If you don't behave like them
They call you crazy
And if you won't slave for them
They call you lazy
Well I say...
Never Apologize For Your Taste
What I Return To
Psalm 137 is a yearning.
The Jews in Babylon long to be home. There is a longing and significance put on remembering their home, Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
Longing, craving, pining—these are daily pulls. There is yearning in everyone—to be accepted, loved, validated, desired. The list could go on. This is what I see as being the root of most of our problems—that we are seeking to fill gaps that we feel we have. We spend so much energy and time focusing on how to fix this, it is often paralyzing.
Sitting Shiva is a Jewish ritual that is performed for seven days after a family member dies. It is good mitzvah (“commandment”, or “good deed”) to pay a home visit to the mourners. During this visit, there are no greetings exchanged, no small talk or apologies to the mourners, there are no words spoken until the mourners choose to speak. You just sit with them. There is not a rush of armchair wisdom that comes, no foolish attempts at immediate comfort—just being present in that place with the mourners.
Most of us have participated in a version of this ritual with the music that we listen to. More often than not, I find myself sitting with certain songs.
You know what I’m talking about.
The songs that you return to, the songs that you can honestly listen to forever, the songs that contain you. It’s not that those songs resolve your pain, they’re songs that you can sit with.
Here is a Spotify playlist of songs that I can sit with. These are not all of my all-time favorite songs, that’s a completely different animal (though many on this list are)…and this list certainly isn’t finished.
Let’s Get Growing.
I felt compelled to write something about the shark tank that is SXSW.
There is one word that comes to mind when I look back at my 2 day experience of the (festival?) feasting that I partook in: Free.
Most, nearly all, day shows at SXSW are free. Almost every venue serves free lunch, and free drinks. I was a happy receiver of free beer at a couple venues.
Although, I felt like I was constantly being punched in the face while in Austin.
MELLO YELLO. DORITOS. MILLER LIGHT.
Advertising is why the festival runs….at least why it runs largely for free. There are fliers, billboards, and even entire stages (a huge Doritos vending machine) devoted to advertising. Now according to locals, this is fairly recent development at SXSW. It was there before, but never as obnoxious.
Josh Tillman (Fleet Foxes, J.Tillman, Father John Misty), was probably the most annoyed (disgusted, really) by the rampant advertising. At his Waterloo Records show, he joked (in a convincing manner) that he was lobbying for Doritos to get their logo embedded into the ocean floor. In the past few days, he tweeted:
“I’m going to miss #sxsw so much. I think I’ll turn Fox News and Jack FM up as loud as they go simultaneously in every room to cope with it.”
“SXSW was a total failure. I didn’t get sued by Doritos once. I did get 5 business cards from lawyers, though. #mustbedoingsomethingright”
So, SXSW is pretty ridiculous. It is all corporations screaming at you the entire time.
But there is also 2,000 bands playing in one city in a weeks time. There are hundreds of shows a day. There is constantly a new, exciting, and incredible performance happening, all within a few miles. That’s incredible.
I think (or would like to think) that the love of music is really the driving force behind SXSW. There are bands there that don’t get to play 10 shows a year, but they are knocking out 13 in 5 days at SXSW. There are still those bands just trying to break out, be heard, and sometimes they are.
And as far as everything being free because of corporate sponsorship, I suppose I cant complain. I don’t feel like I was brainwashed by it.
I was brainwashed by Chris Thile’s insane mandolining, Gary Clark Jr.’s Hendrix-ness, and Father John Misty’s playfulness. I was surrounded by people who really loved music. Not just people who listen to music, but people who’s lives are really driven by music.
And that still seems special to me, and I’ll probably go next year,
I recently read a book of poetry by Tyehimba Jess entitles “Leadbelly”. I have listened to some Leadbelly before, but never knew some of his story.
Huddie Leadbetter grew up around the turn of the century. He grew up singing and playing music—his parents former slaves By 1903, at age 15 Leadbelly was playing shows with his uncle’s accordion. Although, would forever be wed to Stella, his beloved 12-string guitar. Chang-gang songs, negro spirituals, classics. Leadbelly was passionate with his music, this ran through his social life too. He once escaped from a Texas prison 1915, only to find himself back there for killing a relative in 1918. He was sentenced to 20 years.
Leadbelly sang his way out of prison. He sang for Texas Gov. Patt Neff, and was pardoned. And six years later he was put back in Angola Prison for stabbing a man.
