Posts Tagged 'low'


“I am not a prisoner.
I’m not a prisoner, but I’m in prison.”
From “Prisoner” by Low.


The plight of Burmese Pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is well documented.  Please take a couple of minutes to check this link.




“Too many words.

Too many words”

From “Words” by Low.


We throw a lot of words around in our daily conversation.  We de-construct them at times or try to figure out how to apply the concepts they are associated with.

A friend and I were talking of how he is sending his daughter to Edinburgh’s only Gaelic speaking nursery.  She is only spoken to in Gaelic in the hope that a process of immersion will help her pick it up.  He hopes it will assist her in learning other languages in later life – particularly French as his family spend two months a year overseas instructing snowboarding.  Neither of us know any Gaelic, but there is something nice about trying to preserve something of our nation’s heritage and tradition.  Another friend recently commented that the Gaelic word for “butterfly” is “an dealan de” which literally translates as “a glimpse(or glimmer) of God.”  How beautiful is that?

I’ve really enjoyed reading a couple of posts by another friend this week exploring two other words I am grappeling with at present – “Missional” and “Sabbath”.  I’d really encourage you to check out this and this.

Just Like Christmas


“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”.

Walk into the Sea

“I could walk into the sea
And choke away the memory
Do I have to stay alive
Just to keep our dresses white?

You come to me in dreams
With all the other pretty things
You tell me about a Savior
And how the soul lives on forever

And time is just a hunger
It bleeds us out to nothing
And when it finally takes us over
I hope we’ll float away together

Yeah, time’s the great destroyer
Leaves every child a bastard
When it finally takes us over
I hope we’ll float away together”

From “Walk Into The Sea” by Low

Low are one of my favorite bands.  I hold them in such high regard musically and in terms of how they seem to conduct themselves in the music business.  I was saddened to hear of the difficulties lead singer Alan Sparhawk was going through a few years back, but given my recent feed of posts on the importance of John Peel, I thought I’d include another story in which his legacy lives on… 

I have seen Low play live more times than I remember.  I am so glad Alan has sought help and battled his demons and I think of this story every time I see them.  I think of the importance of his music to me and countless others.  I think of his wife, Mimi and their two kids.  I think of all the good causes he champions.  Life can be real dark at times, but I think we both believe in a saviour… 

Low’s Alan Sparhawk cancels tour because of mental instability


Get well, Alan. We’re all big fans.

From the band’s messageboard [Via OneLouder]:
dear friends,the following is a lot of sentences starting with “i”. i’ve heard this is bad form and it tends to paint a very egocentric picture of the writer. good thing i’m a musician…

low has to cancel the shows we have booked in may and june – perhaps beyond. i have always tried to extend true respect to the fans of our music. it would be very easy to just cancel without proper explanation, and hope that the rumors tipped our way, perhaps adding to some crafted mystique. but, i’m a coward and i’ll leave that to the true artists.

i have not been very mentally stable for the last while. due to this, touring at this time has become too much of a burden on everyone involved. my current problems and instability create undue and unnecessary stress for everyone close to me, especially on the road, so despite coming back from several months of shows we have thoroughly enjoyed playing and being a part of, i have to respect their best judgment. those last several months have been some of the hardest to live through, and it is too much to ask those around me to have to put up with that any more.

for those of you who cling to details and think information is power; i have been speculated/diagnosed with everything from post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, bipolar whatever, suicidal depression/anxiety (“here’s some pills, call me if you are still alive next week – oh, wait, sorry, your small business insurance plan doesn’t cover all this…”), to paranoia, laziness, OCD, and good old-fashioned two-faced asshole-ness. i know – “big deal, who doesn’t have problems? you have a great and easy life! how bad can it be!?!” i wish i was a better person, and i’m working on that, much in the same way everyone else does. unfortunately, for one reason or another, that battle for me right now abruptly demands some drastic effort, sacrifice, and change – and that’s just to stay in the game… i feel like i’ve come through the worst of it, by there’s nothing uglier than lips speaking vain promises, so forgive me if i’m reluctant to be the cheerleader this time. i need to get healthy, and it’s apparent that something about touring right now is doing more damage than good.

