The Music That Binds Us

Six months before the pandemic, I started working at my neighborhood grocery store. I took this job to have a flexible schedule so I could write, I did not expect to find such an immensely beautiful example of all the good in humanity. There are literally dozens of people that I have worked with that have shown me the value of being human. Some are still here, and others have moved on.  I have made some of the best friends I have ever had in my life due in part to what we just went through and in a larger part to the goodness in these people. I am humbled by the depth of these people, and we are bound for life. I have discovered for every connection I have made with another soul, there is a song that wraps it up and keeps it in my spirit forever, especially for those that have moved on. Yet one more reason that I am eternally grateful for the magic in music.

Let’s be honest, 2020 changed us all. In one way or another it changed us deeply. The challenge we face now is to try and understand what those changes mean and where we go from here. I am convinced that more than a few of the people I have worked with through this thing will go on to change the world…they are giants. I cannot be dismayed or hopeless, there is so much good in the world, I have seen it. I see it in these people that work hard to ensure that you have groceries on your table. Every day we work to give you food, we have risked our lives and the ones we live with, so you can eat. In the end it has been a long and dreadful year, but it has also been one of the best experiences of my life.

“…we did this, through all through this shit, we survived this…”

I did not get a lot of chances for friends when I was growing up, we moved around a lot, I mean a LOT. New schools, new nicknames…I got so tired of being the new kid that at some point I just gave up trying to make or keep friends. I knew we would always move. Then I grew up, I had kids, they had kids… Over that time, I made a few friends that are good and so true. Honestly though, I think I am just beginning to understand what “friend” means.

This thing I do for a daily wage is a gift. This thing I do has shown me the heart of humanity, the things that have made me weep with joy over the goodness of what I saw. The people I have worked with are like the mountains I wish I could climb. I love what I have learned, and I love these people, we did this. fuck yeah, we did this.

If we are fortunate, we will meet people in this life with whom we exchange something. It might simply be the love of the outdoors or cooking, it could be anything, but most of us will find someone with whom you can share something. Occasionally we find someone with whom we can share our spirit with and in turn they share theirs with you. I am not talking about a physical exchange, or even an emotional one, this is something that goes far deeper than flesh or psyche. This requires an authenticity and depth of love that not everyone can bring to bear. If you are fortunate, you too will meet your “people” and if you do, I am willing to bet that there is a song that will bind you forever.

“These are the spirits that are connected to me, they are my people, and I am theirs.”

My friends, the sojourners, the wanderer’s, the ones who took a brief pause and gave me some of their light. I will love them forever and I will carry their love with me into my next life. They loved me despite my scars, they are hope, wrapped in painters and poets, in encouragers and storytellers. These are the spirits at your local grocery store, the people who sometimes are invisible to you. These are my people…

If you have found your people, then take the time to celebrate that you have five minutes with them. You might get a year, you might not. If they are your people, then when you get to talk, it will be just like the moment you last spoke. It won’t be awkward, and it won’t involve guilt, no matter how much time has passed. This is friendship, no one is promised tomorrow, and we all have a path to follow. We will laugh with them when they find joy, and we will weep with them when they are hurting…. Find your tribe and love them right where they are today, you never know, it may be that awkward kid you just met.

In finding my people I have found that for everyone there is a song or sometimes even ten of them and when that song plays, I can immediately see their face or hear their voice. This is the magic I have talked about so much and it serves to keep me connected to each one of my people regardless of where they are right now, figuratively, or physically.  Whenever I hear “Bronze Radio Return” sing “Still Wandering” I can hear Adam tell me he is still wandering and it warms my soul…whenever I hear “America” sing “Sister Golden Hair” I am immediately laughing with Mattaya. When I hear the “Eels” sing anything, I am playing my guitar with Fran again. When I wrote about my first friend, my sister Robbi, I used “Novo Amor’s”, “Keep Me” but I could have used a hundred different songs that bring her to my mind, a lifetime of experiences will do that.  With my very best friend, my Susan, I could also pick a hundred different songs, but I will always feel her love and beautiful embrace when I hear “Van Morrison” sing “Into the Mystic”.

I hope you find your people as you navigate your way back to your normal. You don’t have to work at your neighborhood grocery store to do it, but you do have be authentic and willing to give as much as you receive.  Cherish the music you share together, that will stay with you , just like their love and their support of who you are. When you find your people, you have found a path home.

Listening, learning, and growing…

Accumulates – David Gray

Being Sixty

David Gray gave me my sixtieth birthday present…amid a pandemic. My family would have normally done something cool, but I chose to stay home and stay safe, and I had a fabulous birthday. I took a few days to spend time with my sweet, sweet wife and contemplate the null value of age. You live, and each day rolls by and on every single day, you find you arrive at today.

I could fill pages with the tales of Rusty and Russell Beard, I have lived a very disorderly life. Only recently have I been able to look back into the eyes of Rusty, the one who lived my todays as a kid and then a teenager. He had it all figured out and at the same time, he had nothing figured out, but it all lead from one to the next and they were all just today. It accumulates, one day after another and if you can, just try and live today, it is simply always today. When I grasp this and take all the memories of the things that I have seen, walked, and completely fucked up. I realize that I am so flawed, yet this is me.

I am honest with myself about the who, that is me…I have looked down from the high rise and stared back into my own eyes. I have seen the greed in this world, but I also saw the deep unabashed beauty of this world. From working in the asparagus fields in eastern Washington, to fixing computers in a kindergarten classroom. I have lived a full life and I am not even close to done, that is what being sixty means to me today. On May 29th of this year, I will see my twenty-two thousandth today. I have absolutely no idea or attachment to that, it will just be today. It accumulates…

I have had so many amazing days in my life, but there was one I had with David Gray. Well not just him and me, it was more like he played Marymoor Park in Redmond WA, and I was in the audience. That night I witnessed the deepest magic of music.  I have never left my seat when I am at a concert, but on that night, I did. I went for a pee and decided to have a smoke. While smoking, I saw a woman weeping. I really wasn’t sure what to do so I asked her, “are you ok”, she nodded yes. We talked for a bit and she told me that her friend told her she was going to an EDM show and that she had never experienced music that brought her soul up so close for her to see…she had never felt the magic of music and how it can reach all the way in. She was so moved by David’s music, all she could do was cry.  We just hung out for a while until the tears were replaced by the joy of what she had discovered, she gave me a hug and went back to her life.  It was not long after that, I was back in my spot and David gave the stage to Caroline Dale.

That night, I experienced the magic of the music in a way I had never known before. Surrounded by the mighty Pacific Northwest, the lights went down, save one, that settled quietly on Caroline. She was sitting center stage, her arms wrapped around her cello, and she played. She gave me a beautiful glimpse of eternity that night. At one point I was convinced that the trees themselves were singing to me… Caroline played, and her notes rode up into the branches of the trees, her voice surrounded us. It was a roar of quiet beauty that sang a song that will be etched in my memory forever. It all accumulates.

