Category: music

The moral, like the melody, is open to interpretation.

From The Essays of Leonard Michaels:

Leonard Michaels on Stories

“‘Whereof we cannot speak,’ says the great philosopher Wittgenstein, ‘we must be silent.’ But it is also true that, whereof we cannot speak, we dream, or tell stories.”

“Events become meaningful as they become — at some amazing turn — stories, just as notes become meaningful, retrospectively, in a melody. The moral, like the melody, is open to interpretation.”

Writing is cathartic, so it always comes out darker than how I’m actually feeling. It delivers me into the possibility of another story, another life. My next chapter. The storytelling helps me search for meaning within the history, within the otherwise sad events that hopefully lead to clarity and growth.

Over and over again, my anthem to get beyond all this:
By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time.

🎶  dooo bee doo, jams of the moment:

  • You’ll Lose a Good Thing – Denise LaSalle
  • Trapped By a Thing Called Love – Denise LaSalle (cheers, POTUS!)
  • In Your Arms – Chef’special
  • Jealous – Labrinth
  • Good Love Is On The Way – John Mayer Trio
  • Heartless – Kanye West
  • New Day – 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Alicia Keys
  • I’m Gonna Find Another You – John Mayer
  • Better – The Suffers
  • Say You Love Me – Jessie Ware
  • Let Me Down Easy – Max Frost
  • Valerie (BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge version) – Amy Winehouse
  • Send My Love (To Your New Lover) and like, anything else by Adele. Sorry not sorry.

#Hamilversary

(a.k.a. in which I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat as part of the attempt to get over you)

Say,
That would be enough.
Say you’d still want this:
us alive, right here, feeling lucky.

— Ada Limón

mountains and rivers to reach you

Headphones on, bus rumbling through rivers. Rain falling. “Should we climb mountains and cross rivers together?” I asked. “Of COURSE we should,” you responded.

So we did our best in the weather that was given to us. You promised me an adventure, and we sang so many songs along the way. We have arrived at the end of the trail, bursting from all the tough terrain and beauty that is now behind us. I come away from it, quietly delighting in the way we got so close to it all and yet managed to remain so far. “Just call it horizon, & you’ll never reach it.” I hold the topography of your landscape close inside me as I watch it grow smaller in the rearview mirror. “Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,” you send to me some final lines of poetry. I resolve to comply.

“Beep beep boop,” chirped my phone as it revived itself in the world of reception. “Beep beep boop,” I responded, trying to speak a language you’d understand.

***

After I walked to the edge of the world and back, the big all-terrain wheels of the bus shook me from side to side. The movement made everyone else nauseous — yet all I wanted to do was write about my feelings. “That’s probably a metaphor for your life,” my friend tells me solemnly after I recount my actions. “You should blog it.”

And it’s #Hamilversary today! So just for fun, in lieu of emo poetry, here’s our love story in too many parts, composed on a bus-and-plane ride, told only in lyrics excerpted and rearranged from a musical.

Read More

Esperanza Spalding, James Baldwin, and The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity

I was walking home listening to the amazing Esperanza Spalding on a recent episode of the Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! podcast (start at 20:00). She made double entendres about playing bass. She talked about how she started out playing the violin, and then tells us how she found her way to her one true love:

Esperanza: “When I saw that bass, I [knew] that’s what I wanted the whole time.”

P: “What drew you to playing the bass?”

Esperanza: “Nothing that I can recall. But the sound is tremendous, you know, it sits on your hip bone, and it vibrates your skeleton, and it’s like, kind of musically orgasmic. It’s incredible, I have to confess… It’s purely for self-interest of pleasure.”

P: “What’s crazy is… that’s the dirtiest thing anyone’s said on public radio and it’s all totally allowable.”

Esperanza: “I can start a hotline where people can call in and we talk about jazz…”

I found my way online and saw her recommendation to listen to James Baldwin’s The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity. The reading brought a lump to my throat. I couldn’t find the complete transcription online (outside of reading The Cross of Redemption available on Google Books), so for kicks, since I have to work hard to maintain my fast typing speed from the days of 10 simultaneous AOL chat windows and Mavis Beacon games, I typed out an excerpt that I found particularly compelling.

I really don’t like words like “artist” or “integrity” or “courage” or “nobility.” I have a kind of distrust for all of those words because I don’t really know what those words mean. Any more than I really know what such words such as “democracy” or “peace” or “peace-loving” or “warlike” or “integration” mean.

