CoL@home

Yesterday my folk pop duo-sometimes-trio (aka family band) Cabin of Love released a new 7-song EP, CoL@home. It’s made up of songs I’ve written from 2016 to 2020 for www.songaweek.org. Three of them were written and recorded just this year, while we’ve been mostly staying home. The first track, “Slowly Exploding,” was specifically written about living in this new pandemic reality; and you can see us performing it in an upcoming TPT show set to air in September, featuring several artists and work they’ve made during this time of COVID-19.

So, without further ado, the album!

New Songs, Autumn, Fires

First snow this morning. Just a dusting, on the first of November. I turned 44 last week. And there are three people I’m holding in prayer right now – something I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever say again only a few years ago.

Also I started doing #songaweek2019 in September, and have skipped one week since then – a radical departure from the all-or-nothing way I previously approached it.

In other words, change. Impermanence. Flow. Autumn. I noticed the light is lower in my kitchen this week. I raked a million leaves yesterday. I have little brown spots creeping into the backs of my hands, new wrinkles on my neck.

The song I wrote this week was partially inspired by the California wildfires, and then I read this article today and felt it could have almost inspired the song if time moved differently. Plus it references one of my all-time favorite reading experiences, The Tale of Genji:

We cherish things, Japan has always known, precisely because they cannot last; it’s their frailty that adds sweetness to their beauty. In the central literary text of the land, The Tale of Genji, the word for “impermanence” is used more than a thousand times, and bright, amorous Prince Genji is said to be “a handsomer man in sorrow than in happiness.” Beauty, the foremost Jungian in Japan has observed, “is completed only if we accept the fact of death.” Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold on to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth.

Here’s where I’ve been posting new songs recently – https://soundcloud.com/julia-tindall-bloom/tracks. And here I’ll feature one of them, also about impermanence:

 

Living (Catch My Breath)

It’s a bit hard to believe, but here I am posting the very last week’s song for #songaweek2018. Week 52’s suggested theme was “forest” and I did find a way to use it.

I stole a morning from a busy Christmas week schedule (played hooky from two of our numerous extended family events) and wrote this song, which was obviously influenced by the intense week of socializing!

Happy new year to all, and to all a quiet night 😉

I can’t see anything
Not the forest or the trees
just trying to catch my breath
And let it go again
You can’t say anything
That could make me lose my nerve
I’m just going to catch my breath
And let it go again

I’m living
I’m living
I’m living here

False starts and broken hearts
Somehow keep true love alive
You’ve just got to catch your breath
And let it go again

I’m living . . . now

Halfway to the end
think I’ll start again

Now I see everything
All the forest all the trees
just when I catch my breath
I let it go again
You can say anything
still won’t make me lose my nerve
I know how to catch my breath
And let it go again

I’m living . . . here

Each day brings songs to sing
hands to hold and roads to run
Just let me catch my breath
And let it go again

I’m living . . . now

Ride That Chariot of Fire

Oh this was another hard week for songwriting. Getting a moment to myself, and getting that moment to align with a moment of inspiration, just didn’t really happen this week. I like the first line, I think the chorus has something I can work more with, but other than that, this was an exercise in getting things done. I wrote and recorded and submitted my 48th consecutive weekly song for #songaweek2018, and I’m content with that.

Where have the years gone honey, did you hide them in your heart?
Come here, let’s just see what we remember starting from the start
Lake breezes, apple blossoms and happy holidays
Summer nights and winter morning blankets holding in the blaze 

Take each chance, children, that calls you to fly higher
Seize each moment, ride that chariot of fire

Blue skies were never promised us but they keep showing up
Life may be full or empty but we’re never left without a cup
Once we tossed those rose-colored glasses we began to see the light
And all that we’d been missing from the deeper beauty of the night

So many miles we’ve gone, so many roads left to explore
So many songs we’ve sung, and waiting in the wings, so many more

Let the Mystery Be

Last week (week 46 of #songaweek2018) was a disorienting blur for me. My laptop – which has become a sort of exterior brain that I depend on daily – needed repair and was out for most of the week. My main guitar wouldn’t hold tune very well so I dropped it off for some badly-needed routine maintenance. These are the two solitary items I’ve actually named when asked, “what would you grab and run with if your house started on fire?”

But I still had my classical guitar and a pen and notebook, and a few hours one day to write a song. It came together pretty quickly. Not one of my favorites of the year, but I felt pretty good at the end of my writing session.

