The Mother Of All Funk Chords – Kutiman – 2009

One of the times I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , I was living in Boston and coming to terms with the idea that there are so many people trying to be heard.  There are so many voices in this world.  So many needs.  I became very depressed.  The idea of Quality as expressed by Persig in his book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, seemed to be directly responsible.  Only certain voices were worth hearing as defined by some incredible esoteric formula.  I thought of all of the people that are truly talented.  But the average attention span for digesting and owning media in a human’s brain isn’t capable of hearing everything.

This depression lasted for quite some time.  I guess in some ways I am still not over it.  It led me to another set of conclusions about working.  Especially working in something satisfying and monetarily rewarding.  I thought about all of the food that is delivered to us at our supermarkets.  How many people who plant or harvest corn play the guitar?  How many can sing?  How many have musical aspirations?  Or dream of themselves in better circumstances where they entertain people with their talent?  But someone has to plant the corn!

Around this time, there was a guy I helped produce plays with in a small Brookline community theater near Boston.  I mainly did the music, but I did other things as well.  He was a chemist at MIT and his other dream was producing classic plays by Chekov and Ibsen.  He was doing these things.  One day a male lead quit.  He was very talented.  He was from India and in scrubbing his Indian accent to get more parts, he had mastered a giant array of accents.  He had a master’s degree in theater.  He quit the play because he got a job managing the Dunkin Donuts right across the street from Berklee.

The MIT Chemist guy was telling me about this.  He seemed kind of flabbergasted by the whole thing.  Why would someone do something like that?  Give up a part in a play he had always wanted to be in to manage the Dunkin Donuts?  I kept asking questions to draw him out, because this point of view seemed so absurd to me.  Finally his responses led to, “I don’t know.  The guy has no dreams.  He’s never going to have a house or a family or a couple cars in the garage.  I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to accomplish.  You have to stick with something.  You don’t give up.”  I was really speechless, but I did manage to respond, “You know.  Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts.  When people go to the Dunkin Donuts and want coffee or something, someone has to make sure that happens.”

Yes there is a separate idea of intention.  If you intend to be a farmer or a Dunkin Donuts manager, then you should be those things.  But how many people accomplish what they set out to accomplish.  Certainly there are career paths that are almost set in stone.  Become a doctor – follow this path.  Become a lawyer – follow that path.  But outside of doing something like that, there isn’t so much certainty.  And for some people, the idea of certainty in life is a death sentence.  I could hold my hand up to be counted as one of these.  Perhaps it’s some kind of pathology that makes this happen, but more than likely it’s just different personalities.

But without certainty, there can be a lot of defeat.  And it’s unfortunate that there are so many careers that we immediately associate with defeat.  Barista!  Oh you majored in philosophy, but couldn’t hack it.  Or…  Oh you couldn’t figure out what you wanted to do with your life.  Here you are serving coffee.  But the aesthetic of a profession or wealth shouldn’t really indicate the level of success or happiness in life.  But it does.  And even when a shitty artist makes a lot of money and becomes famous, people take them more seriously.  Even when a criminal gets away with a large amount of money, society seems to give them some respect.

But someone has to be a foot soldier in Napoleon’s army.  And without the 100’s of thousands of foot soldiers, Napoleon is nothing.  Someone has to plant the corn!  Someone has to manage the Dunkin Donuts.  And when those people go home, they don’t dream the lesser dreams of the poor and defeated.  They dream the dreams of great people.  We are all great people.  And the more we let the mass marketing of corporations define greatness, the more we cower in defeat.  Paying taxes to subsidize wealth in ever increasing amounts, because somehow we believe that the amount of money a person makes or the level of fame a person has attained says something about the talents that person possesses.  I’m not saying anyone can do any job.  And certainly we want qualified people doing the jobs that are critical to our society.  But the inmates are running the asylum here.  We have reached a point where the only qualifications we think of as important are being rich and/or famous.

I don’t know whether Kutiman was thinking about all of these voices.  All of these separate aspirations when he began his project of splicing youtube videos into amazing works of art, but this is what it makes me think of.  More than ever with the internet, I am aware of all of the talent in the world.  All of the voices clamoring to be heard.  And Kutiman seems to have this awareness as well.  He seems to be saying, “I hear you in all your isolated loneliness.  Let me show you how great you are.”  And this metaphor is a jumping off place for a profound shift in consciousness that I think is necessary and happening right now in front of our eyes.  The Mother Of All Funk Chords is rising like a tidal wave.  All of our voices will be heard in ways we can’t control.  With meaning we can no longer recognize as our own.

Yes someone has to plant the corn.  But that doesn’t mean that his voice is any less important.  Because The Mother Of All Funk Chords is us.  In all our clumsy gracelessness, there is still a depth of beauty that refuses to be defined by our net worth.

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Have You Ever Died – Benjamin Wesley – 2009

I discovered this song a few weeks ago through some forgotten array of connections of music that I happened to be searching.  And this may seem like a strange song to have attached as a soundtrack to the birth of my second  child, but it only seems strange because of the title.  Have you ever died?  Yes I have died every minute of the last 6 weeks.  There’s this strange middle ground I haunted while the pregnancy got complicated.  I wanted to love the child into existence.  I wanted to protect myself and my family from the possibility of a tragedy.  But inevitably she crawled inside of me.  I gave every ounce of myself to her.

“…and you climbing the mountain”

But you never know.  But you do.  And you don’t want to go, but you will.  Here is all of life in little heart attacks and sucking breath and hoping for the best.  I felt her little breath on me while I slept.  She held my hand and prayed with me to a God I don’t believe in.  Laid prostrate with me at the altar.  Slept softly in the back seat while I drove.

“The tower you counted the stairs.”

A grackle spoke to me in the Kroger parking lot.  I had been driving aggressively.  Very fast.  One place then another.  As self-important as any other person on the wide swath of highway.  Becoming something I despise.  The grackle was perched under the bumper of an F150.  It squawked at me and I realized that grackles had been near me every time I got out of the car.  I looked him in the eye.  He clearly said, “Slow down.”  I said, “Okay.”  He hopped away.

“Then you sang yodel-ay-he-hoo.”

And it’s been days since I posted about a song.  I worried about it a few days.  Then I thought I would catch up eventually.  Then I realized that once again I was participating in the lie.  Covering up the contradictions is a big part of mass marketing.  But exposing the contradictions is an artist’s job.  I want to write about a song every day this year, but circumstances are making this impossible.  I could write 5 entries in one day and say, “There I did it.”  But really I didn’t write about one every day.  I wrote about 5 one day.  And now I think this is okay, but I might as well expose this.  I will write about 365 songs this year, but not one every day.  Sometimes I won’t be able to do that.

“Lost and found all this spinning around.”

But we did hold a baby up to the sky this week.  She was as perfect as a clear diamond.  A Thumbelina emerging from a magic seed.  A child asleep with her feet tucked under my leg.  She came too early and at the perfect time.  So many people gathered in a quiet storm.  Intent on bringing this one soul into this world.  And I thought about how many lives are brought forward.  And how much will gathered from so many different sources it takes to bring each into existence.  And how easy and smooth that warm breath of life reaches all of us from the sea.  We all emerge unscathed and live until we die battle worn and beautiful.

“No wonder boy you stutter like a mule.”

There is no blemish.  We cannot be imperfect.  We are only additions of everything that is right.  Even when the darkness takes us, we are only still products of the light.  We do our best to not let evil befall us.  But we are masses of contradictions and disappointments.  Conglomerations of joy and eerily rhythmic spontaneity steeped in the great salt water wisdom of the mother.  I learned that we are all right and wrong.  I saw a girl anxious to see her mother in the light.  Vibrated into the arms of her father by his voice.  I am humbled and speechless.

“Each stop you know it’s going to wash away.”

We are washed up on the beach and wrung out with the wind.  Carried gently and with purpose.  None of us makes it alone.  In the widest sense, we are all family.  There is no life that isn’t a giant collaboration.  I am every one of you.  There is no me.

“You decide to go you gotta beat the road.”

This song has been sitting on my chest for a week.  Eating away at the corner of my consciousness.  Benjamin Wesley is a master of the unspeakable even when he is speaking.  There is so much being said that is only summoned imagery.  Have You Ever Died is such a contradiction.  From the title.  It’s like he’s really saying, “Have you ever lived?”  All of the amazing things he does with stuttering lyrics, blurred melodies, unshakable rhythms and plodding content.  There is so much celebration and joy in the primal experience.  I get the sense of – oh well, I have to do the inevitable.  Let’s celebrate the inevitable.  The inevitability of death.  But let’s not forget the inevitability of life.  Especially if we are talking about death.

“It’s a compromise or there wouldn’t be a show.”

That’s right.  Without the compromise of life.  The sweet ripeness of life.  The hope and inevitability of life.  Death can never have its satisfaction.  Death is its own hopelessness.  There’s the celebration of life.

“It’s a quiet life you ain’t got no friends.”

Time was slowly eating away at us.  Like a bird pecking at a pile of ants.  Consuming us.  Directing our days.  We sat and watched.  And made the best of it.  And watched the clock.  And pulled the days off the calendar like some movie montage.  We pulled the rope at a plodding pace.  Cooking our dreams until they were done.  And then one day, life was inevitable.  And she washed up on our shore wrung out and sputtering.  And we watched in the hallway.  The doctors pronouncing the science of yet another miracle.  As they were sponging the salt water off of her, it occurred to me that we were all willing to show up for this impossibility over and over again.  Every time celebrated like it had never happened before.

“It’s a quiet life..”

Every day.

Haven’t found a link to buy the music online yet, but here is Benjamin Wesley’s web page.

Biggest Fan – Voxtrot – 2006

This week my writing has sucked.  In some cases, I knew what I was trying to say but couldn’t say it.  In other cases, I loved the song but wasn’t able to express it.  And there are hundreds of ways to explain this.  Some of the biggest excuses could involve new jobs, soul killing corporations, being busy, environment…  And maybe some of this is valid.  And maybe my writing has just simply sucked.  And I am embarrassed to read some of it, but I am going to let it stand.  I have a couple of points to make in the long run that will be served by even my worst writing.

I want to insist that every song I have written about I have loved.  This week especially.  I put together a CD this week, and it has lived in my CD player.  I could listen to these songs for the rest of the year.  I drive up and down the freeway singing along.  It has made me sad to move from one song to the next.  And that is one of those things I am learning from doing this.  It really is very hard work letting new concepts enter my consciousness every day.  Music becomes a soundtrack for our lives.  Especially when we are young.  But as we get older, that music that was the soundtrack of our youth becomes our daily muzak.

Then there is the issue of how many stories I have to write about.  I start becoming really critical of myself when I can’t come up with more.  And I don’t know why I would become critical to tell the truth.  But I was listening to this song that I am writing about right now (regardless of whether you know that), and I knew that I had failed yesterday when writing about a song that I loved.  I was feeling sad that I wasn’t able to express that, and kind of embarrassed.  And I knew that these two things, lack of stories left and feeling embarrassed about what I wrote, could totally kill me.  This is my whole life..  Writer’s block (i.e. not knowing what to write about) and not wanting to take a chance because I might suck.

“Life on the margins, little looks we have to steal”

Then there’s the idea that it isn’t necessarily that I don’t know which stories to write about.  There are real people involved in these stories.  People that could be hurt or that could see the stories differently than I did.  This isn’t necessarily a problem even when it is absolutely true.  I have found ways already to change the way I present a story so that I leave out just enough.  But there is a lot of energy that goes into that as well.

“I want to run like vagrants hand in hand across this field”

And all of this is metadata – data about other data.  And funnily enough that is my new job.  I deal with enormous amounts of metadata.  And like my job here in this forum, it is difficult to remain interested in the attributes rather than the information.  The meta-me is what I am talking about.  These songs are about me.  The artist’s stories are stories about my narrative.  Our common ground is difficult to recognize and live in on a daily basis.  And I hope I am being clear, because it’s very difficult to be clear with such an abstract concept.

“But I know the way you are I could fall into the star”

We like to celebrate our differences and our culture right now is all about dividing us.  I am trying to remain awake to the idea that we aren’t very different at all.  But my tendency toward isolation is really a pull that’s almost impossible to fight.

“It’s not easy for everybody to faill in love.”

And right now, one of the hardest things to do is remain passionate about this new music that is entering my life.  Because I compare the larger than life emotion of the expression in the music and compare it with the gray daily life of work that has to be done.  And I have to remind myself that this is one of those fantasies that just ends up making me ache.

“The city walls are reigning perilous and tall over dark chilling streets”

So while I have been awake, and I have written some stuff that has moved even me, I feel like I am missing everything.  I am missing the mark at work.  I am not interested in information about information.  The name is a name, not an attribute.  My clothes are not important.  The garbage on the floor of my car is not an indication of who I am.  This blog is not the music.  It’s not even a map.  My singular voice is my point.

“And I know I want to live my life”

We are all trying to find or invent meaning in our daily lives.  But there are more moments alone for me than in contact with the people that provide the deepest meaning in my life.  I think most of us are stuck with these circumstances.  Whether we are driving up and down freeways and sitting in cubicles for most of the day.  Developing laugh lines from our fake smiles that we give to people that we don’t really want to connect to.  Sitting in hospital beds alone trying to maintain a firm grip on the purpose of choosing this particular suffering.  Sitting underneath bridges.

