AIN’T NOBODY HOME

"100 Years Of Solitude" Book Cover

Sometimes a novel inspires a song. This was the case with “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez and my song “Ain’t Nobody Home”.

That statement however lacks so many details that I consider it as inaccurate as to say “The United States is a country.”

The truth is that I read the book sometime in the early to mid 1980’s, while living in Hartford, Connecticut, before I moved to New York. Events, such as recording, arranging, auditioning band members and tour deadlines, began to accelerate after 1987, when I signed my recording contract with RCA, so it had to be in the more contemplative, pre-New York chapter of my life. Back in the Whitney Street house days I had many free hours of weekend daylight to spend either taking long bike rides through the countryside or reading a book like “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”.

But it wasn’t just “the book” that inspired the song. It could have been one phrase, one image. If fact I have one specific image in my mind, that Márquez’s words created. I can’t take a photograph of it. That technology has not yet been invented, and I hope it never is. The imagination is the sacred domain of one’s identity.

There are a couple photos I’ve seen that I’d like to share that relate to this theme of an abandoned palatial estate and the mystery of the deep South American jungle.

SWIMMING POOL AY ABANDONDED JUNGLE MANSION(Photo by Amanda Sue.)

I will tell you that when I read the first six sentences of Chapter One, I literally jumped for joy. I mean I stood up and bounced in the fucking air and yelled “Holy Shit! Yes!” or some such words. Here are those sentences: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums they would display new inventions. First they brought the magnet. A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands…”

Actually the sixth sentence is incomplete here, because “sparrow hands” was all I needed in that one to thrill me. The images contained in just these first few lines of prose were enough to make me so happy that I was beginning to read a book that was bound to be filled with such mind-paintings. Going to find ice. Clear water over polished stones, that were white and enormous. Prehistoric eggs. A world so new that you had to point because things lacked names. Ragged gypsies setting up tents in March. Pipes and kettledrums. Bringing a magnet to the jungle. Sparrow hands! Sparrow hands! The painting in my brain began to assemble, and this guy, Márquez, he knew how to construct the colors, how to make the words.

Cracked Marble Floor in Abandoned Estate in Jungle(Photo by Tino Selecta.)

I was fortunate enough to have a Pulitzer Prize winning author (he was a music critic at the time) write about my album “Road To Freedom”: “And his lyrics! If you love words, if you’re one of those people for whom heaven is a rainy day and a good book, then know this: Hugh doesn’t write words — he writes pictures. Like “Forever Yours, Forever Mine”, which speaks of “steep September daylight when the shadows fall at four” and “eyes just staring down the college street strewn with the paper of sycamore leaves.”  – Leonard Pitts, Jr., The Miami Herald, Oct. 19, 1992 

I was so glad that Leonard Pitts GOT IT. He completely, 100% got me. This is what excites me about the world. Images. Of course you use images in different ways. Films, painting, songs, conversations, the best comedy – and writing. And the words that Gabriel García Márquez had written in “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”, besides their brilliance in the construction of an amazing story, inspired many, many pictures in my mind. These pictures, in turn, made me want to write a song.

So when people ask me (especially in radio interviews, or sometimes in person, for a magazine or newspaper article, or, most annoyingly, three seconds after stepping off the stage): “What inspires your songs?” – my eyes glaze over, my tongue gets not just tied but locked, and any answer at all to this question runs and hides like the groundhog I sometimes see, scurrying back to the safety of his home under our backyard deck.

I don’t know! It’s a picture! There is no message! Well, of course there is, but it’s too complicated to get into right now, I tell them, or I wish I had told them later, when I’m listening to the archived interview.

Sometimes, in the rare heat of introducing a song at a concert, I will actually attempt to explain with words what happened at the beginning of creating it. You want to see people’s eyes glaze over? Perhaps I am imagining that, or it’s the glare of the lights in their eyes, I don’t know. I don’t really want to know. I just want them, and me, to enjoy the visual story, and the additional element of my music to enhance it.

The magic is in the dreaming. That’s what it’s all about. Writers, painters, songwriters, filmmakers, we are dreamers. And we share our dreams.

SALGADO(Photo by Sebastião.)

That all being said, there IS a thread of a story. Here’s what I know: I imagined an abandoned palace, in the middle of the jungle. Who lived there before? It looks like they left in a hurry. A long time has passed since they left. There are old rusting guns in the hall, a snake (I’m surprised there’s only one) in the swimming pool. Lots of jungle vines crawling everywhere. Moss in the cracks of marble.

There’s nobody home, obviously. Were they taken by aliens? Or angels? I don’t know where they went to. There’s certainly a lot less information about the former inhabitants of this stately home than in Márquez’s book.  At least he was kind enough to provide, in page before the first chapter, a diagram of the Buendía family tree. In my song, everybody just vanishes.

What does your song symbolise, Grayson?

Suffice it to say, I never liked the heavy hand, or should I say, the lard ass of symbolism. Take Nathaniel Hawthorne for instance. You were probably forced to read him in seventh or eight grade, too, right? Enough said.

Symbolism was invented by people who like to attend literary club meetings and probably also really like the sound of their own voice.

No. A song, a picture, a poem, just is. Appreciate it for that. You can invent all sorts of stories about it, that’s great, and I hope you do. Make them your own stories, and share it, if you like, with others, who will in turn make up their own stories about it.

So – (and that’s the second time I have, to my dismay, used that connector to begin a sentence) What have we learned? (And why did I just write that? Am I ponderous English teacher?)

I don’t know what you’ve learned. How could I ever presume to know what goes on in that head of yours?

I do, though, hope that I have provided some background information about my song “Ain’t Nobody Home”.

I hope you enjoy it, and that it inspires many, many pictures in your head!

To hear my original demo of the song, that I recorded shortly after writing it, in 1990 click HERE.

To see me and my wife Polly Messer performing this song live at The Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center (The Kate) on April 6, 2012, click HERE.

Here are the lyrics:

AIN’T NOBODY HOME
words & music by Grayson Hugh
(Inspired by “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez)

Jungle vines are creepin’
on the palace steps
on the marble floor
there’s moss in the cracks
through the shattered stained glass
sunset on the wall
there’s a snake in the swimmin’ pool
and guns in the hall

They’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
they’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
yeah they’re long-gone

Don’t know where they went to
didn’t leave a note
didn’t take the airplane
didn’t take the boat
might have been the river
in the middle of the night
risin’ through the bedroom
in the cold moonlight

They’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
they’re gone
ain’t nobobdy home tonight
I said they’re long-gone

Interrupted
gone without a clue
now the house is empty
and we don’t know
we don’t know what to do

Now the throne is empty
and the phone is dead
we’re talkin’ to the spirits
down by the river bed

They’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
they’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
they’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
they’re gone
ain’t nobody home tonight
© 1990, 2009 by Swamp Yankee Music/ASCAP

 

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2 thoughts on “AIN’T NOBODY HOME

  1. Bonnie Geffen says:

    It’s a gift, a joy and a blessing to be totally understood!
    BTW, I loved on Whitney Street too (148) *supposed to be lived but loved too 😉

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