Friday, October 17, 2008

Geosong: Kathy Kallick's "The Quake of '89"

I've given up on even pretending about the "...of the week" part, but I still have plenty of songs!

I've already highlighted a few songs that were either explicitly about Northridge, or were released within a year or so of that earthquake. I've only come across two songs (thanks to Kim for the second!) about Loma Prieta, however. Since today is the 17th of October, which is the 19th anniversary of that earthquake, I'm going to feature one of them: Kathy Kallick's "The Quake of '89."

Kathy Kallick is another musician I'd never heard of before I started compiling the Fault Poking Playlist. A quick bit of googling tells me that she's originally from the Chicago area, but moved to the Bay Area in the 1970s, where she started a bluegrass band. She's lived in that area since (making her Loma Prieta experience firsthand, rather than a song about a thing on the news), and while bluegrass is still her main musical style, her solo albums have a more diverse set of influences.

"The Quake of '89" is not stylistically bluegrass. It is more of somewhere between mainstream country and pop, very upbeat, with guitars and keyboards. The fact that it is such a musically-upbeat song about a very serious topic, though, is very much in line with bluegrass.

The lyrics combine a personal reaction to the quake (building up supplies to prepare for the next one, planning escape routes, feeling generally freaked out) and some intrapersonal conflict, in that Kallick seems to be singing to some unknown significant individual (I'd guess a lover, since it's a pop-ish song, but it's not really clear) about how everyone who cared about her contacted her after the quake except for that person. Considering how many of my east coast friends and family called me after this summer's Chino Hills quake - much MUCH smaller than Loma Prieta! - I would agree with Kallick that it takes a pretty darn insensitive and inconsiderate soul to not check in when something really big does happen.

But for the storyline of the song, the thing that still really gets me is the chorus, specifically the first line of it:
"The earth went bang, there were two big waves."
Yes, we have specified P-waves and S-waves! And this is a country/pop song. It's not meant as an educational song, it's not by a scientist or for in-joke scientist consumption. It's mainstream country/pop song, written by a professional songwriter who experienced the quake, and we've got specific P-waves and S-waves and the truck-hitting-building sound that comes with them. This level of detail in a song that's not a novelty or an educational tool makes me irrationally happy.

There's another line in this song to which I can closely relate. Near the end of the song comes the verse:
"I've been thinking a lot about bridges,I've been thinking a lot about time.
Things shift into focus when your life is on the line.
To me, that was the message of the Quake of '89."

I cannot, of course, relate to this regarding Loma Prieta specifically, since I was five years old and in Virginia at the time. But my life being on the line in that car accident in 2007 (which was not on a bridge, but the road was raised) definitely put a lot of things into focus for me, and was one of the reasons I decided to go for it and change majors. I have no plans to write a song about that accident, but an event that can instill the same clarity after fear in thousands of people, an event like Loma Prieta, is undoubtedly worthy of musical treatment, even without explicit mention of P- and S-waves. Those just make Kathy Kallick's song a particularly good one.

Kathy Kallick on Rhapsody