Ballad of Serenity (re-expanded)

UPDATED: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 11:46
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 11:33 AM


[A few days ago, I replied to a very old thread ("Ballad of Serenity (expanded)" by Darkeyes from December 2004), but my post never appeared in the recent activity list. Because my ego can't handle doing all that typing and then have no one see it, I'm giving it a bump by reposting it here as a new thread. (That also gave me a chance to touch it up a bit.)]

I took a couple lines from Darkeyes' excellent lyrics and mixed in some verses that I had composed. My decision not to keep the rest of his lyrics was merely because they didn't entirely fit with how I personally view Malcolm Reynolds.

I replaced Darkeyes' "Lost my soul, lost my dream" line because I don't feel that Mal is really one to think in terms of his soul. (Nor do I feel that he ever really lost it. He remains loyal to the values he fought for. He still carries that core [er, not Core] belief that the right of an individual to choose to live his or her own life in peace, free from another's rule, is inalienable.)

I also felt that the verse about "the black reaching out" with its "song", although pretty, is a little more poetic than the way I would expect Mal to word it.

(Parentheses in the lyrics below indicate pick-up words that fall before the line's meter. I know Joss and/or Rhodes mostly avoided using them, but I'm apparently not one for being that concise. And, so that I'm not swiping credit for someone else's work, I have prefixed the lines with attributions: [J] is Joss, [D] is Darkeyes, [M] is me, Malinger.)

Ballad of Serenity (by Joss Whedon, expanded by Darkeyes & Malinger)

[J] Take my love, take my land,
[J] Take me where (I) cannot stand.
[J] I don't care; I'm still free,
[J] You can't take (the) sky from me.

[M] (The) lives we built (from) dirt and toil,
[M] (They) took from us, (left) poisoned soil.
[M] Shadow's lost (in) mem-o-ry,
[J] You can't take (the) sky from me.

[M] (There) was a time (we) stood our ground,
[M] (A) settler's coat (was our) badge of brown.
[M] (Out)matched we were (by) guns and greed,
[J] (But) you can't take (the) sky from me.

[D] Leave my men where they lay,
[D] (They'll) never see (a)nother day.
[M] (They) fight on still (now) in my dreams,
[J] You can't take (the) sky from me.

[J] (So,) take me out to the black,
[J] Tell them I (ain't) coming back.
[J] Burn the land (and) boil the sea,
[J] You can't take (the) sky from me.

[J] There's no place I can be,
[J] Since I've found Seren-i-ty.
[J] (Now) you can't take (the) sky from me.
[J] You can't take (the) sky from me.

Now for an excessive bit of explanation for the lines I added. . .

I felt that the high value that the community of Mal's early life must have placed on hard work and self-reliance is an important part of his psyche -- thus, the "built from dirt and toil" line.

The "poisoned soil" is an assumption on my part that, before ever using military force, the Alliance would have employed covert sabotage operations to rob homesteaders of their self-sufficiency and, thus, pressure them to seek Alliance aid. (Of course, that would have only served to strengthen the resolve of the resistance, who became increasingly more organized. . .eventually erupting in a bona fide civil war.)

The "Shadow's lost in memory" line is intentionally ambiguous when sung. To the unfamiliar, it will sound like a reference to escaping the shadows of painful memories that continue to haunt Mal, but most of us will know it's really about the fond memories of his home that are becoming more distant and about his dreams of ever recapturing that life gradually slipping away.

"Settler's coat" becoming a "badge of brown" is from my own speculation (maybe it's documented somewhere, but I didn't come across it) that the brown coat did not begin as a uniform, but rather, was merely the ubiquitous, long, sturdy riding coat that the typical homesteader wore when when working or traveling in harsh conditions. Kinda like in the earlier days of the American Revolution when, prior to the creation and issue of a Continental uniform, individuals participating with local militiae typically brought their own gear from home -- the result being that the civilian hunting frock came to be remembered as the de facto "uniform" of the Minutemen.

