The Changing Lights

John Fraim / Downtown Petaluma, California
The Changing Lights / Stacey Kent

Stacey Kent (born March 27, 1968) is a Grammy-nominated singer. Kent was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Minister of Culture in 2009. She is married to saxophonist, composer Jim Tomlinson who produces Kent’s albums and writes songs for her with his lyricist partner, the great novelist Kazuo Ishniguro. 

Stacey’s website offers valuable insight into her movement towards The Changing Lights album and its gorgeous “The Changing Lights” compostiion. Her website says it best. “Almost overnight, Stacey transformed from being a singer of the Great American Songbook, to a singer with a highly distinctive and personal repertoire. The first collaboration between Ishiguro, the lyricist, and Tomlinson, the composer, The Ice Hotel, won first prize in the jazz category of the International Songwriting Competition. Since then, all of Stacey’s albums have been punctuated by original songs composed by Tomlinson with a variety of lyricists in English, French and Portuguese. Kent has continued to pursue a frenetic recording and touring schedule. Her first album for Blue Note was followed in 2009 by the Gold-selling, all-French, Raconte-Moi which was that year’s biggest selling French language album outside of France. She was invited to perform an all-French program at the Francofolies Festival and was awarded the Chevalier Dans L’Ordre Des Arts et Des Lettres. Her first ever live album, Dreamer In Concert (EMI 2011), was followed by The Changing Lights (Warner 2013), which more than any other album, reveals the ever-present influence of Brazil in Stacey’s music.”

Notes on Stacey’s website say, “The idea of singing original compositions came up during a lunch with Tominson had with Ishiguro. The conversation turned to music, and the idea was hatched to write a series of songs for Stacey that distilled themes of memory, travel and love, that so frequently surfaced in her repertoire. The song ‘Changing Lights’ is from Stacey’s 2013 album Changing Light.

Stacey Kent & Kazuo Ishniguro

In the UK’s Independent of September 13, 2013, Kent recalls how she came to meet Ishiguro.

“I was listening to Kazuo being interviewed on [Radio 4 series] Desert Island Discs, in 2002, with my husband Jim, as I’d read The Unconsoled and The Remains of the Day and was a huge fan. So, I was shocked when one of the records he picked was mine. It was amazing and I wrote him a thank-you letter saying how thrilled I was, and we started corresponding by email.”

Ishiguro says of Kent, “Her approach as a singer is similar to my approach as a writer: when I hear her sing I feel she captures a sense of internality.”

Read more about Kent’s relationship with the great novelist in The Independent.

* * *

The song “The Changing Lights” is the best of the Ishiguro-Kent collaborations. It is a perfect blending of lyrics and music. The style is Bossa Nova. The thoughts of a woman remembering pieces of a former relationshihp when she was much younger and more foolish. Apparently it was a type of international affair as the woman narrating the song mentions the cities of Rio, New York, London and Paris as places the two were together. They “vowed to guard their dreams from all the storms that lay ahead.” It was a serious relationship and this talks about meeting the future “storms” together as a couple. The relationship ends. Perhaps ten or twenty years later, the woman narrator sees the man she had been in love with when she was young. He has a briefcase under his arm and is talking on his cell phone. The woman narrator surmises that he is married and talking to his family. As she approaches him, he turned around with a question in his eye. “But we smiled and talked awhile,” she relates in the lyrics of Ishiguro. “About each other’s lives. And once or twice I caught a wistful note.” Then, the man moves on. “Then you moved towards the crossing, as the cars slowed to a halt. And we waved and parted beneath the changing lights.”

A collection memory pieces that don’t fit into any linear timeline. The narrator jumps around to places as her memories of a romantic relationship have become jumbled with the waves of time. Her memories seem at least ten or more years old. Perhaps twenty or more. It is the memory of a past relationship that might have gone somewhere but didn’t. She remembers it with much love, passion and honesty. The words put into how she describes her memories are some of the most meaningful music lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. And, this includes Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues in 1967. She has problems with her memory of this relationship. There are many questions in the lyrics of the song. The woman wonders where the two were when an event happened. “Were we leaving Rio or were we in New York?” she wonders. Or “It was near Les Invalides (Paris) or perhaps Trafalgar Square.”

