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Coyotes by Ricky Ian Gordon, to a poem by Ray Underwood

“I understand you, coyotes.
I understand the way you croon.
I never did before,
Before I hungered for his kisses,
Underneath an amber moon…”


I love this song.

A century ago when I was a young singer I went to a music festival in California – The Strawberry Creek Music Festival – or something like that. We performed chamber music in the evenings for the public, and during the day we rehearsed, we look voice lessons, we coached with a pianist, and we “studied acting” with an actor.

The actor’s name was Ray. He was a young, handsome guy with a compact build and grey eyes. I might be making up the grey eyes part. Anyway, a mutual friend told me he had AIDS. These were the years where that black plague was mercilessly slashing through our ranks.

Ray had a raw vulnerability about him. Once, demonstrating an emotional scene, he burst into agonizing sobs, giving full vent to whatever was gripping his heart. We sat there stunned. He then pulled his character together, turned, and picked up an apple and started to eat it. “Grief comes in waves” he said, “when it passes, you do normal things.” I don’t know why, when I have forgotten so very many things, that I remember this so clearly.

Turns out Ray was a poet too, and when he died, his mother gathered his poems together and published them in a small volume called “All that hums.”  I wonder how composer Ricky Ian Gordon chanced upon Ray’s poem. I’m sure there is a story there. But he did, and he penned (as they really did back in the 80’s) a heart-on-your-sleeve Tango, full of pathos and camp. A perfect song, and Ray lives on.

Ain’t life grand?

COYOTES by Ricky Ian Gordon and Ray Underwood