Summer ’22

Here’s a song exploring the balance of individual freedom with community responsibility. The first lines came to me soon after I heard the news that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. They might just as easily have come from the mouth of an anti-masker a couple years ago. The next lines are a reminder that I have changed my opinion multiple times in my life and I’m likely to do it again – so I’m learning to hold less militantly to any position, and trying to pay closer attention and care to the people around me.

The prompt for this week 31 of #songaweek2022 was “armed and dangerous,” which brought to my mind the awful number of gun fatalities we’ve had right here in my city just this summer, not to mention the wider world.

The first lines of the little bridge at the end (“the rains come down and the floods go up”) came from a song I learned in Sunday School many years ago – about the wise man who built his house on a rock and the foolish one who built his house on the sand (thus the “sands of time” line for my further allusionary pleasure). I’m thinking here about actual flooding and wildfires, resulting from our foolish refusal to build sustainable systems that acknowledge our limits and our need to care for ourselves and our planet.

More than ever, I’m convinced that the way forward is the way of love – not blind sentiment but thoughtful, engaging, respectful and compassionate care for whoever I find myself facing, physically or virtually or however else, at the present moment.

Here’s something I read this week that I immediately cut and pasted in my notes, said by Valarie Kaur – “Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants them humanity—and preserves our own.”

I would probably do what they want me to
But since they took away my right to choose
I feel uneasy

So many things I used to rail against
Now they kind of make some sense
I take it easy

Think for yourself but please don’t stop there
Think about everybody else

I’ve been trying hard to hear the truth
But with all these voices shouting the news
It isn’t easy

And the heat sets in and the tempers rise
And the guns come out and somebody dies
It’s far too easy

Think for yourself but please don’t stop there
Think about everybody else

And the rains come down and the floods go up
As we race against the sands of time
And the fires burn and the tanks roll in
And the wide world weeps and the hearts of humans break

Think for yourself but please don’t stop there
Think about everybody else

Hold On Let Go

Last week, after the mass shooting in Buffalo and before the one in Uvalde, my (Lutheran) church confirmed three teenagers including my daughter. A foundational part of Lutheran theology, our pastor said that day, is that we are all “simultaneously saint and sinner.” At the end of the liturgy, we stood and responded together:

Do you renounce the devil and all forces that defy God? We renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? We renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? We renounce them.

Our pastor reminded us of these words again after Uvalde. I had a different song started this week but in the dreadful light of these events and with this faith to guide me, this is the one I needed to write.

When you can’t pretend that all is well
but you can’t believe that it’s all wrong
Hold on
Hold on

When you can’t believe humanity
But you can’t pretend you’re innocent
Let go
Let go

We renounce the evil in the heart of us
We believe the healing comes from all of us
Hold on
Let go

When we have no words for what we’ve done
But we understand intimately
Let go
Let go

When we feel the night is all there is
But we know the dawn always comes
Hold on
Hold on

We renounce the evil in the heart of us
We believe the healing comes from all of us
Hold on
Let go

When I Was Generous

That’s the title of this song because that was the line it was built around. I liked the inner rhyme of it, which I used as a form factor for the three lyrically different choruses.

I’ve been chipping away at writing this one for several weeks, and this week, Week 17 of #songaweek2022, the prompt of “couldn’t if I tried” actually helped me to finish the song.

Must give credit to H.G. Wells for the last verse. I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted this same passage of his novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through previously in this blog, and I know I included similar lines in another song I wrote. It’s just good! And feels especially timely right now. Wells was writing about World War I (“the war to end all wars”), and here we are a century later hearing “World War Three” tossed around on the news.

“War is a curtain of dense black fabric across all the hopes and kindliness of mankind. Yet always it has let through some gleams of light, and now—I am not dreaming—it grows threadbare, and here and there and at a thousand points the light is breaking through. . . “

H.G. Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through

The whole world’s gone mad like it always was
Like it means to be forever
It’s the way we roll
Through the cosmic night
Oh we spin and we spin all day

When I was generous
I could believe we could help each other out of disgrace
Since I got cynical
I can’t even see your hand in front of my face

Let’s lay off the news for a little while
I don’t need to know the latest
Leave me in the dark
Underneath this rock
Let me just catch my breath today

When I was envious
I couldn’t see all the beauty right in front of my eyes
Now that I’m out of time
I find I believe we all can shine in the same sky

Come stand with me under the canopy
Of a thousand points of light
Breaking through the dark
Of the threadbare night
Till it’s bright with the newborn day

It wouldn’t be good for me
And I couldn’t if I tried to keep my life all to myself
So spill it out willingly
Flowers will grow up from the dirt where it fell

Nothing’s Wrong

I got through COVID and then was back on the couch this week with a stomach bug. So even thinking about songwriting had to wait until about last night (Thursday). I turned to a song idea from a previous week that I hadn’t finished.

This song had been insisting on its lyrical hook being “nothing’s wrong,” and I wasn’t convinced, which is why I didn’t use it the week I came up with it. Now this week I felt that continued insistence, and with enough other scrappy ideas worked in, it felt like it wanted to be called good.

One of those ideas was inspired by this quote:

But like you say, sticks and stones will break your bones, but words aren’t going to hurt. But they do stick to your head,” [Frank] Cruz said.

It was from an article where Cruz was talking about growing up Mexican in St. Paul’s west side neighborhood. I loved the concept that words don’t hurt but they stick to your head. I tried to work it in lyrically to this song – either “stick to” or “stick in” or “stick inside” your/my head. But I didn’t end up using this variation on the cliche at all. Still, it was reading that article – and copying down the quote – that led me to use the “sticks and stones” cliche in the song.

Overall, I know there’s something here about passive-agressiveness. And/or Minnesota niceness. Not necessarily based on personal experience, although I’ve experienced it – and given it out.

And there’s that wall we sometimes put up when we don’t want to talk about it, whatever it is – “nothing’s wrong,” we say. And also there’s gaslighting. And “don’t be so sensitive.”

And then the complete disconnect I often feel these days, in my comfortable, not-bombed-out, not-running-for-my-life existence, as the news is filled with the latest horrors in Ukraine. I feel like I’m living like nothing’s wrong.

I don’t want to sing this song
Hey nothing’s wrong
You don’t have to sing along
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Sticks and stones
May break my bones

Stop me if you’ve heard this one
Hey nothing’s wrong
We were just having fun
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Words will never
Hurt me

Nothing’s wrong
Nothing’s wrong
Nothing’s wrong

Everybody step in line
Hey nothing’s wrong
Everything is just so fine
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Two Lost

This is one of those songs I don’t feel like saying too much about. It’s shaded with some personal experience but I was also thinking (feeling?) about lots of other things including but not limited to face slaps, cancel culture, love and war.

And if I told you all
What kindness could you offer me
Who caused you pain, me
Who you have reason to blame?

I’ve fallen far from grace
Misspoken, made mistakes that you
Can not forget, you
Have never wanted to yet

Try as I might I cannot
Make it right without you
And your heart in the game
Cause it takes two to win
And right now we’re just two lost

We’ve both been hiding from
The truth we can’t face up to here
Where we’re so scared, here
Where life’s pathetically fair

I’m thinking if I go
You might just think it over then
When I’m gone, then
When you’re old and alone

Try as I might I cannot
Make it right without you
And your heart in the game
Cause it takes two to win
And right now we’re just two lost

What if we start again
Who says we can’t imagine more
Than what we had, more
Than in and out, good and bad

Try as I might I cannot
Make it right without you
And your heart in the game
Cause it takes two to win
And right now we’re just two lost