Week 273 // Lullaby for Teddy

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Down by the ocean
Splash in the waves
Hear the treetops
Whisper as they say

The birds in the trees
The grass and the leaves
The sun and the sea
Sweet dreams

Sunset colors
Purple, red, and blue
Father and Mother
Watching over you

The birds in the trees
The grass and the leaves
The sun and the sea
Sweet dreams

Notes
Two of my dearest friends welcomed their first child into the world a few days ago. Holly and Alex are now Holly, Alex, and Teddy! I think that’s really cool. I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to meet young Theodore, but his mother texted me this morning to tell me that she was introducing him to Mount Everest songs. I was tickled by this notion. So early in a young person’s development he’s listening to me sing about stuff, and play instruments, and make sounds! It struck me that while I’m down down down in New York, far far away from my friends’ Maine homestead and their bouncing baby boy, I still have an opportunity to offer him a personal welcome to planet Earth, where he is likely to spend most of his life. I’ve done so in the form of a lullaby. This isn’t the first one that I’ve written, but it is still a form that I find to be challenging. This time I wanted to focus on two objectives. First, the music had to be genuinely soothing. Second, the lyrics needed to be simple. After all, Teddy hasn’t acquired language yet, and there’s a reason they’re called baby steps. I feel that I’ve accomplished these goals, particularly since I nearly fell asleep twice while I was recording it. Anyhow, welcome to planet Earth, Teddy! I hope you like it here!

~M.E.

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Feeling Superior Not Watching the Super Bowl

The other day, after overhearing me politely decline an invitation to a Super Bowl party, a friend asked me what I’d be doing while the rest of America tunes in (or out, depending on your perspective) for the big game this Sunday. I replied that I planned to walk naked through the streets of Brooklyn, reveling in my solitude and superiority. While I didn’t mean that literally, I stand exposed before you now. It isn’t an easy thing to be the ultimate wet blanket on America’s favorite day, but it is my cross to bear. The Super Bowl is worse than being alone. The Super Bowl is the worst.

Friends always chime in, “It isn’t about the game! Just come and hang out with us. It’ll be fun!” But it never is. When I try to hang out, I am invariably silenced. “Do you mind?! There’s a big play happening!” I haven’t noticed, because, who cares? No matter. I’ll wait for the commercial break… and again I am silenced. The commercials are somehow even more important than the game. I can’t even eat the food. Nobody makes vegetarian buffalo wings worth eating.

My friends are interesting people. They are funny, self-deprecating, creative, intelligent, and kind. Yet somehow I have seen them temporarily turn into puddles of toxic consumer waste, worshiping at the font of this shitty annual ritual. None of them are even fans of either team competing this year. Which ones are playing again? Why do they care so deeply? Why do they want me to care?

I understand the appeal inherent to the spectacle of sport. When the Red Sox win the World Series, my brain melts into an incoherent stew. My Rs drop in a fit of post-Bostonian exuberance. I cry foul invectives at the entire city of New York. I get drunk and sing Dropkick Murphys songs until dawn breaks. I buy in. The whole experience is wicked awesome. Somewhere deep in my disdain for the Super Bowl, there is a rock solid core of hypocrisy. But the Super Bowl is still the worst.

There is a modesty to baseball seriously lacking in the NFL’s greatest spectacle. The excess of the event is staggering. My stomach turns as I ponder worthier uses for the advertising dollars poured into the event. According to Ad Age, the price for one second of advertising during this year’s Super Bowl broadcast is $160,000 (compare that to $18,166 for one second during the most recent World Series). Only one second!

Consider the ads themselves. I’m genuinely moved by the earnestness of this 2012 Chrysler spot, starring Clint Eastwood, in which he poetically announces that it is “halftime in America”, providing us with a much needed pep-talk in the midst of industrial and economic uncertainty.

In his signature quiet growl, we can hear both the pain of our recession and division, and our renewed hope for a unified and prosperous future. We see the promise of America painted on the proud, wizened faces of her citizens. We see factories roaring back to life. It is a masterful work.

But just when I’m feeling optimistic about our collective American prospects, the Super Bowl hits me with this:

In their 2013 spot, GoDaddy trades Chrysler’s textured and sumptuous production for cheap shock value, reinforcing deeply troubling misogynistic myths by rewarding the brainy nerd with the babe’s eager lips. I won’t even bother showing you a beer commercial, because you probably know what I would say.

