When I was reporting this week's feature story on the Luz de Vida benefit album, I got a chance to talk with Howe Gelb about how he wrote "Recovery Mission," one of the 37 tracks on the benefit album for the victims of Tucson's Jan. 8 shooting rampage.
Howe told me it was "very, very, very difficult" to write about the shooting:
A few days after the shooting, Gelb says he was deep in despair and plunking away at the piano in his old adobe house in downtown Tucson when a song began to form.
"I was trying to deal with how loud it was in my head," he says.
Not long afterward, he took a shot at fleshing out the song while in the studio with Giant Sand. The band got it right off the bat.
"It was one of those times when the music just came," Gelb says.
But it still fell a bit short, until a final burst of inspiration struck: Gelb recorded the voices of kids at his daughter's school singing "step by step" and "recovering, recovering."
He knew he'd found the missing ingredient.
"The sweetness and natural hope in a child's singing is just a relief," Gelb says. "So with the sadness of the event and the lyric, you have this wonderful, medicinal, sonic release. ... 'Step by step.' That's exactly it. That's the only way back from this."
The result is "Recovery Mission," a song that soars to both acknowledge the grief and celebrate the hope found in healing.
"The song was very cathartic, but it wasn't adding to the lament," Gelb says. "It's saying that it's going to be OK, no matter what. ... The thing that still works is that primal, simple utterance of your mother when you were younger and something bad happened to you, when she said: 'It's going to be OK.' It's going to be OK."
Gelb is out of the country, so he can't be at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday night for a big benefit concert for the Tucson Together fund. But a lot of the other artists on the album will be there, including Joey Burns and John Convertino from Calexico, Kiss and the Tells, Salvador Duran, Reno Del Mar, Mariachi Luz de Luna, HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS, Tracy Shedd, La Cerca, Golden Boots, Silverbell, Rich Hopkins and Tom Walbank. You should be there, too. It's gonna be a great show, it costs next to nothing, and it's for a good cause. Details here.