"Outmatched by guns and greed" is inspired by what I imagine could have been a common Southern view on the outcome of the American Civil War: that the North won simply because they were better supplied and that they had invaded for little reason other than a desire to steal the South's wealth.

I haven't looked for straight-from-Joss's-mouth evidence of it, but I think I'm pretty safe in assuming that Mal's character was modeled, at least in part, on the oft-used concept of a former Confederate soldier who, following the loss of his home and the Confederacy's defeat during the American Civil War, never turned himself in for surrender, but instead, headed west to eek out a living on the frontier where Federal rule was much looser.

"They fight on still now in my dreams" is both a reference to wartime memories haunting him, but also to finding comfort in "What if?" daydreaming that defeat never came and the hope of he and his comrades shaking Alliance aggression is still alive.

(I did say that I'm not given to concision, did I not?)


Wednesday, September 24, 2014 2:58 PM


I wrote:

Originally posted by MALINGER:
[M] (Out)matched we were (by) guns and greed,

I'm not terribly happy with the first clause in that line. The Yoda-style syntax would be a bit odd coming from Mal, but other wording I tried either had the wrong stress pattern or was stuffing in too many syllables (an all-too-common habit of mine in songwriting).

Main idea I wanted to convey was that the resistance efforts were ultimately foiled by the superior strength of the aggressor. That way, it would set up the subsequent verse as being about the aftermath (where Mal has to flee without burying the dead).

However, "outmatched" doesn't clearly say that the Independents were defeated; rather, it only implies it. That ambiguity could possibly lead the audience to expect that it is, instead, setting up for an heroic tale of victory in the face of overwhelming odds. I might have to play with it some more to avoid that.

Unlike the three verses of the original theme, which deal almost exclusively with Mal's exodus, I wanted the verses of the expanded version to follow a somewhat chronological progression that provides some background about what he lost:

Once had a home, built with pride,
but someone destroyed it.

(sense of belonging lost)

Tried to fight the oppressor,
but the attempt failed

(sense of purpose lost)

Had comrades,
but they died.

(sense of fellowship lost)

Had to leave it all behind,
never to return

(hope of ever recovering a stable life abandoned)

The serenity of the black is the one thing he has left that no one can take away
(new sense of belonging found)

Of course, the storyline of "Firefly" itself then follows him replacing the rest of his losses as he discovers new, unlooked-for senses of both purpose and fellowship.


Thursday, September 25, 2014 1:11 PM


No comments yet? But it has been hours. Whenever I post, aren't folks supposed to drop everything they're doing and start writing a response the second they see it? Didn't y'all get the memo? (sigh)

(Yeah, having one of those days when I kinda feel like I need a little external validation/criticism. C'mon, Wash, either tell me I'm pretty or tell me my sh*t ain't so shiny. . .but tell me.)


Thursday, September 25, 2014 5:56 PM


I think it's WONDERFUL!!….
Can we get the original singer and musicians to cut a track?


Tuesday, September 30, 2014 11:46 AM



Originally posted by Sister:
I think it's WONDERFUL!!….
Can we get the original singer and musicians to cut a track?

Thanks, but I kinda doubt it. I think the original is near perfect for the show intro -- brief, with only enough detail to set the mood. However, for other uses, many fans find it to be too brief -- such as when they try to sing it as an expression of their obsession. An anthem of only eleven lines makes for a disappointingly short singalong.

(I believe that _Pirates of the Caribbean_ fans had a similar problem when they would try to sing the "Yo ho!" song: there were only four or five lines given in the movies, so fans had to make up their own lyrics to fill it out to something they could sing.)

To address the issue of excessive brevity, Darkeyes, and then I, lengthened the ballad some. (Okay, I know it's not really a ballad.) It seemed a task well suited for me, as my apparently inexhaustible verbosity should be able to relieve the original's word deficit.

This version adds three more verses to the original three. My hope is that some singer/filker/musician/whatever who, like me, considers the original to be a bit too short for performance would find using/adapting my lyrics helpful when making a stage arrangement of the piece.







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