Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Songs Written for You

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help
Photo Credit: David July — Blow Up Hollywood featuring Steve Messina with Harvey Jones and Thad Debrock during the sound check on Stage 3 at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City before the premiere show in the 'Blue Sky Blond' album tour, New York, New York: 25 January 2014

Blow Up Hollywood featuring Steve Messina with Harvey Jones and Thad Debrock during the sound check on Stage 3 at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City before the premiere show in the "Blue Sky Blond" album tour.

185 Orchard Street, New York, New York: 25 January 2014


part of the Blow Up Hollywood 2014-01-25 album

Last year while Blow Up Hollywood was raising money to help promote and tour their new Blue Sky Blond album, band leader Steve Messina posted an essay regarding one of the new songs.

"The story behind the song 'marjorie'…" is a touching and true account about how music can impact us. I had shared it on Twitter at the time, but wish to reproduce it here.

The song "Marjorie" is lovely enough, striking an even deeper chord after one learns the context behind it. You can listen to a clip of the song on the Blue Sky Blond album page and then read Steve's essay below.

Photo Credit: David July — The intimate seating area of Stage 3 at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City during the sound check for the premiere show in Blow Up Hollywood's 'Blue Sky Blond' album tour, New York, New York: 25 January 2014

The story behind the song 'marjorie'…
by Steve Messina
Tuesday, 21 May 2013

In 2002, when we first released our self-titled debut CD, there weren't many ways to purchase music from independent artists. Amazon was still new, and had yet to accept independent music. Websites like iTunes and CD Baby didn't exist. One of the only avenues, outside of purchasing music at live shows, was to mail order it directly from us using a check or money order.

That first year, we received a few orders per week. Being the small operation that we were, I would personally fill them myself. On occasion, the customer might write a little note with a special request or just some short nicety, but generally, there was just a check with the request for our only CD.

In the beginning, I enjoyed opening the mail and finding our fan base slowly growing. It was interesting to see where each order came from. Which parts of the state, country and world the music was reaching. But there was one order I received that really stood out among the rest.

It was the only envelope I can remember receiving with actual cash in it; a mixture of some old crinkly dollar bills and at least one dollar in assorted change. It contained a long four-page letter written in pencil with very poor penmanship, making it difficult to understand. After reading it numerous times, I was finally able to decipher the writing.

The letter was addressed from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, from a woman named Marjorie Van Buren. She explained that she discovered the music one late night, while listening to a local college radio station, and was particularly moved by what she heard. Having fallen ill over the last year, she took great interest in the concept expressed in the lyrics about a soul searching for heaven in the after-life. She also found great comfort specifically in the song "Coming Home."

Marjorie went on to tell me other tidbits about her life and from what I could gather it was one filled with strife and struggle, but with a positive outlook for the future. I was moved by her story and the fact that someone with so little money would be willing to part with it for our music. So I wrote a short letter back thanking her for her kind words and support, encouragement for a speedy recovery, and sent off the CD.

In 2004, our second CD, Fake, was released and by this time there were far more places to purchase it online. The mail orders still came in, but now the majority of people were buying the music online. Again, an envelope addressed from Oklahoma and Marjorie arrived. She told me about hearing the new CD in the feature that was done on NPR and John Diliberto's show entitled Echoes.

She was again very generous about her enjoyment of our music and updated me on her deteriorating health. I replied with a letter of hope and optimism and sent off the CD with a few special items. One was a book I love and often turn to for my own spiritual empowerment, The Mysticism of Sound and Music by Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi philosopher and musical virtuoso who lived in the early twentieth century.

More time passed and we released Stars End and then The Diaries of Private Henry Hill. And again more letters from Marjorie, but this time there was good news, as her condition had seemed to stabilize, if not improve.

After 2006 and the release of The Diaries CD we did not release any music for quite a while. It was a very quiet time for the group, as other things were taking precedence in my life. In the fall of 2010 we released Take Flight and then in the spring of 2011 the Collections CD, but there was no word from Marjorie.

Of course, there was a part of me that wondered if she soured on the music. All of our releases have a wide variety of styles and sonic qualities to them and I can certainly understand that not everything we do will resonate with everyone all the time.

I've often received e-mails and letters from dedicated and supportive customers who have explained that a certain release wasn't their cup of tea, and I always appreciated the discourse and honesty. Maybe we lost her in all the musical changes and all the time that had passed between records.

Then in the June of 2011 I opened my mailbox and noticed a letter addressed from Oklahoma, from a woman by the name of Hazel Van Buren. I immediately recognized the name and wondered if this could be just a coincidence. When I opened the envelope, there was no check or money order inside — nothing but a typed letter on paper with a professional letterhead.

The letter was simple and short, from Hazel, Marjorie's sister. It began…

To Whom This May Concern;

I wish I were writing this letter under better circumstances. My sister Marjorie Van Buren was quite the admirer of your music. Whenever she had the opportunity she would play certain pieces for me, her other family members, and friends with great enthusiasm.

