Week 296 // Who’s to Tear them Down?

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Oh what fires we burn
Oh what fires we burn
Who’s to put them out again?
Who’s to put them out again?
Oh what walls we build
Oh what walls we build
Who’s to tear them down again?
Who’s to tear them down again?
Who’s to tear them down?

Notes
It is hard to talk of walls in 2016 without gesturing toward a specific person, a specific movement, and a specific world view. I’m not trying to be coy, I just think enough people will already be writing his name this week. Nonetheless, he is on my mind. He is on my mind nearly all the time. The world is in great upheaval. This is a broad stroke that is easy enough to paint. I’m sure everyone who reads that statement will think of a different catastrophe, which demonstrates my point. It feels as if we are witnessing a great conflagration. Who could ever put out a fire by building a wall?

~M.E.

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Week 295 // Prospecting

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The streets are paved with gold
In old New York
I fill my pockets
When I can
At five o’clock
I’m lighting out from here
The hour strikes
I’m my own man

And all the while
The sunlight stares me down
I will not hide behind
A sense of pride
If every whisper
Is a promise made
Then every shout
Must be a lie

The streets have been paved over
The seam is long since mined in this old town

And Christ was born
On Independence Day
He lay his head
In Central Park
And kings from all five boroughs
Bent their knees
And tipped their lovers
In the dark

The streets have been paved over
The seam is long since mined in this old town

Notes
There have been a lot of songs written about New York. I have certainly added to the pile since I moved here in 2013. It is a hard place not to reflect upon when you are a song writer. Sometimes I ponder the New York songbook, and I’m sorry to say that most of the big hit anthems about this city are awful, pandering propaganda. New York is a city of opportunity for many, but the high cost of living and competitive job market make it a pretty hard place to get by for a lot of folks. “I wanna wake up In a city that doesn’t sleep, and find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap…” That’s an aspirational sentiment for many, but not everyone can hit it big like Sinatra. Alicia Keys and Jay-Z really stir up the inspiration when they sing about the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” but then you realize that not everyone’s dreams come true. Also, that lyric doesn’t even make grammatical sense. I thought I’d try to take New York down a peg this week. New York needs an honest song, perhaps even a cynical song. I know that probably isn’t a recipe for a hit, but I never claimed to be Frank Sinatra.

~M.E.

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Week 294 // Signs

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Count the beats between the breaths you take
Count the moments it takes to change your mind
And on the wind we search for signs
And from every ray of light that breaks the clouds
We shield our eyes
And take as evidence that God is on our side

And everywhere in America
A different letter of the truth we’re sold
And on the wind we search for signs
And from every ray of light that breaks the clouds
We shield our eyes
And take as evidence that God is on our side

Notes
Today is America’s national holiday. I hope you’re having a fun and safe time commemorating our independence from the British, and celebrating in broad strokes the awesomeness of being American. I hope you’re also open to broadening the definition of who gets to hang out here, and be a part of this big American party. An election year is a tricky time to celebrate something as open to interpretation as Americanness. In a real sense, its definition is up for grabs this November. Independence Day is a good time to reflect on what we want to be. For me, this year the clearer choice is about what we must not be. Enjoy your fireworks and American Beer (the best in the world bar none), and mull it over while you eat something fried or grilled. Happy 4th!

~M.E.

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Week 293 // Second Hand

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The neighbors are stirring up something at 4am
Fireworks and car alarms going off again

Fast asleep on a subway car
In the afternoon
Second hand slows down
The closer I get to you

Sweet summer evening breeze
Blowing o’er the rooftop
Towering over me
Over me

A highway
A failed escape in a driving storm
A heatwave one of these days
This you can be sure

A voice on an age old wave
On a crackling tape
Firsthand accounts
Of a history that had to wait

Sweet voices on the breeze
Fingers through the tree tops
Find their way to me
Find their way

A moment repeats and repeats and repeats again
Each return is a whispered word
From an absent friend

Fast asleep in a taxi cab
Leaning close to me
Second hand slows down
That’s the way it’s supposed to be

Sweet summer evening breeze
Reaching out the window
Soaring down the street
Soaring

Notes
This is a song about memory and time. Like memory, these lyrics aren’t precisely linear in their narrative. These are snippets of memories recalled by the sensation of summer breezes. They circle around each other in much the way that the hands circle around a watch face (if you are like me, and you wear an old fashioned kind of watch, rather than the kind that answers your phone or calculates your shoe-size via crowd-sourced algorithms).

This song alludes to artifacts blowing around on the breeze, manifesting as memory, and resurfacing as experiences. It has a steady handed guitar part that recalls the constants in our lives, and the ever-presence of repetition. If you can, please listen to it on a hilltop, or a rooftop, or dangling out a car window somewhere. Get someplace up high where the breeze is sure to catch you, and close your eyes. Don’t pay any attention to what I’m singing. Listen to some of your own recollections while you hear this song. Listen to quiet memories, and be glad you’ve got them.