Leadbelly then sang his way out of prison. A folklorist/musician/promoter named John Lomax got permission to take Leadbelly out of prison. As good as this sounds, Leadbelly was just as much enslaved to Lomax as he was in prison. He had to perform in degrading Black Minstrel Shows, sing songs on command, and play what Lomax told him to.
So throughLeadbelly’s life, he definitely was not a model citizen. He was a victim of racism and oppression. Leadbelly’s music escaped him from prison. Leadbelly’s music, though exploited, was exploited for a reason. It elicited intense reactions from
Leadbelly’s music was louder than all of this.
I could go on and tell you about how incredibly impassioned and nuanced Leadbelly’s voice was, how his playing was heavy and straightforward. But I’ll let you listen for yourself.
“Doubting Thomas” by Nickel Creek. Ever heard it? I was going to attach it, but after a few minutes of trying to find it streaming or tastefully youtubed, I got lazy. Anyhow, give it a good google and keep reading.
There. Isn’t this nice? It’s another honest song about being in an uncertain place, and it’s beautiful for it.
I believe that anyone who has never doubted the things that they hold true has never really learned how to believe them.
This song is about that journey. It’s sad! It’s sad to lose innocence, though I think there are richer joys to be found. But thankfully, this song doesn’t go there. Chris Thile doesn’t tie it all up in a nice package with a happy ending. That wouldn’t be honest. The song is about being in a scary, uncertain place, and those don’t just last three minutes. Sometimes they last a lifetime.
I like honesty…
…okay I’m beginning to like honesty more than I used to.
I like lying.
It helps me stay safe from what I don’t know.
From what I’m not.
From what I haven’t done.
It’s a bowl cereal. A jar of mayonnaise. Safe. Easy.
What isn’t good about it is that it isn’t true. It doesn’t have that soul punching “rumpf” to it. It doesn’t feed you. It leaves you hungry.
A lack of honesty wraps you in chains. It’s a kind of slavery.
Maybe that’s why I don’t like a lot of music I used to listen to.
It really wasn’t freeing. It wasn’t honest.
Maybe that’s why I really like David Bazan—he’s honest. Honest about his feelings on love, fear, and faith.
David Bazan, like me, grew up in a Christian culture to Christian parents. He did Christian things like go to a Christian Church and listened to and played Christian music.
At some point, David realized that this Christianity he was taught might not be dripping in truth as he once thought.
Wait just a minute, you expect me to believe
That all of this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree
And helpless to fight it we should all be satisfied
With this magical explanation for why the living die.
Now its hard to be
Hard to be
David has not taken this subject lightly. He didn’t toss faith overnight into the dumpster. He pained over this. He dedicated his entire album Curse Your Branches to it. The song above, Hard to Be, is the story of David realizing he doesnt really believe what he always has. It’s easy as a Christian to hide your doubt, to hide your questions that you have. It doesn’t look good to have this doubt. Its not good to doubt god.
All fallen leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
Bazan is honest on this album. He is finally telling himself, and others, that he doesn’t really believe in Christianity as it has been told to him. Curse Your Branches as an album is a beautiful break-up album to God. It is beautiful because it is true, and that’s what art does best, it connects you to truth and reality.
With the threat if hell hanging over my head like a halo
I was made to believe in a cople of beautiful truths/
What am I afraid of? Who did I betray?
Bazan is tackling what I have experienced in my life. A feeling of betrayal of these beliefs you’ve been told to believe your whole life. This feeling of guilt that the false Christian faith can bring. I’m not calling the Christian faith false, but I think any Christian ritual or teaching that piles on guilt or reminds you of what your not, it is not actually Christian at all. Jesus did scold people for their actions, but nowhere does he remind people of their shortcomings repeatedly. That kind of Christinity is false, that Jesus is not the Jesus I know.
What Curse Your Branches does musically is different than all of his other albums. It is much more of a pop sound than Pedro the Lion, a much more full sound. For example, the most depressing song on the album (which is a feat) “Please, Baby, Please”, is produced with an orange sun-kissed tinge. Each song highlightes David’s straining and strangely beautiful voice. David Bazan is the master at making catchy, cynical, and depressing lyrics fit perfectly into jubilant melodies and overall emit a joyful glow.
The music does more than keep a balance between the depressing and joyful. Bazan sounds free on this album.
You can tell he just had to get those songs out of him. They had to be sung.
Curse Your Branches was honest for David, and this album sounds like freedom, freedom from this boredom, frustration, feeling guilty. Freedom from lying to himself about what he believes.
