Week 353 // Camera Obscura

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Today all my neighbors
Were gathered outside
And out on the fire escape
They looked to the sky
They looked to the sky
Behold the human race

Today my whole country
Beheld the same sight
They parked in the cornfields
They drove through the night
They drove through the night
Behold the human race
Behold the human race

Today in my city
My eyes in a box
I ponder the scale
And my context is lost
My context is lost
Behold the human race
Behold the human race
Behold the human race

Notes
Today, if you live in the same country as me, you probably tried to watch what they’re calling “The Great American Eclipse”. Some of you with great forethought tracked down a pair of sci-fi goggles of some kind or another that allowed you to gaze directly into the sun without cooking your fragile retinas. Others, like me, cobbled together home-made camera obscuras to behold the majestic shadow of the moon on the inside of a simple cardboard box. I can’t say what it was like peering through those darkened lenses at the heavens as they transformed, but I can report that the view was just fine from the cheap seats. It was difficult to angle my phone camera into the viewport of my contraption, but I will attest that the simple photograph I present with this song does not do my experience justice.

While the eclipse itself was certainly a marvel that this generation will cherish into its longest memory, I was particularly struck by the uniquely human behavior uniting those who sought to behold the spectacle. This song isn’t about the celestial event itself, so much as the electric enthusiasm that took root in communities across the land. Life will stumble along after this brief reprieve, but I found it a great relief to take a collective breath, and to let the clockwork of of gravity and light dazzle us for a short time. Thank you for joining in.

~M.E.

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Week 352 // Sift

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Gold in the sand of a river bed
Lord I need it so bad I’m losing sleep
When I sift the grains all I find is lead
And I’d leave the gold if it were up to me

I’ve got this
I’ll take it from here

Hand to my heart I’ve got it made
I forget my fortune when I’m losing sleep
I forget the order of the plans we’ve made
And we’d hit the road if it were up to me

We’ve got this
We’ll take it from here

Notes
I didn’t have the courage to write about Charlottesville in this week’s song. I thought about it a lot, but if I’m going to write about that, I will need more time. The reinvigoration of white supremacists operating in the open is the most grotesque expression of our American national identity, and it is a larger subject than I had the power to adequately address here today. Instead I wrote something personal and unrelated. I like this song, but I’m unsatisfied by my reluctance to confront the moment we’re living through. I will circle back to this later.

This is a song about letting yourself rely on somebody. I’m in a marriage, so its a topic I think about a lot. I focused on the sweet interplay of guitars, and I think the vocal performance has the right lilt and sway. Listen to this, and think about working together with somebody good.

~M.E.

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Week 351 // Strange Machines

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Strange machines we are
And it shows
How a photograph
of a figure
In a doorway
Stirs the soul

Make your peace
With thoughts of yourself
For your children
And their children
Shall be under
The same spell

Fall asleep
And dream of the Earth
Let its wonder
And its horror
And its splendor
Hold you deep

Notes
This song is about the fleeting worries that return, the simple senses that move us, and the often complex contradictions in the ways we relate to the world. The lyrics are nearly as simple as the music. Both are meant to be sparse and open ended. I didn’t let myself dwell for long on the source or meaning of the words I sang. I sought only an impression upon listening, rather than a labored depth to the text. I think that all I meant to sing was that people are built to feel things, so we can’t help doing it.

~M.E.

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Week 350 // An Afterthought

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The car is on the freeway
And the house is an afterthought

You see the tilt of the frame on the wall
But the picture’s an afterthought

And it makes your head spin
The way the past is an afterthought

The words make you queasy
But the scheme is an afterthought

The holes in your chest make you blue
But the gun is an afterthought

And the way we move to the cause
Of course is an afterthought

Praise to the constant ideal
Although we missed it all

Diligently working on myself
You know we missed it all this time

Friends in high places
But history is everything

Yeah, the ice in my drink keeps it cold
But your company is everything

And every conversation
We don’t have the time for is everything

Praise to the constant ideal
Although we missed it all

Diligently working on myself
You know we missed it all

Praise to the constant ideal
Although we missed it all

Diligently working on myself
You know we missed it all this time

Notes
This website has been my constant companion for 350 weeks, which is a large, round number. I have written many, many songs with the help and support (both moral and material) of kind and loyal friends, collaborators, family members, and listeners. Thanks to all of those people (who know who they are), and special thanks to my wife and parents whose constant encouragement has kept me doing this for what has become a very long time!

