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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Week 411 // When the Monster Bites

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All the officers missing
From their stations
From their places
Who are we meant to turn to?
Tired faces

Looking over your shoulder
Making plans
Make contingency plans
Looking over your shoulder again
And again
And again

What are the reasons?
All of our reasons
Any of the reasons
To bite back
When the monster bites us

And it should stand to reason
In your bones
In your dusty bones
That if you beat them you join them
You should know

Look out over the water
At the land
At the land as it shrinks
As it sinks far below the horizon
Making plans

What are the reasons?
All of our reasons
Any of the reasons
To bite back
When the monster bites us

Notes
It has never been so clear to me that we are living through a period during which the acquisition and maintenance of power is primarily achieved not just through efforts to stoke public fears, but by deliberately encouraging people to feel elementally unsafe in bodily and existential senses. I think that fear has typically been stoked by those in power in America in order to encourage loyalty through the promise of protection from the other. Today, fear is stoked in an attempt to get the populous to cower, to try to make us to submit, to dominate the people. We have a regime that is openly hostile toward the people it governs. What should we be doing about that? Who has plans in November?

~M.E.

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Week 410 // Count to Twenty

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Wash away in a rainstorm
Loose change all around me
Losing faith out of habit
Like I ever even had it

Sooner or later
Watching the rain come in
Watching the light go out
Watching the sky go dim

When I was a child
I held my breath to count it
I let it out in secret
Like you’d believe I could keep it

Count to twenty
Look around you
Past the graveyard
It surrounds you

Oh the villains
All their intentions
Let’s circle up around them
Maybe we can surround them

Sooner or later
Watching the rain come in
Watching the light go out
Watching the sky go dim

Notes
When I was a kid, riding in the backseat of the Volvo with my older brother, we played a game every time we passed by a cemetery. He would remind me of the rules whenever he knew we were approaching one: “Starting at the graveyard,” Eben would say, “you have to hold your breath, and you can’t let it out until after we’ve passed a white house with black shutters, or else the demons will get inside you.”

This was surely some vestigial ritualistic remnant of New England’s puritanical origins. The rules were merciful enough, given the talismanic power with which white houses with black shutters were imbued, especially when one considered that this was probably the most common type of house to be found in the region at the time of my childhood. I imagine they were just as frequently found near the borders of New England cemeteries when one was compelled to hold his or her breath on foot, or by horse and buggy, rather than within the relatively speedy conveyance of a Swedish station wagon. Kids can’t hold their breath forever.

I think about this game sometimes when I ponder the current state of things. Reading the news is like passing the cemetery, except now I live in the city, and the houses here are made of bricks, and most of the buildings don’t have shutters on them at all. A lot of the time, it feels like I’m holding my breath so the demons don’t get inside me. Make sure to vote, so we can breathe again.

~M.E.

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Week 409 // September Song

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All the saints
All their names
Forget them when they’re inconvenient

One the bus
Stolen time
Carry it on my shoulder
Stocking up for the winter

Pretend to know what I’m doing
Pretend it comes naturally
Believe I’ve got the answer
Believe I know anything

Alive in impossible times
Incomprehensible moments
Awake through the strangest parts
Incomprehensible
Incomprehensible

So Sincere
Intending every word
Broke down on the sidewalk

Dollar bill
Small amounts in hand
Take them where you need them
Back to the place you keep them

Pretend to know what I’m doing
Pretend it comes naturally
Believe I’ve got the answer
Believe I know anything

Alive in impossible times
Incomprehensible moments
Awake through the strangest parts
Incomprehensible
Incomprehensible

Notes
As long as I can remember, September has been all business. It’s a month that attempts to put away the frivolity and carefree impulse of summer in order to recommit to serious things. When I was younger, it meant going back to school. As a professional, it means buckling down to prepare for our upcoming end of year campaign. As a culture, we’re collectively engaged in seriousness, but as individuals it can be a little hard to muster. There’s something in this song about faking it until you make it, which has traditionally been my best option when seriousness is the order of the day. It can be a bit anxiety inducing, so I cut my own tension with some soothing harmony. At first, the two-part harmony was meant only to come in periodically for emphasis and punctuation. I ended up carrying it through every phrase, as if to hold my own hand through the beginning of another transitional season.

~M.E.