I think you might be aware of her fragile health, as she explained to me that you occasionally exchanged letters. I regret to inform you that she passed away on May 22nd of this year. I was by her side in her final moments and she requested that we play your song "Coming Home" at her funeral. It was an uplifting addition to a very difficult ceremony. I listen to that now quite often and think of her.

I just wanted to thank you for bringing a little light into a dark time for her. It meant a great deal. She's in a better place now and she will live on in spirit.

Warmest regards,

Hazel

After reading the letter I was overcome with great sadness. I was stunned and mournful that this young woman had passed away far too early. Then as the moments passed, I became quite moved that the music meant so much to her and that her sister took the time, in the middle of her grieving, to inform us. A few days later I sent a card and a short message with my condolences.

For the first few weeks after receiving the letter from Hazel, I thought about Marjorie quite often. It was strange considering I really did not know her very well, just a few short letters over a period of years, and in none of those letters did she reveal anything super personal, outside of her illness. But knowing her situation and how much the music meant to her made me feel that we were quite close and perhaps somehow spiritually connected.

More time had passed and my thoughts turned to work on our new record, Blue Sky Blond. We had our first session with the band in February and had recorded a dozen songs with multiple versions over the course of two days. Then, as is our habit, we took a little time to assess the results and go from there. We had done a little more work on the music over the coming months, and I knew I needed to do more writing for it to be complete.

Sometime in early September, my wife Kim and I were planning to go out to lunch on a beautiful mid-afternoon day. The sun was shining, and a crisp blue summers' sky filled the air. As she was getting dressed and ready to go, I decided to pick up the guitar and strum a few chords while I waited. It was a very common chord sequence with a folk feel to it. Without thinking I began humming this little sweet and simple melody to go along with it.

There was something to it that just felt right. It was so easy and natural. As Kim finished getting dressed, I began to play the chords and hum the melody for her. I couldn't possibly leave now. I needed to put lyrics to this immediately. So we decided she would bring lunch back instead. In the 20 or 30 minutes she was gone the lyrics just poured out of me. And by the time she returned it was complete. No struggles. No need for rewrites.

It was a tribute to Marjorie, a woman who truly touched me and made me feel like the music was special to her. A song for someone I had never met, but felt very connected to. Someone who gave me the greatest gift a songwriter can ever receive, the knowledge that the music truly matters and can make even the slightest difference.

Photo Credit: David July — The first part of the lyrics to 'Marjorie' handwritten by Steve Messina

Above: the first part of the lyrics to "Marjorie" handwritten by Steve Messina

Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July

The Trails Before Darkness Falls

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help
Photo Credit: David July — The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway.

Near Fox Mill Drive at Sandler Ridge Road, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014


Last Saturday, I took Mom and Ross to Lafayette Heritage Trail Park to check out the wildlife, trails and the new pedestrian bridge in the northeast corner of the park. I had not been to this park previously, but as they were passing through for only one day it seemed ideal.

Photo Credit: David July — A small island of trees and vegetation on Piney Z Lake from Fishing Finger 2 in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

Parking in the lot at the far western end of the park, we first walked out to Fishing Finger 2, one of seven artificial peninsulas that extend into Piney Z Lake.

Photo Credit: David July — A man fishing on a small wooden pier on Piney Z Lake off Fishing Finger 2 in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

Unlike the others, Fishing Finger 2 also features a wooden pier and a floating platform near the end, itself the start of a very unmaintained trail across the middle of Piney Z Lake.

Photo Credit: David July — Wooden pier on Piney Z Lake off Fishing Finger 2 in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

There was an Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying its wings on a rock very close to the path. Although it was clearly keeping an eye on us, it did not show any sign of moving away. Flying is difficult with wet wings, so it may not have thought it worth the trouble. After all, it had found a nice spot to sun itself and dry off.

Photo Credit: David July — An Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying its wings on a rock along Fishing Finger 2 on Piney Z Lake in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014 Photo Credit: David July — An Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying its wings on a rock along Fishing Finger 2 on Piney Z Lake in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014 Photo Credit: David July — An Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) drying its wings on a rock along Fishing Finger 2 on Piney Z Lake in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

I also spotted two birds that I have struggled to identify given the variety of patterns and colors exhibited by males, females and juveniles. I believe that they are a female and a juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), but I am no ornithologist. If this is incorrect, please let me know!

Photo Credit: David July — A female Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) in the brush along Fishing Finger 2 on Piney Z Lake in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014 Photo Credit: David July — A juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) in a tree along Fishing Finger 2 on Piney Z Lake in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

Although it was late afternoon, the moon was already out and showing off. The first quarter (fifty percent) lunar phase was officially at 0727 that morning. Visible are Mare Serenitatis, Mare Tranquillitatis, Mare Fecunditatis and Mare Crisium plus the landing sites of Apollo 11, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17.