The lyrics are seem somewhat of a modern version of stream of consciousness thoughts in literature. Very much like Virginia Woolf or Joyces. Perhaps her confusion of places in the lyrics is that these thoughts have just come to her in a flash of memory and they are yet to be sorted out in some rational manner. Perhaps she simply has these flashes of memory. Expressed in a perfect blending with perhaps all came to her at once once she saw her old lover on a street corner of some city perhaps twenty years after their relationship ended.The words of Ishniguro provide some powerful images. A small amount of words are given the task of bringing memories back to the woman narrator Ishniguro creates. It is a beautiful poem just by itself. About one past love affair. A woman narrator thinks about it in the song playing from above with the lyrics to that song below.

The Changing Lights / Photo by John Fraim

It’s not news that amongst that long list of other things needed in life today, we need a new type of music. Perhaps this music will first be born with lyrics like the brilliant lyrics of our world’s great novelist for “The Changing Lights.” Or, perhaps it might be born from some sound or melody one hears. Here, the perfect collaboration between the writer of words and the singer of those words. In that magical way, giving the piece of music something new and different from just a blending of the singer and writer of a song. It doesn’t happen better than the collaboration on “The Changing Lights.” For many years, Ishiguro has developed millions of readers around the world for his best-selling novels. Now, with the piece “The Changing Lights” Ishiguro moves his literature dominance into music through his partnershihp with Stacey Kent. It is the best collaboration between writer and singer I’ve heard in music.

It is one thing to write brilliant lyrics. It is another thing altogether to find the right voice to express brilliant lyrics to the world. Writing lyrics for songs is always involves the dynamics of the writer and singer of the song. Here, a great blending of voice and words in service to creating a truly new type of music. I was moved by the words and singer of these words. After hearing it on KCSM, I immeditately went to work doing research on Stacy Kent and Kazuo Ishiguro. I already knew much about Ishniguro as he is one of the world’s greate novelists today. A truly prophetic writer. The lyrics for The Changing Lights really create a poem by Ishniguro in the form of lyrics for the song “The Changing Lights.”

The above post is cobled together from my research on this. Probably something that won’t be worked on too much from what you read above as I usually move on to new ideas and topics. But as it is, it’s not bad. Most of it seems to be true or at least the truest of any of the stuff I can find out on this whole thing so far.

(Editor’s Note. A special thanks to my favorite radio station KCSM, the Bay Area jazz station. I first heard this song on KCSM which I stream all day into my office. Thanks again KCSM for continuing to introduce listeners to music from artists like Stacy Kent)


The Changing Lights

Lyrics by Kazuo Ishniguro

Were we leaving Rio
Or were we in New York?
I remember bossa nova on the breeze
We were in the back seat
Of a cab we couldn’t afford
You were holding my old rucksack on your knees 

You leaned towards your window
To see the traffic up ahead
“These commuters here, ” you said
“Could be the walking dead.”

And we vowed to guard our dreams
From all the storms that lay ahead
From the winds of fear and age and compromise 

And we laughed about the hopelessness
Of so many peoples’ lives
As we slowly moved towards the changing lights.

It was near Les Invalides
Or perhaps Trafalgar Square
It was late at night the city was asleep.
You were clowning in the back seat
With some friends we’d found somewhere
The kind, back then, we always seemed to meet. 

There were those in this great world you said
Just fated to go far
And among the lucky ones
Were we inside that car.

And your friends began to sing
When You Wish Upon A Star
And you clapped along like you didn’t have a care 

But once I turned to glance at you
As we drove across the square
And your face looked haunted in the changing lights.

Was it last September?
It was autumn more or less
You were waiting to cross some busy boulevard 

Talking on your phone
To your family I guess
Your briefcase tucked up high beneath your arm

As I approached you turned around
A question in your eye
As though I might ignore you
And just simply walk on by

But we smiled and talked awhile
About each other’s lives
And once or twice I caught a wistful note
Then you moved towards the crossing
As the cars slowed to a halt
And we waved and parted beneath the changing lights.

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