Week 483 // Man

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Back when I was born
Men couldn’t talk this way
Only ever hold back a storm
Only ever lock it away

Back when I was a boy
Boys were a certain way
Boys had to conquer the world
Boys bled in the heat of the day

Lord now that I’m a man
A man’s an uncertain thing
A man isn’t alone on the edge
A man offers whatever he brings

Notes
Maybe I haven’t used this space enough to discuss my experience of manhood and masculinity. It’s a loaded subject that I’m not fully comfortable writing about, so I wanted to use this song in part to find the edges of my language on the topic.

I remember a time when the definition of a man was a lot narrower. This definition was not only narrower in the dimension of what a man could be like or act like, could think, feel, or express — but narrower, also, in the scope of people who could ever be accepted when describing themselves as men.

Our current definition of a man is mercifully a little wider, but still far too narrow. It causes deep injury to the souls of men and boys of all description, and to the people in their orbit. It alienates us from ourselves, from other men, from women, from our partners, and from humanity at large. It is in part why we men do damage to other people in ways both great and small, whether we mean to or not.

We are bound by the narrowness of our definition, and we strain and rage against it. We long to be free of it, to decide it for ourselves even as we are frozen in fear of that freedom. I’m not speaking for all men, of course. But I’m speaking on behalf of a great many who I’ve encountered. So many of us feel this way.

I’m glad to live through a time in history when we can ask questions of our manhood, when we can think again about what it means. This song is a small piece of that larger questioning. How can we be better men? I’m not sure, but we can try.

~M.E.

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Week 482 // Over and Over

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Wait ’til the moment is over
Over and over again
Realize that normal feels crazy
Over and over and over again

It’s anyone’s guess
It’s anyone’s guess
It’s anyone’s guess
What comes next

Compare our intel discretely
Over and over again
Turn off your conscience completely
Over and over and over again

It’s anyone’s guess
It’s anyone’s guess
It’s anyone’s guess
What comes next

Notes
Last week I was a bit more thoughtful about my anxiety surrounding current events, our current election cycle, and the lawlessness and indecency of our president. Last week was insane. This week I just feel hung over. I have no real insight here. I just want to vent a bit about the cycle of paranoia and disappointment that I’m trapped in as I remain engaged in our deteriorating process. After 2016, I had to take a big step back to cultivate my own wellbeing. It’s only February, and I might be there already.

~M.E.

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Week 481 // A Battle Prayer

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Modern ways
Don’t weigh me down
I can see through the darkness
I can hear every foot step
But for my own
But for my own

All the while across the field
I hear a prayer
In a language I don’t know
A note of anguish
Strikes a tone
It strikes a tone
A note of strangeness
All our own
All our own

Oh the dogs begin to howl
And the wild things grow angry
Blood and bone
Baring fangs
Each scared of their own
Scared of their own

And the cloud
Will take a toll
On both the wild and weary
Oh the wind works a theory
All its own
All its own
We’ve been fearing all our own
All our own

Notes
2020 was destined to be a fraught year. Election years always are, and this one will be the worst in memory. Today marks the Iowa Caucus, and tomorrow the most corrupt president in history will gloat through his State of the Union address on the literal eve of being acquitted by the US Senate following a sham trial that heard no witnesses. America is a nation at war with herself, and we must live through it. I offer us this prayer.

~M.E.

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Week 480 // Every Person

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On the way to work
I got stuck
On the wrong side
Of aging tiles
The water
Everywhere
Don’t be afraid of the others
They are like you
They are
The same
Look to them
Speak to them
I’ve been a coward
To think so much of myself
I am
Ashamed
That I think of myself
As if I am apart
And a leaking pipe
Becomes a river
Below
And it caries us
All the way
Home

Notes
I wrote this song in a different way, as a creative exercise and to find out what would happen. I may have tried this before, but I can’t quite remember. I recorded a fairly straightforward guitar piece, and without listening back to the whole thing, I began to sing and record lyrics phrase by phrase. I invented each phrase just before I sang it, and practiced each phrase only a couple of times before I recorded it. I didn’t allow myself to write down or listen to the previous phrases as I worked. I only reacted to my memory of what I had been singing, and whatever related thoughts came into my mind.

