Thursday, August 26, 2010

Starting Again in Eden

Consider the lyrics of Joanna Newsom's "'81". Any thoughts?

I found a little plot of land,
in the garden of Eden.
It was dirt, and dirt is all the same.
I tilled it with my two hands,
and I called it my very own;
there was no-one to dispute my claim.

Well, you'd be shocked
at the state of things-
the whole place
has just cleared right out.
It was hotter than hell,
so I laid me by a spring, for a spell,
as naked as a trout.

The wandering eye that I have caught
is as hot as a wandering sun.
But I will want for nothing more,
in my garden:
start again,
in my hardening to every heart but one.

Meet me in the garden of Eden.
Bring a friend.
We are gonna have ourselves a time.
We are gonna have a garden party.
It's on me!
No, sirree, it's my dime.
We broke our hearts,
in the war between
St. George and the dragon,
but both, in equal part,
are welcome to come along.
I'm inviting everyone.

Farewell to loves that I have known.
Even muddiest waters run.
Tell me, what is meant by sin, or none,
in a garden
seceded from the union
in the year of A.D. 1?

The unending amends you've made
are enough for one life.
Be done.
I believe in innocence, little darlin.
Start again.
I believe in everyone.
I believe, regardless.
I believe in everyone.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Triumphant Return of Sufjan Stevens, part II

First of all, nobody else is writing music quite like this. Asthmatic Kitty, Sufjan's label, describes "Djohariah", the final song of the EP, as "a 17 minute guitar jam-for-single-mothers." In reality it is about a 12 minute guitar jam, which segues effortlessly into a more traditional lyric song for the last 5 minutes. There is a lovely and heartbreaking female dichotomy at work here. Desertion, abuse, financial ruin, and shame juxtaposed with birth, victory, beauty, and love. No joke, no hyperbole...I am more moved by the final minutes of this song than I have been by any other in a long time. I say that as a son, a father, a husband, and a man.

No need for expounding. Here are the lyrics. Listen/Purchase HERE.

Know you won’t get very far
With the back seat driver in the carpetbagger
With the dagger heart grabber stuck in your car

And the yard is grown to a hilt
And the money spent money spent where it went
Embarrassment, embarrassment to pay for the car

And the man who left you for dead
He’s the heart grabber back stabber double cheater wife beater
You don’t need that man in your life

And you worked yourself to the bone
While the people say what they say
It’s the neighbors anyway
They don’t know what’s good for your life

And I see your head hangs low
In the black shadow, half shadow
Living room is fitting is sitting room is fit for your crying

Don’t be ashamed—don’t hide in your room
For the woman is, woman is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Djohariah Djohariah, etc.

And the time you held to the light
When water ran water ran with the strange attic
And when the walls were wet with your life

And you pushed yourself to the floor
And the spirit went where it went
Hovering discovering uncovering your life, on the floor

And the walls were wet with your love

For the mother is, the mother is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Don’t be ashamed, don’t hide from me now
For the woman is the woman is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Djohariah Djohariah, etc.

Don’t be ashamed, don’t cry in the bath
For it’s the story of, story of, morning glory story
It’s the gloriole that comes to your path

There is a time when the lights will arise
For the mother is, the mother is the glorious victorious
The mother of the heart of the world

Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours to enjoy

Go on! Little sister! Go on! Little sister!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours

Go on! Little sister! Go on! Little sister!
For your world is yours, world is yours
All the wilderness of world is yours

Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For you’re beautiful, beautiful
All the fullness of the world is yours

The Triumphant Return of Sufjan Stevens, Part I

In 1965 Paul Simon dumped upon an unsuspecting world "The Sound of Silence", one of the greatest songs ever written. Beloved by everyone. Seriously, can you show me one (reasonable) person who does not like that song? And it is worthy, scalp to toenail, of all the praise thrown its way over the years.

The song's message has only become more relevant with time. Simon sings of a dark vision cut and complemented by a neon sign/idol distracting everyone "and in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share." The uncomfortable, damning silence is the communal response of his generation and continues to be so in ours. "'Fools', I said, 'You do not know. Silence, like a cancer, grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.' But my words like silent raindrops fell and echoed in the wells of silence." This silence metaphorically sends a message all its own, in many different forms all sharing a common root - at least part of which (in my ears) seems to be a lack of communion and dialogue. Simon says.

Here we are 35 years later, and Sufjan Stevens just released, yesterday, an 8 song, 60 minute EP titled "All Delighted People". The first and last songs are masterpiece bookends. This post is labeled part 1, because it deals with the first track, which his label describes as a "long form epic ballad...a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon's "Sounds of Silence"".

Sufjan jumps right at Simon's vision in the first line, "Tomorrow you'll see it through the clouded out disguises put you in the room...and I remember every sound it made...I'm not easily confused...And the people bowed and prayed. And what difference does it make for you and me? All delighted people raise their hands." That refrain of "all delighted people..." becomes progressively more sad and ironic as the song progresses. Simon pleaded with the people to take his arms. Sufjan responds, "And I took you by the sleeve."

