Traveled to Abingdon

Traveled to Abingdon
Dusty, dirty,
Tired to the bone

Seeking remnants of an old foe
Narrowly defeated; presumed gone forever

Rumors were all it took
To threaten all that I value
It was enough to risk my life
and more

I did not sleep that night
My mind consumed

I wanted out of this business
It brought no glory
Only stains on my soul

Another dreadful secret
Waiting to be laid bare

All my narrow victories
Unexplainable even to myself

A chance wind of fate
May lay me bare at any moment

Two nights in Abigdon
Brought my search to a close

The lost one found
Hiding with the same face as always

All that was left to us was conversation in daylight
Threading undertones of habit came

But beneathe that, revelations of our true nature
Laid to waste my misson
But did not redeem him

And so, three days in Abingdon
Is what it took to end my implacable foe
His exoskeleton no match for thorny shrubs

But what had I faced in that night
No longer immortal
My own wisdom shattered
And my retraced steps now haunted me
Even more than they burdened my soul

I stand here now
Trapped by my own patterns
Lies laid bare
Knowing more
Seeking a way out

A mystic aphorism shines brightest of all

Using odd language and powerful symbols
I arm myself against the ravages of a world slowly sinking
Beneath the weight of a crimson sky
And a flood foretold
By all who wear the flowing white robes
Of wisdom

What monstrous creatures can I summon
To take me down a detour, the demon haunted trail
What embattled hero can I mimic
To display just the right courage at just the right moment

What old trope can I reconfigure
With just enough honesty to ring true

The glint against the shield
The wail that cannot be restrained
or unheard

In the forest groove, the dire wolf stalks
Those who dance in a sacred circle
Staving off the morning
And the night

A mystic aphorism shines brightest of all
A story with a glint of truth
To hide within it the greatest of lies
I speak my part

At the center of all the worlds
That ever will be
And ever have been
Of consequence

But only to me.

So which of my thoughts to share?

Selecting to create effect
Seeking redemption in your eyes

Who would otherwise shun me
Or worse yet, forget entirely

Which truth can redeem me
And in so doing, save us all
If only for a moment

A truth about a fallen knight
Trying to destroy himself
Honor stricken from the world
But not the core of his soul

Which bleeds for others in there time of need
And love that has a power
Not even grace can fully match

An enemy implacable
But not impossible
A setting built on our fears and predictions

For a future that has less than today
Where we all become the hapless other
Driven to hardship by an unfeeling world

Do these ring true?
They should
They are the smoke rings we see
When we close our eyes and breathe

uncomprehended

Open to the sounds around me
The doomed beauty of trying

The wary travel sidesteps into the inn
Trying to generate some interest in him

In the final assessment, the critics failed to even take notice
The muse has an exhibit
Of the extinct trials, and the sympathy they showed
For those they left behind

And time expands beyond all understanding
Into thousands of stories
Lost first to the speaker, unable to see themselves
and then too to the audience
unable to hear as there lives swarm around them
To their own influence, their power fades as others pick up the cry

Lost next to the space, the circumstance, the fallible memory
The cumbersome nature of words and fingers

To the wind, to the ravages of time

To the empires falling, and stars imploding

The wary traveler knows none this, as he sips his drink
Scared at every moment that he could be taken unaware
Caught without his glasses, shown to be the fool

The molecules of his glass
Formed of explosions uncomprehended

And in the final assessment
After the millennia have passed

None will notice as all comes black
And the stories forgotten too fade away

Cooling soothing…. gone

And more luck than our neighbors

The centers of power
With their swirling tentacles
Shame and infect us all
Is this a world we can believe in?

The best among us
Pulled down by boredom
Sleepy jobs in mediocre lives
Spiced up only by zombies
That reflect our loved ones

Our only defense
A shaky truth
And more luck than our neighbors

For awhile

Trapped in a zero sum game we never signed up for

Is this a world we can trust as real
Unashamed
Unchanged
The ground beneath us that we can set our tale in
And recognize in the mirror

Some grim humor
And transient beauty
Stuck on repeat cycle

No hollow victories in the trenches
They all feel all too real
One meal away from starvation
And shame

The rhythm and rhythm keep us alive
And make it all worthwhile

But it’s not the same as sleep

On this journey towards
Which side are you on

And do you even know why

The messenger arrived By the dark of the night

The messenger arrived
By the dark of the night

Demanded to speak
To the calm of the storm

His voice was clear
Though it was quiet
It shattered the peace

The spokesman was laid down
After the riot

A blow to the head
Does not always mean the end

But the calm

Cast their gaze down
Unable to speak

The messenger’s feet
Burned through the night
Bearing the news
That all was not right

And many threw stones
And cast their aspersions

The message moved on
With or without
A sense of purpose.

Slowly the dawn
Lit up the night
Darkness unfolded
And shadows receded

But not as much as they had
Not as far as they could

In honor of those
Who were still wounded

Threatening what little peace is available

The critical consensus is
It never existed
Not a footnote to say
It ever had anything to say
And what would that mean anyway?

Nihilism unbounds
Hearing other sounds
That rebound
Across the consciousness of the careful observer
Standing in the tower
Looking out amongst the flowers

Breathing in every molecule
And failing that
Waiting for the traveler

Hoping to take off his coat, and undo his burdens
If only for a moment
Speak from the soul
About the wild creatures that roam the garden

Threatening what little peace is available

Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal: An appreciation

I would like to invite you to listen to Kris Kristofferson’s album Feeling Mortal. I struggle to write anything useful about it, but it means a lot to me.

