I’m coming back to Austin for a brief week… and will be immersed in the craziness of SXSW/interactive. I’m bringing my guitar, though, and will be picking some choice spots to play music on the streets of the city where I was born. Look for me somewhere in city and say hello!
what is the news around you?
the news in the people’s faces,
the news in far off engine noises?
what is it that you need to know
to get the job done
of being human being
– cold hoo-ing of the wind through the metal frame
– splashing wish wash of water on the underside
– hard deep tones and vibrations of the engines’ roar
– piercing high notes of the lights
– the occasional shuffle of newspaper sheets as readers turn their pages
– a sniffle or two here and there
– the jingle of a suitcase metal latch
– low muffled harrumph of throat clearing
– hisses of esses of people talking softly
– one humble yawn absent of any urgency
– two dry coughs stopped from their fullness by a self conscious awareness
– sliding metal gates banging below as we pass through the currents of the channel
– overt, unaware coughing tailed by the guttural stop of something unhinged inside
– a tap of a metal coffee tumbler returned to the Formica table top
– two dry halfhearted coughs enough to suppress but not enough to liberate
I’ve been sitting a couple of days (a couple of months!) now with the songs I created for this year’s FAWM (February Album Writers Month). I’m really excited about this batch. They’re a bit raw right now and there’s lots to work out on the details of phrasing here & there… some lyrical edits and maybe some slight alterations to some of the structure… but, these are songs with some meat & heart to them.
In previous years tackling the FAWM challenge, I did great the first year, but the past few years have been miserable. I think I only created half a song last year. Turns out this year was different and after some procrastinating, I got the 14 songs in the last 2 weeks of the month. Here’s how I did it…
What a great year in indie music this year! It may be early, but some of my favorite albums of the decade got released this year. These are the songs that really stuck with me this year. My top 10 are in order but the “b-sides” are in their appropriate listen order. I created Spotify and Youtube playlists for your enjoyment, too.
The Top 10
Sturgill is the 2nd coming of Waylon Jennings and holding down the #1 spot for his brand of psychedelic country… filled out with an axman from Estonia no less! This song goes from country to Mars and back. He’s got a howl like no other.
It Ain’t All Flowers
Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Sharon has been at it for years, but broke away and produced her own album this year that is far and above her best, both in sound and in being packed with powerful, memorable songs. This one hits me every time.
Your Love is Killing Me
Sharon Van Etten, Are We There
The Flaming Lips took on Sgt. Pepper’s and did quite well… some good, some less and, well, this one I think they knocked out of the park. Thanks in part to a very subdued Miley Cyrus and a creepy Uncle Moby.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
The Flaming Lips, With a Little Help From My Fwends
I was stopped cold in my tracks hearing this song and had to hear it again 3 times in a row. I still haven’t tired of listening to it.
This Is My Hand
My Brightest Diamond, This Is My Hand
Thom’s at his anti-streaming best again. This whole album continues with his dark electonric beats with his angelic voice hovering above. In partiuclar, this song evokes something timeless and feels like it was sampled from something lasting years.
Thom Yorke, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Ok, I cheated on this one. It’s an old song, from an old album, but was re-released digitally this year and made available on streaming services. This is quite possibly my favorite song of all time. I hope to have many more years with Björk.
All Is Full of Love
Björk, Verspertine Live (re-issue)
I wish I could have laid on the floor and listened to Grouper write, rehearse and record these songs. Listen for the ambient sounds of the cabin where she recorded this one.
This is the best prog rock album I’ve heard in years. Wait, what? Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. Your ears could never finish unfolding the ornate layers of this song.
Never Catch Me
Flying Lotus, You’re Dead!
My only regret this year for live shows was having to sit down in the upper deck of the Fox Theatre for St Vincent’s show there. Even so, her tight songwriting, spare coreography and 4 bars of unbridled guitar goddess flourishes floored me.
St. Vincent, St. Vincent
Careful… don’t listen to this album on a gray day when you’re sad.
Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes
Sun Kil Moon, Benji
Another cheat… an old song but released on a live compilation of Antony’s shows from the previous year. This is one of my favorite songs from the beautiful voice of hers.
For Today I Am a Boy – Live
Antony & The Johnsons, Turning (live)
What a cruel world it is… to be given an album that won’t stop smoldering even weeks after trying not to listen. This song is the perfect combo of guitar and voice.
Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
The Father has slowly grown on me. Every time I hear him, I like him even more. He released this song as a single late in the year and it’s a perfect satirical look at the sad state of popular culture in America right now.
Bored In The USA
Father John Misty, (single)
This album shines with precise songwriting. The title track is simple and evocative. His voice, I hope, will last for years.
Perfume Genius, Too Bright
A young singer/songwriter besides Taylor Swift can still make it these days. These songs are heartbreaking and beautiful in their simplicity.
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
I love the goofy smile on this guy. His songs aren’t bad either.
