Sunday, October 27, 2013

Autumn: When death and elegance walk hand in hand

Autumn is a season of great beauty, but it is also a season of decline: the days grow shorter, the light is suffused, and summer’s abundance decays towards winter’s death.  Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn?  It scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring—and scatters them with amazing abandon.

In my own experience of autumn, I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted.  Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die.  My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around.  I am drawn down by the prospect of death more then I am lifted by the hope of new life.

But as I explore autumn’s paradox of dying and seeding, I feel the power of the metaphor.  In the autumnal events of my own experience, I am easily fixated on surface appearances—on the decline of meaning, the decay of relationships, the death of work.  And yet if I look more deeply, I may see the myriad possibilities being planted to bear fruit in some season yet to come.

In retrospect, I can see in my own life what I could not see at the time—how the job I lost helped me find work I needed to do, how the “road closed” sign turned me toward terrain I needed to travel, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to discern meanings I needed to know.  On the surface, it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.

This hopeful notion that living is hidden within dying is surely enhanced by the visual glories of autumn.  What artist would ever have painted a season of dying with such a vivid palette if nature had not done it first? Does death posses a beauty that we—who fear death, who find it ugly and obscene—cannot see? How shall we understand autumn’s testimony that death and elegance go hand in hand?

For me, the words that come closest to answering those questions are the words of Thomas Merton: “There is in all visible things a hidden wholeness.”  In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites.  They are held together in the paradox of “hidden wholeness.”

Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life.  If I try to “make” a life that defies the diminishments of autumn, the life I end up with will be artificial, at best, and utterly colorless as well.  But when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole. 

Parker J. Palmer from the chapter “There Is a Season” within his book Let Your Life Speak (copyright 2000, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A little bit of everything about Dawes

Dave Bunker and I have always fed off of each other when it comes to new music.  For instance, a dozen years back, I introduced him to Neal Morse, and he returned the favor by letting me in on a then-obscure English trio called Muse. Back in the mid-90s I let him hear a cool little outfit known as The Waiting, and he showed me (and the rest of the world, because he signed them to their first deal) Sixpence None the Richer.  It is not odd for us to spend hours playing each other new music whenever we get together…and so it has been for three decades of friendship.

Last month, while in Chicago and driving to see guitarist Steve Hackett at a sold-out show at Arcada Theater, Dave pulled out a new CD by a band from the west coast called Dawes, entitled Stories Don’t End.  The music was a retro mish-mash of 70s era Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Eagles, Dire Straits, Graham Parsons, Neil Young, CSN, as well as a nod to some 60s artists like The Band, Buffalo Springfield, and CCR.  But it was drenched in its own melodies, savvy harmonies, emotive guitar work, and dynamic arrangements around the yearning vocals from primary songwriter Taylor Goldsmith.  But it was the lyrics that jumped out at me most.  Nearly every song had a gem or two in it, and some entire verses were like poetry.  It harkened to such wordmeisters as Mark Heard and David Wilcox.

I bought the CD the next day, and quickly discovered they had two previous releases, North Hills (2009) and Nothing Is Wrong  (2011).  They were then purchased post haste. I went on line and voraciously read everything I could about this San Fernando Valley quartet, and watched dozens of interviews and live performance clips.  It has been quite a while since I have been so enamored with a band in such a short period of time. In listening to the first two albums, I realized I had, indeed, been a bit familiar with a few of their earlier tunes while listening to some Adult Alternative format stations.  I also came to discover that they toured extensively opening for Mumford and Sons a few years ago, are good friends of Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons (who I am glad to say I have become acquaintances with in the past year), have appeared on most of the late night talk shows, and even headlined at the Ryman about 6 months ago.  How I have missed all this, I’ll never know…but I am so glad I have finally  found Dawes with Bunker’s help.  My hope is that if you aren’t a fan already, you will check them out soon, and be as inspired as I am.

Here are some snippets of Taylor Goldsmith’s writing genius.  There are also some links to some video clips at the end of this post.  Let me know what you think (and those of you already on board, please be kind to me for being such a doofus for not discovering them ‘til now)…..

Oh you can't throw something out there without watching it fall
Only thing that's scarier than dying is not dying at all
So when I have lost all my control
God will rest my soul

(“God Rest My Soul,” from North Hills)

And love is not convenient; it does not cease at your command
You might take and leave it, but love is all I am
Love is all I am.

And love is not excitement; it's not kissing, or holding hands
I'm not some assignment; no, love is all I am
Love is all I am.

(“Love Is All I Am,” from North Hills)

If all my lovers sing the big words
And all my brothers keep them small
Then I get lost in the difference, between their whisper and the echo of their call
So I am headed for the ocean
To let the sea-smoke guide me in
I'll give up my belongings and questions
They only ever taught me to begin

So if you want to get to know me
Follow my smile into its curves
All these lines are born in sorrows and in pleasures
And every man ends up with the face that he deserves

(“When You Call My Name,” from North Hills)

So I took what I wanted and put it out of my reach
I wanted to pay for my successes with all my defeats
And if heaven was all that was promised to me
Why don't I pray for death?

