The Women Behind “Selma”: My Grandmother & Helen of Troy

The Judgment of Paris, Peter Paul Rubens.

Driving down the monotonous roads of Eastern North Carolina lined by tobacco and cotton, I looked out the window from the backseat of my parent’s car and saw one of those green, distance-indicating signs that read “Selma 40”. I was going through a rough time in my life. My grandmother had just died, which was why we were in the car heading to Wilson, NC. This is where my grandparents raised my father and his sister, and was their home before retiring to Bath, NC (which has a very cool history that includes “curses” put on the town by evangelist George Whitefield to being a hide out for Blackbeard). The timing of her death was apposite, given that my Grandfather, or Granddaddy as I called him, died from Parkinson’s disease almost exactly a year before. My Grandparents were a glowing example of love. You could tell that they still loved each other with the same youthful passion they had when they met before he went off to WWII and were married soon after his return in 1948.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.10.35 AM

My Grandma and Granddaddy back in the day. 


She was caring and compassionate, but she was also not afraid to whip you with a fly swatter when you stepped out of line. When my grandma sat and watched TV, she always had two things: a flyswatter, and tissues, and when I found out that my grandparents were coming into town for a visit, I would hide all the flyswatters, so she couldn’t find one to police my brother and myself with. She could whip a flyswatter with the precision and impact of a drone missile. (That could be a slight exaggeration, but when you’re little, it felt the same.) As much as I hate to admit my wrongdoings, I deserved all of those spankings.

While the flyswatters stand out in memory, my Grandma’s cooking stands out even more. I loved going to visit just for the company of my grandparents, but the food didn’t hurt. Everything from chicken salad, pimento cheese, pig tails (Yes, you read that correctly), fried corn bread, chicken and rice, and butterbeans. You could use all the same pans and ingredients as my grandma, but it couldn’t compete. Some of my favorite memories in their house were around the kitchen counter, when we were eating dinner.


As the sign for Selma passed, I sang to myself, “Selma, tell me the things I can’t see”, and I quickly jotted it down in my notebook, which is something I do quite frequently, and usually, the words get lost in the depths of incomprehensible scribbles that is my notebook.

A couple of weeks later, I was working on some homework at my favorite coffee shop in Boone, N.C. when I stumbled onto the website Wikipedia. If you’re like me, this is not conducive to a productive homework session. I don’t remember the initial reason for going to Wikipedia, but homework was out the window as soon as I clicked on the link. What I do remember is where I ended up: The Greek Gods and Goddesses page. The “mac daddy”, that’s a technical term, of Wikipedia pages. Click after click of awesome stories of power plays, lust, and war. But, the story that stuck out to me most was called “The Judgment of Paris”, which is one of the events that led to the Trojan War. You know, the war from the movie with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.

Here’s a quick synopsis of what happens. Zeus was throwing a wedding party for Achilles’ parents, Peleus and Thetis, and the Goddess of discord, Eris, wasn’t invited for some reason (can’t imagine why). Anyway, she was understandably not happy about being left off the guest list to the party that would even dwarf Jay Gatsby’s. So, the advent of wedding crashing was brought to fruition. As the Goddess of Discord, it would be rude to come empty handed, so she brought a golden apple, called the Apple of Discord, with the engraving, “To the fairest one”, and decided to throw the apple between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. As my good friend, Tyler Bryant, so gracefully put it, the Kardashians of Greek Goddesses. They start arguing between themselves, and they finally asked Zeus to decide who gets the apple. He, like any guy would be, was reluctant to tell a group of girls who was the most beautiful for fear of the punishment from the losing side. So, Zeus decided, since he is the top dog of Gods, to pawn this job to a human, the Trojan Prince, Paris. The three goddesses feel prey to a petty human emotion, jealousy. The three used everything and anything in their power to get Paris to pick them. Hera was the first up for judgment. She offered him the Kingship of Europe and Asia. Next was Athena who offered wisdom and skill in war. Last was Aphrodite. She offered him the most beautiful women in the world, Helan of Sparta, later known as Helen of Troy, which he accepted. Aphrodite was able to offer her because she controlled Eros, or as most people know him, Cupid. He simply shot Helan with an arrow and she fell in love with Paris. This would have been fine and dandy if she wouldn’t have been already married to the Greek King, Menelaus. Everyone knows the story from there. If not, read to Iliad, watch the movie “Troy”, or go to the Trojan War Wikipedia page.

Anyways, this story stuck out to me. It was funny, but also amazing. Paris gave up the wisdom and war skills of Athena that would have given him a god-like status on earth, and Kingship over the entirety of Europe and Asia from Hera, probably one of the largest, if not the largest kingdom in the world’s history, for a girl. It’s the epitome of romantic stories. He literally had three of the most powerful Goddesses begging at his feet, and they would have given him anything and everything they could, and he picks the girl. Most would say he is stupid, but the romantic in me internally yelled, “Atta boy!” as I read it. This inspired me, and I started pumping out these verses in the crowded coffee shop, and I could tell this was going to be a good one, at least to me. I had gotten two or three verses written, and I started to think about a chorus, and for some strange reason, “Selma, tell me the things I can’t see” popped into my head. At first I thought, “Nah, that has nothing to do with these verses.” I kept thinking and thinking, and that bore no fruit, but in the back of my mind, I was still singing “Selma, tell me the things I can’t see”, so I decided to look up the origin and meaning of the name Selma. According to Wikipedia, Selma “is of old Arabic origin” meaning peaceful and protected by gods. My first thought was it would have been a perfect name for my Grandma, and the second was that it tied in with this song about Greek gods somehow. It was amazing, and both of these stories I have told you became the foundation on which I built the song “Selma”.

I don’t want to go through the song and tell you the meaning behind every line of this song for several reasons, but mainly because it’s selfish. The song itself isn’t selfish, but telling you what each line means takes away what you can get from it, and it’s the reason why I don’t like to telling people what a line means to me. It’s one of the beautiful aspects of songwriting. It’s like if I gave you a wrapped gift and told you what was inside before you could tear the bow off and rip the wrapping paper from the box. It’s not as fun, and can prevent a song from becoming as powerful as it can be. You could say, “But, Dane, you just told us what the song means.” I would disagree. I think I told you the influences, but the story in this song has nothing to do with any of these stories. But, then again, they do. I want my songs to mean something unique to each person, and telling you how I did the trick takes away the magic.

This song is dedicated to my Grandmother, Irene Lewis Page.

Selma

You were  a dreamer’s dream

You were some God’s Scheme

You were hard to hold

Hit like a lightin’ bolt

your beauty was a sun

I haven’t felt in days

Over top of my mountains

She radiates.

So tell me the things that I can’t see.

Oh, Selma why ya fallin’ for me

I ain’t no bird in your tree

Oh, Selma why ya fallin’ for me.

I was just a farmer’s hand

Putting my back in the land.

Born in poor man’s clothes

Off the Carolina Coast

Their ain’t no apple in my hand

No roots where I stand.

I’m no king of the sky

Don’t even got much land.

So tell me the things that I can’t see

Oh, Selma why ya fallin’ for me

I ain’t no bird in your tree

Oh, Selma why ya fallin’ for me

Your curvy constellation’s

 pullin’ me in.

Her heavenly body

Goes round my sun again.

She said, “Reach for me,

I’ll never be far.

You don’t got to stand on the moon

Just to see the stars.”

So tell me the things that I can’t see

Oh, Selma why ya fallin’ for me.

I ain’t no bird in your tree.

Oh, Selma why ya fallin’ for me.

Once again, I can’t thank y’all enough for the love and support.

Love

-DMP

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