~M.E.

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Week 292 // A Prayer

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Steady my love
Though I’m spinning like a top
You can hold me up
Slowing the world
You ease it to focus again

Grateful am I
In the moment of my crisis
You pin me down
Somehow you shatter
All the untruths I have spoke of myself

I will hold you and love you completely
It’s all I can do

Honest am I
Many burdens of my world
I will place on you
Know in return
I will take up my share of your own

I will hold you and love you completely
It’s all I can do

Notes
Of course this song isn’t really a prayer in the conventional sense. I don’t pray very often anymore, because I gradually found that I usually did so in moments when I sought personal gain. Out of respect for those who pray seriously, I realized I had been treating prayers like wishes, and that’s not really what they are for. These days, In moments of joy and of crisis I tend to turn to someone else instead of the almighty. This is a love song that felt like a prayer when I sang it. It is slow and plodding. It is careful and reverent. It is grateful and vulnerable. It is as true as I could make it.

~M.E.

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Week 291 // Kicking at a Swarm of Bees

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You’ll find me lately
Kicking at a swarm of bees
Crying indignation

You’ll find me
Cursing on the way to work
Judging what you’re reading

And all the while
I’ll preach of love and being kind
And scoff at nonbelievers

And all the while
I’m picking fights to hide behind
And laughing at the losers

I’ve got a lot
That I need to work out

I’ve got this thing I do
Where everyone is wrong but me
A wonder you can stand it

And all the while
My blood is hot and bursting out
So much for credibility

And all the while
The quiet’s what I dream about
But I still wake up screaming

I’ve got a lot
That I need to work out

Notes
I want to start off by expressing deep sorrow concerning the tragedy that befell Orlando’s LGBT community yesterday. Truthfully, I can’t comprehend the breadth and depth of this event. Its horror and injustice are so beyond my grasp. Anything I say here inadequately captures how I feel, and the enormity of the pain so many others are experiencing. I often try to use this space to reflect on national tragedies. If this attack were any more comprehensible, I might have penned a tribute as I did after the Boston Marathon bombing. This time I don’t feel up to the task. Perhaps with some space and time for reflection I will get there. I’m so angry about this for so many reasons, and it is piling upon anger that I have been feeling for many months concerning the mounting hatred driving many national conversations. It is bubbling over in me. It is making me feel apart from my better self. This is a much more playful song than I expected to come out of me this week, but I think maybe I needed it. This song is merely about trying to reclaim some calm.

~M.E.

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Week 290 // Lights in a Great Black Void

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Look over your shoulder
And into the dark
It doesn’t have to be that way
In a flickering room
They’ve got your information
And nobody can look away

The ayes carry the motion
The nays bury the notion
There’s nothing left to talk about

What have I ever done to you?
What have I ever done to anybody?

Way out in the darkness
Far away from the sunlight
The monster that I dream about

We’re nothing more
Than little lights in a great black void

Look over your shoulder
And scowl at your neighbors
It doesn’t have to be that way
In a cold dark place
You keep your worst suspicions
You’ll never keep them locked away

The ayes carry the motion
The nays bury the notion
There’s nothing left to talk about

We’re nothing more
Than little lights in a great black void

Notes
First, I must extend a heartfelt thank you to my fine friend Rob Hedges-Goettl. This week, Mount Everest suffered its worst hack yet. Through the efforts of some digital interlopers, my website’s google search results were redirecting visitors to extremely explicit adult material. I was despondent about this, but thankfully Rob is a smart internet problem fixer, and made short work of the hack. For that I am eternally grateful.

It didn’t occur to me that my latest hack would work its way into this week’s song, but it has. Having worked on this project for close to six years, the incident felt personal. I’ll reveal that my website (like most other independently maintained WordPress sites) is constantly under digital assault. I have been fending off pornographic material on my homepage for years with nothing but my wits and perseverance to aid me. This was the first time that I found myself unable to fix the problem on my own, and it was a deeply unsettling experience.

I’ve never dedicated myself to a project for so many years as this one. I’ve never put so many hours into anything. That it was temporarily obscured by some unseen criminal, and replaced with something that many consider to be obscene, made me feel angry in a way I cannot recall feeling before. I felt torn into, and I was furious that I didn’t know who to blame. The anonymity of digital crime is sort of maddening. I look around, and everyone I see is a suspect. The truth is that I wasn’t personally targeted. Hackers send out little bots that seek out vulnerabilities on their own. The bot found a chink in my site’s armor, and did what it was programmed to do. The fact that no hacker personally chose my site makes it worse though. Whoever did this did it indiscriminately. Destroying the thing that means everything to me meant nothing to the person or people who did it.