That was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life…

“Well, it grips, and it grins
It cavorts, and it gyrates
And it whispers from the wings
Knowingly insinuates
Shines a certain light on things
Emphasizing your least likeable traits”

Being sixty is weird, it shakes you and laughs at you…it grips you, and yes it grins…. Being sixty means the world can swirl around me as it propels me across a threshold, one that allows me to look back at all my failures along with my successes. I am just beginning to understand what the accumulation of all those things adds up to. They can grip you; they can whisper to you and shine a light on things, especially your least likeable traits.  I have accumulated so many whispers and some I have listened to; some were important to my survival; most were just noise. I do not consider myself that special, I am just a strange version of the man I expected, but I am content. Joy is an accumulation of these things that whisper from the wings.  I have accumulated so many tiny moments of joy and they are sustaining. I have also accumulated a vast number of todays filled with pain, many of my own accord. But today, I learn from those todays and I walk into the next choosing joy and the hope that it can bring.

“In the depots, in the silos
On the pallets, in the crates
Down the aisles, wreathed in smiles
In great mountains, on our plates
Like the love of God, it enters you
In all kinds of amorphous states”

We walk through this life wreathed in smiles, the joy from those smiles guide us down paths that have nothing to offer. We never want to hear from those who can see where we really live. That’s where we wrestle daily with the truth of who we are and ask ourselves, what will I ever be? Then tomorrow becomes today and over the years, if you watch and learn from those around you, you might find a love that enters you and accumulates. I am blessed with people with whom I share a deep love and I am blessed with an inordinate desire for music, I am a rich man.

Caroline’s cello playing on this song is haunting and takes me right back to that night. It was not unlike meeting god, that evening in Marymoor… that is the magic in music. When David sings about the amorphous state in this song and I hear her strings in the background, I hear magic. This is the magic of music, it’s like the love of God that enters you and it sings in all kinds of amorphous states.

Her cello will haunt you; it will amuse you. It is the voice of the trees.

“Mindless need is loosed among us
In our homes and down our streets
Singing like some mythic creature
Of great Edеns, through the gates
you can have butter structure
Even wanton destruction
And all of this at very competitive rates”

Brilliance abides around us, but we focus on the dingy bits that lose us and betray our joy. Don’t settle for the structures of Eden or strive for the goals of that mythical place.

It Accumulates… every day that you wake up, you can walk, and you might get there. It accumulates and it is still today…

With Accumulates, David Gray has written something that encourages you to sit back and immerse yourself. Let his beautiful weaving of the album Skellig seep into your bones and lift you. He has been a safe place for me since my sister sent me White Ladder twenty years ago. There is a very comforting familiarity to his voice and how he arranges music and I hear years of thought and a renewed sense of his value for life, today. That resonates with me in a deep way. Like me, I think David is just living today, not “for today”, just today. When I write, I find joy, when I write about music, I better understand myself and what I want from today.  In all my life I spent very few of those some twenty-one thousand nine hundred and some odd days living just for this today. There has always been a tomorrow and it always just turned out to be today.  It can grip you, and if you are listening to its whisper today, you can reach for hope. Today you can breathe a new breath, you know the competitive rates.

I have lived a life that some would say is unredeemable, but I am me. I am the one I was one when my little sister and I laid in our beds and listened to our dad tell us the tales of Indian Jake and what his travels across Montana showed him. I am the same one who saw the people of Casablanca stream to answer the call of prayer on the banks of the Mediterranean. I am that one who lived every single today that brought me to this day. If I have learned one lesson, it is to live for this today, not the one that might come as the sun rises but this one. Who can I give a small piece of hope to, who can I grasp a small piece of hope from? You can suck on the teat or you can give life, this is reaching for hope.

Looking down from the highrise
Staring back with your own eyes
Playing games with the numbers
Messing ’round with the dates
Altering its positions
Muttering sweet propositions
Doing its damnedest to get you
Between the sheets
And you might start out
Kicking and screaming
Pretty soon you’re gonna wind up
Sucking on the teats

My experience and appreciation of music has changed so much over these sixty years. There are so many today’s that I was so blind. I’ve had experiences that changed my thinking right at that moment, but others that I kicked and screamed at, and their changes accumulated over the years, subtle changes in the way you see things, hearing the stories of those around you… seeing the world…it really does accumulate.  Recently, my soul was shaken at how weak and close minded I have been in my life. I watched the HBO documentary about the Bee Gees, and it showed me how foolishly closed minded I was. I had kicked and screamed at the idea of disco versus rock, just like the fools in Kaminski Park. As I look back on it now, I realize just how foolish I was and just how much I missed on those todays. Please do not put music in a box of your own design, let it be whatever it needs to be for those who can hear it. What you think is noise, may be a lifeline for someone who needs it today. We all can point to a time that a song gave us a light and gave us one step forward today…

It accumulates…

I am looking down from that highrise and staring back with my own eyes. I can see when I succumbed to the sweet propositions and how that only led to sucking the teats. If you have had the great fortune that I have found, you will get the chance to at least acknowledge your mistakes, but most importantly you can learn from them and keep listening and then grow. Music is one of the loves of God, it enters you, it can give you a moment in today. It can free you and transport you, just like the stories my dad told us. But you will still wake up to today. You will still have the life you lived and only you know the truth of who you are. Reaching for hope is the one thing you can do with today, you might be able to change one thing or twelve, it just depends on where your today takes you. It could emphasize your least likable traits. But it’s still today, reach up and smile…

Listening to this song I can easily envision a summer night, in the not too distant future, in Marymoor park, David regals us with the beauty of Skellig and when they get to Accumulates, Caroline will let the trees sing once again.

Listening, learning, and growing

Two Shades of Hope – Foy Vance

The Cult of Fancination

If I could choose a superpower, I would choose the ability to give you the sense of wonder. I want you to sit back and gasp at knowing what wow looks like… your eyes wide with the hair on the back of your neck alive and waving. To believe that there is no limit to anything you hope for.

it was from my own sense of wonder that I stumbled into this notion of the Cult of Fancination.  

Fancination, that is my word. It is a sense of awe, a sense you get when you chase the wonder that sets you heart free…. It is that fantastic moment when you realize that you understand. This cult is a place for those who are looking for the fantastic. We are led by the Minister of Wander, and so… we wander. There is no tithe, we do not have any services or sacrifices…. we just ask that you grab hope and come wandering with us. Those of us who find our people in this cult believe the power of hope is a healing force of awe and wonder.

Over the last year the only thing that kept my nose above water was hope. I have seen the deep loving goodness of my fellow humans, and I have felt the cruelness that humans inflict on one another and I am glad that goodness still outweighs that cruelness. I have shared something with the incredible group of individuals that I work with. It has been such an honor to work alongside of them, to learn from them and to throw them my own bits of nonsense when I can. These people have shown up every day to give you a smile and a helping hand with your groceries. They do not see themselves as heroes, but they take a risk every time they come to work. The Cult of Fancination is an idea born amongst these people of mine, it is the embodiment of hope. If there is one thing that I know, when you hope, you can get up tomorrow and find a reason to do it again, even with the risk.

