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…”

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

Leonard Cohen, albums -The Dove Is Never Free

Leonard Cohen’s work is so good it tends to lift up those who write about him.

For instance this line:  “… given that “Hallelujah” was as much about triumphing over waning potency as it was about anything religious… ”

Today it has generated the following thoughts from me.

His newest album, Old Ideas, is perfect example of what I fear I am losing as I indulge myself with more singles and move away from the concept of albums.

The first time I heard the album, the only song I liked, or even understood for that matter, was Different Sides.

The second time I listened to it, I also came to have a deep and profound experience with Banjo.

If you could hear what I hear when I listen to Banjo…

That would be something… that really would be something.

I would love to know what you hear as well.

 

Then I put the album away for a while. But I came back now and again, and now I count Going Home and parts of Amen among the songs I feel like I understand.

Going Home alone is worth the price of the album for me.

But more importantly I look forward to coming back to the album over the next few years to see what other surprises it has in store for me.

I tend to be dense when it comes to art so my particular experience is likely tinged by this. That is part of the attraction for me. But I suspect the thrill of coming back to a large complicated piece and finding new nuances is a more universal experience.

I don’t begrudge the evolution of how we consume music (although I worry about mp3 sound quality). The form has always been dominated by its limitations, and our current distribution model has many advantages.

But the experience I am having with Old Ideas is one that I have to work harder to find.

More quotes:

“For a Zen monk who started his career as a poet, Leonard Cohen has used a lot of synth horns.”

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16228-leonard-cohen-old-ideas/

Possibly apocryphal:

I’ve come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that I am going to die. So naturally those questions arise and are addressed. But, you know, I like to do it with a beat.

Leonard Cohen, when asked at a recent press conference whether he had “come to terms with death”.

Has there ever been a musician with as consistently good album titles? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen_discography …

And because it cannot be avoided:

Psychedelic Pill – Art and Ageing

Neil Young & Crazy Horse have finally released a follow up to 2012’s Americana.

As Neil Young has gotten older, the artifice of his songwriting has fallen away. This leads unashamedly clunky to passages like this:

I was born in Ontario
I was born in Ontario, Ontario, Ontario, Ontario
(Guitar solo)

But it also means we get 25+ mins of Driftin Back, including the lines:

“Hey now now, hey now now
I used to dig Picasso
Then the big tech giant came along
And turned him into wallpaper”

Ok… that passage doesn’t quite prove my point.

But when this loose, unencumbered style works, it is brilliant.

The best of these songs play with lyrical and musical themes that come from the deepest instincts of a band that has been doing this for a lifetime. They are vital and alive, not afraid to experiment, to breathe, and the band is good enough to pull it off.

I want to walk like a giant.