Anyhow, it’s over for now, but I still feel uneasy. The whole thing makes my skin crawl, and I think that sentiment wound up in these lyrics. There is also paranoia and suspicion at work here, as well as a feeling of insignificance in the face of indiscriminate chaos. What else can I say? Change your passwords folks.

~M.E.

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Week 289 // Downpour

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First hard rain of summer
After midnight it came
And the streetlights are scattered
And cast all around you
Oh what a sight are we

And everyone laughs
As they’re running for cover
Because we’re made new
When we’re caught in the rain

Oh the city is our keeper
There’s a key in every drop
And for only a moment
The storm is a lifetime
Oh what a life is this

And everyone laughs
As they’re running for cover
Because we’re made new
When we’re caught in the rain

Notes
Walking home late last night, Rebecca and I found ourselves caught in a downpour. The heat of the first real summer weekend had given way to a hard summer rain that soaked us in heavy sheets. This type of rain invigorates me. It is a baptism of sorts. It is a shedding of the heat and the burden, and a license to marvel, to run, to laugh, and to abandon worry and inhibition. I had already recorded this little searching guitar part when we found ourselves made new in the the rain. It was in need of its voice, and the squall gave it something to sing about. The song hinges on the low harmony of the chorus. It sneaks in and hollows out a basin under the song; a pool for the rain to fill in. It is a simple offering, and I sincerely hope you enjoy listening to it.

~M.E.

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Week 288 // Road to Somewhere

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Am I on the road to nowhere?
And can I even read the signs?
And ever will I see before me
Everything I leave behind?

So long, so long, so long, so long

And ever if I stood without you
I’m certain that my knees would shake
And so we’re on the road to somewhere
Sure of every turn we take

Hello, hello, hello, hello

Notes
This Wednesday, I will be performing solo at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall on stage one, and you should definitely go there! With a show just a couple of days out, It is necessary that I spend some time rehearsing old material this week. With that in mind, my new song became a quick sketch, standing in stark contrast to last week’s more elaborate production. I settled into a nice finger-picked guitar part, and I meditated on my trajectory a little bit. The idea is simple: although I often feel directionless, I’ve got the right traveling companion, so we’re alright if we stick together. It is a sentimental concept. There’s nothing jaded happening, and there is no obfuscated subtext or double entendre at work. I’m wearing this one on my sleeve. Dig on the new tune while I practice, and maybe I’ll see you Wednesday night at nine!

~M.E.

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Week 287 // A Circle with a Line Through It

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Early in the morning
Watching the weather change

Another hundred mile day
If I know what’s best for me

A hundred thousand mile year
Splitting atoms in the face of God

Well…
Absolutely anything could happen
A simple kind of phrase until you think it over
Absolutely anything can happen
But I think you knew that

Peering out the mouth of a cave
At the end of the winter

And the person I was back then
He is irrelevant now

And no matter how I ask you
You always say yes, and I’m grateful

So…
I like it how the sky is changing colors
And anyhow the feds are always watching us
And any day the rent out here is gonna blow up

Absolutely anything could happen
A simple kind of phrase until you think it over
Absolutely anything can happen
But I think you knew that

Notes
In case you don’t know what’s going on here, Mount Everest is a rock blog for which I write and record a new song every single week, hopefully forever. Five and a half years in, one of the most important concepts involved with that task is finding ways to make old ideas new again. With that end in mind, this weekend I got an idea into my head to steal an old rhythm from myself and make a new song out of it. I listened to a few back tracks, and ripped the drum robots right out from under Week 131 // Strange from May of 2013. I deleted all of the other instruments and vocals, and set to work on something fundamentally not the same. The drums stayed more or less intact, with a few edits here and there. They lent the new song some formal similarities to the old one. Verses, choruses, and outro sections wound up in the same places for example, but the feel and instrumentation diverged pleasantly. A different chord progression and melody occurred. I layered guitars, played two bass parts at once, and messed around with rhythmically weird vocal breaks. I sang something new. It was a pleasing experiment, and I think I’ll try it again soon.

The song seems to juxtapose routine and possibility. These things feel like they cancel each other out. I think perhaps the moment of conversion toward which this song gestures is a realization that nothing at all can cancel out possibility, not even monotony. Routine is perhaps the circumstance most pregnant with possibility. If any one variable shifts, all bets are off!

The title comes from the photo that I have posted as track art. If you look around Mount Everest, you will find that I am enamored with circles, geometry, symmetry and all things of that nature. I like when interesting formations break up monotonous spaces. For example, this is merely a photo of the sidewalk, but I find it beautiful. I attempted to work “a circle with a line through it” into the lyrics, but it didn’t fit, so I opted to use it as a title. I think it is an evocative phrase, although I will leave it up to you to decide precisely what it evokes. See you next week.

~M.E.

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