Eva Cassidy, high above the chimney tops

I don’t usually write about music, but this song and Eva’s story have never let go of me. 

I remember the first time I heard this song, I was looking for a version of the Judy Garland classic that was better produced than all the originals I’d been able to find. But any new covers I came across all seemed to miss the point of the song. They were all too cheerful or light-hearted (or featured a ukulele, which I can’t stand). When I heard this version, I was so struck because it captures the emotions of the song perfectly, but in its own amazingly unique way. 

After listening to it a half dozen times in a row, I looked up the artist, Eva Cassidy, and the song took on a whole other level of sadness. 

Over the Rainbow was recorded as part of a live performance at a club called Jazz Blues Alley in D.C. in early 1996. Cassidy was unhappy with the performance, but compiled the songs and released them anyway, to much local acclaim. Less than a year after this recording, however, she was dead of cancer. She was 33. 

Watching that video knowing she was only ten months from death adds another layer of bittersweet. Knowing that such an amazing talent could vanish, like a fledgling flame whipped out by a too-strong gust of wind, is sobering, depressing, angering. She could have swept the earth with her talent. She could be a world-renowned name today, still producing classics. 

But, part of me wonders if she would have. All the albums released posthumously over the past 21 years (there are a lot, even one this year!) were put together from live recordings, or studio demos. We know Cassidy was unhappy with the Blues Alley performance, and if she was unhappy with those lovely songs, what else would she have been unsatisfied with? Would she have allowed any of these songs to come out at all? Everyone around her knew how amazing she was. But did she? 

She would have figured out that she was eventually, surely. But she wasn’t given the chance. 

It makes me think and feel so many different things whenever I hear this song. I feel nostalgic, I feel bitter about how life works, I feel sad for lost time. But I also feel grateful that this recording was preserved, and I wonder how she would feel knowing millions of people all around the world (Spotify shows tens of thousands of listeners in London, Amsterdam, Dublin, and more) still enjoy her work decades later… 

And I wonder how many artistic sparks are snuffed out every day, every year, by cancer or car crashes or poverty or self doubt. I wonder what they may have produced for the world if their fire had continued to grow. I wonder what pieces of art, what heart-wrenching songs or world-changing books will never exist because they are gone. And I wonder what I might produce, and how much time I have left to do it. 

It’s possible I’m reading too much into the stories of her dislike of the recordings. Maybe she had valid reasons. Maybe she really was a lot better than we see in the video. But I get the feeling it was her internal critic talking. The voice that all artists have that tells them they aren’t good enough, that they don’t belong, that their work doesn’t have value. If we listen to that voice a little, we have the drive to constantly improve. If we listen to it too much, though, we do nothing. It’s a fine line to dance on. 

You might doubt your abilities, and wonder if you’re voice is worthy of the world’s attention. But the only way to know for sure is to put your work out there and see what happens. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait to be perfect, because you never will be. And every day you don’t create that song or book or piece of art is another day the universe might take it away from all of us, forever. 

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