Week 503 // Ley Lines

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Out of a past life
Who’s to say?
‘Cause I don’t know

The Earth is moving
Any way
It wants to go

Left from an old time
Under the ground
Beneath your feet

Here on the front porch
To sit around
And shoot the breeze

I ain’t sayin’ in ain’t so
All things come and go

Notes
This week’s song is a bit of a sketch to keep me warmed up. I like the harmonies and the feel, but the track isn’t extremely developed. That’s okay, by the way. This is an important part of writing. Ideas can stay small if they want to. They always lead to bigger ones.

I’m not sure why I thought of Ley Lines while I was writing tonight. If you’re not familiar with the notion, the idea is that ancient people built important monuments aligning with ancient energy fields crisscrossing the globe. New age weirdos think that aliens were involved. It’s way out there, but I’m poking at the idea that there is knowledge that is older than us, and that it has something to say to us today. The themes are a little undercooked, but they could develop later on if there is something there. Meanwhile, I’m happy to have made something that sounds nice.

~M.E.

Week 502 // The Shake

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Feel the shake
Keep us standing
See the crack beneath the dust

Hold my hand
We can go around it
Blaming angels just because

Hold me back
At the edge of the pavement
And say we’re lost like everyone

Hold me down, all you got
I believe it’s the way
I’m shaking just because

We can start again
Don’t listen to anyone
Know the ground could fall away
Feel us shaking just because

Come away
Share a secret
Reach the cloud beneath the peak

I’ll tell a joke
and if you like it
I’ll kiss the ground beneath your feet

I’ll tell the truth
In a way that you hear it
You’ll know you’re not like everyone

I’ll say it all dear
And time won’t defeat it, It’s so
We change it just because

We can start again
Don’t listen to anyone
Know the ground could fall away
Feel us shaking just because

Hold me dear
At the end of the evening
And say we’re not like everyone

Hold me down, all you got
And believe it’s the way
We’re shaking just because

Notes
I honestly couldn’t tell you when the last time was that I made a song like this. Bass, electric guitar, programmed drums ⁠— all that’s missing is the bleep bloop synths I once obsessed over. I used to primarily write this way, but I’ve been so deeply involved with my acoustic side that I’ve long let this fade into my background. Last month I rescued my electric instruments on an overnight to our apartment in Brooklyn. I had intended to grant them their triumphant return for Week 500, but the song I found myself writing that week didn’t want them at all. This week’s song really really did.

I feel a little rusty at this. I feel like I’m shaking off the cobwebs. How the hell do you mix vocals over all this racket? Seriously, if you have any pointers, please reach out. I’d have loved to have given them more presence and clarity.

This is a song about surviving together. It’s about living through the current moment and it’s unexpected trials, to be sure, but it’s also about learning to go the distance with somebody. It’s about persevering and reinventing together. In a month, Rebecca and I will celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, so these are themes that are beginning to feel earned.

Seriously, if you want to talk about mixing vocals in a busy track, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I’m feeling really happy with how the cobwebs came off of this old process.

~M.E.

Week 501 // Nothing Wiser Than the Wind

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Hand up to God
I don’t want to believe
Whether or not
He’s looking down at me

Might be where I’ve been
Could be where I’m going

Nothing wiser than
The new wind that’s blowing

We all learn
How to seem sorry

I’m not really sure
If I’m supposed to be

Up to the north
Listening to the wild
A note on the air
Finds me like a child

That’s okay with me
I was good back then

Maybe I believed
Maybe I should again

We’re all damned
Or we ain’t
Ain’t we?

I don’t really know
How we’re meant to be

Making signs in the air
Proof that I believe

We’ve all learned
How to cope lately

I don’t really pray
Lord that’s not for me

Lord I’m not concerned
With what I’m meant to believe

Notes
It seems it’s time for another one of my ramblings on the subject of God and belief, of my history with it and my ambivalence toward it. I was raised a progressive kind of protestant by people who grew up in much more observant traditions. I’ve talked with both of my parents somewhat recently about their evolving relationship with belief, and now I find myself scratching at that question for myself again.

My religion was always so gentle in comparison to that of my parents’ youths, or at least in comparison to the way I’ve imagined it was for them. In light of that, it has always felt like such an overreaction to reject my faith. It never really wronged me. It was comfortable when I was a child, and it helped me through some tough moments when I was a younger man. Then I left it, and it didn’t really hurt.