“Don’t want to waste my time”

In most cases, there was a point to what we were doing that we can’t remember most of the time.  Something that made the pain or dull ache worth it.  And it’s so hard to keep that purpose in mind when I am not in contact with people that bring me joy.  That there is a larger sense of mission.  That I love my people.  That I love myself.

“Trying to strike the right lyrical density.”

And this can be the hardest part of the whole entry.  This is the part where I write a paragraph about the song itself.  As if I wasn’t writing about the song the whole time.  Really please!  I understand that the concept is abstract.  But every word I have written so far is about how kick ass this song is.  I am left wanting to change my whole fucking life every time I listen to it.  While writing this damn thing, I have listened to it about 30 times.  The attributes – the metadata – are irrelevant.  The relationship to progressive rock and Queen in particular.  The blues turn arounds?  The harmonic progression.  The incredible amount of time that went into this song.  It’s all clear.  I can hear Ramesh Srivastava suffering over all of the lyrics he has.  What to leave out – what to put in?  But he has so much of his life on the tip of his tongue.  Isn’t this all of us?  You sing every damn word you got.  Holy shit!  If I could write lyrics like that, my songs would be 90 minutes long.  And the connection to the music!  Usually you get this kind of lyrical density and the music and lyrics are disconnected.  An afterthought.  Voxtrot puts a lot of work into this concept.  And I am putting a lot of work into trying to express how it makes me feel.

“I used to be your biggest fan”

And I remember a girl that I don’t want to write about.  Who was very private.  Who was too depressed.  Who lived in Houston, Boston, Albuquerque.  Who follows me everywhere I go.  Who lives in a hospital bed.  Who walks free in her dreams.  Whose smile follows me everywhere I go.  Who are you?  Who am I?  And how I lose you when I am sitting here refreshing my fucking inbox.

“I used to be your biggest fan”

Yes I did.  I used to believe in myself.  I was a child and every day wasn’t a subject for my biggest critic.  The scrutiny of the peers in my head.  Every moment thrashed and dismissed.  I didn’t worry about whether I would fail.  I danced like a fool.  I searched for mud puddles.  I loved the rain and the wind.  I waited for the sunset.  I played the guitar like I was a rock star.  I wrote like I loved every minute of my life.  I spoke like a man possessed.  And sometimes, right here in this moment, I am connected to that madman.

“Now I find that you are slipping in my estimation”

Yes you are.  You disappointed me with your less than perfect blog entries.  The passionless daily existence of a job at the pinnacle of some career paths.  So ungrateful and arrogant.

“I used to be your biggest fan”

Finding enough courage to create in the face of all these voices of criticism.  To be able to subject myself to the actual criticism beyond the tip of my nose.  Not the self-flagellation in my head.  It’s a wonder that I can get out of bed in the morning.  Maybe that’s why I simply don’t go to sleep.

“Now I know that you could never love someone like me”

How many opportunities do we have to truly express ourselves?  Probably every day.  So it really must take a lot of work to avoid it.  I’m not apologizing for the last time.  I am not re-committing myself to being forgiven.  I am not looking for a redemption that begins in the morning and lasts all day.  I won’t be a better man.

“I made a mistake, well I made two, one for me and one for you”

And I’m going to keep making this mistake.  I’m going to keep listening.  And expressing myself.  Searching for the thing that moves me about it all.  Searching for the weakness in my armor.  I’ll find it sometimes.  Other times, it’s just going to be a bunch of hollow clangs that miss the mark.  The music gets to me every time.  Every single time.

“The science of music is stupid and cruel”

And I don’t want to quit writing about this song, because it means I have to move on to the next one.  I love this song.  It’s the cruelest thing about this project of mine.  I want to pause on Voxtrot, The Morning Benders, Odd Nosdam, Ra Ra Riot and Hot Panda for a long time.  This is my favorite week of music since I started this thing.  And the lamest writing.  Hopefully I got this one and it makes up for the rest.  But maybe not.  It’s not important.  What’s important is that I hang myself out there regardless of how cruel I am to myself.

But let me end it with a great lyric that I wasn’t able to fit into this entry.

“I want to be the toast of the shanty town…”

He’s just got so many great lines.  It’s amazing that he is able to string them together into a single concept.  It’s amazing that the band maintains all of that interest through the whole piece!  That they’ve done it on more than one song…

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Waiting for a War – The Morning Benders – 2008

There’s this concept in sort of fringe American social and political groups that there will be a civil war in our lifetime.  This concept has probably been around since before the country was even founded.  Perhaps it’s even a human condition, but I don’t really know.  Mostly it seems like a bunch of white guys talking about the coming apocalype.  I have been around this scene quite a bit and even believed it for some time.

“It feels less important when you want to wait it out”

And really there can be almost nothing more ridiculous than this belief system, but it’s something encouraged every day in little fringe scenes, partisan talk radio and general water cooler talk.  I’m not sure why it’s so prevalent in the American democracy.  It’s really almost embarrassing to think about.  Every time a group of people does not get what they want from our government, talk of fascism and totalitarianism come up.  And people even start preparing for war.  Buying guns because the liberal president is going to make guns illegal or because the conservative president is going to jail all dissenters.  The details are amazing and true, and I have seen and participated in this kind of irrational behavior.  It took some doing for me to realize that when the government was doing things that I agreed with, I thought the revolution people were insane.  And when the government was doing things I thought preposterous, I was ready for war.

“I had enough, either give me what I want or put me on the streets”

Well the war isn’t coming.  At least not today.  And all of the people that think it’s coming won’t be proven right if it starts tomorrow.  If you make constant predictions about the future, eventually one of them will be right.  I am guilty of this as well.  And I certainly like it when I get my way, but I am pretty sure that the one thing that is true is that if there is some controlling mastermind wanting to take control of our lives and thoughts, the first thing they would want would be for us to be paranoid.  An easy way to do this would be to encourage any propaganda that was misleading – talk radio, fringe scenes, etc…

“I’m getting tired of living my life like nothing’s happening.”

The truth of our lives is much more obscene.  I wake up passionless and tired most days.  This makes me angry, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I want to blame someone.  But there is no one to blame, even the government when it does things I disagree with.  And most of my disappointments have been self-imposed by my own fear, self-loathing and malaise.  I don’t have what it takes in most cases to live a life I would deem worth living.  And the president, my neighbor, my strange family have nothing to do with that.

“There’s nothing left to talk about but there’s plenty left to do.”

So I’m pretty sure that in most cases, I am just trying to escape the fact that I don’t do the things that I want to do on a daily basis.  I seize so few opportunities and make such a big deal out of the opportunities that I do take.  And my definitions for success are so narrow and close-minded, and they are usually the definitions that were marketed to me by corporations.  I invent so many excuses for continuing a mythology that has given me nothing.

“And if it’s all the same to me then you know it’ll be different to you.”

The thing that makes me think of this is that when a real change is thrust upon my life, I really feel the passion for life that I think we all crave.  And right now that change is a baby girl that wants to come early.  And my recognition of all of the passion that we ignore is in my son’s eyes.  Even completely exhausted at the end of a day, the world is his oyster.  And yes it’s easier to do when you are young and everything is new.  But it’s also easier to do when you haven’t filled your life with the preemptive disappointment of “I can’t do that.”  Or the disappointment the pending civil war will bring – better not to try.

“I’m getting tired of living like I’m dying while the world is moving on.”

The Morning Benders have a deceptive garage band psychedelia going on.  Their music is tight and well composed.  There is a lot of musicianship in the band.  The instrumental performances are very impressive but you have to pay attention because whatever dexterity they put across is always in the context of the song.  The guitar, bass and drums are working on the same motifs and compliment each other without being boring.  And the vocal performances are catchy melodies with unexpected lyrical phrasing that catch me off guard.  It’s a lot of fun to listen to, and they put together a pretty complex tapestry of light hearted discontent.  It’s an ironic sound with ironic lyrics.  I’m not sure that they were after as much of the direct context that I have read into Waiting for a War, but I like where my head goes with this song.  It’s the idea that I am my own obstacle.  That the coming apocalypse is my own personal apocalypse that I am living right now.  I don’t need to predict anything.  My self-destruction is imminent and planned by the cabal in my own head.

“Here I am in a graveyard waiting for a war.”

And really part of my rebellion against my own malaise is this blog.  Rather than sitting around waiting for someone to listen to me, I am finding ways to listen to you.  I will make your music part of my soundtrack.  And I have to say it’s one of the more difficult things I have ever done.  But by far this is one of the most rewarding and optimistic highlights of my life.  I have discovered so much about myself and music that I didn’t even have an inkling about before.

“I’m here, I’m calling out your name.”

One way or another, my daughter is coming soon.  I am excited and scared.  And I should have it no other way.

“I’ve been here before.”

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Cold Hands/Chapped Lips – Hot Panda – 2009

My six year old son’s favorite song right now is Cold Hands/Chapped Lips by Hot Panda.  He makes me drive around in the car so he can listen to it over and over again.  He calls it the “yeah yeah no no” song.  And I’m not just humoring him (although I am humoring him but not ‘just’), I like driving around and listening to a song when I’m into it as well.  And there’s something detoxifying about the song which seems very necessary for us right now.

“Saw a girl I used to know.”

I had a friend in Houston that we all spent a lot of time with.  We had a lot of fun doing ridiculous stuff.  And really I almost don’t where I’m going with this because I was a lot wilder at that time too.  But we would hang out and do dumb things like mixtures of mystical readings.  Like two people did Tarot readings, but they had different decks.  I did the I Ching.  Her thing was numerology.

“She’s got a job that’s so adult.”

I don’t remember a thing that any of us talked about but none of it was very serious.  It was just something to do when we were all broke.  Sit around drinking tea and coffee in someone’s living room and do stupid readings.  She was in law school at the time.

“Now we’re shaking hands.”

Years later I ran into her, and I didn’t see any remnants of the person I knew.  We had a very polite conversation and went our separate ways.  And I always thought of it as her being the one that changed.  By that time, she had graduated from law school and passed the bar.  It never occurred to me until just now that maybe I had changed just as much by that time.  I was no longer wandering around the country.  I had a haircut, and I was working as a programmer.  Maybe my change was far more dramatic.  She had actually been in law school the last time I had seen her.  So becoming a lawyer had been on her agenda even at that time.  I went from anarchist nomadic rebel to oil and gas programmer.

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah…”

And even now in my haste to get from one place to another, it’s only me that’s changing.  The world hasn’t gone anywhere.  It’s still round.  The sun still rises.  The moon and the stars were still there the last time I checked.  I can do my best to make the circumstances worse by focusing on how I can’t relate to all of the changes.  Or I can bring one of my biggest rules to live by: All organizations are defined by my involvement.  I can shake things up as much as I want.  Or I can decide to feel persecuted by every sidelong glance.  And really, that’s not my style.

“No no no no…”

And I can’t see where Iggy is right now.  He’s playing all of his cards pretty close.  I know he’s going to be fine, but I also know that he’s going through some life defining changes right now.  Everything was one way, and now it’s another way.  I could make all of that mean something too, or I could let him define it however he wants to.

It’s easy to make situations worse as a parent.  When they fall, you have to hold off your reaction to see if they are actually hurt.  They are constantly looking to you for reassurance, so if you freak out before knowing if they are actually hurt, you could actually be the cause of the trauma as well as the comfort after the trauma.  But I can’t help but feel a little sad.  He’s having to do some growing up right now that I hoped could be put off for a few years.

Hot Panda seems to have taken every dramatic rock and roll presentation style that’s available and morphed it into a single style.  David Bowie, The Who, Iron Maiden, Daniel Johnston, Genesis…  I guess I could go on but it’s pointless.  There’s something indescribly familiar, adolescent and comforting about even their most chaotic songs.  And the final comparison that keeps popping into my head is the artist, Cy Twombly.  On the surface, everything looks like a child did it.  But with further observation, you can tell that the child like nature is measured.  There’s a specific point to the metaphor.  And maybe it’s a simple message, but it’s still powerful.

So during the crazy bridge that happens in the middle of the song, I was looking at Iggy in the rearview mirror.  He was very thoughtful.  He saw me looking at him and he said slowly, “That’s so awful.  But I love it.”

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah…”

And really that about sums it up for me.

“No no no no…”

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Ghost Under Rocks – Ra Ra Riot – 2008

I keep having these waking moments where I am half dreaming about Lucy in a sort of twilight between one world and the next.  And I feel myself reaching for her, but I can’t get to her.  She’s almost here.  She just needs to be led by our voices, but she can’t understand what we are saying.  She’s just almost here and almost there.  Sometimes our voices startle her.

“When every little thing”

I was at the beach with my brother this weekend.  He kept telling me about stone crabs down at the oyster reef in the bay behind his house.  He kept describing their claws and that you had to know how to find them underneath the rocks.

“You own is looking back”

So I remembered how when we were kids, my brother would find all of the living things everywhere.  There was a little stream by where we lived in New Jersey.  We would go there and he would spend hours finding the crayfish buried in the mud at the bottom of the shallow water.  Then he would observe them closely for hours.

