Week 421 // It Only Lights the Way

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It only gets you down
It only gets you down
It only gets you down
It only gets you down

It always feels the same
Can it mean the same thing?
It always feels the same
Can it mean the same thing?

It only lights the way
You still have to make it home
It only lights the way
You still have to make it home

It always feels the same
Arrival is the great reprieve
It always feels the same
Arrival is the great reprieve

And if it lifts you up
How are you to name the view?
If it lifts you up
How are you to name the view?

You won’t feel the same
You will feel the ways you change
You won’t feel the same
You will feel the ways you change
You won’t feel the same
You will feel the ways you change
You won’t feel the same
You will feel the ways you change

Notes
Change has many faces. It can be so abrupt and jarring that it leaves one disoriented, turned around, and confounded. It can also be so maddeningly gradual that it is easily mistaken for stagnation. This song sings to that second kind of change; the kind that you don’t recognize until you look back at large swaths of your life, and you finally appreciate the substance of point B in its profound contrast to that of point A. This song uses repetition to simulate the slow creep of change. It is a series of mantras with a beginning and an end.

~M.E.

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Week 420 // Fire on Neptune’s Shoulder

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The house had burned
Many years ago I think
But the stones stood like a photograph
You could look at if you blinked
You could see it if you blinked

And the mother hen
Traced her circles on the drive
And the fountain bubbled up from there
And the kitchen was alive
The way all kitchens are alive

Oh my God
It’s a miracle
I can’t believe my eyes
It always ends the same
It always ends the same as this

The wind would pull
The smoke all out to sea
The island looms like Neptune there
His shoulders are its peaks
His shoulders are its peaks

And summers fly
And the fires burn away
And the stones still like a monument
And the trees all creak and sway
The trees all creak and sway

Oh my God
It’s a miracle
I can’t believe my eyes
It always ends the same
It always ends the same as this

Notes
When Rebecca and I visited the island of Sao Miguel this summer, we were struck by the abundance of burned and abandoned structures there. In clearings and on overgrown hillsides, on mountaintops and on the edge of town, you can find them. Much of the Island’s architecture consists of beautiful stonework, so burnt homes can often be found that have retained an essence of their shape. In one particular instance, high on a mountain, accessible only by a steep and winding cobblestone road wide enough for only one car to pass at a time, a pristinely intact shell of a home revealed the life of a family to me, if only for a moment. This place returns to me from time to time, and I have tried to do it justice in this song.

~M.E.

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Week 419 // A Lot of Things on My Mind

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I have a lot of things
On my mind
Terrible things
But what does mean?
Wonderful things
What does it mean?

I have a lot of things
On my mind
Terrible things
But what does mean?
Wonderful things
What does it mean?

Notes
This week’s lyrics came to me all at once, and I didn’t really pause to ponder them before I had already finished singing the song. Listening back, this seems to be a song about anxiety, and the highs and lows of being a person. This is a song that rings through my head in the middle of the night when I am left with my thoughts, facing the ceiling in worry. We can face such terrible and wonderful corners of ourselves in the dark when the evening and the morning are both far away.

~M.E.

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Week 418 // Here

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Here is the blood in my throat
Here I am handing out notes
Here is the dilettante desperate to author

Here is the wolf in my place
Here am I baring my fangs
Here I am
I can be cruel
Did you know that?

Here is the moment I wrote down a word I could use
Here is the token I traded for lighting a fuse

Here is the canopy’s song
Here where your branches are strong
Even where the woods are all but forgotten

Here is the turn on the roof
Here are words offered as proof
Here am I
I am unclothed
I am wanted

Here am I lying awake
Now the light’s switching on
Here is the howl of the wind
As the curtains are drawn
Here is the instant the light strikes your features at dawn

Holding tight
Your smiling eyes
I’m safe here near the edge

Notes
I am so happy today to celebrate 8 years composing and recording as Mount Everest every week. I haven’t skipped a Monday in all that time, and I’m dizzy from writing songs. I am also dizzy with gratitude, which is appropriate because this Thursday will be Thanksgiving. I am grateful to my wife, my parents, my family, my collaborators, my friends, and my listeners for the tremendous support and encouragement I have continued to enjoy since the day I announced this project. As a token of my gratitude, as has been my custom, I offer this free download. It features 25 of my favorite songs from the past year.


click here, and you’ll download 25 songs for free

As I listened back to these songs, I couldn’t help but reflect on how profoundly this project has changed in recent years. When I was an exuberant young buck, I used to throw everything including the kitchen sink at each new entry. My arrangements were maximalist and elaborate. It suited those songs, and it suited me.

Since I’ve scaled back my arrangements, I have often received questions about Mount Everest. Most of them seem to gesture (kindly enough as possible) toward the notion that perhaps I’m less engaged than I’ve previously been, or maybe even less interested. I don’t mind the question. I usually answer that I simply don’t have as much time as I previously had to devote to this project. That’s not really the whole truth.