Cults are ubiquitous, one cannot exaggerate that statement in the slightest. The definition according to Merriam-Websters, is really long and includes things like, great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work; the object of such devotion; a system of religious beliefs and ritual”… just to name a few. If you process that, you can then look around and realize that almost every formal organization that we humans associate ourselves with, are indeed cults. I find it ironic that I was warned about cults while sitting in the pews of a cult… If you have read any of my wandering thoughts, you know that I center on hope. I chase it, and I do everything I can to give it. I do not believe we will fail if we have hope, but we are doomed without it. Hope is a monumentally hard thing to try and hold onto but before you can hold it, you have to reach for it, and there lies the risk.

“There’s one thing that I know
It is the two shades of hope
One the enlightening soul
And the other is more like a hangman’s rope”

I discovered Foy Vance in 2012 and I have even managed to see him a few times. He is a once in a generation singer/songwriter. Spending time wandering around his music will take you on a magical ride that I have been riding for almost a decade now.

“Two Shades of Hope” is from his 2007 album, “Hope”, it is a perfect example of his magic.  I have heard this song so many times, but as I worked through the thoughts of what I needed to write, I found solace in his message and a deep truth aligned with my own wandering mind. Hope deals the hardest blow, yet we cannot help but hope.

As I have watched the news play out, I am saddened by the despair we have slipped into. Not only are we ravaged with divisiveness, but families have been ripped open and are bleeding because of the lust of the powerful. When I saw the footage of the breech of our capitol, I wondered how it would be to see your son or daughter in that footage. Could you still find hope, what if they had placed their hope in some misguided leaders? Would you still love them enough…?

“When the world stole our young and preyed on the old, well
Hope deals in the hardest blows
Yet I cannot help myself but hope”

These things that plague us go so deep and are tied to the very roots of this nation. Stop telling me that this is not who we are, this is exactly who are and who we have always been. We must cling to the long hope if we think we can heal. These overt racist actions that we have witnessed are just a smattering of what boils beneath the surface. Any place you live within this country has some attachment to the system that drives and maintains the racist structure. It will not be unraveled quickly or ever if you do not decide to have a long deep hope for this, only then may you see the light of justice prevail. Calling yourself a liberal does not make you exempt from pushing into the hope, some of the “liberals” I have known are the laziest and most bigoted of them all. When you choose to ignore this problem, you are exercising the privilege that you deny exists.

The Cult of Fancination is for those who are willing to invest in the long hope, taking the risk and chasing the fantastic wonder of wander.  We believe in hope and we are fantastically aware that hope can hurt as much as it heals. We will hold each other, and we will carry each other when hope has dealt you that hardest blow.

“I guess that’s why love hurts
And heartache stings
And despair is never worse
Than the despair that death brings
But hope deals the hardest blows, dear
The hardest
Hope deals the hardest blows”

If we spent even the tiniest portion of our time chasing the fantastic, we might get lost in its wonder and thrive. Sometimes hope is quiet and succinct, sometimes it is a loud and raging wind that pushes change through your lungs like a fire. Poet, Amanda Gorman said “We need that cacophony” and I agree. That cacophony is the burning of the cancer, it is hard and painful, but it will lead to a more hopeful day. Decades ago, I chose a cult that fed my need to believe there was a god that cared about me and my kids. I was so wrong and I have spent many years sorting out what are my thoughts and what was placed there. Decades later I watch my kids using the same playbook and now our belief systems have grown so far apart that we just simply cannot talk about it. It does not diminish the love I have for them, nor the pride in their beautiful families. But hope does deal the hardest blows.

“And now all these truths are so
With foundations below them
They were dug out in a winter’s cold”

Your own perceived wealth is an exacting measure of your sense of entitlement. I have seen an abundance of entitlement over the last year as I work to stock and bag your groceries. But I have found hope to be my anchor in just being able to smile, regardless of your anger or entitlement. There are so many of you that have been nothing but kind and grateful and I will always honor you with my work. There is a great deal of human beauty on this planet and I am grateful to be amongst you. I see those who are grieving or just angry and I am certain that somewhere at the root of it is the dealing of a blow from having hope. You are probably trying to figure out if you should ever hope again or maybe you just want some retribution, I do not know your story, but I will listen and I have hope for you. It will deal you another blow, but having hope means you are extending your energy into the wild unknown and sometimes it will slam you against the wall and walk away laughing, but sometimes it explodes into something beautiful. In the Cult of Fancination we will not coddle you, but we will love you so fiercely that you will hope once more, and you will take one more shot.

“There was once someone I loved
Whose heart overflowed his cup
And his shoes got covered in blood
Oh but he never knew cos he only looked up
Well he was in trouble and so
Had known pain more than most I know
Yet it was hope that dealt the hardest blows”

I hope that you will keep looking up, no matter how much blood you have on your shoes. I know what pain is, I know what love is and how much it hurts to lose it, but I will be here, waiting for you to join us. The Cult of Fancination is a place of wandering broken hopeful humans like you and I. Come and learn with us and join in that long hope, we can get there, but only together.

Listening, learning, and growing

Novo Amor – Keep Me

First Friend

I started writing this blog about a year and a half ago. My intention has been to explore the emotions that I share with music. I want to understand the power of music and writing is a part of my process. When I write about the magic I find in music, it helps me to understand more of myself. I am writing my truth and by doing that I will leave a trail that describes the magic of music.

“Novo Amor’s” latest album, “Cannot Be, Whatsoever” has been an anthem for my life these last few weeks, such a beautiful reflection of magic.   “Keep Me” is the track that has walked with me through this acknowledgement of my first friend. You should listen to it while you read this…. You’ll see what I mean…

“Keep me honest, keep me kind
Keep me as your finish line
Keep me on fire”

Christmas is a holiday that I celebrate by expressing my gratitude. I know how quickly you can miss that chance to let someone know how important they are. This Christmas I am especially grateful for my first friend. She is the best of me and the one whose been there since then… she is my sister. My first friend understands how Christmas’ were back then and how they are for us now and everything in between. Regardless of what you believe about why we celebrate this day, take the time to appreciate the ones who have made you who you are. Some of them are the reason you persist today. My friend Robbi has pushed me, she has yelled at me and she loves me completely.  She keeps me honest and she has kept me kind…

“A dose, a moment to live in
I’m hoping it stays a while in the space you were in”

Robbi came home with my mom and dad after they went to Hood River in late April of 1964, which was cool because I was born in Oregon too. In a life that has wound around every kind of twist imaginable, I am better because Robbi is my first friend. We all have a story when it comes to our first friend, sometimes it is a cousin or maybe a neighbor, often it is a sibling. No matter the circumstance, that first friend sets the tone for every friend to follow. That meeting of ours, was fifty-seven years ago and we get closer every day. We have a wealth of moments that we have lived in, doses of the harsh reality of life shared together, the spaces I have shared with Robbi are defining for me. I am who I am in large part, because of my first friend.  

We forged this friendship on the cold barren plains of Conrad Montana, that’s where we lived when I first remember hanging out with my sister, I learned to ride a bike there, on a bike that you couldn’t peddle, and it had no brakes… I went down that hill and you were yelling about how crazy it was…. I crashed hard a few times, maybe a lot of times but I learned… We met horses together, we met adventure together and we grew up together. In everything I did, my sister was there, doing it just as well. At some point I realized that I was supposed to feel defeated or less than if my “sister” was as good or even better than me? But I have never felt that way, not once. She always pushed just as hard and anything that she saw me do, she tried to exceed. We learned a lot from each other through the simple act of pushing each other. My sister is bad ass, then and now, she is a warrior, and she keeps me on fire simply because of who she is.

“So keep me, keep me on fire
Keep me, keep me on fire
Keep me honest, keep me kind
Keep me as your finish line
Keep me on fire”

I remember the day we decided to run away, I was seven and you were four…. we packed our cardboard suitcase and grabbed that old acoustic guitar and headed out. Mom just smiled and said goodbye, we made it about two hundred yards before one of us had to go pee and we had to go back, but we made a memory that afternoon…just one of the thousands we have made together.

We moved from place to place, a couple of dozen or more before I was eighteen… but it has always been the two of us. The blacksmiths forge where we always got covered in soot, the 4H projects, the paper routes, yes you took the one with the dogs. No matter where we moved or the cycle of life we ran through, there has always been Robbi and Rusty. It was just the two of us when you met me on the doorstep to tell me that our mom had died that day… that was a day that threatened to ruin us completely, but it didn’t. Instead, we made our way forward, as meandering as that was, here we are today, and it is still Robbi and Rusty, closer than ever before. Robbi has kept me on fire… last week she told me I was brave.

“I froze, and I reckon I missed it
When all of the rain came down in the shape of everything”

Novo Amor caught me completely off guard with his magic, it reminded me why I love music.  There is an allure in the music of this song. His voice, the guitar, the strings, the structure, all of it. Within this beautiful, meandering song is a beautiful joy that I road through the magical moments I saved with my first friend. Something in his voice unlocked so many days and moments I spent with you sister; all the rain came down in the shape of everything we did together.

“Keep me honest, keep me kind
Keep me as your finish line”

Who is your first friend, have you told them just how important they are to you? In a year that has seen so much loss and pain, I find it helpful to draw upon the strengths we have in being tied to others. In my own case there have been so many times that the circumstances of the day tried to rip this friendship apart, but we have survived, and it is such a strength for me. Keep me on fire my beautiful sister, you are the best of everything I have ever seen, and I am most fortunate to have been born to be your brother. Keep me…

Listening, learning, and growing…

American Kid – Carsie Blanton

As we walk through the twilight of the year 2020, I doubt you will find anyone who is sad to see this year fade away. It has been vastly different than any one we have ever lived before, it has taken so much and given extraordinarily little. We all held our breath, as the votes were counted and now, here we are. A nation divided so deeply that regardless of your belief or convictions, we are simply divided.  The question that keeps rolling around in my head is how do we move forward?

“I was once an American kid
Growing up on hallowed ground
Rode to the river on a pretty red horse
In a pretty little country town”

I grew up amidst rural America, or at least a certain flavor of that. I was taught with rigor and fear on how you should believe, and some days, I believed it.  It surprises me even today at how much of those early conversations I watched and consumed. I was taught there is a savior and there is evil, and you will choose one or the other. These things are deep, they were spoken into you before you have memory… When you wake up one day and the world looks like everything described in the book of Revelations… you will look for the savior. It seems so incredibly sedentary when I think of those lessons. You look for your savior, that is what all of us do.  There are millions of our fellow Americans looking around and trying to figure out what is good and what is evil. They are choosing, and once someone has chosen a belief that they decide is theirs… they will defend it to their death.

“But I grew up fast, and I cast my vote
For the president
And I had my doubts, but I still had hope
Until I read the finer print”

I discovered Carsie Blanton while I was working through my “what now” musings. I am truly hopeful about how our government might start working for the people who fund it, but they can’t save us, only we can. Carsie’s music landed in my lap via a song she released about fishing with John Prine, “Fishin’ With You” . Yeah you really should start with that one, then take a stroll through her beautiful catalog of music. I found “American Kid” on her latest album, “Buck Up”. It was utter joy when I heard “American Kid” and realized that yet again I had found the magic. A song written just for my moment in time that will help me find the strength and hope to believe we can do this… God help the American kid… I am that kid.

“We stole this nation, fair and square
And a whole lot of people in chains
But it was all for the glory of God, I swear
And the glory of capital gains”

Part of the division that exists today is the fear that good ole uncle sam will turn into something other than white. I have sat in the pew when the preacher dismissed the raping of this land and justified it by saying we are the blessed ones whom God ordained to “own” this land…God help the American Kid, there is a reckoning happening right now, the white anger and the white rage you see around is that very fear of being caught and having that taken away.  Those of you that say it is too late for reparations are of the same ilk, we stole this nation and put a whole lot of people in chains. All of this starts with me, I am the only one who can be responsible for my choices, can I change your mind, probably not, but I am responsible for my own and I will own it.

“They’re gonna wonder what we did”

What did you do? What did I do? Once I accepted the reality of my privilege, there were many ways that I worked to find my voice and speak for those less privileged.  But I am not sure I changed a thing, so I write, I believe in the power of music. I know for a certainty that if you listen to artists like Carsie, you will be moved. No one can change your mind for you, it must come from you.

You may be agonizing over the sentiments of that loved one who rages against the erosion of whiteness is this nation, you can’t change them, you can only love them. So, love them and when they are looking for an answer, honestly looking, they will see you….

“All the little kids all around the world
Some have and others don’t
God loves all the boys and girls
God knows America won’t
I hear them holler in my head
Can you hear that lonesome sound?
Well it may be true that we made our bed
But I ain’t taking it lying down”

As I ponder this, I can only conclude that for some, there is no path forward, for others there is only a bitter narrow road that leaves them no hope and yet for others they see nothing but possibilities. I do not see myself on any of those roads, I do have hope but that does not come from the result of an election. It comes from within me, it is a belief that if I am honest and listen, I can learn and then grow. Hope for me is a product of growth, if I continue to grow then I will continue to have hope.

Who do you know that is not scared right now? Is there really anyone, regardless of whether you believe the pandemic will just disappear or whether you believe it will claim you. Each one of us is scared. It is that fear that is driving so many, to lash out and hurt those around them. My heart ached the other day when a regular at my local grocery store gig lost his cool and lashed out at me for telling him that we had a line to get in. I wasn’t mad that he lost his shit or that he made a scene, I was sad because he is losing his hope, and at that very time when he needed it, I couldn’t give him any. We are all scared…

“Don’t look now, but it won’t be long
They’re gonna wonder what we did
And we’ll have to admit that we done them wrong
God help the American kid
Oh, God help the American kid”

I am scared just like everyone else, but my fear is not a fear of the government or from the other half of the country that voted differently than me, my fear is from those who just don’t care to understand. We all have a story. Every single one of us and until we are ready to sit down and learn our neighbors’ story, we should stop expecting them to understand ours.  It is knowing these stories that will really open this land and start us toward healing. This won’t happen tomorrow or probably not even next year, but we must start walking towards it. Stop investing in the things we believe will enrich us and start investing in each other, it really is that simple. The challenge is doing it… If we don’t, well then shame on us…

You need to take a swim through this magician’s catalogue, find a quiet afternoon, put your headphones on and spend some quality time with Carsie Blanton, she is a magician. There are a few rare opportunities to meet greatness, this is one. Carsie probably eats bass players for lunch, but I would gladly be an entrée for her perusal… shit, she is the real thing.

Listening, learning, and growing…

Are We Alright Again – The Eels

We’re all in this circus, watching the mutations of suburbia

“Are we alright again?” I have listened to “The Eels” for over a decade, but mostly to the first things I heard from them. A really good friend of mine, whom I’ve had the pleasure of making a lot of music with, gave me their inaugural album, “Beautiful Freak”. I have always had a, “yeah the Eels”, kind of reaction to their vibe. It was such a cool day when my random wanderings through music landed me on this one. I’m lucky, I get a few days that I would call “cool” every now and then, honestly, more now, than then.

“Are we alright again?” I woke up a while back, asking myself this very question and for me I would say yeah, I am alright again. All the turmoil and anxiety of this year can serve to make us question that every moment of every day. I posed that question to myself because I wanted to be honest about my answer. I am really, alright again, I am determined to celebrate that.

If you haven’t found your own conclusion to the questions that swirl around, what will normal be? When will we get there?  Then sit back and enjoy this tune, suburbia is mutating all around us and I really don’t think things will ever be the same, in many ways that is alight. My most sincere hope for you is that you will be alright again, enjoy the circus and find your place in this new brave world we will emerge on.

“Walking down the street
Or walking on the moon
What’s it matter
Outa my cocoon?
Step into the sunshine
Man, it feels good
Birds and bees jamming
A theme for the neighborhood”

We must learn from how much our lives were changed and been disrupted by the events of 2020. We need to understand how much more could change. The very first thing to do, is to be sure you are alright.  You must get to alright again, to do the work that will make us all, alright again. I want you walk out of your cocoon.

What are we going to be when we get out of this? I am choosing to believe that there is hope for getting out to alright again. I also hope that we are better because of what we just went through, together, alone. Will we forget the truth that was shown to us about who we really are? We are just beginning to crack the book on unraveling who we really are. We need to be stronger today, I want you to be alright again.  I want you to thrive.  

“Are we alright again?
Are we all round the bend?
Am I lucky or brave?
Are you stronger today?
Are we alright again?
Yeah, I think we’re alright”

I see humanity, I am so fortunate to be where I am and doing what I do, while all this shit flies around us. I see you… I know there is hope for tomorrow, I know that even in a world beset by every kind of destructive force, we must get to alright again. I think we will be alright. But we will walk a few things, or maybe a lot of things. But at some point, we must get up and walk and say hey I think I am alright, look up in the sky, take this in. We are writing history right now. Will we be alright again, lucky, or brave? If we just be alright again, we will.

“Look up at the sky
Don’t you think you could
Birds and bees jamming
Their tune for the neighborhood, they say
“Do you wanna fly?” Hmm…
“Do you wanna get high?” Yeah, I do
“High up here where we are” let me up there
“Well, don’t you know it’s not that far?”

This is where we are, struggling to find what today means let alone next year. Do you wanna get high? Yeah, I do… yeah, I do… See if you can get outside today, there are birds and bees jamming a tune for your neighborhood.  I feel a current in the air that bodes change. Change is not bad and in the type of circumstances we find ourselves in this year we need to embrace change. If we don’t it could be an awfully long road back to a suburbia that simply has disappeared, then what…

I am one so fortunate to get up each day and have a job, my wife has her job, and we can pay our bills. I am not naive enough to believe that is true for anyone else. I can’t change your day by means, but I can give you some of my hope. It is real, it is what I must give. I am alight again…

“Looking back, I don’t know how
But I can see clear up ahead
Smiling skies with a chance of “yes”
Maybe it’s time to get out of bed”

This is the real question here, is it time to get out of bed? If you don’t believe you make a difference, then do it any way. I see clear sky up ahead and I feel in my bones the chance of “YES”. Yes, we can move forward, Yes, we can get out of the circus and be alright again.  But if you don’t get out of bed and say, “yeah I do”, then it may be an awfully long and rutted road. I am choosing to make this your day to be alright again.

“Hey Mr. Bluebird, give me a hit of that
And pass it over to that mangy cat
Well, he’s been through a lot now, more than you and me
Let’s give him what we’ve got, that’s who you wanna be”

How many mangy cats do you know? How many Mr. Bluebirds? We have all been through a lot. Some of us have been ok, some of us have really been beat down and we might just feel like that mangy cat.  A little while ago, I visited my dad. He turned ninety this year, we didn’t get to have the party he wanted and deserved, but I am relieved by his great attitude and resilience. Honestly, he has given me a great example of being alright, despite your surroundings. He told me that he couldn’t write anymore, because of the macular degeneration in his eyes. He was talking about simple things like signing a check or a letter and such, but he is a great storyteller. All my life, he talked about writing his stories, but he only wrote a few of those great adventures. When my sister and I were young he would tell us these stories, mostly about Indian Jake.  I have no idea how many nights we fell asleep to Indian Jake and his wanderings around the Big Sky country.

My dad is a cowboy, and all his stories are westerns, they are my first experience of storytelling and the power of wonder that it can stir within. I know for a fact that my ability to write is a gift I received directly from him. I am sad that he won’t finish writing those stories, but I will always have them, and so will my sister. I will do my best to never leave any of my stories unfinished and yes, I am alright again.

You’ve been through a lot, take a breath, and take a hit of that. Then pass it over to that mangy cat… He’s been through a lot too.

Listening, learning, and growing…

Strange Days – The Struts

The Odyssey of a Decade within a Year

The skyline has been an alien presence. Smoke, ash, and tar replaced the blues and grays that are usually dominant in my northwest skies.  I have spent my entire life in this area of the country, I have wandered much of Washington and Oregon, parts of Idaho, Montana, and California. I love the northwest and I am grieving for her.  I spent several nights sitting outside, processing my grief. I am no where near an evacuation area and have not seen a single flame with my own eyes, but I have breathed it in. I must allow this grief to teach me. I know for a fact that there are the remains of trees that allowed me to sink into them and absorb their beauty, in that smoke and ash. That is all that is left, and it is breaking me.  Letting this smoke and ash mingle around me is a way of honoring those giants who did nothing but clean up our air and provide us with timber for all manner of things. These are some of the most beautiful living beings on this planet and I am deeply saddened by their passing.

