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..”