Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Twin Towers

I can't believe the year is almost over... It seems impossible. I guess time speeds up for all of us as we get older.

Thanksgiving this year was good... it had a little bit of everything: food, family, friends, fbeer, fsleep. You get the fidea. As good as all the socializing and carousing was, I think my favorite moment of a much-needed long weekend was my quiet Friday night at home, which I spent in my recently-assembled office sitting in front of my Mac, sifting through the songs I've demoed over the last few months, and recording the songs I hadn't yet...

I wound up with, I think, 18 tunes. Most were written this year, with a couple holdovers from late last year. Seeing these tunes all there as sound files, lined up in one folder, I got a true feeling of accomplishment... a feeling of excitement for the future recording of this jigsaw document of a year of my life...

I can start to see the common threads that run through this group of songs and it feels like this group is almost complete... maybe a couple more to add but... it really seems like, if the first Paper Arrows' disc is about loss, this group of songs is about how you reclaim your heart after loss... how you start to rebuild yourself... how you have to navigate the push and pull of the past and future and how those forces act on your heart and your head... how the process creates these feelings of nausea and nostalgia and hope and fear all rolled into one...

And as I went to bed on Friday night as the winter wind worked the trees outside my living room and the blue light of the TV pulled my already heavy eyes even closer to sleep my computer screen flickered in my head and I could see all the song titles and I could see all the sound waves which somehow stood for an entire year of my life which somehow stood for me and as I got closer and closer to sleep I went deeper and deeper into the computer screen into the sound waves until I got to the deepest point possible and instead of it being a small place a tiny place like at the bottom of a well it was a giant place a place as big as the sky and in the distance I could see what looked like two towers rising up and I walked closer and closer and started to run and ran closer and closer and the towers were way farther away than I thought and I had to run what seemed like a marathon to get there but as I got closer I could see that the two towers were rising up out of an island and they weren't towers at all they were actually two human hearts and there were crews of men working on each heart building it up and up and up and up towards the sky construction crews with cranes and scaffolding and the hearts were reaching up and parts were unfinished and I could see inside and see blood running through giant arteries and as I got closer still I could hear something I could hear something I could feel something I could feel the ground vibrate and there were two distinct sounds and beats and I instantly knew there were two heartbeats and the hearts were beating and I came upon a workman near the base of these giant hearts and I asked him what they were doing and he said today they were trying to sync up the two heartbeats and I asked how do you do that and he said they were planning on stopping the hearts and restarting them at the same time together and I said isn't that dangerous to stop a heart and he said yes and there was a yell from above explosions below someone yelled and at that moment there were tremendous explosions from both hearts and suddenly there was just nothing no beat just a faint echo of the explosions mixed with the final jagged beats of the two and every workman stopped what he was doing and looked up at the hearts and we waited and waited and waited for what seemed like forever and ever and waited some more and I still heard a single heart beat and I realized it was my own heart and I realized I was holding my breath and then again there were two more explosions and we waited again for what seemed like hours but was really a moment suspended in time and then quietly at first but with gathering intensity both hearts began to beat in one united beat and the workmen cheered and the heartbeats grew stronger as they beat together and seemed to feed off of one another and the workmen cheered louder and louder and hearts beat louder and stronger and I couldn't hear myself think and I realized that somehow my own heart was beating in time with the skyscraper hearts

and I smiled.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From the Highway

We dreamt of birds All blue and loud That fly through the night And hang from the clouds And come to us here In these moments of fear As the light disappears And the road falls away Out in the darkness I'm spinning in place With my eyes to sky And my hands to my face Somewhere between All the dead and the dreams Is a story we need To believe in


Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Some albums scare me. Scare me for being so good, so close, so close to the truth...

The Truth? The truth of human existence, I guess? The truth of A(N) human's existence?

Scare me for being a record of that truth, preserved in wax, preserved on tape, preserved in 1's and 0's maybe now... but preserved... captured and preserved.

There aren't a lot of these albums... I mean, there are a lot of really good even great albums... but how many transcendent albums are there? How many albums that actually scare you? A handful? 8? 12? I don't know...

But I do know that one of them is the Joni Mitchell album Blue. Quite frankly, this album scares me half to death and makes me want to stop writing music. Okay, that might be going a little bit too far... actually, that's kind of a lesson in inspiration... a lot of great records have intimidated and baffled me, made me want to quit, made me feel completely inadequate in every musical way possible... until I've wrestled with them for years... broken them down... considered them from different angles in different settings in different times of my life...

