In the final act of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta come upon the two missing couples as they wake up in a glade and begin to recount vivid anecdotes of magic and witchcraft. Bemused, Hippolyta remarks on how strange yet strikingly similar their stories are, to which her fiancé Theseus wryly replies that “lovers and madmen have such seething brains,” before voicing his opinion that “the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination compact.”
This sardonic observation on the adverse side effects of love does not just belong to the Elizabethan playwright and his pre-scientific understanding of human emotions. More than two hundred years later, Edgar Allan Poe said of himself: “I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” Nor is this sentiment shared solely by writers and artists. One hundred years after Poe’s lamentation, Sigmund Freud wrote in Civilization and Its Discontent that “ we are never… so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object”. More recently, Manhattan-based clinical-psychologist-turned-fiction-writer Jaqueline Simon Gunn declared that “love makes people do crazy things.. And…can bring people to the edge of madness.” Forty-five years ago, Scottish rock band Nazareth rose through the pop charts with their cover of The Everly Brothers’ 1961 ballad “Love Hurts.” The feeling, it seems, is equally shared by the masses.
This recurring fixation with the painful and dangerously erratic aspects of love serves as the foundation for singer-songwriter duo Cedar Sparks’ new single “Maggie.”
Made up of Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone and Lewis and Clarke’s Lou Rogai, the song marks the first release for the group since 2018’s “Gathering Song.” At just under five minutes, the track comes with many of the frills you would expect from the veteran folk and Americana duo from bucolic Delaware Gap, Pennsylvania. It’s got a skipping beat powered by a full-bodied snare that punctiliously maintains a bopping 12/8 time signature; it features reliably athletic bass work that leisurely keeps up with the rhythmic demand at every turn; and there is a surfeit of nod-eliciting energetic interplay between a shrill electric violin and the keyboards, as both instruments take turns garnishing each musical stanza with the right inflections, particularly during the song’s more emotionally-demanding moments.
But even as the contagious harmonies that bear a distinctively Celtic influence would have you believe this is a celebration of true love, that conclusion couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Maggie” starts with the same moon-eyed lyrics you would expect out of a traditional folk ballad:
“Your breath is the wind, your eyes are the light
Your touch is the reason I cling to this life
Lady in waiting, our time will come soon”.
It’s easy to see that the speaker goes to great lengths to ensure that the chest-crushing and irrepressible love and admiration he has for the titular character are patently known. There is, likewise, a transparent effort to build a lifelong relationship with this person. In the first two stanzas alone, each proceeding line raises the stakes for the couple with arms race-like zeal, and it’s not hard to notice that the speaker’s scope of vision becomes increasingly blurry and myopic:
“A crown, a halo, of golden primrose
Shining immortal, this love it is ours…
Forever bonded in spirit and flesh
I take you for my wife, in this life and the next”
This intense and dramatic sequence naturally disembogues into the declarative elan of the song’s chorus:
“Maggie, it’s you and me…forever free”.
But as the therapist and best-selling author Susan Forward once warned: “Love is a verb, not a noun,” meaning that love in its most proper form is a constant and continuous effort at doing what’s best for your significant other. And so, bearing this in mind, it’s here that the song is subject to final-stretch peripeteia:
“In the murmuring crowd we were lost and alone
Now we are walking our only true road
Here on our journey no more shall we roam
In deathless love we stay, an eternity is calling our name.”
It’s clear that this last stanza purposely pulls back on all the blarney and cajolery that take up the first two-thirds of the song. “Eternity” and “deathless love” still make an appearance as specific and coveted prizes, but the context suddenly becomes vague and cryptic. Where is this “true road” the speaker is referencing? Where does it end that he feels so confident that his roaming will cease and that with it, whatever hurdles the couple is facing will vanish? And where did these imposing obstacles suddenly come from?
“Maggie, it’s you and me… forever free”.
This line wraps up the song, before an ultra-melodic outro in which the violin weaves in and around the rest of the band like a fairy sprinkling pixie dust fades out.
At this point, it’s clear that things aren’t quite what they seem and that there’s more going on than meets the eye. Fortunately, Rogai and Carbon shed some light on this peculiar ending.
According to the group, “Maggie” is based on a true story that took place in the town of Easton, Pennsylvania in 1833, in which a man by the name of Charles Getter murdered his young and pregnant wife, Margaret Lawall, just ten days after the couple was married. According to a news article from Gettysburg-area paper The Adams Sentinel from September 1833, Lawall had accused Getter of being the illegitimate father of her child and brought him before a local Justice of the Peace who presented Getter with the option of marrying Lawall or doing time in the county jail.
At the time of this accusation, it appears that Getter was in the advanced stages of a relationship with a local seamstress named Mary Hummer. Facing the grim prospect of incarceration, Getter chose to marry Lawall but soon began looking for ways to dissolve their union. After being denied a divorce by a second local official, Getter became desperate and worried that Hummer might soon find out about his scandalous affair. Committed not to lose the woman he regarded as his one true love, he sought out the only recourse he thought was left: murder.
On a clear and moonlit October night, as the couple walked up a windy country road less than half a mile from their home, Charles Getter bludgeoned Margaret Lawall to death. This cowardly and senseless act, however, did not bring him closer to his beloved Mary. After Lawall’s body was found in a nearby quarry, neighbors immediately accused him of plotting to kill his wife. Getter was arrested and held for trial a week later. At the end of the trial, after only ten minutes of deliberation, the jury found Getter guilty of murder and sentenced him to death by hanging.
According to a newspaper article from October 11th,1833, from the Easton Sentinel, Getter was executed in front of a few thousand spectators on a small island on the Delaware River that bears his name to this day. After an initial failed attempt in which the rope snapped as he frantically kicked and jerked around in midair, Getter finally met his well-deserved demise.
Local folklore maintains that the ghosts of Margaret Lawall and Charles Getter can occasionally be found roaming the island and the nearby forests, usually in the early morning hours. To this day, reports of these spectral sightings abound, and an industry that caters to ghost hunters and occult enthusiasts has popped up around town.
In an attempt to summon the spirit of Theseus’ droll but apt conclusion, and with a minor but relevant adjustment: How easy is a bear supposed a bush.