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 404 // Passage

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On the way up
We are looking at strangers faces
Lines that we know
Add up to misplaced shapes
And tales we’ve been told

On the way up
I thought of all the years you’ve been breathing
Each spoke a word
Even your past believes in what we’ll become

All of the windows open and worlds come in
They open and songs come in
We’ve never heard that one
We’ve never heard it before

On the way up
We are talking about plans we’re making
Each is a poem
Each is a breath I’m taking
Each holds a song

On the way up
I thought of how you look when you’re crying
Your shoulder conceals half of you
And I would be lying to say I’m unmoved

All of the windows open and worlds come in
They open and songs come in
We’ve never heard that one
We’ve never heard it before

Notes
My household is in the midst of yet another powerful transition as Rebecca truly embarks on her law school journey. Since this change must be dizzying to her, part of my role as her partner is to strive to maintain stability wherever possible in our domestic life. I don’t yet know how hard or easy that will be. I’m also bracing myself for her departure into the depths of her studies, and the inevitability of being left idle to occupy myself in her absence. I don’t know what that will be like either. These concerns form the anxiety present in this song.

Here is what I do know: this change of circumstance will alter the course of our lives, both in the shortest of short-term and in the remotest corner of our future together. It’s impossible to predict the shape of the change, but we get to try to encounter it with hope and wonder. The joy of that realization accounts for the windows flying open and the song flooding our ears in the refrain.

Rarely do I experience satisfaction with myself as acutely as those weeks when I attempt to capture whistling on one of these recordings. It is hard to record whistling in my experience, so I rarely ever try. It is a shame because my lips are truly my primary instrument, whistling as I am wont to do all around town whenever I am out and about by myself. I probably seem like a crazy person, but I’ve come to terms with that since the city where I live provides such convenient cover for people acting out of the ordinary. The threshold is high around here. I did a simple whistle harmony toward the top of this number, and I felt glad about it, but I digress.

~M.E.

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Week 403 // The Misery of Neighborhood Pets

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Don’t leave the window open
It’s hotter than hell out there
It wouldn’t make a dent

All day long I’ve wondered ’bout the fate
Of the kids down the block
And the misery of neighborhood pets
What chance do they get?

Down somewhere by the ocean
I heard there was a breeze blowing by

Down at the bottom of the sea
Where you can’t even breathe
They got a nice cool spot
The sun can’t even touch you when you’re there

So many people
Hanging ’round town
Could it be they got no better place to be?

Notes
It’s hot out there gang. I think there has come a day in each of my New York summers when the heat has reached such a pitch that I could write of nothing else. That day arrived today.

I’m an outspoken detractor of summer. In the deepest, darkest days of winter, there is no room in my apartment that is rendered uninhabitable for mammals. Not so in summer. I worry for the safety of my pets. Sure, this season has plenty of charms, but when the score is tallied it comes in dead last by miles. Summer is very bad.

This song is playful, hoping to make light of the objectively terrible conditions outside and in apartments citywide. But there is also a serious sentiment in the end. I wish New Yorkers and summer sufferers everywhere a safe cool place to pass the remainder of the season. If you’ve got an elderly neighbor, maybe check in every once in a while.

Stay cool.

~M.E.

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Week 402 // The Hard Part of Windstorms

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Call in a favor
Cut to the chase
I was a windstorm
Blowing in place
I was a windstorm
Wherever I was
The clock was a minute slow
Catch up with me
I can wait
The wind blows wherever I go

There in a moment
Blink and it’s gone
The word from the poet
The hard part of song
The hard part of windstorms
Wherever they are
The clock slips a minute slow
Catch up with me
I can wait
The wind blows wherever I go

Notes
I wrote this song with hardly any gas left in my tank, but I think it came out pretty. I wrote this song for all my friends who have lived through a storm. I tried to somehow describe the wind’s atemporal disorientation, and the way it makes you brace in one place, even as it moves every molecule of you. Whether any of that comes across or not, the wind still stands as an evident proxy for the turbulence we inevitably confront. The calm and patient guitar stands as a foil to the metaphor. Somewhere within us, perhaps, hopefully, the thrashing wind can subside.

~M.E.

