Week 396 // Footprints

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I’m dressing down
I don’t think you’ll mind
It’s just fine for where we’re going

The night machine
Is turning out fog
I’m not sure which way we’re facing

Tonight in the garden
I followed you by your footprints
Tonight in the garden
I recognized your shadow

I’m feeling tired
But I don’t think you mind
I thought I saw your eyelids drooping

Tonight in the garden
I followed you by your footprints
Tonight in the garden
I recognized your shadow

Notes
This week’s song is a collection of disconnected moments, memories, and dreams. I think the combined whole is sort of impressionistic in that it gestures toward a cohesive picture without belaboring the minute details. At the center of these dreams and memories is my wife, Rebecca, who floats through these vignettes like a leaf on the breeze. Other times I’ve written of her as the ocean. Today’s offering is a more serene take. Also, today is her Birthday, and I hope it has been a lovely one.

~M.E.

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Week 395 // Nobody Nobody

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The strings that pull at everyone else
The motion taking everyone else
The shadow cast by everyone else
The first the last and everyone else

And in a way I’ve stayed like everyone else
And in a way we’re all like everyone else

The strings that pull at nobody else
The motion taking nobody else
The shadow cast by nobody else
There’s the first and the last and nobody else

And in a way I’ve stayed like nobody else
And in a way we’re all like nobody else

Notes
I think Identity is a subject that all of these songs deal with somehow, however directly or indirectly. This is a piece about the simple binary of self and other, and the nagging question of our relative uniqueness. The contradictory thoughts “I am like everyone,” and “I am like no one” seem both to be equally freeing and suffocating. The freedom of individuality is also the isolation of uniqueness. The mundanity of sameness is also liberty from prejudice. Sometimes we all feel like we stick out like sore thumbs. Other times we all feel like we are unable to distinguish ourselves. Somewhere in the gravity of these continuums lies the self. A thing to ponder with a simple song.

~M.E.

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Week 394 // The Seat of Your Soul

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Smile at the camera
Say hello to your future self
Say so long to this moment in time
It was fun while it lasted
Say hello to your future self

In a hundred years or so
When our ashes are floating to the ground
In a hundred thousand years or so
When all the data is destroyed
And the dust of us is blowing all around

Come on wave to the camera
Wave to the guests at your 90th birthday party
Flash a smile for your grandkids
Make it look good for the jaded youth
In your extended family

Smile at your lover
Watch your lover smiling at you
Watch your other
Perched on the seat of your soul
Feel your lover smiling at you

Come on wave to the camera
Wave to guests at your funeral
Flash a smile for your grandkids
Make it look good for the jaded youth
Dragged to your funeral

Notes
Rebecca and I spent the weekend at her 10-year reunion at Skidmore College, which was also my de facto 11-year reunion. Being back at school was marvelous and captivating. For all the fun and unrestrained joy the return held, there were somber moments too. I spent a long while sitting at a bench that has been installed to commemorate an old friend who was lost nearly 13 years ago. I sat there with a new friend who also knew my old friend, and we talked about impermanence and memory. My heart contorted as I reckoned with the sensation of my worst memories bubbling to the surface of my best memories. Thankfully my new friend was kind, wise, and helpful. No place is not complicated, I remembered.

Much of the weekend was spent intermittently passing around phones displaying old photographs of our former selves, and the way things used to be. Their smiles found us through the years, and I looked over my shoulder to realize they were smiling past us to our 20-year reunions, and 50-year reunions, and our anniversaries and birthday parties whether we live to see them or not, smiling straight past the present moment all the way to our funerals and even beyond, as long as the data can hold onto a coherent pattern. We marked the moment with new photographs, so we too could greet the future, just as we had done in the past. Like my old friend’s lovely bench, it was a bid for immortality and an admission of our impermanence, but this time I wasn’t sad. I fell asleep holding Rebecca tightly.

~M.E.

