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Posts tagged ‘Michael Martin Murphey’

My more “grown up” reflections on the song “Wildfire”

ghost horse image

I found mysticism and beauty in a surprising place this past week. I have been haunted by a ghost horse for six days now. My recent post about nicknames for Ponyta included the song “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphey. At first, I was just being my usual goofy self, and I wanted to include this song about a horse I remembered from the 1970s.

It was a hit in the mid-70s. I must have heard it at least a hundred times on AM radio back then. I may have heard it many times, however I never actually listened to it.

Back then, I was a teenage rock-and-roller – I was listening to a lot of Aerosmith, KISS, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, etc. I was a leather-clad hormone-driven heavy metal teen and too “cool” to listen to some hayseed song about a pony that broke down its stall. It could be said that I could not appreciate “Wildfire” because I was too much of a jackass.

Like too many of things in this life, we don’t realize the simple beauty of things right in front of us. Fortunately it was not too late for me to enjoy the mysticism and beauty now.

The emotions and the lyrics were lost on my teen self during that period, and I am sorry about that.  Last week, I prepared my Ponyta post, but the more I listened to the song, the more beautiful it became to me. I’m listening to it right now …

Thank you Mr. Murphey … I finally get it.

Before my words evaporate into the bogging ether, I want to share a couple of versions of the song, and I hope that you can find a special moment the way that I did.

The first is from a 2007 performance on “The David Letterman Show”. Paul Shaffer does a great job with the piano intro. The rest of the band seems really into it. Letterman himself is impressed and comes out to congratulate Mr. Murphey at the end. Mr. Murphey stresses certain words in the song in this version, but it becomes very heartfelt. You may not ever listen to much “Cowboy Music” but I hope that you can connect to the same emotions that I experienced. Don’t be so cynical — allow yourself to feel it.

The story from Wikipedia was that talk show host David Letterman loved the song. He would discuss with bandleader Paul Shaffer the meaning of the lyrics — particularly the line about “leave sodbustin’ behind” (that part gets to me too). Letterman described the song as “haunting and disturbingly mysterious, but always lovely,” and surmised that the performance would leave the studio audience with “a palpable sense of … mysticism, melancholy … and uplifting well-being.” They invited the singer to perform, and of course Mr. Murphey nailed it as seen here.

The second performance is longer and contains extended instrumentation. They lengthen the piano intro and ending. Both are wonderful. If you like, the original studio version is linked here. So many times I ignored it as it flowed out of a car’s AM radio …

Other references from Wikipedia: The song was made fun of by Dave Barry in an article he wrote about awkward songs (I do like Mr. Barry’s humor, but he was way off about this song). Of course, I was wrong to think it was a hokey song all those years ago. The song is also referenced in an episode of “The Simpsons”.  Lisa played the song for her pony on her saxophone. She introduced it by saying “This next song is also about a girl and her pony. It’s called ‘Wildfire’ “  I think that means it was a tribute!

The full lyrics are listed below. I will interpret them after.

She comes down from Yellow Mountain
On a dark flat land she rides
On a pony she named Wildfire
With a whirlwind by her side
On a cold Nebraska night

Oh, they say she died one winter
When there came a killing frost
And the pony she named Wildfire
Busted down his stall
In a blizzard he was lost

She ran calling Wildfire
She ran calling Wildfire
She ran calling Wildfire

By the dark of the moon I planted
But there came an early snow
There’s been a hoot owl howlin’ by my window now
For six nights in a row
She’s coming for me I know
And on Wildfire — we’re both gonna go

We’ll be riding Wildfire
She ran calling Wildfire
She ran calling Wildfire

On Wildfire we’re going to ride
We’re gonna leave sod bustin’ behind
Get these hard times right on out of our minds
Riding Wildfire

The song is open-ended enough that it could be interpreted in different ways. 

The song starts out by explaining a legend. A woman (or is she a spirit woman?) dies trying to eek out a living on the desolate Nebraska Plains. The song says that she come down from “Yellow Mountain” however there is no Yellow Mountain in Nebraska. Perhaps “Yellow Mountain” is derived from the Indian name for a mountain where gold was once thought to be found. Perhaps she gave up prospecting to settle on the plains. The woman dies, and her horse who loved her so much cannot stand living alone anymore. The pony “busts down his stall” and runs out into a blizzard – perhaps no longer caring about his own life. Without her, any life thereafter would be too painful.

A question remains: How could SHE go running calling out “Wildfire”? She was already dead. Was she calling to the ghost horse to join her? … or was she sad that the pony gave up his own life?

The story shifts to the protagonist a man currently struggling to make a living in the western Nebraska plains.

Now, I do not want to insult any potential readers in Lincoln or Omaha, however I must say that western Nebraska in winter is a desolate place. Early pioneers called that part of the Plains “The Great American Desert” as it was so hard to farm. (I will digress: If you have ever seen the Clint Eastwood movie “Unforgiven” — the Gene Hackman character says at one point: “Dead? No, but even I thought I was dead once, but it turned out I was just in Nebraska.” Indeed it is a harsh environment.)

I like that part about “by the dark of the moon I planted” as in the 1800s there were farming rules about planting according to the phases of the moon. It was superstitious perhaps, or had to do with the ancient trial-and-error wisdom of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Plains.

western Nebraska 1910

Farming peoples would plant, fertilize, harvest – even pick the right time to castrate a horse – all according to the appropriate moon phase. (I am not making that up or trying to be funny.)

The lyric “there came an early snow” means that his crop is killed again and again.

