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.

Week 493 // Folding at the Weight of a Feather

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When will it feel like the weekend?
Everyone is worried about it
What do owe to each other?
Everyone is talking about it

What does it mean to be empty?
When can I stop dreaming about it?
Turn like a season is ending
Learn it all again in a new day’s sun

The past in a photograph ages
I’m sleeping it off hard
As the rain comes down

Hold me up
See to it that the morning breaks

Think about the shape your burden takes
And place your arms around it
Think about the place your body aches
And hold yourself above it

Dogeared old pieces of paper
Recognize the writing upon it
Study the tilt of the letters
You’re folding at the weight of a feather

Pack for the length of a season
Learn your heart again
In the new day’s sun

Hold me up
See to it that the morning breaks

Hold me up
See to it that the morning breaks

Hold me up
See to it that the morning breaks

Notes
This is a song about putting the old world to bed and staying up to watch the sun rise over a new one. None of us knows exactly what that means, but this is a unique moment when we can feel the change in motion. It is so painful to watch the old world go and take so many lovely souls with it. But something new is happening as we contemplate our responsibility to one another on a societal level, and as we attempt to reimagine the future from scratch. This song wrestles with holding onto bits of the past as they slip through our fingers, and trying to embrace the new day even though we can’t see the morning light breaking just yet. Let’s try to hold each other up as best we can and wait for dawn to break.

~M.E.

Week 492 // Holy Signs 2

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Signs
I’ve been listening forever
I’ve studied calls of the morning birds
Assigned too much meaning to the minor chords
That they form

And I’ve run out of context
Does the light move across the blinds
To remind me I’m losing time

And into the water we go
Into the water and out of sight
I could swim clear to the opposite shore
To find the perspective I’m looking for

Fall asleep in the afternoon
Shake with a dream I don’t want
Wake with a start as the light falls
And finds its way home

What would I do with context?
Would I sort out the beats of my past
Or decipher what’s coming up next?

And into the water we go
Into the water and out of sight
I could swim clear to the opposite shore
To find the perspective I’m looking for

Holy signs
Oh holy signs
Holy signs
Oh holy signs

And into the water we go
Into the water and out of sight
I could swim clear to the opposite shore
To find the perspective I’m looking for

Notes
Shortly after I decided to name this song “Holy Signs”, I remembered I had already written a song by that name. No matter. It’s my habit to reuse song titles when the mood strikes me, creating a series where there could have been two songs standing all alone. Amazingly, the last Holy Signs came out almost exactly two years ago on April 16th, 2018. That was week 387, if you’re counting.

Of that other song I wrote: “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.” That was another kind of spring, and I have to admit that this song had a harder time finding the bright warm light. That said, this is every bit as much a springtime song as the other. Maybe it’s a bit less hopeful, but It longs for cleansing renewal, and perhaps even rebirth. Maybe on the other side of our trials, that’s what we’ve got in store.

~M.E.

Week 491 // Quiet Seasons

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Walk out in the woods
Walk and I feel something good
When I watched you cut your hair
The finest smile I saw there
You let your laugh into the sky
If only heard by you and I
If only heard by you and I

See the table’s set
We dine like we cannot forget
We can say a prayer for us
And all lost souls who we’ve forgot
And all the battles fought out there
And lonely people everywhere
Lovely people everywhere

And out under the moon
I turn and tell truth
That it’s good to be alone with you
Anytime

All this is bound to end
And what will we tell of it then?
Will we say we held a line
Once all these days are lost to time?
Once all the quiet seasons are through
What will I have to say to you?
What will be left to say to you?

Oh out under the moon
I’ll turn and tell truth
That it’s good to be alone with you
Anytime

Notes
When I began writing the lyrics for this song, I wanted to start with some good things that have been happening around me these days. I had a feeling the words may angle toward bittersweet rather than purely positive, but I was okay with that. I just wanted to start someplace light. So I thought of the peace of walking in the woods. I recalled the spontaneity of Rebecca giving herself a haircut in the middle of the night. I paused for a moment on the feeling of togetherness during Passover and Easter dinners shared with Rebecca’s family (joining from afar) and my parents in the same week.

Sure enough, the world crept into the song, and it became important to sing about other things. Of course the world is in tough shape outside my walls and beyond these woods. Of course people are fighting to survive both illness and hardship right now. Of course humanity is lonesome out there, and I am no exception to that even as I have my wife and parents with me.

Ultimately I came to a chorus that pays honor to Rebecca, whose company is everything to me now. I don’t mean to be insensitive to those who are pushing through this experience by themselves, but I have to sing my own song. It is right that this comes back to her.

Remember, time is slow and the future is uncertain, but this won’t be forever. Love to you all.

~M.E.

Week 490 // Gone for a While

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Old wind
You’re older than the mountain
Blow me over
Clear across the county
And I’ve been gone now
For a little a while

Rent a place
At the far end of the river
All I’ve got
Is what I what I want to give her
And we’ve not been back
For a little while

Stand with you looking out
At what could be oblivion
Smile as we peer across
The chasm into dawn

Woke at
The wrong end of a dream
And morning’s
Even stranger than it seems
And I been dreaming
For a little while

Count the birdsongs
Drifting on the breeze
And count your blessings
And share a few with me
I’ll hold on to them
For you for a while

Stand with you looking out
At what could be oblivion
Smile as we peer across
The chasm into dawn

Notes
Rebecca and I have been away from home for three weeks now as the world has grappled with the way things suddenly are. It’s strange being someplace so beautiful. New York is like a distant roar over the horizon as I calm myself to the birdsongs and babbling brooks of New Hampshire. For moments I can trick my mind into believing I’m on vacation, and I allow those moments to wash over me because I know other harder moments will soon visit. I put off real worries about job security and disease and I breathe the fresh air. I take a walk with my wife and find a pretty view. I enjoy an evening with my parents. I tend to the fire. I write music. I remind myself that there is an end to this, and that in the mean time I have a lot. I’m grateful, but I’m also scared. This is not a vacation, but this place is beautiful all the same.

~M.E.

Week 489 // A Late Winter Song

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Snow
In slow motion
Take me out of time

Remember
What comes first
When troubled days arrive

Remember the faces you have loved
Remember the silence of the snow

Seasons
It’s only time
And time is known to pass

Remember
Even footprints
Tend to fade at last

Remember the laughter all around
Remember the silence of the snow

Snow
Snow snow is drifting
I feel fixed in place

Remember
We can drift like snow
In different ways

Remember the warmth beside the glow
Remember the silence of the snow

Notes
Where you are, it may be springtime. Here it is late winter, and I have spent two Mondays in a row writing music to gentle snowfall out the window. The snow suits the moment better than the spring, even as I envy those of you who have sunshine and green things to greet you when you go outside. It is a time of great anxiety, and the peaceful falling of the snow is a beautiful counterbalance to that anxiety. I wanted to write a song to capture that peace in order to balance out my own dark currents. For the moment, It feels like it worked.

~M.E.