Flash Fiction Friday

This week’s flash fiction piece is ripped from the headlines. Sort of. Can you guess who the narrator is? I’m keeping to a 100 word limit this time as a warm-up for the writing contest Janet Reid announced today. Be sure to check that out!

Here’s today’s flash fiction:

People are supposed to see white when they die.

I saw white on the day of my birth.

Only now that I’m dying do I begin to see the world as it really is. Trees in their naked majesty, crusty brown arms reaching out and up to the sky. Bushes and hedges with spikey twigs and dark green leaves. Black paved roads and grey paved paths littered with candy wrappers and plastic bags.

The golden warm relentless sun.

There were no birds on my first day.

Now on my last they sing me to sleep as I dissolve to nothing.


New and Upcoming Books!

This is a quick post to draw your attention to some novels that have just come out, and one that’s due out in a few months. I’m highlighting these because they are all part of series that I’m enjoying right now. So if you don’t have these on your TBR list, add them!

THE STOLEN MOON by Rachel Searles

This is the second in Rachel Searles’ THE LOST PLANET series, and it released just yesterday. I won an ARC of it last year and posted a review HERE. The series is written for Middle Graders, but it’s a lot of fun for all ages. And I really really like the cover artwork. As you can tell from the title, it’s Sci-Fi, but it’s Middle Grade Sci-Fi which means it’s not full of heavy science. It’s an adventure in space with space craft, monsters, good guys, and bad guys. Chase, the main character, can’t remember much of his past, and aside from all the drama of the story, he’s recently met his little sister and is trying to get to know her. To his frustration, she knows things about his past–things he used to like, things their family did together–that he doesn’t remember. As you might expect, that becomes a bit of a sore point between them. Especially since Chase really wants to find out what happened to their parents, and why he was separated from his family.

FAIREST by Marissa Meyer

Also just released yesterday was this much-anticipated prequel to Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” series. Those who have read CINDER, SCARLET, and CRESS know well the evil Queen Levana, the “glamour” ability she uses to manipulate people, and her plans for taking over Earth. But what’s her story? Was Levana always this way, or is there a very different tale to be told about her? I have this book, but I haven’t read it yet. Although it’s a prequel and, I presume, not significant to the main plot of the Chronicles, I’m looking forward to reading the story. Marissa’s a great storyteller, especially the way she effortlessly blends familiar fairy tale with original characters and plots. The series makes for enjoyable, page-turning reading, so if nothing else, I expect that much of FAIREST. And with the final book in the series, WINTER, not due out until the Fall, this will help keep series fans going until then. FAIREST, as with the other books in the “Lunar Chronicles,” is marketed to YA, but if it’s anything like the others in the series it will have broad appeal. I don’t recall any bad language or sex. There’s some violence, but nothing that most upper Middle Graders couldn’t handle (IMO).


This novel, the fifth in Gary’s “Athenian Mysteries” series featuring Ancient Greek sleuth Nicolaos, and his wife, Diotima, is due out in May. I’ve raved about this series a number of times, so I was excited to learn the next book would be available soon (so excited, I pre-ordered it already!). For those who aren’t familiar with these books, they are set in Greece around the mid-400s BC, the days of Pericles, Callias, and Pindar. Nicolaos has been hired by Pericles to investigate mysterious deaths, which so far have brought him into the murky world of Athenian politics, into conflict with Persians, snooping out possible foul play at the Olympics, and investigating the sudden return of the remains of Athens’ most infamous tyrant. In DEATH EX MACHINA, Nicolaos and Diotima are looking for ghosts at the Great Dionysia, and trying to rid the theater of them before the festival begins. The situation is complicated when one of the festival’s actors is found hanging from the machine used to make those playing the gods fly.  The series is intended for an adult audience. There’s not much by way of bad language, but there are a number of sexual situations and innuendo, though nothing very explicit. One of the things that really impresses me is Gary’s deep knowledge of Ancient Greek history, and the way he effortlessly blends that knowledge into the stories, giving life to ancient texts and dusty textbooks. I wish these books had been around when I was studying A’ Level Ancient History at school!

