I’ll Follow You Into the Dark (Song Series #16)

Jennings Music Building, Bennington College

Jennings Music Building, Bennington College

Possibly this song was written for people like my husband and me. If there’s an afterlife, I don’t know what it’s going to do with us. Rob: Even-keeled, generous, good-hearted agnostic. Me: Moody, half-the-time decent, often-skeptical, pretty left-of-center Christian. I’ve dragged him to Costa Rica and Greece and road-tripping and tent camping all around the country. He’s shown me the quiet pleasures of staying put. Neither of us is going anywhere important without the other.

When we come to the door of the great beyond, if such there be, I think we may sit busking forever just outside the fence, just playing this song, until they start throwing the rotten fruit of Eden at us.

I’ll Follow You Into the Dark

Guitar: Rob Hinst

Vocal: Jen Hinst-White

Written by Ben Gibbard

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Coventry Carol (Song Series #14)

PlaceFamilyComesFrom

A page from the Comfort for Kids “My Story” workbook, which Mercy Corps made for Syrian refugee kids. The caption says “This is the place my family comes from.”

I think it’s just a fact of our human wiring. Things close at hand: more urgent than faraway things. Fresh and novel things: more compelling than familiar things. People like me: more compelling than people unlike me.

Maybe, then, after our years of seeing weepy charity commercials, it’s almost understandable: We just get inoculated against the problems of humans who are far away. We register it, we know it’s bad, we think it’s tragic, but we don’t acutely feel it. I’m writing from my own experience of inoculation. I’m in this same gray boat.

How do we make it feel real? How do we hack our wiring? Would it help if we thought of Syrian refugees, for example, as people with hobbies, favorite comedians, car problems, pop songs they know by heart, and the early morning craving for a cup of coffee? Because those things are actually true. We just see the news footage of the anguished woman with the head scarf running from the fire. But she is all of these things.

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Santa Baby (Song Series #13)

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Yeah… we just went ahead and did it. “Santa Baby.” Because, Eartha Kitt.

Pair this song with the lights display above, and you have a Very Long Island Christmas.

But it’s so much fun to sing.

Santa Baby

Guitar: Rob Hinst

Vocals: Jen Hinst-White

Written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer

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Dance Me to the End of Love (Song Series #12)

Jen Hinst-White - "Dance Me to the End of Love"

me with viola; chalk drawing of olive branch + my toddler son’s feet; Rob with guitar

All in one week: The anniversary of Kristallnacht. A wave of hate crimes in the U.S., in the wake of a fraught election. And the death of Leonard Cohen, who wrote this song, “Dance Me to the End of Love.”

Dance Me to the End of Love

Guitar: Rob Hinst; vocals + viola: Jen Hinst-White; written by Leonard Cohen

When this one first seduced me, I thought it was just a sexy little song with gorgeous imagery. I didn’t know that Cohen wrote it in response to a particularly chilling detail of the Holocaust. He wrote:

“In the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on, those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, ‘Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,’ meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song — it’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.”

It is a love song. It is an ache-and-longing song, it is an acute-beauty-and-suffering song, it is a being-human song. But it is also a fear song, a death song.

I’ve been thinking about how the persecution of the Jewish people didn’t begin with killing. It started with scapegoating and pushing people to the edges of society. Kristallnacht is infamous because it marked the start of widespread violence against Jews, and yet it was not explicitly ordered by the Nazi party. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels announced that

“the Führer has decided that … demonstrations [against Jewish people] should not be prepared or organized by the Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”

Many—even the victims’ own neighbors, even “Christian” religious leaders—witnessed this escalation, from scapegoating to discrimination to isolation to violence, and did nothing.

And finally: It’s worth noting that Nazis not only sought to exterminate the Jewish people, which would have been horrific enough, but also dehumanized and slaughtered a host of other people: people with disabilities, LGBT people, authors and artists considered “subversive,” anyone perceived as a political opponent, trade union leaders, Catholic and Lutheran clergy, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Slavs and Poles and Roma (Gypsies) and many more.

I love “Dance Me to the End of Love” for so many reasons. It is so specific, so human, and any good writer knows if you want to humanize your characters, if you want to avoid writing characters who are flat stereotypes, what you do is add specificity, add unique human details. Dance me to your beauty, like a burning violin. Dance me to the panic, till I’m gathered safely in. Lift me like an olive branch, be my homeward dove— 

This is a song of love and longing and cruelty and beauty, and depending on the moment I sing it, it can be more one thing than another; but lift me like an olive branch: this week I’m singing this song in prayer as much as passion.

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Let It Be (Song Series #11)

my son in our living room

my son in our living room, letting it be

So this was odd. My husband and I were idling in the pizzeria last Friday, waiting for our slices to come out of the oven, when the song changed on the radio.

And in my hour of darkness,
she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

“I love this one,” I said to Rob. I hadn’t thought of it in the longest time. I added it to my mental list of songs I want to learn to play.

That was that—ate my lunch, went back to my desk. A few hours later, my phone dinged with a message from one of my best friends.

 Any chance you'd be available to sing 
"Let It Be" at a funeral on Sunday?
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La Vie en Rose (Song Series #10)

Fooling around with a song I’ve always loved. Breaking out the college French. Accompanied by cheeky guitarist Rob Hinst.

 

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