Photo Credit: David July — The moon as seen from Fishing Finger 2 on Piney Z Lake in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

We continued our journey north along the Lafayette Heritage Trail to where I thought an east-west trail would take us to the pedestrian bridge near J.R. Alford Greenway. Between Piney Z Lake and Upper Lake Lafayette, this trail actually ends at an early settlement archeological site.

Photo Credit: David July — The eastern trail between Piney Z Lake and Upper Lake Lafayette in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014 Photo Credit: David July — White clover (Trifolium repens) along the eastern trail between Piney Z Lake and Upper Lake Lafayette in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

After saying hello to an alligator in the lake, we arrived at the CSX railroad line that passes through town. Knowing that the pedestrian bridge was built in part to keep people from crossing the tracks at-grade, I could not understand where we had lost the official trail. Undeterred, we pressed on ahead.

Photo Credit: David July — An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in Piney Z Lake from the eastern trail near Upper Lake Lafayette in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014 Photo Credit: David July — The CSX railroad line winding its way north of Piney Z Lake from just beyond the trail end in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

After walking a footpath parallel to the tracks east a little ways, I saw that there was indeed a trail heading in the right direction. A path lined with unknown wildflowers led us into the woods where we soon spotted a sign on a tree.

Photo Credit: David July — Unknown white flowers near the start of Bill's Memorial Trail between the western and eastern sections of Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

We had found Bill's Memorial Trail — "designed and maintained by a loving daughter" — a presumably unofficial connector through the woods where I thought a city trail should be.

Photo Credit: David July — Sign for Bill's Memorial Trail between the western and eastern sections of Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

I was not able to find information about Bill or the trail, but it was a nice route taking us just south of Swift Creek Middle School and the adjacent neighborhoods. There were a few narrow areas, but the trail was in good shape.

Photo Credit: David July — Rusted and broken pruning shears hung on a post along Bill's Memorial Trail between the western and eastern sections of Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

I was amazed to have the feeling of isolation here despite being so close to civilization. Other sections were less canopied and abutted houses' back yards or the railroad tracks, but the views were still scenic.

Photo Credit: David July — Cypress trees in Piney Z Lake beyond the CSX railroad line from Bill's Memorial Trail between the western and eastern sections of Lafayette Heritage Trail Park, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

Emerging from the woods, we finally came upon the pedestrian bridge and the bicycle trail that I had mistakenly assumed went through where we had been.

Photo Credit: David July — The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

As it turns out, I misunderstood the press release; there is a connecting trail on the far eastern side of Piney Z Lake that leads here. We did not have time to hike all that way but fortunately, Bill's daughter saved the day for us.

Photo Credit: David July — The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

The new bridge, boardwalk and trails opened with a ceremony on Tuesday, 04 March 2014. It was constructed by Nature Bridges of Monticello, Florida and features a bridge by Excel Bridge Manufacturing Company.

Photo Credit: David July — The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

The new infrastructure consists of three parts: a 130-foot boardwalk at the north connecting to the 133-foot bridge over the CSX line and finishing with a 585-foot boardwalk at the southern end. From here, you can access the trails leading south to the rest of Lafayette Heritage Trail Park.

Photo Credit: David July — Over the CSX railroad line from the new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

The bridge and wooden boardwalks are nice. It seems like care was taken to disturb the habitat as little as necessary to install the new structures, which I especially appreciate. The southern boardwalk also has views of Piney Z Lake.

Photo Credit: David July — A tree in Piney Z Lake from the new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014 Photo Credit: David July — The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

Quickly running out of daylight, we crossed back over the bridge and took the path north to J.R. Alford Greenway. I wish we would have had more time to spend at the greenway, but given the two environments I think the wooded trails and lakeside vistas suit me better.

Photo Credit: David July — The new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

With twenty-two minutes until sunset, I had to double-time it back to my car before hiking in the woods was impossible. I moved as quickly as I could, even jogging in a few level areas, to make it at least through Bill's Memorial Trail and to the main trail to the parking lot.

Photo Credit: David July — Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) in a tree from the new pedestrian bridge (S/N 13B028) over the CSX railroad line in Lafayette Heritage Trail Park near J.R. Alford Greenway, Tallahassee, Florida: 08 March 2014

For a distance that originally took us one hour and thirty-five minutes to traverse, I was impressed with how quickly I made it back to my car before driving the eight mile circuitous route to J.R. Alford Greenway.

All told, I think I made in under thirty minutes. I picked up Mom and Ross from the bench that they found to sit on in the interim and we left for dinner at the new BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse on Apalachee Parkway at Blairstone.

I cannot believe that I had not before visited these parks and will definitely return again soon, perhaps to do a complete roundtrip including the proper connecting trail and Bill's Memorial Trail.

Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July