Saturday, February 22, 2014

An "aha" moment

Earlier this week, I was feeling stuck in the mud of life. I was looking back the way I came, obsessing over choices and mistakes, and felt unable to move forward.

Brandi Carlile, an artist who has a number for pretty much every one of my emotions, pretty well sums it up in her song, "Hard Way Home" from the Bear Creek album:



It's a thumping, rhythmic song, sown with percussion, handclaps, tambourine, piano and a slew of strings — the joyfulness of which creates tension when paired with the wistful message:

I sometimes lose my faith in luck
I don't know what I want to be when I grow up
I just count the rain
Wearing the floor through the boards again
I wish I could find a soul to steal
I could be the engine, you could be the wheel
And we could drive it home and never have to worry about being alone


If you've ever questioned yourself — your path, your ideas, your goals, your heart's desires, your faith — you'll know that it can be an exhausting process. You lose sleep. Talk it out. Experiment. Avoid. Distract. Immerse. Whichever your coping method, it can be a lot of circuitous motion.

Oooh, I follow my tracks
See all the times I should have turned back
Oooh, I wept alone
I know what it means to be on my own
Oooh, the things I've known
Looks like I'm taking the hard way home
Oooh, the seeds I've sown
Taking the hard way home


In my case, part of the struggle was coming to terms with my own personality. Do I accept it or fight it? Do I pick a different path to suit it or force myself into one that clashes with it? Am I even looking at it in the right way?

I never did learn how to follow the rules
I never was good at sleeping while the moon was full
I just lie and burn
Wreck my mind while the planet turns
I sometimes wish I could start again
I'd try and do the right thing every now and then
I'd step in line
That's what I'd do if I could turn back time


By the end of the day Tuesday, I was in an even worse place than when the day began.

I tell you how I want to live
Forget about the take
Forget about the give
I want to leave this town
Fake my death and never be found


Great attitude, huh? Well, that's just it. Later in the week, when I had finally just decided to just show up to life anyway and tackle the challenges thrown my way, an amazing transformation occurred. I found myself migrating from an "I'm done with this scene" attitude to one in which my obstacles became learning experiences, and no naysayers were going to hold me back.

The very next song on the Bear Creek album, "Raise Hell," spoke to me Friday, when I was able to look clear-eyed at my situation again. Though no circumstances had actually changed, I had gained a knock-'em-dead-despite-your-struggles attitude instead of a victim mindset.



I've been down with a broken heart
Since the day I learned to speak
The devil gave me a crooked start
When he gave me crooked feet
But Gabriel done came to me
And kissed me in my sleep
And I'll be singing like an angel
Until I'm six feet deep

I found myself an omen and I tattooed on a sign
I set my mind to wandering and I walk a broken line
You have a mind to keep me quiet
And although you can try
Better men have hit their knees
And bigger men have died

(chorus)
I'm gonna raise, raise hell
There's a story no one tells
You gotta raise, raise hell
Go on and ring that bell

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Music: The consumer's evolution

Listening to an episode of "Snap Judgment" on NPR this afternoon reminded me of something that's been bouncing around in my brain for a couple of years but hasn't made its way into blogpost form yet: The evolution of music consumption.

The segment I listened to was from an episode called "The Stranger," wherein a Seattle musician chronicles a snapshot of his life as a teen breaking into the emerging 80s punk scene. Along the way, he meets a mysterious kid working at his friend's dad's hotel who is able to hook them up with mixtapes of something they really crave: the latest punk music. They later find out the friend is a now-famous (also now-deceased) musician; the knowledge comes upon the narrator in a goosebump-inducing rush at the end of the segment.

You can listen to it here to find out who the musician was:



As I reflected on my own teen years after listening to this episode, I remembered what it was I've been wanting to say for awhile about music.

I'm an 80s kid. In my teen years, my friends and I learned about music through word-of-mouth. You found out what was cool when other kids shared mixtapes, or later, CDs, with you. Or, if they were musically trained, they'd play garage or basement band jam sessions at your house, you'd ask what song it was, and that's how a new band groupie would be born.

As pointed out by Nate DiMeo over at The Memory Palace podcast, in the 1800s, you'd get one shot in a lifetime to hear a particular dazzling performer, and you'd likely never get to hear that music again. In a July 2012 podcast, DiMeo tells the story of opera singer Jenny Lind, who many called "the Swedish Nightingale" because of her angelic voice. Queen Victoria herself had to wait two years before she could hear a second performance from Lind.

Yet in my lifetime, I've been lucky enough to witness the birth of the YouTube generation. It's now much easier to find out about new music, let alone be able to listen to it for free whenever I feel like it.

I've heard a lot of angst expressed over how new technology has contributed to the Death of Rock 'n' Roll and the decline of the music industry in general. And sure, while empowering, this instantaneous access can also be isolating, if you let it, and financially challenging for the artists. Another topic for another day.

What I really want to say today is I don't think those of us born in this era pause and marvel often enough at our good fortune. We live in an age when the previously unthinkable is now the possible.

I'm taking today to appreciate the gift of widely available music. And here's a sample -- nightingales in their own right: