My Star Wars Pitch

Kylo, Poe and Han Solo stop off in a seedy bar following rumors about the whereabouts of Luke.

As the camera pans the room, the audience sees a variety of bizarre, but strangely familiar alien forms.

Without warning, Hans face explodes. The music stops. In shock, the group is too horrified to respond when an alien walks up to the table holding a blaster. He stares at Hans slumping corpse and says “Message from Greedo, ‘How about a ‘heads up’ next time.'” Continue reading

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

CHILDISH GAMBINO: Indivisible constant of the universe

“Then we get to believe that the laws of randomness break down in at least one place around actor/musician Donald Glover….

this god is a laissez faire ruler of the universe who allows for famine and war and almost infinite human misery. But as far as we can tell, there is one place this god cares to intervene. This god makes sure that whatever else happens Donald Glover will always be Childish Gambino…”

Rolling Stones Autobiography

a tagline: To stare into the infinite darkness and embrace our finitude
a motto: something about vulnerability

I think a lot about how I might start a biography. Early on I want to highlight the unreliability of the narrator.

I think a lot about how I might start an autobiography. I have a conceit about the lessons the Rolling Stones taught me. It’s a good conceit, and I hope to pursue it.

But the quote that inspired these rumination comes from Henry Miller, by way of Erica Jong.*

I read this quote while on a trip through central america. It meant a lot to me then. Something about it’s logic was inherently appealing. It was exciting to consider myself a God.

But now it means even more to me, I feel as if I have a deeper more nuanced understanding. That I have walked much farther along the path it points to, and I think that I understand it’s truth on a more intimate level.

Like the Rolling Stones, I reflect on Henry Miller as a deeply flawed being, who was morally reprehensible in many ways. What I took from Erica Jong’s book was that what redeems him, if anything, was his willingness to reveal himself.

Most of that was lost on me when I read him myself, I was in it for the power fantasy, and as a result I still harbor some judgement.

But I do think that vulnerability is key. The narrative provided by Jong scares me as much as it attracts me. What if I am vulnerable and open and find that I am Henry Miller. I think I could accept that I hold repugnant thoughts, but what if, like him, I did not use that acknowledgment to avoid causing harm?

What if I found that unrestrained, I just enacted my worst impulses on the world.

The Rolling Stones are rarely willing to be vulnerable in this way.

All of which is a distraction, carried along by the narrative logic of the words that came before, as opposed to my true intent. Some writers are capable of coming much closer to resisting that tide, and marrying their words with their poetry and their meaning. They can make the barrier between their words and their inner reality seem paper thin, and that can be magnificent and powerful.

But what I want to highlight at the start of my theoretical autobiography, is that the barrier still exists, however thin.

Did Miller know what he was saying when he said it? Did he mean what I thought he meant 10 years ago?  Was his openness to the world bringing him ever closer to the revelation it reminds me of now? Perhaps the beauty is that it contains all of this and much more.

Magnificent. The words themselves deceive even as they reveal. Powerful.

What they do not necessarily do, is convey any true sense of history, or what it meant to be inside his head. And as I cobble together stories about my life and try to cram them into a narrative conceit about the Rolling Stones**, I may aspire to poetry. But I want it to be clear from the outset that I have no capacity to convey the truth of my existence, or even my history, nor can I know the truth of yours.

The things that seemed important moments ago, flitter away.

All we have are these words to communicate with. They can be great.

*Where is the quote? It is here: “Like every man I am my own worst enemy, but unlike most men I know too that I am my own saviour.”

Why is it at the end? I wrote this draft with only my memory of the quote. In that draft it was inserted into the text 3 times! When I finally tracked down the quote it was so far from what I recalled I would have given up the whole endeavor, if this was not exactly the point of this piece.

**I came very close to telling this same story using a Keith Richards quote about the lack of and real security in the world. But that was not the quote that inspired these thoughts. All that stopped me was the knowledge that I could highlight  that I had NOT done so, and it would reinforce how unreliable the construction of narrative is.

Preview of Rolling Stones lessons: Something about being open to encountering the worlds most famous band as new, about the power of myth to both illuminate and distort, about the power of controlled chaos, about rhythm that moves and withholds, about how that’s achieved in the studio


Cohen’s Poetry

I want to think there are better uses for my time than writing confessionals.

One of the things poetry can do is capture a reality so completely that you can begin to understand its multifaceted truth. It can take that reality and redeem it. It can show you something about grace.

Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a songwriter.

The ninth song on Leonard Cohen’s 1979 live album (Field Commander Cohen) is “Memories”.   Sung to a do-wop track, the music and vocal swells until Cohen croons

I said “won’t you let me see”
I said “won’t you let me see”
Your naked body?”

It is a moment of sublime beauty, helped along by some biographical knowledge.

A man known in later years for his impossibly deep voice, in this moment, he croons.
Continue reading

Quotes from an interview between bell hook and John Perry Barlow

I read this interview today, and I thought it deserved a wider audience.

When making these types of posts I find myself torn between

I. Thinking that there is something ego-less about curating and pointing towards existing content (as opposed to trying to restate these thoughts in my own crude way)
vs
II. Thinking that there is something terrible about a culture that does nothing but relentlessly remix the peak moments of existing art

Part of the resolution to this may be the need for context. It matters why I am pointing rather than creating.

John Perry Barlow: Without a truly grounded context, words themselves don’t mean anything; metaphors don’t mean anything. A metaphor has to participate equally in the utterly physical and the truly spiritual. A metaphor is kind of a path between those two realms, and it’s a bad bridge that doesn’t have two ends.

But then I use that quote, and I worry it’s meaning is obscured by being placed in this context.

Ah well. By the way, I also took away this phrase from the interview: “the confusion of information for experience”. Read it for yourself if you’d like.

Kris Kristofferson Castaway – The internet fails

Just when I think I’m ready to fully embrace instrumental music as the purest experience, I hear records like Kris Kristofferson’s Feeling Mortal. It includes line’s this good:

“Because life is a song for the dying to sing”

Alongside songs that exemplify the best in pure musical country storytelling.

The coupe de grace for me would have been linking to a sample of Castaway, but the internet has it’s limits.

Thelonious Sphere Monk – Two facts and a video

Thelonious Sphere Monk was criticized by observers who failed to listen to his music on its own terms, suffered through a decade of neglect before he was suddenly acclaimed as a genius; his music had not changed one bit in the interim. – source allmusic 

Monk’s manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. – source Wikipedia