I joined the club about 10 years ago. I had moved to a new neighborhood and across the street were some friends of my grandparents, Floyd (Doc) and Wynema Keen. Doc you may recognize from his many years running a veterinary clinic on Seminary Drive and as the traveling companion of journalist Jon McConal on many jaunts throughout Texas. He helped my grandfather with the many animals – goats, cows, chickens – we kept at the junkyard he ran on Hemphill Street.
I had also known their son, Randy Keen, a fellow Paschalite. He was an uber-talented musician who left this world far too soon. So when I first saw the Keens after I moved in, I re-introduced myself and we renewed our faint connections. At some point, Wynema Keen took me aside and whispered conspiratorially, “Do you know how to copy CDs?”
You would have thought we were making a deal for some Class A felony. “Yes,” I stammered out. Sure, I can make a CD for a nice neighbor. I figured she wanted a copy of a favorite Floyd Cramer record.
No, she said, pulling a CD from a stack. Her daughter, she explained, had written this song and so many people were asking for copies. Her daughter, Marta Keen Thompson, was also a musician and was then teaching in Las Vegas. A daughter’s music – what mother wouldn’t want some copies?
“I keep giving them away, but then I end up without a copy until I can find one again. I don’t want to be without a copy.”
Wynema was not very computer savvy,
I looked at the CD. It was Love is Spoken Here by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Wait. THE Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
Sure enough, it was. Yes, them. All 783 of them.
Sure, I said, intrigued by what was in the grooves.
I took it home and listened.
And listened again.
No, this really couldn’t be, I thought. I considered myself musically literate. People used to ask me to program music for events, make them mix tapes back in the day. If there was a musical SAT score, I’d be right up there. But this? I’d never heard something this drop-me-on-my-knees great. This was like the first time hearing James Brown’s Live at the Apollo.
No wonder people wanted a copy of this song. And it was written by a woman from Fort Worth? How had I missed this? How long had I been out to lunch, too busy waiting for Rolling Stone magazine to tell me what was good instead of opening my flippin’ ears?
It is heart-breaking and healing at the same time. “Homeward Bound” it is called. It’s not the Simon and Garfunkel song, in case you’re wondering. Some know it as “Until Then,” courtesy of a just-as-heart-breaking video with that title, a tribute to American troops that appeared on YouTube in 2004.
The song is about loss, a universal subject to be sure. But interestingly, the song seems to give those mourning loss permission to go on with their lives. At least that’s my interpretation of it sometimes. It’s a song that can – what can I say – take you places.
The song shares some qualities with Anton Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home” from his New World Symphony, the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” and Aaron Copeland’s very American music. For a song about such a soul-piercing subject it surprised me when I found that the music was in a major key, not a minor key, though it has plenty of minor chords sprinkled throughout.
But this is not really a song I want to spend too much time unpacking. It is one of those pieces of music where the melody, rhythm, chords and words meld together, making a sum that’s more than its parts. And, as I said, it can have a different impact on you depending on where you are in life. On several websites discussing the song, many say, “I want this song played at my funeral.” I say, why wait? Play it now while you can experience it.
I once tried to interest a group of musicians unfamiliar with the music in playing it. They had little interest, never having heard the song. Later one of the musician’s wives came over and said, “I wish they would have done that song. It’s so, so beautiful.” That’s why I feel like those of us who know the song are in some secret club. Please don’t tell Hollywood or they’ll ruin it like they did Adagio for Strings.
According to Marta’s Facebook page: “I wrote this song for a loved one who was embarking upon a new phase of life’s journey, to express the soul’s yearning to grow and change.”
Yes, that it does, but so many people have been moved by the song in so many ways that I thought I would do my little part to share it. Hey, this is Fort Worth’s somewhat unknown tribute to the fallen. So I feel I should spread the word.
Check it out, but it may be NSFW, because you may be blubbering like a child who’s lost a favorite toy. But join the club. You won’t be sorry.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.
TO HEAR “HOMEWARD BOUND”
To find a copy on Amazon, search Love is Spoken Here or “Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen.