Tag Archives: deep thoughts

#MondayMixtape – Songs to Get You Out-of-Doors

take on the worldThis past weekend was glorious. Saturday was particularly so. A few of us headed up to Stage Fort Park in Gloucester for a midday barbecue and the conditions were perfect. Not too warm,  not too cold, with blue skies all around and nary a cloud in the sky.

After a nice leisurely lunch, we headed down to the beach and took a walk along the rocky shoreline. It was incredibly therapeutic to see everything in such vibrant, brilliant color and so full of life after all those months of cold. The leaves on the trees looked fuller and greener, the water in the bay looked even fresher and even bluer, and the whitewashed seaside chapels further off in the distance seemed to give off a warm, radiant glow. And to think all this lay just one hour from Boston. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Excellent.

It got me thinking about songs that sing lovingly of the great outdoors. Songs whose verses could compel even the laziest of Johns to get outside and smell the roses. Songs that speak fondly of good times had out in nature and of the promise of more good times ahead.

These are a few such songs, summarized in five lines or less (because hey, this list isn’t about you sinking in more to your seat– it’s about getting you outside to enjoy everything the great outdoors has to offer!).

1. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High

Ask anyone– if you’re making a list of songs made for exploring and extolling the wonders of the natural world, this song is going to be on it. It’s one of John Denver’s greatest hits, and for good reason: feel that leisurely, zen-like tempo, dig that lightly twangy, tangy flatpicking– that gentle, buttery voice!– it’s no wonder this song recently became one of Colorado’s official state songs. And with its underlying message of man’s responsibility to be good, mindful stewards of the earth’s natural treasures, it’s not just an ode to the Rockies– it’s a song of love and appreciate of the great outdoors everywhere.

2. James Taylor – Copperline

From a song that looks with immense fondness and love at all natural palaces and sanctuaries to song that focuses on a fondness and love of one place in particular: the strange, wonderful parkland just a short distance from the narrator’s boyhood home. It was the sort of place that would have always captured his imagination even if he hadn’t spied his father dancing in a drunken display of bliss and inhibition or got the  “first kiss I ever took” there. But ah, so it was, and so it is, and so it shall ever be. “Day breaks and the boy wakes up and the / Dog barks and the bird sings / And the sap rises– and the angel sighs..” Such powerful, lasting memories can be made out there, even just a few miles from home.

3. Jakob Dylan – Something Good This Way Comes

As it happens, four of the five songs selected this week are written in the key of E. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, on the guitar, an open E chord is one of the lucky few that uses all six strings. It gives the chord a particularly fresh and open tone, a quality that each song really embodies. And this one, from the Wallflowers frontman, is no different. A talented, prolific songwriter in his own right, the younger Dylan also knows how to take it easy and play a simple, breezy tune, and this is a great example of that. A good tune to accompany you on any adventure  you so choose.

4. Nickel Creek – Ode to a Butterfly

Continuing on our secondary theme of Songs in the Key of E, here’s one to really get you up and at’em. The title lends itself beautifully to the sort of imagery that it conjures up: a butterfly flitting and floating about a wide open field with corn and buckwheat swaying in the breeze. But it’s just as suitable for getting you up the side of a mountain, exploring the hidden spaces of a forest, or simply sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows. It’s a reminder that even the smallest things are full of some of the coolest, most intricate and wondrous stuff in the world.

5. Special Consensus – Carolina in the Pines

Our little tour of song and nature now complete, we return east to the land of green Appalachian hills (and whaddayaknow– there’s a key change too!). It’s the perfect mix of sweeping instrumental breakdowns and simple but deeply affectionate lines about the comfort that comes from just being out there among the mountains, the forests, and all of nature’s splendor. “There’s no guesswork in the clockwork / On the world’s part or mine / There are nights I only feel right / With Carolina in the pines.” With all the uncertainty in life, it’s nice to know that whatever happens, we can always find time to get back to basics, with earth, wind, and sky.

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#MondayMixtape – Spring Colors in Bloom

springing to life..
springing to life..

Ah, May. Springtime at its best. In New England the season’s only just gotten started. After a few early wisps of warmth in the first weeks of the season followed by a few of erratic, unapologetic chill and general gloominess, we seem to be on the right track.

