Back in the early ‘90s I was writing a lot of solo music on my acoustic Yamaha 12 String which is featured in the Ashes & Empty Words video. It’s the type of instrument that inspires and serves as a conduit to the muses. David Bowie was fond of composing on his 12 String, and it served Major Tom quite well. David Crosby also tapped into the magic of the 12 String. I also love Glenn Campbell. Growing up in the ‘70s you heard a lot of 12 String.
When I wrote Ashes and Empty Words, I was striving to write my own Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, or Turn of the Century by Yes, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here or Bowie’s Space Oddity. I was also reading a lot of philosophy and was on a Joseph Campbell Power of Myth quest and was reading everything I could get my hands on: Indian philosopher Krishnamurti’s Flight of the Eagle and Think on These Things, and also Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In fact, listeners who know Neitzsche’s classic will tune into the message of the song, which is essentially destroying your belief system to give birth to a new belief. But it was really Krishnamurti’s quote that jumped off the page about “…Without the feeling of intense love…at the end of your life you will having nothing but ashes, a lot of empty words.”
The intro to Ashes & Empty Words is classical guitar based, which I have been playing since I was 14, and then it kicks into the middle eastern pull-off and G minor progression. I got this chord G Maj/A#/D from studying Spanish guitar, and it just flowed from there. I wrote the words and melody right away. I also recorded with the Danelectro electric 12 String featured in the video.
Years later I played it for Donna (Donna Novak – ’92 in the Shade). She thought the song had potential but needed something more to embellish the piece, and we talked about specifically adding an organ. We were going for the gravity of a Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale— the organ is a big key to the mystique of that song. I am also influenced by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and I wanted to add the blues based Stratocaster guitar and also capture the Pink Floyd organ. So, Donna and I composed a part and she made a great contribution to the song by adding the organ. I have to mention that Donna has an excellent ear and encouraged me to build out the song more than I originally had composed. I’m happy with our decision to do so.
The video is surrealistic and tells the story of the man headed to the mountain to find his own truth.
There is the Vertigo reference and nod to Alfred Hitchcock with Donna’s crimson tinted close up on her eye. But it is also the eye of enlightenment. There is the burning and embers along with the ruins of culture. I blended the singer along with the Beggar in the background overshadowing me. Donna plays the dual role of Promises and Deceit. The dove referenced in the song is a black crow in the video, symbolizing deception that is eventually released. There is also the green apple nod to Magritte, and we deliberately made parts of the video psychedelic and trippy. By the end when we get to the instrumental section, this is the calm before the storm, and then the world is obliterated, and there I am lamenting over the destruction that Krishnamurti warned us about: all you have is ashes and a lot of empty words.
At the end of the video, I continue to the mountain to find truth, pondering hope and existence, or is the nightmare or dream starting over again and keeps reoccurring as if I’m walking into the Twilight Zone?
©2021 Michael P. Naughton