2005's Sick Yellow Flower, above, long out of print
I’d like to share with you some background about a song from Buttercup’s first record, Sick Yellow Flower. I’ll explain why this is now relevant in a moment. But if you’ll allow me, I’d like to first share its origin story. The song is called “Nov. 1”. November 1 is the day of the dead, and I was thinking about those I had lost, some twenty years ago when I wrote the song. I wanted to build a sort of altar of a song, a tribute to those bright lights that have left this world too soon. Right from the outset the song assumed a strange form: it begins with a sparse, lilting verse:
I make an altar to my dead
I sit longing but I’m not giving up yet
These friends have all gone so I'm partially cracked
And hapless, oh lord
This verse gives way to a jarring, chaotic, swelling refrain. It breaks the tempo and breaks the form—-I suppose I was trying to capture waves of grief. The way they shatter all normalcy in a life.It’s a strange thing to write a song. They can be many things—light distrations, witty jokes, love letters, political statements, stories, or like this one, an encomium to people or places that have disappeared. Sometimes the vastness of the options is overwhelming. I remember struggling with the disparate parts of this song, but I stitched away and got a suitable form, but it was lacking something. I had a verse and fractured refrain. I bounced around off the walls of my tiny, squalid apartment knowing that the song needed something more. And I waited and waited until a coda came to me. It came in the form of a waltz and an accompanying lyric that speaks of the possiblity of healing.
The old heart begins
with a new love
borne out of the half-light of us.
The song basically explodes on the word love, and I sing the note at the top of my range. It feels cathartic, after the winding journey it takes to get there. Sometimes when Buttercup has a tough gig ahead of us, one in a room full of strangers unfamiliar with our music, I’ll put “Nov. 1” at the top of the set list. Something special happens: the song commands the room as it shatters itself. It focuses attention. At these times I am thankful for it, glad that this unusual song came to us.
Recently, I reached out to Mari Maurice to help score "Nov. 1" for a symphony. She worked hard on this unmanageable beast of a tune and created something remarkable. At least I trust that she did--I can’t read music. On Dec 16, the San Antonio Philharmonic will play “Nov. 1” with Buttercup. I hope that you will join us if you can. My career has had some pretty cool collaborations, but this one might just top the list. Tickets here.
Now I must explain why this song and performance has far more gravitas that it should. Many of you may know that Odie (Buttercup primary bassist, singer, multi-instrumentalist and founding member) recently suffered a terrible blow when his son Kenji died the day before Thanksgiving. He is continuing to work and has only begun his journey of grief and healing. There are so many people that love Odie dearly, and we ask you to be respectful of his situation as he grieves.
So, as we are preparing to play this song with the Philharmonic I can only think of Kenji and of Odie and I can only pray that, as Charlie Roadman said, “this shattering of our hearts will ultimately lead to a place where we can stitch them back together, assuming a new shape.” A shape informed by the love we had for a beautiful boy. And the love we have for Odie. Sincerely, Erik Sanden
Odie and Kenji photo by Ramin Samandari