Bird Songs: “All Over Ohio,” “Birds Fly South” & “Scarecrow”
As I’m one of those lifelong bird people (I considered a bird-related career path in college, studying natural history and working to release peregrine falcons for the Predatory Bird Research Group) I notice the actual and metaphorical birds wherever I am, and birds tend to show up routinely in my own writing. But even music lovers who are the most disinclined to ornithology know many bird-related songs: The Beatles “Blackbird,” Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and Skynyrd’s “Freebird” (like it or not) are pretty much of the modern-day canon. At a concert last summer, I was struck again at how often birds appear in lyrics, even among songwriters that aren’t really “birders.” The past few months, I’ve started “collecting” contemporary (post-2000), bird-referencing songs, and will be sharing my favorites here. Know of a fairly-recent “bird song” I should hear? Please email me.
In the meantime, here’s a sampling of some of my recent favorites:
“All Over Ohio” by Over the Rhine
I swoon over the sensibilities of Over the Rhine in general, who call an Ohio farm home between their own musical peregrinations, and whose lyrics bespeak their deep connection to place. They know their land deeply, as well as the creatures who share it. “All Over Ohio,” sung in duet, is a long, lovely tour both of place and the birdly need to come and go:
“And the starlings they were flying
Doing their maneuvers
Clouds of feathers on display
Makes me wanna kneel in prayer but
I’ve forgotten what to say
I’ll just name all the birds in Ohio
All I wanna be is a thousand black birds*
Bursting from a tree into the blue
Love – let it be not just a feeling
But the broken beauty
Of what we choose to do”
“Birds Fly South” by The Mastersons
The Mastersons, an Austin-based duo, also evoke bird migration in the title track of their 2012 release, a song about their own need to move, the pull of the heart, the mystery and reasons of why humans and animals pick up and go when they do.
Birds fly south, before the cold
all night, I’m going to drive
New York’s getting me down
run out of reason to hang around
that’s why birds fly south,
when it all comes down
All night, I’m going to drive
Will you be, right by my side?
“Scarecrow” by Michael McNevin
This is one of my all-time favorite songs for a lot of reasons: not only it it a great evocation of the behavior of gulls* (the species of sea bird I’ve projected upon this song), its a beautiful love song, period. I believe its won some awards, and I’ve a CD containing the song, but it’s hard to find online to easily share. Fortunately, for these purposes, there’s this video (Track McNevin down at one of his shows or hit him up at Muddpuddle Music if you want your own copy). I heard him sing it the first time I saw him perform and became an insta-fan.
She’s a sea bird I’m a scarecrow
She came to rest upon my elbow
She flys fast I watch the corn grow
Will she come back, well damned if I know
Damned if I know
She’s a sea bird I’m a scarecrow
Will I turn to driftwood in the shallows?
Damned if I know, damned if I know
(McNevin’s also got a song called “Early Bird” worth giving a listen)
*Listen to an actual blackbird call HERE. Listen to a California gull call HERE.