What books are you looking forward to this year? Do you have any 2015 book recommendations?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 4:1-3

1 After these things I looked and behold, a door opened in heaven, and the first voice which I heard speaking with me like a trumpet saying: “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after these things. 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne placed in heaven, and someone sitting upon the throne. 3 The one sitting upon the throne [was] similar in appearance to a jasper stone, and to a carnelion stone, and a rainbow encircled the throne similar in appearance to an emerald.

Remember, there were no chapter or verse divisions in the original text, so this follows straight after John taking dictation of the seven letters. Whenever these temporal markers come up (“after this…”, “after these things…”) we are forced to consider the chronology of events in Revelation. Verse one starts and ends with “after these things,” though in different contexts. At the beginning, John is simply telling us that this next vision occurred after the previous vision with the seven letters. It may be immediately after, or it there may have been a time gap between the two events (the repetition of “I was in the Spirit” could suggest this vision occurred some time later). Whatever the case, the important point is that these visions happen in a chronological sequence in John’s experience, but that doesn’t mean the visions refer to events that will happen in the same chronological order. In other words, the order in which John has the visions does not necessarily correlate to an order of events in actual time.

In 1:19, John was told to “write what you see and what things are and what things are about to happen after these things.” Perhaps this suggest a structure to the book: the seven letters show “what things are” (i.e., the current predicament of the church), and the following chapters show “what things are about to happen” after the letters. Again, there is no specific time scale given. The situations faced by the churches in the letters, while specific to the latter half of the first century in their details, speak very loudly to us today in terms of the themes: persecution, compromise, idolatry, and the lure of wealth and prestige. So the letters might simply be presenting to us the state of the church in the current age. What we are about to see in chapters 4 to the end is how things will all work out in the end: the spiritual reality behind current events, and how the Lord will bring full redemption to His people. The phrase “what must happen” appears to refer back to Daniel 2:28-29, where God reveals to Nebuchadnezzer what must take place in the Latter Days. Also, Revelation 1:1 says that this is a revelation of things that must happen “soon.” We’ve already discussed how soon “soon” is in 1:1, but suffice to say, I think the point of the parallel is the fact that what was in the distant future for Daniel is the not-too-distant future for us–especially since Christ’s death and resurrection has made redemption for God’s people possible.

Notice that the door in heaven is opened (the Greek verb is a perfect passive: a door having been opened). The door was already open when John saw it. The passive voice here might be a “divine passive”–i.e., another way of saying “a door opened by God.” We talked about the significance of open doors when we looked at the letters to Philadelphia and Laodicea. In Philadelphia, Jesus presented himself as the one who holds the “key of David.” He shows the church an opened door that no-one can shut. For the Laodicean church, he stands and knocks at the door, inviting the church to return to intimate fellowship with him. Beyond these references, we noted that the torn veil at Christ’s resurrection opened the way to the Holy of Holies for all God’s people. So the door is the entrance to eternal life, to communion with the Lord, to the very throne room of God. That’s what has been made available to God’s people through Christ’s death and resurrection.

[Greek Geek Note: “a trumpet speaking” is in the genitive case. Good Greek grammar dictates this ought to be in the accusative case to agree with the relative pronoun (“that” as in “the first voice that I heard”) which is accusative. It’s possible John didn’t intend it to agree with “that” and we should translate the line, “The first voice that I heard [was] as of a trumpet speaking with me…” which is entirely possible. However, it’s also possible that John deliberately changed the case to draw our attention to an Old Testament parallel, namely Exodus 19:16-19.]

