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  • Writer's pictureHesh Meister

'Soul In Exile' Lyric/Blog: THERE'S A VOICE

Oh Lord, protect this city tonight ...

In 1995 I was living in East Falls, a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood abutting the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Right around that time, two things happened that jogged my social conscience:

(1) A certain convicted cop-killer, who will go nameless here but was and is a cause célèbre among the fashionable left, was facing imminent execution, and the tension in the air was palpable.

(2) I read a whole exposé in the Philadelphia City Paper about the notorious white-supremacist tract, The Turner Diaries, which had been in the shirt pocket of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh when he had been arrested.

I was shaken by these, especially coming not long after the LA/Rodney King race riots, and I told my wife at the time that if they kill (1), we're packing ourselves into the car right away and getting the hell out of town and not stopping till we reach our family at the Jersey Shore. Fortunately there was no race riot; the person in question won a stay and eventually had his death sentence commuted.

As for (2), those who circulated the screed and believed in its tenets continued to fester underground, occasionally rearing their heads but fortunately being kept in check by more decent Americans.

But the whole night after reading about these, I tossed and turned endlessly, unable to sleep, and in the morning, in typical singer-songwriterly fashion, I sat at the piano wrote this song to help me find peace with the whole thing. It became my go-to anthem for all sorts of issues that I believe in—not a call to arms per se, but rather a prayer that the Higher Power always find a way for cooler heads to prevail and for decent people (especially the ones we love) to be shielded from the violent radicalism that always seems to be brewing below the surface.

Several years later I was back at the Shore again and, unrelated to the incidents in Philadelphia, I came to the realization that it would be better for me to begin recording my Soul In Exile epic by myself, rather than wait for some Big Break to come along and enable me to record it with a band. The opus consisted of several song sequences that I initially envisioned as album sides, but once I played them and measured their length, I realized that each of these sequences would be enough to fill almost a whole album by themselves. So for the first of the Soul In Exile albums, I recorded the second one of these sequences, framed on either end by two versions of "There's A Voice," one just keys and vocals, the other also with drums and bass. The album was released as an indie in 1999 and got some positive reviews.

I would play the song in all sorts of circumstances and formats, sometimes solo, sometimes duo with my friend Izzy Kieffer on percussion and vocals, and sometimes with full band. It would be safe to say that "There's A Voice" has been played at just about all of my gigs since it was written.

Two years after the first Soul In Exile album was released, Izzy and I decided to record our album as Reality Shock, the collective band name we had used since the 1980s. The album consisted of newly recorded versions of the songs we had played live in most of our gigs together as duo or band, and we decided to duplicate what I had done on Soul In Exile, with two new versions. The album, also called There's A Voice, was released in 2002.



There’s a voice calling out in the air and on the streets

There’s diaries, struggles and final calls

And me I’m stone tired but I can’t fall asleep

Trying to make sense of it all

There’s a prophet singing about a deafening silence

He begs and pleads when are you gonna come down

But I just wanna roll over and shut out the noise and violence

Even though I’ve always got one ear to the ground

Oh Lord protect me and mine tonight

Wherever they are make sure they reach the morning light

Oh Lord send me happy dreams tonight

Don’t let the vision be obscured from sight

There’s a moon shining down and a neighborhood’s at peace

And for now all seems still and quiet

But the bills are running out and time’s running out on the lease

And I wonder how long before the next riot

All we need is a hair trigger to set balloon tempers off

For the storm to rise up in a fury

The masses unschooled act out passions unthought

Pronounce sentence with no court judge or jury

Oh Lord protect this city tonight

The whole country the whole world, let them all bathe in light

Oh Lord protect all those I love tonight

And all those who know how to love, by them do right

I reach into the crib and caress my baby's cheek

Beneath my fingertips I can feel her stirring

What a sense of contentment she must be in as she sleeps

Like a cat in a human lap purring

Oh how I wish I could feel some of that contentment myself

And not conjure up all these worst case scenes

Instead of tossing and turning and shaking and burning

And wrestling with my internal screams

Oh Lord protect me from myself tonight

And from my own imagination—I don’t have the strength to fight

Oh Lord there’s nothing I can do about it tonight

So let my soul in exile rest—I’ve expended all my might

Oh Lord protect this city tonight

The whole country the whole world, let them all bathe in light

Oh Lord protect all those I love tonight

And all those who know how to love, by them do right

©2015 The Hesh Inc.


There are five versions of this song:

1) Track 1 of Soul In Exile (1999), performed only with keyboards and vocal;

2) Track 9 of the same album, with drums, bass, and organ;

3) Track 1 of the REALITY SHOCK album, There's A Voice (2002); fast full-band version;

4) Track 15 of the same album—slower, faux-"bootleg" style;

5) A piano-and-voice-only version, as of summer 2018, released as a standalone single.

Here they are, on the maxi-single ...

The third version is pretty much what I would call definitive, and it is what was included on my Boardwalk Mystic collection.

Listen to it here ...

And here is the album itself ...

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