As a songwriter, I’ve been curious about the origins of a somber tune Missy Raines wrote called Ides of March since I first heard it in 2008. So with March 15 approaching, I decided to ask.
Missy was a few weeks shy of her 21st birthday when her dad, Bob, died unexpectedly on March 14, 1984. It took another 21 years before she reached the point where she could address the staggering loss in a song.
Over lunch in Charlottesville, Va. – coincidentally where she lived at the time of her father’s death, Missy recalled the day in 2005 when Ides of March came pouring out:
“I went into a room, turned on a tape recorder and I just played. Something happened and I actually started to cry. I just kept playing while I cried. The rest of the world went away. When I stopped and played it back, I had the song.”
Even before I heard the story, I was drawn by the song’s spare, haunting melody. The first time I heard it, at a concert in Westminster, Md., Missy was accompanied by Chris Sexton on cello and Mark Delaney, who had set aside his banjo for a piano. I can still hear that performance in my head three years later. Missy, too, remembers. “It was really special to me,” she said.
The song contains three distinct parts, the first representing “the anguish of the loss” and the second about “the beauty of what I missed.” The third part is notably brighter. “To me,” she said, “it resolves into that place of hope.”
So how does she perform a song written from such a raw, emotional event without becoming emotional herself? Most times, she gets by because the song takes her to a place she wants to be. But two years ago, by coincidence, her agent booked a March 14 show near where she grew up in West Virginia. With some of her father’s relatives in the audience, “I had to fight back the tears” while playing the song.
After another show, the full circle nature of the song that grew out of the pain of losing her father took on a new dimension. A husband and wife, hearing the same hope in the song that Missy did when she wrote it, told her they decided after the first time they heard it to play the song in the delivery room when their child was born.
Today, Missy not only uses the song to take her “to a place I like going.” She also uses it to audition potential musicians for her band, The New Hip. It’s a test to see how they handle space. Do they honor that space, or do they rush in with a flood of notes. “If they don’t get it, then I don’t want to play music with them. I don’t want someone playing all these hot licks.”
Twenty-seven years after Bob Raines died, Missy continues to honor him, and not just by playing the Ides of March. She still plays the same Kay bass he bought for himself but turned over to her as a young girl.