We talked for a while about “in the Spirit” and the nature of John’s vision. The fact John emphasizes the fact he was “in the Spirit” when he entered the door reminds us that this is not a physical event. What’s happening to John here is a spiritual experience, which doesn’t mean it isn’t real, but it means what he experiences is beyond the physical realm. Unlike the ancient oracles who would use narcotics to fall into trances and have “visions,” John’s vision is guided by the Spirit and anchored in divine reality. However, we must avoid the temptation to be too literal in our understanding of what John describes. He’s using the limited vocabulary of mortal man to describe things that are beyond his reasoning. He’s seeing things that don’t make rational sense and might appear to us as a jumble of images. The important thing for us to discern is what these things mean. I likened this to a dream, where things don’t always make sense because the brain is processing our day’s experiences and stresses. One of the medical professionals in the group corrected me on this point, saying that the modern understanding of dreams is more complex than that. Perhaps it’s better to think in terms of the Old Testament understanding of dreams–as with Joseph or Pharaoh–where the images are strange (bowing stars and sheaves), but signify important truths. Someone made the point that, unlike our dreams which are a product of ourselves, John’s vision is given to him: it’s coming from without as opposed to within.

Of all the things in the heavenly throne room, the first one that catches John’s attention is the throne itself and the throne’s occupant. We might, perhaps, recall Daniel 7, and the description of the Ancient of Days who takes his seat amidst the thrones. But a more powerful parallel is found in Ezekiel 1:26-28, and the figure seated on the throne which the prophet struggles to describe (notice the constant refrain of “(like) the appearance of…”) but certainly exudes power and glory. The throne, both for Ezekiel and John, is a seat of sovereign rule, underscoring the theme of God’s control over all events. And, as we will see in later chapters, judgment comes from the throne of God.

John also resorts to simile to describe the one sitting on the throne, except John uses precious stones whereas Ezekiel uses metal and fire. His appearance is like jasper (an opaque stone, often red but can also be yellow, green, and grey-blue) and carnelian (a reddish stone). I don’t think there’s any great theological significance to the details of the stones other than the fact that they are colorful and symbolize the glory of God. Their importance, perhaps, lies in their repetition in Revelation 21:10ff, where they are used to describe the heavenly Jerusalem–again, symbolizing God’s glory.

The third gem mentioned is emerald, and this describes the “bow” around the throne. The Greek word (iris) could be translated “halo,” but the connection with Ezekiel 1 makes the translation “bow” much more likely, even though the LXX uses a different word for “bow” (toxos). In Ezekiel, the “bow” is like the bow that appears on “the day of rain”–i.e., a rainbow. I think, therefore, it’s safe to assume John sees a rainbow around the throne. (Asking how a multicolored rainbow could be “like an emerald,” which is green is, perhaps, looking too closely at the symbol and not what the symbol signifies: glory and power.) This rainbow is important, especially for Christians. If we recall the story of Noah, after the Flood God made a covenant with Noah and the earth saying He will never again flood the earth to destroy it (Genesis 9:12-17). The covenant sign God used was the rainbow. The word for “bow” in the Genesis passage is the Hebrew word qesheth, which is the same word used for a bow in Ezekiel 1:28. The “bow” usually described by this word is an archer’s bow–a weapon. So, by putting the bow in the sky, it’s as if God is laying down arms as a sign of His mercy. The fact we see this same bow around the throne in Revelation 4:3 reminds us that the throne of God is a throne of mercy for His people, as well as a throne of judgment for the world. It’s at the throne of God that justice and mercy meet.

We’ll pick up with verse 4 and the twenty-four elders next time.

Music Monday: The Sound of Silence

This week’s Music Monday is a request from writer friend (and fellow North Carolinian) Donna Everhart. She commented a few weeks ago that this is a song that’s been buzzing around her head while working on her current novel. (By the way, yes, I take requests. If there’s a song you’d like me to feature, just let me know via the comments or by email.)

“The Sound of Silence” (sometimes called “The Sounds of Silence”) was Simon and Garfunkel’s first major hit, reaching number one in the US and breaking the top ten in the UK and Australia. Originally recorded in 1964 as an acoustic song, it featured on their first album, “Wednesday Morning, 3AM.” The album didn’t sell well, so Simon and Garfunkel split to pursue their own interests.  In 1965, a couple of radio stations started giving the song some attention so the original producer overdubbed electric guitar, drums, etc. to the track without the boys’ knowledge, and issued it as a single. It was a huge success, Simon and Garfunkel reunited, and the rest is history.