If you have not seen these forests and mountains you might not understand. These are not “things” that you can rebuild with money or legislation, they are just gone. I can never take my grandchildren to see them and absorb their love as I did. I have let them down and I have no excuse for doing that.

So many places have shared their love and magic with me. Whether it was camping or hiking among them or just walking into their midst and losing myself in their magnificent presence. I owe them so much for all the things that make me, me.  This is not like it was when Mt. St. Helens blew, I was there. This is not nature redirecting her energy. there is no way to sugar coat this, this is the result of humans raping the very thing that gives us life, we have turned a corner that we likely will never turn back from.  So I will grieve and I will walk out of this knowing that I have to do something, I have no illusions about any grandiose thing I could conjure that would change anything but even if it means voting and speaking up when I can, I will. I will never be able to look my grandkids in the eye again if I don’t.

And we go into tomorrow.

This year has honestly been a wandering decade of a year. In wandering I mean within ourselves, honestly so much has changed and nothing has changed all at once. It is strange…

Oh these are strange days
In many strange ways
A message to outer space
Send help cause we lost our way

We have lost our way; it doesn’t do any good to say otherwise. I don’t know how to reconcile the folly of my generation. I’m a boomer by a year or two. I’ve seen a few things but nothing I have seen prepared me for this. This song has been a raft that I have been floating on.

I have been a fan of The Struts since I first heard them in 2016. I love Luke Spiller, for me, he is the best rock voice since Freddy. “Strange Days” hit me hard, I was listening to this when I sat outside and mingled with the ash. On its surface, this a great rock ballad, just beautiful. But if you spin it a few times, some magic appears. There is a depth to the message here, a message to outer space may seem silly but asking for help because we have lost our way is not silly at all. Do you have a better idea?

So many of the songs I have heard The Struts sing are straightforward rock anthems, and if you are looking to escape into an anthemic afternoon of good rock and roll then I strongly suggest you explore their catalog.

“We don’t know, it’s unclear
Where we’ll be this time next year”

It feels like we found a rut, kind of like normal but not. Working and schooling from home, doing your thing as best you can but feeling alone, cause you are. This stuff we are living with is not normal, it is not even close

When has a lyric seemed more accurate? I do not recall a time in my life that I wondered where or if I will be next year. Every day I get up and groan, just like you and then I believe. I can do this for one more day. I love the reaction to joy I get when I see when one of the people who come to buy groceries receives a bit of my joy. It is a strange time to be alive, but I am alive. I am so alive…every little thing that you do goes a long long way.

It is true that it is unclear where we will be this time next year. My granddaughter and I talked recently, and she asked me about where we come from and I was honest. We came from everywhere. There is no one place that bears our banner. In some ways that may give me an advantage, but I am not sure. I remember my deep disillusionment when I was in ninth grade and learned that the US was not strictly a democracy but rather a republic. My patriotic view was shattered at that point and circumstances across the world because of what “we” did have done nothing to repair that. This does not mean I do not love my country, but it does mean I am sad for her. Structures of discriminatory behavior permeate every fiber of our nation. I still find beauty here every single day. I see beauty in the people that come though to get their groceries and I do believe things can change, but only if we all can understand just how strange this time is and just how important it is to do the work of listening and unraveling the lies and betrayals of what came before us.

Strange days, we are all strange. We are all trying to make the best of where we begin in this crazy world.

“But we don’t’ talk about it
But isn’t it good to be down here alive
Something money could never buy
It’s worth more than a million roses”

Just waking up every day and breathing are signs of hope for me. I consider it a privilege to walk this life and I am honored to have walked the odyssey of life that I have walked, and I will continue to.  I think we need to talk a lot more about how good it is to be down here, even if it feels so strange and terrible right now, take a deep breath and smile…

These are strange days in many strange ways

“When you stumble and fall get yourself off the ground
Play your favorite song and sing it out loud
Take a deep breath and in time you’ll begin to smile”

You should probably put this song on repeat… it may help you get through on more day… There is hope in this ballad. These guys wrote something that we are all feeling, and they rocked it.  Dozens of times over the last few weeks I have played this on my way to work, taking a deep breath and beginning to smile. Sometimes I do sing it our loud and sometimes I just let it bring me joy. It has helped me bring more joy to those that come in and need it. It really is good to be alive.

Listening, learning, and growing…

Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers

My Rabbit Hole

There is something I do when I take in new music. I find a song that sends me down a road that then leads to another and then an album, and then three. I refer to this as my rabbit hole, Alice had hers, I have mine. I heard “Passing Through” two weeks ago, it led me to this rabbit hole. I do that, I hear something intriguing and I go digging with my ears, looking to see if this is a new vein of magic.  Sometimes I am only digging for an hour, sometimes it is weeks. In the case of Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers, I am still digging through their catalog and I am finding so much magic. Honestly, most of the time these rabbit holes yield maybe a smile from a song or two but usually not anything more. I still can’t believe I have never heard these guys before this. But, as I have said, you find it when you need it.

Maybe I’ll lose my shit tomorrow
Give way to all my sorrow
But today is not the day to fall apart

Those lyrics right there kind of sum it up for me and others I see busting their asses every day.  Maybe we will lose our shit tomorrow, but we are going to keep our shit together today. We are just Passing Through ya know… and we can see how close you are to losing yours.

We’re learning how to lose, cause we’re just passing through

This year, we have suffered so many losses, so we really are learning how to lose, all of us are. We are all just trying to pass through this and hoping to get to the other side of it…but we must get through it. I don’t think it matters what stage of life you happen to be in, this has been scary and agonizing. I do however have a bright glimmer of hope in my spirit these last few weeks. In large part due to the Rainbow Seekers range of honest lyrics and incredible musicianship, this group of humans delivers… so well. There is so much magic in this music for me, it walked me through a range of emotions that has been a bit like you would go through if you were grieving. They bring joy and speaking to your own story. I am a better person because of finding this rabbit hole.

Are you feeling kinda lonely
Like everyone else
Is your future looking stormy
Do you need a friend
Are you trying to find where home is
Then please take my hand
But you say you’re feeling lonely
Lonely, like everyone else

This one gets into my soul…this could have been written for today!!! What the hell kind of magic is this? But hear me out, if you’re feeling kind of lonely, like everyone is, then please take my hand, this will get you a little closer to understanding. “Lonely” speaks some real truth to what we need right now. This came out in 2017, but it couldn’t be more relevant today, and the funk… shit.

Am I the only one to see the sign upon the bathroom stall

Think about this as we face the next few months, as the nation who stood for peace and democracy for generations, we were the difference in both world wars. But all that time we have never removed the racial barriers and constructs of racism that lie deep within the fabric of our nation, we must unravel that. We need to understand our scars.