As if caught off guard by this mellowing and subsequent gradual swell of warmer weather, trees, plants, and the rest of the natural world appeared to sprout, bud, and bloom all at once last week. On Saturday things appeared to be pretty calm, with all things holding steady in a chipper, seasonably appropriate green color. By Sunday, however, everything was awash in reds, pinks, and whites, and by Monday my allergies had reached their fullest expression as well.

All the watery, itchy sinuses aside, this past week has been gleaming and gorgeous. So good on yehs, New England. Let’s keep it going on this nice, gradual pace. No need to jump into July all at once. Cool? Cool.

As the flora and fauna blossom so too do the people and places about town. It’s marvelous to walk along the Common in downtown and see all the folks out and about. They’ve shed their dark, heavy winter layers in favor of lighter, sunnier fabrics in all colors of the rainbow. Aside from the occasional achy, sneezy allergies, this season is excellent for the senses.

It’s with the sights, sounds, smells, and general colorful character of the season that these five songs were chosen (you might say handpicked). Songs that remind us to be present and to appreciate the people, places, feelings, and things around us.

1. The Temptations – My Girl

An instant classic when it first came on the scene in 1965, and it still does the trick today. Maybe I’m just a sentimental fool (I am), but this song hits all the right spots, making you lean and sway like a tree in a warm breeze. From that faithful heartbeat of bass and snare to the cool, syrupy harmonic vocals o’er top of guitar and sweeping, skipping violin fills… perfection in music confection. It’s the sort of tune that melts your worries like the sun on an ice cream sundae but does it in kinder, gentler, and more pleasing, aww-shucks way than any of the more contemporary pop trifles can. A classic then, now, and forever.

2. Wild Belle – Shine

And now for something grittier and flashier but just as fun and well meaning. I first heard of these guys a few months ago from my friend Cynthia “Dancing in the Seats” Almansi but forgot about them completely until I was doing some spring cleaning the other day and heard this track  while listening to Spotify’s delightful “The Happy Hipster” playlist.

It tickles your ear with those first bouncy, head-bobbing beats, piques your interest with those playful first verses, hooks you with a killer chorus line, and finally seals the deal with that delicious saxophone solo (easily making the case for its inclusion on my nascent Saxy Perfection in Modern Pop playlist).

This one’ll get you through anything you’re up to: chores, traffic, studying… whatever. Just don’t be surprised if you start grooving along with it where you sit/stand. You’ve been warned.

3. Dogs Die In Hot Cars – Apples & Oranges

This band’s debut album spent a good deal of the 2004 – 2005 on my iPod and in my ears, and I’m glad to know that it still holds up today (even if it appears the band itself has been in a constant state of transition since then). This song in particular, with its energetic pacing and softened New Wave sensibilities, continues to please. The lyrics are simple and sweet, most of the things that give us happiness and fulfillment in life can also be boiled down into just a few words, and that’s really what this song’s about.

Here is the apples and the oranges and plums
The dandelions in the sun
The salt and sugar and the raisin and the rum
And still there’s room for everyone

There’s so much out there to be experienced and enjoyed out there. The important thing is just to get out there and do it.

4. Amos Lee – Flower

Keeping the theme of gratitude and appreciation going… this song sounds like a Saturday afternoon picnic near a picturesque lake. Spread out the blanket, put the cooler at one end, your shoes and a few books at the other, lay back and just take it all in. Catch some rays, maybe a few z’s, and just enjoy it. Sometimes it’s hard to take a break from the rush of the maddening week, but this song reminds us that we all deserve some time once in a while– a moment at least– to do just that. Put on this song and let it guide you to that moment.

5. Drew Holcomb – Can’t Take It With You

This song takes an admittedly different approach but gets at the point all the same. Sure we’ve all got a lot to do everyday, things aren’t usually easy or plainly laid out for us, but as long as we keep track of what’s really important and do all we can to make the best of every opportunity, we’ll be all right. But we only have the time we have here to do so.

