Cathedral

I recently returned from a trip to Europe.  On my last full day there, I visited Winchester Cathedral, the venerable history of which dates to the seventh century.

winchester-cathedral-hampshire-england_1280x800_74078

While there, I recalled a song I listened to a lot as a teenager: “Cathedral”, by Crosby, Stills and Nash.  It was the last cut on the first side of their 1977 release, CSN, which I discovered three years later as a college freshman.  Although it’s on my iPod–along with a couple of other great tracks from the album–the song hadn’t come up on shuffle play in some time, so I went and gave it a fresh listen.

CSN cover

Graham Nash wrote the song, sings lead vocals and plays the piano.  In the liner notes for a boxed set, he wrote that his inspiration for the song was “an acid trip taken at Winchester Cathedral in 1974 on my thirty-second birthday. I lost who I was and where I was in that experience. It ended twenty hours later lying on my back in the middle of Stonehenge. I’ve always been a reverent person, but you can’t ignore all the crimes done in the name of religion, and I just wanted to say that Jesus Christ was Jesus Christ, and all the things people say they do in his name is not all that glitters.”

With that for context, I’ll let you draw your own meaning from the lyrics.

I love the piano intro…particularly those three opening notes in the left hand, C#-G#-C#, which establish a specific mood; the internal rhymes in the first two verses; and the way Nash sings ‘The air inside just hangs in delusion.’

Six o’ clock
In the morning I feel pretty good
So I dropped into the luxury of the Lords
Fighting dragons and crossing swords
With the people against the hordes who came to conquer

Seven o’clock
In the morning here it comes I taste the warning
And I’m so amazed I’m here today
Seeing things so clear this way
In the car and on my way to Stonehenge

I’m flying in Winchester cathedral
Sunlight pouring through the break of day
Stumbled through the door and into the chamber
There’s a lady setting flowers on a table covered lace
And a cleaner in the distance finds a cobweb on a face
And a feeling deep inside of me
Tells me this can’t be the place

I’m flying in Winchester cathedral
All religion has to have its day
Expressions on the face of the Savior
Made me say
I can’t stay

Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can’t believe it all

Now I’m standing on the grave of a soldier that died in 1799
And the day he died it was a birthday
And I noticed it was mine
And my head didn’t know just who I was
And I went spinning back in time
And I am high upon the altar
High upon the altar, high

I’m flying in Winchester cathedral
It’s hard enough to drink the wine
The air inside just hangs in delusion
But given time
I’ll be fine

Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call
Too many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can’t believe it all

And now I’m standing on the grave of a soldier that died in 1799
And the day he died it was a birthday
And I noticed it was mine
And my head didn’t know just who I was
And I went spinning back in time
And I am high upon the altar
High upon the altar, high


Trivia tidbit: Jane Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral, as is the soldier Nash mentions in the song:

Hugh Foulkes, Esq.
Lieutenant
in the Royal Cheshire Militia
died Feb. 2. 1799
Aged 26 Years.
Foulkes

6 comments

  • I recall (although your memory’s better than mine, so you could fill in the blanks) someone in Richardson House (Martina, maybe) who would dance across the floor in the “open up the gates” sections. Those are my favorites in this song, along with the gorgeous beginning that you mentioned.

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    • Your memory doesn’t fail you, Melanie! It was, indeed, Martina who did a goofy dance to “open up the gates”…

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    • Indeed! Thanks for stopping by and liking the post, Bruce. Here’s something you may appreciate given your love of, and knowledge about, LPs. When searching the Internet for an image of the CSN album cover, I ended up learning that two different photos were taken. One, which is the one I used in my post, has the trio looking relatively serious; a second has them all laughing. The serious shot appeared on the cover when the album was first released, but the band apparently decided it was too serious, so all subsequent copies of the LP had the other photo on it. The original covers have therefore become a bit of a collector’s item–though not as rare and coveted as the original ‘baby parts’ cover of Yesterday and Today by the Beatles. I know when I bought CSN it had the original ‘serious’ photo on it, but I got rid of it long ago when I ‘converted’ to CD….aarrggh!

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      • How interesting, I’d no idea there were two covers. Visited the “official” CSN site and sure enough there they are on the 1977 cover, laughing like drains. Mine, like yours, is the so-called “serious” version – though to me they just look relaxed, in keeping with the surroundings… sunset on a calm sea. Probably just as well I didn’t know or the 2 would have demanded inclusion in the “Another Cover In A Different Country” post!

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