Mount Everest has been many things to me over 350 weeks. Lately, I must admit that it has sometimes felt more like a habit than a pursuit. I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. Songwriting is a safe and healthy habit. It is kinder on my system than drugs, and way cheaper than therapy! Still, I feel some nostalgia for the early days of this project when my blood bubbled with the mysterious potential of the next song, and every subsequent entry felt like a life-defining success or failure on whatever merit it ranked.

I wanted to agonize over this week’s song a little bit, so that’s what I did. I stopped short of the blistering guitar solo that I had planned to perform just after the first chorus, opting instead for a very simple instrumental break, but my itch was still scratched. The details received their due attention.

Speaking of details, that’s sort of the subject of this song. This song aims to speak to great big details we tend to overlook as we fret over the tiny ones. It is about losing the context of a life as we obsess over the importance of a moment. It is about striving for an ideal without recognizing our unpolished merits. I’ll let the song tell the rest.

If you’ve been here all along, thanks for sticking around. If this is your first time here, this is a project called Mount Everest. I write a brand new song every week, and I’ve done that for a while now. You can expect another one next Monday.

~M.E.

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Week 349 // Finding the Tune

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What have I learned
Staring at the blue?
To you I swear
I’ll be of use

Everyone knows
Night’s coming soon
Fingers on strings
Finding the tune

I have a hand
Make this anew
Palms in the Earth
This I can do

No one expects
Up with the moon
Trying the words
Finding the tune

Notes
Sometimes songwriting is pretty difficult. This week’s effort was full of false starts and frustrating lapses in creative energy. I kept writing songs I’ve written before. I’m sure this is a problem that many songwriters have faced, but 349 weeks into this project, I find it uniquely common to my process. I have to be okay with sounding like myself. Relaxing into that sentiment helped me to finish this little song, which I like very much because it does something that’s fairly new for me, even while sounding very familiar.

The sentiment of this song is not one that I have explored often, which is that many of the central values of my life have come from writing songs. Chief among those values is persistence. Searching for a tune is a task of variable difficulty depending on any number of given circumstances, but there’s always one to be found should you search long enough, and listen deeply enough to yourself. In one way or another, the rest of life is much the same way. We’re all trying to find the tune.

~M.E.

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Week 348 // A National Crisis of Sorts

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You’d better wake up
You’d better wake up soon
It’s a funny thing
That everyone needs to do
But they’d rather not move
From the spot they’re on
It’s a national crisis of sorts
You’d better wake up

And rushing to the window
Each and every afternoon
When the light is best for photographs

The helicopters see it all
And never do we mind
What have folks like us to hide?

You’d better not doubt
You’d better not doubt
What you were meant to do
But all we ever do is doubt
Did I get that right?
Did I ruin it?
It’s a natural question to ask
You’d better not doubt

Pushing through a crowded street
With ringing in your ears
Because the barrier is compromised

The helicopters see it all
And never do we mind
What have folks like us to hide?

Notes
Western civilization as a whole is pretty insecure these days. If the entire nervous lot of us were distilled down into a single person, that person would be a socially maladjusted teenager with a bad skin problem, anxious about possibly failing Geography, overcompensating by cracking loud jokes in the back of the classroom, and lying to his friends about his super hot girlfriend who they would definitely be able to meet except that she lives in Des Moines and only visits in the summer when they’re all away at tennis camp.

This song doesn’t touch on much of what I just described, but I think it is a fair set of fleeting impressions from the world as it exists now, full of bluster, lacking in self regard, and fairly disinterested in challenging conversation.

~M.E.

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Week 347 // A Fixed Point

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I will not call the future a fixed point
I will not draw my family with a line
I will not look with fear into the rain
I will be ever mindful of the time
There’s only so much of it
I’m never underestimating
I’m never underestimating
I’m never underestimating you

Notes
I am struck by dizzying acts of love and courage, committed by ordinary people in my life whose circumstances have revealed them as something far greater. I won’t name names, because their quiet magnitude does not beg that of me.

