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CHAPTER VIII

River Styx

Song Stories

Album Liner Notes

In this series of Song Stories we’re taking you behind the scenes of each song.
Chapter VIII–Hart Island is the eighth EP from our album Old Bones Odyssey
Coming soon: we’re creating a podcast that dives deeper into the stories and history behind our songs.

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River Styx

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Lyrics

River Styx

Ellen C Kaye – Lead Vocal
Ethan Fein – Guitar
Andrew Drelles – Tenor Sax
Koa Ho – Electric bass
Zach Mullings – Drums
Jackie Presti – Backing Vocals
Soara-Joye Ross – Backing Vocals
© 2022 Ellen C Kaye and Ethan Fein. All rights reserved.

On an island in the bay
Hidden far away from sight
Windswept buried out at sea
Fog horns blow past city lights

On an island in the bay
Dreams are lost along the way
What a dark and lonely place
It’s the heart of Pelham Bay

No moon, no stars
Lost world, no looking back
Lost, longing for home
Longing for what we had

On an island in the bay
We can see the far off lights
We’ll all escape one day
Some in spirit, some in flight

No moon, no stars
Lost world, no looking back
Lost, longing for home
Longing for what we had

On an island in the bay
We can see the far off lights
We’ll all escape one day
Some in spirit, some in flight

Ellen C Kaye – Lyrics
Ethan Fein – Music 
Recorded/Mixed/Mastered by Bill Moss
Outlier Inn Recording Studio, Woodridge, New York
Ellen C Kaye, Ethan Fein, Bill Moss, Alan Joseph–Producers

Copyright (c) 2023
A Repair With Gold Production LLC SM

The Story

River Styx

River Styx brings my time in Phoenix House on Hart Island to life.” – Ellen Kaye

River Styx brings my time in Phoenix House on Hart Island to life. I lived there for almost two years. From 1974-1976. I was fourteen when I got there, sixteen when I left. It’s a part of my life that I haven’t talked about a lot. I did a one-women show about it a long while back, in my thirties. It’s always been a difficult subject. Putting it into song turned out to be easier for me. Easier to remember the people I knew there, to remember how we felt. To bring it all out into the open. 
With River Styx I’m tackling my own story, the stories of abandoned people, of what it’s like to be left behind. That’s a story that America has trouble telling and even more trouble listening to. This song is about people that we should care about that we cannot see. The people that were with me on the island, the people that made it out to have better lives, the people who never made it out, that are lost to us all.

An Interview with Ellen

River Styx

Take #1:
I wrote River Styx to tell the story of how I spent almost two years on Hart Island in Phoenix House from 14 years old to 16 years old. It’s a part of my life that I haven’t talked alot about. I tried to do a one-women show about it awhile back in my 30’s. But its always been a difficult subject for me and I have found that songwriting is a really great way to talk about buried things and that’s what I’m doing in River Styx, about the people that are buried in Potters Field, about the people that were with me on Hart Island, some of which are very much alive and to tell….

Take #2:
I wrote River Styx to tell the story of the two years that I spent semi-incarcerated on Hart Island off the coast of the Bronx in Phoenix House which was a drug rehabilitation center, I actually wasn’t a drug addict and I was 14 years old and it was very strange place to be and I was there for almost two years. I graduated from the program, if thats actually technically true, I’m not sure because I don’t know if there were graduations, but I left there when it was time to leave. And I found that it’s always been a difficult topic for me and that writing this song enabled me to kind of unlock the memories of the people, of the place, of the time, and to talk about buried things. And there’s people,many, many, many people buried on Hart Island in Potter’s Field. And then there are the people that are buried in my thoughts. That’s what the song is about.

I want people to feel the sadness and the longing that I felt when I was on the island. I can’t speak for the other people there, but I can only imagine, and most of them were older than me and I’m sure it was even harder to be there when you’re older, things are harder when you’re older. So, I want people to think about the abandoned people, and what it’s like to be left behind. I think that’s a story that America has trouble telling and even more listening to. And I hope that this song joins those ranks of stories about people that we should care about that we cannot see.

“On an island in the bay, we can see the far off lights,
We’ll all escape one day, some in spirit, some in flight”
Those are the lyrics that conjure up that time to me and I feel are possibly the most powerful in the song. I’m not sure there’s others that are more compelling, but I like the mystery of those lines.

Take #1:
Well, living on an island is highly evocative, so it’s not hard to write about having lived on an island that many people have never been to. I think it’s like a few miles as the crow flies from the city where I was born. It was a very mysterious, gothic place.

Take #2:
Well, I think the island  definitely is the most evocative piece. It was strange to be living on an island and it was strange to see that island from off the coast. Hart island is a mysterious place and even though I lived there, I don’t feel like I know it and I’ve been studying its history and I found out that it’s way, way more mysterious than I had any idea of. So, definitely, the island is the main character in my mind when I’m writing that song.

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Ellen C Kaye

Ellen C Kaye

Singer/songwriter, producer, podcast maker, mom, born and bred in NYC. Night Club singer at heart.