I hear it as a concept album, not about death, but about seeking.

Kris Kristofferson is a country music legend in his 70s. By honoring and embracing this specificity so honestly, the album reveals more universe themes.

I want to describe the music, the voice, and the words as having all been condensed to their bare essentials. The album combines the relaxed feel of musicians with nothing to prove with the delicate flourishes, the subtle harmonies, and the precise inflections that are only possible in the studio.

I invite you to notice the words that open the album.

Wide awake and feeling mortal
At this moment in the dream
That old man there in the mirror
And my shaky self-esteem

Feeling Mortal, embraces death, but as a backdrop to highlight much more.

I invite you to notice how quickly and economically the tone is set, within a song that stands alone.

…a sense of life as dream, but also being wide awake and embracing it, whatever it is. looking into the mirror, and examining a shaky self esteem.

Pretty speeches still unspoken
Perfect circles in the sand
Rules and promises I’ve broken
That I still don’t understand

I invite you to recall this theme of openness as we explore the rest of the album.

Mamma Steward moves us into a personal story. One which expands this theme of vision and acceptance.

And the things she said reminded me
Of things I’d grown too blind to see
And feelings that I’d hidden deep inside
And when she said goodbye and kissed me
I was thankful she couldn’t see
The sudden tears I couldn’t hide

And also lauds a character who is at once at peace with life as it is, but also and grateful for miracles.

But the miracle of medicine
And good old time religion
Removed the veil of darkness from her eyes
They said she praised the Lord
And thanked the doctor
And didn’t even seem at all surprised

At this point I want to acknowledge that I am veering dangerously close to just printing the lyrics and wishing I could put the music in as well. The album rewards listening, but defy’s my ability to comment usefully on it.

Yet I feel drawn to try.

Because life is a song for the dying to sing
And it’s got to have feeling to mean anything

I love this line, from Bread for the Body. It does not say something new, but nobody ever does. The best most can hope for is to say something old in a new way. This does something even better, it says something true, extremely well.

Notice the inflection on… fear my eyes. Notice how well the band swings.

If the narrator in Bread for the Body is looking back on life with a new sense of perceptive and new life lessons, the narrator of You Don’t Tell Me What To Do, inhabits a these lessons.

So the highway is where I believe I belong
Losing myself in the soul of a song
And the fight for the right to be righteously wrong
It’s a story that’s sad but it’s true

Notice the tone here. It is assertive, and may have faults, but it is not aggressive.

With Stairway to The Bottom, the album pivots slightly. This is an old song, from one of Kris Kristofferson other great underrated albums (Spooky Lady’s Sideshow). Indeed many of the themes in the album are extensions of a careers worth of artistry.

The narrator in You Don’t Tell Me What to Do was honest but unrepentant about his faults and bad behavior in the previous track. Now we see the other side of that equation, as the narrator follows a number of country tropes, but is forced to face their consequences in the mirror.

But each lie that you’ve spoken
And each vow that you’ve broken
Was a new nail in the coffin of your soul
If you think someone’s cryin’
For the love that is dyin’
With the trust that you betray each time you fall
Look around you on that stairway to the bottom
No one’s watchin’ but that mirror on the wall

It shares with Just Suppose the tradition of great county songs: a chorus refrain that reflects something new on each turn as the song progresses.

And I expect you to expect me to feel guilty
For not giving back the love you threw away
But just suppose you really love her now like I do
What do you suppose you’d do if you were me

It could be singing directly at the narrator of the previous track. It has sympathy (Yes I guess you feel ashamed and I can’t really say I blame you/ I suppose I’d feel the same if I were you) but ultimately remains unwilling to back down.

We are now also in the realm of love songs, a new theme to which the album returns after a detour into Castaway.

One day as I was sailing on the Caribbean Sea
I spied a little fishing vessel drifting aimlessly
Her sails were torn and tattered
And her wheel was spinning free
I told myself that little boat sure looks a lot like me

On many days my favorite track on the album. I relate to it deeply. To quote myself: “The best most can hope for is to say something old in a new way. This does something even better, it says somthing true, extremely well.”

For my eyes grew accustomed to looking at you
And my arms found a body they hungered to hold
And the rest of my senses surrendered to you
But my heart was the last one to know

And in My Heart Was the Last One to Know, these themes come together, a realization too late that in matters of the heart, the eyes are sometimes not enough.

Because of the difficulty of writing about music, I have avoided it. But sounds matter. They make or break an album. Notice in The One You Choose, that not only does our narrative culminate in a confession of love…

Maybe what you see is what you got and what you wanted
Take me at my word that it’s the best that I can be
I will go down trying hard to teach you how to trust me
And I’ll love you ‘til it happens darling or eternity

… it incorporates some simple but masterful licks and honest vocals.

And to pay it all off, we pull back from personal songs to a look at how to live in the context of all that the album has taken us through:

And I know he ain’t afraid of where he’s going
And I’m sure he ain’t ashamed of where he’s been
He has paid a little piece of his soul
For every seed that he’s been sowing
And he made his own mistakes, and love, and friends
Ain’t that what matters in the end

 

See also: Pilgrims Progress
Let the Walls Come Down