This is your story
These are your scars
Don’t you ever forget who you are
When it gets heavy
When it gets hard
Don’t you ever forget who you are
Don’t you ever forget who you are

Your Story, this did more for me than I can even describe. I feel like they have been on my shoulder for the last few decades and wrote this just for me There isn’t a lyric or note that doesn’t resonate with me, this song made me soar. I am writing my story; I am pulling out my scars so you can see them.

We all have a story, filled with scars. When you see someone in the store or at a traffic light in the car next to you, there is a story and a pile of scars, right there and they all need to be accepted for just that.  Not a single person could have foresaw the gravity of what is 2020, and we still have three months to go. We are locked at the edge of a storm, we are all in this together, for bad or for worse we get to ride this out or die…literally. What exactly are you going to do to survive, will you crawl into a corner and hide until 2021 or will you embrace joy?  Think of it as a puzzle, the pieces are all right there in front of you and we have extraordinarily little time to put them together.

You fueled your own furnace, when you spoke they all heard it
Like lightning at the edge of a storm
Every word was a wave, every thought was a cave
That bore through every mind that came before

I hope you can hear my story; it is fired by years of a furnace that had no pity or grace for my wellbeing, but I survived, and I am not willing to let those scars go unnoticed.  There are giants on whose shoulders I get to ride upon, I am a son of the Beard brothers, my father and his six brothers all served in WWII and Korea and they all came home. We have a way of surviving and I want to never squander the lessons they gave me in the service that they gave. This song, more than anything, gave me the juice to push forward and succeed. You may find it small and insignificant, but it really matters so much to me. I am writing my story every day; I get to choose my attitude and pass along a smile that hopefully throws a little light your way.

Am I the only one to see the sign on the bathroom stall or on your heart?

I have the brilliant privilege to see roughly ten thousand people a week, but what I dug into even deeper this week was the real joy in making someone else smile. I love what I do… When I get that one conversation that I know gave them a warm brilliant smile of joy inside of themselves, then I am good!!! Do not think that your story does not matter, it is yours, and no one else can make a claim to it or alter it for you. It is the fabric that makes up who you are. The scars, the stories, they all add up to you. They matter and you matter… I believe you probably have a chance like me to be a light to someone who needs it and my hope is that you grab that and shine.

The last few weeks have defined us yet again and we will face whatever comes in the next few weeks. I won’t ever forget who we are. Every day we write our story, I started a new chapter a year ago. I found joy, contentment, and some exceptional humans…  I am privileged.

We don’t need a hero; it takes all of us to heal this.

If you haven’t heard this band, stop what you are doing and listen. Their music will move you; this is an incredible group of musicians and I am so glad they found each other so I could get lost in a rabbit hole they inspired. They will astound your ears and then your heart, they exude magic. This is what I do when I am being rational, and a beautiful thing happened… I met Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers.

I have listened to three of their albums thoroughly so far, Terra Incognita, Pluto, and Paper Castle.  There is magic on every one of them. I could have talked about so many of their songs.

This is your story,

These are your scars

I am optimistic about what we could do as a nation if we acted with kindness and an offer of hope. Music gives me hope, it gives me inspiration and when I pay attention it guides me as well. Take some time to go wandering through the rabbit holes that come your way, we are just passing through…

Listening, learning, and growing…

Bronze Radio Return – Still Wandering

I hope I never lose my wonder and amazement at finding a song that hits me right where I am right now. That is what Still Wandering by Bronze Radio Return did… right in the ears…

I recently deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts, my reasons were many but when I did, I signed off with the statement that I am going wandering. Wandering is where I have found joy, and hope, always hope. You see when I wander, I am giving life a chance to find me. I learned that when I am chasing life, I miss too much. Today as I was having my morning coffee, Bronze Radio Return stopped me cold and its been on repeat ever since.

“If this is being lost, then may I never be found”

Have you been lost today? Did it surprise you? What did you find?

Let’s talk about wandering, from birth I had the structures of religion bound into my thoughts and actions. It taught me that I would only find joy after death, it taught me the sheer terror of wandering into sin.  I have spent the last twenty years tearing myself free from those strictures. I am now at a place of believing that there can be joy today, and wandering is part of that joy.  As I let myself wander this life, breathing in all that is around me, I am able to experience hope and friendship that I would have missed before, because I was wearing the blinders of attempting to break the yoke that religion had on me. 

“I’m not lost, I’m still just wandering”

This wandering has taken me to places that renew my hope, just the other day I got to sit down and have lunch with a new friend, I would have missed him if I were not wandering. We found a common joy in music and being a source of hope for one another. This friendship has the potential of being a very deep lifelong bond and I am richer for it. While we are surrounded by fear and the unknown of what is 2020, we are all wandering, we are all lost. There is no normal or certainty about anything in a way that no one living today has ever experienced.  Embrace this journey, grab all the hope and joy you can find and embrace the wandering, you may find it will free you.

The timing of hearing this song along with that lunch conversation are no coincidence. It is not chance that I work at the neighborhood grocery store and have found a way to give what hope I can to those I work with and those that come through for their groceries. This is where my wandering has taken me, and it was a deliberate choice to abandon the predictable path that I was on and follow my own road. I have no idea where this will take me, I just know that I have found hope and I will continue to listen for the magic in music and sharing what feeds my soul.

Bronze Radio Return is a band that has crossed my aural path several times, but I am not intimately familiar with their catalog of music. There is no doubt that they have touched magic and sent it out for us to enjoy. Still Wandering is a simple song and that is where its magic is rooted. It does not try to enthrall us with complicated rhythms or rhyme’s, it just speaks to our souls. This song is a gift of incredible value to me. It is giving me another day of hope and an opportunity to see that my path is true. I will continue chasing death as hard as I can, pushing at that veil so it fears me and not the other way around. Still Wandering is about winning life, not just living it.

Each day we have choices, some are small and have almost no consequences. Others may seem small but can carry massive consequences. If you are open to seeing the universe around you and if you are willing to gather the story of those around you, then you can succeed and wander. From my side of the grocery store I see you struggling just to breathe. Sometimes you are open to a smile or a word of encouragement but sometimes you are just sad. Don’t hide from the wonder of the journey. I see your pain, you matter to me, put some headphones on and put this song on repeat. Let it feed your soul… the magic is real.  I want you to see the new normal with me, I want you to wander and discover this beautiful joy I have found… it’s your story, it’s yours to wander.

“I’m still out here and I’m still moving along

still wandering”

Listening, learning, and growing…

Mt. Joy – Rearrange Us

Each morning we wake up and are startled into the realization that yet again, something new or terrible greets us. We walk through it, we live in it and wonder when we will wake up, cause this shit cannot be real. But it is, and here we are.

