Seventeen Years is another one of the older songs on the record – written a few years ago during a trip to Virginia and very much influenced in contentby my time spent living in Ohio. In part the song is an homage to those 17 Year cicadas that emerged outside my home up on Angel Ridge the summer my daughter was born (an allegory to cycles of life for bug and human!) The song is also a recounting (with much artistic license) of a moment in the life of a teen mom I represented in Athens when working as a State Public Defender on child welfare cases.
We wanted the song to have a kind of epic quality, the 17 year cicada emergence is biblical in its scope …. So in addition to Bob Foster’s mighty Hammond parts, Dr John’s gritty loud electric, and the maiden voyage of my mandolin playing in the bridge, I am most chuffed that Jeremy Darby helped us loop and integrate a recording of the male cicada’s mating call into the start and finish of the song – that and a cameo appearance in the outro by Lord David Attenborough no less! The famous British naturalist, unbeknownst to himself at the time, conveniently quoted a lyric from my song in his BBC documentary on this most extraordinary insect which demanded sampling: “…after seventeen long years.”
Yes, we did try and make it a bit Ben Hur-esque!
There’s rather bombastic drums and a certain sword and sandal swagger to the whole affair! On the big riff that starts the tune everyone piles in: Hammond, heavy distorted guitars, bass, drums… Then Jon’s violin emulates the two note mating call of the male cicada , who has seventeen years of pent up
ardor to release!!
It’s a great a song to play live… And I wanted to capture that energy in the studio. It feels unifying and defiant… The heart wrenching struggle and catharsis of this young mother. As the song comes out of the bridge into the third verse there’s a long drone note on Hammond, Bass and Jon’s tremolando violin that supports the mother’s call:
“She’ll use her strong new voice to call her one true love back home,
He may hear it rise above the cacophony so grand.
But it ain’t no siren’s song, the jagged rocks reduced to sand,
And after seventeen long years he returns to take her hand…”