Suddenly, Chrysler’s ad comes into clearer focus. It is pure propaganda, selling us the American myth of hard work and ingenuity, so that we’ll feel good about sitting on our asses for another four hours, watching the refuse float down the river while CBS and the NFL count their money. The Super Bowl isn’t only excessive, it’s pernicious. Let me remind you, because you’re likely to forget during the Halftime Show: you don’t even like Coldplay.

Finally, there’s the game itself. There is an appeal to football that is undeniable, particularly when the vast majority of America, my friends and family included, obviously love it so dearly. I can’t really follow the game, but that is a terrible argument against the Super Bowl in particular, and the NFL as an institution. I agree that there is athletic and competitive value to football, and I’m proud of my dad who is a one time South Carolina Fighting Gamecock. My pride in him is met by an equally powerful sense of relief that he never went on to play professionally. To illustrate the source of my relief, I’ll direct you to Wikipedia’s List of NFL players with chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Scroll down that list and try to comprehend the economy of spectacle that encourages these men to seek riches and glory by sacrificing their very health, wellbeing, and even lives. $160,000 per second is not being spent to provide these men and their families with adequate compensation for debilitating brain injury or death. It is being collected in exchange for the privilege of capturing your attention for only one second.

Instead of watching the Super Bowl, you could go outside and play a relatively safe game of touch football with your friends or family. It’s healthier than eating nachos, and it won’t fill the coffers of a league that is tantamount to a modern gladiatorial system in its danger, exploitation, and brutality. It is hard to extricate oneself from an American tradition half a century old. When it comes to spectacle, very few of us make our consumer decisions on principle, myself included. Certainly there is something disingenuous about citing injured and dead athletes to justify my sense of superiority in sitting out an event that I don’t really understand, and find to be unpalatably gratuitous.

I understand why my friends annually ask me to buy in. I’m a jerk for feeling superior. When I cite all of these reasons why the Super Bowl is awful, I’m probably making them feel bad, because they like it. A safe and friendly game of touch football lacks all of the Super Bowl’s inherent glitz, glamor, and social capital the next day at the water-cooler, so I can’t really blame you for your likely decision to view your household as merely a drop in the bucket. Statistically speaking, you’re probably not doing any harm. Nonetheless, if you need to find me this Sunday, I’ll be walking down Flatbush Avenue wearing nothing but my Newbalances.

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Week 272 // River Song 4 (LIVE)

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Up on the moon
In the dust and the dirt
Shouting my soul
At the planet earth
Raking these strings
‘Til my fingers hurt
But I can’t go on without it

Turning my back
To the wind and the rain
And the weather’s alright
For a serenade
And walking works out
If you’re getting paid
But I’d rather not talk about it

So let’s go down
Down to the edge of the water
Down down
And we’ll pray to the river bend
Throw stones at the great god
And wander down to the water’s edge
So I can get in

Holding my breath
In the middle of the night
Cutting my cross
By the cold moonlight
Wonder ‘bout god
If he’s feels alright
Or if he’d rather not talk about it

Counting my change
and I’m coming up short
Stealing my dinner
Ain’t a last resort
And when I’m not a winner
I’m a spoiled sport
And everyone else is cheating

So let’s go down
Down to the edge of the water
Down down
And we’ll pray to the river bend
Throw stones at the great god
And wander down to the water’s edge
So I can get in
I will get in
If I’ve done one thing right
It was learning how to swim
‘Cause I can hold my breath
And keep my penance in

Got a good woman
Yeah she treats me right
Sets the world to color
And she holds me tight
Look when she moves
‘Cause she’s quite a sight
And I couldn’t go on without her

So I go down to the river
at the end of the day
And I ponder the fishes
As they swim away
And I think about my Mrs.
And I’m a-okay
I’d just like to go home and see her

Notes
Last night, after over five years of weekly songwriting, I finally debuted live on stage as Mount Everest. The irrepressible and inimitable Nat Osborn kindly arranged my gig at Rockwood Music Hall without telling me first, which was just the kind kick in the ass that I needed to get back on stage after a hiatus of far far too many years. The room was kind to me, and I truly felt the groundswell of support from my friends and family in attendance. It felt amazing to be performing on stage again. Despite my initial nerves, there was a feeling of coming home again after a long time in the wilderness. A piece of my heart had been waiting for me on that stage these long years, and I can’t help but feel just a little more myself than I did just a day ago.