“At you and starts to mean”

He did this everywhere we went.  At the beach in North Carolina, he found the sand crabs and the sand fiddlers in the tidal sands.  Blue crabs in the sound.  Little living things are everywhere.  And he would find them.  So we were fishing on the oyster reef, and the tide was very low, so he calls to me, “See I bet there’s a stone crab under here!”  Under the first stone is a medium sized crab with giant claws bigger than its body.  He stuck a small board down into the crab’s face.  The crab reached up and grabbed the board.  My brother lifted the board and the crab came with it.  Hanging in the air.

“Less than it ever did”

Apparently stone crabs can grow their claws back, so you can rip off a claw and throw the crab back to grow another claw.  We didn’t take a claw as we aren’t sure whether it’s such a great idea to be eating seafood out of the bay around Galveston right now.

“On every, on every inch of stone”

And I kept thinking of him turning the stones looking for the crabs.  All of this life hidden everywhere, and most of my day is spent oblivious to it.  There ended up being giant crabs buried in the mud under rocks I had been standing on for hours.  How much life is right in front of my face?  How close is Lucy?  I mean I see her.  There she is in the physical belly.

“Skin and cloth”

But we are skin and cloth.  Like the unpracticed notes of nature on a dry drum, we don’t make any music.  Just noise and reflection.  Static matter.  And somehow even this is breathing life.  The universe expanding.  Breathing.  Pushing us back and forth.  Even living in death.  Immortality in the close intimacy of mud underneath a rock and the empty caverns of blackness between us.

“Made to leave you”

And I feel myself digging in the muck for life.  It’s a creation ritual.  And how many rituals do we miss even as we perform them.  When my son was born, I didn’t recognize that I was part of this rite until it was almost over.  No less profound, I am deeply affected by it.  The universe split open all at once like a bolt of lightning and handed us a child.

“Here you are you are breathing life into”

This is a little different.  I feel her coming.  I can hear her voice.  I can see her little body in the graphs produced by the heart and contraction monitors.  Her digital face.  Her hands that never stop moving.  Twisting back and forth.  Her body is impatient.

“Ghost under rocks like notes found”

And she can hear us.  Our concern.  Our worry.  Our impatience for her arrival.  Her mother’s gentle and loving chiding.  Her brother – already long past disbelief like she was Santa Claus.  He probably believes in Santa Claus more than her.  The nurses in and out.  The endless discussions about the river of giving that is our community.

“In pocket coats of your fathers,”

She is tugging at my pant leg.  She is 14 and sullen.  She is 8 and incorrigible.  She is an enormous healing.  An open wound and the bandage.  An infant smiling.  A newborn red and puffy, unready for the world.  We are willing slaves to her instincts.

“Lost and forgotten,”

She is preparing us for an enormous disruption.  Her brother exhausted, expectant and disbelieving.  Her mother quiet and brooding.  Her father pouring his heart out to her.  I am digging in the mud for your claws.  Take a hold of me and pull yourself into the arms of the universe.

“all all all your soaking wet dreams,

Belief only a spark.  Listen to our music, thrashing in the dark.  We are here.  All of what you are is breathing and growing.  Groping in the dark.  Can you hear us calling you?  Let us lead you home.

“you’ve spent them”

Ra Ra Riot has this tendency for the dramatic.  With dense harmonies and instrumentation.  Complex vocal melodies and interesting phrasing.  It’s a maximum approach.  There is so much to hear.  So much worth hearing.  I had a hard time choosing a song to write about, which brings up another point of unfairness in my single song per artist rule.  Ra Ra Riot has so many good songs.  But Ghost Under Rocks is gigantic and multi-faceted.  Unclear and open ended metaphors and this grasping for the ritualistic.  The song wants to dance in the moonlight and sit in a smoky hut.  Groping in the mud for hope and deliverance.

“you have gone and dreamt them”

And you reading.  When is it time to live?  Creation doesn’t ever end.  We are stone crabs.  Ghosts under rocks.  Waiting for our turn in our lives.  Our own time.  We are the road on which our children walk.  So much is left up to chance except the passion leading our children out of the dark.  As Lucy coalesces, I can feel that she has been there all along.  Piecing together our shattered hopes and aspirations.  We are only shadows of her dreams.  We toss in her restless slumber.

“Dry, now you ask your babies why, why, why?”

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Fly Mode – Odd Nosdam – 2009

I had this idea in my head in high school that I wanted to go to Princeton and major in English. Each year of high school took me further and further away from this goal. I could not keep it together for more than a week. Eventually I got kicked out of public school. St. Thomas gave me a chance after seeing my grades and test scores. They told me that if I could prove myself during summer school, then I would graduate on time. So I pulled it off. Of course, summer school went fine. If there are crises or rapidly changing scenarios or bizarre challenges, I can do just about anything. It’s the normal, consistent routine that’s the problem for me.

As the regular school year progressed, I started missing school and getting into trouble again. But the school treated me like I would pull it together in time. They had this college week thing where representatives would come from a bunch of colleges and universities. You could set up an interview with them where you could go through your interest in the school. Then they could tell you what you needed to do to enhance your chances of being accepted. I set up an interview with the Princeton representative.

Just the idea of meeting with someone from Princeton was a sobering thought. I really did pull it together for a short time leading up to this interview. But I was definitely nervous as the time approached. And so I went to the interview. And we got through the formality of meeting, shaking hands and sitting down when the man doing the interview interrupted me to tell me my nose was bleeding. So I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and I never went back to the interview.

So I told myself all kinds of stories about this. And it has become part of my drug addled teen mythology. But honestly, I hadn’t done any drugs in months. I used this perceived failure as an excuse to go on a self-destructive binge that got me kicked out of St. Thomas and into a treatment center. For years, I have been telling the story the other way around. Like right before the interview was when the binge started, and that’s why my nose bled.

So I heard this song for the first time about two weeks ago. And something about it made me think of this story. And it seemed so out of character for the tone of the song, but maybe it isn’t. There something sad happening there. And the noise that it starts with is probably the feeling I had about the whole thing. Just wanting to run away.

So this morning I am on my way to the new job that I am fairly nervous about, and I’m listening to this song. It’s a big company. I don’t seem to do well with big companies. I find them kind of stifling I guess. Or maybe I just like to make things more difficult. I always feel sort of rejected by the whole corporate environment. I do much better with start up software companies. More freedom. More creativity. More impact on the overall direction of the company.

So these are my thoughts while I am driving in today. And it occurs to me that a startup sounds an awful lot like a band. I don’t want to get into an established commercial music venture or cover band for the same reasons. I want the freedom of controlling my own creative ventures. And then it occurred to me that the motivation behind a startup is the same as an Indie band. You follow a set of principles based on a mythology that is awfully similar. A startup has merely to have a good idea and some people that are willing to devote 70 or 80 hours a week to this idea to be wildly successful.

And this is all tied into this thing that has been becoming very clear to me as I have been writing this blog. The concepts behind this mythology are lies. And I have been saying something pretty similar to the thing I was saying the other day in my entry for Make You Sing when I have been going on interviews at startups during this round of unemployment. I keep giving this little speech:

“This would be my 6th time at this stage of development for a startup. And none of them have been successful. They all have good ideas and then something happens like a downturn in economic conditions or a lack of capital keeps the company unresponsive to the changing needs of the customers.”

No wonder startups haven’t been interested in me this time around. My experience is like a reality check that they aren’t going to be the rock stars that they think they will become. Because this little Indie company doesn’t have the connections to the people who will invent the new inflated value that gets them over the top. We are all being duped by major corporations that we will have this corporate success, but the truth is they don’t even have to kill our dreams anymore by telling us that we don’t have what it takes. If we are still on the hook with the corporate mythology that we will become start up moguls or Indie band crossover rock stars, then we will run up our dreams on our credit cards. Being in an Indie band is no different than being in a software startup. We see the Trent Reznors and the Microsofts of the world and it makes us dismiss all of the more modest stories as losers that just didn’t try or believe enough to make it happen.

So I am pulling into the parking lot and I am messing with my nose because it itches, and I pull my hand down and I’ve got a handful of blood. I’ve got a ridiculous nosebleed. I start feeling that ‘gotta run’ panic. Like I’m just going to turn around and go home. And then I start laughing. “What the fuck difference does it make?”

So I went inside. I had a conversation with the security guard about where I was supposed to go while holding my nostrils. He kept looking at me like I was a nutcase. So I laughed and asked where the bathroom was. It took me about 10 minutes to clean up and make it stop. Then I went upstairs and met the development manager who had been waiting on me for a while. I told him and the other new guy the story. They didn’t find any humor in it.

Odd Nosdam has these great techniques for bringing life to electronic sounds.  Even the parts that sound disjointed and robotic have an organic element.  And it’s odd to think of the tools he’s using as instruments like a guitar is an instrument, but everything sounds so analog.  And yes, he’s using a lot of loops of analog devices, but it’s not like the end product isn’t an original song.  It’s even heavier this way.  A bunch of recycled sounds from the piles of audio refuse.  It’s more collage than sampling.  And most of the work has so much more emotion and depth than I would normally expect from music like this.

Then I realized that this song makes me think of that story because the sound has all of this irony packed with sadness. Like here you are human. Have another human experience. The pillars of salt are all around you. The eyes of stone peering out from the lost.  You can find the eyes of Medusa to stare into, but it won’t be because she tricked you into looking. It will be because you had to know how you were going to lose. So have a fistful of blood. All roads lead through the corporation.  But laugh because even the snake headed corporation can’t have your soul if you don’t let them.

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Make You Sing – The Sleepover Disaster – 2009

I didn’t want to play commercial music.  Like actual songs for commercials.  It’s not what I got into music for.  –  I got sick of being in bands with flakes.  You work your ass off on rehearsing a band and then someone quits or just stops showing up.  –  All of the drama around working with other people.  –  The work of getting a band on stage is exhausting.  Even when it’s going well, you still have to get up in the morning and go to work.  –  And right now I can tell you, I hate this entry.  There’s so much I love about music, but my actual pursuit of music has made me feel terrible about myself.  Some of my internal chatter around musical pursuits is almost debilitating.  Why did I spend all of that money on music school?  I’m not that good.  What a waste of time!  I am not consistent enough to actually put together a real effort.  I’m not good or could be better at promoting myself.

And really with what I am doing right now, it would be easy to say to myself that I was just pursuing the wrong thing.  I seem to be doing the right thing by writing about music rather than playing music.  And it certainly would put a nice bookend on a lot of creative suffering.  “Ohhhh…  I was a writer.  Not a musician.”

But let me tell you, I have been here before.  I have written so much on so many different subjects with different styles and different voices.  I have written poetry, tried freelance journalism, short fiction, essays and political commentary.  Some of it was pretty good.  Some of my music is pretty good.  I love creating.  I love moving people.  I love knowing that I have touched people in some way.  And you don’t have to be a prodigy to reach people with music or writing.  There is some kind of spiritual synergy around breathing life into art that can’t be taught.  And when you hit it, you know you’ve hit it.

“Put your hands together and we’ll pray.”

And I have written and performed music, when I wasn’t very good at singing or playing the guitar, that moved people.  Just before moving to Boston, I played regularly at Downtown Grounds in Houston.  We played there the night it opened.  A lot of the time I was playing there just to fill time.  The owner often didn’t have anyone to play.  Sometimes bands would cancel.  I always had my guitar with me.  Sometimes we would just start playing if no one else was.  There were a couple songs that people started requesting.  Sometimes people would call me when there was no one playing and request a set.

“Memories coiled tight to spring.”

There is a mythology in our culture around music.  That somehow you put together a band and develop a following, and then a major label notices you.  Then you are a rock star.  And perhaps that translates into many different forms of art.  Visual, writing, music, drama…  We have merely to have some talent and ‘go get em’ bravado to get on our path to the stars.  This mythology is so strong that if you work your ass off and fail, most people will believe it is something about you that is the cause of  your failure.  No one will believe this more strongly than you.

“And make you sing.”

But I think perhaps that this a mythology that is everywhere in our culture.  You went to school for what?  Why aren’t you doing that?  Oh you must just be lazy.  You are a musician?  Oh why aren’t you famous?  You aren’t happy?  Well you know maybe you should just decide to be happy.  There’s not very many people I know that are satisfied with where they ended up personally or professionally.  That’s why a song like this speaks to me.

“Such a simple sickly thought of mine.”

There’s a vision of the world that’s encouraged when we are children, and the reality of even the simplest childhood dream is so far removed from the fantasy that’s encouraged.  If we aren’t supposed to reach for these larger than life realities, then why do they exist as ideals?  And I mean the simple child like ideals.  You want to be an architect?  I can see you building great buildings.  We conjure images of I.M. Pei and the seeds of the mythology of greatness are planted.  Of course, the alternative is ghastly.  I don’t think it would be a good idea to limit our children’s expectations by telling them about the realities of CAD drafting electrical conduits.

“I’ll always be a loser but in time.”

The Sleepover Disaster has been doing what they do for a long time.  They are really good at it.  I am always impressed when a band has been together for so long.  But I love the whole idea and the giant sound of the guitars, the plodding beat and the patience with the arrangement.  The emotional impact is timed well throughout.  I obviously feel deeply about the message.  There are a lot of disappointments in life.  But it’s a really great accomplishment to be able to move people.  What else do we have to live for?  Our connections to each other and our world, our universe should be emphasized more in our daily life.  That’s why I’m doing this.  I want to reach you.  I want to reach myself.  I want to reach a group of musicians like The Sleepover Disaster who have been working their asses off for longer than I was able to handle it to let them know – I heard you!  We heard you!