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Week 408 // Pages

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Near the end of the book
Hold my tongue as the pages fall
It’s a miracle
Someone could fill them at all

When I was a boy
Bore my fists in embarassment
A real American specimen
Wearing anger and calling it strength

Calling it nothing at all
Calling a car coming home
Calling it turning the page
Calling out through acres alone
Calling your name through the fog
Calling any name that I know

Notes
We’re still nearly two weeks away from the first day of autumn, and the weather is sure to lapse into late heatwaves even after the calendar page turns, but today felt like fall. Most folks around me complained of the slight chill and persistent rain. It wasn’t even the nice kind of fall day for which autumnists pine throughout the inferior seasons. It was just damp and moody. And I loved it. As such I tried to write something that sounded a little damp and moody.

Theres this thing I love about comic books. Perhaps you’re standing at the shelf wondering what to read, so you reach for something new and you flip through the pages, allowing impressions of the artwork throughout the book to lend you a feeling of the tone and style to be found within. You can’t really do this at a glance with traditional literature. Comics allow the reader to glimpse moments free of context, which inevitably formulate a rough concept of story beats and plot, however inaccurate that concept may be. That’s what I was trying to do with this song: flip through the pages and create decontextualized impressions. If it’s a trick that comics can do, I thought I’d try it with a song.

~M.E.

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Week 407 // City Limits

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We were saying just the other day
We have got to get out of town
And any road out of here could lead the way
Just for a while we could clear the city limits

And I could look to you and see your eyes
Fill with something impossible
And you could stand with me and see the distance
Out before us
For a little while
For a little while

Notes
Appropriately, this entry speaks to a need to get away for a while. I’m just home from a Labor Day Weekend camping trip out to the North Fork of Long Island with Rebecca and some very dear friends, so the song is really a diary entry. I wish those of you also traveling home today a safe journey, and I hope your revelry was satisfying. Mine was filled with music and laughter, and that is the best I can hope for from such an excursion.

I began writing another song this morning at the campsite, which I had intended to complete upon this evening’s return to Brooklyn. Instead, I postponed fleshing it out. I’m going to plant it like a seed in my imagination, with the hope that it will flower on another Monday in the near future. Some of these take a little time to grow.

Back to work again in the morning! Vacations only last a little while.

~M.E.

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Week 406 // On the Way to the Moon

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One last look and the moon goes
Back behind the clouds for the night

One impossible crater to land in
Spectacular moment to savor

One giant leap for mankind
And the moment is gone
And the past is behind you

One fine day you’ll wake up to the birds
And it’s fine just to hear they are singing

On the way to the moon
On the way to the moon
On the way to the moon

In the morning the fence is blown down
And the yard is a mess from the storm

In the morning the paper is soaked
And the words bleed
And you cannot read them

In the morning the governor says
To call it a natural disaster

And in the morning you’ll wring out your socks
And do just the same thing you’ve been doing

On the way to the moon
On the way to the moon
On the way to the moon

Notes
I wrote and recorded this song in the total span of about forty-five minutes. I reveal that information because I am still parsing what the words mean to me, and what I think I might be trying to talk about with this piece. Normally, in the time it takes to put one of these together, I work out a more complete concept of the meaning of the content. Tonight it is more like listening to something written by somebody else, and attempting to interpret the meaning.

This song seems to speak to the lofty goals and the weighty interventions of life. There are notes of the fleeting satisfaction of accomplishment sharing space with the disappointment of pitfalls. Their commonality seems to be the vacuum that they leave in their wake, because life doesn’t start and stop with the most pronounced moments; it goes on and that’s a good thing.

I think perhaps my understanding ends there. Also, I wish I had written a bridge for this song.

~M.E.

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Week 405 // Extras

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The morning’s alright
The evening’s usually better
I try to get errands over with

All over the block
Confetti turns to litter
The streetlight turns to glitter
In the rain and it’s raining again

All over the town
The doorways are like temples
And I’m giving you an earful

I follow you home
You catch me at the corner
My senses dull in summer every year

And we’ll be extras
We’ll get paid to walk in circles
And drive a vintage model
In a costume on HBO

All over the town
The doorways are like temples
And I’m giving you an earful

Notes
Earlier this month, Rebecca and I reached three years living in our current apartment and neighborhood. That milestone solidifies this as my longest running home after the one in which I grew up, although that milestone was technically reached some time ago (at two years, one month, and one day to be precise). Lately I’ve been feeling at ease here. The familiarity is a comfort to me. Knowing what to expect around the corner holds a kind of romance. I think that’s part of the seduction home. Your mind holds a picture before you open your eyes. You open your eyes and the picture is the same. This song is trying to capture some of the romance of the familiarity I feel in my neighborhood while leaving room to be surprised from time to time.

~M.E.

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