I hope you have some form of coping mechanism. Mine is taking in music, soaking in it, and then writing about it. That is where I find peace, its where I find joy… it’s how I feed my soul. I have no idea when or if “this” is going away, we all must find a few things to grasp onto and hold tight, something that makes us feel at least a little bit balanced. How prescient is “Rearrange Us”? We’ve all been rearranged, a lot.  Rearranged, means a thousand different things to a thousand different people, but this is our new reality. For all of us it means masks, a distance we are not fond of… and a constant state of fear of those around you. This is not healthy… but this is our reality. If you are privileged, you get to have a smile on occasion. These last few months have been made a little easier for me, due to the release of Mt. Joy’s “Rearrange Us”. It has given me some light on some very dark days. I am always grateful for gifts like this, but this one is special. Countless hours with this in my ears have made for a lot of beautiful moments.

There are countless bands that have a star or two and are surrounded by capable musicians and incredibly beautiful things have happened. But on rare occasions something truly magical happens, a group of musicians find each other, for whatever reason, they find each other.  Mt. Joy is made up of five uniquely distinct artists, Matt Quinn (vocals, guitar), Sam Cooper (guitar), Jackie Miclau (keyboards), Michael Byrnes (bass) and Sotiris Eliopoulos (drums), in no order at all… Each of them is extremely talented and a star in their own right and they fit together like a beautiful song.

If you look back over the rocket shot ride of Mt. Joy’s career, you will start at “Astrovan”. That was on their self-titled debut album, Mt. Joy. I listened to that album so many times and was in awe of these young musicians singing about a deadhead Jesus and Sheep. I deliberately chose not to write about them because of my age-old philosophy that you really do not know what a band is made of until you hear their sophomore release. Then “Rearrange Us” happened…I am glad I waited.

Music captures me through its rhythm’s and then its lyrics. I need to be able to soak it in and discover some magic in it every time I hear it.  I have listened to “Rearrange Us” several hundred times conservatively, and every time I listen, I find a new magic.  That fact alone makes this an album that will be in my top whatever for the rest of my life. Its been an awfully long time since I have enjoyed an album from start to finish like this one. This kind of work is exceedingly rare and especially rare from a band that has been together for such a short time. I am so excited about their future; they seem to honestly love each other and that really matters. From what they post on social media, they have a righteous activism in their voice and that tells me they are not too naive. If they hold on to each other, listen to each other and ignore the noise of the industry, then I am sure we will be hearing a lot more from them, and it will be awesome.  

The album was released on June 5, 2020 and was recorded in Portland OR by Tucker Martine, I find it all kinds of interesting that Portland rolls its soul through this. I have some history there too, spent some teenage years hanging out on the north end with my older sister and brother in law. Learned a lot there, oh and I was born in Portland… never really lived there though.

It was the keys of Jackie Miclau, playing on “Strangers” that first caught my attention. Her work leaves me completely speechless. Throughout this album, you can hear her weave a beautifully subtle portrait of rhythms, or tear into a ground shaking, lead the band and blow your face to pieces type of riff… and she has a blast doing it.

Miss Miclau, you are a complete rock star. No one gets to question this…it is known.

“Staring at America, and if I blink I’ll drown”

Then they just pile on with those lyrics, there is so much magic wrapped in what they have written, every single song from this album has some. I know that all of this was written and recorded before the pandemic and the protests, but saying they are prescient would be an understatement. I have spent a lot of time letting this album soothe my soul as I have navigated the last few months. I will continue to let it make me smile. They only made me admire them more when I saw their post regarding their June 5th release. They wanted to postpone it; they did not want to self-promote while this nation was trying to come to terms with our ugly racist self. They couldn’t stop the release so in response, they donated all of the first weeks proceeds to Campaign Zone, a non-profit dedicated to reducing police violence.  That is a big deal, this is not a band who can sit on their millions from all their big hits! There is no doubt that they will have the opportunity to get there but they are not there, they are just getting started and the first week of sales for an album is not trivial…. It was the top selling album on vinyl that week… Mt. Joy has integrity…respect that.

“Hold on tight, I think I might have wasted all my time on fear
But if I were would you be so rude and tell me what I have to hear”

“Bug Eyes” is a brilliant beginning to this album, it is an example of how Mt. Joy constructs their songs, the way they build to crescendo and then ride from there, is not commonplace, and I love it. The lyrics of this song are so poignant and yet coy in how they dance around our feelings.  “May all your love be returned” may go down as one of the best lines on any albums opening song. This song introduced me to Michael Byrnes. This guy is one hell of a bass player. Every song he plays has a little of his soul wrapped up in it. Yes, I am partial to bass players, so what. This guy can play, he can play and play, and I will listen and listen. The bass line in “Bug Eyes” is a great example of how the bass can drive a song and yet remain a subtle fixture of your imagination. Michael delivers the precise bass line each song needs throughout this album; some are subtle, and some are in your face righteous bass lines. I am a fan of this kid. There is a beautiful joy in the way Jackie, Michael and Sotiris drive this song, they are locked in and so precise throughout this album. This opening tune is a demonstration of how a rhythm section should and can absolutely carry a song. Even if it has profound lyrics…

“Are you not worried, are you not worried
‘Cause we don’t have to lie like them, we’re all already lost”

“Acrobats” is a stunning romp of lyrics diving into a roar of magical music. This song takes you on a ride of absolute magic! Every member of the group makes a statement here, it’s like they are saying we are Mt. Joy, can you handle it??? This song has one of the most complete bridges I have heard in decades… Put this on repeat and repeat…

“If the future won’t hold it don’t let go
And if the future won’t hold it don’t let go
’Cause if the future won’t hold it just trust the moment
If the future won’t hold it just trust the moment
If the future won’t hold it don’t let go If the future won’t hold it just trust the moment
The future won’t hold it don’t let go
And if the future won’t hold it I will carry it”

“Come With Me” If there was a protest song on this album, this would be it… everything about this song gives me hope. Do you have any idea how many times I have seen a glimmer of hope only to have it crushed.? I was seven when MLK was killed, I was fourteen when we ran from Vietnam, and then in my late twenties, we had sunk into the gulf war. There have been so many times that the “future would not hold it” Something about today feels different, just trust this moment.  This song stands as an example of just how much magic this band has. It is the beautiful culmination of reaching for hope through music and lyrics. We are all alive in a moment of reckoning, we are all responsible for being the change that creates the same opportunity for every soul regardless of how they look or how they identify themselves. I am exhausted with being helpless to change what is happening to my brothers and sisters around me. I will keep helping you all feed yourselves from my neighborhood grocery store job and I will keep turning to songs like this to keep me alive.

I will not go through every detail of every song; I am leaving plenty for you to discover on your own, it is a great ride. I will leave you with this though… spend forty-five seconds of your life and listen to “Have Faith in the Good”, it is a beautifully simple spell of magic, all its own, just wash in it… you’re welcome.

Hold very tight to the people in your life, I do not remember a time when there was this much to worry about.  Each of those around us is struggling to understand what hope is or if it even exists. We should live and die and see the world through someone else’s eyes… be bug eyed and go fall in love with strangers…

Listening, learning, and growing….