Chamber of Reflection
Mac Demarco, Salad Days
My last cheat. Yoko Ono at 80+ is still rocking it and making amazing music with her completely underrated band. This is Yoko at her best with her stop and start screeches and vocalizations.
Waiting For The D Train
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, Between My Head And The Sky
My heart skipped a beat when I heard the band got back together. And, seriously, they picked up right where they left off with hard rocking music that only the three of them can make.
My favorite punk band of the year with this song that has a long ambient tape loop at the end that gives you the space to recover from what they just did to your soul.
Advance Upon the Real
Perfect Pussy, Say Yes To Love
The Savages seem to be destined for greatness. This is a live recording of an avant-garde show they did with a killer Japanese punk band. This entire thing (20+ minutes) tells an incredible story with an amazing collaboration. Wow. Wow.
Words To The Blind
Savages / Bo Ningen, Words To The Blind
I am starting a really fun project, one that I have been wanting to do for a long time… But only recently realized that what I had been looking for was something I should be doing myself!
I am beginning with a podcast on the Creative Process. It will be a mix of interviews, stories, anecdotes, updates from practicing artists, reports from people living lives of discovery. To me, the creative process is more than just about creating art. It is something fundamental to life… the heart of why any of us get out of bed in the morning. Those moments where we seem momentarily lost, but in some seemingly magical moment find ourselves on the other side of it all with something more than we began with.
The creative process touches every part of our lives. You could argue that it is life itself… with our own cells birthing and dying every day, our hopes and dreams growing and fading, the entire scope of our lives defined by these brief moments of choice.
When anything is possible in any given moment, what makes us choose one act over another? When there are many directions to choose from, what leads us down one path instead of the others? Who could we be if we were in tune with our gloriously creative intuitions?
These are some of the questions I will be asking. And, as much as I know about the creative process, I know that one answer that works in one moment is only the springboard to the next moment and the next question and the delicious process of finding new answers amid the apparent chaos.
So, as we put pen to paper, foot to dance floor, hand to lover’s hand, eyes to horizon, bow to string, milestone to project plan… I want to reach out and here how others experience the creative process in their lives. This is more than just art: it’s relationships, it’s business, it’s play. How do *you* live a creative life?
What I’m asking for… first off, I want to talk to the artists out there. I have a few of you in mind already and I will reach out to you directly to see when we can schedule a casual discussion.
I am figuring out the format for the show right now… probably a 30-minute audio podcast at first to keep it simple. I want to have one long-form discussion with a couple of short pieces interspersed within it. Nothing too fancy until I get my footing here and figure out how this might grow into something bigger.
Let me know if you’re interested in being a part of this in any way. We can meet in person or over audio/video call, it doesn’t matter. I have the equipment to make good recordings and will do the editing on my side to fit it within the timeframe I’ve defined.
So, I look forward to chatting with you if you’re up for it!
Life is complex. It’s multi-layered, both dark and bright in all its facets. As time (seems to) move forward, our tendency as humans is to form a narrative to make sense and meaning about why things happen from one day to the next and to justify our own actions in the world.
These narratives come from many places: the media, organized religion, works of art (books, music, fine arts), networks of friends and colleagues, our own reflections. With social media here to stay, it’s as if every variation of the “how and why” is competing for space in our thoughts.
When a significant event like 9/11 manifests, the powers that influence and control the larger narratives fight for the “one true meaning” that will shape public policy, the frames that the mainstream media position themselves within and the overriding conversations that we, the people, have in our daily lives.
9/11 brought put the big guns, so to speak, of the narrative creators. In the emotionally potent weeks afterwards, we created the AUMF (authorization to use military force) that led to so many things: from Guantanamo to torture to drone assassination strikes to arming rebels in several countries to a huge surplus of military equipment filtering down to local law.
I believe it’s important to question everything, especially the assumptions in any narrative, lest we move through the world on autopilot, becoming drones ourselves to the stories forced upon us from people we’ve never met. We all have our own story… and many stories we tell ourselves, imagining we can keep our sense of self together and coherent.
Today is a good day to reflect on what your own story is… who you are in this world, why you’re here and exactly where all these stories have come from. Don’t doubt for a minute that you are your own best arbiter of your own definition. Keep it fluid, keep it close to your heart. Who else knows you better than you… the one who has walked more miles in your own shoes than anyone else?
Make your own stories. Don’t live anyone else’s. And know when to end a story and pick up a new one. Stories have a tricky way of wanting to hang around too long through nostalgia and recurring memories triggered through traumas big and small.
Hold someone you love today. Close your eyes. Feel their heartbeat, the rise and fall of their breath, the warmth in their skin. Forget everything in that moment and just be with the glory of life itself. See how long that moment can last and when you part, stay connected with that deeper source you just touched and make a new life from that silence… stay amazed at the stories that start to emerge, pick one and play with it, have fun, be courageous and smile a big smile of welcoming home to the next stranger you meet. Life is strange and delightful. You can be, too!