Now, two years later, Bazan has moved on. The album Strange Negotations (2011), is much less focused on faith. He is moved on from being so focused and haunted by faith, doubt, and everything in between.
So, now, a moral.
Let’s be honest, because being honest is truth.
Like John 8:32 says, “…the truth will set you free.”
In Lists: 2011
End of the year lists. Probably though they were over, right? Well you didn’t expect this month-long procrastinating fool to give his take. So, here are 3 lists for 2011, kind of.
5 Albums I Wished I Liked More in 2011
These are albums that I really wanted—and still want—to really enjoy, but mostly haven’t for some reason. These are not “bad” albums, most are probably great, but I haven’t been able to appreciate them fully at this point.
There is something about the album. It’s like monkey bars, its fun, but I just cant stay on for very long. I want to though. I stayed on with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and was rewarded greatly. So, with past in mind, and my man crush on Jeff Tweedy, I will continue to listen to The Whole Love, and wait until Wilco’s genius punches me in the face again.
Now, this album is one of my favorite of the year, in fact it appears on the list, “Albums I Love Now, but Would Have Hated 5 Years Ago”. This album is incredible, the first half of the album alone is insane, each song is a masterpiece, musically and lyrically. The second half of the album is also very good. I just wished this album dug into my soul more, I think in time it will.
Can I just put Radiohead’s entire discography on this list? I like Radiohead, but it bothers me that I don’t love Radiohead. The thing is, I really want to love Radiohead And this album follows the pattern that nearly every Radiohead album goes through: 1)”Yes, a new Radiohead album, this will be the one that opens my Yorke heart. 2)”Its pretty good.” 3)”I really want to like this more”. 4)Keep listening.
Who wouldn’t want to hear Troy Barnes’ (Donald Glover’s name on Community) rap album? It was exciting news, and I really hoped I would like it. We all make mistakes. Sounds like he is trying to be a hipster Lil’ Wayne. Really, really, really bad. Sorry, Troy.
Insane, dark, and creative hip-hop? Yes, please! Oh how I wanted to like this album.
“But after bowlin’, I went home to some damn Adventure Time”= J.
“I’ll crash that f-ckin’ airplane at that f-ggot n-gga B.o.B is in/ And stab Bruno Mars in his g-ddamn esophagus.” = L
Albums I Love Now (2011), but Would Have Hated 5 Years Ago.
Written from the point of view of my 16-year-old self, right after listening to the album.
“I liked the first song, the second song was awful, just bad drums and bird noises. Should have more guitar solos.”
“Are you kidding me? I fell asleep after the second song, seriously boring. Pass.”
“What the hell was that? Most of it was just terrible—random noises. How anyone can enjoy this is beyond my comprehension.”
“That’s chick music, man.”
“Sounds like bad 70’s music. I guess it’s kinda catchy though.”
“Wow. One of the most annoying and weird albums I have heard in a while. Every song he sounds like he is going to cry. And the saxophone? Come on!”
5 Albums That I Found this Year, That Didn’t have a 2011 Release
By far my favorite album of 2011, although it was released a year prior. This album is the most lyrically powerful, musically supportive, and downright passionate album I have heard in a while. Its one of those albums that you don’t realize how much you love it until you are listening—that moment when all other music become obsolete.
Incredible songwriting and simple sound leads to a simply complex album. One song in and I’m done. I’m hooked. Cant wait until the new album drops.
First listens were brutal. I loved the old romp-stomp Avett Brothers jams of the past. That’s not so much the case on I and Love and You. The album is smarter and more mature, while maintaining its listenability, as it turns out, it’s the Avett Brothers best album.
Why isn’t it a requirement in our education system to tell students about the brilliance of Bob Dylan? I haven’t heard this album until this year, and it released 48 years ago. There is something so personal and relevant about this album—Bob Dylan, everybody.
The most I’ve laughed while listening to an album in a long time. Comedy is not their only strength, the production is tight—with producers like Sabzi on the record –it’s no surprise. And their lyrical delivery and prowess is nothing to laugh at. Gush.
Albums I could have included on this list: Al Green- Let’s Stay Together (1972); The Black Keys- Chulahoma (2006); J. Tillman- Singing Ax (2010), Year In the Kingdom (2009); Megafaun- Gather, Form, Fly (2009); St. Vincent- Marry Me (2009); David Bazan- Curse Your Branches (2009); Pedro the Lion- It’s Hard to Find a Friend (2001); Danielson- All Albums.
Well, that’s it for 2011. 2012.