“I’ll make you sing!”

We didn’t expect to become adults just so our passion for life could be killed.  We didn’t dream about what we would do with our lives just to grow up to be disappointed with ourselves.  I didn’t spend thousands of hours alone honing my craft to have someone off-handedly tell me that I needed to be able to promote myself better.  That I needed a more corporate sound in my music.  A more marketable message with my writing.  We have become a culture of critics in the worst sense.  We all have an opinion about the apparent failure of some peers and a ready excuse for the dizzying success of others.

I’m not saying that we should all be rock stars.  I’m not saying that anything should change.  And some of my failures, and the failures of others, have everything to do with a half ass effort.  But I think we would all be better served to spend a lot more time consuming the creativity of those around us.  We are all Indie artists.  And there’s no reason to try to break each other down because we are at the bottom of the ladder.  Can you make me sing?  Are you afraid to try?  Are you afraid of failing over and over again?  I know I am.

“You’ll learn to love yourself if you just kill your pride.”

Hell yeah!  In idolizing the fantastically successful.  In putting aside the creativity to focus on the impossible puzzle of self-promotion, I forget why I wrote anything to begin with.  I forget why I love music so much.  Music made me want to live when there was no other reason for me to live.  It’s the connection to creativity.  The connection we have with life.  The connection we have to our children’s passion for living and growing up with hope.  For learning and teaching.  For being able to articulate what is going on with us in such a way that…

“I’ll make you sing.”

That I make you sing.

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My Home Is Nowhere Without You – Herman Dune – 2007

Sometimes I might get caught up in my loftier goals with this blog.  I have a very important point I am trying to make.  I am actually being very anti-corporate and trying to make a pretty extended academic point about the ignorance in academia about Indie media and it’s importance.  In the larger scheme of my approach to this, I don’t care if I make those points.  I am really trying my best to give my very best appreciation of the artist.  A work of art derived from the original work of art.

“People put pictures of places in frames.”

But right now, the side project of documenting some sort of anecdotal memoir is being sidetracked by the very large distraction of my wife being in the hospital.  So the first thing I think about when I am trying to write about something is that my wife is in the hospital.  It’s a little too relaxed to be sitting around with some kind of smug bull shit about “I remember when…”  Great Larry.  Maybe I can subscribe to your newsletter.

“I remember someone’s face but then I forget their names.”

So then there is this idea, and I should continue it, because truthfully I feel like it is that important.  Maybe not for it’s original intention, but maybe for the idea that I seem to be reaching people.  And maybe the first person that I seem to be reaching is me.  I really believe in what I am doing for the first time in a very long time.  Maybe for the first time in my life.

“I have a book for writing down who I meet and where I’m going to,”

And it may be that I am reaching one other person that it is critical to reach.  My wife.  She is in a hospital bed and completely isolated from the daily life that brings her comfort.  From any feeling of connection and viability in her own family.  The discussion of the daily difficulty of life is too stressful for her right now.  She has to be quiet and meditative.  Pulling energy and calm from the spiritual.  Her quest has me as close as I get to not being an atheist.  Without being able to discuss the daily stations of the cross, we are left with each other’s presence as comfort.  But since I have so much to take care of to continue our daily lives, proximity is limited.  The only way I can reach her is by creating.

“but my home is nowhere without you.”

I was a little hesitant to allow myself to like Herman Dune.  And I have a problem.  If I can’t write a dissertation or engage in a ranting monologue about why I think something is important, then I can’t really like it very much.  So I was toying with the idea of continuing to listen to this music and never writing about it.  But then it occurred to me that there is something very important happening here.  Herman Dune is offering up a simplified style that gets deeper with each repetition.  There’s this quality production style.  And this laid back beach bum sound.  And a strange French accent.

“There is nowhere like the ocean to breathe.”

David Ivar is a vocal stylist.  It almost sounds like a way of saying, “The guy can’t sing but I like his music anyway.”  But really there is something a little more complex to his rambling style than just a bizarre voice.  It’s a really accessible metaphor for a deeper spiritual simplicity.  I am not going to get into a whole lecture about other examples of vocal stylists.  But there are plenty.  And comparing them with David Ivar is going to cause an argument with myself.  So I’m just going to have to agree to disagree with me.

“And the world is wonderful as it is.”

And on some level he reminds me of Jacob Holdt in the idea that he seems to be holding up a mirror as his only commentary.  This sort of leaves a blank page where he should be.  And just as I was about to dismiss him completely, I found My Home Is Nowhere Without You.  It’s like he’s doing Tarot readings.  He repeatedly offers the same cards in the deck.  It’s almost a joke.  We expect the fool.  He appears to be offering what we expect.  Then you look closer and it’s actually the hierophant.  A hierophant styled as a fool with a mask on the back of his head.  Suddenly there is a candid challenge to explain myself.  Who are we and what is happening to us now?

“Now I might try to settle down on some beach in Malibu,”

And the action of time is being held at bay – the blacks and whites of negative space.  I am a bolt of energy in a cross dimensional melodrama.  The only importance in the narrative is my own emphasis.  The tension hovers and breaks apart in an Ambien haze.  The messages reach me from across the distance between us in the middle of the night.  They are incomprehensible and completely clear at the same time.  The hours of the night will inch toward dawn, and Herman Dune has thrown the dice into the future and the fool has returned with a reassuring answer that only the hierophant can interpret.  Only time will tell.

“but my home is nowhere without you.”

And somehow this is all so necessary.  There needed to be some ritual that ushered in a new era.  An era in which Lucy could exist.  Nothing could possibly be the same from this point forward.  And we will climb the mountain and dance around the fire to prepare the way.  To answer the call of the spirits.  With all of the irony of the fool and the gravity of the hierophant we open our eyes in a liquid dreamworld and find the wide eyes of the hermit staring back at us.

“My home is nowhere without you.”

Herman Dune keeps throwing those cards at me.

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Oslo – Little Hands of Asphalt – 2008

There are miles and miles of concrete in Houston.

“It was a moment for the books.”

And while I just discovered Little Hands of Asphalt the other day, I was searching for a story in the past to write about.  And I wondered why it was Oslo that was so gripping to me.  It’s such an intimate story about a small city.  I racked my brain for something to relate to the song out of Albuquerque.  Some synonymous elements and regional contrasts and a clever spin on the story.  Meanwhile I’m driving nearly 100 miles every day.

“The calendar looked”

My wife is in the hospital.  The doctors are trying to keep her from giving birth early.  No stone will be left unturned toward this end.  It is a noble cause, but there are hospitals and shift nurses.  A 6 year old in Kindergarten.  Family and friends that need status updates.  Errands to run.  Homework to be done.  Lives to be lived.  After school programs to register for.  Ash Wednesday to acknowledge.

“just like the novels we had only skimmed through.”

Daily rituals to adjust.  Spirits to assuage.  And all of this driving to be done.  Space and time to massage until it’s putty in my hands.  This is a story as important as any in my life.  I am the reporter.  Here is my live feed.  And somehow a sentimental song about a small town is the soundtrack for the leap into light speed my life has taken.  Somehow it seems appropriate.  With all of this chaos, an environment of stillness has to be maintained.  Lucy is after all, a baby.

“So I circled out the dates that I’ll skillfully waste.”

And I was searching and searching for the story that would bring this song home for me.  Some clever segue into an existential experience.  When I realized that I am here having a human experience right now.  And there is nothing that has come as close to seeing into my heart as it is right now than Oslo.

“For now that’s going to have to do.”

And the miles of concrete become just sidewalks in a small town that I happen to be traversing at an enormous city pace.  And thinking of how many experiences get us here.  So many bridges that I thought were burnt.

“It was the brightest summer day, after we swam into the lake,”

In the past month, online social networking has brought all of these segments of my life back together.  From elementary school to junior high to high school.  All of these personas that I have presented throughout my life must be resolved.  Maybe something I haven’t wanted to do.  Maybe something I need to do before my daughter is born.

“that you told me our luck is gonna end.”

And the backdrop of this is a world in chaos.  War, economic collapse, corruption, partisanship…  People are angry beyond description.  My existential tendencies might get me wondering why we are bringing another child into this world, but our personal circumstances won’t allow this.  Our little crisis is the center of our world.  Our love for each other in our corner of this troubled world trumps any global concerns.  I’m going to have to plug back in later to see what happened out there.

“So we better be concerned.  We’re where the subway turns.”

And then some part of me has to know.  I have to have one foot in each concern.  I have to provide, so I start a big job next week.  My miles traverse the chasm between these worlds.  There is electricity to deliver.  Natural resources to plunder.  Negotiations to extend.  Somehow we must reach a truce by 5 o’clock.  Live to fight another day.  Then I cover another 50 miles making sure to transition my emotional state to one of caring parent and compassionate spouse.

“We need a camera and some cash to spend.”

And this baby delivered from the sea.  Her brother delivered to the trees.  The ashes of his prayers on our foreheads.  We  wait another day and experience the tiny miracle that is our love and peril.  The phone calls from the concerned.  The generosity of the able.  And still show up to put ourselves down for the evening and nourish our souls.  Each day a phenomenon in giving and a lesson in receiving.

“And our picturesque blame, we’ll put in Ikea frames.”

Somehow we will bundle the experience in some cohesive narrative that we can recall at dinner parties into the future.  That I can somehow fit into a few hundred words in a blog.  But each mile is a an experience.  And this enormous city gets smaller and smaller each time I drive down its gaping freeways.  The arteries pushing me like a blood cell with a payload of oxygen.  Breathe in, I am home.  Breathe out, I am in Fulshear.  Breathe in, I am in the medical center.  Breathe out, my son’s elementary school.  The church.  The freeway.  Clear Lake.  The grocery store.

“Up on the wall it looks profound.”

Little Hands of Asphalt is a new discovery for me.  With a conversational style and a sentimental approach, this is some very thoughtful music.  With impressive instrumental performances and measured vocals, all of their songs are so intimate and reach beyond their simple themes.  Spit Back at the Rain is their EP that I have been listening to for a while, but Oslo is on a compilation from the Oslo, Norway Indie music scene called Oslo!  And somehow the song has wormed its way into my present circumstances.  Such a compassionate approach to the human condition.  And a reminder to me to stay calm.  I present the compassionate persona.  I give the gifts of the magi.  The scents of a king.  The trappings of a queen.  Hope is all we have.  And the freeway gives and receives.

“and reminds us Oslo is a small, small town.”

Yeah Houston is a small, small town.  Breathe…

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Night Nurse – Dean and Britta – 2003

Insomnia is not just a night that you can’t get to sleep.  It’s a period of time that you can’t get to sleep.  Like days.  Or weeks.  Or years.  You still feel tired, but you just can’t sleep.  When insomnia goes on long enough, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between sleeping and waking life.  Everything occurs like a dream and sinks into the experience of memory as reality.  So you could be at work and feel like you are dreaming.  Or you could be asleep and feel like the dream is actually happening.  Then remembering the dream as if it actually happened.

“You are the treacle in my pie.”

My first real bout with insomnia came when I was about 10 years old.  At least the first one I can remember.  The first few days I remember staring at the door as usual.  But sleep never came.  Failed starts at sleep built over the first week until I was crying in frustration.  By the end of the second week, I was punching myself in the head.

“You are the splinter in my eye.”

I didn’t tell anyone about this because it doesn’t occur to a 10 year old to talk about problems with sleep.  The most frustrating part of my insomnia is that I become uncontrollably sleepy right at dawn.  Unfortunately, this is when the world insists on getting up.  So right at the point where I am able to sleep, my opportunity for sleep is over.  I have to get up with everyone else and flounder through my day.  The edges of some other dream world barely visible in the corner of my eye all day long.

“You make the ice melt.  The butter run.”

I had to conceive a mythology around my daily visions and glimpses of an alternate reality.  I am convinced that it is always there.  That we see it all right in front of us.  But we train ourselves not to.  It’s very much like the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Much of life is an ethereal world with simple answers to plaguing problems easily within our grasp and largely and purposefully ignored and avoided.

“You are the ink stain.  You are the one.”

And the biggest problem and the most enchanting part of living on the edge of this dreamworld is that time doesn’t function normally.  My linear grasp on my own history is loose.  I experience things out of order.  And in order.  I don’t know whether I have a premonition that it will happen or that it already happened or that it is happening right now.  At the same time it’s a game I play with myself.  I shouldn’t ever be taken too seriously where sleep is concerned.  Sometimes I am unresponsive and it looks like I am asleep.  But I am fully in my environment.  Enjoying being awake has opened me up to the possibility that I am actually asleep which makes me feel more rested.

“I am the local.  I am express.”

So in a dream and a reality occurring over the period of about 25 years, I met a girl.  I had a conversation on the phone with her after our first date.  We lit a candle together.  Crazy saint candles from Fiesta.  Mine was St. Michael.  I have always felt reassured by the Archangel Michael with his glittering sword and his foot on the head of a demon.  There is always a crossover as the sleep slips away.  Who knows what is real.

“I am a tourist in a summer dress.”

