Friday, March 14, 2008

Time and the River

Yesterday’s gone, love lead me on.
I won’t ask why.

Roll away – it’s only time and the river.
Roll away – to the endless sea.
Roll away – it can all change tomorrow.
This is life in its glory,
And the river runs free.
Oh, roll away. . .

Friday nights are often music night at The Wild Reed, and so tonight I’m sharing the rarely seen music video for Dusty Springfield’s 1995 single, “Roll Away.”

But first . . . Here’s what I’ve written about this song and its accompanying video on my website, Woman of Repute:

In the summer of 1995 Dusty traveled to the windswept Atlantic coastline of Ireland to shoot the promotional video for “Roll Away,” the second and final track released as a single from her 1994-recorded album A Very Fine Love.

Directed by Sean O’Hagan and Seamus McGarvey, and inspired by the film Into the West, the video places Dusty amidst the flowing streams, standing stones and picturesque Celtic ruins of County Clare and the Galway coast as she knowingly acknowledges life’s uncertainties and disappointments while nonetheless imparting a transcending message of hope:

My dreams build the walls of the city,
Broken hearts tear them all down
It ain't always easy and pretty,
But that’s just the world turnin’ around.
Give us this day, give us this night,
It’ll be all right . . .

As an ode to both the inherent mystery of life and the soul’s meandering journey to wholeness, “Roll Away” resonates with a spirit of trusting openness to all that may come. It was a fitting song for a woman who had come to accept the ambiguities of life; who could look back on a time of “wilderness years"’ in California and declare that: “It was very, very good to me and very, very bad to me, and it needed to be both for me to be here now.”

Such wisdom and serenity were evident throughout Dusty’s promotional work for A Very Fine Love, as, perhaps for the first time, she appeared at peace with herself and her artistry. More than once she acknowledged that it had been her experience of a life-threatening illness that had facilitated a re-prioritizing of her life and values.

Noted Dusty in a 1995 interview: “'Roll Away' [means a lot to me] because of the line Roll away, it’s only time and the river. . . . For the last year I’d been obsessed with going to the Shenandoah River. And I did it this year [1995], in the snow. I don’t know whether it was a previous life or whatever, but I had to be there. I stood there and wept. And I have no idea why. I felt so still, so happy. The tears were not sad at all. They were: “I’ve done it. I’m here.” This last year has been pure shit, but . . . I’ve done the record. The cancer is over. I’ve done it! That was a genuine spiritual experience, watching the flow in utter silence.”

Sadly, “Roll Away” would became Dusty’s swan song as, within two years of its release, the cancer she believed she had conquered returned. She died on March 2, 1999 – the day she was to have been honored with the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, and thirteen days before her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I’ve always resonated with the lyrics of “Roll Away.” The song was actually released as a single in the United Kingdom on my 30th birthday – October 23, 1995. In the video, Dusty, standing in her robe-like black coat, gives the impression of a Celtic priestess or oracle of old; the green door beside her symbolic of new pathways and opportunities for growth and new life. (In
September 2007 I was invited to facilitate a session on “Remembering and Celebrating Our Spirit-led Journeys as Catholic LGBT People” at a retreat in Stillwater, Minnesota. While planning the retreat with the organizers, I played them “Roll Away” and said that I was considering using it as part of my session. Upon hearing it, they liked it so much that “Roll Away” became the retreat’s theme song!)

Upon its release in 1995, “Roll Away” reached #68 on the UK charts, yet for some reason its promotional video was never officially released. Fred Perry, Dusty’s lighting manager for much of her career, contacted me via my
Woman of Repute website and sent me a copy of the video a few years before his death in January 2001. Over the years others have obtained copies, and a good quality version was recently posted on YouTube.

So here, my friends, is the great Dusty Springfield and “Roll Away” . . . or, as I like to call it, “Time and the River.”

Following is what Paul Howes says about “Roll Away” in his excellent book,
The Complete Dusty Springfield:

“Roll Away” was . . . the very first track previewed from [Dusty’s Nashville-recorded album, A Very Fine Love]. At the end of the 1994 documentary Full Circle, the song could be heard in the background while Dusty talked about Nashville. The scene shifted to a mock recording session in a Nashville studio to reveal Dusty performing it while theatrically tossing a music sheet behind her; finally the song continued over the closing credits.

Unlike many of the tracks on A Very Fine Love, Dusty’s recording of “Roll Away” is the original. Dusty said that the demo she had been given was much more raucous and was sung by a gravel-voiced rock chick. In all probability, that gravel-voiced rock chick was the co-writer Martee Lebow, a singer in her own right. [Note: The song’s other co-writer is Will Jennings]. The song was chosen as the second single from the album, both in the UK and the US, and that was the big mistake. It should have been the first. By the time “Roll Away” was released, a lot of the media attention over a new Dusty Springfield album, as well as her illness, had subsided.

. . . The [song’s promotional] video was never used except for a few brief clips. Dusty did, however, make a couple of TV appearances to promote the single and it managed to get into the lower regions of the charts for one week, which suggests that it was only her fan base who bought the record.

For my 2002 interview with Paul Howes, click here.

For an article about the making of the “Roll Away” music video, click here.

Every day when I look in the mirror,
I try to see where my soul’s at now.
Happy day, is it further or nearer?
On the way, will I find it somehow?
Yesterday’s gone, love lead me on.
I won’t ask why.

Roll away – it’s only time and the river.
Roll away – to the endless sea.
Roll away – it can all change tomorrow.
This is life in its glory,
And the river runs free.
Oh, roll away. . .

For other Dusty-related posts on The Wild Reed, visit:
Soul Deep
Classic Dusty
Remembering a Great Soul Singer
Shelby Lynne Celebrates Dusty Springfield

Recommended Off-site Link:
Woman of Repute

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is SO beautiful. Thank you, thank you, thank you Michael for writing it.

The line “This is life in it’s glory and the river runs free...roll away” is part of my Dustyville signature.

I’ve always felt that “Roll Away” was/is Dusty at her best. Her voice is flawless, the lyric is inspiring and she looks wonderful. The song is also one of her most poignant for me since we all know if was Dusty’s swan song. Still, I love it so much for all that it says. It is a very inspiring song and almost religious in it’s message and delivery.

“Roll Away” speaks to the way I wish I could always be in my outlook and view of life. I do try daily to emulate the sentiment, more so because I truly believe every time I see that video that Dusty was a true believer of the song’s message as well. Would we all be able to follow it’s message . . .

Thank you so much for reminding all of us of the power, beauty, and elegance of Dusty’s final message to us.