The truth is that I am writing the songs that are meaningful to me now, and I have changed a lot in the last eight years. As I retraced the steps of my last year’s writing in order to pick my favorites, I heard perhaps the first yearly collection that felt like a cohesive whole since I started this project. My approach to writing feels focused. Sometimes that’s just a kind way to say that my songs get a bit repetitive, but for the most part these selections feel fresh to me. Yes, the recordings and performances are rougher because my time is more divided, and over the course of the year there were perhaps a few more weeks mixed in that I’d deem “duds”, but those are a part of this project and always have been. I’m so excited about this new collection, and I hope you enjoy listening to it.

As for today’s new song, I remained true to the year’s writing and stayed unplugged for the closer. I focused on melody and harmony. I tried to create moments. I made an abandoned first attempt at the lyrics wherein I fretted over encroaching fascism in the United States. It had very little of myself in it, so I started over. The revised version traces my steps from the throat injury that derailed my rock and roll dreams in 2009, to my honeymoon this past summer. The terrain it covers accounts for the difference between the author of Mount Everest Year One and that of Year Eight.

Thanks for being here. Hang tight. I’ll have another one next Monday.

Love,
Jesse

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Week 417 // A Minute to Remember

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Remember the darkest day in November
Take a minute to yourself to remember
Think of the coldest day in November
Take a minute alone to remember

Imagine the conversation
Remember the conversation
Think of the things that you walked away knowing

Remember the darkest day of the season
Take a few minutes to think of your reasons
Remember the coldest night of the season
Take a few minutes and think of your reasons

Remember the conversation
Remember the conversation
Think of the things that you walked away knowing

Notes
This song is take #2 of a one mic recording session. That means there were no overdubs, and everything you’re hearing was recorded at the same time by the same microphone. I’ve done this a bit more often lately, allowing for performance and its inconsistencies to come through, rather than opting for the control offered by multiple takes and overdubs. While I like the authenticity, I’m afforded a more limited ability to iron out vocal mistakes and pitchy passages. I stand a lot more exposed. Here I am.

The lyrics gesture toward some past moment of turbulence in the month of November. If I’m honest, I can’t pinpoint what that was. The temperature drop and time change gesture toward a turbulent moment, so I shepherded that feeling toward a song. I’m certain it speaks to somebody’s reality.

We’re a week away from another anniversary for Mount Everest. In a week, I’ll mark eight years behind the microphone, singing songs for you. I hope you’ll join me.

~M.E.

P.S. Stan Lee died today. Stan taught me to love my imagination, to treasure diversity and that which makes us each unique, and to believe in the possibility of impossible things. His was the most uninhibited imagination of the twentieth century. He was an Imaginaut and I’ll ever be his disciple. Excelsior, Stan! You’re in the stars now.

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Week 416 // Tuesdays in November

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Tomorrow’s any other day
Get up just like you usually would
Everyone is cellophane before the wind

No I am strong against the cold
And you’re a rock against the flame
Bad ideas are commonplace this time of year

Once my father was a child
Down in the land that time forgot
But he sees truth
He speaks with clarity

And my mother taught me why
Good folks might curse but they don’t lie
I think of them on Tuesdays in November

I looked into my neighbor’s eye
I look away quick as I could
Even where you live you justify yourself

I’ll never be a perfect man
I’ll never grasp a perfect thought
Perfection is my enemy this time of year

And my wife flew ’round the world
And brought home stories of its pain
I trust in her description of humanity

And my mother taught me why
Good folks might curse but they don’t lie
I think of them on Tuesdays in November

Notes
The midterm elections have already snaked their way into these songs for weeks and months in various ways. Now they are just a few hours away. It’s tough to conceptualize certain days as both hinges of history and personal responsibility. Most days I imagine my responsibility as casting a fairly narrow net. Not on these November Tuesdays.

This song touches on our power and powerlessness, our responsibility to our neighbors, and the inspiration and strength that we can draw from our loved ones. In particular, I choose my parents and my wife as my central motivators as I cast my ballot. They are the people upon whose experience outside of my own I feel most able to derive my sense of the world. They grant me perspective and clarity. They describe my moral sphere, so I count on them on election days, which are the ultimate test of our morality as reflection of our external intent.

Go vote. I’d tell you to vote your heart, but that’s not what I really want. I want you to go vote for Democrats because the Republican party has succumbed to a vile infestation of malevolent bigotry. Not sorry. My mother taught me not to lie.

~M.E.