And now it seems like the unraveling has started too soon
Now I'm sleeping in hallways and I'm drinking perfume
And I'm speaking to mirrors and I'm howling at moons
While the worse and the worse it gets

Oh you can judge all the world on the sparkle that you think it lacks
Yes you can stare into the abyss, but it's staring right back

(“When My Time Comes,” from North Hills)

Take me out of the city
Where my shadow can roam
Let me breath in the morning
Let my way be my home

(Take Me out of the City, North Hills)

And our actor ends his love song
And all these lovers sit and stare
If I don't find peace in the valley
It's cause there wasn't any there

And as I drive on through these canyons
I'm still feeling like a crook
If I don't find peace in the valley
I've got no place else to look

(“Peace in the Valley,” from North Hills)

And in my constant quest for truth
I am condemned to facts alone
And though my dreams all lead me nowhere
I won't forget my way back home

From the corner of a coffee shop
Or from the center of a stage
From the words used in a love note
Or from an empty page

While I struggle with these beauties
And my renditions end up dry
I'm like a bird that crashes into the window
That was drawn to the reflection of the sky

And the more I try to speak
The more I lose that earthly tone
And before heaven proves me hopeless
I won't forget my way back home

(“My Way Back Home,” from Nothing Is Wrong)

You're still caught somewhere between the plans and the dreams
So that neither end up turning out right

And I myself look a few moments older
When I learned that love is not as simple as I thought
It starts to feel more real and the wounds all start to heal
Whether I want them to or not

(“Coming Back to a Man,” from Nothing Is Wrong)

This ones going out to you
If you ever start to slip
And you learn to read between these lines you've drawn

When what is wrong and what is right
Seem more like just the ocean and the ship
And the straight line that you've followed here is gone

(“Fire Away,” from Nothing Is Wrong)

An older man stands in a buffet line
He is smiling and holding out his plate
And the further he looks back into his timeline
That hard road always had led him to today
And making up for when his bright future had left him
Making up for the fact that his only son is gone
And letting everything out once, His server asks him
“Have you figured out yet, what it is you want?”

“I want a little bit of everything,
The biscuits and the beans,
Whatever helps me to forget about
The things that brought me to my knees
So pile on those mashed potatoes
And an extra chicken wing
I'm having a little bit of everything”

Somewhere a pretty girl is writing invitations,
To a wedding she has scheduled for the fall
Her man says,” Baby, can I make an observation?
You don't seem to be having any fun at all”
She said, “You just worry about your groomsmen and your shirt-size
And rest assured that this is making me feel good
I think that love is so much easier than you realize
If you can give yourself to someone
Then you should

Cause it’s a little bit of everything
The way you joke, the way you ache
It is waking up before you do
So I can watch you as you wake
So on the day in late September
It's not some stupid little ring
I'm giving a little bit of everything

Oh, it’s a little bit of everything
It's the matador and the bull
It's the suggested daily dosage
It is the red moon when it's full
All these psychics and these doctors
They're all right and they're all wrong
It's like trying to make out every word
When they should simply hum along
It's not some message written in the dark
Or some truth that no one's seen
It's a little bit of everything

(“A Little Bit of Everything,” from Nothing Is Wrong)

Just beneath the surface there's another one of me
At the root of all my trouble, in the twitch before I speak
With thoughts and revelations even I could not accept
So just beneath the surface is where he will stay kept

Between the thoughtless words and the wordless thoughts
Between my pointless fears and my fearless plots
Between the parts of me I keep from you and the things that I'm just not
The center keeps on drifting
The music never stops

(“Just Beneath the Surface,” from Stories Don’t End)

If that look in your eyes, as I slowly go through the evidence
Gives any insight into the void you can’t get filled
Then your heart is bigger than any I’ve come up against
And if nobody hasn’t loved you enough, I know now
Someone will.

Someone will, and maybe someday you’ll be listening
But I could be just as you need me up until
The kind of guy you say you’re looking for
Sounds like the kind of guy I want to be
But if you just want someone to hold you right now, then
Someone will

(“Someone Will,” from Stories Don’t End)

If she focuses her energies
On just walking through the neighborhood
With depths and shallows nobody could sound
Like January Christmas lights
Under billion year old stars
She comes up with more of what is lost than what is found

So by the time that she explains to me
Just a glimpse of what she's understood
She betrays the meaning putting it in words
So she smiles at me lovingly
And says, "Just let me hold your hand
So far it's the only way I can let myself be heard"

And she thinks
"Most people don't talk enough about how lucky they are
Most people don't know what it takes for me to get through the day
Most people don't talk enough about the love in their hearts"
But she doesn't know most people feel that same way

(“Most People,” from Stories Don’t End)

All my mornings start with the alarm clock
Every dream gets stopped before the end
And with each bit I remember
The more the details run together
And I'm left with a message I don't comprehend
I've lost contact with the great beyond again

The way that love attacks and then surrenders
The things I mean the most when I say her name
And if he ever speaks of me casually
I hope he does so carefully
'Cause when you've loved somebody, everything's to blame
And I don't want her to ever feel ashamed

So I feel like a man behind a camera
Who waits patiently for something he won't see
I need to stop giving suggestions
And just illuminate the questions
That seems much more accurate to me
To keep the frame as wide as it can be

'Cause all the love and friends and happiness that ever came my way
Revealed themselves the moment I stopped watching
'Cause it's not faith that comes from miracles
But miracles that come from faith
And I'm sure that they've got something in common
I know that they've got something in common

(“Something In Common,” from Stories Don’t End)

If our lives were a movie, if our lives were a book
It'd be longer than I could defend
'Cause if you're telling a story, at some point you stop
But stories don't end
Stories don't end

They go on and on…
Just someone stops listening

(“Stories Don’t End, “ from Stories Don’t End)

Now there's a loophole in the theory
That I cannot figure out
'Cause if love was what they said it would be
Then you'd be here with me now

It's a loneliness perfected
It's how to laugh when you should cry
The side effects of a broken promise
Become a way of getting by

So the next time that you see me
And our exchange feels somehow cheap
Know that I feel every word you're saying
But from just a few steps out of reach

(“Side Effects,” from Stories Don’t End)

When My Time Comes

A Little Bit of Everything

Peace in the Valley:

Something In Common

Most People