Behind the Song: Our Lady Of The Shooting Stars

Mary Gauthier

(Mary Gauthier) Our Lady of the Shooting Stars Was that you last night? Did we dance a whispered waltz Did I hold you in my sight? When morning came with open arms She lifted you from me, Sunlight burned my eyes away And now I cannot see.

Our Lady of the Shooting Stars As I face the early light All that I can think of now Is joining you in flight But I have followed gypsies, girl Lost my way back home Held the phoenix to my chest And ended up alone. 

If I move to you Will you move to me? If I move to you Will you move to me?

Our Lady of The Shooting Stars Teach me how to know I want to feel my thoughts go dark And rest inside your flow. I'll awaken without fear And breathe the cool clean air, Your words upon my lips Your will becomes my prayer

If I move to you Will you move to me? If I move to you Will you move to me?

Our Lady of the Shooting Stars Look what you have done You led me to the water's edge, Running from sun. Are you in the briny mist? Do Seagulls scream your name? Wings suspended by your love, Or do I reach in vain?

If I move to you Will you move to me? If I move to you Will you move to me?

The words to this song are poetic—they have many layers of meaning, all of which would be destroyed if I try to explain it away in an essay. So I’m not going to try and decipher what the song means, that’s not something I could not do anyway. Ultimately, I have no idea! The artist does not know much more than the listener when it comes to poetic songs, we are just the lightening rod, not the lightening. The mystery remains intact, as new meanings appear over and over again over time. But I can, and will, explain how the song came to be.

It came from a failed gig, a gig early in my career that was a wipe out. No one came. No one at all!

It was to be a legendary place, The Wintertide Coffeehouse on Martha’s Vineyard, and I was hired to headline. It was my first big gig, my first headlining show, and I was thrilled. I drove from my home in Boston to Hyannis, took the car ferry over to the island, and got very excited when I pulled up to the club. It felt like finally, after years of open mic’s and playing for free, I was on my way to a brilliant and successful career in the music business. I went in, did a sound check and put my one CD on the merchandise table, then sat down and waited for people to come. Then I waited some more. But no one came.

No audience appeared. As I waited, I started to wonder if I was making a very big mistake chasing this crazy dream of mine. I wondered if I should quit this childish chase and just go home before it got any worse.

But I was on an island, there were no boats out till morning, and I had nowhere to go. There were no options, I had to stay, and I had to play. I had to get on stage and face the empty room with my guitar. I could not slip out the back and act like this was not happening. So I did it, I played to 150 empty chairs, and 2 people--one was the opening act, the other was bartender. It rattled me, unnerved me. It embarrassed me. My high hopes for the show were crushed. The show was a complete wipe out.

I still owned and ran a couple restaurants in Boston at this time, but I wanted out. I wanted to be a professional songwriter, not a chef. I was in the process of walking away from the restaurants to be a full time artist. I’d already notified my investors that I wanted to sell my shares back to them. I wanted out.

As I stood on stage and played for the bartender that night, I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. I was terrified of falling on my face in front of a lot of people who were going to tell me I told you so. I was 38 years old, I’d been to hell and back a few times by then, but I’d also been successful in many ways-- three restaurants under my belt, a condo, a house, health insurance, a new car every few years. I was walking away from success to try and become a professional musician at damn near 40 years of age, without any training or prior experience.

People told me I was nuts. My business partners literally laughed at me when I told them what I planned to do next. I knew I knew in my heart I was being called to write songs, to play music but what if I was delusional? What if the “calling” was just my tendency towards being a malcontent, always wanting something I didn’t have?

I was new in the business of music, but I’d already seen many, many delusional people chasing it with gusto. People who in all other areas of their life were sane, who believed that they had a shot in the music business when it was more than obvious to the entire world that they did not have the goods. Was I one of them? Had I finally lost it? Terror made my blood run cold on stage that night.

The early years are tough for all artists. The beginning requires a belief in your own work without an empirical evidence to back it up. No fans. No applause. No press. No gigs, No money. No idea-- if you suck or have talent. Some artists live their entire lives never getting that external validation, doing their work in earnest, committed to their calling, living in poverty. I did not want to be that kind of artist. I wanted to make a living making music. To this day, that is my definition of career success, to just make a living as an artist.

On the ferry returning to Boston the next day, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I was filled with self-doubt and wondering if I should throw in the towel before strayed too far down this new path I’d chosen for my life. Should I give up now? Before this craziness got out of hand?

I got out of my car and went to the side of the boat and leaned against the railing. I watched the water churning behind us as we made our way out to open ocean. There were gulls, hundreds of them, following us there, as well as along the sides of the boat as we pulled out of the harbor.

As we set sail for Boston, I became mesmerized by those sea gulls. They followed us out into the open ocean, right next to the boat, hovering beside us, further and further out. They soared beside us like living kites, without ever flapping their wings. They stayed with the boat as we went further and further out to sea. They did not turn back! It seemed they were floating-- riding the wind, escorting me home. It was an amazing sight, all those birds gently gliding on air currents next to the boat. They rode regal, on an invisible stream, soaring freely with open wings. They gave me hope that painful morning. I could not put it into words, but they were telling me something about flow, something about faith, about staying with it.

They screamed as they soared next to us, and I was completely taken.

They could have been screaming for joy because people began tossing muffins and donuts out to them, or they could have been screaming for love, for life, for beauty, for God. Whatever the cause, their joyful screams came to me at a time when I needed them most. The images of those Gulls stay with me, and this song remains a snapshot of that day.

At about this time, I was reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and one of the characters in the book said a prayer to Our Lady of the Shooting Stars. The playfulness of that prayer captured me. I made note. I went to Catholic school for years, (even got kicked out of two of them), but never heard of a Saint called Our Lady of the Shooting Stars. What a beautiful name. If she’d actually existed I might have stayed in Catholic school a little longer! But alas, she came from imagination of the author, and the name stuck in mine. I remembered it. It became the title of this song.

When I got home from my little trip to the Vineyard, and sat at my writing desk the following week, the synthesis of all these experiences came out sounding like this:

Our Lady of the Shooting Stars Look what you have done You've led me to the water's edge, Running from sun. Are you in the briny mist? Do Seagulls scream your name? Their wings suspended by your love, Or do I reach in vain?

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