Then the next day I was rehearsing the song and my son yelled from the other room, “Mom! You’re stealing another song!” He sang back to me the exact melody and rhythm I was singing for my first two lines. They were identical to Carly Rae Jepsen’s first two lines of “Call Me Maybe.”

I already had a sense that parts of the chorus were derivative of other songs, and knew that overall, the chords and rhythm were very simple and stock. I debated whether to change the melody of those particular lines, and decided that yes, even if legally I didn’t have an issue, artistically I did. Especially when I sang the song for my daughter later (who wasn’t around when my son made his observation), and she identified the same song with no hesitation when I asked, “does this remind you of another song?”

Ugh. I’m not happy with any alternative I tried for those two lines of melody, including what I sang for the recording. Good work, Carly Rae. That’s a catchy tune you came up with.

The lyrics are about those ineffable experiences we’ve all had – dreams, visions, moments of insight – that can’t be put into words, and that call us forward into the future, outward from our comfortable existence, onward to the next and the new.

Saturday I had both my laptop and guitar back, and employed them together to make this video.

I had a dream in the dark
It made a beautiful mark
In that moment between sleep and waking
But if I try to explain
It’d come out mangled and maimed
All of the treasure consumed in the taking
Shook in the shaking out

Let it live in peace
Let it live in me
Let the silence breathe
Let the mystery be
For another day

There’s things you’ve seen and heard
Can’t ever put into words
But when you’ve talked it all through they keep speaking
There’s music nobody wrote
More than the sum of its notes
The heart of every atom is beating
Faithfully keeping time

Set the music free
To sing in you and me
Let the silence breathe
Let the mystery be
For another day

Some things I’ll take to my grave
But that is not where they’ll stay
They’ll sprout and grow
and blossom and bloom
and wither and fade away

And scatter their seeds
Beyond you and me
Who in the silence breathe
Let the mystery be
For another day

Normal

I’ll be 43 this week. And still, I’m writing songs like this one, processing my childhood and the life that grew from it.

We are all shaped by histories we had little to no control over. Our agency grew as we did. Looking back at my history, some things seem especially strange now that felt completely normal then, as that was the only reality I knew in my short life span.

But of course I’m not unique in this. It’s a human thing.

There are several facets to the idea of “normal” in this song. There’s what I mentioned already – that what feels normal when you’re born into it can look anything but normal in retrospect.

Another facet for me, because of my particular history, is that I’ve struggled with feeling like a normal person much of my life – in two very different ways. First, when I was growing up inside fundamentalism, I learned that we the faithful were the chosen ones. We were “a peculiar people” and that wasn’t supposed to sound funny – because it was in the Bible, King James Version, which was the most highly regarded and the one I grew up with.

(We also believed that everyone outside our construct was destined to eternal damnation, burning forever in a literal hell. Sometimes I wonder if the “chosen people” idea was a way to help us cope with the horror of this belief. If you are constantly reminded that your “unsaved” family, friends, neighbors, grocery cashier, letter carrier, etc., etc., are doomed to that kind of suffering unless you can somehow convince them to join your club – I mean church – it might help to imagine them as somehow a lesser being than you are. Maybe they won’t feel the pain like you would. In this case I wouldn’t exactly call our outlook on “the unsaved” dehumanization because I think we were imagining ourselves as slightly above genuine humanity. We were “reborn,” “converted” – humanity plus. But it probably had a similar effect on our outlook.)

So that was one side of my struggle with feeling normal, the one I lived with while growing up in that environment.

The other side has been in the years since, exiting from fundamentalism, and feeling like an outsider trying to learn a new culture. For a long time I didn’t feel legitimate, because I had missed out on so many of the experiences that were common to my generation’s growing-up years. I don’t have memories associated with the music and movies of my generation, because I wasn’t allowed to listen to that music or go to theaters. I was married before I was even offered my first drink. The wildest oats I sowed was an all-[cis, straight] girls strip-and-run through the woods in my college years. Once. I think we might have howled at the moon for extra tension release.

Deeper than that, I just didn’t learn the everyday street-smarts that many people get growing up in a less sheltered environment. I was naive, shy, fearful. All those years of working hard to keep a long list of rules had ill-prepared me to live in a world where the rules weren’t always so clear, if they existed at all. I went into every situtation wanting to know what was expected of me, what I needed to do to make people like me, and I couldn’t always figure it out.