It’s a heavy idea, a difficult proposition, but spring is a good time to think about it:

Is it possible to be happy and be human?
Certainly but not without the pain

Life’s not black and white and spring proves it with its fantastic display of color and warmth. And we’re here, we’re alive, and there’s a fantastically cool world out there. So we may as well enjoy it.

What songs are springing you into action these days? Hope all’s well.

 

#MondayMixtape – Oh Brave New Wegmans-Accessible World

a boy and his ice cream. a love story.
a boy and his ice cream. a love story.

I want to first apologize for the long, unannounced hiatus I’ve taken from writing these last two weeks. I’ve become overly distracted of late, and I know I need to be better. I’ve definitely found myself thinking of fun ideas and new material for the blog, but the next thing I know, I’m wandering around the new Wegmans supermarket that opened up just down the street from the apartment, and everything else seems to take a back seat. It may be half the size of its sister locations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get lost in it.

Certainly doing one’s weekly errands is important, but there’re other much less important things that end up eating my time. Time that I could otherwise be using on writing and exploring. It’s a constant struggle. But I press on.

And I digress.

But yeah. Wegmans. It’s kind of great. If you’ve never been to one before, let me break it down for you in the simplest terms I can think of. It’s a large, New York-based supermarket that is known for its wide selection of goods, obsessively competitive prices, wonderfully friendly staff, and equally wide and impressive selection of prepared foods. And they boast the sort of following that’s usually reserved for just boy bands or Oprah: the announcement of an opening within 100 miles of your town will send devotees racing to clear their calendars for the entire week of its inaugural operations, and when the big day arrives the parking lot and all major traffic arteries will be clogged with pilgrims from the world over yearning to– if nothing else– walk its long, cavernous, yet uncannily warm and well-stocked aisles.

That said, my personal experience with The Wegs, as it’s affectionately called by its adoring supporters in the 20 to 30something demographic, is limited at best. They opened a few locations in the DC area only after I moved up to Boston, and although this isn’t the first on to open in Massachusetts (that blessed honor goes to the town of Northborough, MA), it’s the first one that I’d actually make any plans to visit regularly since it’s much closer. As in it’s just down the road. As in I can walk to it from apartment. As in it’s maybe 5 minutes roundtrip at a leisurely pace on foot. As in nanner, nanner, boo boo.

And now, after joining the teeming masses yesterday to get a sense of the place and then returning today for my first official grocery run, I have to say that while there’s no denying the appeal of the place- it’s overwhelming. It’s a full sensory overload kind of experience, and in many ways that’s all right (cheese! bread! bagels! bialys!); but in other ways it’s exhausting (they make fruit-flavored bialys? Look at all the different kinds of bread! Ten types of Camembert? What’s with the electric train over the dairy case?).

It’s all lovely, magical, and beautifully laid out for you. But sometimes, don’t you just want some good ol’ black beans and rice, and not this French-imported, bourbon-soaked, twice-baked, thrice-refried edamame-type beans with the short-grain, naturally-blanched, humanely-treated basmati rice?

Where have all the good [read: simple] beans gone?

Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but you get it: when you’ve been sent to the market for a hunk of regular, ol’ brie, and you find yourself in the cheese aisle trying to discern the difference between Buttery, Creamy, Buttery and Creamy, Earthy, and Rich varieties… you wonder if maybe we’ve gone a bit too far with our segmentation of dairy products.

But of course, in many ways it’s the freedom to choose and explore that makes our lives so rich and colorful to begin with. So here are five songs that seem to typify our current relationship with the food and food providers we depend on to sustain us from day to day.

Some of them playfully sing about how detached we’ve become in our understanding of the processes that bring these products to us, whether by prioritizing, even sardonically, the loss of the food over the loss of life due to the perils of its movement around the world (“30,000 Pounds of Bananas”) or by forgetting about the people and processes  entirely (“Peaches”). Then there are the odes to excess. Songs that sing the wonders and delights of the instant gratification that comes from a good chocolatey substance. Even as “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” concedes that there’s (probably) more to life than those things that supply us that quick fix, the devil on the other shoulder (“Chocolate Jesus”) smiles wryly and reminds you that there couldn’t possibly be anything better (“only a Chocolate Jesus / Can satisfy my soul”).

