“The Whole Of The Moon” — The Waterboys

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Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

There’s a great Miles Davis quote… “I don’t play what’s there. I play what’s not there.” That’s what “The Whole Of The Moon” is all about.

Miles Davis never got around to explaining what he meant…after all, he did have to keep that legendary jazz innovator mystique going somehow…but I’ve always taken it to mean he tried to bring a quality to his performance that went far beyond faithfully reproducing the notes on the score.

He brought a feeling…an emotion…an improvisation…perhaps an interpretation of the composer’s work…to his performance which you’d never think of if you just “painted by numbers” from the score. That’s why Miles Davis is still recognised today, nearly 30 years after he passed away, as one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known.

You see, there’s a lot more to the world than we think there is. Not just in music, but in life.

What’s more, the magic is often there…right in front of us…right at this very moment…but we can’t see it. We lack the gift of the perspective which makes the treasures invisible to most, visible to us.

That’s what The Waterboys describe in “The Whole Of The Moon”. They juxtapose the hum-drum outlook on the world most of us experience with the perspective of a visionary who has the capability to pull something extraordinary out of the ether right in front of our eyes.

We all go “wow, where did that come from?”. But usually it was something hiding in plain sight. We just couldn’t see it…

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hand
I had flashes
But you saw the plan

I saw the rainbow.

You experienced it. Touched it. Explored it in the palm of your hand.

What an incredible lyric. The contrast between those two states of being is so powerful.

“The Whole Of The Moon” is really about the journey of human discovery.

Think about it. Gravity has been around since the dawn of time. Plenty of people had seen things falling to the ground in the thousands of years since early humans stood up on two legs and started surveying the world around them. But it wasn’t until 1687 that Sir Isaac Newton wrote down the law of gravity as we know it today.

Before 1687 plenty of people had witnessed gravity. But nobody had “seen” it in the way Sir Isaac Newton did.

All human discovery is like that, not just the sciences.

It’s how we discover things as individuals. Our busy lives, narrow perspectives and the baggage of our experiences can sometimes blind us to reality until someone else draws attention to our mis-firing sense of perception.

From the girl who’s been going out of her way to catch your eye for weeks, but you didn’t notice until someone mentioned it…to having someone ask you why you’re not demonstrating the values of love, kindness and respect demanded of their adherents by the religion you claim to believe in.

It was there all along. We just couldn’t see it for ourselves. We needed someone else to help us see what we could not.

And when you experience that shift in perception…what a moment that is…

I was grounded
While you filled the skies
I was dumbfounded by truth
You cut through lies

I was grounded…fixed to the spot…unable to see the world beyond the end of my nose.

You, on the other hand, soared like an eagle…riding the updraughts…gliding through the skies…effortlessly surveying both the world I can see and the world beyond the horizon which I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Your vantage point on the world brings a perspective I don’t have, and never will, unless I open my heart and my mind to the possibility that you may see something with your eyes which I can’t see with mine.

While The Waterboys weren’t quite as enigmatic as Miles Davis, the genius of “The Whole Of The Moon”, written by Waterboys’ front-man Mike Scott, is that he deliberately doesn’t give us too much information. We have the space to weave our own stories around his lyrics.

While you and I were “having flashes”, who might have been “seeing the whole plan”?

Ghandi…Nelson Mandela…Florence Nightingale…Mother Theresa…Martin Luther King…?

It’s easy to outsource greatness to luminaries like that. But we’re underselling ourselves.

We all have greatness within us, but we’re often afraid to let it out. Too afraid to step forward in case we don’t like the world’s reaction when we speak up and challenge the shared orthodoxies of the people we live and work with.

Stepping forward is really hard. I’ve done it often enough in my professional life to know what it feels like to stand alone atop the trenches, shells bursting around you, the smell of cordite in the air, while everyone else ducks for cover.

Even if you’re reluctant to believe greatness lives inside you…not that you should be, just in case you are…something we can all do is help others realise the greatness they have inside them.

In the process, we get the gift of seeing the world in a different light too. It’s the start of our own personal journey of discovery.

Listen to someone you normally wouldn’t listen to. Seek out people whose lives are very different from yours. Ask people for their opinion…especially people who aren’t usually given a voice…and you’ll learn more from than you’ll learn from any professor.

You just need to respect their experience at least as much as you respect your own, and value the difference they bring instead of pursuing the seductive comfort of uniformity.

The most insightful human beings often don’t have the status or position or reputation you might expect. But they bring the light of a different perspective to the darkness of your thinking. And there are few things in this world more valuable than that…

I spoke about wings
You just flew
I wondered, I guessed and I tried
You just knew
I sighed
But you swooned
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon

For a song that got a lot of airplay back in the day, you might be forgiven for thinking “The Whole Of The Moon” was a bigger hit than it really was.

Instead, it was a journey of discovery for the listening public, paralleling the narrative of Mike Scott’s lyrics in one of those “life imitating art” experiences.

Originally recorded and released in 1985, The Waterboys’ signature song was the merest blip in the UK charts back then. It took six years for the listening public to cotton on to the brilliance of “The Whole Of The Moon”.

Although it sunk almost without trace in 1985, the 1991 re-release of “The Whole Of The Moon” made Number 3 in the UK charts and won the 1991 Ivor Novello Award for “The Best Song Musically and Lyrically” that year.

Which is ironic, as “The Whole Of The Moon” was actually the best song musically and lyrically back in 1985 too, even though the Ivor Novello committee chose Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)” for their top prize that year instead…

But that’s what the journey of discovery is all about. “The Whole Of The Moon” was hiding in plain sight in front of the Ivor Novello judges back in 1985. They just couldn’t see it for themselves at the time.

Then times change, people change, perspectives change and suddenly, thanks to the fortuitous re-release of The Waterboys' 1985 record, “The Whole Of The Moon” picked up the Ivor Novello “song of the year” award second time around.

Someone once said “all good ideas are obvious in retrospect”. So it was with The Waterboys and “The Whole Of The Moon”…

Mike Scott very much deserved to win his Ivor Novello Award…it just took six years for the judges to see the world from a different perspective and realise how great a song “The Whole Of The Moon” had been all along.

In 1985, they saw a rain dirty valley. In 1991, they saw Brigadoon…

(Special thanks to my Medium pal Bonnie Barton, whose reference to The Waterboys in one of her own articles recently was the inspiration for me getting today’s article off my very long “to do” list and onto my laptop.)

If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5T7JhcgELT1OSU6pkBNu84

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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