I decided that it would be in keeping with the spirit of this project to use my concert as an opportunity to introduce this week’s new song. Here I have posted two versions of River Song 4. I recorded a version at home on Saturday, just after I wrote it. The next day I debuted it live, and have presented a recording of that performance as well. There are subtle differences, but I like them both and didn’t want to choose just one.

~M.E.

Photo Credit: Kate Stitham who is really cool

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Week 271 // On the Way Home

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Hear the sound of laughter
From the other side of the park
From the other side of everything
What an echo through the dark
On the way home

Down deserted avenue
In the middle of the street
In the center of what was everything
What a buzzing in our feet
On the way home

Called out on the radio
A disaster all around
A calamity to swirl around us all
But it’s lovely anyhow
On the way home

Somewhere underneath it all
At the bottom of what we can see
There’s a city, but it’s like a memory
There’s a dream of these old streets
On the way home

Notes
We just had an absolutely wonderful blizzard in New York. Its name was Jonas, which had one of my all-time favorite songs echoing in my mind all weekend long. The announcers on the radio had dialed up the hype big-time, and it was easy to suspect that something terrible was going to happen. Jonas absolutely lived up to our expectations, and I’m sure the weekend was difficult for many, and perhaps even dangerous for some. Honestly though, this was one of the loveliest blizzards I can remember, and I can remember a lot of blizzards. Our little corner of Brooklyn was transformed, and thanks to Rebecca I enjoyed a wonderful late-night jaunt around our unrecognizable neighborhood. Everyone we encountered was elated. The storm had died down, an people were out just looking around. Over two feet of snow had somehow dulled the city’s edge. It was magical. It has been a hard January, and this blizzard was just the reminder I needed that the world is full of pleasant surprises.

~M.E.

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Week 270 // Over and Over

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Over the hillside
Running for cover
You hunt for your dinner
Get thinner and thinner
And sooner or later
The taste of it’s bitter
For the rest of the winter

My hands shake as I’m waving goodbye
Over and over
Ask my love to leave on the light

On my way to the corner store
I got into a fight
When a thing ain’t how you thought it was
The sting can feel alright

Colder and colder

First snow of the winter
I think of my brothers
How all of us scattered
With a piece of each other
And now living is seeing
In ever more colors
And all of them matter

The wind breaks as I’m saying goodbye
Over and over
Ask my love to leave on a light

On our way to the break of down
I looked into your eyes
And every facet where I thought it was
I drift into the night

Notes
What to say about this one? I’m very much picking up where I left off last week. I’m thinking about my friends, and how one can never be sure when goodbye means goodbye for now, or goodbye forever. I’m thinking about the cold comfort this city has been to me as I’ve walked miles and miles over its streets in the past week, dodging its scowling, aggressive denizens. I’m thinking about how loss can be thought of as a new color I’m learning to see. It’s jarring now, but the older I get, the more clearly I’ll see it. Perhaps. I hope. This song is a downer, but I’ve tried to add a dash of hope. It has to be in there somewhere, or what’s the point of singing it? There needs to be a moment of transition, or even transformation; an eye toward some friendlier horizon. Soon, I hope to move on to less dreary fare, but this website is my way of working things out, and right now I am sad and confused. But I am supported, and I’m doing my best to lend support to others. Better days ahead.

~M.E.

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On Bowie and Rickman: with apologies, you’re not really grieving

David Bowie and Alan Rickman have died, and everywhere on the internet you will find heartfelt displays of grief. Here is a cursory sample of just a few from Twitter:

This week, Suzanne Moore of The Guardian wrote an earnest entreaty that we not deride those who express legitimate grief upon the death of a celebrity. When Kurt Vonnegut died, I felt empty. When Philip Seymour Hoffmann made his exit, I was angry and perplexed. Normally I’d be on her side, except that a week ago my friend died, and today I read in my Facebook newsfeed “My heart can’t take anymore loss…!” in reference to the (legitimately extremely talented) actor who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies.

First, Rickman is far better remembered as the villainous Hans Gruber in Die Hard; a performance that absolutely crackles with menace and style. Second, I am sincerely disappointed that he’s gone, that there will be no more memorable performances from him, and that his friends and family are experiencing a tremendous loss. Third, my friends and I are actually grieving, and you’re probably just really bummed out.

