This story was originally written for Alaska Dispatch News.
The inspiration for Mary Jane Riemann’s song “Goodbye” came from a challenge she made for herself to write a song about grieving the death of a loved one.
Riemann was becoming tired of hearing the same songs over and over at funerals, memorials and other somber events and knowing that the lyrics didn’t really correlate to what was happening.
“Sometimes people attach songs to these things, but lyrically, they’re completely inappropriate,” she said, mentioning Sarah McLaughlin’s song “Angel” as an example.
“It’s a beautiful song, and I happen to know Sarah McLaughlin a little bit, we’re both from the East Coast and met when we were young. ‘In the arms of the angel’ is about heroin addiction, it’s about being high on heroin in a hotel room,” Riemann said.
Riemann, who grew up in Newfoundland, Canada, and now lives in Anchorage, believes that people reach for music for comfort.
When she wrote “Goodbye,” “I went right to the center of grief, and I wanted to just be in that moment and invite music to happen. It was an assignment in a way, but if you force it, it just doesn’t come out well. It was more like opening up the floodgates and saying ‘okay, go into that space and see if you have anything to offer.'”
Riemann wrote the song in 2013. The video, shot and produced in 2014 by her husband Kurt Reimann, features powerful portraits of different people — old and young — holding pictures of their loved ones who have died.
The guest soloist featured in the song is renowned Irish piper Davy Spillane, who plays the uilleann (pronounced ILL-UN) pipes and sings backup vocals.
For more on Riemann’s music, see maryjaneriemann.com.