Lately I feel a spiritual hum of some kind, and I think it’s easy to mistake it for the belief of my youth. I feel it when I hear the loon call. I feel it when my hand grazes the bark of a tree. Maybe it’s a connection to the Earth, or to nature. I feel it, and I get a little nervous because I don’t want to try to squeeze the sensation into any kind of dogma or code. But it’s almost a reflex to place it there, so I push back.

This is a funny song, because I’m talking directly to God and saying I don’t really pray. Of course this is a prayer of a kind. I’m telling my old God that I think I’ve found something new, even if I’m not sure what it is.

~M.E.

Week 500 // The Long Way

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Past
Blind my eyes with words like that
Think a while ’til meaning falls flat
All my words to the wind
Send them out and back again

Home
Still exists in photographs
Towering earth and blades of grass
Who were we all back then?
And God would I choose that again?

Nothing lasts

Every mile comes to a crawl
My own choices led up to that
Hiding out at the end of the world
Only works out if the earth is flat
Burying my heart only made it worse
Digging it up and it’s still intact
Nobody every gets lucky like that

Time
Set my watch and lose it all
Lost in a dream if I recall
Vines crawl up through the wall
Squeezing bricks they break and fall

Nothing lasts

Every mile comes to a crawl
My own choices led up to that
Hiding out at the end of the world
Only works out if the earth is flat
Burying my heart only made it worse
Digging it up and it’s still intact
Nobody every gets lucky like that

All the one way streets
The wandering fools
The endless track
The sacred rules

Catch it up north
Heading astray
If the wind won’t blow
We can take the long way

Think about home
I’m looking to you
Honey I don’t know
What the world will come to

The cracks that show
The moment will wait
If the wheels don’t roll
We can take the long way
If you will it so
We can take the long way

When the wall breaks
Follow the tune
Your friends all there
They’re singing to you

All the cracks that show
The moment will wait
If your feet won’t go
We can take the long way
If you will it so
Let’s go the long way home

Notes
Writing 500 songs in 500 weeks is a thing somebody can do. I’m not the first to do it. My dad has written a weekly (now twice weekly) long-form newsletter on healthcare policy for longer than I’ve been doing this project, so he understands this whole thing better than anybody else I know. When he saw how nervous I was to write this one, he reminded me that it’s just another song. He was right of course. This is the thing I do. But gosh, I had a hard time with this one. I wanted so badly for it to transcend my skills and body of work, for it to touch lightly upon all the pain and hope in the world while also feeling like a personal whisper in every listener’s ear. For the record, that’s ridiculous.

I’m thrilled to post this. I’ve taken the long way to get here. I have spent nearly a decade at this task, and it now has arrived at this beautiful round number having held my hand through every fantastic and catastrophic moment that I’ve experienced in that time. I think of this project, and I no longer understand in simple terms what it is. I’m perplexed and elated.

It’s funny to post a song at 500 weeks twice proclaiming that “nothing lasts.” Despite the enduring nature of this work, I think it might actually be the central theme of my writing. This whole time I’ve been singing of the past slipping away, of moments evaporating, of holding on to who we were, of accepting change, of making peace, of letting go, of greeting the future, of becoming. This one follows those themes, but with a note of patience. Letting the past be in the past doesn’t mean the future is at your door. We still have the present to contend with. Wherever we’re going, we’ve got to take the long way to get there.

Thank you so much for listening. On we go to 501 and beyond. You can come along if you like.

~M.E.

Week 499 // White Smoke

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White smoke
Following
Always like a ghost
Swallowing folks up whole

Not far in the distance
Raise a mighty fist and hold

Notes
I’d be dishonest if I tried to paint myself as a true activist. That said, I have participated wholeheartedly in demonstrations for causes I care about for around two decades. I have to admit that in that time I have never truly believed that our power as demonstrators stood much of a chance at putting a real dent in the entrenched power structures against which we’ve shouted and marched. That’s changing for me right now.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Of course there have been seismically important gains made by activists in the past two decades. I’m not here to criticize people’s movements. I’m here to talk about the magnitude of what’s happening right now, and the faith in the power of the people that seems to be awakening everywhere you look.

I don’t know what is going to happen in the wake of this electric moment, but I do feel that something is changing. The power of what Black Lives Matters is accomplishing right now is greater than I can articulate, greater than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. I wrote this little song in awe of the movement.

