Monday, November 11, 2019

Gut Feeling (demo)

Here's a demo of a song I like.




I rule at blogging.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Midnight in the garden



Sometimes the evil wins.  Been thinking that a lot lately.  Sometimes the evil wins for a long time.  Sometimes the evil wins the battles.  Sometimes the evil wins for so long that we can't even know a life without evil.  What we call "evil" can be a lot of things.  It can be violence.  Hate.  Depression.  Addiction.  Not holding a door open for someone else.  Trolling on the internet.  Stubbing your toe?

I'm not sure I believe in any sort of otherworldly, non-corporeal Evil that underlies all these different evils.  I'm not sure I believe in an a priori dichotomy of evil and good.  I can't quite get behind the concept of karma.  I do believe to some degree that we get from the world what we put into it, but some get more and some get less, so it's an unjust karma, if at all, and that doesn't seem trustworthy as Spiritual Principle.

Regardless, my orientation to the world, to knowledge, and my ability to obtain knowledge, is one that is inherently value-laden, and that value says that good exists in all and that good can, and does, ultimately overcome evil.

Like evil, I'm not sure I can bracket it, but I do know that good is lots of things.  Good can be given.  Good can be received.  It can be planned.  It can be random.  Good is warmth.  Love.  Happiness.  Freedom.  A kind deed.  A random statement of support from a stranger.  Good is also walking in the park.  Patting a kind dog.  Creating.  Laughing.  Adventure.  New friends.  A long chat.  A cool, humid night at the beach.  Reconnecting.  Feeling accomplished.  A rightful deed.  Acknowledgement.  Prayers.  Hugs.  Beliefs.  Strengths.  Common and uncommon goods.  A baby, or a pet, napping on you.  A flower.  A creek for exploring.  A champion.  A kid who tries hard.  A kid who's lucky.  A memory.  A warm day.  A story.  Truth and justice.

There are a lot of little goods in the day to day.  There are some that take longer.  There are some we may never know.  But it's hard to keep a good unknown.  Good always overwhelms an evil in the long-run.  Think of all the evil we've righted in the decades we've been alive.  Even the struggle itself is a kind of good.  Sometimes, knowing the struggle is good is all that we need to keep going.


It's been a long few days.  I thought about this album and how, without words, it tells me about the magic of exploring in the forest.  I don't have any nearby childhood forests at the moment, but I feel this is a Good to share with the world and that's a pretty similar feeling.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

What wondrous love is this?



This was an unexpected gift.  Jason Molina's Songs: Ohia album "The Lioness" is perhaps one of the most influential albums in my life.  I happened upon a few songs in 2000, back when Epitonic was one of the major players on the internet, helping people to find previously unknown musicians and bands.  Sometime later, in 2001, I finally bought 'The Lioness' and from thereon out, his music matched every major life transition, every upswing and downswing in my emotional state, every joy and loss.  For years, I could not listen to The Lioness without becoming overwhelmed by memories.  

A couple months ago, 5 years after Jason's death, Secretly Canadian re-released this album, alongside nearly an album's worth of recordings from the same session, the majority of which had never even been played live, let alone released.  Jason was known for being extremely prolific, often writing and recording or performing songs in the same day.  When playing live, he tended to prefer new songs and would rarely perform songs from his extensive catalogue.  It would not surprise me to learn that he had scrapped more songs than he'd recorded, giving us somewhat of a guarantee that we'll continue to have these occasional leaks of old material.

Many words have been spent by others more talented at writing about music than I am, so I won't reiterate at length how the unreleased songs capture Jason's belief in a dichotomy of love songs; whereas the original Lioness release captured the emotional, the longing, these new songs represent the "work" aspect, the effort of keeping the relationship.  I think that's pretty true.

What surprised me most about this album was the recording of the historic hymnal 'Wondrous Love.'  Jason's faith was always somewhat mysterious, but he held an appreciation for appalachian and southern gospel (evidenced by naming an album after Mahalia Jackson's 'Didn't It Rain'), so his recording of this song isn't a surprise; what's a surprise are the subtle changes he's made to it to reflect his own place in the world.  

Below are the lyrics to one of the original versions (via Wiki), from which most lyrics are descended.  Note the skipping over of half the verses, and the change of the tense of the final verse from present to future.  I've blocked out the lyrics he skipped and bolded Jason's changes:


1.
What wondrous love is this
O my soul! O my soul!
What wondrous love is this!
O my soul!
What wondrous love is this!
That caused the Lord of bliss
to send this precious peace,
To my soul, to my soul!
To send this precious peace
To my soul!
To bare the dreadful curse
for my soul, for my soul
To bare the dreadful curse
for my soul.

