Comment was made in the last column about the age-old influence of the sun on the earliest writings and music. The same is true of the moon, which has exerted perhaps even more of a mystical pull on the poetic and musical imagination over the centuries. Worshipped as a god/goddess, linked to witchcraft, werewolves and lunacy, waxing and waning over the years.
In song, inspiration has been more diverse than with the sun, from the stereotyped moon/June romantic odes through the more imaginative reflections of Moondance and Moonshadow to the philosophising of Dark Side of the Moon. There has been a Blue Moon, covered countless times from the Marcels’ doo-wop version through Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley et al, with a particularly atmospheric version by the Cowboy Junkies. But there has also been a Pink Moon (Nick Drake), a Yellow Moon (the Neville Brothers), a Black Moon (Emerson, Lake and Palmer),a Red Moon (David Gray). It’s been a Bad Moon and a Sad Moon and a Harsh Mistress. Jonathan King claimed that Everyone’s Gone to the Moon. And the B-52’s put it quite clearly, without room for argument –There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon).
The first landing on the moon might have lessened this allure but didn’t. There was a brief flurry of songs like Space Oddity and Rocket Man but the moon generally remained something aloof to admire from afar. One of the most hauntingly effective songs in this genre was Monochrome by The Sundays, which turned a childhood recollection of the moon landings into something wider- a child trying to understand an adult’s experience. “It’s 4 in the morning July in 1969, me and my sister, we crept down like shadows. They’re bringing the moon right down to our sitting room, static and silence and a monochrome vision. They’re dancing around, slow puppets silver ground.....And something is said and the whole room laughs aloud, me and my sister looking on like shadows”
In fact, it almost seemed as if it had been forgotten that man had been to the moon and songs continued as they always had done.The song here, Harvest Moon, reverts to the softer, more benign notion of the moon, albeit with an emotional hold over human feelings. It is a Neil Young composition but the version here, by jazz singer Cassandra Wilson from her 1996 album New Moon Daughter, adds another dimension. She has a rich, smoky, sometimes breathy, contralto voice that can have the timbre of a saxophone, and her timing and interpretation can turn a cover version into a different song. Here, as with some other of her covers - such as Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time or, oddly, The Monkees’ Last Train to Clarkesville - the song is slowed right down. Words hang in the air, time passes , and the song becomes a wistful reflection the listener is drawn into. The technique is perfect for such a song about gazing at a full moon whilst, behind her languid voice, the guitars shimmer over the sounds of crickets and frogs.
As with Always the Sun, the listener will find their own setting for the song. My mind takes it to a view from over 20 years ago on a holiday with a young family on the Greek island of Kos. We had been to the Asklepion Temple above the town amidst cypress and pine trees, where lizards bathed in the hot sun on rocks, and had walked over the hills back to the coast. In the evening, I sat looking out over the dark sea towards Turkey, as the bright moon hung in the night sky amidst a sudden shower of shooting stars and the sound of crickets provided an incessant backdrop. Time passed slowly.
The sea, the sun, the moon – universal themes and countless songs. The listener will find the one where a time falls into its place.
Link to song