But in this conversation she said that it was time for sleep.  I told her that I couldn’t sleep.  She said that she loved sleep.  Like it was big fat pink baby.  “Sleep is like candy.”  And suddenly I was tired like I hadn’t ever been tired before.  We ended our conversation.  I slept like Adam and Eve experiencing sin for the first time.  Tiredness washed over me like warm water.  My dream world disappeared in a foggy misshapen cloud of real sleep.  This sleep was like a new dimension between two worlds that I had made my home.

“I am the night nurse.  I am the most.”

And now I always have periods of time that are like power sleep zones.  In the early evening, I can lay down any time and have 45 minutes of the most refreshing and perfect sleep.  It’s like a new ripple in an ever unfolding intersection of alternate realities.  Since time is almost irrelevant, I remembered this mechanism into every other period of sleeplessness and the additional sleep corrected sequences and improved my handling of difficult situations.  This resulted in a more well-adjusted now.

“I am the visitor, you are the host.”

The more well-adjusted me married that girl.  And before that reality, I could never sleep with another person in the same building being awake.  I would listen to them breathe on the other side of the house.  I would listen to upstairs neighbors talking softly in their living rooms.  Now as long as she is the one awake, most of the time I can still sleep.  But I can also remember her in the room if she isn’t there.  And this changes everything.  Like Michael standing watch at the door of time.

“My lips are lipped.”

Dean and Britta are the candy of sleep.  Easily digested and hard to harm.  They have this way of slipping inside of me easily like they were there all along.  Like a Burt Bachrach tune.  How do you know the first time you heard it?  At the first listening of a Dean and Britta song, I am humming along like I’ve been listening to it for decades.  And I have a real affection that I have developed for them.  Their intimacy so candid and thorough.  Like I’ve known them for a long time.  And maybe I have.  Slipping between here and now.  Between then and there.

“My lid is flipped.”

Their music is like the feeling right before you fall asleep.  The place that I have spent so much of my time.  On a wheel finding different perspectives on consciousness and motivation.  Deprivation and fulfillment.  Observing all of the metaphors in the in between.  The places where it appears nothing is happening until you stare long enough to find something.  There is always something new in their music.  And it’s laid back enough that its message is flexible.  Easily available to whatever dimension I happen to be roaming in any given time.  I am here.  I am listening to a Dean and Britta song.

“Sleep together in the Milky Way.”

There is some interesting candor in the slow march of time.  And the lack of linearity of sleeplessness scoffs at revelation.  Progress is always related to time.  If it isn’t, then it can’t be measured.  So perhaps if time isn’t a factor, all time is awash with light and dark tones and hints of subtlety and marked resilience.  And sometimes the senseless march of words ends up like the last five sentences.  Running concepts together with no regard for their meaning.

“Sleep forever and a day.”

The only real comfort is that sleep is like candy.  And if I had never found sleep, where would I be.  Stuck between two worlds.  Clutching my belongings to my chest like a homeless man.  Stooping under the burden of stupefying exhaustion.  I am asleep and awake at the same time.  I have 15 more life times.  I am somewhere on my way and right next to you.  I feel the warm water rise from my feet to my eyelids.  I am a color tone in a changing tide.

“Lovely jewels in joy designed.”

Sleep is candy.

“La la la la…”

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Aly, Walk With Me – The Raveonettes – 2008

Mandy broke up with Justin at the prodding of Mark who had just moved out of Justin’s one bedroom apartment that he still shared with Dan who wouldn’t talk to Justin anymore.  I had just talked to Justin and told him I would try to come over that night which I fully intended not to do.  Justin had gone to a place that was too dark even for all of us.  When he finally did use the shotgun on himself, a few hours after I talked to him, Dan was just falling asleep in the next room.  Dan heard the sound but couldn’t make himself go into the living room to see what had happened.  So he crawled out the window of the first floor apartment.  He found a pay phone and called his psychiatrist.

“Aly, walk with me in the summer.”

I found out in the morning when Mark and Mandy woke me up at about 8am.  I was sleeping on Darrell’s couch because I didn’t have a place to live.  I don’t know how they knew where I was, but I remember their faces as I woke up very clearly.  Mandy’s unruly mane of hair and worried smile and Mark’s common expression of indecipherable irony.  My first questions were about how Dan was doing, but they assured me that he was okay.  I wasn’t surprised in the least.  I had fallen asleep knowing that I truly hoped that Justin would get it over with so that we could all get on with our lives.

“Aly, walk with me.”

Of course I felt guilty about hoping for this outcome in the morning.  Of course all of us felt guilty in the morning.  We all had some culpability in Justin’s emotional state.  Justin got all of us didn’t he?

“Aly, walk with me in Portland.”

It’s amazing how far the ego will go to protect itself from admitting its own faults with denial and blame.

“Aly, walk with me.”

There was a lot of time between the act and the funeral.  And I know I spent all of that time with Mark and Mandy.  But I don’t know how many days that was.  But we were never apart.  I don’t remember eating or sleeping.  I remember a deep feeling of anguish building inside me.  I remember talking a lot about other things.  I remember half hearted attempts by all of us to try to absolve each other of guilt.

“Aly, walk with me in my dreams.”

I also remember looking at Mandy and wondering where she went.  And I also remember clearly answering myself.  I didn’t want to know where she went.  My guilt was enough.  I didn’t want to know how she felt.

“So strange and true.”

As soon as I had these thoughts, I had to know where she was.  I caught myself several times, in a quiet room with Mark and Mandy, not talking.  I was just staring at Mandy who wasn’t seeing the room.  She obviously wasn’t even in the room.  I snapped myself out of my revery and turned to Mark.  He was also staring at Mandy.  He was obviously at the same level of worry.  He noticed my attention, and we exchanged an understanding.

“Can I walk with you in Portland?”

This was something outside of either of our experience.  And really there was no knowing what to do.  We put off making any decisions.

“Walk next to you.”

The funeral was a farce.  There were hundreds of people there.  And while most of the people knew Justin, most of them had very little experience with being his friend outside of being in the same room with hundred of other people, and one party at Justin’s tiny apartment that was fun but only in the sense that it was concrete evidence of Justin’s mental illness.

“Aly, walk right out of my dreams…”

There was a letter.  There’s always a letter.  Even if there’s not a letter.  I received a copy.  Funeral attendees excitedly told me with a smile that I was mentioned extensively in the letter.  I held the copy, absently looking at it.

“into my arms.”

The words on the page were not taking shape.  The words of the people around me were not taking shape.  There were black blotches of ink on the pages of the letter.  Some of the blotches were covering words which made it hard to read.  Then I realized that this was a copy and the blotches had originally been red.

“Aly, walk with me in the city.”

A man eulogized Justin as a Christian and a decent and generous person who was in the loving arms of God in heaven.  I could hear Troy laughing somewhere.  I could tell he wasn’t able to control himself.  And I knew exactly why he was laughing.  I might have had the same problem but I was too tired.

“Aly walk with me.”

The Raveonettes have this knack for evoking very clear imagery.  The music.  The lyrics.  The vocals.  I have yet to hear one of their songs that didn’t take me somewhere specific.  This song specifically took me to this event.  I immediately went to the next song because I didn’t want to think about this.  I kept coming back to the song though.  There’s a very specific distortion and a very specific clarity.  A specific rhythm with a very specific emotional imbalance.  They peak through the ether, appearing as darkened and sad angels, to tell your own stories to you for the first time.  As if you didn’t know them.  And maybe some stories need to be retold.

“Aly, step right out of my head.”

Mark and I could not leave Mandy alone.  For days after the funeral we were always with her.  She never closed her eyes.  I slept and then Mark slept.  We talked to each other but Mandy became more and more distant.  We knew we had to get on with our lives and stop hiding in Mandy’s childhood room in her mother’s house, but we didn’t know what to do.

“And kiss me goodnight.”

Eventually, Mandy became completely unresponsive.  So I started talking to her.  Asking her questions.  I just kept talking for hours, and I could tell that sometimes I got to her.  I stopped talking and Mark kept going.  We traded turns at this.  We didn’t know what we were doing, but it seemed better than sitting there.  Mandy’s mother tried to break into our circle, but we didn’t know how to receive her.  We didn’t eat.  We were running out of time on some clock that we could only barely perceive.

“Aly, walk with me in my dreams.”

I don’t know what it was that prodded her to speak, but her voice came from far away.  “I am waiting for you guys to leave.  And then I am going to wait for my mother to go to sleep.  Then I’m going to walk down to his apartment and break in.  Then I’m going to lay there…  And wait for him.”

“All through the night.”

Somehow after this we were able to get her to take a shower and go to sleep.  Then we called someone, a friend of ours and Mandy’s, who was familiar with interventions and all of the professionals that had to be involved in something like that.  She took over.  There was nothing more to be done.

I’m so sorry Mandy.

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Confection – Mommy and Daddy – 2005

I find something very upsetting about the breakup of Mommy and Daddy. And I realize how bizarre that sentence pans out, but it’s true. I find the breakup of Mommy and Daddy a little more upsetting than the breakup of my actual mother and father.  The day they told us they were ‘separating’, I cried out of relief and my brothers laughed uncontrollably.  They were very somber and serious.  I stared at the 70’s brown shag carpet until the tears welled up.  I didn’t even know what it meant really, but I was so glad that it was over.

“…”  I’m not going to attempt to figure out what she’s saying.  Really.  I have tried.  But it doesn’t matter.  The groove is so hard and satisfying.  And the timbre of her voice makes it all right.  There’s a metaphor there even without the actual words.

It’s like a fantasy.  They were living our fucked up Generation X romantic fantasy.  We grew up listening to all of these songs about running for the hills with the love of your life.  Born to Run by Springstein or I Melt With You by Modern English.  The scene at the end of the Graduate on the back of the bus.  It’s our fucked up rock and roll escapist fantasy.  The heroic couple stands up to authority and runs away.  Presumably they continue flipping everyone off and being passionately in love forever.  Every day is a rock and roll montage of good rebel love and matching tattoos.  The world never comes to trouble their doorstep even when they have kids.

Really I don’t want it to come off sounding too snarky.  I am actually being sincere.  I am a sucker for a love story.  But one day after my 5th or 6th major breakup in my 20’s, I stopped and asked myself a question.  What relationship am I trying to emulate?  Which relationship, family or friends or famous couple or acquaintance or royalty, is the example that I am striving for?  What does a ‘happily ever after’ look like?  How does a realistic love story end?  I couldn’t think of an answer to this question.  I really spent a lot of time thinking about this.  I went through lists of people that I knew.  Aunts and uncles.  Teachers.  Friends the same age as me that looked like they were together for a while. Which example of the perfect relationship were they trying to emulate?  My conclusion was that not only did I not have an example but most people didn’t.

So I thought about songs like Born to Run and I Melt With You.  And then the question got kind of philosophical.  Because when you are 14 and you are first confronted by these concepts, you might have a close friend that you can talk to about how it makes you feel.  All of the longing and angst that a 14 year old can express.  But quickly enough everyone figures out that it’s just a song no matter how beautiful, and if you enjoy the feeling these songs conjure and know what’s good for you, you will keep those feelings to yourself.

While I might admit to really liking a song like this, I hate to admit that it’s still a role I can picture myself in.  Like a rock and roll romance novel.  The rock and roll rebel, screw the world and run away romance song.  Maybe I’m the only one that feels this way, but I doubt it.  And while the examples I give are really obvious.  I think there are way more songs that fit into this category.  It’s like trying to be cool.  It’s a concept that better be really amazingly right on to go for directly like Born to Run or I Melt With You.  Other more subtle examples are songs like Going to California by Led Zeppelin or Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode.  But these are songs.  Beautiful adaptations of all of the emotional connections we long for.

And then Mommy and Daddy started making this really incredibly original music as a couple.  Not just a couple but the only two people in their band.  They were living out one of these rock and roll romances.  Their songs aren’t about this kind of thing, but it’s easy to see that energy in their relationship.  It’s aggressive and kind at the same time.  A private affection that we can understand without invasive voyeurism.  We are all lost in the fog of romantic disillusionment and found in the romantic discontent of Mommy and Daddy.  They didn’t offer themselves up as examples of the rock and roll romantic fantasy, but there they were.  And I can’t help but take it personally that they broke up.  And I do realize that’s too much to put on them.  I am a big believer in break ups or divorce when that is the best option.  Or whatever the hell they did, because they didn’t announce it.  They just stopped making music.

And that’s the part where I feel sad.  Because I really believe that no one but the two of them can make music with this particular energy.  I am lonely thinking that they won’t be making any more of it.  There’s not going to be a reunion tour or album.  We got a couple of really good CD’s worth of songs out of them that end up coming at the tale end of Electro Clash.  They are significant as a step in the evolution of punk from insignificant history to relevant post-modernism.

They are even somewhat controversial in their seeming simplicity and lyrical senselessness. Not that I find this controversy significant.  Metaphor and poetic license are better served by the ephemeral nature of impulsive magic than the well constructed allegory.  If you wanted allegory go listen to some Wagner.  The energy of wild untamed love is here with Mommy and Daddy.

“And I want to take you home.”

And some realities of home are better than others.  My reality is pretty damn good.  Significantly better than my parents.  But maybe it’s time to go get some matching tattoos.

