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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Making scents of the journey

Another beautiful day in our passing window of paradise.  It is already mid-60’s on its way to mid-80’s (17-ish on its way to 28-ish). 

Driving west with the sun at my back, and at this hour of the morning, the sun dazzles the conifer tree branches in front of me, setting them glowing vivid green. It looks as if the photosynthesis taking place in each long needle glows through like fire from an ember. Flowers caught in this radiant wave of light beams have thier colors saturated and intensified. Drivers coming the opposite direction are also dazzled, many with hands up shielding their eyes from the sun's direct blast, which has erased most of the details and navigational landmarks in their path.

But pulling back for a moment: when I first back out of the garage and rolled back the canvas roof of the car the cabin instantly fills with the cloyingly sweet scent of the lilies in our front yard. I can't say I'm a fan; after a few minutes in the presence of a lily I just want to get away from their too-intense sweetness. 

Some mornings are memorable for the sounds I hear on my short commute, mostly birds. This morning was memorable for the scents.

A couple of blocks into my commute and the unmistakable, tangy, earthy smell of freshly spread peat thankfully overpowers any lingering lily.  I slip in behind an older truck and spent the next mile or so soaked in exhaust from an engine running rich and cigaret smoke wafting back into his slipstream.

At the next four-way stop he turns right so I go straight forward (my route affords many different side street paths to the same overall direction). I have only gone a short distance when the smell of cooking floats past.  It smells like a hearty fried breakfast hanging heavy in the air, though for all I know it may just be the left-over smell of a dinner cooked on an outdoor grill.

I pull onto the campus and take the service road past the golf course, athletic field, and greenhouses on my way to North Campus.  The smell of recently cut fairway grass mingles with the cherry tones of the deodorant cakes in the portable toilet there along that edge of the golf course.

Early morning sharpens scents just like it concentrates quiet, scents which quickly fade as the day warms up.

Don't want to be on no rooftop
Frying in the afternoon sun
Don't want to sit by no fountain
Listening to the man-made stream run
Just want to stand where the sea-spray
Gleams like fire with you
And I don't have to tell you why

    - Don't Have To Tell You Why, Bruce Cockburn

Today's full playlist:

  • Charlie Hunter Quintet: Whoop-Ass
  • The Kyle Asche Organ Trio: For Mike
  • Bruce Cockburn: Don't Have To Tell You Why
  • Fionn Regan: Noah (Ghost in a Sheet)
  • Rocco DeLuca & The Burden: Junky Valentine

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's not 85 Degrees here, but I hear it all the same

Thursday, my Friday this week, and it's still raining.  The forecast calls for clearing late tonight, though, and then promises at least one unbroken week of sun globes.  So it's all good for the garden and good for the id.

I'm half way into work, busy mulling over something I'd rather not be, when it dawns on me that there's no music playing.  Probably because the car's head unit (the radio-thingie in the middle of the dash) was turned off.  I turn it on, it seeks out and finds the iPhone, and my random music shuffle is off and playing.

Christine Lavin wraps things up as I pull into the campus parking lot and back into a stall. I first heard her singing her tune Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind from the (then) just-released album of the same name. That was in 1988 when I was still a banker in Ballard. The tune was catchy, the lyrics were funny, and her voice and guitar playing was unique. So I bought the album.  Well, cassette tape, actually.  It was 1988, after all. The songs on it range from today's pensive Miami Beach walk (85 Degrees) with it's bridge of:

Oh what a perfect setting
What a perfect sky
Oh a perfectly awful looking drifter
Is trying to catch my eye

To a duet of Downtown (yes, that one) with Livingston Taylor (yes, he sounds very much like his brother James), and on to a song that looks at a homeless woman and choruses, "She once was somebody's baby, someone bunced her on his knee..."

Good music and definitely worth checking out if you're not already familiar with Lavin.

Today's full playlist:

  • Eagles: Love Will keep Us Alive
  • Van Morrison: Retreat and View
  • Belle And Sebastian: Sukie in the Graveyard
  • Christine Lavin: 85 Degrees

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The good rain sways so gently

This is the good rain (with apologies to Timothy Egan), the one that stores itself up, teases for a day or two, almost comes then doesn't, then finally breaks loose like a pent up failure of admirable self control. This is a real rain, not spitting, misting, sprinkling, drizzling, or fitting any of the many other nuanced words we use to describe the various shades of rain we see here in the Pacific Northwest.

