Posted by: Michael George Daniel | October 31, 2007


On Eliza Gilkyson’s 2002 album Lost and Found, the words of the last song, Riverside, go like this:

On the last day of the last month of the last year

Before the end of the millennium

What a sideshow, dumb and glorious

We were gathering, them and all of us

Down by the riverside

Without the context of the rest of the song, the meaning of these lines is probably a bit obscure. As poetry and art, even with the remaining context, it is still subject to personal interpretation. One aspect of such interpretation would be how one feels when taking in the words. For me, today, the last day of October, with Mercury coming out of retrograde, the end of summer, the traditional Celtic New Year (read pagan there if you like), I find a certain psychic clearing happening for me; a restoration of feeling that I have been missing for the last couple of weeks. Indeed, just yesterday as I dozed in the early morning hours, I felt my feeling self re-emerging from somewhere deep within. I could literally feel my capacity for sensation moving out from my core to my skin, that thin membrane between the physical me and the rest of the Universe.

I was reconnecting with deeper meaning in terms of my immediate surroundings and consciousness. This is not a new occurrence, but there is something new here; it is the fact that I became aware, whether in a dream state or awake, of the process of returning to feeling. I had been aware, for the last couple of weeks, of some inhibition to feeling. I’ve only recently come to be aware of the movement of these cycles. Dreams, introspection and consciousness work all contribute to this increasing awareness. The ability to observe the movement of this cycle is a milestone.

Inside of this reawakening capacity for feeling I’m able to access meaning. I believe Eliza is commenting on The Great Turning in this song. As Thomas Berry writes, in The Great Work, “our own special role, which we will hand on to our children, is that of managing the arduous transition from the terminal Cenozoic to the emerging Ecozoic Era, the period when humans will be present to the planet as participating members of the comprehensive Earth community.” [Page 8] This transition might be called a Great Turning. The term has also been used by David Korten in his book, From Empire to Earth Community, to describe the deeper cultural shifts occurring in concert with the geobiological changes being wrought in our time and described by Berry.

In this first verse, Eliza is talking about the end of a previous era and our role, here now, in promulgating it and bearing witness to it. Again Berry gives us useful words to understand this. “All of this disturbance of the planet is leading to the terminal phase of the Cenozoic Era. Natural selection can no longer function as it has functioned in the past. Cultural selection is now a decisive force in determining the future of the biosystems of the Earth.”[Page 4]

The riverside to which we find ourselves in this song is the deep current of life energy that we share with all that is – human and non-human. The words here are carefully chosen. Our current definition of life is narrow, but it hasn’t always been so. “To our ancestors, the entire universe was sacred and alive. Our sacred Earth possesses every kind of life, both organic and inorganic. If everything is alive, then all of life has a spirit.” [The Roots of Shamanism’ The Center Pole brochure, Besek/LaPier]

Saints and psychos, freaks and Indians

Side by side worshipping all their gods and aliens

Spoke of all things, save the mystery

All that’s left yet untouched, undefiled, and unknown

Gilkyson penetrates to the bottom line of our current situation. We are blind to the most obvious just in front of us; blinded by our gods and our things, blinded by our sense of dominance over other people, animals, plants and things. Blinded by our cultural conditioning. It is at a foundational level that we might began to understand the origins of our current condition. Berry says that there are four cultural institutions: political, economic, academic and religious. Each of these has at its core a tenet of human centered-ness. These institutions recognize and serve only human rights. It is this deep conditioning, this assumption upon which our great institutions are built, that blinds us to a different perspective, namely one that recognizes the inherent value of everything else (the non-human). We gather at the riverside and speak of everything – everything except that which is most important, the mystery, this connection and oneness so often spoken of, but seldom experienced. But still, the mystery is there, subtle, timeless, eternal – the river of a universe that goes on with or without us.

We sleep so easily

Burn the oil like it’s free

Watch the war on TV with God on our side

We’re stronger than them

Bomb, rebuild and defend

Lose it all in the end down by the riverside

Distracted by this concept of what it is to be manifested in the physical world, we plod and plunder, dreaming of salvation and a future heaven while we serve human progress. And heaven is there for us, in the end. But it is not the outcome planned for, if indeed, any is planned for. Our heaven might be a return of our human energy to the spiritual level. The Earth and the universe will continue to evolve. Sure there may be a blip or a burp here and there, mass extinctions are not unknown in the history of this planet. But still, that doesn’t really do justice to the incredible splay of life, the variety and diversity of species, the delicate balance of interaction, the beauty of the self-regulating systems that exist or existed on the Earth. Surely we are evolved enough to appreciate this rather unprecedented emergence of life. I’m not saying it is hasn’t happened elsewhere. That doesn’t matter.

So now we’ve managed to rise above all that messy natural complexity. Instead of being regulated by the system, we’ve taken things into our own hands. Now it is our turn to decide. Eliza Gilkyson is simply helping us get conscious. Bomb, build and defend, but for what? Is it fair to say we plan for un-sustainability if we don’t plan for sustainability? If we are conscious it is. But that might be a stretch for some. There is a hint of futility in the words here. We are down by the riverside and it is a simple matter to plunge in. And plunge in we will, whether we like it or not.

On the last day for the last time

We never even knew what was really happening here

But we loved some and we lost some too

Somebody’s chosen few…them, me and you

Down by the riverside.

The feeling in these words is an odd mixture of melancholy and hope. Having the capacity to feel brings hope. I don’t know why. Somewhere, down deep, my soul knows that working to overcome my own protective mechanisms can lead to positive change. The need to protect from feelings of grief, sadness or outrage over war and atrocities is normal. It is also what keeps me from the fire of spirit: fire to speak, write and act. For Eliza, the fire to sing. She is willing to go there, to the grief. Today, I feel her words; a mixture of sadness and hope.


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