The thing that always impresses me about Paul Simon’s songs is his attention to lyrics. It seems he came up with this song sitting in the bathroom with the lights off (the tiled walls created a nice echo chamber effect), but the complete lyric took three months to write (presumably not all in the bathroom). Simon’s not a prolific songwriter, and I think part of the reason is he takes time to craft both the music and the words. It’s a rare gift to be able to produce good music and thoughtful words. Elvis Costello is another songwriter I admire for the same quality (more about him another week).

“The Sound of Silence” is one of those songs I always seem to have known, but the first time I recall actually trying to learn it was at the request of a friend at University. Her boyfriend from Germany was coming to visit and this was his favorite song. I can’t remember exactly why she asked me to learn it–maybe she wanted to sing it for him or something. As you might recall from last week, I was always a bit hesitant about finger-picked songs so I probably plucked around the chords in a way that sounded close enough for the first verse.

I gave the song a fresh listen this past week, and the finger-picked guitar part in that first verse is not as hard as I originally thought. The song is in Eb-minor on the record, so on guitar you’ll want to capo the 6th fret and play in A-minor (that’s what Paul Simon’s doing). Here’s the music for the first verse. I’ve written out the tune and the harmony on the treble clef. The numbers on the guitar tablature (the TAB line) represent frets (1 = first fret, 2 = second fret, etc., 0 = open string)*:


Here’s a lead sheet for the rest of the song, since the guitar’s pretty much playing straight chords. I’m providing two versions of the lead sheet, one in the actual key (Eb-minor), and one showing the chords you play if you’re capo-ing the 6th fret:

SoundOfSilence_Actual SoundOfSilence_Capo6

And finally here’s Simon and Garfunkel performing the song (in D-minor–capo on the 5th fret) in 1966:

Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Requests?

*Please bear in mind, I’m not trained in music transcription, so this may not be exactly how you’re supposed to write it. Hopefully it’s clear enough for you to be able to play it. That’s sufficient for me.

Flash Fiction Friday

For this week’s piece of fiction, I’m using the Random Word Generator again for a prompt. These are the five words it gave me:

  • wheelchair
  • mouse
  • tourist
  • evening
  • table

And here’s what I did with those words (adding another 195 for a total count of 200 words):

It had been 20 years since Derek last visited his old hometown. So much had changed, he felt a bit like a tourist as he walked the streets. But underneath the veneer of new shop fronts, new intersections, and the new shopping mall, the old town was still there, like a faithful friend.

He took a table at Carrigan’s, resting his cane on the seat next door. A server brought water; he used it to take his heart pills. Doctor Morris would have complained about the walk, but Derek was past caring.

He looked around at the mousey brown décor. So much had changed. But if he closed his eyes, he could remember how it was. And if he let his guard down, he could remember the last time he was here. Almost feel Julia beside him. Almost touch her hand on the armrest of her wheelchair. They met at this restaurant. He proposed at this restaurant. And they ate there every Thursday for thirty-five years.

Derek moved away the day after the funeral. He couldn’t bear to live with the memories.

But now, as the evening faded and the night beckoned, he knew it was time to come home.



Sunday School Notes: Introduction to Revelation 4 and 5

We kicked off the new semester of Sunday School this week picking up where we left off in Revelation before Christmas. To ease us back in, we briefly recapped the first three chapters of Revelation, and then I read chapters 4 and 5. Bearing in mind there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original text, I think it helps our understanding to see 4 and 5 as a single section depicting the heavenly throne room. Here we get a glimpse of true worship, and we are introduced to the “scroll” and its seals that will play an important part in chapters 6 onwards. We then discussed chapters 4 and 5 in broad overview.

