Things Seen and Unseen

Things Seen & Unseen

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Released: October 2007


Featuring: Ian Byington, vocals and guitar
Musicians: Cameron Byington (guitar on “Blackbird” & bass), Shay Byington (hand drum); Kimberly Cincilla (vocal on “You Are Love”), Joe Bongiorno (keyboards), and Ian Byington (vocals and guitar).

Ian’s remarks on the album:

I remember it well…I was supposed to sing at the San Juan County Fair in 2004, and three days before the gig I had a bit of a scratch in my throat that was making it hard to hit higher notes – not a pretty sight for someone with a seven note range to begin with. Lots of tea & lemon & honey helped, but I think the thing that really cleared it up was that I ran into my friend Hannelore who said, “Your throat chakra’s blocked up – you need to speak your truth, and you’ll be fine.”

And I did. For the first time in a long time I sang songs that weren’t “politically correct,” songs that might push the boundaries, songs that said clearly & emphatically that love wins & hate loses. After the set, friends said, “Wow – if that’s speaking your truth, you should do that all the time.”

That’s where this set of songs came from, which is why I chose a mix of covers and originals. It’s a mix of anger and quiet determination, a mix of hurt & joy, and a blend of poetry & calls to action.

I usually let the songs speak for themselves, but you may be able to listen to them in a deeper way if I tell you a bit about why I think each one is important, so here goes:

Rhymes & Reasons: John Denver often called this his best song, and I would tend to agree. I like the way it calls it like it is: There IS sadness & lost hope, but there is every reason to keep working toward a future that’s colored by the “colors of the rainbow & the music of the mountains.”

His vision of “the cities start to crumble, and the towers fall around us” is a reminder that if we don’t prepare for the unthinkable, we may be surprised to find what engulfs us. It’s only by keeping our eyes open that we can prepare for the future.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Donovan’s song is based on St. Francis’ “Canticle to Brother Sun,” and may be the one song I’ve sung the most over the past couple of decades. I love Francis’ call for a simple life – it’s the only way we’ll survive. I love the way he speaks to the birds & sings to the animals – they share the earth with us, and we need to make more room for them. And I love the way his love for all creation is based in allowing the Spirit to run through his being.

I nearly recorded the song with the line “I am God’s creature, of him I am part” with the line “of her I am part,” but wanted to stay with the way Donovan wrote it. However, a denial of the sacred feminine really doesn’t cut it with me, so when I sing it live I usually hit the chorus twice, just to work both sexes in. All of us breathe the joined spirit of male & female within us – it’s what makes us whole.

You Are Love: This song of mine was written ages ago, but reminds me of the Rumi-based notion that approaching love is approaching the divine. Adding Kimberly’s voice (left) into the mix makes the song almost a gospel song, while Joe’s piano work (that’s him, above) adds the touch of the angels that the song is reaching for.

Flowers in the Sand: Written before the first invasion of Iraq in 1991, this sing-along has kept its power through the years. I’ve heard that it has been sung at rallies and peace events all around the English-speaking world, and has been added to playlists by soldiers’ iPods in the occupation.

Blackbird: Cameron’s inspired guitar (right) work carries this song forward, in the Beatles’ call for hope against all odds – take these broken wings & learn to fly.

Dark Song: Imagine sitting across from your lover in a pitch-dark room, with nothing to touch each other with but your voice. That’s the idea in this song, which I wrote after noticing how so much around us – so many distractions – keep us from connecting, sometimes. I love that line, “Close your eyes & see the harbor in me/You’ve been out to sea, now it’s time to come home.” We all need a harbor to come to, a safe place to rest & grow.

Kathy’s Song: This Paul Simon song from years ago speaks to the doubts that beset us when we have distance & time & distractions between us…all of which are offset by the love we share.

Hey, Ben, Hey: Ben Linder was killed by American-supplied contras in Nicaragua in 1987 as he was working to finish a hydro-electric project that would bring light to a small village out in the countryside.

Told from the point of view of a kid in the town – Ben was famous for playing with the kids in the village, juggling & riding his unicycle – this song speaks of the kid’s wonder as he saw Ben’s magic, and the darkness that closed out his life at the age of only 27.

My son Shay helped me write this – we were taking a walk when he was five, and he and I had a little ditty going that went something like, “Hey, Shay, hey, turn the lights on/Hey, Shay hey, make the water flow,” because he would run the bath & turn the lights on the wall on & off. I had Ben Linder on my mind because it was the fifth anniversary of his murder, so the song morphed into “Hey, Ben, hey,” with the hope that no more mamas and papas would have to face the kind of terrible crime Ben’s folks did.

Here’s the Wikipedia article about his life, a few notes about his legacy, and a review of the context of what he was doing. Dan Rather courageously stood up to the US government’s report of the murder with this report:

Benjamin Linder was no revolutionary firebrand, spewing rhetoric and itching to carry a rifle through the jungles of Central America. He was a slight, soft-spoken, thoughtful young man. When, at 23, he left the comfort and security of the United States for Nicaragua, he wasn’t exactly sure what he would find… But he wanted to see Nicaragua first-hand, and so he headed off, armed with a new degree in engineering, and the energy and ideals of youth… This wasn’t just another death in a war that has claimed thousands of Nicaraguans. This was an American who was killed with weapons paid for with American tax dollars. The bitter irony of Benjamin Linder’s death is that he went to Nicaragua to build-up what his own country’s dollars paid to destroy – and ended up a victim of the destruction…

The loss of Benjamin Linder is more than fodder in an angry political debate. It is the loss of something that seems rare these days: a man with the courage to put his back behind his beliefs. It would have been very easy for this bright, young man to follow the path to a good job and a comfortable salary. Instead, he chose to follow the lead of his conscience.

Before the Deluge: Although written in the 1970s, Jackson Browne’s vision of the unthinkable – and the people who are continuing to bring it closer to us each day – is an indictment of the greed and pleasure-seeking that continue to lead to our overshooting our resources, tempered by the hope that with wisdom, patience, knowledge, and action, we may have a chance to be the ones who make it, in the end.

Let the music keep our spirits high…that’s Shay to the left, on drums.

Give Yourself to Love: If I were ever told I had only one song left to sing, it would be this song by Kate Wolf. It offers a clear-eyed, open-hearted poem of the way love works – and plays – in our lives. “It will your greatest teacher, and the best friend you have made…give yourself to love.”

Here’s a video of the song, with a number of my friends in it, and showing the beautiful island of San Juan in Washington State, where I live. Produced by Devon Schwinge.

You Ask Me: I wrote this song for a woman years ago in the same spirt as “Dark Song,” trying to find & feel love without getting caught up in the words. It’s all part of what is seen & unseen – “in the question you ask me, your heart is speaking too/In the questions you ask me, your love is shining through.”

Songs copyright ©2007 by Ian Byington/Ahimsa Music, except for Rhymes and Reasons, by John Denver (Cherry Lane Music); Brother Sun, Sister Moon, by Donovan Leitch (Famous Music); Blackbird, by John Lennon & Paul McCartney (Sony& Sony/ATV Music); Kathy’s Song, by Paul Simon (Paul Simon Music); Before the Deluge, by Jackson Browne (Swallow Turn Music); Give Yourself to Love, by Kate Wolf (Another Sundown Publishing).

Engineered, mixed and mastered by Joe Bongiorno at Mellowsounds Music, Seattle.