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Week 393 // All of the Pieces

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Searching every face
And so I wonder
How many paces out from her
I’ll spy my other

The call spins me around
Before I hear it
The walls around us
Bend their shapes to guide the spirit

All of the pieces fall into place

I know the things I know
I’ve seen confusion
I’ve seen the patterns set by men
And evil uses

I’ve seen your light come on
I’ve seen the light reach out
I know what contrast cast by light
Is all about

All of the pieces fall into place

And here we are to see it
Here we are to see it
Here we are to see each other

Notes
This week, I merely set out to write a nice song. The word “nice” is so devoid of substance and meaning that the task was likely to be in hand by mere virtue of the extreme breadth of possible interpretations of the term. Nonetheless, I think I did what I set out to do. I reached for the safety and warmth at the center of my marriage, and I cast that sensation as a bulwark against the encroaching confusion and darkness of the world at large. That’s a pretty nice thought to anchor a pretty nice song; that if we’re lucky, love can protect us from creeping darkness. There you have it.

~M.E.

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Week 392 // Above Us and out to Sea

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Listen down below
To the whispering pines
The secrets that they know

And way atop the trees
I’m gonna build us a house
that looks over the sea

Focus on the ocean calling
I will be there with you darling
Focus on the ocean calling
I will be there with you darling

A hundred years from now
Along a ragged sea
They’ll read our names out loud

Focus on the ocean calling
I will be there with you darling
Focus on the ocean calling
I will be there with you darling

Notes
I’ve played around with similar chord progressions and melodic ideas in the past (and pretty recently), so writing this week’s song sort of felt like putting on a well-worn old shirt. I think it would be an interesting project some day to track the songs that I’ve written with related structures and musical ideas. I have a feeling that nearly 400 songs would probably fit into around five general buckets — a thought to ponder another day.

This song plays with a recurring fantasy that Rebecca and I share of living together in a tree house. I think I was trying to build her a song as a safe refuge to return to as she looks ahead to an exciting new chapter as a law student this coming fall. In this song, I have perched the tree house above the ocean, because I know the sound of the surf will both comfort and inspire her. During the day, she can seek her adventure out to sea, and return home safe each night with the treehouse like a beacon to guide her. It’s a bit fanciful, but so is love, isn’t it?

~M.E.

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Week 391 // Back to Sleep

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Wake up tired
The faces of the the angels
Hovering up above me and you
I am one of them
And you’re one of them too
Let’s go back to sleep
Let’s go back to sleep
Let’s go back to sleep
For a little while

Lying here
My eyes are open and I peer into
The boxes we’re placed into
And I’m in one of them
You’re in one of them too
Let’s just go back to sleep
Let’s go back to sleep
Can we go back to sleep
For a little while?

Notes
This song is a bit of of a lullaby for grownups. I wrote and performed it immediately following a nap, with the full intention of resuming my slumber afterwards. It’s slow, dreamy, and just fine with being imprecise. I picked up my guitar and began to play, and the song emerged from me in mere moments, as if it had arrived while I was asleep. I played it once into a microphone, and that was that. There was time to spare to take the song’s advice.

~M.E.

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Week 390 // Gods

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Holy child I met at the bus stop
Hold my watch to your ear
Hear the tick
You know the Spanish for every number
But you know not which word stands for which

I was a child in a whole other country
I fell away
But I never forgot
I learned a language with ugly syllables
And translated prayers back to God

And every night
I speak my name out
‘Cause something tells me to

Charge the thing again every few hours
The thing won’t stop buzzing
The thing is a god
Take a picture and everyone sees it
And everyone knows that they’re loved

And every morning
I draw a circle
‘Cause something tells me to

Notes
My neighborhood is full of church bells, Sunday morning gospel bands, and storefront Pentecostal congregations that create an ecstatic ruckus in numerous languages. Each Monday, I go to work in a largely Hassidic neighborhood where signage slips out of my ability to read, and fashions speak only to piety. The super in my building is a faith healer — a fact I learned accidentally from YouTube. They say the urban Northeast is a dominantly secular space. They are wrong. Faith emanates from every crack in the concrete.

