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Friday, January 6, 2012

Russia and back in a lyric-driven flash

Friday, dark but not wet. Warmish, balmy, by winter standards.  Friday is the popular dude, he brings the weekend in his wake. Normally swaggering and confident, this Friday feels less certain of himself. After a string of holidays and shortened weeks, does the weekend still bring the same strong positive reaction it normally does to the workaday crowd? Well, I'm sure glad it's here, if that counts.

Not that it has been a bad or especially difficult week, it hasn't. But it has been a week filled with things that took a great deal of concentration, which is draining in its own way. So a couple days largely unplugged sounds wonderful. Friday is still popular with me and I am glad to be a part of his in-crowd.

This morning's commute playlist was a perfect example of the raison d'être for this blog. An eclectic blend of tunes and styles that flowed from one tune to the next as if written to do so. I doff my cap to the little iPod algorithm DJ that conjures these random shuffles up for me.

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a big fan of Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn. So much of his prodigious body of work is as much poetry as it is music, if not more so. This morning's example is just that. The song is Lily of the Midnight Sky and the lyrics are wonderful:

Over the slow slide of continents
Over the salt pans pipelines masts and pavilions
Shimmering crescent moon recedes into working dawn --
Lone crow against pallid sky
Single plume of white smoke on yellow speckled plain
Yellowing leaves sparkle in cold breeze --
Wave patterns among wave patterns
Particles disperse and rejoin
Dissolve and reform like the lining of a womb
The cold of your absence blows from
The silent TV, the parking lot
The balcony with clothes waving good-bye/hello

In the rising day
You keep fading away
Don't I know that you're always around
I can reach you if I try
Lily of the midnight sky

Solders of sunrise -- shooting into a forest of flowers
Slow motion
Petals float into pink crimson white
Grow wings
Flutter into mountainous distance
Flutter like a stadium full of applauding hands
I raise a fist to the marauding sun that has hidden you away
I'm the rag in a bottle of gasoline
Longing to ignite
Ich will alles
All of you -- shining on the panther skin of night
Mirrored in a black lake in a night that glistens like blood on gold

Nobody else could be you
If only I could see you
I should be able to touch you somehow
I can reach you if I try
Lily of the midnight sky

While you look from on high
Spare a smile as I
Put on my dog mask and howl for you
I can reach you if I try
Lily of the midnight sky

I could pick many favorite lines from a poem/lyric like this, but this bit really strikes me (taking it out of stanza format): "Still, the cold of your absence blows from the silent TV, the parking lot, the balcony with clothes waving good-bye/hello." Can't you just feel that loneliness, see that blank TV screen, the parking lot at night, the empty balcony?

I takes me back to the Russian Far East where, by the second or third week of a work-related trip there, I felt as far away from home and family as I ever have. When I read that lyric I am back in a crooked Russian apartment, looking over a crumbling parking lot and seeing the drying laundry hanging out of the many windows and small balconies of hundreds of identical concrete apartments, and feeling a long way from home.  It is September, the weather has just changed and the first chill of the coming winter is now in the wind. A wind that carries a mix of smells that are not the smells of home. Smoke from huge forest fires to the north of the city, Russian and Korean cooking smells, the smell of decaying concrete, diesel and exhaust, and the herbal woodsy smell of the surrounding birch-centric woods (those that aren't burning).

Good writing, poetry, lyrics can take me places, bring me back to places. This is a good, though sometimes jarring, power.

The full playlist:
 - Bruce Cockburn: Lily of the Midnight Sky
 - Don Byron: Frasquita Serenade
 - Frank Sinatra: You Make Me Feel So Young
 - Fleet Foxes: White Winter Hymnal
 - Philip Aaberg: Prelude In F Minor (Bach)

Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The start of wind

Thursday, the great pretender, rolls around again. His pretense, that he almost brings the weekend with him, is less plausible in this holiday-shortened work week. That seems counterintuitive, shouldn't a short week make each day feel that much closer to the next weekend? But for some reason, this week, every day feels impossibly far from Saturday and crammed full of importance and insistence.

That is part of the first week of a campus quarter. Most folks have been gone, and now they aren't. Suddenly everything has the out-of-proportion importance of the last-minute. Everybody needs something, and most of it is more important than anything else could possibly be. This settles down by week three but for now, the pace of campus life is much like the winds that have been so insistently buffeting us these past several days.

The first three tracks from this morning's commute have bite. They have intensity about them.  Your Name Is Snake Anthony, from Medeski, Martin, and Wood's Uninvisible album, is one of those rare musical/poetic treats. Spare and rhythmic hip-hop-influenced jazz with a wonderful spoken poem/lyric:

Back in 19 and 92
We were good, man
We were traveling all over Finland, England, we went over to London, too
We were up and down the Hudson river
We were shedding a lot; we lived in our sheds

Go to church where the blinking light was
Park by the Olympic sized swimming pool
Snake Anthony knew Mr. William
Why, he could help you move your fine Chinese, if you needed them moved
He also helped us find the start of wind
What he really helped us find was,
To discover that we were the best

When Snake Anthony came out on the road with us
We went to the West of Highway 61, we didn't go to the East
You can go to the West-South, 
you can go to the East-North, no one ever does
They just want to go to Phoenix, to find the start of wind
If you go West of 61 you're going to have to have tone, 
you're going to have to have time, 
and you're going to have to have space
And uuuh-huh, Snake Anthony was not a small Japanese woman

When Snake Anthony came out on the road with us,
We knew we were the best, the very best
When Snake Anthony came out on the road with us

You can listen to/view a music video of the recording at:

Good stuff, though this week doesn't need to bring Snake Anthony out on the road with it to help us find the start of wind. It already has us in its full sweep.

The full playlist:
 - Pixies: Cecilia Ann
 - Wilco: At least that's what you said
 - Medeski, Martin, and Wood: Your Name Is Snake Anthony
 - Sara Bareilles: Love Song
 - Bruce Cockburn: Someone I Used To Love

Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Simply a new day

Tuesday, dark and damp.  Maybe it is mid-winter optimism, but I thought I detected a light orange glow to the morning sky on the drive in. The early signs of lengthening days? Lots of wind and driven rain again last night, several folks without power as a result. We were lucky, with only a momentary loss of power.  Just long enough to have to go around the house and reset everything with a digital clock.

Today is the first day of winter quarter on campus, so the campus will be buzzing with life, as it should be. A new quarter, a new year, old goals, new goals, the same clinging challenges (no respecters of calendar labels), and old resolutions made anew. These are the seasonings of the stew of this season. Spice covers the gaminess of the meat, goals lend purpose and focus to the depth of winter. Or do they?

May I recommend a poem for this new year? Fittingly titled, New Year's Day, by Kim Addonizo, this poem has a pace and imagery I  relate to. If you have ever crossed a winter-bogged field or cow pasture in boots early in the morning, this poem will resonate. It may be set in Virginia, but could just as easily be set here on any of the small dairy farms of the Pacific Northwest.  Like the poet (quoting only a fragment of the poem here; do follow the link above to read the whole!), 

Today I want   
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,   
and lift my face to it.

A momentary interruption in power is much easier to deal with than an extended power outage, even though both reset the clocks.  Sometimes a new year is most easily appreciated as a new day, followed by a new day, followed by a new day... 

The full playlist:
 - Sigur Rós: Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa
 - Frank Sinatra: I've Got You Under My Skin
 - Peter Doherty: A Little Death Around the Eyes
 - Sigur Rós: Mistur
 - Phil Keaggy: Overture (for guitar and orchestra)

Posted via Hermes.