1. Mandalay

From the recording Mandalay

When I was fourteen my best friend’s father died of a heart attack. The following summer, his mom rented a beach house named Mandalay for a whole month and invited my brother and I to stay a week with them.

Mandalay was a classic. The living room went the full width of the house, it was filled with tacky marine-themed art; no two pieces of furniture matched. At the far end of the living room, steps went up to the second floor, where several bedrooms branched off the hallway.

It was a place where you went to forget all about your life and its many cares. But still, there was a sense of melancholy about it that I couldn’t shake. It went beyond my friend’s missing father and my own hormone-fueled miasma of adolescent angst.

The memory of the place, especially the sense of melancholy, stuck with me for decades. As I grew older I concluded that Mandalay could be as much a block to finding true happiness as it might be the doorway to it. Maybe it was the place you went to refill the basin. Or maybe, if you didn’t have Mandalay to take your mind off what was troubling you, you might find a better way of being in the world.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a sanctuary and shackles.

The song developed when I read Kipling’s poem, Mandalay, at the same time I was reading about the ‘Daddy trains’ that used to go to the Oregon coast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The wives and children of the middle and upper classes in Portland would spend summers at the beach, and the fathers would arrive on the train on Friday and leave Sunday to go back to the city. Remembering Mandalay, I wondered if it was a place to which one of these men came to get away and restore his batteries, or maybe just kill the pain of ‘live to work, or work to live’. In the collision of both stories, the line popped into my head, ‘Cocktails on the porch of ancient Mandalay’. It was irreverent and silly and I liked it. The rest of it was letting the character walk around on stage and tell me the story.


Cocktails on the porch
Of lovely Mandalay
Another perfect ending
To another perfect day
Tide is out, the lighthouse winks
Gulls will wheel and bray
Time for cocktails on the porch
Of lovely Mandalay

Working in the city
To the beach today
For rest and relaxation
I get two days away
Back to town on Sunday
To the city, drab and grey
Then I turn, and come right back
To lovely Mandalay

The moon will rise, sun will set
We'll while the day away
Among the ships safe in their slips
The seals will dip and play
Live to work, or work to live?
It doesn’t pay the same
But now it's cocktails on the porch
Of lovely Mandalay