Category Archives: Music

Music in the Snow

OK. Here’s a bit of parallel thinking about a snowfall heading up the coast from Florida to Boston. See if you can navigate all this without losing your balance and falling into the slush.

Let’s begin with some music.

James Taylor’s “Frozen Man”: Overture for a snow storm heading up the coast

Regressive of me, sure. But when the weather service predicts “plowable” snow for a school day, I’m already imagining the joys of forced malingering.

And as we all have a musical score for our lives, I YouTubed James Taylor’s “Frozen Man.”

I know. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” would be more appropriate. He sang a duet with Nathalie Cole. Very sweet. But the frozen man story always gets me — along with that signature acoustic guitar style and one of the great voices of the past quarter century:

Last thing I remember is the freezing cold
Water reaching up just to swallow me whole
Ice in the rigging and howling wind
Shock to my body as we tumbled in
Then my brothers and the others are lost at sea
I alone am returned to tell thee
Hidden in ice for a century
To walk the world again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Next words that were spoken to me
Nurse asked me what my name might be
She was all in white at the foot of my bed
I said angel of mercy Im alive or am I dead
My name is william james mcphee
I was born in 1843
Raised in liverpool by the sea
But that aint who I am
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

It took a lot of money to start my heart
To peg my leg and to buy my eye
The newspapers call me the state of the art
And the children, when they see me, cry
I thought it would be nice just to visit my grave
See what kind of tombstone I might have
I saw my wife and my daughter and it seemed so strange
Both of them dead and gone from extreme old age
See here, when I die make sure Im gone
Dont leave em nothing to work on
You can raise your arm, you can wiggle your hand
And you can wave goodbye to the frozen man

I know what it means to freeze to death
To lose a little life with every breath
To say goodbye to life on earth
To come around again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man
Lord have mercy on the frozen man


Can’t resist those tales of redemption. Dante himself might have admired it, except his frozen Judas and other nasty boys. But America’s the land of second chances, isn’t it? Of underdogs like Stallone’s Rocky getting up off their ass and taking their punishment as a triumph?

But there’s a counterpoint to this: There are no second acts in American lives, said Scott Fitzgerald. (Of course, he never saw all the “Rocky” sequels or “Godfather II”.)

Then there’s Robert Bly’s “Silence in the Snowy Fields” poem:

Poet Robert Bly

Poet Robert Bly

(Are you still with me? Lost you yet?)

Something about snowfalls stops us in our tracks. Poems — with their inner-silence capabilities — can capture that. Robert Frost could, of course. Even a lesser light like Bly.  (No sin to be a “minor poet”. Get a couple of good shots off. Heck, even one beauty’s enough for a whole career.).

Then there’s Emily Dickinson (#341) to give us the dark side of the snow, so to speak:

“After great pain, a formal feeling comes —

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs

. . .

As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow —

First — Chill — then Stupor — then the letting go –”

True enough. Naturally, death becomes poets, and they do it well (didn’t Sylvia Plath write that she did dying well?).

Look: Find me a poet who hasn’t written about snow and I’ll find you the coordinates of an humid, equatorial country.

I met my wife on a snow day, when my classes were cancelled, 10 years ago this week.


Leave a comment

Filed under Literary Criticism, Media, Music, On Writing