December 15, 2010

Ghost On A Painted Lake

You may have noticed that it's been a bit quiet here. But, there is a reason for that. Marko and i are working very hard on several projects. One of them is our album. We have been so wrapped up in other projects that our own music has had to take a back seat but we're determined to get an album together for release in 2011! I'd like to give you a sneak peek of a song that is very special to me. This will be quite a long post but i hope that you will stick with it. It's such a great story.

One day last september I was thinking about the song 'Ghost of Tom' also known as 'Ghost of John'. We used to sing it in elementary school and i always loved it. I assumed that there were more verses to it than what they taught us in school. (A lot of folk songs end up in gruesome murders, cheating, prostitution... That's why in school you only get the first verse or two. I lived in the bible belt, subjects like prostitution just don't fly) So anyway, i looked it up, but there weren't any more verses so i thought it'd be great to expound on this song. I started looking on Google for a real Tom to whom something awful happened. One of the first things i found was the 'Death on Painted Lake' website about Tom Thomson.

Tom Thomson (August 5, 1877 – July 8, 1917) was a Canadian painter. He painted the landscape of Algonquin Park. Each spring he would travel to the park where he would lodge on Canoe Lake to sketch and paint. He'd stay there until the hard Canadian winter set in at which time he would retire to his studio in Toronto to turn his sketches into large paintings. In July of 1917 he went missing. Tom was found 8 days later floating upon Canoe Lake. His body was badly decomposed, there was a gash in his forehead and fishing wire was wound around one of his ankles. There is much more to this story than i can fit in here but there are several intersting characters involved and even more unusual things happen to Tom after his death. This mystery has kept Canada in rapture for nearly a century.

I couldn't believe my good fortune at having found such a great story. Spellbinding. But, i hadn't seen his paintings yet and was thinking that if i didn't like his paintings, i sure the hell wasn't going to write a song about this Tom. Then i looked up his work... I was absolutely MESMERIZED. No kidding. I just couldn't believe how beautiful his paintings are. They really moved me. His most famous painting is The Jack Pine. So beautiful and haunting it actually brought tears to my eyes. So, i've been obsessed with this story ever since. I've read the absolutely wonderful new book about Tom Thomson by Roy MacGregor called 'Northern Light' which just came out this past October and i also bought 'The Silence and The Storm' which has the most Tom Thomson paintings ever published in book form. During this time i wrote the song, 'Ghost On A Painted Lake'. I would like to share the demo with you. I repeat, it's a DEMO. When i recorded this i was still reading the lyrics from the page and there are a few mistakes. Of course, it's also very bare (just vocals, ukulele and banjo) and still needs arranging. If you were to read more about Tom Thomson you may recognize some of the characters which are represented in the song by animals. For the few of you who may be familiar with this story, 'The Red Fox' is Shannon Frasier, 'The Wolf' is Martin Blecher and 'The Deer' is Winnie Trainor. For those of you who don't know what the hell i'm talking about i hope you can enjoy the song at face value...
(After pushing play give it a minute to load, the lyrics follow below the song)

Ghost on a Painted Lake (DEMO) by The Uke Box

Ghost On A Painted Lake
by Shelley Rickey

Tom Thomson knew
as he knelt 'pon the woods mossy ground
Algonquin Muse he had found

Her violence of color
The reds and the furious blues
Envious greens hid there too
Along the bank of Painted Lake

Tom slowly reached
for a box full of color
shaded his eyes as he gazed
Wild Woods display

The gaunt silhouette
of a Jack Pine dissecting the sky
Melting of ice moans

The Wood watched intently
as Tom took a brush
panel of birch 8 x 10
Shuddered at what she saw then

All of her secrets
reflected through Tom Thomson's hand
The gust and the gloom of her land

She blushed upon twilight
No man had seen her that way
As Tom Thomson saw her this day
She swore then no more
should he stray
from the banks
of her Painted Lake

Have you seen the ghost of Tom
Long white bones with the flesh all gone
Oooo oooooooo
Wouldn't it be chilly with no skin on?

Tom Thomson's body
Swollen and blistered
Floating upon Painted Lake
for nearly 8 days

A gash at his temple
Flesh falling off of his bones
The song of the loon mourns

The Wood wept in torment
for knowing within her
the beast lay that done her Tom in
Which creature could it have been?

What of the Red Fox
did he out fox Tom one day?
The Wolf or Deer know of Tom's fate?

TheWild Wood is heard
woefully whisp'ring his name.
Tom Thomson's name
And she knows now no more
Shall he stray
from the banks
of her Painted Lake


woodcutter said...

Nicely done! You do a great job of capturing the Canadian experience.
Are you sure you are from the land of cotton and not the land of rocks and trees?

Shelley Rickey said...

Thank You!
I think there must be some Canadian in me somewhere. I really want to visit. It just looks soooo beautiful!

Shelley Rickey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gregory Klages said...

Hey Shelley, as the Research Director for 'Death On A Painted Lake' it is always nice to know that people are reading it, let alone finding it inspirational. Let me know if you have any questions about Tom Thomson and his death. BTW: I have a few articles coming out in 2011 regarding Thomson's death, and historiography regarding this case. As they come to print, I'll try to remember to alert you to them.