Podcast Preview: Ben Arthur’s SongWriter Season 5 with Charlie Gilmour + Matshidiso

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Podcast Preview: Ben Arthur’s SongWriter Season 5 with Charlie Gilmour + Matshidiso

SongWriter is a podcast that turns stories into songs, featuring Questlove, David Gilmour, Joyce Carol Oates, Steve Earle, Amanda Shires, Susan Orlean, and Neil Gaiman. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Charlie Gilmour and Matshidiso only at Paste.

Author Charlie Gilmour thought he was writing a book about raising an orphaned baby bird, but in the process of writing it, the book became something more personal and difficult.

“It became something much deeper,” Charlie says. “It was a book about fatherhood, about my own complicated relationship with my biological father, Heathcote Williams.”

A poet, an actor, and a magician, Heathcote‘a behavior could veer quickly from spectacular to unkind, and occasionally ridiculous. Charlie recounts how Heathcoate once accidentally set his own head on fire while trying to impress a girl with a magic trick.

In his memoir, Featherhood, Charlie considers this surprising and elusive character while also recounting the story of how he ended up raising an abandoned magpie found by his then-girlfriend (and now-wife). While working on the book, Charlie discovered that his biological father also raised a wild bird, a jackdaw. Charlie eventually unearthed a poem that Heathcoate wrote about his experience, called “Being Kept By a Jackdaw.”

“For this episode I wanted to let his poem, and my writing about my magpie, have a sort of conversation with each other,” Charlie says.

The song written in response to Charlie’s reading is by Matshidiso, a musician, podcaster, and human rights lawyer. Matshidiso is also the creator and host of “Holding Up the Ladder,” a podcast exploring the lessons artists, filmmakers, painters, and musicians learn over their careers.

“For the sake of art, we would get further as artists if we didn’t have to repeat learning the same things,” Matshidiso says. “As we ascend, we keep the ladder held up for everyone who’s coming after.”

Matshidiso describes how the creative process for her song, “Who Can Tell a Bird,” was influenced by the songwriting of Joni Mitchell and the short violin runs from Vaugh Williams’ piece “The Lark Ascending.” She also took inspiration from birds themselves, recording their calls in the garden outside her house to include in the background of the track.

Reflecting on her relationship with family and close friends, Matshidiso says that she always tries to remember the fleeting nature of life.

“I have friends that died young. When they died there was a very beautiful feeling of not feeling ‘Did they know what I felt about them?’” Matshidiso recalls. “Because they knew. On my end, [I ask myself] ‘Okay, have I done everything that I want to do in this?’ Because I want love to lead.”

Ben Arthur (@MyHeart on Twitter) is the creator and host of SongWriter.  His latest song, “Fly, Magpie, Fly,” is  written in response to this episode.

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