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A Thousand Flowers – The Sand Pebbles – 2009

When I was a kid, I hated to fight.  I was the youngest of three boys, so I was afraid of fighting as it was rare for me to win.  And if I did hurt one of them it only meant that they would hurt me worse later.  Any of my retaliation came in the form of punching and running.  I had my moments, but overall fighting was something that I avoided.  Or most of the time, I simply ran.  I would cry at the idea of a fight.  And young boys will fight.

“this is not the song that we wanted to sing”

I developed a reputation for running, so all of the kids wanted to fight me.  If you have to fight at some point and you are terrified of fighting, why not just pick a fight with the kid you know is going to run.  Of course, I didn’t know this then.  I thought everyone hated me and wanted to beat me up.

“got no choir, got no bell to ring”

The thing that I didn’t realize is that no one hits you as hard as your brother.  When I fought my brothers, I would come out bruised and aching.  They would make sure to punch me in the same places they had hit me before.  The torture a sibling can deliver is unrivaled.  Kids really are afraid of hurting each other mostly, so they don’t hit that hard.  Not nearly as hard as my brothers.  So when I finally learned this lesson, I still hated fighting, but I would stay and fight.

“you’re not clever, you’re not even sly”

One day I ended up pissing off a kid that was a couple years older than me.  A theme of my life is doing the opposite of what is right in almost every situation.  In this case, the kid was taller and bigger than me and I should have run.  But in this particular situation, I was tired of kids picking fights with me, so I was just going to slug it out with him.

“the wings of soul will not take you higher”

So I got beaten down by this kid.  And when he tried to walk away, I got up and jumped on him.  I beat on his ears.  I head butted him.  He threw me on the ground and hit me a couple times.  Then he got up and kicked me some.  Then he turned to walk away and I jumped on him again.  This went on for hours.  All of the voyeurs left and it was just me and him.  He begged me to let him go home.  I cried and jumped on him again.  The action moved like the pace of this song.

“there’s nothing moving in the tower of song”

And really, I can’t attribute all of this energy to fighting.  My life was wrong.  And this was the theme for quite a bit of my childhood.  I was  constantly on the wrong end of retribution.  I didn’t look for trouble.  It was there for the taking, and I took more than my share.  I’ve always been somewhat of a glutton.

“this silence is loud, but it never comes”

And there’s this tremendous release in finally fighting when you feel oppressed.  And I have to admit that I have recreated this situation too often in my life.  And I suppose it has something to do with being abused to begin with.  I have recreated abusive environments to fight my way out of over and over again.  The release achieved by fighting against some perceived injustice is intoxicating and addictive.  And in the fog of self-righteousness and turmoil, it’s impossible to know the difference between real injustice and a fantasized grievance.

“got a use-by date on your life like a tattoo”

I discovered something in the fight with the older kid.  Everyone may want to fight the kid that runs away, but no one wants to fight the crazy kid.  No one can predict what the crazy kid is going to do.  And while there were more situations after this that enhanced this reputation, this was the beginning.

“and if your mind goes blank, well here is a clue”

Later in Houston in 8th grade, I ended up with a similar reputation.  I did something to a kid that offended just about everyone in the school.  And I was the new kid, so I became the school punching bag.  I got in a fight or two every day for about two months.  Most of the time against multiple opponents.  And this is a reality of fighting for boys, and men for that matter, that is commonly ignored in our fist fighting mythology.  There is hardly ever a fight that is one on one.  Don’t take it personally but the pack is always close by.

“everything’s showbiz, pop is the new porn”

With the previous lessons in fighting behind me, I knew that even multiple opponents weren’t going to hurt me as bad as my brothers.  They were all terrified as well.  So I just took it.  I hardly ever fought back.  I just let them beat me up and made sounds like I was getting hurt.  Then I would get up and go to class.  But one day I finally had enough.

“repeat and repeat until the feeling is gone…”

And I don’t know what it is about A Thousand Flowers that makes me think of fighting.  Something about the motion.  Something about how I felt the first time I heard the song.  But the sound just has friendly violence all over it.  And I find the contrast between the title of A Thousand Flowers and fist fighting to be quite satisfying.  I just discovered The Sand Pebbles, and I really like them.  And there is something about their approach to indifference and irreverence that I think I could listen to over and over.  There’s something very physical about the music and the insistent beat.  Everything from the drums to the guitar effects has a punchy quality that drives the song from one end to the other.  And the live song feel reflected in the vocal signals at the end of the long bridge section is impressive in the overdub age.  And I like the visceral approach to intellectual underpinnings.  They are like a fist fight after a philosophical debate.  I really don’t even know why they affect me like this.

“let a thousand flowers bloom”

One day I finally just snapped.  I saw someone that had been involved in one of these fights in the hall at school.  Our eyes met and I socked him in the eye without warning.

“like a promise, can’t come too soon”

Later I saw someone in the bathroom that I clearly remembered kicking me in a group of other kids.  I pushed his head into the tiled wall and threw his books in the toilet.

“take a picture of the moment, then”

To cement the end of this period of fighting in my life, I went looking for the kid that had participated in and been the main instigator of a good number of these fights.  When I found him, he happened to be walking in front of the principal and one of the redneck coaches that delivered swats to kids in exchange for skipping detention.  Both of these guys knew that I was being bullied like this.  Ah what a prehistoric world 80’s Houston was.    I grabbed the kid right in front of them.  I took his books from him and threw them at him saving the biggest one to hit him in the head.

“blow it up start it again…”

The principal and the coach took me to the office.  They threatened me with suspension and expulsion and a whole lot of other things.  I mumbled something about wanting to go home and calling my mother.  Then I realized that they didn’t want to talk to my mother.  They had been ignoring all of this for a while, and they didn’t want to have to explain that.  So they just sent me on to class.

I don’t even know whether I like this story.

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A Friend Indeed – Marla Hansen – 2007

When I first moved to Boston, I made a friend who was a little obsessed with his stereo. An audiophile.  I didn’t have many friends.  I was still extremely serious, and it took a long time for me to make friends.  I don’t know whether he was particularly serious himself or if he just had a really big tolerance for seriousness.  Or if he just totally ignored me.  Hell I still can’t figure that out about him.  So at the time, I was always in some sort of emotional crisis.  It was the only way I had of relating to people.  I must have been a drag.

“we’ll talk about bigger and bigger things”

Anyway, I used to go over to his house a couple days a week and we would drink coffee and talk while playing chess.  One day I went over and he had some new speakers or a turntable or something.  And he had this Bach organ record.  So rather than sitting there for hours being heavy about nothing, we played chess and listened to this Bach organ record extremely loud.  It was an apartment and I’m sure someone must have tried to complain, but we would have never known.  It was simply too loud.  I tried to talk a couple of times, but if I continued, I would have wasted my voice for a week.

“my oh my you are a friend indeed”

Some music should be heard really loud.  And sometimes it’s not very obvious.  Bach organ music is music that should be heard very loud.  I’ve never been to the church that is the organ that created that particular record, but I feel like I have been there.  Strangely enough I feel like this song is one of those pieces of music that should be heard very loud.  Not because that’s the way it was created (the organ is a very loud instrument), but because all of the instruments have a depth that can only be heard in the recording really loud.  I don’t even think a live performance of this song should be that loud.  Too much distortion.  But it was kind of a mistake that I listened to it so loud, and now I like it that way.

“all our puzzle pieces”

I was going to Berklee and I got home from visiting my parents one New Year’s Eve at about 11pm.  I had just flown into Logan Airport.  I was sick.  I got all the way to the door of my building before I started looking for my keys.  That’s when I realized I didn’t have my key.  My roommate didn’t get off until after 2am.  She worked at a bar.

“have fallen behind chairs under beds”

I followed another tenant into the building and sat with my luggage on the bottom stair in front of my first floor apartment.  Being the holidays, it was unlikely that anyone was going to be coming home.  So I just leaned my head against my bag on the stairs.  I was fairly sick and tired from the flight.  So I just about drifted off.

“it’ll take the night to sift and sort them out”

A gentle voice was shaking me carefully.  It was my upstairs neighbor.  She was going to New England Conservatory.  Her roommate was a good friend of mine.  I had tried several times to get her to go out with me.  She couldn’t say ‘no’, but she never went out with me either.  I told her that I was sick and locked out.  She invited me upstairs to wait.  She was with two guys that were her friends from out of town.  They were extremely drunk and I gathered that they had been visiting for a couple days.  I also gathered that she was about done with them and the whole holiday season.

“well that’s okay you can sleep here instead”

We got upstairs and she made me some tea.  Her friends tried to be boisterous and yell at me about New Year’s.  It wasn’t easy to motivate me in the state I was in, and they were kind of dumb in addition to being stupid drunk.  There was some music playing softly somewhere.  I don’t remember what it was, but it was acoustic instruments and soft vocals.  I sipped tea and she told me about her lame holiday.  The stupid drunks fell asleep on the floor.  “Thank God,” she said softly and we both laughed.

“and oh it’s been a long time”

That particular holiday had been incredibly disconcerting.  I felt like I didn’t actually need to be in Houston at all.  And I felt invisible around my family.  And the whole Houston thing was so distant and unlivable for me right then.  Sometimes my orbit was close.  Sometimes it was so far away.  I was a comet in my own life.  Returning from my long icy journey only sporadically.  Spending most of my elliptical life far out in the lonely darkness.

“but I am a friend in need”

We went to her room and talked softly for a long time on her bed.  Music school is a journey in disillusionment.  Half the time we wondered what the hell we were doing but couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I thought that what she was doing at New England Conservatory made so much more sense than what we were doing at Berklee.  And of course, she was envious of our exposure to modern genres.  Unless you are a prodigy student in either setting, the undertone is always, “If I’m not here to learn to teach, what am I doing?”  It’s only after I left school that I realized that I should have stayed as long as I could.  Life is long, but some chapters come at the beginning of the book.

“i want him to know without being told”

Marla Hansen has something unique happening with this music.  I want her to make more of it.  She plucks her viola in this song and it’s got a very warm and dry sound.  And the minimal input from other instruments breathes a lot of life into simple melodies and rhythms.  On the surface it’s all sparse and sing-song.  But after listening longer, there’s a lot more to the space than emptiness.  Like turning a telescope onto a blank space in the sky and finding a cluster of galaxies.  And sometimes when nothing happens, it’s still the perfect story.

“and why shouldn’t I”

We fell asleep on her single mattress fully clothed.  I woke up feeling decidedly less serious, and now I like the song played softly.  Nothing ever came of us.  But that morning while I watched her sleeping, I would have gone anywhere with her.  And when she woke up, she was so happy to see me.  The first thing she said was, “Christmas sucked.”  I agreed.  Then she hugged me and cried for a while.  We made breakfast and then I left her to her hungover asshole friends.  The world isn’t so heavy and loud after all.

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This Will Never End – All Girl Summer Fun Band – 2008

After I had a taste of counter-culture, I had a giant problem with living in my house.  It seemed like there was a giant truth outside the door that didn’t play by the same rules inside.  Outside there were brilliant colors or dark heavy rain.  Inside there was silence and heavy cotton wads inside my ears.

This isn’t something you should know.

I don’t know whether I just have extremely sensitive ears, but for as long as I can remember, I could hear conversations that weren’t in the room.  Word for word.  I’m watching television and listening to my parents talking in the bedroom.  I’m lying in bed.  I can hear people talking as they walk down the street.  I feel their footsteps a block away.  When I was a teenager, I started using fans as white noise.  Some static sound waves to distract my ears.  This would help me sleep when I finally could sleep.

This isn’t something you should feel.

After the first concert I went to, my ears were ringing.  As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t hear anything but the steady tone of tinnitus.  It was very comforting.  I felt warm and safe.  I slept easily which is rare for me.

They confuse themselves with fear.

After my first punk show, I could barely hear anything.  I sat on the concrete against a hurricane fence listening to the tone.  My friend Denton sat next to me talking.  I watched his lips move.  I didn’t care what he was saying.  A police car drove by.  The punks were milling about.  Denton and I weren’t very good punks.  We both had long hair.  I remember the punks could be just as toothless as any redneck.  “What are you guys rockers?!!?!”  Holding his rock and roll fingers up.  Denton was always good natured and friendly, “Yeah man.  Whatever you say.”  People are always trying to scare each other.  The punks were succeeding in scaring the cops.  The looks on their faces as they drove slowly past.  This wasn’t New York City.  This was downtown Houston.

It keeps you near.  It keeps you near.

When you stick a bunch of words on a page, it’s like this giant commitment to meaning.  There are all these things that I want to say.  And my own yearning is so tied up in everything that I want to be saying.  I would figure that at some point I’d catch a break.  But it’s also just as likely that it will just keep coming at me hot and heavy like thick syrup in a giant water gun.  I could also say there is nothing here that isn’t my own doing.  My chaos is my own.  My catalysts dissolve in a hail of precipitation, and I still have no idea what I am saying.

This isn’t something you need said.

But it’s always nice to think I am getting somewhere.  That I am not waking up every day for nothing.  That when I walk out the door I am closer to something called success.  But when I look closely at the underlying philosophy of this daily assumption, the whole concept falls apart for me.  What the hell is success?  Why do I do anything?  ‘Why’ turns into lists…

Your list gets longer every day.

Why does music turn into anything at all?  It’s just a bunch of noise.  That’s the beginning of my step back from the abyss.  Music is meaningful a priori.  But the genres and lists and the music we become attached to.  Why does some music never attach to people and other music becomes a phenomenon?