David Bowie was one of the greatest creative forces of the past half-century. The release of his complex and beautiful final album, Blackstar, mere days before he lost his life to cancer, was one of the most compelling gestures of his storied public career. Even his death was a creative triumph. I am genuinely touched by his passing. But I do not grieve him, because I did not know him. Aside from being one of my most admired songwriters, David Bowie was an ailing 69 year old man who I never met. Amy was a seemingly healthy 30 year old woman, a friend of mine with whom I had lost touch, and a font of potential-yet-realized, even despite her impressive creative output over such a short lifespan.

Suzanne Moore writes “I know what grief feels like, thanks very much. And I grieve for David Bowie. It’s not a competition. It’s not just about ‘music’. Or my lost youth… Bowie was incomparable. Leave us be with it.” But it is a competition. Rickman, Bowie, and Amy are all competing for real estate in my digital universe. They are all appearing in my newsfeed with relatively the same frequency, and with essentially identical content. The messaging associated with genuine expressions of grief for Amy is nearly indistinguishable from that associated with losing a favorite actor or musician. Is that appropriate? Isn’t it just about music where David Bowie is concerned? Bowie’s music is what we really love, not the man himself, and his music hasn’t died with him. I’m listening to it right now.

It makes me angry to see my friend’s death upstaged by that of two famous celebrities. I am well aware that anger is a stage of the grieving process, and perhaps I am redirecting mine in a rather unproductive way by engaging in what has been termed grief shaming. Moore argues that public figures can impact our lives in profound ways, and that an emotional reaction to their passing is just fine. It is hard to refute that, but I implore you to temper your public performance of that legitimate emotional reaction. Let’s be clear, no matter how sad you are about David Bowie or Alan Rickman, you are performing grief more than you are experiencing it. In a week or two, their deaths will cease to amuse us as a culture en-masse, and we will perform enthusiasm about something else. You will return to your everyday life. You will listen to Space Oddity and watch Die Hard with little more than a twinge of regret that these performances now represent artifacts from complete bodies of work, rather than selections from catalogues still in progress. Meanwhile, Amy, Alan, and David’s families will still be grappling with understanding, bargaining with the universe, and attempting to fill an un-fillable void. My friends and I will still be walking around in a fog of confusion and sadness, for how long I cannot guess. Moore insists that it isn’t a competition simply because she knows she would lose.

So what should you do with your feelings of loss when famous people die? You should celebrate their lives and work by listening to their albums and watching their films. You should, by all means, write and post enthusiastic retrospectives filled with new insights that can only be gleaned by considering a creative life as a whole. You should argue about their best songs or performances, and you should do so publicly, because their work was important to you. You should marvel at what they left behind, and your great fortune to have witnessed it. You should even express sadness, but do not tell me you are grieving. I am truly sorry, but there are important differences between fandom and friendship, as well as fandom and family. Please, leave grief to those who have lost someone.

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Week 269 // A Song the Night Can Sing

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Night is an empty room
Colorless light
And a slight perfume
You’re carried away
Now you’re like a dream
No, you’re more like a song
That the night can sing
And it goes…

Once on a distant world
Curious clouds
And a tilt-a-whirl
I knew you back then
As a shimmering song
You sang it out loud
And we all sang along
And I think it went…

Night, is it all we’ve got?…
If I wake with a start
And a dream forgot
If you hum the next bar
Will I know the tune?
If I dream of a song
Will it sound like you?

Notes
I met Amy when I was 18 years old. We were students at the same college, and we traveled in the same unbridled herd of exuberant youngsters. We were friends. I liked her unselfconscious enthusiasm, and her silly aloofness. We shared a love of making up songs. She was much better at it. We would play a lot of the same gigs at various campus venues; she with her Amy Regan Band, and I with my earnestly off-key rock outfit, Go Mordecai. Even despite our youth, she was professional and composed, transformed by the stage-lights into an icon of folk/pop perfection. Later, the guys and I would chop away at power chords and shout our throats raw. I believed her when she would say we had done well, and it meant the world to me because I admired the seriousness with which she approached her music, the finesse with which she captivated an audience, the warmth she brought into every room she played. In the years that followed she brought that warmth to many thousands of people in countless audiences on stages across the country. It was heartbreaking to learn last Thursday that she had died. My friend Amy had a gift for melodies, and a soaring voice. She was kind to me, and she made me believe I could make music. She sang beautiful songs, so this week I tried to write one she would like.

