The opening line of this song contains the phrase "Big Yellow Moon", and many of the folks on the Cheryl Wheeler mailing list thought this might be the actual title.
Cheryl got the idea for the song while crossing the Mississippi River during a recent (three week) midwest tour. Long road tours are a strange combination of being alone for most of the time, and then going to a performance where everyone is so glad to see her and talk to her. She visualizes this as walking alone down a long hallway, where every so often there is a door to a room with a large group of people. Most of the times she is alone in her car driving from one gig to another, but every so often she gets out to do a show.
She was nearing the end of a long midwest tour, and wasn't sure she was happy or sad it was almost over. After all, home wasn't as nice to go back to as it had been. As she crossed the Mississippi River at LaCrosse, WI, there was a big, yellow moon that filled the sky and lit up the entire river with a golden light. All these feelings came together to make up this song.
It is sung in a very low key for her. She wrote most of the lyrics in her car, and then started writing the music when she got to her hotel room. Since it was 2 AM, she had to be quiet, so she was writing this song in a very low key. When she later tried singing it in a higher key, she didn't like it as much, so she is keeping with the original key.
The song itself is a series of snippets about the tour. The segments contain glimpses of events, as well as some of the thoughts that were going through her head. One section refers to drinking too much in Dayton, Ohio, and how she paid for it the whole next day. This was in reference to a late night session with some friends. Another section mentions that there isn't anyone at home waiting for her, an obvious reference to her recent (at the time) break up.
Like many of her other songs, she somehow describes very personal experiences that she has encountered, but does it in such a way that the rest of us can identify with them. Here is a live version of the song from YouTube.
- Lighting up the Mighty Mississippi
- Words and Lyrics by:
- Cheryl Wheeler
- Big yellow moon, dark blue sky
- Lighting up the mighty Mississippi
- I'm headed home, I can't decide
- If my heart is just too full or just too empty
- Through the thousands of miles of the rivers and hills
- And the highways I've come to know so well
- I always knew I could fall back on you
- Now it wouldn't matter which way I fell
- Still it's nice to keep movin', down the dotted line
- Past the tractors in their amber waves of grain
- If I keep my eyes open, take a little time
- No two towns will ever look the same
- And sometimes on the AM radio
- I get a little local Polka show
- And folks are friendly everywhere I go
- Drank too much in Dayton, paid the whole next day
- The snow in South Dakota was so dry it blew away
- And it's not like someone's waitin' when I get home anyway
- So I leave for Portland pretty soon, then down through Monterey
- But right now this big old yellow moon is filling up the sky
- And lighting up the mighty Mississippi
- (P) October 1, 1997
- Penrod And Higgins Music / Amachrist Music
- ACF Music Group
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