Music series (1) - Iron & Wine

I said I would do a series on music that I love/loved. This is the first entry in the series.

I’m not a huge fan of Iron & Wine anymore, but I was really into their music for a time; perhaps because most of Sam Beam’s songs have this twinge of sadness to them, even when they are meant to convey happy moments in our lives. I still like Sam’s music, but other genres dominate at the moment.

The most likely answer for why I liked Sam’s work so much growing up is that his early work is so delicate and saddening it’s painful to listen to, and that’s what my life amounted to at the time, pain. I was in dire straits and listening to music that made me feel what I needed to feel was how I coped.

As a child I never really listened to the lyrics, until I hit my “rap phase”. I would go by how songs made me feel. In my teens I had a rap phase, a metal phase, and a folk phase. If memory serves the folk phase came first, then rap, then metal. Not one of them felt “right” to me, but they all shaped me in different ways.

Sam Beam, the lead singer of the Iron & Wine group, always made me feel sad, and sadness is what I felt in my bones all day, every day. Listening to his songs felt like the equivalent of a tuning fork finding that acoustic sweet spot. His songs hurt in all the right places without knowing why.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

I was an active contributor to an online music forum. I was among the youngest at 13-14 when I first joined, with some contributors being adults in their late 20’s. We talked a lot about music, life in general, but mostly music. I couldn’t contribute much at that age, but I enjoyed being part of the conversation.

We shared records we liked. That’s how I got introduced to Iron & Wine. I went to support them years later (18-20) and bought their records on vinyl. The first song I’d like to share is “Faded from the Winter” from The Creek Drank the Cradle released in 2002.

Daddy’s ghost behind you Sleeping dog beside you You’re a poem of mystery You’re the prayer inside me

Spoken words like moonlight You’re the voice that I like

Needlework & seedlings In the way you’re walking To me from the timbers Faded from the winter

You can listen to it on Spotify or YouTube.

Listening to it with today’s ears I’m blown away by the middle verse, Spoken words like moonlight, You’re the voice that I like. In my teens (17-19) I was in love with a girl called Kristina whose voice made my heart sing. I don’t specifically recall liking the song for that reason, but I wouldn’t put it past me either.

In my younger years it was his delicate delivery that drew me in. He sang the way I felt at the time. No matter what I did or how I happy I was in the moment, I felt like I was draped in a wet blanket of sadness and despair. The lyrics didn’t matter to me. What mattered most was how the song made me feel.

Next song is “Upward over the Mountain” , another favorite from The Creek Drank the Cradle. It’s about a boy and his mother. I wonder if I was able to connect the dots at fourteen. Did I like this song because of my own straining relationship with my mother? Doubtful. Sure hits different at age 32.

Mother don’t worry, I killed the last snake that lived in the creek bed
Mother don’t worry, I’ve got some money I saved for the weekend
Mother remember being so stern with that girl who was with me?
Mother remember the blink of an eye when I breathed through your body?

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons are like birds, flying upward over the mountain

Mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison
Mother I lost it, all of the fear of the Lord I was given
Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons could be birds, taken broken up to the mountain

Mother don’t worry, I’ve got a coat and some friends on the corner
Mother don’t worry, she’s got a garden we’re planting together
Mother remember the night that the dog got her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor, fleas on their paws,
And you cried ‘til the morning

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons are like birds, flying always over the mountain

You can listen to it on Spotify or Youtube.

Moving on to Our Endless Numbered Days, an album released in 2004. The first song I’d like to highlight is “Sunset Soon Forgotten”. It’s about cherishing the moment. It has a very distinct acoustic melody that’s lodged inside my mind.

Be this sunset soon forgotten
Your brothers left here shaved and crazy
We’ve learned to hide our bottles in the well
And what’s worth keeping, sun still sinking
Down and down
Once again
Down and down
Gone again

Be this sunset one for keeping
This June bug street sings low and lovely
Those band-aid children
Chased your dog away
She runs, returning, sun still sinking
Down and down
Once again
Down and down
Gone again

If I recall this song added a tinge of relief from the cruelty I was experiencing. It simultaneously conveyed a sense that the pain wouldn’t last and that I could still enjoy the moments in which I was afforded a reprieve from the agony.

Listen to “Sunset Soon Forgotton” on Spotify or Youtube.

Up next is “Fever Dream”.

Some days her shape in the doorway
Will speak to me
A bird’s wing on the window
Sometimes I’ll hear when she’s sleeping
Her fever dream
A language on her face

“I want your flowers like babies want God’s love
Or maybe as sure as tomorrow will come”

Some days, like rain on the doorstep
She’ll cover me
With grace in all she offers
Sometimes I’d like just to ask her
What honest words
She can’t afford to say, like

“I want your flowers like babies want God’s love
Or maybe as sure as tomorrow will come”

Again, if memory serves, this song hurt like nothing else did in my late teens, possibly early twenties. I was going through heartbreak and this song reminded me of the fact that you’ll never really know someone, prompting me to deep dive into philosophy with questions like “can I be sure other people experience the world the way I do?” with dire consequences. It was a dark time.

You can listen to “Fever Dream” on Spotify or YouTube.

Let’s move on to “Passing Afternoon”, the closing song on Our Endless Numbered Days.

There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

There are sailing ships that pass all our bodies in the grass
Springtime calls her children until she let’s them go at last
And she’s chosen where to be, though she’s lost her wedding ring
Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds

There are things we can’t recall, Blind as night that finds us all
Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls
But my hands remember hers, rolling around the shaded ferns
Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I’d never learned

There are names across the sea, only now I do believe
Sometimes, with the window closed, she’ll sit and think of me
But she’ll mend his tattered clothes and they’ll kiss as if they know
A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone

He takes you on a journey through the seasons, each highlighting a different aspect of the love he had lost. This song hit like a ton of bricks at the time. I had just been rejected by Kristina and desperately needed an emotional blood-letting. I cried rivers listening to this song. Thanks, Sam. Truly.

You can listen to “Passing Afternoon” on Spotify and YouTube.

That’s it for today. I’ll be sure to revisit Iron & Wine another time because there’s lots more to discuss.

Created on August 10, 2021
Published on August 10, 2021