Low Tide Origins

This weekend was The People's Climate March, today is May Day! We want to share something with you that feels relevant in this moment. If you came to our show at Rubulad, you heard a version of this story about our song, “Low Tide.” The song is up on our website, decibelists.com. If you like it, please share with folks you think want to hear it. And if you want to have it for yourself, pre-order our album here.

Photo by Peter Eliscu

Photo by Peter Eliscu

In the strangely warm winter of 2014, I gathered with two dear friends — Ariana and Rachel — over tea. Speaking around a kitchen table, Ariana let us know she was pregnant. She and her partner had talked a lot about global warming before conceiving — what would it mean to bring a child into an unknown future, a world that is literally falling apart? 

Over the Spring we spoke on the phone regularly, about her pregnancy but everything else too. Her fears about our warming, decaying world, she said, were the main thing that gave her pause before deciding to have the baby. She was getting a PhD, working at a clinic, and caring for her changing body. I was juggling about seven teaching jobs and working on my music but somehow we always found time to talk. 

That summer I went to Riis beach as much as possible, a cheap way to go on vacation (but only go as far as Queens) and spend the day sunbathing with topless queers. That summer, however, Williams Transco company was building a fracking pipeline from the sea through the dunes and into the city. While we waded in the surf, we could see the pipeline in the ocean, ominous and real, a snaking machine jutting out of the waves like a strange gothic monster.

Rachel was doing climate justice organizing in NYC. We talked about her work at the beach and as we met up to make presents for the baby on the way. Climate change had always seemed so theoretical and far-off to me. I had felt that there were more urgent threats to the people I loved, like gentrification displacing them from their homes, or being targeted by racist police or transphobic violence. 

Then in July, Eric Garner was killed by the NYPD — strangled to death on Staten Island near my home. The Ferguson Uprising started in August, after a teenage Mike Brown was shot by the police in Missouri and left in the street to die. The country erupted in protests, and all three of us joined some of them. 

Ariana’s due date was around this time, and when we spoke we asked these questions again: What did it mean to bring a child into a world like this — a world rife with white supremacy and state violence? What does it mean to be a white parent in a country that kills Black children? Who among us is able to plan for the future? 

One night I found myself writing these questions into a song. It wasn’t something that I had planned — it just came out. The next morning I woke to the news that Ariana  had been in labor at home through the night with 2 midwives, a doula, her mother and her partner. As I was writing “Low Tide” on the opposite coast, Ariana’s child, Tenaz Natan, had been born. 

I sent her a recording of “Low Tide” that same day. When my friend breastfed, she said my song would run through her head. Sometimes she would play it for her baby. I came to visit when he was five weeks old and I sang it to him as I rocked him to sleep. 

This year we watched the Standing Rock Sioux's fight against a pipeline in North Dakota that would run through their sacred land. A group of Native midwives set up a tent at the Standing Rock encampment. The first baby born there was named Mni Wiconi, “water is life.” After the election, the protesters were evicted and pipeline construction continues.

What does it mean to bring a child into an unknown future, a world that is literally falling apart? When is a new life an act of resistance to its own demise?  When everything is eroding, who gets cared for and who gets left behind? How do we plan for a future that is disappearing before our very eyes? — Emma Alabaster, May 2017

Low Tide
by Emma Alabaster

it’s the drop that’ll get you
out of character, gentle
it’s the rock that’ll move you
keep you, make you stay

oh my baby is a low tide
a holding you at bay
oh my country goes to war
seems most every single day

you can sit right down and take it
back and forth behind the screen
it’s so easy just to stay there
and pretend you’ve never seen

oh the coastline looks so different
without its usual insistence
see the pipeline in the ocean
just out of swimming distance

who can feel the temperature now?
who, who, who?
same low folks are always hit
always caught up in the tide

oh i thought the rains a notion
a far off possibility
oh you pushed this infant out
into the waters of inevitability

so hush baby meet the ocean
as it kisses ‘cross the sky
your tiny body on the line
rockin’ here next to mine

it’s the tide that’ll get us
pull us in, then let us out

it’s the rhythm that’ll move us
into the streets, onto the boats
dance on the boardwalk, batten down the hatches
up on the rooftop, building a new raft
bury the anchor, sail out beside us
flip on the searchlight, honor the sunlight
carry the cradle, long as you’re able
dust off the compass, grow a new garden
wishing and praying, gather the children
speak the new language, follow the low lead
lay down beside me, protect this baby
all of us screaming, this is a family
screaming is singing, listen so closely
pick the tender weeds, here everyone feeds
learning all the knots, draw where the war stops
march to the leaders, now they are just us
ride this one out

(Photo by Peter Eliscu)