~M.E.

Week 498 // Silence Upon Silence

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All the old songs I have sung
Silence upon silence
I know where they’re from
I’m silent with my neighbors
I live too much from afar
Silence upon silence
Look at where we are

All the angels I can’t name
Their song upon us all the time
All their blessings that I claim
Accomplice to an awful crime

Silence all the way down the street
Silence on the platform
Silence in my seat
Silence at the market
Silence here on the block
Silence in my conscience
It’s past time to talk

All the angels I don’t know
Their gifts upon us all the time
All the blessings that I stole
Accomplice to an awful crime

Notes
I wrote and recorded the music to this song before George Floyd was publicly lynched by police. I hadn’t written words yet, but this song was on deck for lyrics when the country was catapulted into this current moment of public outrage and activism by that detestable crime.

When I thought of the jaunty fingerpicking I had recorded, it seemed so wrong for the moment. Perhaps it is, but I thought twice about that when I read an Instagram post from my dear friend Jake Aron. Jake is a music producer, a recording and mixing engineer, and a hell of a touring guitarist and bassist among other things. He had this to say (abridged for space, but follow @mordecaimoroh to read his full statement):

“As I head to the studio to mix another song for another Black artist, I want to take the time to recognize the racial structure we have in the music business. Every sound we make, the structures we use, the references we pull, the instruments we play, are ultimately of Black origin. Western music is undeniably, completely, a Black art… Listen to your favorite music. Are they a Black artist? If not, just remember that somewhere, a Black person probably did it first, and we had the privilege of hearing it.”

I reflected on my own music. It’s right there and I haven’t said it. It’s time to say it. I reflected on this piece of guitar music. Those jazzy turnarounds I was having so much fun with? That’s Black music. It always was.

Just a few weeks ago, Little Richard died. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, every single news report I saw about his life and death pivoted quickly to his influence on Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger. It was as if this Rock and Roll pioneer’s only accomplishment in life was to lay the groundwork for white artists. This is part of a really old story of theft and exploitation. Black artists invented and developed every distinctly American musical genre there is. I’ve learned about this, and I know about it, but I don’t talk all that much about it.

As a white American musician, I confess that I rarely pay homage to Black artists. I revel in my compositions as if I conjured them out of no context at all. When I cite my influences, they are usually white. What I’m even more ashamed of is the fact that I don’t know enough about most of my Black influences to name them, or discuss their bodies of work intelligently. That’s not to say that I don’t listen to Black artists. But if I’m being honest with you, I’m not going very deep. I don’t really know where these guitar licks came from. I’m way too close to silent about all of this.

This song is a bit of a confession, and it ruminates on that silence — not only my silence regarding my Black musical influences, but also my silence around many of my Black neighbors (toward whom I’m not nearly neighborly enough), my silence about routine cruelty toward Black people, and finally the dull artistic silence we would be living in if Black artists hadn’t birthed the music that fuels our life’s blood.

I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I call it Prospect Lefferts Gardens most of the time — a name which is a racist tool that real estate brokers use to erase Black identity. While I know that, I still call it PLG most of the time. White folks, I know for a fact you’ve got similar baggage. Let’s work to do better. Let’s start today by fighting racism where it lives (especially when that’s in ourselves), and by raising our voices for justice for George Floyd and every other life lost to white supremacy in America and around the world. It’s the absolute least we can do. Also, support Black artists now and forever. Don’t buy this song.

~M.E.

Week 497 // Walking Back from Oz

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Slowly walking back from Oz
The war is over now
It was hard to recognize the start
Now it’s hard believing

Though the storm
Blows hard on everyone
Know the sun
Shines bright on everyone too

Blow the candle out my love
The evening’s over now
And it’s strange
To recognize the dark
Given all I see in it

Though the night
Grows long for everyone
Know the light
Can shine for everyone too

Notes
I’m glad to have this song. I was working on another that I’ve been enjoying a great deal, and this song intercepted it to be finished first.

This is about traversing a personal trial, and understanding that both your challenges and joys are echoed in every other person you encounter. It is easy to feel like your troubles are yours alone, but our humanity unites us in these experiences. We all feel the breadth of happiness and sorrow, and to some degree we must all walk a similar road. We each have to traverse darkness into light again and again. Realizing that this experience is common makes it a little easier to contend with.