2.
When I was sinking down,
Sinking down, sinking down;
When I was sinking down
Sinking down
When I was sinking down,
Beneath God's righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown
For my soul, for my soul!
Christ laid aside his crown
For my soul!

3.
Ye winged seraphs fly, 
Bear the news, bear the news!
Ye winged seraphs fly
Bear the news!
--Ye winged seraphs fly, 
like comets through the sky,
fill vast eternity!
With the news, with the news!
Fill vast eternity
With the news!

4.
Ye friends of Zion's king,
join his praise, join his praise;
Ye friends of Zion's king,
join his praise;
Ye friends of Zion's king,
with hearts and voices sing,
and strike each tuneful string
in his praise, in his praise!
and strike each tuneful string
in his praise!

5.
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing
--To God and to the Lamb,
who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme,
I will sing, I will sing!
while millions join the theme,
I will sing!
To God and to the Lamb,
I will sing
6.
And while when from death I'm free,
I'll sing on, I'll sing on,
And while when from death I'm free,
I'll sing on.
and while when from death I'm free, 
I'll sing and joyful be,
and throughout eternity
I'll will sing on, I'll will sing on,
and throughout eternity
I'll will sing on.



While certainly he took a reductionist approach to these lyrics to focus the theme a bit less on the joyous celebration and salvation and a bit more on the evocation of mortality and death, I want to most directly address this last verse--look at this does to the meaning.  The original lyrics state 'while from death I'm free,' it evokes a safety in belief, a notion that 'I will never truly die, for my fate is in heaven, and I will therefore sing the praises of God while I am on earth."  Jason's changes were purposeful and bleaker.  "When from death I'm free, I'll sing on."  This life is finite, this life is struggle, but when I die, my spirit will live on.  Both verses, of course, call into mind the afterlife, but there's a particular pain and permanence to life evoked in Jason's lyrics through these slight changes.

Jason routinely touched on mortality.  One of his most striking early songs was 'Nay 'tis not death,' a song likening drinking to a kind of death of the soul for which one needs repentance.  Both these songs make explicit the kind of brackets on life, existence, and our own actions that we tend not to consider often in our daily lives, as keeping such thoughts prominent can drown out the rest of existence, the joyous celebration and salvation we need to survive.

I'm not writer-enough to end this succinctly, but I will say that it kind of feels like wherever I continue to go, whatever changes occur in my life, I'll still have this continuously updating soundtrack.  It's pretty depressing, honestly, but whenever you align with someone, even just as a fan, it's hard to let them go.  Their perspective can give you pretty important insight, even if it's hard to hear.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Saving words for making sense



Oh man, what a five months.  Defended and delivered a completed dissertation (that's Dr. Topher now, for whatever that's worth), moved to yet another state (third state I've moved to in nine years), and started a new job.  Phew.  Did you know I wrote a book this year?  Honest to goodness.  Me.  I can do words.  

I've known stress in my life, but this was something else altogether.  The biggest challenge since its submission has been returning to a stable mental state.  I love what I do, no question, but the amount of strain that it put on my emotional state is unparalleled. There were major events that I've not been able to process.  I've barely reconciled the fact that I've aged six years in this time and am no longer in my early 30s.  The only thing that served as a reprieve from my work is the news and lord knows how that's going.

Part of graduating is just decompressing, taking a big breath, and letting my brain return to an active stimuli-response functionality.  Slowly, I've been able to return to allowing myself access to some emotional release that I've had to brush aside for a while.  The other day at work, listening to music became an adventure through nostalgia.  Every single song triggered a memory of some event, some person, some setting that I hadn't had room to think about for years.  I started listening to a lot of Jason Molina, but also punk bands from childhood.  Hell, New Order's 'Regret' nearly had me in tears.  I remembered sitting in my childhood bedroom, with my crap-ass stereo, hearing that song on the radio in the early 90s.  Warm room, summer sun beams and lazy weekend days.  Before everything got all complicated.

Thing is, what I would love to do is reclaim the emotionality and innocence apart from all this heightened anxiety I've been battling for years.  Trying to take weekends.  Work on hobbies.  Exercise.  Eat right.  Be a good partner and friend.  Feed the birds.  Take walks.  Get a fishing pole.  Go to restaurants.  Enjoy life.  Go slow.