I want to say that I have seen life lived deeply by powerfully resilient individuals these past years. I have observed how pain and love can coexist. I have marveled at the scale of life’s features, and the audacity of those who stand up in front. I am at a loss with love and admiration for people who have come to be my family.

I can find no more words, so I present this song.

~M.E.

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Week 346 // What We Know

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Everyone is up in the morning
Two by two

Everyone is counted
Each of us counts in our own way

Each and every time we look
We know what we’re looking for

Each and every brilliant thing we thought we’d said
Each and every word we’ve said
Everything has all been said

We don’t know anything
We don’t know anything

Then the clouds part in the clearing
Dance in the moonlight

Then the air swirls with the scent
Of worlds forgotten

Then the Earth shakes with the movement
Of countless lovers

Then the stars reach our eyes from far off places
Reach our eyes from far off places
Reach for the light of far off places

We don’t know anything
We don’t know anything

Notes
This is a song about the different ways in which we might feel small. I wanted to create a bit of a contrast between the first and second halves of the song. The first half describes the ways that society, modernity, and urbanity cause one to feel small. We might feel small like cogs, or small like worker bees.

The second half of the song describes the totally different sensation of feeling small in relation to the natural world, or the cosmos. In my experience, this is a magical feeling, and a hint at the vastness of the knowledge that eludes us in infinity.

It is hard for us to comprehend the scope of the systems of which we are components. Nature has encouraged me to look at the unknown as an invitation to wonder. I choose to go with nature.

~M.E.

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Week 345 // Consecutive Numbers

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Five ’til nine, I’m sewing up the weekend
Ten of twelve, I’m down, caught adrift
Judging fireworks messing up the sidewalk
Can it be we’re older than this?
Can it be we’re older than this?

Everyone has a right to act their age
Whatever it is
Just because

Oh the shadows longer than the sidewalk
Make them dance, dear, all the way back
Make them scatter all the light together
We must know we’re younger than that
We must know we’re younger than that

Everyone has a right to act their age
Whatever it is
All of us
Just because

Notes
Over the weekend, I had a lovely interaction over web-cam with my nearly three-year-old nephew, Harold. His dad gave him a melodica to play with, so I dug mine out of the closet and played along with him. So often I think of musical instruments as tools, but Harold reminded me that they can also be toys. There’s a reason we use the word “play” to describe how we make music. Feeling inspired by the young man’s musical squeaks and gleeful giggles, I didn’t put the melodica away after we were done playing. I kept it out to accompany my guitar on this week’s song.

Just as I sometimes forget that music is a form of play, all the more often I catch myself striking the posture of a grumpy old man. I curse about loud teenagers out my window. I complain about aching joints. I nearly always tuck in my teeshirts, even when I’m at home. I hate almost nothing more than dance clubs. But even as I have recognized these habits and preferences setting in over the years, I haven’t given up childish things.

One of the great things about my marriage is that we make space to play. Wherever we go together, we’re playing. We’re still too young to be reasonably accused of being old, except perhaps by the loud teenagers outside. This song is about accepting that you’re old, remembering that you’re young, and forgiving yourself for being whichever you might be at any given moment.

~M.E.

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Week 344 // The Sound of the Rain

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The sound of the rain
Wait for your love
As you bask in it
Though the sun don’t shine
We didn’t ask for it
We’ve got light enough
To make up for it

However you came
However you are
I want you just like that
From my lips to God’s ear
You’re just right like that
From my lips to your ear
As a matter of fact

I listen to the rain
And I wait for the sound
Of your hand at the door
And the whole wide world
It won’t matter no more
And the whole wide world
It don’t matter no more

Notes
This weekly songwriting project tends to skew toward the autobiographical, and this week’s song carries that trend to quite literal territory. As I sat at home, listening to the rain, and waiting for my love to return, I wrote song about sitting at home, listening to the rain, and waiting for my love to return. Summer storms create the greatest soundscapes, full of rhythm both mesmerizing and anticipatory. The sound fills the waiting with romance. I played quietly so I could keep an ear on the rain. I sang softly, that I might hear the doorknob creak.

~M.E.

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