Songblog: Polaroids and Postcards

Tanglewood Sundance guitar.jpg

I wrote this in Canada one morning in July of last year – the same morning I took this picture, actually.

The little guitar figure had come first, a few days before. I was playing the Tanglewood guitar in dropped D for a few days, and the lick just seemed to fall under my fingers. I played it over and over for about three days solid.

On one of those afternoons, Andrea and her mother decided to open some of the cardboard boxes that had been in storage in the basement of the house for over a decade, and there were deep emotions circulating – old family pictures and letters and artefacts were coming out for the first time in many years. A lot of ghosts moving through the rooms, and quite a bit of conversation about the immigrant experience.

The Montgomery family had come over in the late 19th century from Scotland. So the idea of leaving home and writing back to your family was in my blood at the time.

All that year, my father had been copying old family photographs – and every few days I would call to visit and he would have copied another family picture for me. One of the pictures he showed me was of my Aunt Bridget, who emigrated to Australia in the early 60s. There was a picture of her standing outside a rural Post Office holding a baby. And in the background there was just... endless miles of white desert. Nothing as far as the eye could see.

On the opposite page of the family album was the telegram that she had sent home to her mother in Pates Lane in Coleraine, to mark the fact that she had crossed the Equator. We all have family stories like this, I imagine. And it strikes me that the idea of travelling that distance is kind of commonplace now. Back then it must have seemed almost like a death in the family – to lose your loved ones to the wind.

I love John McCullough’s piano playing on this.

MUSICIANS: Anthony Toner – vocals and guitars; Clive Culbertson – bass; Peter McKinney – drums; John McCullough – piano

LYRICS:

We were both named for Catholic saints,

but it never does us any good.

We say our prayers each day and we walk out

into the deep, dark woods.

We’re kids of a restless generation,

who prayed that life could be better.

They packed their bags and caught the boats, and got kind of

lost out in the weather.

CHORUS:

And it’s happy and sad,

all these Polaroids and postcards.

Good and bad, all the news they send back home.

And you wonder how these hearts can go the distance,

even though we’ve been down this road many times.

Australia 1962:

Our uncle and his brand new wife.

Behind them the land goes on for miles,

without another sign of life.

From Vancouver, New York and Boston;

Philadelphia, New South Wales:

Black and whites of birthday parties,

and smiling little nephews come Air Mail.

CHORUS