Most of us are relieved by it, and many of us will freely admit it.  Yes, we grumble when we go through long unbroken weeks of nothing but rain, and we certainly know how to take advantage of sunny days while they're here. Yet after a string of not-rainy days we also ease back into a rainy day as if it was a soft overstuffed chair at the end of a hard day.

First song out of the gate this morning:

Hottest summer in a hundred years
But summer didn't bother
Getting up this morning

I know that's taking the lyric it of context, but it did sort of fit the drive in through the heavy rains.  How about the second song up:

Money's just something you throw
Off the back of a train
Got a handful of lightening
A hat full of rain

Still a stretch.  No, I think the best lyric from today that can be aptly applied to this good rain and the feeling it evokes (even though these words have a totally different application in the song!) come from The Girl From Impanema:

When she walks, she’s like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gently
That when she passes, each one she passes goes, “Aaah…”

Aaah, indeed, this good rain.

Today's full playlist:

  • Travis: The Fear
  • Norah Jones: The Long Way Home
  • The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto: The Girl From Impanema
  • Pearl Django: Lady Be Good
  • Glen Campbell: Galveston

Thursday, July 17, 2014

All the songs I haven't heard

What a difference 24 hours can make. This morning it's only 59° (15° C) with low fog-like cloud cover and just enough wind to keep the trees jostling their limbs like the impatient foot tapping of people waiting at a crowded DMV office. Yesterday forecast a high in the upper 80’s for today, now the forecast calls for a high of 77° (25°C). Top down again this morning, but only because I'm like the dog who just wants his nose in the breeze when the car is in motion.

One of the tasks this blog serves is to capture the random playlists shuffled up from my music collection.  While that collection is a wide-ranging jumble of genres gathered over many years of musical fascination even these random shuffles of tunes bring only music I already know. So it's good to find ways to continue discovering new musicians and music.

That importance was reinforced to me just last night as Melissa and I pulled up Iris Dement's When My Morning Comes Around just to listen to it again after one of us referenced it in a conversation we were having. I have to thank our local independent public radio station (KSER 90.7 FM) for this "discovery" a number of years ago. Having been raised on a steady diet of Country & Western music growing up I confess that there isn't a lot of it in my own music collection, that particular itch having been well scratched before I reached adulthood. Had KSER not included her tune The Way I Should in their eclectic music stream that morning I probably would never have come across her.

Album Cover,
The first time I heard her voice, both simultaneously powerful and fragile, and the beautiful lyrics she weaves into her very compelling melodies I knew I had to hear more.  When My Morning Comes Around remains one of my favorite tunes by her or any other artist.  Garrison Keillor is quoted as saying of it, "I heard this sung at a memorial service and even people who didn't intend to cry, cried when they heard it."

The song starts out:

When my mornin' comes around, no one else will be there
so I won't have to worry about what I'm supposed to say
and I alone will know that I climbed that great big mountain 
andthat's all that will matter when my mornin' comes around 

When my mornin' comes around, I will look back on this valley
at these sidewalks and alleys where I lingered for so long
and this place where I now live will burn to ash and cinder
like some ghost I won't remember
When my mornin' comes around

You can listen to a solo acoustic live performance of the song here, but do try and listen to the recorded version (the album at iTunes: The Way I Should) because the additional instrumentation is very, very beautiful.

When I hear this song and think I might never have heard it had I not allowed myself to wander outside my normal listening experience I wonder what else I am missing.  All those songs I have never heard, all those musicians and lyric poets undiscovered (by me).  There is clearly much still to look forward to finding.

Today's Playlist:

 - Ron Adfif Trio: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
 - Perla Batalla: Famous Blue Raincoat
 - Sigur Rós: Samskeyti (Live)
 - Cake: Where Would I Be
 - Tingstad & Rumbel: Empire Builder
 - Fountains of Wayne: Killermont Street
 - Nils Krogh: All I Want

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Up the straw

Midweek, hump day, Mr. Maliable, Wednesday. The glass is half full and the glass is half empty, so pick your outlook as you please. I know this much for certain, though: the sun is up and glorious already this early morning, on its way to another toasty mid-eighties (29-ish C) day. Top rolled full back on the Fiat and the music down low so as not to cover up the morning birdsong. Birdsong is defined as, "The musical vocalizations of a bird or birds, typically uttered by a male songbird in characteristic bursts or phrases for territorial purposes." Such competative beauty, then, the pleasant sound of little (to us, perhaps) wars.

