3am is a time onto itself. It’s spirits and deep vibrations. It’s the silence of the stars. The angels whisper at 3am.
I awake, and I have a song. It’s complete, or at least the chorus, melody and harmony are there.
All creatives go through these experiences. The mind roams free at 3am. But this is different. The song is insistent. It demands attention. It’s gossamer and steel.
I get up. A voice is in my head and another voice telling me to record. This is way beyond scribbling down an idea. I’m being told to sing the song in exactly the voice that’s in my head. I must capture it. Now.
I can’t fire up the studio. That’s too complex for 3am. So it’s my iPhone and the bathroom for me.
I live in an apartment, and my wife is asleep. I sit on the toilet and sing softly. Calling Mary.
Mary, Mary, Calling Mary
Full of grace and healing light
Come to us, we need you, Mary
Come to us in darkest night
I feel a little crazy, a little obsessed. Once the song is safe inside the iPhone, I head back to bed.
Neil Young had his ideas about songwriting. “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn.”
The next day, I‘ve got a lot of lawn to mow. Well, not exactly, but chores, life, things to do.
I’m not sure people understand what that’s like, keeping a song in your head all day while you attend to other things. He’s spacey, he’s mindless. Hey, where are you? I’ve heard it my entire life. Every creative worker has, I bet. I’ve learned to be patient with it. Go about my business. Take care of things while melodies and lyrics crawl across my brain.
In the evening, I finally get into the studio, close the door, face my dreams.
This session is different. I suspend judgement. I sing with the voice the way I was told to sing. I play the way I’m told to play. It’s totally out of body. I surrender to it. I put down the chorus and layout the verse. It’s a relief to have it down, to let it go out of my mind.
The next day I need verse lyric. The middle-of-night inspiration didn’t give me a verse, just the chorus. I’m frustrated by that. I’ve become wary. Now I have to engage my mind. What does this song mean?
Mary has always represented the feminine to me. I'm raised in Catholic Churches, but no priest accepts my prayers in those pews. To me, Mary, Bridget, Sophia, Lakshmi, Kali, Mother Nature are the same, expressions of a common Divine feminine energy that goes across all conscious understanding.
Still, I want to reach out to a nun for the verse. I don’t mind the religious expression. I feel the universal quality will be there no matter what. I don’t know any lyric-writing nuns, so I forge ahead myself.
There’s a sense of urgency to this writing, a compulsion to get the song fixed in time. But I feel abandoned. Why hadn’t the night voice given me a verse?
I decide to create a random element to finding a verse. I open the AP news feeds and see what pops up.
A picture of a young father, Oscar, and his infant daughter, Valeria. Face down, dead on the banks of the Rio Grande. Valeria's arm draped across her father's neck. They'd died vainly trying to reach America, a country with its door firmly shut.
This brutal image becomes the verse.
Captured in a photograph
Feet in river, head on land
Oscar holds sweet Valeria
His head draped by her tiny hand
Sandy Hook to Matamoros
Children suffer for your sins
Pride and wealth, your fate uncertain
Your judges fail as plague descends
I don't understand any of this. I surrender to it. I go into my studio and record the full song.