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Last Leaves -- The Story

Last Leaves – The Story

There is one song on “Putting the Past to Pasture” I did not compose myself but only supplied the lyrics. I think it’s the only time I successfully wrote words to someone else’s music.

Many years ago -- at least forty – Dan Hansen composed and recorded a lovely collection of piano pieces He called “Seasons.” It was essentially a song cycle, a celebration of the passing of each season. One song in particular, “Last Leaves,” captivated me. It had a melancholy air and a melody that made you almost weep. It stayed with me for the longest time – twenty years or more – and one day, the words just came. I used the verse structure to portray the various stages of autumn itself: Leaves rustling in the wind, then falling and riding the wind, finally succumbing to gravity and falling, only to decompose and replenish the earth.

In the first verse I had imagined a couple on a fall evening’s walk, and then in verse two, “He lost his grasp, she slipped away.” It could be dementia, or more likely death itself: the ominous approach of winter. But what then? So I brought back the “tired old man” and had him slowly raking the leaves, pausing to remember his beloved.

And then…winter covers the leaves with snow, replenishing the earth with what was once living and eventually would be again. He knows that spring will follow, and that the bleakest and darkest of days must eventually end and give way to rebirth. “Last leaves will surely turn to green.” You can call it resurrection, if you like, or perhaps reincarnation: the life after life.

I got older, too…and so did my parents. My mom “slipped away” first, and Dad was left alone. I hadn’t been thinking of them when I penned these words years before – but eventually in my mind the couple in the song had their faces. At Mom’s funeral Dan played “Last Leaves”, slowly and majestically; at Dad’s, a few years later, I sang it. I doubt if many understood, but for me it was cathartic. Losing them was no tragedy; it was natural and as inevitable as the turn of the seasons.

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