After the dictation of the seven letters, an angel takes John to the heavenly throne room. Here we see all of creation represented before the throne giving worship to the One who sits on the throne. The worshipers acknowledge God’s holiness, His eternality, and His sovereignty–all themes that are important to the message of Revelation. The diverse faces of creation are seen in the faces of the four living creatures. Once again we noted the presence of numbers: 4 creatures, 24 elders, and another reference to 7 with the 7 seals. Not all numbers in the Bible have particular significance, but particular numbers, especially in particular contexts, do. And if we follow the popular saying, “When the Bible says something once, pay attention; when it says something more than once, pay particular attention,” then we need to pay particular attention to these numbers. They are not accidental, and are as much symbols as the things they quantify. We already know the number 7 represents “fullness,” “completion,” or “perfection.” So whatever the seals represent, the fact there are seven of them denotes a fullness or completion of that. Why four creatures and twenty-four elders? We’ll come to those when we treat these passages in more detail.

The Lord has a “scroll” in his right hand that no-one is able to open–no-one, that is, except the Lamb, the Lion of Judah, the one who has overcome (Greek: nikaô), a term we’re familiar with from the seven letters (“to him who overcomes…”). The whole of creation worships the Lamb and proclaims him worthy because of his sacrifice by which he has made a kingdom of priests to God out of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and these people will reign on earth (echoing Revelation 1:5-6).

There is some debate over whether the “scroll” is actually a scroll or a codex (i.e., a book with pages). The Greek word biblion could refer to either, and the context doesn’t help much. Whatever it is–and we’ll discuss this in more detail when we get to chapter 5–it is written on both sides. This may reflect the ancient testimony, will, or contract, where the details were sealed within the document, and a summary of the contents written on the outside, even on the seal. We’ve discussed before how much Revelation echoes the Old Testament, particularly Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Psalms. This is because the Lord intends us to see Revelation as the unveiling of what was foretold in these books–the judgments and promises alluded to then are made full in Christ. It’s possible that the writing on the outside consists of the Old Testament foreshadowing, while the sealed contents detail the fulfillment of those things. Again, we’ll discuss more when we get to chapter 5.

One final point. When we look at the opening of the seals, it’s easy to get caught up in questions of mechanics. That is, how it’s possible for a book or a scroll to have writing on both sides and yet the contents remain a mystery. Or, how it’s possible for a book or scroll to be secured with seven seals, and for those seals to be broken in sequence revealing only the contents relevant to that seal. Commentators have attempted to come up with ways in which scrolls or books could be constructed this way, but this misses the point. As commentator G. K. Beale points out, this is a vision. And without denying the reality of what John saw, we need to remember that what is most important is what the vision means. This won’t be the first time in Revelation when John presents to us things he saw that are hard for us to picture from a practical viewpoint. But we shouldn’t get hung up on that. What should capture our attention is what John saw, and what that’s supposed to tell us. The logistics of the vision are far less important.

Next time, Lord willing, we’ll begin Revelation chapter 4…

Music Monday: Blackbird

When I started learning guitar, it wasn’t long before I wanted to tackle Beatles songs. Indeed, most of my guitar practice was done with Beatles records and a copy of THE BEATLES COMPLETE music book (that actually belonged to my older brother, but I frequently borrowed it from him). Playing along with the Fab Four helped me learn chords (especially barre chords–I didn’t have a capo so I had no alternative!), practice chord changes, and develop my ear. In fact, there were occasions when I called the music book out on mistakes (e.g., missing the half-diminished in “Penny Lane”).

For a while, though, “Blackbird” was an enigma. It was finger-picked, and in my mind there was a mystical aura around finger-picked songs. Sure, I managed to learn the introduction to “Michelle,” but “Blackbird” was an entire finger-picked song. Finger-picking was the domain of classical guitarists, and geniuses like Chet Atkins. So I put off even attempting to learn it.

Then, one day at school, one of my friends who was learning classical guitar showed me the first few bars of “Blackbird.” He hadn’t figured out the rest, but I thought, “Heck, I know Jon’s a good guitarist, but surely if he can figure out that much, this song must be figure-out-able!” The aura around “Blackbird” began to dim.

I went home that afternoon, got out my copy of “The White Album”–record one, side two, track three, and listened closely. As I listened, I noticed that the guitar part really consisted of nothing more than a melody and a bass line. And the bass was mostly doing chromatic runs–half-steps up and down the neck. If I could figure out the tune Paul was playing on the higher strings, and put the right bass notes to it on the lower strings, I’d have the song licked.