Again, it's not that my graduate experience was awful.  No, it was fantastic.  It was also emotionally exhausting and mentally devastating.  The point of such programs isn't just to teach you new things, it's to develop you into a different kind of thinker.  That's a massive neurological endeavor.  I've always been sciency, but now every question gets turned into measurement, into distributions and likelihoods, relative to its impact on long-term outcomes, judiciously socially just and epistemologically and ontologically questionable.

It takes a lot out of a brain to put that much into it.  But it's all in there.  Or, at least, the pathways for getting it in there are developed.  The trepanation is completed and now I can bask in the warmth of my brain fluids.

Yeah, see?  Now it's time to think like this again.

I'm going to go and listen to all the music now.


(Oh, and because I didn't make it explicit, this album is one of the few that would help to calm me down during points of stress.  Their music is like sunbeams in the forest.  More on this later.)


Monday, May 28, 2018

You wouldn't remember, but you did.


It's been more than 5 years since Jason Molina died.  In five years, with everything else I've had going on, I never really took the time to grieve--I mean, grieve as much as would be appropriate for the death of an artist who's been influential in your life in some way.  When he died, I was working on a paper, or something of the sort, for some class, and, with respect to my dejection, had to just completely put it out of my head in the most unfortunate way until I could get the paper done.

Jason was pretty much radio-silent (so to speak) for a good 4-6 years prior to his death, with only random notes of recovery being sent out from his label, so I suppose it didn't come as a shock.  We knew he was ill, we knew he was having health issues that were as much mental health as physical, and that he was working on things "even the music can't get to."  For a man with such profoundly sad songs, that's a dark place.  If you understand one of his last songs, "No Hand Was at the Wheel" as one of the most depressing songs ever written, you're on track.

I came across this performance the other day, and it just brought up those old, sad feelings.  Scout sang this song on the last official Songs: Ohia album.  Although written by Molina, her performance on the album is breathtakingly still in this sort of way.  Scout Niblett has a certain childhood exploration-type innocence to her music, particularly within her albums, imaginative with a small set of tools.  When she chooses to capture the stillness, the darkness, she owns all the air in the room and drives at the very heart of existence. 

I was taken by the sadness - clearly still reeling from the loss of a friend.  The way she plays the guitar here, toned to Molina's early 2000s style, makes me wonder if it's not one of his own.

No really end to this, was just startled when I heard this, realizing that I've been pretty numb to these kinds of experiences for many years.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Postdoc phews



I've been avoiding talking about it on social media, since apparently one of the indicators of becoming a scientist is being extremely superstitious during the waning months of your dissertation.  Nevertheless, this song came up and I wanted to post it but didn't want to go through the whole "you're finally graduating??" hullabaloo on Facebook prior to actually finishing my dissertation.  That won't be until August (although I'll be walking at graduation in June), so it seems weird re: carts and horses.

Anyway, I DID get a job.  I won't mention details, as there's still a lot of planning to do, but I have signed the paperwork and all this is now moving forward.  It's a postdoctoral scholar (e.g. researcher) position at a research institute in my field at a R1 (aka "very high research activity") university.  I'm excited - it's a great opportunity to do good work with very good people.

I'm also terrified, because I'll no longer be a student - now it's time to know things!  I mean, I do indeed know things, but getting a PhD, crazy as it may seem, is actually the start of development as a scholar.  The PhD indicates that I have learned the requisite skills to create science, but being an "expert" will take a much longer time.  Need to create many, many more sciences before I feel like I have the mental wherewithal to enter into grand debates.

This is an exciting time - I've gotten to do interesting things and meet interesting people, and now I get to do more!  It's certainly a place of privilege to get to learn, and get to share that learning, with others.  For money, no less.

So, I share this song - because of my love of Samson and also because - hey - how many songs about postdocs are there?  Really?  But mostly because of this last bit, which sums up the need for positivity and centering in the face of crushing academic fear:

So take that laminate out of your wallet and read it
And recommit yourself to the healing of the world
And to the welfare of all creatures upon it
Pursue of practice that will strengthen your heart



Monday, April 23, 2018

Tonight I will avoid writing my dissertation


I've been working on my dissertation, an experience I'm excited about, aiming to base my career on, and loathe to ever repeat.  Funny how that works.

Anyhow, I've been listening to Damien Jurado's oeuvre, since it sets a good background tone for writing.  I know his songs well, so I can fill the empty room while not being fully distracted by the music.  It's always a struggle for me to find that perfect balance of intrusive enough to tune out all my errant non-dissertation thoughts, but not so intrusive that I'm distracted.  The last couple days, that's been Damien Jurado.

But, motherfucker, this song again.