I have a friend named Jesse Patrone-Werdiger. He has been talking to me about his grandparents recently. While I was stuck in the Miami airport, we talked online about his grandfather, Manek, and his grandmother, Ilona and their lives in Long Island, but also that they are Holocaust survivors, Ilona in Auschwitz for a little while and Manek somewhere else. Originally from Poland, they are now 80 or so and have led a wonderfully full life. In talking with Jesse, he showed me this video (Jesse is a filmmaker and used his grandparents for one of them.)
I instantly crushed in his grandpa. So cute. In jest, Jesse said this “hahaha: you and manek. love at first sight. there’s your song for the day manek!” Well, I have written a song inspired by Jesse’s grandparents. I spend the next several hours talking to Jesse intermittently, asking questions about his grandparents, hearing little stories and small bits of information. An aspect I hear a lot about from that time is how so many people came to the states (and still do this) and would feel the need to change their name or their names would be changed for them by officials at the border. Jesse: “When they came to the states they changed their name. Werdiger’s not my real name. My grandfather stole medicine at the end of the war because one of his friends needed it, and I think he was worried about not getting into the states b/c of it.” This prompted the first verse of this song. I feel such a connection to my name. Names are a way of identifying you, placing you in a moment in the past, present and future. Millions of people have changed their names, and I personally feel a sense of personal loss for them, though I understand it’s a matter of life or death in some cases or that others may not hold such weight on a name.
And the chorus? Jesse said, “My grandma says beautiful all the time. It’s her adjective of choice for anything positive. “It was so beautiful, we had dinner, the whole family was there. It is such a beautiful restaurant.” Everything is beautiful.”
I realized well into it that I didn’t know his grandparents well enough to really do justice to an entire song about them, so I took some time away from it to think about what I really wanted to say. My friend Rachel Lord’s (Ugly Purple Sweater) grandfather recently passed away. A few weeks after he passed, Rachel posted a link to an NPR article about her grandfather. “Rather than fight in World War II, conscientious objector and Quaker Charlie Lord was sent by the government to work at a mental institution called Philadelphia State Hospital. He secretly took photographs to expose the horrors of the institution. These are his photographs.“ They are so moving. The photographs he secretly shot were shown in Life Magazine in May 1946. I encourage you to read about and visit these photographs. They even have audio of Charlie talking about each photograph. You can read the most recent NPR article here. I love this picture of him. I looked at it for a long, long time, and decided to write about him. Charlie is the second verse of this song.
How should I end this song? This is my grandmother and my grandfather: Hope Thomas Price and Ralph Price. My grandfather passed away very soon after my birth, so I never knew him.
I am named after my grandmother. (Another name reference.) She is still living in Malad, Idaho. I wish I had a closer relationship with her, though we are very friendly, and I love her very much, I think it’s just that we are far away. She is a beautiful singer and a great organist. I spent my childhood visiting her home and playing on her Thomas organ, improvising the afternoon away until she would bring me a rhubarb slushy. She is a determined, hard-working and stubborn person, and she tells stories really well. This is my grandmother, Hope.
In talking with Jesse about his grandparents I said, “That’s so cool that you have that stuff in your blood, you know? Such a dramatic history is a part of YOUR history. I love that thought.” Jesse: I know, it’s really amazing. I’ve tried talking to them more about it, and they’re such AMAZING people.” Me: “I think you should feel really special.”
It makes me think of Rachel, that she has that history in herself, too… that I also have a history that goes through people who have experienced dramatic wonderful things and dark and scary things. They have lived and existed and make up a part of me… It’s the same for you as well.
Writing: Took a long time. A lot of thought and gestation time. I didn’t concern myself with being cliché or if I was inappropriate. I wanted to be sincere. That’s all. I included a bridge with no words. I’ll reserve the right to add them later if they come. I have included two choruses which are in red that I changed to tie them together with a more similar thread. I’m including them because the change in meaning was so drastic, I wanted to show you both to see what you might think, too.
Recording: I’m coming down with something so, the vocals aren’t in top shape, but it’s okay. I recorded the uke and vocals simultaneously though I attempted to track it and gave up. I really wanted to arrange cello parts and bells, but just didn’t have time as Pearl and the Beard are braving the snow to play a show in Portsmouth, New Hampshire this weekend, so I had to get ready. I think this stripped down version is okay and appropriate at least for a first draft. I also feel like this song, mainly because of color and instrumentation is a sister song to “Headache for a Heartache”, but I’m not sold on that thought. I can only hope they have their own identity and can stand alone.
Manek and Ilona
Manek and Ilona We designate you by a name though changed From there, there to here Lost in the survival The anther sure will sting until it’s down and gone, it’s done. And why not? And why not say everything is beautiful Cause it is Cause it is Cause it is Pictures of a watchman Who meant the best but saw the worst It was done, done to men, fragile men Hearts they will be broken No matter what the doctors say He will sleep, then awake and ask to go Changed chorus lyrics And why not? And why not? Say it’s an image that’s hard to bear? Cause it is Sometimes it is Used chorus lyrics
And why not? And why not? Say everyone is beautiful? Cause they are Cause they are Cause they are
Me a living namesake A stranger living side by side in a mirror I am you, You are me, we are one Will you not remember? And forgive all the battles lost And even those, those we thought had been won Changed chorus lyrics
And why not? And why not? Say that we will persevere? Cause we will Cause we will Cause we will Used chorus lyrics
And why not? And why not? Say that we are beautiful? Cause we are Cause we are Cause we are
And why not? And why not say everything is beautiful? Cause it is Cause it is
This uke has gotten some mileage. It’s brought out quite a few ballads. Maybe a Ramone’s inspired song is in order soon. You can’t do ballads forever…
Have a great day. Drive safe.