When you were a little girl, did you ever spy on your mother? I have a few distinct memories, glimpses of my mom through a crack in the door as she put on her makeup. Sometimes she would have music playing and she’d be singing, thinking no one was nearby to hear.
One time, when I was on a drill team as a young girl, we would take trips to different cities across Texas to compete. The best part was riding in the back of my friend’s mom’s Suburban, camped out on pillows and blankets with snacks strewn out all around us (not exactly legal but so much fun). On one of these trips, my mom was driving our minivan behind the Suburban. My friends said, “Look at Courtney’s mom!” She was singing along to whatever was playing on her radio—without a care, without embarrassment, and without worrying that the six eleven-year-old girls in the Suburban in front of her were watching. It made us laugh but not in a mean way. I think someone shouted, “Go, Mrs. Kathy!”
It’s a magical thing to have these kinds of memories. They preserve my mother in an unfettered, guileless way. This idea of seeing our mothers in an uninhibited, joyful, yet secret state is exactly what Vashti Bunyan sings about in “Mother.”
The song begins with a gorgeous line on the piano, accented with some delicate high notes as it circles and repeats. Bunyan’s lyrics are spare but oh so telling. “Through her slightly open door, I would watch her as she turned, turned ’round ’round, briefly unbound.” A single cello comes in for a few beats to play a twirling, whimsical solo before Bunyan comes back with a second verse about catching her mom playing and singing, her face upturned and the instrument slightly out of tune. The cello solo returns but there are more strings to accompany it. They swell beautifully, perfectly. There is an undertone of sadness, or maybe just a kind of nostalgia.
The way Bunyan concludes the song resonates so sweetly and poignantly with me as a listener. “My applause should have been rapturous. But I closed the door and turned, turned away.” It almost sounds as if she wishes she would’ve let her mother know of her presence, but there’s a part of me that thinks that would’ve spoiled the magic. So I’m glad she preserved her mother’s secret.
If you enjoyed “Mother,” I’d recommend listening to “Here Before” and “Diamond Day” by Vashti Bunyan.
Bunyan originally released her first album, “Just Another Diamond Day,” in 1970 and then retired from music shortly after. When the album was rediscovered in 2000, she returned in 2005 with a second album, “Lookaftering.” Our Song of the Week comes off her third album, “Heartleap,” and sadly, she’s announced this is her last album. She doesn’t have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any of that. All we can do is enjoy her sweet, heartfelt music.