Confusing love with disarray.

I made this CD before I left work of about 10 MP3’s of 10 different bands and listened to them all on the way home.  I chose the MP3’s after listening to 10 second snippets.  I had never heard any of them before.  I had just about given up on the whole CD when this song came on.  It snatched me away from wherever I had been.

It keeps you near.  It keeps you near.

I wonder sometimes about all the things that I question.  I seem to question the fundamentals of almost everything every day.  It isn’t something I talk about every day.  But it’s something that dominates my thought process.  I think people would get pretty tired of me if I talked like an existential nutcase every day.  But every day I am searching for meaning in everything I do.  Why do I do it?  Why do I get up?  These are really important questions for me.  These questions lead to other questions.  Not answers.  I am not interested in the structurural discourse of society in this internal discussion.  I don’t want the concrete direct answers that society makes up and regurgitates over and over again.  I want the wonder in the question itself.

To think that someone somewhere…

It’s amazing to me that people felt so uncomfortable with not having the answers that they started making them up.  That we told these made up answers to each other so much and so totally that we assumed the answers were a priori.  It seems obvious to me that it’s the questions and the wonder that are a priori.

said that this should begin.

All Girl Summer Fun Band is a band I really want to see live.  There’s something kind of 60’s pop about their approach to punk.  Like maybe a little Nico or Nancy Sinatra mixed with our hardcore with some Clash thrown in and a little hint of the Bangles.  I love the abrupt changes and the timing.  There is no slop here.  This is a tight approach to some fast music.  And then a laid back pop vocal floats on top.  We are at the mercy of her questions.  She doesn’t seem to need any answers.  And I wonder how far from the original intention I am here.  The one thing that I’ve always loved about punk is how close the philosophical context is to the aural metaphor.  But the point is emphasized by the lack of gravity necessary to accomplish this state of wonder.  AGSFB seem to add something new to this state of being.

This will never end.

But it also seems obvious that we would be afraid of our own wonder.  Because the answerless world is infinite.

This will never end.

Buy – This Will Never End MP3

Back In Your Head – Tegan and Sara – 2007

Back In Your Head MP3

My ex-wife moved back to Boston and stayed with me and my friend in his house in the Fens.  I was 26.  We both had crappy single mattresses across the floor from each other.  We had broken up ostensibly because she was a lesbian.  Before she came back to Boston, I had not seen her in about 4 years.  We got married really just to emancipate ourselves from our parents so we could get financial aid for college.  The pull across the room was obvious.  Our orbits were so close.  The previous four years so rootless for both of us.  So much in contrast to the 3 years we spent together.

“Build a wall of books between us in our bed.”

There was so much that was familiar.  But the gulf was enormous.  We had our moments where we could see what it was that brought us together, but there were also moments where we saw what it was that tore us apart.  Really I guess there was nothing wrong with either of us in the malicious sense.  We were just young and finding ourselves.  But after four years of wandering around for both of us, the pull was there to settle back in.

“Relax into the need.  We get so comfortable.”

But the pull wasn’t that strong.  It was just there and we went our separate ways.

“I just want back in your head.”

I bought tickets to a Pink Floyd reunion concert in 1987 while I was dating this girl.  I think we had actually camped out for the tickets or something.  We went to the Cure together a few months previous to this.  I think we were trying to recreate the magic of that night.

“Remember when I was so strange and likeable.”

I really liked her a lot, but we broke up before that concert.  We had friends that were going to the show as well.  So we just all hooked up and went to the show together.  I hadn’t seen her in months.  I was a depressive mess.  I remember trying to reach her emotionally that night.  For a time while we were dating, we communicated without speaking.  There was no distance between us.  We shared everything.  This state probably didn’t last that long, but I missed it terribly.

“I know these habits hurt important parts of you.”

I wanted her to look at me.  I had to see something in her eyes but it never happened.  My heart was really broken over the whole thing.

“I just want back in your head.”

I was living in Houston and trying to get my shit together when a girl I had been broken up with for about 6 months flew in to see me.  Something traumatic had happened in her new and perfect relationship.  ‘Something traumatic’ is an extreme understatement.  A married man had posed as a naval officer and developed a relationship with her.  He explained his long absences as part of his job.  Talked to her on the phone several times a week.  When her father told her about his wife calling, she just took a cab to the airport and bought a plane ticket.  She called me from the airport to tell me she was on her way.

“Remember when I was sweet and unexplainable.”

I imagine that the whole deception was a hair raising experience.  Her immediate reaction was to get near me.  I always represented some kind of safety.  But we did a lot.  Looking back, I think she was trying to create a wall of memories between her ‘now’ and the relationship with this guy.  We did more in that month than we had for the years we had been together.

“Nothing like this person unloveable.”

It was sort of disconcerting because this was everything that we never were.  It was the relationship we always thought was just around the corner.  But it was this strange rebound relationship.  There was too much water under the bridge.  We connected like never before, but once again the timing was wrong.

“I just want back in your head.”

I love the 80’s pop feel to a lot of Tegan and Sara’s songs.  This one especially reminds me of the Buggles or Kim Wilde.  There’s something about where their voices are coming from that says 80’s new wave.  Deep back in their throats and the inflection.  The disjointed feel to the rhythm and melodies.  The types of repetition.  It definitely isn’t an 80’s production.  It’s like a digital version.  That being said it’s definitely not all about the 80’s and I might be the only one hearing this.  But it’s all good pop music with good hooks and emotion.  And it’s certainly a difficult subject.

“I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray.”

This song reminds me of Annie Hall.  They go through all this stuff in their relationship.  Their witty banter slowly crawls inside of you.  Their problems are real and maddening.  You think you don’t care that much about what they are going through.  When the break up comes, you think, “Oh that wasn’t so bad.”

Then they meet up later and you realize that the whole movie was written from this perspective.  The relationship is over.  He is looking back over their relationship with a nostalgic affection.  Where did it all go?  The connection.  The tolerance.  The silent breakfast in familiar company.  Being kicked in the middle of the night.  Blowing in the door from a long day.  The emotional lines in the sand that grew too unbearable and burdensome.  The actual love.  The familiarity.  It’s so hard to know someone in general, but it’s so amazing that you can be so close to someone and then… not.

“I just want back in your head.”

Prettiest Chain – Castanets – 2008

Prettiest Chain MP3

With the lights off, I pull the string on the mini-blind and slowly let the moonlight in.  I slide the window to the left.  I swing my leg over the sill.  I’ve done this so many times the move is choreographed.  I know exactly how to get in and out of the window with the least amount of noise.  I reach back in the window and pull the string to let the mini-blind back down.  And I quietly slide the window closed.  Next is the 6 foot wooden fence.  I step on the bottom horizontal support with my right foot.  I put my left foot on the brick exterior window sill to my bedroom.  I lift my right foot and put it on the top horizontal support with my right hand on the top of the fence and my left hand firmly holding onto the roof.  I lightly drop into the grass into a squat.  I stop and listen.  A car drives past.  I walk quickly walk to the right out of the cul-de-sac without looking back at the house.

I did this almost every night of my sophomore year in high school.  Most of the time I had someplace to go.  Some friend.  One guy in particular was often up well into the morning and I would go hang out, drink Crown Royal and watch TV or work on his car.  Or another friend could be counted on to be up most of the night.  But sometimes there was no place to go.  But I wouldn’t go back home.  I have no idea why I had this need to not be at home during particular bouts of brooding depression.

“Give me your prettiest chain to wear.”

If there was nowhere to go, I had a few options.  Smoke cigarettes in the cemented section of the bayou.  I could lie against the concrete and stare at the sky.  Maybe I was claustrophobic.  Because once I was outside like this I could think more clearly.

“And a bracelet made of your finest hair.”

Insomnia claimed me very young.  As early as 10 years old, I can remember lying in bed for hours staring at the door.  There is only so long you can take this.  There is something incredibly powerless about staring at a door in the dark.  I would insist that the hall light be left on all night.  My brothers thought this was because I was afraid of the dark.  Really I was afraid of staring at the door in the dark.  I didn’t necessarily mind the dark.

“Eagle get me a wing…”

There was an abandoned house at the end of a dead end street.  Not in the wrecked sense of a house.  It was just empty.  Typical Houston suburban house.  Just no one living in it.  Cutting through the yard and hopping the fence into the Church of Latter Day Saints parking lot might shave 15 minutes off the walk to get to friends who lived on the other side of the church.  After the house was empty for a few months, someone kicked a few boards out of the fence.  Then we could just squeeze through.  But it didn’t take long for one of us to decide to find a way into the house.

It was empty.  I would go inside this house late at night by myself and just sit for hours.  I could do that at home, but really that’s all I would do.  Sit.  It isn’t like there was something additional I could do here that I didn’t do at home.  I just sat there staring at doors.

Insomnia has been a trial of discipline for me.  Drugs don’t work for me.  Anything that I try I eventually develop a tolerance for and then I can’t use it anymore.  Exercise seems to help.  But the discipline later in life has been mental and emotional.  When I was 15, I might get so frustrated sitting in the dark waiting for sleep that I would punch holes in the walls.  In fact, this reaction went well into my 20’s.  Now I understand two things.  Sitting in the dark can be an opportunity for meditation, and bitterness about lack of sleep will make you exhausted and crazy.  I don’t think about how tired I am all day, but that’s an oversimplified version of what I mean.  Imagine being frustrated and tired all day for years on end.  Not just one or two days a week but every day.  Every single day of your life… frustrated and tired.  Hallucinating tired.  Now imagine one day all of a sudden you don’t need the sleep you are missing.  I can provide you with all kinds of explanations about what that means, but the best thing I can say to describe it is that I spent years disciplining myself to not be bitter about the sleep I am missing.  And one day, I finally…

But I imagine what sitting in an abandoned house by myself might have looked like if there were a hidden camera.  A 15 year old kid sitting in a house for hours smoking cigarettes.  No lights.  No reading materials.  Nothing.  I try to imagine what that must have felt like, because I don’t know.  I can only assume the worst.  And I can imagine that any observer would also assume the worst.  I try to imagine what would happen to my heart if I were to observe my son in this state.  I cannot imagine.  All of the signs point to the worst kinds of mental illness.  And surely I was mentally ill.  Yet here I am.  And maybe I am mentally ill now.

Raymond Raposa is Castanets.  And some of his nomadic background sounds eerily familiar to mine.  I wonder sometimes about the choices that I make or someone like Raymond Raposa makes.  Wandering for years.  This crazy ambient, psychadelic folk music.  Because there is something disturbing about this music.  What’s worse is that I find it comforting in a way.  Why would we go looking for loneliness.  I am not talking about being alone.  But this vast American loneliness in all of Raposa’s music.  You don’t express things like this without feeling it.  Without staring at some doors in the dark often enough that you either need some fresh doors to stare at or no doors at all.  I feel the emptiness of the highway in this song.  The silence of the wind.  The gigantic slumber of the thin oxygen at high altitudes.  The fear and solace of standing in a clearing far from everything.  The battle with self in the dawning of a new day alone.  The simplicity of a day enencumbered by the demands of community.  The sudden static closeness of the cloying darkness in an unfamiliar place.  The experience of thousands of hours of unanswered questions of a spec of consciousness on a tiny ball of dust in a corner of a small glaxy in an infinite universe.  Raposa says all this with so little.  And so much…

The reverse of the trip out.  Stand on the brick window sill.  Lean on the wooden fence.  No horizontal beams from the outside.  Let my legs fall against the the fence while holding myself up by the top of the fence.  I swing my left foot up onto the top of the fence.  I use the brick window sill to get myself down.  I squat in the yard and listen.  Nothing.  I go to the window and slide it open.  I reach in and use the string to open the mini-blind.  I crawl through the window.  I get ready for bed.  It’s usually 2am or 3am by this time.  Maybe 4 hours of sleep before high school.

I stil have a habit as an adult of wandering in the dark.  I turn off all the lights and let my senses drift into my surroundings.  Once my eyes adjust, I check the windows.  Then I listen.  I roam the house a bit and check the doors.  I watch the cars in the road out front.  I listen for the usual dogs.  Note the refrigerator noises.  Wind chimes.  Voices in the street.  The shadows from the TV next door and across the street.  Sometimes I can hear faint murmurs of conversations.  And then with all my senses satisfied, I settle back into a pillow and stare at a door until sleep finally wins.

Orbiting – The Weepies – 2008

Being a human being is very complicated.  I know exactly what I want to say about this song, but I instantly hear every argument against it.  And all of these points of view are just as valid.  We are all humans and we make mistakes.  And we inherit all of these problems from our parents.  Even if they are just behavioral or environmental problems.  But as soon as we have our own children (if we choose to have children), then all of those problems that we inherit end up having a much sharper focus in our lives.

But sometimes, the mistakes of our parents are just too much to bear.  And sometimes there is no satisfaction to be had in confrontation.  There are some disappointments and betrayals that leave a black mark on our souls.  And there is no erasing that mark.  If you have such a mark, it takes a long time to understand that not everyone you come into contact with can see it.  But it’s also useless to talk about it sometimes.  There’s only so many times that you can rehash the same story over and over.  Especially when the re-telling only leads to more disappointments and betrayal.  Sometimes the new hurt comes from the listener as broken people have a lot of expectations about how a listener reacts to these revelations.

