grand symphony of varied themes and verbal imagery; the pounding intensity of frustrated loss and the intensity of dreams yet to be realized; the yearning with all one’s heart for something, anything, to fill the aching void where love and life used to be; the wistful, hopeful, prayerful gaze into the heart of the sunrise, accepting with grace one more day’s opportunity to be, do, have, give, live, love.
I’ve read until I’m sick of it about Jon Anderson’s ‘meaningless meandering’ lyrics. Anderson isn’t a balladeer; if those critics need simple storytelling there are plenty of singer songwriters whose lyrics do just that. That’s never been what ‘Yes’ has striven for. Anderson’s lyrics paint grand vistas of feeling and intensity, using language in broad vibrant strokes more akin to Van Gogh than Ansel Adams. Not better, not less; just a different flavor when I’m in that mood.
Yes’s 1971 release “Fragile” is certainly one of the most important rock albums of all time. A hit on both sides of the Atlantic, “Roundabout” was ubiquitous the year of its release. “Long Distance Runaround” still gets plenty of airplay on the AOR stations. I’ve already commented on the huge sweeping theatrics of “South Side of the Sky.” What I haven’t done, ever, is fully shared with anyone the depths at which “Heart of the Sunrise” reaches me.
When I was a teenager, I shared my room with both my brothers; one older, one younger. I was the quiet one; Shane, my younger brother, was verbally quieter, but carried a presence as palpable as strong cologne. Built like a short (but still taller than me) Arnold Schwarzenegger with ‘Conan the Barbarian’ hair, he didn’t have to speak to be noticed. My older brother, Brett, was over six feet tall and built like a bull with a voice to match. No one missed him.
Thanks for being there.
And there I was in the middle, studious, skinny, silent.
They controlled the music on our stereo. I didn’t listen to Motown or classical or jazz when they were around; if it wasn’t what they liked it didn’t get played. Many albums only got used on one side; albums like “Fragile” were never sampled on side two for whatever might be there. Long complex works like “Heart of the Sunrise” just didn’t stand a chance against “Satisfaction” and “Radar Love.”
On summer afternoons, while they were at the beach or playing football in the street, I lingered in our shared room, laying in the sunshine on my bed, reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and listening to oddities like the Dead’s “Anthem of the Sun”, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus”, and especially Yes’s ambitious efforts on “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, “Close to the Edge”, and individual cuts like “Heart of the Sunrise.”
Opening in a thunder of bass and drums, the song weaves together two themes: a staccato hammering that drives right into your head, and a slow, swaying melody which sounds more like a lullaby. Back and forth they struggle; hammering and soothing, until nearly four minutes into the 11-minute opus, the lullaby wins out for a while. Anderson’s voice, now mellower than it was in those days, is nearly childlike; high and thin, almost asking for a lullaby instead of sharing one.
Chris Squire’s bass, strong and firm, manages to emphasize the delicacy of the melody instead of crushing it with unnecessary weight. Steve Howe’s guitars; Bill Bruford’s drums; Rick Wakeman’s keyboards; all build gradually to a new theme which never quite makes the transition from lullaby to thunder a graceful one. Instead, we’re forced to accept that sometimes change isn’t subtle, gradual; sometimes, it’s in-your-face loud and you deal with it.
The themes continue their struggle, with thunder gradually winning out—until the end, when it all crashes into an abrupt, almost painful, silence.
Every sunrise is another chance; another day to try again, to get it right this time. As the sun creeps over the balcony of my apartment each morning, painting the fields across the road with gold, pouring coppery through the windows, I decide, every day, to accept the challenge found in the heart of the sunrise.
I think I’m gonna be okay.