Ode to ‘Your Rocky Spine’

You hear the framming and frailling of clawhammer banjo, you see St. Francis mindfully asleep on the upright bass, hear the brushes fall like wet snow on the snare and cymbal, the weave of rhythm, and then the voice, interlaced and pitched, as from the high limbs of an Ontario oak, from where you spy the Ishpatina ridge.

And maybe, for a moment, those “shapes that your body makes,” enkindle and burn away the quotidian sketch of your life, like that expanding flame circle on the map of the Ponderosa, and you find yourself floating in warm mist above the ice-fields.

It’s been years since I first heard this track (only today have I looked at the video), the Great Lake Swimmers were still paddling in the shadows of Superior, but having come to it again, thanks to the catholic playlist at Roast Coffee, I still, again, feel that thing happen. That moment of discovery, that lift, that quickening, that motility of gamete—if you’ll allow it.

It’s what every personally arresting song does; it releases a runnel of morphine-like chemicals into your skull and your skin goes galvanic. Which perhaps is another way of describing a ringing moment of inspiration, elation—a gift given for no reason.

This song might not be for you of course, but no doubt, sometime, somewhere, a song or many songs, have done this for you. (Perhaps one comes to mind even now?)

Me, I willingly accept the transaction this song asks for, both musically and lyrically. Of course there’s a melancholy that plays throughout, which I’m a sucker for. And there’s the bodily payoff, a kind of undoing of the final dualism in the blurring of sex and earth, flesh and glacial sediment—all that outside coming in and all that inside spilling out.

In the end, I think of Your Rocky Spine like a ride you don’t so much take as become—like those rills, that start high above the tree-line, that gather and flow over scree, then drop from stone ridges to run around foothills and tumble into broad rivers.


  1. Yes, yes, Stephen. It happened to me last autumn. Listening to k.d. lang singing Joni Mitchell, driving up valley in the wine country, the smell of pomace scenting the air so heavy that it felt like a cluster of grapes was hanging over my head, the warm, dry air of Indian summer … “you’re in my blood like holy wine, so bitter and so sweet. I could drink a case of you, and I’d still be on my feet…” taking me back to some dark smoky bar in the seventies, touching that memory chord and yet, right now, right here, the shiver runs the length of me, as every cell in my body sings the song, is the music.

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