And then, to tie it all together, there’s Weird Al’s early 2000s gem and tribute to life in fast food lane “Trapped in the Drive Thru.” I’m a firm believer that parodies can oft be more spot-on in terms of subject matter and overall tone than the original, and this one does just that. It cuts to the core of every man’s desires and reminds you that some days, you really just can’t help yourself. Some days all you want– all you really need–  is a thin, juicy burger-like substance with all the trimmings (just hope to Ronald McDonald they don’t skimp you on the onions).

Spring Cleaning and that Fresh Feeling

do you have your ducks in a row?
are your ducks in a row? (photo courtesy coyotemercury.com)

Cleaning. It’s not just a way to help you find a quick, uninhibited pathway to the nearest exit in case of emergency. It’s a process that can inspire a renewed state of purpose, satisfaction, and accomplishment. It can be as mentally and psychologically refreshing an activity as it is a physically involved task.

It’s been a good few days of spring cleaning around here. Clearing out the mental cobwebs and making space and time to reassess, reorganize, and recommit to the people and things that are important. Like the physical upkeep of a home, it’s not so easy to get at every inch, crevice, and crag of the space at once, and somehow you tend to underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to complete the job. But eventually you make it.

Just like cleaning the house it’s good to check in with yourself from time to time as new furniture is added and new challenges arise. And just like cleaning a house, it’s important to have a few helpful tunes to give you some extra sage words of wisdom to carry you through the process.

1. Nickel Creek – Rest of My Life

Nothing like waking up the morning after a rocking good party to the sight of trashed couches and smell of stale beer to make you reassess what your priorities are. Often times, if you haven’t swabbed the deck recently– If you haven’t had that personal check-in for a while– you might feel like this too.

First things first: get yourself a fresh glass of water, assess the situation at hand, and then start picking up the place.

“It’s one of those endings / No one claps ’cause they’re sure that there’s more.” Turns out that life doesn’t stop or take breaks. Dreams and sleep aren’t even breaks: they’re more like connectors between conscious moments– and pretty active ones at that when you consider the sorts of complex situations they conjure up. The best thing we can do is roll with the punches. The blemishes and missteps are part of the continuum, and, if we’re smart, we might even learn something from them. “The battle is over / We lost but we’ll live to call off the war.” It’s not about sweeping up every speck of dust– it’s about getting to somewhere that feels like progress.

2. Father John Misty – I’m Writing A Novel

This one’ll definitely get you going. Heck you may find yourself even whistling while you work. Equal parts “Paperback Writer ” rockabilly sensibilities and “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”-esque mashup of images and metaphors this wild romp of a tune makes quite the statement about what’s really “normal” in this life. The world’s a spinning mess of curious, crazy creatures, and what’s normal to you might actually be ridiculous to someone else. Likewise, what’s crazy to you may be status quo for someone else. All we can do is accept the madness, be ourselves, and keep our own reality together. And keeping track of the stories that come about (read: keep a journal… maybe even a blog!) is a good way to do this. “I’ll never leave the canyon ’cause I’m surrounded on all sides / By people writing novels and living lives that look like mine.” Everybody’s got stories they’re trying to tell, but nobody can tell our own stories better than we can.

3. Leif Vollebekk – Cairo Blues

This song’s as airy and light as a breezy spring day making it a fitting companion for all manner of housekeeping. The story may focus on the careless indecision and the mounting insecurity of one unfortunate girl he left back in the sleepy midwest,  but he’s got a good head on his shoulders, preferring to look ahead to better, brighter days. She may not clean up well, but at least he can. Though he may not soon be able to completely let go– “it don’t drown out those Cairo blues for good”– he’ll ride on, kicking out the cobwebs bit by bit and making room for sunnier, more promising plans on the horizon.

And speaking of easy and breezy…

4. Earth, Wind & Fire – That’s The Way of the World

Oh yeah. Even when taking on the toughest tasks, the deepest stains, the hardest truths– turn this one on and see those troubles lessen just enough to make it manageable. How can you argue with these guys? Their musicianship and groove alone should be enough to take you to a higher place. But if that’s not enough: just remember: “Looking back we’ve touched on sorrowful days / Future pass, they disappear.” You’ll pull through. You’ll get there. “Plant your flower and you grow a pearl.”

5. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – We Get Along

And remember- you’re not alone. Taking the more straight-forward, narrative approach, the message here is plain: we’ll make it through. We will. We all have tough days, tough months– tough years even. But we’ll make it. We’ll muddle through somehow. And if we can find a way to muddle through together– actually working together to make things better for ourselves and for others– well then we’ll all benefit. Enough great visionaries, thinkers, and doers have said it, so there must be something to it: do well for others, be good to others, work with each other– and we’ll all succeed. Sounds good to me.

Heavy Rotation: Gregory Alan Isakov – Second Chances

gregory alan isakov
(photo courtesy American Songwriter Magazine)

As I said a week or so ago, this guy has been spending a lot of time on my playlists lately, and thus his lyrics have spent a whole lot of time between my ears.

Around the new year I realized that it’d been an awful long time since I’d really connected personally with the words of any given song. Up to that point songs would end up on playlists mostly by the merit of whichever artists I was currently obsessed with and how the songs sounded when played together. This still made for decent playlist making– with excellent ebb and flow, I might add, of sound, rhythm, and pacing– but not great playlist making, as most of them were comprised of songs that really had no business being right next to each other, immensely contradicting each other in terms of their meaning and purpose.

This isn’t to say that I chose songs solely by virtue of their rocking-good-time-iness potentially thinking a song is about one thing when it’s clearly about something else, nor do I deny the inherent complexities of life and thus understand that really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s quite fine for three love songs to follow one or two about deceit and rejection or some variation of that order.  It’s just that I could be thinking a little bit harder, listening a little bit closer, and connecting a little bit deeper with the songs that I’ve been enjoying lately. Obviously there’s something in a given song that makes me say, hey man, I like you and I’m gonna put you on a playlist or three.. I just need to be more aware of what it is that compels me to make that determination.

If ever recently there’s been a song that’s spoken to me in a deep and meaningful way, this would be that song. This beautifully crafted, meticulously phrased story by Mr. Gregory Alan Isakov.

The song centers around a man who’s had it fantastically rough of late. Nothing he does seems to go right. Certainly his personal relationships are tanking, but it’s just as possible that he’s feeling the sort of self-doubt and anguish that extends to other aspects of his world as well.

It’s not clear what events precisely led him to this moment, but regardless of whether he’s just gotten the latest bit of bad news or just awaken from a particularly long night of restless, anxious sleep, he’s beginning to acknowledge the full, weighty sadness that’s come over him, bones, mind, and all.

It’s also clear he feels frustrated and even betrayed. Frustrated by the saints and do-gooders he’s tried to emulate and the way they always seem so serene and confident as they gaze gently down and off camera, as if meditating on their next wonderful move (“all of my heroes sit up straight / they stare at the ground / radiate”), and betrayed by the ebb and flow of nature that so many have told him time and again is lovely, rosy, and on his side (“mumbling in the kitchen for the sun to pay up”, “cupping my ear to hear the wind confess”).  Even as he feels wronged and slighted by these human and natural forces like some modern-day Job crying out against the elements for the wrongs they’ve committed against him, part of him at least seems to know that these things really are not to blame. It’s really all up to him.

However bleak things seem and however difficult his current situation is, “my heart was all black / but I saw something shine.” Somewhere in darkness of his “black sinkhole” self he can see the faintest shimmer of a silver lining. At the moment it’s like the cheery, fleet-footed, and brief sounds of guitar fills over the otherwise deep, resonant, and somber tones of the background track; it’s a molecule of hope that appears in the sole repeated line of the refrain:

“If it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.”

Indeed, if it weren’t for second chances, there’d be little reason to go on.

But we do. We get up and go at it again. And again. And again.

At some point we’ll do something right again. If we truly learn from our mistakes as well as from the situations for which we have some, little, or even no control, we’ll probably get there a little sooner. Hopefully we’ll be a little wiser too.

As despicably low as we may feel and as difficult, meddlesome, and dark as the days may get, we can make it. Every day is another chance to turn it around. A chance to take a sad song and make it better, bit by bit.