I was given a new guitar, a La Patrie Arena, and it is inspiring me to play and write at all hours. It actually debuted on last week’s song, but I wanted to take a moment to give it a special nod, and to say thank you to my parents for such a beautiful gift. I look forward to collaborating with this instrument for many years to come.

~M.E.

Week 496 // Morning Light

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Child
This is the springtime
And you will learn
To feel it coming

Child
Born of a strange world
You are new
As yet untouched by time

You are the spring rain
Calling forth the flowers
You are the morning light
Calling home the hours
Morning Light

Child
Encounter the ages
Start from this point
Venture forth from here

Child
You are the only one
To open your own eyes
To see the world

You are the spring rain
Calling forth the flowers
You are the morning light
Calling home the hours
Morning Light

Notes
Some people very special to me have gone and made a whole new person! Nora came into the world nearly a week ago, daughter to my dear friends, James and Kristen. We live in a world in sincere need of new life. New life means new perspectives, new voices, new thoughts, and renewed hope. That’s a lot of expectations to put on a newborn, so I’ll simplify it a bit. What we can say for sure is that nobody has lived a life like Nora’s before. It’s hers and only hers, and I find that thrilling. We all get to start out new, we all get to live our lives for the first and only time, and we all get to walk the world as the only one to see it from our very own perspective. Nora, I wrote this song to wish you a pleasant journey through life, and to thank you in advance for everything new you will discover and share throughout that journey. Welcome, thank you, and safe travels!

~M.E.

Week 495 // The Only Light

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Wait
Last another day
I’m a warm statue in the sun
I’m a cold captive of the moon

Wake
With me in the morning
Close your eyes
With me in the night
Track the moments
Count the ages
Try to get it right

When the sun goes down
The moon’s the only light

Dream
Hold it at the edges
And if you should wake
Keep it in your eye
Keep the good days
All the bad days
Try to get it right

When the moon goes down
You’re the only light

Notes
On Wednesday I will have my 35th birthday (holy smokes). It’s funny getting older in Covidworld. Life seems like it’s on hold, but time sure isn’t. We’ve still got to get older every single day, but there’s still a lot of living we can do if we want to. I reflected a bit on this notion in this week’s song while sincerely enjoying myself on the guitar.

I’m a sucker for alternate guitar tunings, and I have written the vast majority of my songs that way. I love how they transform the instrument and force me to write from a new perspective. This week I went in search of a new tunings to try, and was excited to discover one favored by Nick Drake. I’m not a major student of his work, but I have always enjoyed the deep richness to the low-end of his guitar, and I wouldn’t mind emulating if I could. It turns out that his low end comes from tuning his low E string all the way down to a low C! That would do it.

So I went ahead and tuned my guitar like Nick did, but I didn’t really want to make a Nick Drake song. Instead of writing something dreamlike and dusky (that’s how I think of him), I went for something a bit more upbeat. I hope you enjoy listening to it.

I also hope you enjoy looking at the artwork for this week’s song. Rebecca made it and it’s beautiful. She has been stretching her creative limbs by drawing to stay emotionally limber through these strange days. She’s a great artist!

~M.E.

Week 494 // In Search of the Loon

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A long way
I have traveled to find
Somewhere
In a ripple in the dusk
It’s here
Oh in the corners of my heart
I’ll know

A long way
I have traveled to find
Somewhere
In a ripple in the dusk
It’s here
Oh in the corners of my heart
I’ll know

Notes
I’m lucky to be where I am. In the midst of all this madness, I have found myself enjoying an unexpected season with my parents. It means a lot to me to be with them. I’ve enjoyed dinners, jigsaw puzzles, walks, and conversations. Finally the weather is turning, and we’re able to enjoy nature more fully together.

Yesterday my dad and I took a ride on the lake in his pedal kayaks. They’re peculiar devices intended to keep my father’s hands free to cast his line. I don’t fish, so I thought of another way to use my liberated hands. I brought along a little guitar and I wrote a song.

As always when I take to the lake, I hoped to see one of our loons. They are magical and ancient creatures, and they are my spiritual center. As we set out, I thought I caught a glimpse of a black beaked head peeking just above the surface of the water. I searched and I searched, but I didn’t see it again before the sun began to set and we headed for shore.

Still, I know it was there.

~M.E.