That evening, I figured out “Blackbird.”

The aura was gone.

And if I can do it–so can you! To help you, I’ve put together this video showing the song as I figured it. The “X”s mark where you should put your fingers. Any “X” outside the fretboard indicates an open string that should be played–but most of the time these are not as important as the main tune (you’ll see what I mean when you watch the video). Use this as a guide, but listen to the recording to get the picking and strumming patterns Paul uses. It’s possible I’ve got the correct notes, but Paul McCartney is playing them elsewhere on the neck. If you can hear that (and guitar is not my first instrument, so my ear isn’t as attuned to such things), then feel free to make the necessary changes.

I thought it appropriate to feature this song today since it’s Martin Luther King Day here in the U.S. Paul has cited the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s as inspiration for the song.

Flash Fiction Friday

For today’s flash fiction challenge, I set myself a target of 200 words, and used a Random Word Generator to pull five words to use as part of the story. These are the words it chose:

  • feast
  • rubbish
  • wood
  • creeper
  • graffiti

Here’s my story (200 words exactly):

I made my way carefully to the bags that littered the ground, smiling inside. One man’s rubbish is another scavenger’s feast, after all. The thin white plastic tore easily under my fingers. Clothes. I pulled them out piece by piece, hoping to find something more substantial further in. Nothing but shirts and pants; stained, torn, patched, and worn.

The second bag yielded house trash; books— bent, creased, and mildewed; the cracked glass and splintered wood remnants of a coffee table; a crumpled McDonald’s bag; small paisley cushions, ripped open to expose yellow foam stuffing; chipped and faded ceramic ornaments of animals and people— a fox with a broken tail, a cat with one ear, an old man missing his walking stick.

Finally, I tried the armoire. It was stained, scratched with graffiti carvings, and now adorned with feather boas that hung like creepers over the sides and the unlatched doors. I gently pulled the doors open, trying not to get my hopes up. My heart sank to see empty shelves, save for a few moldy towels and moth-eaten head scarves.

I cursed the air as I walked away. That’s the last time I waste $1,000 on an abandoned storage unit.


Who Review: Last Christmas

DoctorWho_LastChristmas_smWhen Clara awakes early Christmas morning to noises on her rooftop, she investigates only to find Santa, two elves, and flying reindeer. She’s ready to write it all off as a hallucination when the Doctor appears and whisks her away to a base in the North Pole, where a team of scientists are battling crab-like alien creatures that fix themselves onto their victims’ faces and send them into a dream state. But that dream state is simply an anesthetic designed to mollify the victim while the creature devours the brain. Santa and his elves save the day when the dream crabs attack the Doctor, Clara, and the scientists–or did he? The Doctor needs to figure out what’s real and what’s a dream before they are all eaten alive…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This was the tenth Christmas special since the show returned in 2005, and Peter Capaldi’s first full special as the Doctor. Given the tone of previous Christmas episodes, I expected drama and aliens up to no good, but with an extra helping of light-heartedness and fun for the season. Santa and the elves certainly provided some comic relief, but I have to say this story was a lot heavier and darker than usual. And that’s good. Indeed, I thought this was a particularly good Who story. The concept wasn’t totally new. In series 5’s “Amy’s Choice” the Dream Lord put the Doctor and his companions into two perilous realities and forced them to decide which one is the dream. If they died in the dream, they would wake up in reality. If they died in reality, they’d be dead. So we’ve head the “dream vs. reality” dilemma before. But this story takes that to a whole new level, with dreams within dreams, and people across time and space sharing the same dream experience. And the peril was very real: we saw the disintegrating dream crabs when the people woke up at the end. So whatever else they were dreaming, they really did have these monsters on them, sucking their lives away.

I liked the concept of the dream crabs, and the idea of using dreams as a way of numbing the brain so it didn’t feel the pain of what was actually happening to it. I also liked the idea of the brain drawing from fantasy to combat the monster, trying to make the sleeper realize s/he is dreaming by introducing mythical characters into the dream. It was risky, however, using Santa as a mythical being. I’m sure there were many kids watching who believe in Santa, and for whom a story like this may have sown some seeds of doubt. It wouldn’t have bothered me–we never did “Santa” with our kids–but such things need to be treated with sensitivity and respect. Though, given the way Moffat manhandled the afterlife in the previous episode, I can’t say I trust his idea of sensitivity when it comes to other people’s beliefs.