~M.E.

P.S. It’s funny to accompany a song about night with a picture of a rainbow, but there’s an explanation. This rainbow broke a rainstorm just before Amy’s wake yesterday. I was told that it hung precisely over her childhood home. This is Amy’s rainbow, and I share it here with a song for her.

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Week 268 // A Song About

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I’m writing a song about
Turning a page
How I try to fill it up
But scratch out the phrase
How I saw the light break
Words they can’t get it
No note rings clear enough
To match the silence

I’m writing some words about
The passage of time
We pause to anticipate
But tend to rewind
How I felt my breath catch
Words they won’t get it
No verse is sharp enough
To cut the moment down

Notes
As all the kids like to say, I’ve gotten a bit meta this week. I have written a song about writing a song. I didn’t do it to be tricky. I wrote it to reflect on my writing process as I contemplate the passage of time, the new year, my hopes and wishes, and my ever lengthening past. This is meant as a bit of a critique of my heavy reliance upon certain themes, and also as an affirmation of the vital importance of those themes to my work, and to the work of many other artists. In bemoaning the fact that my pencil and voice cannot do justice to these notions and experiences, I’m mining a new way to describe how pregnant these themes are with meaning and significance. There’s also a bit of a joke embedded here for my own amusement, which is that I almost never sit down to write “a song about” something. My subject matter tends to emerge as I write, and these track notes describe each song retrospectively once I’ve figured out what a song seems like it’s saying. Typically I’m lying when I say “this week I wrote a song about” anything. This was a fun one for me.

~M.E.

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Week 267 // Watching the Rain on a Sunday Afternoon

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On the radio all’s gone gray
Cold static o’er the wave
And the mist spread o’er the lake
All the misspent hours it takes to know
What the rest of them already know
How the breadth and depth are wont to grow and grow
And all that we can do is see each other
And try to keep up

On the warmest winter day
Ground soft, hold fast to life
Air thick with the passing rain
Hands crack to cut the silence low
And the best of them already know
That the coming years will rend us to and fro
And all that we can do is know each other
And try to keep up
And try to keep up

I’m watching the rain
On a Sunday afternoon
And I’m counting my steps
Catching up to you

And I’m watching the rain
On a Sunday afternoon
And I’m counting my steps
Catching up to you

And I try to keep up
I try to keep up
I try to keep up
I try to keep up

Notes
This song is my final entry for 2015. Rebecca and I are in New Hampshire visiting my parents for Christmas, which has afforded me a much appreciated opportunity to write and record music in the wooded serenity of their lakefront home. I recently celebrated five years doing this project, which means that 2015 was the fifth full calendar year of Mount Everest, and that this is my fifth year-end reflection. I’m not going to take a moment to revisit each of those other songs, but I’m certain they all have some themes in common. Like this song, I’m sure they all look to the future in their own way, while pondering where I’ve been. This year I’m using a rainy Sunday as an excuse to pause and take stock of how quickly the present gives way to the future. I’m writing about trying to keep up with the speed of change, which I believe to be a big part of our typical impulse to couple. We’re seeking a constant; the right person on whom we can keep our focus when everything else becomes a blur all around us. The first song of a new year often strikes an optimistic tone. I can’t predict precisely what I’ll share with you next week, so I suppose you’ll have to come back in 2016 to find out. Please have a safe and joyous New Year celebration!

~M.E.

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Week 266 // Enough

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You carry enough
Leave it behind you
And I’ll pick it up

Notes
From time to time the week flies by, important movie sequels distract me, I get home from work later than I’ve anticipated, an over night guest is on the way from the airport, and I still haven’t finished a song for the week. From time to time, time gets away from me. One of the fun things about this project is that I get to hear what sort of song I’m capable of writing in a blazing hurry. Obviously the short and repetitive lyric presents itself. Programming midi can be more flexible and efficient than tuning my guitar. Gradually the kitchen sink approach is applied to a single chord progression — I can build on one idea, layering rather than messing around with chord changes. It works. I must say It’s really not bad at all. I add a harmony at the last second, and an sketch feels almost like a song. Almost. It’s enough.

~M.E.

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