Tom Keenan and Matt Peters describe this album as a paean to Elizabeth Smart’s lyric novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Paean. I admit, I had to look it up. I keep a dictionary at my desk, a small, hardbound volume held together with several generations of tape, The Little Oxford Dictionary of Current English, third edition, published in 1941. In 1941, Elizabeth Smart was pregnant with her first child, an event she fictionalizes in the book. In 1941, paean was considered common enough for inclusion in The Little Dictionary, which defines it as a noun meaning a “song of triumph or thanksgiving.” Another, more modern, dictionary I accessed online synonymizes paean with “tribute.” It’s a rare delight to encounter a tribute that makes the original sparkle the way Matt and Tom have done here. As I read it now, whole paragraphs of the book lilt with the cadence and melody of these songs, and the moods that colour the music have brought me deeper into the possible world of the novel. From the first time I heard these songs performed on Tom’s dining room piano, the same place where he and Matt wrote the album during a few inspired sessions in the winter of 2007, I sensed a deep appreciation for the text at the heart of this project. Their gentle voices in unison seemed to cradle the words as delicate, emotional artifacts mined from the ruins of a love-sick heart. That first performance was simple, honest and brutal—brutal as the text is, as it strips the guise from 1940s notions of love and mothering, exposing the human heart as a generative organ of desire—ceaseless as a pulse, aching as a muscle, divided as a room with many doors. 
       This is, no doubt, a powerful text. In the book, Smart’s autobiographical character loves a married man, conceives and bears his child, all the while pitying his wife and condemning her own cruelty in causing her pain. The narrative is charged with this complex dynamic and the poetry is relentless, layering image upon image with raw emotion. I read as the character chooses pity over love, chooses love over sense. Nature seems to force her rapture along. The image of the river appears and reappears, becoming metaphor for her love which, unwavering, flows throughout the book until it threatens to drown her. Smart’s sustained inquisition of the heart in love provided the songwriters with a landscape they related to at once. Water flows, moons rise, clouds pass and death looms across both the novel and the songs. Even so, there are differences at their creative sources which make these artworks stand somewhat alone. 
       The novel came out of 1940s England, whereas this album is a product of 21st century Winnipeg. The novel was created by the wealthy daughter of a high-brow Canadian family, this piece by two busy artists working in a lean Canadian art scene. One is written from the body and experience of a single mother at a time when having an affair was considered a crime, the other is a collaboration between two fairly privileged men in a liberal society. This last difference affects how I hear these songs and adds complexity to my appreciation of the album. It makes me think about the limits of empathy and the role of imagination in how I relate to the words—as reader and a listener. It also makes me wonder at how easily the dynamic of illicit motherhood might have been lost in the voices of these two guys, with their vastly different set of experiences. As a fan of this book, and in this case, also, as a woman, it is important to me that the essence of lyric survive intact. Smart’s prose is charged with her character’s voice, and that voice is charged with Smart’s own experience. Her story, latent on the page, is brought to life in my mind as I read, empathize and imagine. Even so, for all the specifics of Elizabeth Smart’s personal life and her fictionalized autobiography, this is a book that has raw, passionate, human love as its material—something I know well, as do Matt and Tom. When asked where the songs came from they both replied that it was here, at the figure of human love.
       When I hear the chorus “I’m going to have a child” repeating in the song of the same title, there is a certain mental gymnastics I perform as I listen: I hear a woman’s words sung by men’s voices and know—in a tiny mental hop-step of cognition—that those words are not theirs. The choice of these artists to include that particular phrase, along with their choice to sample Elizabeth Smart’s own voice reading the text into the mix, has a remarkable value for me. It is here that the pure admiration at the centre of these songs becomes clear again, as clear as it was that first hearing, and I know—without knowing anything beyond the music—that there is a woman’s story here. It makes listening to this album much like hearing a good piece of theatre where the voice of a character, thoughtfully and sensitively delivered, fills the room. Paean is a good word to describe this album. In it, I hear a song of praise. I hear the dining room piano and two gentle voices illuminating the dusty text on the pages of an old paperback book. I hear a love song—ecstatic, evocative and full of delight—and a woman’s song magnified by a chorus. I hear vibrant arrangements and an overall composition that colours the Monterey bus just so and adds the right shade of lemon to the California trees. I hear it all. 

