The Heartbeat in Everything

“And then the birds came
They took my dad away
It was so quiet
The world just came alive”
-Carrie Elkin,   “And Then The Birds Came”
From The Penny Collector (2017)

That’s exactly how it happened, back in 2008. The moment – the very moment – that the preacher shoveled the last shovel of dirt over my dad’s burial plot, a great flock of geese, winging their way south for the winter flew directly over our heads, right over Dad’s gravesite. Not high in the air in the distant horizon, but low, really low, skirting the cemetery treetops, as if to pick him up and wing him home to the south where he was born.

And in that moment, so quiet just seconds before, my world came back alive, the thin veil between life and death lifted, and I sensed, through my sorrow, the sun  coming up somewhere, a baby being born, a seed being planted, another sprouting, and that I was, along with my mom, my brother, my sister, my wife, my daughter, the Homeward Bound Spirit of my dad, the trees, the geese, and each blade of grass at our feet deeply connected in the beautiful, fragile, sacred dance of Creation. I knew, as Carrie sings in “New Mexico,” another song from her luminous new masterpiece, The Penny Collector, “I could hear the heartbeat of everything around me.”

Carrie wasn’t writing about my dad of course. She was writing about hers, Richard Elkin, who died about a year and half ago, six months before she and her husband Danny Schmidt welcomed their new baby daughter Maizy into the world. As she wrote before her hometown CD release show in Austin Texas last month,”I wrote most of the songs on this record soon after my dad died, and right when I found out I was pregnant. At this intersection of joy and grief, I locked myself in a cabin in the mountains of New Mexico and wrote these tunes. The coming together of these emotions brought about a visual landscape in the songs that I would not have otherwise been able to write about. It was one of the most beautiful and telling times of my life…I almost feel like I had nothing to do with writing these songs. It’s as if the songs wrote me as opposed to me writing them.”

In fact, the one song on The Penny Collector that Carrie did not write happens to be my favorite Paul Simon song,”American Tune,” which Simon himself adapted from Johan Sebastian Bach’s great masterpiece, St. Matthew’s Passion — which, it turns out, Bach adapted from a medieval love song. Whether you celebrate Easter or not, the universal message that despite our human frailties, and inescapable pain and suffering along the way, love never dies.

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I’ll leave you with this video from Danny and Carrie singing Danny’s “Company of Friends.”