That part about  “There’s been a hoot-owl howling by my window now” is significant. You young otaku may not know that an owl outside your bedroom window is a bad omen in western and hill-people culture. He know that his death is eminent. He knows that the woman will come for him (is the ghost woman someone important to him?… perhaps an ancestor?)

During the Letterman performance, Mr. Murphey’s voice breaks at the “we’re both gonna go” lyric. It is a great emotional moment. If you listen I hope it takes you there.

He will starve too, as he has perhaps given up on life – however this is arguably not such a bad thing. He will die, but he knows that he will join the spirit of the woman and ride Wildfire. He will “leave sod-busting behind.” No more demeaning and futile dirt farming. No more struggling with the harsh realities of this existence. They will be together in the afterlife: “Get these hard times right on out of our minds” …

We tell ourselves when a loved one dies: “They are in a better place”.

I hope that you young otakus never have to have the experience of witnessing a loved one pass away over a long, grueling, painful illness. At some point, there is no coming back, and death is the release. I hope you enjoying these touching and mystical elements in song.

Starlight: 40 lightyears ago –  I was a jackass. Don’t point the telescope there.

ponyta card part

Instead, name your Ponyta “Wildfire” … and please visit Mr. Murphey-san’s website linked here.

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Pokémon Nicknames: Ponyta and Rapidash

“Oh, they say she died one winter
   When there came a killing frost
   And the pony she named Wildfire
   Busted down his stall
   In a blizzard he was lost

   She ran callin’ Wildfire …. “

actresses as ponyta and rapidash

Ponyta (in Japanese: ポニータ “Ponyta”) is a Fire-type Pokémon. Ponyta evolves into another “fire horse” Rapidash (in Japanese: ギャロップ “Gallop”) at level 40, where it remains a Fire-type.

Ponyta is probably my favorite Pokémon!  Although it is a not as powerful as the evolved Rapidash, I like that Ponyta is NOT a unicorn. I still like Rapidash, but I try not to see that horn on its forehead. The ears kind of block the horn on the older animations. I mean — come on, a UNICORN?!?!  I will suspend my disbelief for the purpose of the game — but let us not get ridiculous!

ponyta fastback

I named my first Ponyta/Rapidash the name “Mary Ellen“. I know that this name does not have much to do with horses, or fire, but I sometimes name Pokemon after people I have known.  I knew a strong, trustworthy woman who had an unbreakable spirit.  Go! Mary Ellen use Flame Wheel!!!

You could probably use names for other fiery redheads, such as “Lucy” (See my post on Vulpix linked here.)

You could name one “WildFire” after the 1970s song by  space cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey.  Ladies, please enjoy.

I like to use the name “Fastback” for a male Ponyta.  Think of an orange or red Ford Mustang Fastback. These were handsome cars with power to spare. Although there were many incarnations of the Mustang fastback, I like the 1971 Mach 1 model shown here the best. I like to catch the Ponyta in a “Repeat Ball” because the coloration matches, and the Pokemon comes out in a firey explosion.

orange ford mustang fastback 1971

You could name it “Twilight” or “Sparkle” if you are a My Little Pony fan. The name “Shadowfax” resonates like “Rapidash”, and is a “Lord-of-the-Rings” reference.

A more obvious name is “Equus” after the genus name for horses — as well as for the dark, depressing stage play of the same name, (that starred Harry Potter).  Perhaps “Equinox”or some variation like “Equinocks” could be workable.

Another possibility is just “No Name” … as in “I’ve been to the desert on a horse with no name”.

If I caught a blue-fire shiny version, I might name it “NightMare”.  Oh, how I would love to have a blue-flame shiny Ponyta … I would not care if it is a hack or not.  Pokehackers: Please make me one!

What are some other horse related? “Pegasus, like the constellation.  “Apocalypse 1″ may be a dark name, as in the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Then put together a numbered team of the apocalypse.  “Firestorm” may be good for a Rapidash perhaps.

You may be playful and name one “Godiva” as in Lady Godiva.

Lady Godiva

“Cimarron” is a good horse name, and is a John Ford film reference. One can just feel the amber hues of sunset on the ripened Great Plains, and the wildfire which sweeps across it. If you want something goofy, try “Wilbur” which is a Mr. Ed” reference!

I have also used the name “Denver” because of the Denver Broncos logo. Also it is a “western” name. Denver made me name another female Ponyta Annie’s Song after the famous John Denver hit.

I have named a female Ponyta/Rapidash “Ponytail” after the hairstyle, and the AKB48 song “Ponytail to Shushu”. (See how I worked in an AKB reference?).  The song is not about a horse. The song is a “boy’s perspective” song. A schoolkid man sits behind a pretty young woman in class. She always wears her hair tied up in a ponytail, which of course fires his imagination.  A  young lady’s hair tied up in a ponytail is one of life’s great nostalgic moments. Oh, the way young women tie up their hair this way. There is that wonderful magic where hair meets the base of the girl’s neck. Ladies do you not realize how beautiful you are making yourselves when you do this?   wonders upon wonders! … um … but I digress.  Yes, GO PONYTAIL!

“Your ponytail (don’t untie it)
keep it like usual
You are you (I am me)
and we’re just running
Your ponytail (don’t untie it)
forever and ever
I want you to be free
like a girl is supposed to be “

How about “PONYCANYON” … after the Japanese record label?

Another possibility is “StereoPony” after the popular Japanese rock band.

There are not a lot of Fire-types in the Sinnoh Region … make sure you have yourself a Ponyta/Rapidash when you are there!!!

What is the name for your fire horse?  Please Comment!

firehorse

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