It’s just endless.

“You named me judge the day that I was born.”

I have a really hard time writing in a third person omniscient voice.  This seems to limit the amount of narrative I can confer.  Long stories make a lot assumptions about the nature of thought and emotion that are misleading and oversimplified.  All of life is lived from my own perpspective.  And third person omniscient point of view can make whatever assumptions about the character’s motivations and develop an entire narrative around one assumption leading to another assumption.

“You asked too much to fix what you had torn.”

Memories are filtered through the fog of developing sentience.  It’s almost as if children evolve right before our eyes.  So all of the tragedies of childhood are hazy.  All of the observations are re-interpreted with an adult thought process.  And all disappointment and betrayal is hard to decipher.

“Things got out of hand.  Now I understand.”

Most of the time, we are all really doing the best we can do.  I really know this more than ever right now.  As a parent, you do the best you can do and you still screw it up.  But I do know that there are some things that I find unconscionable, and I can’t imagine ever putting my children in these positions.  And some of that opinion has developed out of being placed in those situations.

“And I’m out of your range.  Now it’s kind of strange.  How we change orbit in our lives.”

And in my story, there are convenient packages where we contain devices of truce.  This allows for civil interaction.  And some genuine love and affection.  But in another fiction there is real lifelong pain and a betrayal that runs so deep that its resurfacing is inevitable.  It’s always there.  And it’s always troubling.

“You were kind of the moon outside of my room.  I could just feel you nearby.”

Really there is no describing these marks.  And whether or not we have our devices to contain them, we can become the sum total of our wounds.  And there is so much hope with a new life.  But the reality of the human condition leaves almost no alternative to betraying our children.

“Now I feel you gone.”

It’s almost essential in the individuation process.  And it breaks my heart into so many pieces.

“Cause I know which side you’re on.  And it’s not mine.”

Sometimes I really didn’t feel like I belonged in my family.  There seemed to be a genuine disconnect where I somehow turned out just different enough from them that I couldn’t ever get real understanding.  My mother can admit as much as this now.   It’s one of our packages.  And it’s convenient and it works.  But it doesn’t do anything to erase the black mark on my soul.

“I walk the line between now and then.  It’s deep sea diving with no oxygen.”

And I really don’t know how to tie this story together.  And the agonizing part is that I can’t control how it turns out with a bunch of assumptions based on my third person omniscient voice.  I can’t control even my own motivation.  I can’t turn my own fiction into a truth.  And I can’t turn my own truth into a fiction.  But I can sort of toy with the concept like it’s a poem.  I show you this side and that side.  I turn it over and I observe it over and over again, and it never turns into a nice package that I can hand back to you and rest my case.  It’s just a lot of beautiful words about something I don’t quite understand.

“I went somewhere to hide.  Far behind my eyes.”

And there is this fantasy that somehow everything will just straighten out.  Maybe someone will come along and say the right thing.  Or just be what is necessary.  But the fantasy just gets us further and further away from reality.  And this fantasy can get dangerous.  How do we find ourselves when we have hidden ourselves so well?

“I willed you there to see.  But you never came for me.”

I love the meandering melodies in the verses.  And then the chorus melody just sort of cascades through to a conclusion.  And there is a nice feel to the whole thing.   Somewhere between folk, pop, rock and island music.  The second guitar sort of wanders all over the structure creating these harmonies and textures with subtle effects and breathy tones.  So sweet and floating.  And there feels like there will be some universal release from our pain when it’s all over.  But it’s just the same conclusion we come to over and over.

“And it’s not mine.  And it’s not mine.  And it’s not mine.”

Buy Orbiting MP3

The Ancient Common Sense of Things – Bishop Allen – 2009

The Ancient Common Sense of Things MP3

Lately I have found this blog to be incredibly satisfying.  But in that satisfaction, I find myself at a crossroads.  And while it may take me a while to get to my point, I think this is a common theme of my entries.  I have a point, but there is no way I can go straight for it.  In this case, I have to announce at the beginning that I am at once completely satisfied and ready to stop writing completely.

It’s late and I’ve had a long day.  I was looking for something easy to write about.  I got a couple of easy suggestions, but I wasn’t feeling either of them.  Mainly I can’t feel those things because they are so removed from where I am right now.  Sometimes I can just push through that and get it done but not tonight.

Then I thought about an easy story to write about.  Pick a Black Flag song and write about the Black Flag show I went to when I was between 13 and 15.  I can’t remember the name of the club.  I want to say it was the Cabaret Voltaire in Houston and the year was 1984, but I can’t be sure.  I didn’t know who Black Flag was really.  I also didn’t know I was going to a Black Flag show.  This was pretty common for me at the time.  Anyway, it’s a pretty canned story.  I was in crowded club that was not very big.  It was Houston summer hot and I was on drugs and probably had not slept for a long time.  I’m pretty sure I had also skated into town on my skateboard.  Maybe a 15 mile trip.

Black Flag took the stage and I had been inside the club for a few hours already.  It filled up and I was pressed against a wall far from the door but close to the stage.  The place was hopping, but a few songs in, I was overheated and dehydrated.  One of the songs was ending and I started to pass out.  An altercation was starting in front of the stage.  Henry Rollins was dealing with this in some way.  Maybe he was part of the altercation as he often was.  But I was drifting in and out as this was going on.  After a while, I opened my eyes and saw Henry Rollins looking at me and he pointed at me saying, “Hey get that kid out of here!”

The crowd lifted me up and passed me to the door.  I could feel the cool air as they set me down in front of the open door.  It was summer and it never gets cool in the summer in Houston, even at night.  So it must have been very hot inside.

As I contemplated which Black Flag song would be the soundtrack to this anecdote, I was getting really angry.  I couldn’t think of a Black Flag song that I would have heard at that show.  Then I realized that I never owned a Black Flag record.  Then it occurred to me that I never liked Black Flag.  I don’t much like Henry Rollins either.  I kind of hate the ‘rage’ style even though I have been known to have rage problems.  I feel like Henry Rollins has been an advocate of just creating more anger.  It isn’t a release or ctharsis.  It’s anger for the sake of anger.

“There are those who understand that long before this all began, a hammer hit a nail with great sympathy.”

So I gave up on the Black Flag song and I went and looked at the Bishop Allen site for the 20th time this week.  And I started listening to songs that weren’t officially released yet.  As this song played, I realized that I really wanted to write about this song.

“And strings that bowed in concert make a symphony.”

But I couldn’t think of what I would write about The Ancient Common Sense of Things.  And I became more despondent.  I really just need to go to bed.  And then I thought about what it felt like to be pushed along the top of that crowd.  I can feel the cool air approaching.

“Oh oh oh…  the ancient common sense of things.”

Then I understood my problem.  I was trying to write about a song that meant nothing to me because I happened to have an interesting experience at a Black Flag show.  I don’t want to write about Black Flag.  It means nothing to me.  The emotions I had on top of that crowd had more to do with Bishop Allen than Black Flag.

“There are those who know to look in all the crannies and the nooks.  And when I found you dear what it meant to me.”

I am a young teenager on top of a crowd of angry punks who are about to have a giant fight.  I have heat exhaustion and I’m dehydrated.  Henry Rollins just directly addressed me.  He will be a legend.  The noise disappears and my eyes focus on a heart on the ceiling that someone drew with a red marker with some names and a plus sign between them.  And suddenly 25 years later everything is clear to me.  I hate Black Flag.  I hate Black Flag almost as much as Black Flag hates Black Flag.  Almost as much as they will hate talking about Black Flag 20 years from then.

“My heart is pounding loud just like a tympany.”

For years I will do my best to self-destruct.  I will succeed on an enormous scale at that particular endeavor repeatedly.  And now I will have written about an interesting story without having to associate it with a song I hate.  But with a song that really makes me happy.  Almost as happy as I was on top of that crowd knowing that the noise and confusion and overwhelming heat were about to be over.  As happy as I was looking at that heart knowing that someday I would feel as connected to someone as I do to my wife.

“oh oh the ancient common sense of things.”

And I can see that while Henry Rollins and Black Flag represent to me this machine that generates bad will and anger over nothing.  This may not actually be who they are or how most people experience them.  But at the time, I was 14 or something, and I was so angry.  And I didn’t want to be at that show.  Or I wanted to be in that building, but I wanted all of the redneck punks to be gone.  The invasion of the urban punk scene by white suburban hate killed punk rock.  Within a few years, you wouldn’t be able to put on suspenders or shoelaces without worrying about what it meant about your politics.  Somehow I blame Black Flag for this.

But Bishop Allen represents this simplicity and gratitude.  And the Ancient Common Sense of Things is this sort of simplified explanation for where I’m at overall right now.  But I also think it’s got a bold statement in its lack of solicitude.  It doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  No distortion.  Well arranged harmonies.  The non-pretentious approach to simple wisdom.  I love how the overall sound has a carefully muted attentiveness.  And the entire musical motif leaves me feeling too light, floating on top of a sea of compassionate hands on the way to the cool air of the outdoors.  The muted safety in stark contrast to the hard attitudes surrounding me.  This peace in the midst of noise and haste.

“oh oh the ancient common sense of things.”

Go On Say It – Blind Pilot – 2008

Go On Say It MP3

During a particularly purple time in my life where the world had a sort of grayish twilight feel to it, I drove between Houston and Albuquerque about two or three times a month.  I thought it was a girl in Houston.  And some of it was, but the girl was a lesbian.  She still is.  And we were in love.  But only in the sense that we were in love with being in love.  If we weren’t living in a purple twilight, we would have seen how ridiculous we were.

“Picking up sound on the interstate.  I am my breath letting in waves.”

I worked the night shift in Albuquerque at a residential treatment facility for disabled people.  This meant that I was up all night watching cable and standing outside watching the sky while the residents slept.  I only worked 3 days a week.  I hardly saw the residents at all.  When I left in the morning, I couldn’t ever make myself go straight home.  I drove out to the volcanoes on the west side of town to watch the sun come up.

“There will be a time when the sleep I’m in.”

I have always thought that living across the street from the nice house was better than living in the nice house.  That way when I open the curtains in the living room, the view is of the nice house across the street rather than the plain house I live in.  I felt this way about the volcanoes in Albuquerque.  The big tourist trap is the Sandia Mountains on the east end of town, but the view from the Sandias is really flat and opaque.  It’s just really high.  The view from the volcanoes is the giant red faced cliffs of the Sandias.  There is hardly ever anyone there.

“Covers me whole.  Covers me thin.”

I have a great admiration for people that write long narratives, because I think like a songwriter.  All of my memories are jumbled in metaphors and the timeline is inconsistant.  Things that haven’t happened yet always make it into the story.  When relating past events, references to people that weren’t around at the time keep surfacing.  My observations are imbued with impossible hues and salient contradictions.

“I know I’ll wake up old.  Forgetting which box this is in.”

And then I am in West Texas somewhere.  Not the I-10 West Texas, but closer to Lubbock.  It’s a long drive and I had to stop somewhere.  I always liked stopping in tiny picnic areas in the middle of the night.  I would lie on a picnic table and watch the sky.  Fantasizing about the way things ought to be in my purple twilight.

“How I will keep you.  Just how I left you.”

Or maybe I would stop in the desert just east of Roswell in the desert moonscape.  Nothing is real.  In the moonlight, you can hardly see your feet on the ground.  And there is so much alive and moving just beyond the ring of violet dust.

“My daughter once told me I know a lot.”

And all of those long nights, I would have long discussions with my children just out of sight in the backseat.  I would tell them about everything in my purple twilight.  Covering my words with incongruous sheets of wisdom.  I could hear their breathing.  I couldn’t ever tell if they were listening.  I loved them so much it hurt.  They weren’t there yet.

“It made me feel fine.  Made me feel quiet.”

I could have driven forever.  But mostly the destinations on both ends of this trip were a fantasy.  And really anyone that knew me during this particular period of my life might be able to verify that this is exactly the way it happened.  But mostly they’d be lying, because I didn’t really tell anyone anything.  I talked a lot.  But I don’t think there are words…

“If you said it right.  Instead of painting words white.”

The instrumentation is so beautiful.  The lonely drums with brushes and hardly any metal.  Just a lot of dry scratchy coughs.  The guitar in a simple strum with the strings pulling every ounce of sentimentality from the lyrics.  And I love vibraphones.  There is something very satisfying in the sound of the stereo unison vocal.  And the harmonic combination and timbres of the vibraphone, vocal and strings in the chorus melody is my purple twilight.

Or is it our purple twilight?  Did we ever share that light?  Or did I just make up all my own colors in my own palette?  Repainting my one canvas in the thousands of miles I drove.

“How I will keep you.  Just how I left you.”

You’d think that our lives would have some kind of consistent narrative.  But we always make up the story to end as if it were for the best.  And maybe that’s true.  But we always seem to remember a place mostly for the reasons we left it.  Maybe we do the same when we leave people too.  Forgetting all of the magic in a glance.  Conversations we never wanted to end.  All of the playful anticipation of life in the act of discovery.  Where does it all go?

Don’t wake up.  I never want to miss this purple twilight.  The muted grays of dawn.  The peripheral absolute black of the stars.  The warm glow of faces I have been waiting to see.  The long conversations about subjects not worth remembering.  How everything was perfect and right.

“Come on.  Say it right.”