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

In Good Time

Some good time is what you need to listen to this song because it’s a bit long (just over five and a half minutes, that is not pop music hit material!). And like many weeks, I wish I had more time to add some more instrumentation, especially for this song, because I think it would have made it more interesting listening.

Instead I turned to Rockwell Kent for some beautiful artwork to linger with as the song plays.

Not much I have to say about the writing process for this one, except maybe that I did enjoy the process as it unfolded, yup, in good time. I started early in the week with the musical idea, got a few lyrics going, but couldn’t get much traction in that first session. Let it brew in the back of my mind for a day, did some more writing, took a walk, added a bit, started a different song out of frustration, came back to this one, and eventually ended up with something I feel good about.

Emily Dickinson wrote “there’s a certain slant of light,” which I first heard in a Vigilantes of Love song called “Certain Slant of Light” (from which one of my favorite song lyrics of all time comes – “Tell me your deep, dark secret / Hey, and I will tell you mine / Oh, is that your deep, dark secret? / Oh well, never mind”).

So I owe part of this song to Emily Dickinson and Bill Mallonee. And part to all the birds who’ve been waking me at 4:30 in the morning with their sweet songs. And many more parts to many more lives. Everything’s connected.

Oh the truth we trade for money
Oh the lies we speak for love
Oh the happiness remembered
When the birds come back
There’s a lot to tell our children
and it costs us all we are
Oh we stutter and we stumble
We expand and crack

In good time, in good time
It comes out right somehow
In good time, in good time
It all comes true in the end
In good time

There’s a comfort comes in darkness
There’s a certain slant of light
There’s a patient tender sadness
That can bear no name
And you hold it like a baby
And you breathe it like a prayer
And you keep it like a practice
That transforms your pain

In good time . . .

You’ll know what you know
You’ll see what you see

In good time . . .

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

Don’t Go

I generated several song ideas this week and none of them would take. Then yesterday (Thursday) I sat at the piano and this one came out in one session.

There’s a lot of influences here. The most obvious – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The other things here are ruminations I’ve had from that news. Questions about when and how violence is justified. Fear about nuclear devastation. Jesus’s agony in Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. A hope and plea for renewed connections across the lines we’ve let divide us – and facing the important truth that we all have something to bring to the table, even as we are all part of the problem.

The title line, “don’t go,” is a call for us to be present for one another. There are so many ways we can check out, be distracted or busy, write people off, ignore the deep call of our own soul – and miss what really matters for much of our lives.

Who lets the madmen decide how the world turns around?
Who gives them permission to push big red buttons and blow up our home?
Now I’m sorry cause sometimes I keep to myself
The things that need speaking out loud

Couldn’t you be with me just for one last tortured night?
I need you to see me and help me believe there’s some sense in it all
Now I’m bleeding and nobody knows what to do
Oh can’t you just wait for one hour?

Don’t go
You’re the last light for someone tonight
Hold on
We are better when we come together

Who’s going to save us from what feels inevitable?
Why do we tell stories where everything comes out alright in the end?
Now I’m certain that nothing is written in stone
And you never know what’s to come

Don’t go . . .

I’ll keep on singing cause that’s what I know how to do
And I need you to be you and let your life speak what you know to be true
We’re all healers and heartbreakers in our own ways
Destroyers and makers of worlds

Don’t go . . .