For instance: Jimi Hendrix. For years, I loved him, I learned just about every note he ever recorded... but I had no clue where he was coming from... it felt like he fell out of the sky, popped out of Zeus' head fully-formed in 1967, and released Are You Experienced?

But the thing is, even the most innovative artists have context... they all came from somewhere, listened to something, watched something... tried to emulate somebody. And once I started listening to Albert King, I finally got where Hendrix was coming from... that's not to say it made him any less impressive to me... but it made him a little less mysterious... it was comforting to think that, just like I was, Jimi probably sat down in front of his record player (okay, mine was a CD player) and listened to Albert King and learned his riffs. What he did with those riffs was incredible... was where the genius lay... and at least I could hear the connection... really, more FEEL the connection and understand the context.

But there's something different about albums like Blue: it's not the musical innovation per se that is so striking... it's the honesty, it's the absolute truth with which the artist approaches the writing and singing... it's what is captured in the songs... One of the many powers of music is its ability to take one back (in an almost Proustian manner) to certain times in your life... a trigger of involuntary memory and a memory that is deeper than just remembering places and things... a memory that is rooted in emotion, in impression, in something larger than words. Again, this base level of existence and meaning.

Blue will always make me think of two times in particular: 1.) Basting chicken wings in my underwear in my tiny kitchen senior year in college with Greg while singing Old Man at the top of our lungs. 2.) Camping with Ben somewhere on the Oregon coast just steps from the water, sitting around a fire under the clear dark ocean sky, listening to the entirety of the album on a Discman in complete silence. 

One of my students recently brought Blue in, and we listened to a bit of it... and I think it stuck somewhere in my brain that I needed to revisit it... I hadn't listened to it in over a year, maybe even two, and no longer had it in my music collection...

So on Sunday, one of the first (and maybe only?) incredible fall days, leaving Madison after a picture-perfect weekend getaway to visit my uncle, as the growing late-afternoon darkness reminded us that the clocks had indeed finally changed, we drove around town, stopping at three different record stores before finally laying our hands on a copy of Blue.

The first notes of All I Want hit as we turned onto John Nolen Drive and put Otis Redding's watery grave behind us. By the time we got on the Beltline and finally the Interstate, we were in the middle of it... For maybe the first time, I listened, really listened to the lyrics... I've always been so overwhelmed and taken with just the quality of her singing, I guess I've never really listened to the lyrics as closely as I should have...

By the time we hit the open road, River was on... and I finally picked up on the lyrical almost bait 'n' switch, how she starts out writing about one thing and suddenly she turns the tune on its head halfway through and it's a love song... and the way she sings "I made my baby cry," which is the thematic turning point... similar to the Death Cab tune "What Sarah Said," actually... that type of songwriting where there's a punchline, a twist... I still haven't figured out how to do that right.

And finally, on to the last two tunes, which I suppose like the last couple of tunes on any album one tends not to hear as much... In this case, A Case of You and The Last Time I Saw Richard. The verse in A Case of You... "I remember that time that you told me, you said Love is touching souls Surely you touched mine Cause part of you pours out of me In these lines from time to time" I mean, wow.

And The Last Time I Saw Richard... "Richard got married to a figure skater And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on And all the house lights left up bright I'm gonna blow this damn candle out I don't want nobody comin over to my table I got nothing to talk to anybody about All good dreamers pass this way some day Hiding behind bottles in dark cafes Dark cafes Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings And fly away Only a phase, these dark cafe days"

Talk about a marriage of lyrics, melody, and performance, and again this turn of the lyric at the end, where, just as things get darkest, there's ray of hope... The album finished, and we sat in silence... I guess I modeled the Paper Arrows album, whether it was initially conscious or unconscious, on Blue. Or hoped to model it on Blue. I don't know.

Where am I going with this? I don't know that, either. But I do know that the next time I hear Blue, I'll remember the light of the sunset illuminating a V of geese flying low across the November sky as we held on tight and the car rolled southeast along I-90 back to the real world.

And listened. And heard. And felt.


Friday, November 02, 2007


Happiness makes you cry.
Exhaustion is energizing.
The fall chill warms your heart.
Memories make you forget.
The past is in the present.

Silence... Crickets... Silence... Crickets... Silence... Silence...