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Thursday, October 27, 2016

SongStories 48: Keep Awake (from Keep Awake, 2001, WLP)

I still find Keep Awake a pleasure to listen to. The songs did not "hit" with the audience, and did not appear in later editions of Voices As One, and as usual I'm at a loss to explain it. It could just be that they are too idiosyncratic, and not traditional enough in either words or music to appeal to churchgoers. They seem to have a life on Rhapsody and Pandora, which is encouraging. I'm particularly proud of "Apocalypse," which was our take on Daniel's vision, sort of expanded into a more general and universal "dream" of new world saved by a community in solidarity, and of the title track, "Keep Awake," another end-time song that ends with a litany I wrote, based on Mt 25, as a kind of homage to Bruce Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams." Great guitar work and an outstanding vocal performance by Gary on that song really give it wings.

Claire and I wrote these songs well over 15 years ago, before she went to college, and long before she had a career as a brilliant and award-winning author and narrator of audio books with a growing portfolio of successes. I'm sure she wishes she had some of these album lyrics back (who doesn't?), but none of  us gets much of a second shot after publication! We knew what we were doing, because we had wanted to write some songs that might arise from the actual hopes and dreams of young people, and there she was, an actual young person, writing the lyrics. I had handed her a set of possible scriptural starting places, and told her to translate them into English.

I've wanted for a very long time to try to write some songs based on apocalyptic literature that opens up their meaning for contemporary people, rather than just putting up more roadblocks to internalizing those hope-filled texts that rise up in times of great distress, as I like to say, sort of like the freedom songs of the slaves in the USA, or like dissident underground newspapers of the French resistance or the eastern European countries of the Cold War. This album had two attempts in which I had filtered my desire to do this kind of thing through Claire's inchoate poetic imagination. The other song, "Apocalypse," about which I have previously written, plays with the idea of "son of man," i.e., the "human being" whom God will send to clean up the mess of injustice in the world, and tries to suggest that the "son of man" not only could be any of us, man or woman, but that we are called together "like a light upon a hill" to be that person. All times are rehearsals for end times. Christ is ever present in the need of victims of violence and injustice, as well as in the compassionate response of Christians to those victims. 

"Keep Awake," on the other hand, is about watching for the signs of the times, about praying for the coming of Christ (Maranatha) while at the same time being aware of the presence Christ has promised would always be among us. "Christ at the margins" of our world, of time and space, is the Christ of the last Sundays of the year and of Advent, when these apocalyptic narratives are generally proclaimed. Maybe, when I get it right some day, the music will resonate with a wider audience!

The above clip is from the first half of the song, a sort of "folk song" section, with a string of scriptural allusions with the interjection "Keep awake!" being a percussive refrain that moves the lyric forward. Below, a second clip is from the second half, the "litany" section. The two choral motifs on the triple "Keep awake" and the "Maranatha, come" texts form an ostinato over which Christ speaks the exhortation to us to love our enemies, come to the help of the desperate, and find him in wakened hearts and acts of service to the broken-hearted and marginalized.

Keep Awake by Claire Cooney & Rory Cooney 

Keep awake!  When the clouds will gather warning of the storm,
Keep awake! Hear the groan beneath the wind.
Keep awake! by river for the river flows to the sea,
Keep awake! as world becomes another Galilee.

Keep awake! See, the sun calls forth the darkness, not the light.
Keep awake! see the shadows on the moon,
Keep awake! under heaven, as the heavens fall to earth,
Keep awake! earth is shaking like a woman giving birth.

(Maranatha! Come, O Lord! Maranatha! Come, O Lord!)

Keep awake! Watch for summer in the greening of the leaves,
Keep awake! Note the tenderness of trees,
Keep awake! I am near you, as the dawn is to the day,
Keep awake! Everything you know is passing away.

Keep awake! Let your hearts be open wider than before,
Keep awake! For the hour comes at last,
Keep awake! None can show you when the ending will begin,
Keep awake! Not the beasts, not the children, not the shining seraphim!

Keep awake, keep awake! Keep awake!
I may enter like a thief in the dark of night,
Like a lover in the morning light.
All the ones you cast aside will become my bride,
All the silent, broken losers, all the prostitutes and boozers,
Maranatha! Come, O Lord!
People of the street, all the foreigners you meet,
In the enemies of your nation I will foil your expectation!
Help me! I am waiting at your door! Help me! I’m a prisoner of war!
Help me! I am hungry, sick and sore!
Look around. I am waiting to be found. 
Look around. I am waiting to be found.

Copyright © 2001 World Library Publications. All rights reserved.

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