Only in very recent years have I learned that in most situations, there just isn’t a list of expectations for me to check off. There’s nobody standing by with a clipboard grading me. I don’t have to perform in order to be deemed a real live human being. I just am. And so is everyone else. I’m nothing special, and I’m the only me there ever was or will be. And the same goes for you.

That’s what I mean by normal, at least as I was writing this, my song for week 42 of #songaweek2018: (Wow, only ten weeks left!) The suggested theme was “socks,” so I stuck in some socks for good measure.

I used to live in Indiana
In a trailer park on the edge of town
There was a field where we ran and played
And I liked to pick Queen Anne’s Lace

It was normal, all so normal
Like shoes and socks, baby dolls and blocks
And black and white TV

I used to pledge allegiance to the Bible
And the flags of my faith and country
Every morning at the Christian school
Where they gave us all the answers

It was normal, all so normal
I was good as gold, did what I was told
And I won a lot of trophies

That was a long time ago
I still don’t know what I don’t know

I’ve moved a dozen times since then
Geographically, theologically
I own a single-family detached dwelling
And I took my trophies to the thrift store

This is normal, all so normal
I’m a bona fide, genuine
I have always been and I will always be
like every one of you looking back at me,
An honest-to-God human being.

Hold Out For Love

“Regret” was the suggested theme for week 41 of #songaweek2018. I took it as a prompt instead of a theme this time. Possibly the thing that makes us best as humans is also what can bring us to our lowest point, and that is our need to love and be loved. But Bertrand Russell said “love is wise” (yes I did just mention this a few weeks ago – guess it’s worth repeating), and I agree. Although much of what we call love is not actually love, in our deepest and truest reaching out to one another, love does bring us wisdom. And so regret never comes from actual love. Pain, heartbreak, grief, yes, but not regret.

My mother has been preparing for a few years now to say goodbye to her mother Thelma, who we have been slowly losing to Alzheimer’s, and it’s looking like the final goodbye isn’t far away now. She’s my last living grandparent, and has always shown a special interest in my songwriting. Even as she began having trouble remembering people, when I would make my yearly trek across the country to see her, one of her first questions to me was inevitably, “are you still singing and writing?” The last time we were together she didn’t remember me, but she did sing with me, Amazing Grace.

This year I celebrated twenty years of marriage to Nathan. Anyone who’s been married this long (okay, anyone who’s been in a relationship with another human being for more than five minutes) will tell you it’s not all smooth sailing. I’ve learned over these years that there are inevitable valleys, where one of us will feel the need to approach the other and ask, “are you still with me?” Not because of any major issue, just a long gradual slide into autopilot I guess. And so even within long-term relationships, we hold out for love, and once in a while we lock on to it, and those times are worth the holding-out times.

This is some of the landscape in my head as I was writing this song. I had extra time to work on the recording, and decided to do a photo collage for the video. I included photos of each of my grandparents, cute kids and animals, and romantic love too.

Nobody has to tell us, we already know
The road to the heart of another is hard
Nobody has to show us, we just have to go
And come back alone and wiser

All of our lives we hold out for love
Hold out for someone to hold on to
And once in a while we lock on to love
Hold on to someone who holds us too

Nobody stays forever, as everybody knows
The music we make with another must end
Nobody can prepare us to let a love song go
And come back alone and wiser

Nobody knows the reasons why everybody hurts
we wake in the darkness and can’t feel the light
nobody needs convincing that loneliness is worse
Than coming back alone and wiser

So She Sang

I got a piano! And this is the first song I wrote on it. I started with the first line and just tried to follow it through without too much analyzing. As I moved into the third verse (“she got lost to find her way”), I began to think about my grandmother who for the past few years has been living with increasing dementia. The song isn’t specifically about her, but in retrospect I think she’s there throughout. (Here’s a song I wrote for her 80th birthday if you’d like to see and learn a little more about her.)

Here’s my song for week 37 of #songaweek2018:

So she sang to hear the tune
She waited all morning for afternoon
And now the evening is drawing soon
All in the twinkling of an eye

We are birds that none can tame
Wild-haired children lost in our game
Moths drawn to circle eternal flames
All for a moment in the sun

We turn on an axis of wishes and prayers
While we hope against hope for the best
We dance till we can’t keep our feet on the ground
Till we float like a very last breath

She got lost to find her way
Abandoned the order of yesterday
And left her memories as they lay
All in a jumble in her mind

Oh the wind is in the trees
She cradles their seedlings upon her breeze
And where she lays them there they will be
All in the dark before the dawn

Verdict

If week 34 of #songaweek2018 hadn’t been during summer vacation, I would probably have taken the time to multi-track this song. Would have loved to get some juicy vocal layers in there, but instead I contented myself with wailing through a live take. It was enough, and left time to play games and go to the lake with my kids while we soak up these last days before school starts again.

