 

I walked

with the ripper

his mind was a blade

I walked

through the fire

my soul is ablaze

I danced

in the flames

till I don’t know my name

 

the wild call

echoes in the wild at heart

the dark love

lingers in my wild heart

the wolf cry

echoes through the ages

 

to the howling ages

I belong

with a howling rage

and a howling song

all my own

 

raised by wolves

and bonded by blood

I’ve mastered the law

of the fang

and the club

and the howling ages

 

I walked

with the ripper

his mind – just a blade

I would not be conquered

and I won't be enslaved

I danced in the flames

and I learned all the names

 

you are not the moon

in a misty sky

you are not the glint

in an evil eye

you are not the raider

upon the sea

you are not the thing

that will finish me

you are not my bane

or my reckoning

you are not the flames

that are beckoning

 

the rain falls

while the wild calls

the rain falls

while the wild calls

 

we can lacerate the sky

we can burn inside a lie

slowly rot here till we die

but there are those who heed the cry

 

to the howling ages

I was born

with a howling rage

and a howling song

 

 

Obligatory copyright notice:  © Talie Helene, 2009. All Rights Reserved



The Howling Ages – Analysis of Symbols

 

The Howling Ages is a song I wrote after attending The Ned Kelly Awards for crime fiction. I’d enjoyed the company of some excellent writers that evening, including the gorgeous Deborah Crabtree and Leigh Redhead, and I was feeling inspired and motivated. (Worst hangover in the history of bad hangovers? Possibly.) I was also reading Jack London’s The Call Of The Wild at the time, underlining passages that I loved, and this song alludes to several Jack London phrases – ‘the howling ages’ and ‘the law of fang and club’. Another influence is my involvement in performing and recording with Wendy Rule, particularly working on a demo of the song The Wolf Sky. It was as though we had conjured some wolf spirits, and when we went in our separate creative directions, some of the spirits accompanied Wendy, but some of those wolves had other ideas, and followed me, harrowing my unconscious until I honoured them with a quite different song of my own.

 

The first draft of the song was improvised at the piano – both words and music, at the same time. Right away I jotted down my first two verse lyrics, and chord progression. The song had a first performance the next day, in rough form, in a TAFE keyboard workshop class. Over several months I tinkered with the structure, worked out a coda section, and tried to layer in symbols and images that worked with the song. I deliberately allude to songs by other artists, and each of these symbols has a broad connotation, as well as a personal (and sometimes private) significance to me.

The title was derived from the following quote, which I simply adore:


"It was an old song, old as the breed itself - one of the first songs of the younger world in a day when songs were sad. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations, this plaint by which Buck was so strangely stirred. When he moaned and sobbed, it was with the pain of living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and the fear any mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and mystery. And that he should be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages."

Jack London (The Call of the Wild)


I was also very taken with this related quote:

"In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks... And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him."
Jack London (The Call of the Wild)

The teacher who took the keyboard workshop class, is a very talented composer called Peter Hurley. He once commented, "All music is a mating cry." To which I immediately added, "Or a war cry." I feel Jack London's phrase encapsulates both, in a primal way that is inescapable. It's this old song that comes before language and the world of words. A very compelling idea.

My reference to ‘the ripper’ represents all misogynist masculine violence, as well as specifically referring to my very disharmonious stint working with Hobbs’ Angel of Death; that was a strange time in my life, and I felt both thrilled to be getting some experience working with figures from the past of Australian metal, but also kind of disturbed and weirded-out to be playing songs that I had recognized as very misogynistic when I first heard them as a kid. The self-defeating politics at work in that band – duplicity, a mind like a blade – is another symbolic meaning of ‘walking with the ripper’. The other meaning is a personal one, about surviving a violent domestic relationship, where my life was threatened and my daily existence was under constant menace. While I lost myself in it for a time, and ‘didn’t know my name’ – through hard introspection, and of course the denial-crushing benefits of writing, I empowered and freed myself by ‘learning all the names’ – that is, to understand the psychological damage of domestic violence, and unflinchingly render it on the page.

 

The ‘devil’s song in my heart’ refers both to metal genre (which was formative for me as a teen) and to the wolf as symbol for the devil in Christian tradition. My rejection of my parent’s Catholic faith, and my exploration of this kind of music, went hand-in-hand.

 

Being ‘raised by wolves’ and ‘dusted with blood’ represents my falling in with some of the roughest and most debased boys in the metal scene  – more formative experience, and something I identified with London’s ‘law of fang and club’. The second verse reference to ‘bonded by blood’ is another musical allusion, and represents the similar (but different) experience of a fellow writer and veteran of the extreme metal world, a lady who is one of my heroes.

 

The ‘wild call’ refers literally to music, to Jack London’s novel, and alludes to Doro Pesch’s album Calling The Wild – meeting Doro was an inspiring moment in my life, her commitment to her creative career is something to behold.

 

The series of ‘you are not’ statements in the coda, each contain an image, and some are symbolic on several levels. The ‘moon in a misty sky’ was possibly influenced by an interview I did with Galder from Dimmu Borgir/Old Man’s Child, where he talked of black metal being originally about silver moons and misty moors, but how it had evolved as a kind of heathen poetry about man and ecology. Of course the moon symbolizes femininity and fertility too. The ‘glint in an evil eye’ symbolizes superstition, and how impotent delusions of grandeur fail to impact on reality. The ‘raiders upon the sea’ symbolizes an Irish concept of external destructive forces, like Viking raiders. ‘The thing that will finish me’ represents all unnamed horrors of the body. We mediate our anxiety through metaphors of monsters and dreadful things; horror tropes are a metaphor for those real-life horrors we struggle to name in civilized society. (And there can be social fall-out if you dare to name "unmentionables" of body or experience in your everyday life - quite the little-bastard-reveal).  The ‘bane’ and the ‘reckoning’ represent a worthy enemy, and a worthy judge. The ‘flames that are beckoning’ could be hellfire, could be an ecological catastrophe so much bigger than the personal concerns of one person, or could be some kind of glorious conflagration.

 

I allude to Slayer’s Reign In Blood album when I write how we could ‘lacerate the sky’ – and set against ‘burn inside a lie’, this could symbolize environmental destruction, or personal destruction. I wonder in retrospect if I was making a criticism of what I perceived as immature narcissism in Peter Hobbs’ statement ‘I love Slayer so much I wanted to kill them’. I'm still processing the weirdness of that band experience, but it seemed to me like a creative process that was focused on other peoples creative processes, instead of being it's own integral animal. We all have influences, but setting out with a rival in mind? That is something I still think is pretty weird, and if that weirdness snuck in as subtext, it makes sense. ‘Slowly rot here till we die’ alludes to the Obituary album Slowly We Rot, which represents all death metal, that culture, that world, and maybe the way the genre seems sometimes stuck repeating itself, no longer avant-garde.

 

These symbols were intuitively layered into the song, rather than through any dry intellectual process – but my understanding of myth and symbol, to create a resonant work, certainly came into play during the writing process.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Oct. 25th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
The Howling Ages
Enjoyed the story behind the lyrics and the structure with which your imagery forged forward.
Kodos to your creative ability to craft lyrics like pictures.
Henry Turkel
taliehelene
Oct. 25th, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
Re: The Howling Ages
Great to hear! Thanks for the feedback, Henry.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 2nd, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC)
howling ages
A fine set of lyrics that seem to call forth their own music, though I'd love to hear how the keyboard howls and the vocals rage against it, war with it or mate with it.

Deft autoanalysis as well.

Ien
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )