Farther Than The Eye Can See
September 9, 2020
Thanks to my friend Chuck for sending me the link to this 45-minute film. It documents the journey of a blind climber to scale Mt. Everest. It is such an inspiring story.
Overcoming the “standard” obstacles of climbing Everest is extraordinary. The physical condition you must in. The physical, mental and emotional resilience that you have to have for the six-week expedition. As I watched, I wondered how I would react to being at 25,000 feet. How do you overcome your mental chatter as your mind is telling you that you need to turn around? And how to maintain your focus on the way back down, knowing that you have reached the top of the earth but one wrong step and you are dead. I’ve been as high as 15,000 feet; I was disoriented, had an incredible headache and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. And I was sitting in a car.
But this fellow climbed Everest without sight. It is the story of teamwork, patience, staying in the moment. Incredible. (Not sure the Sherpas got enough credit for their role and perhaps not even his team who put their lives at risk to help him make it to the top.). Chuck said he used the video with his management team. I can see why – there is a lot you can get out of this film.
Another takeaway for me was the song that plays during the film - I think only toward the end. "Babylon" by David Gray from the year 2000. That was back when DJ's would play songs and not tell you who the artist was. At least that is how I remember 2000! I recognized the song but not the artist's name. So in case you, too, like the song, here it is.
When I watched the video, I thought the fellow reminded me of Dave Matthews. And indeed, Dave Matthews signed David Gray to his record label - his first signing. How about that?
And it turns out there is a second version of the song and a separate video. Here it is:
And in case that is not enough, here is the entry in www.Songfacts.com:
- This song is about a guy whose girlfriend has left him. Once he realizes he has allowed fear to block his path to love, he decides he wants her back.
- David Gray, who was 30 years old when the album was released, was married at the time and was writing in character. In a Songfacts interview with Gray, he explained: "There's a feeling in that chorus of 'let go of your heart, let go of your head' that's striving. I'm trying to express something but I don't really know what it is, and as the years have gone by, in a way that's the central theme of the record: this act of surrender. 'Surrender at all costs,' if I may come up with a quote."
- "Babylon" is a great word to sing and loaded with historical significance. The ancient Babylon was a major city in Mesopotamia located in what is now Iraq - the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But in the context of this song, it refers to London, which in Victorian times was considered the modern-day Babylon.
- "It's a London record, the whole of White Ladder is, and that's a London song," Gray told Songfacts. "So, rather than saying 'London,' I said 'Babylon.' It fitted basically, and often you have to say something because it just fits the song. And I was then panicked: What does Babylon even mean? I started looking it up in dictionaries and I even rang my father-in-law who was a very knowledgeable man, and he said, 'London was called Babylon. Yes Dave, don't worry, that's true.' And I said, 'Right, I'm going to go with this.'
- It was just something I did instinctively because I absorbed that piece of information. I panicked a bit afterward thinking, am I making a fool of myself, talking rubbish. You've got all those dub songs as well that reference Babylon - reggae and dub, it's in there a lot - and for the kind of decadent times we live in, I guess that's what I was saying."
- The guy in the song goes through a weekend, with each day - Friday, Saturday and Sunday - introducing a new verse. This is what Gray calls a "mathematical" approach to songwriting (Billy Joel did it on "You May Be Right"), but it's done with a great depth of feeling. - "I've come to reflect on that song and realize there's something that resides in it that has a sort of confessional power, so I'm speaking to myself while addressing the listener," he said in his Songfacts interview. "What other way is there to live but to surrender? Do we really believe in reason? You've got to let go, there's something much bigger. So I've come to appreciate that it has a depth of feeling even though the slightly mathematical songwriting approach I took perhaps belies that. - The beauty is in the music of words themselves, the balance of sibilance and weight, and the onomatopoeic phrasing, the things that just ring, the words that just feel right in the lines, and 'Babylon' really has that. The lyric dances over the melody, and it has this wonderful feeling of two things intertwining very, very naturally, like the tendrils of a vine creeping up a fence. It had this sense of entanglement and entwining that felt very lovely and very natural when I wrote it. But that song was written in stages - it didn't all deliver itself in one go. I had to unpick the puzzle of the chorus, which took quite some time."
- The song is built on an acoustic guitar figure, but there's a lot going on around it. Gray's producer, Iestyn Polson, used a sampler to process the clicky beat that plays throughout the song and ran the piano through a vocoder to give it an electronic sound. Keyboards, bass and drum samples were added to round out the track, which hit a sweet spot between organic instrumentation and machine-generated effects. It was all done in Gray's home studio on an 8-track digital recorder.
- In America, "Babylon" is by far David Gray's best known song, but it didn't catch on there until two years after it first appeared in Ireland. Gray made an impression in his native UK with his 1993 debut album, but in Ireland it had a much bigger impact. Following up proved challenging: His next two albums flopped and he was dropped from his label. When he recorded the White Ladder album in 1998, it was at his own expense and seemed like his last shot. Gray pressed 6000 copies and distributed them in Ireland in November 1998, where it got an enthusiastic reception and eventually became the best-selling album in Irish history. He distributed a single, "Please Forgive Me," in the UK, which made #72 in April 1999, earning him a deal with the British label EastWest to release White Ladder in that territory. "Babylon," released as a single, went to #5 in July 2000. - In America, the album got the attention of Dave Matthews, who was starting his own label, ATO Records. Matthews signed Gray and made the album the first release on ATO in 2000. Gray, who had been promoting the album for over a year, came to America to introduce it there, starting the cycle all over again. He started off as a support act for Matthews, but quickly built enough of a following to tour on his own headling small venues. At every stop, Gray did promotion, often appearing at radio stations to play "Babylon," which was the single. From city to city, he build an American following. In February 2001, "Babylon" reached its US chart peak of #57 and White Ladder was certified Platinum. - Years of performing "Babylon" and answering questions about the song took a psychic toll on Gray, who stopped playing it for his own mental health. "There was no feeling left, it was just a husk of a song in my mind," he said. - After some time away from it, Gray reintroduced the song and reclaimed it. It's one of his favorites, but he doesn't want to play it like a jukebox on repeat.
- Gray recorded a different version of this song, sometimes referred to as "Babylon 2," for the US single release. This version also got its own music video. The original video, directed by Kieran Evans, takes place around London, with shots of Gray in the Tube. The second video is set in America.