Encouraged by Her Mother

Photo by Mark Seliger

 
 

Natalie Merchant was born October 26, 1963, in Jamestown, New York, the third of four children of Anthony and Ann Merchant. Her paternal grandfather, who played the accordion, mandolin and guitar, emigrated to the United States from Sicily; his surname was “Mercante” before it was Anglicized.

When Merchant was a child, her mother listened to music (primarily Petula Clark but also The Beatles, Al Green, Aretha Franklin) and encouraged her children to study music, but she wouldn’t allow TV after Natalie was 12. “I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music. But I was dragged to see Styx when I was 12. We had to drive 100 miles to Buffalo, New York. Someone threw up next to me and people were smoking pot. It was terrifying. I remember Styx had a white piano which rose out of the stage. It was awe-inspiring and inspirational.” “She [her mother] had show tunes, she had the soundtrack from West Side Story (Robert Wise, 1961) and South Pacific (Joshua Logan, 1958). And then eventually… she’d always liked classical music and then she married a jazz musician, so that’s the kind of music I was into. I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said ‘hey, listen to this one’, so I’d never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18.”

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Because the Night

Easter album cover outtakes. Photographs by Lynn Goldsmith

 
 

“Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed

Come on now, try and understand
The way I feel when I’m in your hands
Take my hand as the sun descends
They can’t hurt you now
Can’t hurt you now
Can’t hurt you now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love

Have my doubt when I’m alone
Love is a ring, the telephone
Love is an angel disguised as lust
Here in my bed until the morning comes

Come on now, try and understand
The way I feel when I’m in your hands
Take my hand as the sun descends
They can’t hurt you now
Can’t hurt you now
Can’t hurt you now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love

And though we feel with doubt
The vicious circle turns and burls
Without you I cannot live
Forgive the yearning burning
I believe it’s time, to feel be real
Touch me now, touch me now
Touch me now

Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love

Because we believe in the night we’re lovers
Because we believe in the night we trust
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to love”

 
 

Because the Night is a song written by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen that was first released in 1978 as a single off the Patti Smith Group album Easter.

The song was originally recorded by Bruce Springsteen during sessions for his Darkness on the Edge of Town album. He was not satisfied with it and later declared he already knew he wasn’t going to finish it since it was “a[nother] love song”; the Patti Smith Group was working on Easter in the studio next door, with engineer/producer Jimmy Iovine working on both albums. Iovine gave Smith a tape of the song, she recast it, only retaining the chorus “Because the night belongs to lovers”, and it was included on Easter, becoming the first single released from that album. Though it was never released on any of Springsteen’s studio albums, in concert beginning with his Darkness Tour Springsteen would often perform the song with his own lyrics. The song was first performed live at a Patti Smith concert at CBGB’s in New York City on December 30, 1977, with Springsteen joining on vocals and guitar.

A well-known acoustic version was recorded by 10,000 Maniacs in 1993 for MTV Unplugged, with a few lyrical alterations. The recording gained considerable radio airplay and reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

 
 

Music videos related to this song can be watched on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

River

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)

 

Young and strong Hollywood son
In the early morning light
This star fell down
On Sunset Boulevard
Young and strong beautiful one
One that we embraced so close
Is gone
Was torn away
Let the youth of America mourn
Include him in their prayers
Let his image linger on
Repeat it everywhere

With candles with flowers
He was one of ours
One of ours

Why don’t you let him be?
He’s gone
We know
Give his mother and father peace
Your vulture’s candor
Your casual slander
Will murder his memory
He’s gone
We know
And it’s nothing but a tragedy

Lay to rest your soul and body
Lay beside your name
Lay to rest your rage
Your hunger and amazing grace

With candles, with flowers
You were one of ours
One of ours

I saw cameras expose your life
I heard rumors explode with lies
I saw children with tears
Cry and crowd around the sight
Of where you had collapsed that day
Where your last breath and word
Had been sighed
Where your heart had burst
Where you had died

I saw how they were lost in grieving
All half-believing you were gone
The loss and pain of it
Crime and the shame of it
You were gone
It was such a nightmare raving,
“how could we save him
From himself?”

Natalie Merchant

Track from Tigerlily (her first solo album after splitting from the 10,000 Maniacs)

1995

A Letter Never Sent

The words ‘For River’ are visible in the bottom of the rear view mirror that appears on the song’s single sleeve. Photo by Ian McFarlane

 
 

E-BOW THE LETTER

(Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe)

“Look up, what do you see?
all of you and all of me
florescent and starry
some of them, they surprise

the bus ride, I went to write this, 4:00 a.m.
this letter
fields of poppies, little pearls
all the boys and all the girls sweet-toothed
each and every one a little scary
I said your name

I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
dreaming of Maria Callas
whoever she is
this fame thing, I don’t get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
I can take you far
this star thing, I don’t get it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

will you live to 83?
will you ever welcome me?
will you show me something that nobody else has seen?
smoke it, drink
here comes the flood
anything to thin the blood
these corrosives do their magic slowly and sweet
phone, eat it, drink
just another chink
cuts and dents, they catch the light
aluminum, the weakest link

I don’t want to disappoint you
I’m not here to anoint you
I would lick your feet
but is that the sickest move?
I wear my own crown and sadness and sorrow
and who’d have thought tomorrow could be so strange?
my loss, and here we go again

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

look up, what do you see?
all of you and all of me
florescent and starry
some of them, they surprise

I can’t look it in the eyes
seconal, Spanish fly, absinthe, kerosene
cherry-flavored neck and collar
I can smell the sorrow on your breath
the sweat, the victory and sorrow
the smell of fear, I got it

I’ll take you over, there
I’ll take you over, there
aluminum, tastes like fear
adrenaline, it pulls us near
I’ll take you over
it tastes like fear, there
I’ll take you over

pulls us near
tastes like fear…

nearer, nearer
over, over, over, over
yeah, look over
I’ll take you there, oh, yeah
I’ll take you there
oh, over
I’ll take you there
over, let me
I’ll take you there…
there, there, baby, yeah”

 
 

E-Bow the Letter is the first single from R.E.M.‘s tenth studio album New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It was released in August 1996 just weeks before the album’s release.

Patti Smith sings guest backing vocals on this song. The song’s title refers to the EBow, an electromagnetic field-generating device that induces sustained vibration in an electric guitar string (creating a violin-like effect), and to a “letter never sent” by Michael Stipe. It is believed that the letter in question was written to actor River Phoenix expressing Stipe’s concern for his friend’s spiraling substance abuse with the letter never being sent due to Phoenix’s death. Guitarist Peter Buck can be seen using an EBow in the video for the song at approximately 1:27 to 1:30. R.E.M. has also played the song live with artists including Thom Yorke singing Patti Smith’s vocal part.

“I first saw Patti Smith perform in 1976, and I remember thinking that I would gladly give 10 years off my life to be the bass player for her group. I know Michael was equally as inspired by Patti, and when he came up with a Ronettes-style vocal chorus, it was obvious who we had to call. It was such an incredible experience watching Patti sing this song – a song we wrote! I had all the cliche reactions; chills ran up and down my spine, the hair stood up on the back on my neck, etc. My life did not flash before my eyes, but it was a close thing.”

Peter Buck
(Liner notes for the hits compilation In Time)

The music video can be watched on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228