Archive for November, 2008

Mercy

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On my previous post I asked what single song you would sing if you were lying out in the gutter dying and you had time to sing one song…One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on earth.  One song that would sum you up…

Whilst I often love clever lyrics, at the end of the day some things just need to be said as they are.  Whatever our life experience or standing in society, we all fall short and hide behind masks and ultimately there comes a time when we simply stop pretending…

Is there time when old hymnals come back to mind and we recite phrases like “amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me”?  How seldom many of us see ourselves in that light.  And yet for untold numbers of others, they see themselves simply in that light with no hope of restoration.

I’ve been thinking it over for a couple of days and have concluded that I’d choose the same song as Scott.  So, when it all boils down to it the song I’d choose is as follows:

“Well I have wandered away from the narrow path

Have I gone so far that you won’t have me back?

You see my reaction to the world’s distractions.

If the apple is sweet, then I am bound to eat…

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy on me.

Well I came to you from that lonely place

At the end of the season from the sea and the sun

If you’re really there and you really care

Surely you will understand the depths of my despair 

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy on me.

Will you listen to me in my moment of weakness?

I’m your prodigal son and I’m looking for rest

Forever

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy on me”.

From “Mercy” by Gena Rowlands Band.

The above comes from the “Flesh and Spirits” album which I consider my best find of 2007.  I now regard it as one of the most important albums I own.  Whilst, the language may not always be the way in which I would articulate things, this record has helped me view life, love, attraction, temptation, sex, death, God and the human condition in a way like precious little other music has done for a long time.  If that has got you intrigued, then you can listen to some of the tracks at their myspace page here or order the album here.

One of my friends saw Gena Rowlands Band play a gig in Brooklyn last year.  They finished the set with this song.  Bob Massey sung the song whilst the rest of the band packed up their gear around him and those gathered in the venue began to sing along the refrain, “Lord, have mercy on us”.  I love that picture –  a small bar full of people, many of whom, I expect, would never consider entering a church and yet singing words together that they can understand and own.  It makes me think about how little time Jesus spent in religious places compared with how much time he spent with ordinary people in their everyday lives.

As Scott also recently commented in an email to me – church is more like a hospital for sinners than a museum for saints.  There’s a lot of truth in that and yet I wonder how many churches that actually rings true for?

I Was There When It Happened

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There’s a scene in the film “Walk The Line” where John R. Cash is trying to support his young wife and family by holding down a job as a door to door salesman. Whilst doing this he is distracted by the sounds he hears from a band recording at, the now legendary, Sun Studios. Eventually he manages to secure some time there and makes a plea to company owner Sam Philips to get a chance to audition for a record contract.  When asked to play something, Cash and the Tennessee Two play “I Was There When It Happened” which has the following lyrics,

“Yes, I know when Jesus saved me (yes, He saved my soul),
The very moment He forgave me (yes, He made me whole);
He took away my heavy burden (yes, He took my sin and),
And He gave me peace within (gave me peace within).
Satan can’t make me doubt it (he can’t make me doubt it),
It’s real and I’m gonna shout it (I’m gonna shout it);
‘Cause I was there when it happened (oh, my Lord),
and I guess I ought to know (yes, I ought to know)”.

Sam Philips cuts them off short and claims that he can’t sell gospel music and that everyone else has been trying that.  Johnny Cash gets really defensive, as if his own faith or right to grace is being dismissed. 

After a few heated moments, Sam Phillips looks Cash in the eye and says, “If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out in that gutter dying and you had time to sing one song, huh, one song before people would remember you’re dirt.  One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on earth.  One song that would sum you up, you’re telling me that’s the song?  That same old Jimmy Davis tune we hear all day on the radio about your peace within, about how it’s real and you’re gonna shout it?  Or would you sing something different?  Something real?  Something you felt?  ‘Cause I’m tellin’ you right now, that’s the sort of song that people wanna hear.  That’s the sort of song that truly saves people.”

In the film Johnny Cash’s response was not some trite ditty about Jesus, love or happiness.

If there was only one song you could sing in that situation what would it be?  Feel free to click on the comments icon to leave some thoughts…

Just Like Christmas

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“On our way from Stockholm
Started to snow
And you said it was like Christmas
But you were wrong
It wasn’t like Christmas at all”

From “Just Like Christmas” by Low

I always pity those folks who have to work in shops and be exposed to cheesy, cheery, Christmas music from the middle of October onwards…The decorations go up so early and we are buoyed into a sense of compulsive festive spending at what seems like an ever alarmingly early point in our calendar.