This story seemed to close the Clara-Danny story once and for all. Dream Danny told Clara to miss him for five minutes each day, but then get on with her life the rest of the time. This tells me Danny’s dead, he’s not coming back, and Clara will just have to deal with that. It also put to rest the rumors about Clara’s departure from the series: it’s not happening–at least not yet. She’s back in the TARDIS, and, hopefully she’s taken one of the rooms there. No more joy-riding with the Doctor. Please.

Overall, I thought this was a good Who story, better than I expected for a Christmas episode (though the previous nine were good), and much better than the series eight finale! If this is a taste of things to come in series nine, I’m excited.

What about you? How many of you when you read/heard the title to the Christmas special started singing (at least in your head) that Wham! song? Your thoughts on “Last Christmas”…?

Music Monday: What Becomes of the Brokenhearted

As is true for most teenage musicians who learn their instruments listening to the likes of The Beatles, Billy Joel, Joe Jackson, and Paul McCartney, I had aspirations of becoming a professional musician. Unlike most others my age, I didn’t really care for the idea of being a front-man, or touring the world showing off my fretboard and keyboard skills. I would have been happy writing songs and being a back-up or session musician. Around the age of 15 my friend Nick and I decided to form a band. He would be the lead singer (Nick was a natural athlete, well-built, and good-looking–perfect front-man material), and play guitar some (I was teaching him at the time), and I would play keyboards and guitar. While we had some songs of our own, we recognized that our songwriting skills were still developing, so we culled songs from our favorite records for covers. Had we ever toured, our set list would have been… different. Between the two of us, our tastes covered Motown, Billy Bragg, The Damned, Squeeze, UB40, McCartney, Billy Joel, and a host of others.

Since I had the better musical ear, it usually fell to me to learn the cover songs. Nick would come to school with tapes or LPs and a list of songs for me to figure out. Sometimes it was just one or two songs. Occasionally it was an entire album! I didn’t mind; I enjoyed the challenge and it exposed me to music I wouldn’t otherwise have heard. The only thing that really suffered for the time spent on these songs was my homework… and possibly my grades. But what do teenagers understand about priorities?

Nick was into Motown, and one of the songs he liked was Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” I already knew the song because Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone recorded a synth version that was a hit in 1981, and I remembered liking it. But I had never tried working out the chords before. It presented a challenge to my 16-year-old ears, so this was not a 5 or 10 minute job. I still have the book in which I wrote the chords out as best as I could figure them. Have a look at how I did:


For comparison, I listened through to the song with my considerably older and more experienced ears. Here’s what I come up with now (click to enlarge):

WhatBecomesOfTheBrokenhearted_1 WhatBecomesOfTheBrokenhearted_2

Ooops! That last chord on the first page should be a Cm/Eb, not Cm/Ab!

As you can see, 16-year-old me didn’t do too badly. (The Em7b5 in the third line of the second verse on my old version is a longer, more descriptive way of writing E half-diminished.) Where I messed up was not paying close enough attention to the bass. The bass doesn’t move around a whole lot, but it does follow patterns. Rhythmically, it seems to be mimicking a heartbeat (especially in the introduction), and it rarely plays the root of the chord, moving up and down in half or whole intervals. So if there’s a lesson to be learned here, when trying to figure out songs, listen to the bass. (No, it’s not all about that bass–let’s not go there. Please.)

“What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” was written by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean. Jimmy Ruffin, older brother of Temptations lead singer Dave Ruffin, identified with the song so much he asked if he could record it. The song has been covered a number of times since, but Ruffin’s is considered the definitive original. Ruffin passed away only last November at the age of 78.

For your listening pleasure, here’s Jimmy Ruffin’s version:

And here’s the Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone version that caught my attention back in 1981:

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