Bruce Cockburn popped up on the playlist today (not unheard of when you have almost all of his 35 albums in your collection) with Tibetan Side of Town.  Documenting a motorbike ride into a Tibetan town to go drinking with his hosts, it conjures up that place and time in beautiful detail. For example:

Big red Enfield Bullet lurches to a halt in the dust
Last blast of engine leaves a ringing in the ears
That fades into the rustle of bare feet and slapping sandals
And the baritone moan of long bronze trumpets
Muffled by monastery walls.

Prayer flags crack like whips in the breeze
Sending to the world - tonight the message blows east
Dark door opens to warm yellow room and there
Are these steaming jugs of hot millet beer
and I'm sucked into the scene like this liquor up 
This bamboo straw

That last bit is a poetic way to think about the inexorable flow of life and circumstance, to be "sucked into the scene," whatever that scene might be, like liquid up a straw.  Of course, we don't always get to control the scenes we pass through in life, but each consumes us, draws us in. Ready or not, here we come! 

I'm reminded of another lyric quote by Cockburn: If I loose my grip, will I take flight? Well then, let's see what destinations Wednesday has up its straw today.

Today's full playlist:

 - Dave Grusin: Pistolero (Milagro Beanfield War Soundtrack)

 - Matthew Perryman Jones: Beneath the Silver Moon

 - Brad Mehldau Trio: Dreamsville

 - John Denver/Placido Domingo: Perhapse Love

 - Bruce Cockburn: Tibetan Side of Town (Live)

 - P.T. Walkley: Audrey Macy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Version 4.0, which is more like version 2.0

Subtitle:  In which I talk to myself about this blog.

It's been just shy of five months since I last wrote and posted here, and it's time to reset things and start up again. But why the five month hiatus in the first place, I hear nobody asking. Actually, I do hear myself asking that question of myself.

My last post, from February of this year, gives one reason.  Life was as overflowing as my inbox.  I had slipped into a pattern of dog paddling, nose just above the waterline, through each day's needs and activities. One of my nose-out-of-water strategies was to come in to the office even earlier to get a head start on whatever had piled up in my inbox over night, or to use the relative morning quiet to actually get something done. There was no early morning quiet to use for writing, or rather, I was no longer carving that quiet time out for myself.

But that was only part of it. Partly, I have to admit it was because I was tired of what had become a near-daily obligation and felt that the blog had somewhat lost its way.

The first phase of this blog was way back in the early days of blogging and it was purely a chance to play with the tools and possible uses. The second phase started back in 2010 as a challenge to myself to blog every weekday morning, just for the sake of writing.  A short post-commute writing exercise in which I would, at a minimum, record the tunes that played during those brief six miles and occasionally link to lyrics or poetry that fit the mood of the morning.  Once in a while a topical post would happen when I was thinking about bigger issues. At most, reflection.

(Photo: a reflection, and a bad pun)

The third (unintended) phase was when I started taking the blog a tad too earnestly. The poetry was taking over (not that poetry is a bad thing!) as were the topical posts. At that point, it became a chore to find something to write each day that had enough meat to it to be "worthy" of posting.  I had allowed my simple daily writing exercise to morph into something that felt more like a published column, complete with deadline. At that point, between more pressing demands on my morning time (or misplaced priorities) and the increasingly obligatory feel to maintaining the blog I let it slide altogether. That was both a relief and a nagging loss.

So, version 4.0. I'm going back to the roots of version 2.0.  A near-daily post-commute record of what I listened to on my way in to work and whatever that stirs.  An occasional foray into the topical forest if the fancy strikes me, but only if. Writing, as before, only to an audience of one.

I have also wrangled my inbox and all it begets back under control, mostly. That creates the necessary space for this totally unnecessary exercise.

Today's commute playlist:

  • Nothing. Just my thoughts and the sounds of birds and early morning activity on this beautiful top-down morning.