-Michelle Elrick



(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

I am standing on a corner in Monterey
Waiting for the bus to come in
And all the muscles of my will are holding my terror
To face the moment I most desire

But then it is her eyes
That come forward out
Her Madonna eyes
Soft as the newly born

And for a moment, at that gaze, I am happy to forgo
The miracle hanging fire
Her eyes shower me with their innocence
And surprise


It Is Coming

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

IT is coming
The magnet of its imminent finger
Draws each hair of my body
The shudder of its approach
Disintegrates kisses
Loses wishes on the air

The wet hands of the castor-tree at night
Brush me and I shriek
Thinking that at last I am caught up with

The clouds move across the sky
They gather and I am terror-struck
To see them form

A long black rainbow out
Of the mountain and
Disappear across the sea

The thing is at hand
There is nothing to do
But crouch and receive
God’s wrath


Water of Love

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

O the water of love
That floods everything over
So that there is nothing the eye sees
That is not covered in
There is no angle the world can assume
Which the love in my eye cannot make into
A symbol of love

Even the precise geometry
Of his hand
When I gaze at it
Dissolves me into water
And I float away in a flood of love
I float away in a flood of love
And everything flows over
A devastated earth

Which augments the liquid with waterfalls
Raises a sound of praise
To deafen all doubters forever
Burst their shamed eardrums with the roar

Louder than bombs or screams
Or the inside ticking of remorse
Not all the poisonous tides of the blood
I have spilt can influence these
Tidals of love


It Has Happened

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

It has happened
The miracle has arrived
Everything begins
Everything begins today
Everything you touch is born
The new moon attended
By two enormous stars
The sunny day
Fading with a glow
To exhilaration


Only for Myself

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

Then her hair, falling like grief,
Floats in the deserted park
Lifted with every dead leaf

Or her gesture that stumbled with
Too many meanings
To stroke his temple with the
Back of her hand

But it is not for her my heart
Opens and breaks
I die again and again
Only for myself

O the fact, the unalterable fact,
It is she he is with
He is with her

But I do not bleed
The knife stuck in my flesh
Leaves only the hole that
Proves I am dead



(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

Certainly he killed me fourteen nights in succession
To rise again from such slaughter Messiah must indeed become a woman

He said this absence was the mere mechanics of the thing
But it is not the same

He did the one sin which love will not allow
The police, domestic scenes, cooling friends
Were powerless
But love has other laws
Whose infringement
Is punished without trial

Certainly he killed me fourteen nights in succession
To rise again from such slaughter Messiah must indeed become a woman


O Waste of Moon

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

O waste of moon
O waste
Of lavish spring blossoms
And lilac
As I pass down the path

O be my allies
Be my allies
Fern unfolding
Butterfly in the wood

But relentless spring
Goes on and dares to finish itself
Without him

And I grow from one shape into anotherAnd the oblivious child leaps without waiting for a father
Forty days in the wilderness and not one holy vision
Sights to dazzle the eye but I bask in the sun without
Drawing one metaphor from it. Nature is using me
I am the seedbag, jumping down rocks and hills
I have a different balance, and fall backward or trip too easily
Pull down the blinds, my embryo, over my eyes


Time For Such a Word

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

When my eyes float around the room like
Two ships lost on the sea
I know the exact measurements of
My captivity

For I cannot escape by bashing my head

Nor can I summon into my
Company ghosts
There is never anywhere to cry
The walls are always too thin
And the sobs so loud they echo down
The street and
Across salt water bays

There is never and nowhere
A time for such a word


Phoenix of Love

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

Rise in the sky
To be a reminder of comfort
And the hour when I was brave

My heart is its own destructive
It beats out the poisonous rhythm
The rhythm of the truth

    O canary, sing out in the thunderstorm
    Prove your yellow pride
    Give me a reason for courage
    Or a way to be brave    

     A wet wing brushes away the trembling night
    And morning breathes
    But faint as hope and definite as death
    My phoenix of love


I Am Going to Have a Child

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

They say, as we grow older
We embrace resignation
But O, they totter into it
Blind and unprotesting
And from their sin
Sin of accepting
Such a pimp to death
There is no redemption
It is the sin of damnation

But what except morphine can weave
Bearable nets around
The tiger shark that tears my mind to shreds?
The pain was unbearable, I did not want it to end
It had operatic grandeur
It lit up Grand Central Station
Like a Judgement Day

It was more iron-muscled
Than Samson in his moment of revelation
It might have shown me all Dante’s dream
But there was no way to endure

I am going to have a child
So all my dreams are of water
I Am Not the Ease
(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

I am not the ease
But the end
I am not to blind you
But to find you

What you think is the sirens singing
To lure you to your doom
Is only the voice of fate
I was made for only you


All the Paraphernalia

(E. Smart, adapted by T. Keenan & M. Peters)

All the paraphernalia
Of existence
All my sad companions
Of these last twenty years
Ribbons of streets
Wilted geraniums
Thin children’s legs
All the world
Solicits me with joy
Leaps at me
Claiming its birth at last