So Long Ago

Well, hello there, how have you been doing?!

I’ve really been enjoying summer, and hope you have, too (and I’m not ready for it to be over!). It is so good to be back to sharing music and stories with you after taking an extended summer break from My Song of the Day for Today.

Taking a two-month pause from blogging was a real gift to my soul. I enjoy the practice of sharing my love of music with you, though I also wanted to be deliberate about spending as much time out in nature, cycling, and with loved ones, instead of sitting in front of the computer. Summers here in Manitoba, Canada are short, and the cold winters are long. 

The hiatus also showed me that writing a piece each day can sometimes feel like an obligation, and I want to enjoy the experience of sharing my musical collection and discoveries with you. So from now on, I’ll be posting on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays (“Classical Sundays”). I encourage you to go to my blog feed or index/search pages to check out some of the daily posts I shared beginning in January 2020. I’ve had fun doing these, and have enjoyed looking back on a few myself. There is so much good music in the world, and I want to discover more of it.

But back to the summer for a bit; in August, my sweety and I rented a cottage not far from Lake of the Woods in Ontario. We spent a week there and while the first three days were cool and rainy (including a ferocious storm the first night), we had warm, sunny days for the rest of the week. We relaxed and read on the dock, and I took my road bike out for three tours on the secondary highways, enjoying the extra workout provide by the hilly, undulating terrain. We also canoed almost every evening to see the sun set over the horizon. It was blissful.

Summer vacation, near Lake of the Woods, Ontario, August 2021. Photo by Steve West.

Not all of our family could join us at the lake, and we had to miss a family gathering in the city, but it was a great way to spend seven days and nights after being cooped up or staying near home for the last many months. And, with the rise of the Delta variant of COVID-19, it seems like our hopes for further travel may be on hold again.

Back home, in the week following our vacation, I was sitting with Sweety one evening and browsing some news when I saw an article reporting that one of our favourite musicians, Nanci Griffith, had died on August 13, 2021, and her wish had been that there be no statement or press release until a week after her death. I was shaken by sadness and disbelief at stumbling upon this awful news. 

I vaguely remember in the early years of us listening to Griffith — starting around 1997, and more so after 1998 when we moved together into a condominium complex where we met friends who shared our love for the Seguin, Texas born singer-songwriter — that Griffith had survived cancer in the late 90s, and that her touring schedule had become quite limited, though I did always hold out hope to see her perform live some day. (I wrote more about that in my post on “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”

In “So Long Ago,” Griffith tells a story of unrequited love, or more accurately, the cruel, patriarchal banishment of a romantic relationship. In love with a young man, a young woman is sent off by her father to live away, thus cutting off the relationship. A key recollection in the memory is the kiss the boy blows her at the train station the day she departs from Austin, Texas bound for Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When she returns from school, her love has gone off to war. She later marries someone else to comply with family wishes. When she sees him years later across the room in a crowded bar at Christmastime, she recalls their love, but her once impassioned heart has been diminished by life — “I live my life in whispers now and I choose to live alone” — and she leaves, stepping out into the cold wind.

It’s a poignant, tragic story, and I find it evokes even more emotion now with the still new and too-young death of this amazing, talented woman. Sweety and I have loved and will continue to savour the beautiful music she gifted to the world.

Like all of Griffith’s extensive musical catalogue, “So Long Ago” is beautifully written, sung and played, and features those delightful little vocal surprises she used, like the sudden emphasis on words in two lines, “And you were running from me in the rain down on Congress Avenue” and “So I slipped back to the Avenue and flipped my collar to the cold.” And the pedal steel guitar adds such a beautiful layer to the multi-decade story.

“My daddy sent me off to Baton Rouge in nineteen-sixty-nine
He said our love was like a forest fire and he’d end it with the miles
So you rode with us to Temple, Texas where I did catch the train
I remember waving back at you from a silted window pane

And I said, ‘Fare thee well true love of mine’
And I said, ‘Fare thee well, sweet lips of wine’
And you said, ‘Fare thee well my Texas rose’
And then you blew a kiss of innocence as the train began to roll
So long ago

You’d gone off to fight the war when I returned from school
I traded in my innocence when the springtime came to bloom
I married for my family, one night I dreamed of you
And you were running from me in the rain down on Congress Avenue

And I said, ‘Fare thee well true love of mine’
And I said, ‘Fare thee well, sweet lips of wine’
And you said, ‘Fare thee well my Texas rose’
And then you blew a kiss of innocence as the train began to roll
So long ago

I saw you once in a crowded bar it was Christmas time
I was frightened by the thunder of our hearts in sixty-nine
Because I live my life in whispers now and I choose to live alone
So I slipped back to the avenue, flipped my collar to the cold

And I said, ‘Fare thee well true love of mine’
And I said, ‘Fare thee well, sweet lips of wine’
And you said, ‘Fare thee well my Texas rose’
And then you blew a kiss of innocence as the train began to roll
So long ago

Where did we go?
That long ago?
So long ago”

(“So Long Ago,” by Nanci Griffith. Unofficial lyrics are courtesy of AZLyrics.com, with some corrections by me.)

“So Long Ago” is originally from Griffith’s sixth album Little Love Affairs (1988), which contains several songs later included on the compilation The MCA Years: A Retrospective (1993).

In 2011 Griffith toured briefly with her backing band, The Blue Moon Orchestra (a name likely inspired by her album and song Once in a Very Blue Moon). The following year, the band set up at her home where they recorded her final album, Intersection.

Today’s is the seventh song I’ve posted by Griffith. My previous post on her music featured “Love at the Five and Dime.” (In that June 23, 2021 post, you’ll find links that will take you to the five blog entries before that one.) Since her death, many who love Griffith have landed on a lyric of hers to mark the artist’s passing from this life; quoting her preamble and ending to “Love at the Five and Dime” where she uses a guitar harmonic to represent to sound of the Woolworths store elevator reaching the next floor and sings, “Going up…”

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for coming back and joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio for the song from the Nanci Griffith YouTube topic channel:  

And, I somewhat reluctantly post this unofficial video posting of the song as it is not credited to the artist, but captures a wonderful performance from her Other Voices, Other Rooms VHS videotape. Hopefully Griffith’s estate and management will provide official, credited archives of live performances so unaffiliated individuals do not profit from her magical creations.

2 thoughts on “So Long Ago

  1. Hi Steve, welcome back. I’m glad you had a great summer, looking forward to reading your posts again. I too was saddened by the passing of Nanci Griffith. I first heard her with John Prine on “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” , many years ago. Another great artist gone.

    Liked by 1 person

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