As I sang, I began to think about Jason Polan, who died today. I never heard of him before cancer took his life, but I wish I had met him. He was an artist who set out to draw “Every Person in New York“. Both for practical reasons, and because of his untimely death today at the age of 37, he never quite got to all of us. In order to draw as many people as possible, he worked quickly, sketching people as they moved about, trying in earnest to capture as many as he could. The work is a stunning testament to our shared humanity.

Polan did much of his work on the subway. Could there be a better place to encounter as many New Yorkers as possible? His subway drawings struck me deeply. So often it is a place where I shy away from the human encounter, guarding personal space and avoiding eye contact. Lately I’ve been experiencing a bit of agoraphobia in New York crowds, and the subway has been a trigger. I have wanted to feel apart from those around me, but here is work that describes our familiarity and commonality. It cuts straight through our otherness. I feel sad that this artist is gone. I feel sad that only his death brought the lesson of his work to my attention. I feel glad that I found this.

~M.E.

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Week 479 // Creatures of the Fire

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The waves are cresting all around
I wonder how we’ll come of age
Your breathing is a subtle sound
I think ahead to other days

And all we are is this
And what this is
Is up to you and I to name our own
again
Creatures of the fire
Masters of the air and earth
We’ve known it all the while

I crack the knuckles on my hand
You fret the furrow of your brow
We conquer every world we can
We meet back in the here and now

And all we are is this
And what this is
Is up to you and I to name our own
again
Creatures of the fire
Masters of the air and earth
We’ve known it all the while

Holding on
Holding on
Holding on to you

Seems Thursdays can be lighter days
If Wednesdays are the deepest ones
If older is the only way
May wiser be what we become

And all we are is this
And what this is
Is up to you and I to name our own
again
Creatures of the fire
Masters of the air and earth
We’ve known it all the while

Notes
Rebecca helped me do a tarot card reading this morning. It wasn’t a traditional deck, and I don’t know much about those. Her deck is filled with beautiful images of animals. I learned that today was a day to take inspiration from an eagle. At the same time, Rebecca found her way in the path of the elephant.

I’m not going to break down the exact meaning and interpretation of these cards. Nonetheless, the reading inspired me and gave me comfort. I adapted some of these lyrics from a vague misremembering of what we read.

I think mastery over fire and air describes an ability to navigate change and challenge with perspective, as if from above. For my wife and me, this is a time in our lives when we need that perspective as we work to change and grow together, and as we confront challenges and transformations in many corners of our lives.

With enough perspective, we get to define who we’ll be. We get to grow up with a bit more purpose. We get to decide how to be together. We get to be masters of a life we choose.

~M.E.

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Week 478 // No One Ever Talks That Way

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No one ever talks that way
No one ever thinks about it
No one ever talks about it

No one ever talks that way
No one ever thinks about it
No one ever talks about it

Believe me
Believe me
Believe

Believe me
Believe me
Believe

Notes
Nick and I just went on a ski trip. You remember Nick, don’t you? He’s probably the most frequent collaborator on this project (although I’ve never run the numbers), so I’ll just assume you know who I mean. While we were driving through the woods in Maine, he told me about listening through all of Mount Everest from beginning to end over the past few weeks. I’m amazed and grateful that he decided to do that. He asked a lot of thoughtful questions about the experience of doing this project and what it means to me in the greater context of my lived experience. He got me to really open up about it.

In the process of talking it through, I spoke aloud a true thing that I never talk about, and perhaps had never uttered before. This project has become such a bulwark against the darkest corners of my heart that I absolutely tremble at the thought of losing it. Missing a week has become one of my greatest fears. If it happened, I’m afraid I would shed a part of my identity so fundamental that my world without it would be unknowable.

That sounds very dramatic, but I want to shed a more positive light on the same feeling. Nick reminded me that some years ago I called this project my life’s work. That still holds true. The contours of one’s sentiment toward his life’s work shouldn’t be simple. I should fear the loss of this thing even as I adore it for merely existing. I don’t talk about it often enough in this way. What I’m doing is important to me.