That said, there is something I love in amongst all of that.  Dark mornings and nights, steam exhaling from nostrils, warm drinks, cozy fires and a time to revert to childhood and the anticipation of Christmas.  It is one of the times in the year when lots of folks who never darken church doors find themselves in a church singing songs they have learned as kids when life often seemed less complicated and full of possibilities. 

I’ve come to love re-workings of some of those old Christmas songs.  Belle & Sebastian’s reading of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, Sufjan Stevens’ “O Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” or most of the “XFM: It’s A Cool, Cool Christmas” album.  No Christmas Day in our home is likely to be complete without the Christmas albums of Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra getting an airing.

My all-time favourite seasonal album though has to be “Christmas” by Low.  Last night we had the delight of seeing them play over in Glasgow (a treat I have enjoyed more times than I can be sure of).  After a typically sparse and beautifully melodic opening setlist, the minimalism was interrupted by a cluttered stage comprising an ensemble of Low and Ida together with Eric from The Retribution Gospel Choir and Sun Kil Moon and Jean on violin.  They ran through most of the songs from the “Christmas” album and a few other festive favourites.  They threw themselves into it and it was a sight to behold Mimi really hitting those drums and all sorts of percussive instruments in a seasonal ho-down.

It didn’t really feel like Christmas, as I have a mental list of a million things to do between now and then.  Yet, it was a pleasure to behold in the presence of my true love.  It was so nice of a good friend to offer to babysit.  It was a rare treat to munch crepes in the car afterwards as we watched band and fans spill out of the venue.  Yet in the midst of it all, there was a contrast of seasonal silliness and a deeper sincerity.  Alan Sparhawk exited the stage saying “God is a forgiver, God is a forgiver”.

Born Into A Light

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I love living in Edinburgh, but it’s not really known as a city for live music.  In fact, even now, I’m struggling to think of the last decent gig I went to in the town I call home.  It seems I’m forever making trips over to Glasgow to see bands.  Yet tonight, Death Cab For Cutie and Ryan Adams & The Cardinals were both in town.

In these times of prudence in business, I think that has rubbed off on home life too.  I hadn’t thought I could justify the ticket price of either of those gigs given some other stuff that we were committed to this month.  But at 8.40, after I commented that both bands were in Edinburgh tonight, my wife said that I should just go and see if there were any tickets left.  Maybe it was the thrill of the possibility of seeing a band I love even when I hadn’t expected to.  But with her blessing I scooted into town.  I got to The Picture House at 9.10 and they sold me a spare guest pass for the Cardinals gig.  The band had been on since 8.00, but I still caught over an hour and a half of the gig.

They were so tight and the harmonies were beautiful.  The range of notes that they reached with their voices was unbelievable.  Ryan Adams used his vocal chords like an instrument as well as really rocking out with some big guitar riffage blending with pedal steel Americana and alt.country twangs.  The band seemed to love jamming and the time changes were so syncopated and the swells of sound so georgeous.  The gig ended in a huge wig-out into Sonic Youth-esque walls of tuned feedback.  Rock ‘n’ Roll troubadours won out tonight and it was all the more special because of the spontaneity of the evening.

“For everyone alone, I wish you faith and hope
And all the strength to cope
To be your own best friend – have confidence and keep the faith
Be patient ,oh, the past is just a memory – and heal
Heal your vines – you’ll heal inside eventually”

From “Born Into A Light” by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals.

Casimir Pulaski Day

On my most recent post, I quoted extensively from an engaging interview with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine which appeared in Paste magazine.  You can link to that post here.  He commented that the three main topics which he believes will really affect someone as a human being are: love; God; and death. 

Are those the topics that really seperate “great” art (in whatever media i.e painting, sculpture, photography, literature, film, music, whatever) from “good” art?  For me, I think that notion certainly rings very true.  Faced with any one of those issues in isolation and, in our most quiet and honest moments, I reckon that we stop pretending.

I asked what these things would look or sound like?

For me, I think it might be something very much like the attached you tube clip.  This is a song that speaks more truth to me about these subjects than many others.  The video is something that has not been prepared by some high budget commission by the musician involved, but is simply someone having lovingly story-boarded the sentiment and imagery and story of the song.  The result gets me every time I watch and listen to it.  I know there can be a tendency to skip people’s video links on blogs, but I would encourage you to click the arrow below and watch this.

Love And Some Verses

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“Love and some verses you hear
say what you can’t say”
From “Love And Some Verses” by Iron & Wine

A friend introduced me to a really great music magazine recently called Paste.  I love the tag-line, “Signs of life in music, film & culture”.

