Jane Ross Fallon, |
Seven Songs in Seven Days:
Journey of an Arkansas Traveler
The story might sound familiar. During her youth, a girl overhears her parents talking about their pasts and how they both came to be where they are. (Perhaps the youngster is really only half listening at the time.) When the girl becomes a woman, she reaches a stage when she realizes that she longs for more personal details. She wants to understand how she became who she is, based on the legacies of her parents. If she's lucky, at least one of them will still be available to enlighten her.
Jane Ross Fallon is a singer, songwriter and teacher living in New Hampshire after growing up in California and Oregon. But her father was an "Arkansas traveler," who at the age of 11 relocated with his family to the West Coast from Arkansas in the wake of the Great Depression. When Jane goes back to Oregon for a regular visit in June 2008, she is inspired both by curiosity and by a USA Today article ("do something and then write about it") to learn more and to document her father's past. Might she be able to craft a new song during each day of her trip, too? That's her self-imposed challenge.
Gerald "Jerry" Ross is a widower in his early 80s. (Jane's mother, Helen, passed away in 2006.) He answers his daughter's questions about his childhood in Arkansas, the family's move to California and the early days of her parents' marriage. She acts as reporter and duly records his conversations and recollections. Though the emphasis is clearly on Jerry and his side of the family, Jane comes away with some insights into her mother's life as well. We catch a few hints at the origins of the author's own musical roots and talents, too. She adds facts and references when necessary, so that we can place her ancestral stories within the larger context of American history. She even makes an additional side trip to Arkansas herself to gain perspective on the landscape that the Rosses left behind. The result is as complete a family portrait as she can assemble.
Jane's days are marked by separate themed chapters that each begin with an interview with her father. Then she searches for the corresponding inspiration for a song and supplies an explanation for writing it. Each chapter closes with the lyrics to the finished tune. This unique, multifaceted book thus serves as a memoir and a travel narrative that offers a way to "go home" through music.
Black-and-white photos are scattered throughout the text, allowing us to know the main characters and key places in their lives. Jane even includes a recipe for cornbread. The accompanying CD carries recordings of all seven of the songs she created about her experiences. Jane's voice has a nice quality to it, and her story-songs were composed in a variety of styles. "It's Cold Outside" sticks in one's memory, perhaps because it's the first cut on the disc. Otherwise, I think "Blue Dress" and "Church People" stand out from the rest as being exceptional. Two additional selections are "Come and Journey with Me," which could easily be the underlying theme of the overall project; and the traditional folk tune, "She Appeared to be 18 or 19 Years Old," sung by Jerry Ross. It's a real treat for us to be able at last to hear the father's voice, after having previously just read his transcribed dialogues on the printed pages.
Seven Songs in Seven Days offers not just good storytelling, but also a few peeks into the creative process of songwriting. (Who knew that songwriters had groups to bounce ideas off of?) By writing and thinking about our parents' pasts, we can better understand the paths we choose for ourselves. Perhaps we all eventually write about our fathers. This book and CD package should be of interest to those intrigued by personal memoirs, by the father-daughter relationship, by the mystique of the Arkansas migrants of the Great Depression, and by the gumption it takes to craft a melody with lyrics out of thin air. It might even appeal to fans of Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper mystery novels, since Jane Fallon shares similar roots with both fictitious Benni and real-life author Earlene.
book review by
Corinne H. Smith
25 February 2012
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