157. Black Hole of Calcutta


I must give great thanks to Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and Anna Vogelzang for the lyric help today. In talking with Lady Lamb some weeks ago about writing lyrics, and she sent 5 words over text for me to put into a song. These 5 words were:






I got a text from Anna Vogelzang today that somehow ended up in me talking about her beautiful bird tattoos (which can be found on the underside of her forearm). Long story short (and after a short discussion about fish oil and its positive properties), Anna suggested that I include the words:

bird tattoo

fish oil (I failed! I just couldn’t find place for it. FAIL!)

Writing: I LOVE YOU www.etymonline.com. You make my life so much more interesting and knowledge filled. When Lady Lamb first sent me her words some weeks ago now, I spent a while researching them on the online etymology dictionary website. I found such incredibly interesting things!

Apricot linked me to the word Aubergine – fruit of the eggplant (ironically, my friend Emilyn Brodsky is linked to the word Aubergine almost intimately… she is also included in this song in another way: Emilyn recently gave me a vintage blue hat which I love. It is the blue hat referenced in the second line.)

June sent me to The Black Hole of Calcutta. What a horribly sad and terrifying story. “Black Hole of Calcutta, incident of June 19, 1756, in which 146 British POWs taken by the Nawab of Bengal after the capture of Ft. William, Calcutta, were held overnight in punishment cell of the barracks (meant to hold 4 people) and all but 23 perished.”

Oddly, June 19th is my birthday, which had me addressing “Emmy” in the song, a name my family called me when I was very, very little. My idea for the narrating was a man struggling to survive, wanting more to give in to his circumstance whilst in The Black Hole, speaking to “Emmy” a presence who is very far from him and in a totally different world than where he finds himself.

Swoon is “in a faint, to choke, to sigh”… then wheat and remember came by themselves.

Recording: The vocals and cello were done at the same time. This is the first full take, and, in the interest of time, I didn’t do it again. I was thoughtful about the instrumental: should it be simple and only reflect the melody line? Should it be more free and improvised or feel more mapped out? I did a few improvisations trying these different ideas and ended up with this one.

It was difficult to fit all the required words in, but I did all but one. Near triumph! And thanks to Anna’s birds, I had a jumping off point. Have a wonderful, wonderful day…

Black Hole of Calcutta

Where is your bird tattoo?
Send me your blue hat
Lest I forget so well
Upon this day you died

I’m at a loss for words
Stole them right off my tongue
Now it is June, Emmy, now it is June

Stuck in the Black Hole of Calcutta
Not sure I’ll make it out
The man to the right, he swoons
It’s all that I have just to remember
The fields of a labor lost, its wheat, and your apricot dress

Oh, Emmy, I’m done
Oh, Emmy, I’m done
I’m gonna let go this silver gun, this happy, silver gun

Oh my home, oh my Aubergine,
When will we see the sun as it is
I will or I won’t, there is no bargain
Tobacco and smoke is all I know

Oh, Emmy, I’m done
Oh, Emmy, I’m done
Oh, Emmy, I’m done
I’m gonna let go this happy, silver gun

18 thoughts on “157. Black Hole of Calcutta

  1. Saw ou in Tarrytown with Ani DiFranco and your set was so spectacular that I set right out to find this song. Beautifully performed… it seems you did find breath enough for this song! I live in BK, so I’ll be seeing you guys Dec 1… along with the many people I’m coaxing in to join me!

  2. I saw you in Bloomington last night at the Ani show, and though I’d never heard your music before, I too was stunned the minute the three of you began to sing. I picked up a CD afterwards, and listened to it twice on the way back to Indianapolis. This song has been haunting me all day, I can’t stop listening to it. I googled it in order to find the lyrics, and found this blog! I just can’t begin to tell you how deeply I’m feeling this song, and even more so now that I know the story behind it.

    I wish I could have seen you guys again tonight in Indy! Please do come back!!!

    • Thank you so much for your sweet message – I’m sorry I’m so slow in getting back to you! We’ve been gone, gone, gone… I’m so happy you like this song. I love to perform it!

      Hope to see you at a show in the near future!


  3. I have been listening to this song over and over again. So haunting and powerful and beautiful. I kept singing the apricot dress line to myself, somewhere deeply and subconsciously wondering what would an apricot dress look like and very allured by the imagery throughout the song. In my dream last night, a long lost lover visited me. She appeared at my wedding and she was wearing a beautiful, mythical apricot dress and I said, Oh, that is an apricot dress and upon waking, remembering it- I have been crying all day in a very healing and sweet way. What a song.

    • Wow… what an amazing dream. I’m sorry I’m just now reading this… months and months later – I’m sorry I’m so late. But how beautiful – Thank you so much for sharing this… You’re website is beautiful, btw!

  4. Emily! You don’t know me; my name is Sean and I’m a creative writing instructor at the University of Wisconsin. I’ve been pointing people to the Sleepover Shows version of this song for months now–really, it’s one of the greatest songs I’ve heard all year. So, so good… I want to put it on all my mix CDs! How can I get an mp3?? —Sean Bishop

  5. I saw your band in Cambridge last month, but only just stumbled upon this lovely site for your 365 project! I think this undertaking is just amazing. This particular song was my favorite — which is a lot to boast, because so many Pearl and the Beard songs gave me chills that night (and I had never even heard of you guys before!)I’ve been spreading the word ever since.

    It’s not often that a band like yours comes along. Please keep making and sharing your beautiful music. Looking forward to seeing you again in Boston next month!


  6. Pingback: The 365 Sleepover Show Teaser! « Emily Hope Price: The 365 Project

  7. Just saw you guys tonight. To reiterate, “you were fucking awesome!”
    I Had to have this song once more before sleep. Thanks again for a great show!

  8. Your description gives me flashbacks to having to write stories in school with all the vocab words. There was always that one word that wouldn’t fit!


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