It’s lovingly desk-topped and laid out.  The journalism is well researched and engagingly written.  It has been a joy to read interviews and reviews of artists whom I cherish and it has whet my appetite for a whole bunch of new bands or singer-songwriters I’ve not yet heard.

I saw an inspiring interview with the editors on the excellent Society Room DVD series produced by the Fermi Project.  Clearly, two guys who embrace culture and are excited by the expression of ideas through various means of media.  I genuinely commend the magazine to you as the interviews often seem to grapple with anything but surface, fanzine-like, sixth form questioning.

Here’s an extract from a fabulous interview with the wonderful Sam Beam of Iron & Wine:

“What Iron & WIne’s music seems to be urging toward more than anything is innocence, and the touchstones in this quest are frequently religious in nature.  Beginning with his very first album, Beam’s writing has often used the specific language of Christianity, in lines like “Jesus, a friend of the weaker ones said, ‘I’m all they stole from you,'” (The Creek Drank The Cradle’s “Southern Anthem”) or the heartfelt prayer of Our Endless Numbered Days’ “On Your Wings”: “God give us love in the time that we have / God, there are guns growing out of our bones / God, every road takes us farther from home.”  But while it might puzzle some that a self-confessed agnostic like Beam would find consistent inspiration in biblical images and characters that are as likely to converse with the Holy Spirit as they are to address a love interest, for Beam it’s a natural, essential, part of his writing process.  “I like to use [religious images] because it starts you off a little bit further along in the story.  You know, you could say Bob and Jerry did this, but then you have to explain who they are.  But if you say ‘Cain and Abel’ it carries a certain weight.  They have a connotation everyone understands, they symbolise the duality in us all…I like using those, because it’s our mythology.”

Yet Beam has always insisted that the role of religion in his writing avoids propaganda of any kind.  “I think there’s always been kind of a subversive quality to the way I use religion.  I mean, I try to use it both ways, you know, because that’s the way life is.  There are some great things about religion but there’s some really f—ed up stuff about it too.”  It seems that part of religion’s appeal for Beam is the down-and-out or desperate state of mind individuals are usually in when they find themselves asking religious questions.  Such characters always make for a compelling narrative.

With a second round of mojitos on deck and crackling, dry August heat making its presence felt on Guero’s outside porch, Beam pursues this line of thought further.  It turns out that religion is not merely a cultural shorthand or creative prop for Beam but, like Johnny Cash before him, it constitutes one of the only three topics he’s genuinely interested in as a writer.  “You have your three big things that you can talk about, basically, if you’re going to write something that actually means something to you as a human being, which is Love, God and Death.  That’s basically the thing.  Love, which occupies a lot of our time, because we don’t like being lonely.  God, because everyone wants to know that there’s a reason behind what they’re doing and what the hell is going on.  And death is just the reality of your finite time here.””

…Love, God and Death…

…What would that sound or look like?

100 Years Of Solitude

“No solutions built to last
Just your petty scores to settle fast
The N.M.E meant nothing to you
And the Maker, well the maker of who?
Your walkman generation
In search of sweet sedation
While forests choke under a ‘lever sky
And the Exxon birds will never fly”

From “100 Years of Solitude” by The Levellers.

I came across this quote in the book I am presently reading. 

“Music carries immeasurable commercial clout and export potential, but for a more objective overview it’s clearer to treat it, as publishing houses do, as a special interest or hobby, no different from trout fishing, canary breeding or period homes.  As such, the NME and its subsequent glossy spin-offs, Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, Word,et al., are specialist publications, there not to serve record buyers, but record enthusiasts.

The fact that pop music provides a culture that permeates every corner of our lives and lifestyles, defines generations and soundtracks revolutions, should not distract from the fact that reading about rock is a big step on from listening to it.  You can like pop music; you can love pop music; and you can join the vast, paying consensus who send singles and albums up and down the charts every weekend, without once being moved to pick up and read a weekly music paper.  Those who do, and do so like addicts after a regular fix, are the anal retentives, the list-makers, the trainspotters, the chart-memorisers, the vinyl junkies, the fanclub-joiners, the catalogue completists, the record collectors, the indie saddoes…a publisher’s dream.  And there are an awful lot of them about.  Some of them form bands and become famous.  Some of them get jobs in record companies or at the publications themselves.  Others grow out of it.  But there is an elementary distinction that separates the Billys and the Wiggys from the rest of the population: you either listen to music, or else you read the sleeve while you’re listening to it”

Which are you?

Has it shaped your world view?


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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