~M.E.

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Week 477 // Turn Your Face to It

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Behold the Earth is turning
And it brings us back to this
We hold each other up
And place our feet upon the ice
We shield each other’s faces
As we turn into the wind
We warm each other’s bodies
As we travel through the night

We are part of this
Turn your face to it
We are part of this
Turn your face to it
We are part of this
Turn your face to it
We are part of this
Turn your face to it

Notes
This is a winter song. I’ve written before of navigating the winter, and drawing closer together in order to get through it. It’s an old idea — an ancient necessity. While the obvious need for warmth is far more simply met with the heat of another, there is also the inevitability of challenge and trial that comes with the season. Even though many of us face the winter in relative safety from the elements, there is yet the pervasive sense that the challenge of living becomes more acute, that we wouldn’t make it through without teaming up. When we can, we become part of each other and turn to face the cold together.

~M.E.

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Week 476 // Amazing Things

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Oh amazing things
Amazing wind could blow
On the day it carries us off
They’ll be waving down below

Oh amazing sky
Amazing stars could shine
To find reflections there in your eye
I’ll be searching all the time

Way down on Earth
We stand with feet in different ages
I’ll pause as I lick my thumb
To loosen up the pages

Oh amazing roads
To seize amazing days
To twist and weave wherever they go
And to trust them all the way

Oh amazing hand
To place it into mine
With all that means we carry it
Here and there and down the line

Way down on Earth
We stand with feet in different ages
I’ll pause as I lick my thumb
To loosen up the pages

Notes
I write to you this morning from the Amtrak North East Regional on a gloomy day before New Years Eve. The sky is low and it is quiet here in coach. Leaving the city, we’re passing through an industrial remnant of an old decade, a few decades past. In a couple of days, we’ll begin another new one. I don’t know what it will be like, but it stretches ahead of us waiting to show us. I’m taking a breath as I prepare to find out. I am hopeful that one way or another it will amaze us.

~M.E.

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Week 475 // Everyone’s Thinking

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Everyone’s thinking the same thing
Everyone’s thinking the same thing
Watching them thinking it over
Watching them thinking it over

Everyone’s feeling the same way
Everyone’s feeling the same way
Watching them working it over
Watching them working it over

Notes
I only had time this week for a quick sketch of a song, but I tried to make it sound nice. With the hectic preparations for the holidays — shopping, cooking, packing, running last minute errands, tying up loose ends — everyone I see is rushing around. People are frantic and on edge. It’s funny because for many of them, the thrum of anxiety that they navigate is in service to a season that is meant to be a respite. But we’re all thinking the same thing. We’re just trying to get there.

~M.E.

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Week 474 // Tricks of the Light

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I want to stay up late
Without a thing to do
I’m gonna think a little while
I’m gonna talk to you

When the sun goes down
And we’re the last alive
All kinds of enemies around
We should stay inside

I want to hold you up
You gotta help me please
I’m gonna finally find a word
For what it means to me

When the sun goes down
And we’re the last alive
All kinds of monsters around
The fast and angry kind
And we can wait them out
We gotta stay inside
We gotta stay inside

I’m trying to make it through the night
You gotta help me please
I’m gonna make it through the night
You’re gonna help me please

When the sun goes down
And we’re the last ones alive
All kinds of ghosts around
The big and ugly kind
I move at every little sound
I freeze at tricks of the light
Don’t want to wait it out
I gotta get outside
We gotta get outside
We gotta get outside
Gotta get outside

Notes
This song came as a bit of a surprise to me. I’m sick today, and fully expected to expend as little energy as possible on today’s entry. Instead, I fought my cold to spend some quality time with this track, and I’m happy that I did.

There’s a sense motion to this song, and despite struggling to sing through congestion and sneezing, I think there is an appealing honesty and vulnerability to the vocal performance. My cold got the better of me when it came time to decide whether or not to record vocal harmonies. I had a few ideas that I regret leaving out, but I still think the solo voice has a lot of character and caries the song on its own.

This is a song about the give and take that two people do to stay strong for each other. It’s about wanting to be the strong one, then realizing you need to take at least as much as you want to give.

~M.E.

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