This song is about a few different ways people seek faith when they are lost out here in the wilderness. Specifically, they seek it through the wonder of children, through the touchstone of community, and through the twin gods of technology and capitalism. Surely they seek faith elsewhere as well, but my song ended before I had occasion to elaborate any further. Some gods will have to wait for another Monday for their praises to be sung.

~M.E.

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Week 389 // The Fixed Point

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The man on the bus unprovoked
Raised his fists to the driver
And the people in stages
Cast eyes to the fixed point inside them

Why don’t we look away look away?
Why don’t we come back here another time?
Think we should look away look away
Why don’t we come this way another time?

The light through the rain
Looks the same as the place I was raised in
The house down the street
Looks the same as the houses in my town

Why don’t we look away look away?
Why don’t we come back here another time?
Think we should walk away look away
Why don’t we come this way another time?

Nobody said I was any different
Everybody says that we’re all the same

Notes
I grew up far from here in a Boston suburb, and lived there again in my twenties for a time as I sorted some things out. It’s a nice place, but a very different place from where I live these days. Like many transplants from far and wide who share my zip code, I bring with me a certain point of view and a sense of otherness that I doubt I will ever shed. It’s not a bad thing. I feel increasingly comfortable in my surroundings, having lived here for nearly five years. Still, many times each day I am aware that I am an outsider, and it doesn’t only happen when I encounter something unfamiliar to me. Rebecca pointed out the silence outside our window the other night as we lay in bed. Far from the persistent clatter of Manhattan, fortunate Brooklynites can sometimes experience a sustained moment of calm. I breathed deep in the quiet, because It felt like home. The familiarity seemed out of place.

~M.E.

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Week 388 // Scattering Footprints

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On the way to where I’m going
Losing seconds while I tie my shoe
Hold the phone
Hold the door until I can walk through
To the other side
And what will be there?

And on the first of May
I plan to peer into
A crystal ball
The light of futures we could walk through
To the other side
And we can choose one

And I’m only walking
To get outside
I got no place to be
But I’m still going
Nothing left to do but move
Nothing else but scattering footprints
And filling up time

Once I was a speck of dust
Spinning from a single truth
Hurtling through
Yours is the orbit that I fell into
And there I shall remain
And there I shall remain

And we’re only talking
To try out words
I could make any sound and mean it
Anything I utter is true
Anything I whisper into your ear
Is only for you

Notes
I’m relieved to finally put this song to ones and zeroes after several weeks of flirting with the guitar part. This was one of those songs that made me nervous to finish because I liked playing it so much. As the form grew out of itself, this was a song for evenings and mornings and moments in between; a therapeutic perambulation for my fingers as I passed the time. The words didn’t come quite as easily.

This song anticipates the month of May, from which my context is spun, and through which I annually interrogate the emerging futures and receding past of my life. I am a son of springtime. Wherever I wander, that is what I’ll be. Each year my songs turn toward the unfolding horizon as the spring sets in, and my constellation nears its alignment. There will be more like this yet.

~M.E.

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Week 387 // Holy Signs

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Holy signs
Skin set aglow
Yesterday had sprung
That’s just the way it goes
The ache sets in
Hold me to your breast again

And you were there
In your dirty clothes
The light climbed across your back
It goes where you go
So I can see you shining there

Holy signs
The clock strikes nine
I scramble to my feet

I’m the boy in the rain
A cold dark place
The course of the river changed
It goes any which way
And I could follow each one

And oh when the sun goes down
I look to find holy signs

Notes
I tripped over this lovely little guitar run while trying to avoid finishing a different song that I’ve been playing around with for the last week or so. Feeling intimidated to properly write that other song set me free to follow the path that this one lay out ahead of me. I followed it step by step, listening for its wisdom and guidance, and shortly it had led me to a pretty nice folk song.

This is a springtime song. As such it is filled with the sun and rain, the warmth and the chill, high hopes and hedged expectations, and at the center of it all a bright, warm light to follow. It’s a love song. It rolled off my fingers, my pencil, and my tongue as if it had always been there. Perhaps it had been.

~M.E.

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