And yet, one is compelled to recognize that all these imprecise words are kind of attempts made by us all to get to something which is real and which lives behind the words. Whether I like it or not, for example, and no matter what I call myself, I suppose the only word for me when the chips are down is that I AM an artist.

There IS such a thing. There IS such a thing as integrity. Some people ARE noble. There IS such a thing as courage. The terrible thing is that all of these words, the reality behind these words, depend ultimately on what the human being, meaning every single one of us, believes to be real.

The terrible thing is that all these words, the reality behind them, depend on choices one has got to make forever and ever and ever, every day.

I am not interested really in talking to you as an artist.

It seems to me, that the artist’s struggle for his integrity is a kind of metaphor, must be considered as a metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily, of all human beings on the face of this terrifying globe to get to become human beings.

It is not your fault, it is not my fault, that I write. I would never come before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do.

What we might get at this evening, if we are lucky, if the mic doesn’t fail, if my voice holds out, if you ask me questions, is what the importance of this effort is.

It would seem to me that, however arrogant this may sound, I want to suggest two propositions.

The first one is, that the poets, by which I mean all artists, are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets. That’s my first proposition. We know about the Oedipus complex not because of Freud but because of a poet who lived in Greece thousands of years ago. And what he said then about what it was like to be alive is still true, in spite of the fact that now we can get to Greece in something like five hours and then it would have taken I don’t know how long a time.

The second proposition is really what I want to get at tonight. And it sounds mystical, I think, in a country like ours, and at a time like this when something awful is happening to a civilization, when it ceases to produce poets, and, what is even more crucial, when it ceases in any way whatever to believe in the report that only the poets can make. Conrad told us a long time ago (I think it was in “Victory,” but I might be wrong about that): “Woe to that man who does not put his trust in life.” Henry James said, “Live, live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.” And Shakespeare said — and this is what I take to be the truth about everybody’s life all of the time — “Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.” Art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion.

I highly recommend reading more about James Baldwin. Brain Pickings has some amazing highlights.

“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.”

“You’re playing the game according to somebody else’s rules, and you can’t win until you understand the rules and step out of that particular game, which is not, after all, worth playing.”

Ukeleles and Brass

I’m a sucker for men who play ukelele and blow on horns.

I mean, you know.

Getting ready to see one of my favorite bands this week, and letting the sound of brass wrap around me. Their brand new album just dropped on September 11th.

Beirut’s Tiny Desk Concert (via NPR)

Beirut’s Take Away Show (via La Blogothèque)
*I love Take Away Shows, but if you get bored while they are trying to find a venue to play, skip to the part when he starts playing ukelele. Seriously, though, who wouldn’t want to hear Zach Condon speak French? Or, the end when he plays a tiny duet, supposedly teaching someone. “Yeah, yeah. Just like that.  

Bonus fun one, because ukelele: twenty one pilots covering Can’t Help Falling In Love.

Now go outside and watch the super/blood moon. Happy Sunday!

On the great Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks received about 10,000 letters a year.

“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.

On observation:

“I am very tenacious, for better or worse,” he wrote in “A Leg to Stand On.” “If my attention is engaged, I cannot disengage it. This may be a great strength, or weakness. It makes me an investigator. It makes me an obsessional.”

“The thousand and one questions I asked as a child,” he wrote, “were seldom met by impatient or peremptory answers, but careful ones which enthralled me (though they were often above my head). I was encouraged from the start to interrogate, to investigate.”

On music:

“I haven’t heard of a human being who isn’t musical, or who doesn’t respond to music one way or another,” he told an audience at Columbia University in 2006. “I think we are an essentially, profoundly musical species. And I don’t know whether [language or music came first] — for all I know, language piggybacked on music.”

On writing:

Writing takes him to another place, Dr. Sacks says, “where I am totally absorbed and oblivious to distracting thoughts, worries, preoccupations, or indeed the passage of time.”
“In those rare, heavenly states of mind,” he goes on, “I may write nonstop until I can no longer see the paper. Only then do I realize that evening has come, and that I have been writing all day.”

That writing, which Dr. Sacks says gives him a pleasure “unlike any other,” has also been a gift to his readers — of erudition, sympathy and an abiding understanding of the joys, trials and consolations of the human condition.
Referring to Nietzsche’s claim that listening to Bizet had made him a better philosopher, Dr. Sacks said, “I think Mozart makes me a better neurologist.”

On final rest:

“And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

May you rest in peace on this seventh day of life.