Songs That Matter | Turn! Turn! Turn!

Birds over forest at sunset

Photo by Katerina Radvanska

The Byrds, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”

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written by Jim Chapdelaine

 

I’ve spent a lifetime learning, making, playing and teaching music. We do a lot of stuff in a lifetime but regardless of all the stuff, if you are fundamentally a musician, music is the driver, the well, the source of infinite curiosity and inspiration.

I’m recalling my first “driveway” moment.  We’ve all had them, right? That moment when you arrive home but the Miles version of “Stella By Starlight” is playing and you know that when Miles hands off the solo to Coltrane, the drummer, Jimmy Cobb, moves to the ride cymbal invoking goose bumps and wonder every time. I can’t leave during the song. There are hundreds of these moments in my life. Some are repeatable, like “Stella”, and some only have the full impact for the first few exposures but they are not to be denied.

As a child, I would drag a portable record player from room to room. No one interrupted me so there were no driveways. In the summer of 1965, long before I would control a car, I was visiting relatives for a few days. I was 11 and always slept late. I was about to join my cousins outside and was in the doorway, mid-threshold, when over the radio came a thing unlike anything I’d heard. The Byrds’ version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” stopped me dead in my tracks. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I came back into the kitchen and my aunt asked what was wrong. I shushed her and rode the song out to the end. What was that?! It was harmonies, a jangly sound (12-string guitar) and it laid me out. The DJ didn’t announce who it was so I had to linger that day for it to come around again. It became a drug for me that summer and remains a high-water mark for me to this day. The Byrds soared and synthesized that American moment while actually creating a genre, folk rock. These days I don’t have a particular affinity for the genre. Like most music that becomes stylized, innovation is the first thing to go. But that song, in that moment, was not of this Earth.

Hovering in the background that summer was the sense that the world was changing, socially fluid and untethered to norms. Sound familiar? At age 11, I was aware of the war, the growing opposition to the war and to the volume of the opposition. I had no idea that “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was a Bible passage (Ecclesiastes 3:1-83) but it seemed different than the boy/girl, “love-is-crazy” songs that populated radio. It felt like NOW. This was post-Beatles but they were just waking up to the sea of change around them. The Byrds would become a big influence on them and every other white pop group that aspired to be relevant.

It came as more of a surprise when I found out it was written by Pete Seeger. My lord, THAT Pete Seeger? The one on those corny records my parents played? Yes. Open your ears, son. I wasn’t cool enough to understand any of that but I sensed it. I could hear it. I understood that this song made me feel electric and that it was a new sonic world. There’s a reason it sounded so good. The Byrds sang and The Wrecking Crew played. They recorded 78 takes. It captured a moment in time and the last lines, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late,” are still relevant to this moment. What if I had continued out the doorway that summer instead of turning around? I still cherish the moment when music is so compelling and surprising that we have no choice but to tune out everything around us. 

In 1999, my wife went into labor with our daughter, and we waited until the time was right to go to the hospital. As we pulled into the garage to park, what comes on the radio? Of course: “Turn! Turn Turn!” We stayed in the car. “A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap…”

Honor the moment. Stay and listen.


Jim Chapdelaine is a 13-time Emmy-winning film composer, audio engineer, producer and touring musician. Follow his many artistic adventures on Twitter and Instagram at @realjimchap.

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