The suggested theme was “verdict,” so that’s the title. Because the song is sort of about, “what’s the ultimate thing we have to say about everything?” Or if you prefer, “what’s it all about?” Or “where’s it all headed?” For a serious-minded person who spends a serious amount of time contemplating death and the cosmos, I have this inimitable weed-like hope. It’s a weed like some sort of wildflower, dying back and disappearing for months at a time, but then inevitably springing up again, even bursting into colorful flower when the season is right.

Autumn is coming, and I know my mood will deepen and darken along with the days. But hope, like all living things, needs to sleep now and then, and I’ll hold on and stand guard while she’s out cold.

And if I spend the end just running from the dark
And if I keep my deepest love choked in my heart
Why do the stars still shine at night?

And if I hold my cold desire like a curse
And shun the sunlight from my meager universe
What is this breath that fills my hungry lungs
This song that rises from my thirsty tongue?
Aah . . .

And when it all is bound to fall like dying leaves
And bonds we make are sure to break like brittle trees
Why do the seeds keep taking root?

And if these years will end in tears and certain loss
and when I keep the faith it leads me to a cross
What is this hope that grows inside my bones
This love that stretches out to the unknown?
Aah . . .

There is a siren in my mind compelling me
It’s like a word that I once heard –
before I learned to speak
Aah . . .

The Demented Ice Cream Truck

So it all started when my husband Nathan put on an album our daughter Luthien made when she was maybe seven, with her band “Luthien and the Awesome Band.” While now-teenager Luthien groaned with embarrassment, we her proud parents reminded her she was only seven and this was a very fun glimpse into the beginnings of her creative life (check out this song she wrote and performed entirely by herself last week!).

When the album was over, my younger child Silas said, “hey Mom, let’s start a band! I’ll sing and you can write songs for me to sing.” Realizing this could dovetail nicely with my #songaweek2018 project, I agreed.

I’m not sure I had ever written a song for someone else to sing before, and it wasn’t easy. I think I was too focused on Silas himself, his personality, his likes and dislikes. So I wrote a cheesy-silly song for him to sing about being a vegetarian (a decision he made on his own when he was five) with a little bit of running thrown in.

“Mom, I’m not going to sing that,” he responded.

To which I sheepishly replied, “yeah, I don’t blame you.”

Then I asked him, what if we write a song together? He wasn’t sure about that. Wouldn’t it take a long time? No, I told him, if you’ve got something good rolling, it doesn’t often take more than an hour, might even be more like twenty minutes.

“But I don’t know what to write about,” he sighed. “How do you get ideas?”

Just then we heard the ice cream truck coming up the street, playing “Lullaby,” its pitch shifting as it drove past and away. My kids (and probably most kids!) have always thought that Doppler effect makes ice cream trucks seem a little creepy.

“What about the ice cream truck? How about we write a song about that?” I suggested.

Silas looked at me a little dubiously and then almost instantly launched into, “here it comes, down the street, the demented ice cream truck,” to the tune of “Lullaby.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “That’s perfect!”

“But we can’t steal that tune,” Silas said.

Oh but we could. And I explained the glories of public domain to my middle-schooler.

So with the frame of an old tune, Silas set to work writing lyrics. He sat at the computer and typed in the lyrics while I sat behind him and played the song on the guitar to help keep him on track. I contributed some of the lines and ideas and helped massage some lines to fit, but the general thrust of the song and most of the lyrics came pretty directly from Silas.

And it all took about twenty minutes!

So here it is, my song for week 33, cowritten with my fun-loving wordsmith son Silas Bloom:

And here are the lyrics exactly as he typed them:

Here it comes down the street the demented ice-cream truck
Selling kids icecream shaped like cartoons. If you stray too close they will suck out your soul. But other wise it’s a jolly good time.

There it goes up the road making boat loads of money.
Be careful they’ll get mad if you stand there too long. Then they might leave the block cuz time is money and there rent on the truck is almost overdo.

It’s not even a truck it’s really more of a van
With some speakers and a freezer and a driver slash cashier you may call it what you like but you better beware they will catch your credit card and will make you go broke.