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Week 415 // The Veil

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Hold on
Come the rain
And the wind
On the way

The rain is a veil
Fit to blot out the light
A contourless sinister show
Now the chill could set in
And your stride could relent
Holding to your ticket
With a long way to go
Hands into your pockets
You’ve a long way to go

The tower to your right
Is the home of a wolf
And a wolf has a pretty good nose
Now don’t think of his teeth
As you’re passing his door
Eyes upon survival
You’ve a long way to go
Intent on more than living
We’ve a long way to go

Hold on
Come the night
Come the moon
Shine a light

The moon is a light
Fit to pierce through the veil
Set the shadow in contrast below
And the stranger you see
Be he friend or a foe
Walks alone in moonlight
With a long way to go
Walking under moonlight
You’ve a long way to go

Notes
It was a bad week in America and I took comfort in writing this song. My fingers tried to make sense of a senseless moment along the strings of my guitar as the rain fell outside. The full suite of heightened alert besieged good people, from fear, to outrage, to pain, to sorrow, to loss, and back to fear again. So much has just happened. This song acknowledges the wolf while looking for friends in the faces of strangers. Remember, there are so many of us who see the wrong that is being done.

~M.E.

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Week 414 // Words Like Smoke in the Air

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I’ve got an old song to sing
One that blows like the wind
To fill up my wings

I’ve got some old words to share
Words that stuck to my skin
Like smoke in the air

I’ve found an old photograph
The kind that makes you cry
Just as soon as you laugh

And I’ll wear my old pair of shoes
‘Cause that’s the pair I can count on
To walk back to you
To walk back to you

Notes
This month I’ve had the fine privilege of connecting and reconnecting with old friends and family, of reliving history and making new memories. It has been a lovely feeling being with people who know all the old jokes and secrets, and whose years in my life I lack the fingers (and in some cases the toes) to count. Those who know me well probably know that I can’t count too much higher than the number of my fingers and toes anyhow.

These visits have been solo excursions for me, without the company of Rebecca, and that has been a bit sad for both of us. While we enjoyed one weekend away together recently, she missed out on the group activities because of school and other obligations. I felt her absence a great deal, so while this song deals in the rekindling of memory that happens when people reconvene, it also has a lonesome note of longing. The recording is a bit rough, but it’s all there.

~M.E.

P.S. Today is the 15th anniversary of the death by apparent suicide of the great Elliott Smith. His songs are all precious treasures, and I’m so glad he lived. For me it’s also the 15th anniversary of my first real exposure to his work. It was my first semester of college, and I wasn’t yet cool enough to know much of anything about him. He is in all of these songs. He’s been in every song I’ve made since this day 15 years ago.

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Week 413 // Don’t Know

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Everybody has to find their way home
Nobody can describe the things they don’t know

Everybody has to find their way home
Nobody can describe the things they don’t know
credits

Notes
I have a wise friend who is fond of admitting his blind spots. He sometimes remarks “I don’t know because I don’t know”. In even more reflective moments, he asks, “how is it that I could even know, if I didn’t know?”.

There is a beautiful and haunting admission of unknowing happening here. It isn’t ignorance, because there is a central awareness of the absence of knowledge afoot. In fact, these words belie the presence and abundance of greater knowledge.

I am afraid that I have paraphrased my friend poorly in this song. Nonetheless, this song is a mantra dedicated to his philosophy of the absence of knowing. At the root of this philosophy is the acceptance of our fallible ignorance, and in that acceptance there is liberty. Thanks, I must pledge, to my friend.

~M.E.

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Week 412 // Twenty Feet Tall

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It’s only a question
Why do I turn away
Everyone notices
When you’ve got little to say
Everyone feels for you
Patching up the crack in your wall
Remember he stood above you
He stood about twenty feet tall

And God’s known to work
In mysterious ways
And I think man does too

I stand by the window
And watch the neighbors parking their cars
I count up the fangs around them
I tally up their scrapes and their scars
And some people feel for you
Like it isn’t anything at all
Remember he stood above you
He stood about twenty feet tall

And God’s known to work
In mysterious ways
And I think man does too

Notes
This weekend my family gathered in North Carolina for the funeral of my grandfather. I was not there with them, having chosen to keep previous plans. It was strange to be apart from that event, knowing that my family was engaged in the important process of honoring Granddaddy, and seeing him off to whatever comes next. Granddaddy was a minister, and when I last visited him this past summer, I saw what a fixture he was in his community. In my imagination, the church was packed for him on the day of his funeral.

My thoughts have returned to him in mundane circumstances and quiet moments since I found out he was nearing the end. I have found myself in my own spaces, wondering how he would interpret and contextualize my sphere; my neighborhood, my social circle, my work, my city. We’ve been very different men, with very different lives, but I think we have both been driven by a desire to feel part of something bigger, and to engage in the pursuit of a greater good. I wrote this song about those passing ponderings, and the quiet moments when I’ve looked for him.

~M.E.

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