It's not the only time he's taken a sleeve. In Sufjan's song "No Man's Land" (which in was a response to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land") he sang, "This land is not your land, for the right hand takes what it can. Ransacks with the madman. For this land is not yours or mine to have. This land was made for the good of itself." Our culture's obsessive solipsism and it's death grip on the world play a role here as well.

Ultimately the last stanza pokes at those existential questions. This is a bitter confused slosh of a world. "Oh! But the world is a mess. And what difference does it make if the world is a mess? If the world is a mess! I tried my best. I tried in vain. Oh! But the world is a mess!" The back and forth of it is painfully uncomfortable. We tend to reach plateaus in life where we think we've learned to cope & compromise with the unfairness/horrors/messiness of the world. Probably because its finger isn't immediately upon us at that moment. Then it touches us again and sends us spinning. There is a yearning in his voice for connection and communion. "Oh! I love you a lot; Oh! I love you from the top of my heart. And you can see through my mistakes." The last line is a plea for the children, "Suffer not the child among you or shall you die young...", that last ellipses alluding, but not yielding at last, to the song's title.

The subject matter is everything but "delightful". But isn't it an amazing, joyful, awe-inspiring, yea, even delightful thing that this song was even written today? Lady GaGa, despite all her shock and awe domination of music media, is entirely banal. And I'm not advocating that all music must be all Sound-of-Silencey all the time (I will sing loud and strong anytime "Since U Been Gone" and "Irreplaceable" pop up on my iPod). But I do worry, are we missing a dialogue here? Are we as a culture still spiraling downward in a lack of true human communication and connection? All delighted people, raise their hands!

Feel free to listen to the song free of charge HERE. And/or pay 5 bucks and buy the EP.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Encountering and Countering Restlessness

Christy had been feeling down for several days. We were in that no man's land where we both knew something was wrong, but whatever the thing - the looming shadow of whatever it was, wasn't nameable enough to me to clearly discern. We both danced around it for a few days. Then a week or two ago she came into the kitchen and asked me, kindly and in her way - completely straighforward, to please compliment her more. All I could do was stand there, not disappear, and nod (because one can not, in that moment, despite complete and unfeigned sincerity say something about how beautiful she looks, or how funny and talented she is, or how artfully she brings out the personality of our children, and how utterly lost I would be without her. Even a dolt could see that it was a time to nod.)

It got me thinking about Bruce Springsteen's "Stolen Car", performed here by Patty Griffin:

Patty Griffin: Stolen Car(mp3)

I met a little girl and I settled down in a little house out on the edge of town. We got married, swore we'd never part. Then little by little we drifted from each other's hearts. At first I thought it was just restlessness that would fade as time went by and our love grew deep. In the end it was something more I guess. Tore us apart and made us weep. I'm driving a stolen car down on Eldridge Avenue. Each night I wait to get caught, but I never do. She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote when our love was young and bold. She said last night she read those letters, and they made her feel one hundred years old. I'm driving a stolen car on a pitch black night. And I'm telling myself I'm gonna be all right. I drive by night and I travel in fear that in this darkness I will disappear.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Clearly I'm Not Ready

Several weeks ago our Grandma Toni's younger sister Ann passed away. They were close and conversed daily. The morning I found out I visited grandma. She might be the toughest woman I know. Unflappable. Feircely independent by necessity. She migrated from post-war Holland in the late 40's with a three year old daughter following the accidental death of her husband. Never remarried. "I already have a husband" she said. She was the provider. Life was not convenient, but she found a way. She has always been governed by unconquerable faith which has, in its way, "brought forth unto it's own likeness".

I sat across the kitchen table from this remarkable woman. Her eyes well, but won't let fall the tears. "I can't quite believe she is gone," she says. "A thought comes to me, I go to pick up the phone, and then I remember." I don't want anything to go unsaid, yet don't know what to say. She has a deeply personal understanding of how to deal with death and loss. She says, in a moment of candor, something I will not forget. "Everyone comforts themselves by saying - 'She is in a better place. She is with her husband, and those who've gone before'. Well, I'm not ready to move on. I want to be with my grandchildren. I want to see everyone grow. Here is where I want to be."

What a beautiful sentiment. I'm not ready either. This world is both gorgeous and cruel, serene and relentless, generous beyond compare yet completely unfair. Death charms us all in different ways. And so here is a song, written by Vic Chesnutt (R.I.P.), performed by David Bazan.

David Bazan: Flirted With You All My Life(mp3)

I am a man. I am self-aware. And everywhere I go you're always right there with me. I flirted with you all my life. Even kissed you once or twice. And to this day I swear it was nice, but clearly, I was not ready. When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind. But I found out with time that clearly, I was not ready. Oh, Death. Really, I'm not ready. Oh Death, you hector me, you decimate those dear to me. You tease me with your sweet releif you're cruel and you are constant. When my mom was cancer sick she fought, but then succumbed to it. But you made her beg for it Lord Jesus, please I'm ready. Oh Death. Really I'm not ready. Oh Death, clearly I'm not ready.