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Week 401 // More Like You

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Come into the morning
Meet me at the house
A window off the tree line
A cat to chase the mouse

Your hand upon the rearview
Still you look ahead
And then we’re gone
Your hand upon my own hand
Holding on

Tight are the corners
Still you take every one
Gone is the silence
That you break
Laughing at the sun
I’m trying to be more like you

I wake you in the morning
The guilt I cannot take
To stop you in your dreaming
Compel your eyes to wake

The motion is an old one
We walk upon the shore
And then we’re gone
The motion is an old one
Holding one

Tight are the corners
Still you take every one
Gone is the silence
That you break
Laughing at the sun
I’m trying to be more like you

Notes
Rebecca and I just returned from a long-overdue honeymoon. When we married three years ago next week, we took a few days together to drive up to Maine for what millennial couples like us call a “Minimoon”. It was beautiful, but brief. Time marched on, work and lack of work intervened, and for a long while we didn’t have much time for vacations. Aside from the minimoon, we’d never really taken a trip together other than to visit friends or family. Finally, circumstances aligned and we flew off to magical São Miguel Island in the Azores. The trip was one joyful adventure after another. It dawned on me during our vacation that we’d probably never spent so much consecutive uninterrupted time together. It was about time.

In this song, I write about sharing time and space with another person. I think the words wind and swerve between past, present, and future. The landscape is unfixed, so the other person becomes the stable horizon. I’m a bit sad our trip is over, and I think you can hear a note of that here. Mostly, I’m just glad to have a person I enjoy and admire so deeply to spend my time with.

~M.E.

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Week 400 // Walking Through Midnight

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Hold the map up to the light
And tell me all the roads you recognize
I think there’s another way
Back to the interstate

Some days I’ve been set upon
Out in the woods I’ve been

Wherever we’re going
We’re walking through midnight
Wherever we’re going
Nobody knows
Wherever we’ve been to
The cracks have been showing
Shadows in the low light
Point the way to go

Breathe the air
The way it tastes without a moment
Shot through by the sun
The rules we bend
And the power given unto us
The moment we have broken one

Sometimes I’ve been one of them
Lost in the cave I’ve been

Wherever we’re going
We’re walking through midnight
Wherever we’re going
Nobody knows
Wherever we’ve been to
The cracks have been showing
Shadows in the low light
Point the way to go

Wherever we’re going
We’re walking through midnight
Wherever we’re going
Nobody knows
Wherever we’ve been to
The cracks have been showing
Shadows in the low light
Point the way home

Notes
I must pause to reflect upon 400 songs written for one purpose: that songwriting requires the writing of songs. I asked myself to be persistent, and I have been so. I encouraged myself to approach the practice with joy and curiosity whenever I was able. For the most part, I feel I have done that as well.

I listen back to these hundreds of songs infrequently, but they return to me in recycled turns of phrase, harmonies, and melodic flourishes. They insinuate themselves upon my new works in ways both known and surprising to me. This week’s song is consciously pieced together from many previous works. I have grown comfortable with that. It is still something new. Besides, all of these songs are truly one song. They are my song, which I have been writing and revising since boyhood, long before I began counting up from one.

I write to you today from Ponta Delgada, capital of Sao Miguel Island and of the Azorean Archipelago, belonging to Portugal, but located some two thirds of the way across the Atlantic Ocean from my home base in Brooklyn. I wrote this song before I came here, and it owes nothing to my current surroundings, except for the accompanying photograph, which was taken yesterday by Rebecca, my wife and traveling companion. It spoke to a lyric you will find in this song in which I sang about a cave.

Like the rest of humanity, I was struck by the harrowing ordeal of the youth soccer team who were lost in a cave and rescued recently in Thailand. Their story caused me to reflect a bit on the process by which we we lose and find ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually, or otherwise. The lyric about the cave came to me as I pondered them, and the rest of the song spread from that nucleus. In the end, this song has little to say about those boys or their heroic rescuers, but they all deserve a nod for their inspiring endurance and ultimate human triumph.

This Mount Everest project has always been about getting lost and finding oneself. It will stay that way for the foreseeable future. Thanks to my wife, my parents, my family, my collaborators, and my friends. Thanks especially to those of you who have come back to listen 400 times. Thanks most especially to any of you who have ever listened at all.

~M.E.

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