February 2017

by Marshall Chapman

Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

Where does that first heartbeat come from? One minute we’re a mass of reproducing cells, then all of a sudden … there it is! … a heartbeat. Despite all the medical journals and research, there isn’t a doctor on earth who can explain where that first heartbeat comes from. So it remains a mystery. Something that can’t be explained.

I love things that can’t be explained.

I remember being five years old, sitting on a hillside at dusk in front of my house in Enoree, South Carolina. I was with Gene Crocker, the fourteen-year-old boy who lived next door. Mama always said Gene was a genius because he’d read the World Book Encyclopedia twice. Anyway, Gene and I were sitting there watching the stars come out, when, out of the blue, he asked if I knew what infinity was. I told him I didn’t, then said, “What is it?”

“See all that black up there around the stars?” he said.


“Well, all that black goes on forever. There’s no end to it. It’s infinity.”

I tried to grasp what Gene was saying, but my mind didn’t want to go there.

“Well, what if …” I stammered. “What if all that black up there is a wall? … a black wall?”

“Fine,” Gene said. “Let’s say it’s a wall. So … what’s on the other side of the wall?” Suddenly, I saw it. Infinity. And it hurt my brain so bad, I burst into tears.

I wouldn’t see infinity again for another twenty years. Not until I started writing songs in Nashville.

It’s hard to explain where songs come from. I often say, “My songs are smarter than I am.” And that’s true, in a way. Because the really good ones don’t come from us. They come through us. I’ve also said, “The hardest part about writing is creating the space so it can happen.”

And every now and then, if you’re open to it and the stars and planets are lined up just so, something great will present itself. And whenever that happens, it’s like seeing infinity. Or hearing that first heartbeat.

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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