several months ago, amid a couple “bad days”, i found myself standing in front of a photo of John Peel, on the wall outside one of the BBC studios on london. the image of his face in this photo is an image that exposes fools. i was ashamed to even look into his eyes. still, seeing his calm, wise face made me realize i had been letting my own selfish battle with sanity get in the way of the gift of music that i and we all are so privileged to be even a small part of. my thoughts raced.


i remembered being in the man’s home and meeting his family. if there has ever been an example of a selfless man, he surely was/is. yet, it hurt more than looking at the sun than to look at him on some piece of paper!?!… in that instant, i knew i was a fool, and that i had become the enemy. to many this may sound like a very weird and/or dangerous realization, but i have a feeling that that moment will be one i will look back upon someday as “where things changed.” – where the eclipse peaked and began to wane. God bless the breaks my heart. i love playing music and i love being able to play it for people, but i love the people i play music with the most. do the math. you have been so kind to us and the people we work with have been patient and selfless through all this, so despite complete faith that everyone probably understands and at least respects our decision, i still wish to extend my deepest apologies to all.
now, to wrap this up, a word or two regarding the individual inconvenience and monetary loss involved: i know this sounds a bit assuming but, in a cosmic, semi-mentally-ill way, i feel every subway fare spent to go downtown to buy and now refund the tickets, every plan made and day worked extra so the day of the low show would be open, every broken heart that was looking forward to feeling my righteous guitar riffs up close and live, and every dollar that will have to come out of the pockets of the promoters of all these shows (i’m serious… despite all the sleazy stuff that goes on the music biz, most of the promoters we work with are very honest people who are not getting rich off what they do, but they still do it because they love music and the community they live in… please go easy on ’em.)

thank you, and again, i am very sorry. i suggest that instead of going to the low show, go for a walk with a friend or two that day – somewhere where there’s trees or rocks and dirt or plants. i plan to do the same, each of those days, right here in beautiful duluth… or at the funny farm – who knows? either way….

and please please please go out and get the M.I.A. cd!

peace be with you.

g. alan sparhawk

Take Me Out

“That sound coming from those holes.

A voice that soars

and takes my wounds with it”

From “Take Me Out” by Red House Painters


One of my all-time favourite singer songwriters is Mark Kozelek.  He’s the only artist I’ve travelled all the way to London for to see play live.  Actually, I’ve done that twice when he played with Red House Painters. 


He is graced with the most beautiful male singing voice I know.  After seeing him play a solo gig in Glasgow last Halloween, my friend, Craig B, commented, “It wouldn’t matter if he just sang his way through the phone directory – I’d still turn up”.


I had the joy of seeing Mark Kozelek again in Glasgow on Monday night playing under his latest band moniker, Sun Kil Moon.  The line up was essentially Red House Painters minus Anthony Koutsos on drums with Eric Pollard of The Retribution Gospel Choir (another band that I’m listening to a lot at present given that the other two members are Alan Sparhawk and Matt Livingstone from Low) on the drums instead.  They played a captivating two hour set including songs from throughout Mark’s career. 


It was one of those rare gigs where you can tell that everyone is there because the really love the music and the songs actually hold meaning for them.  There was hushed silence as we soaked up every word, anticipated each detuned minor chord and inhaled the emotion that seeped through the holes in the speakers of the PA system. 


It’s a long time since I’ve been in a small dingy venue where everyone’s t-shirts are moist with the heat despite the crowd standing perfectly still.  My long suffering gig-going buddy, Keith and I were duly rewarded with one of the best gigs I’ve seen in a long time and we enjoyed great conversation in the car journey there and back.


I’ve mused in the past about the fact that we read the Psalms as a book without recognising they were originally songs.  I’ve commented on the content of the words we sing in church and the lyrics we hold onto outside of church.  Interestingly I picked up a book on Monday night called “Nights of Passed Over”.  It’s a collection of Mark Kozelek’s lyrics and he notes some of the inspiration to his song writing in the preface.  The following quote on the back cover caught my attention;


 “The agony of our lives is that we cannot understand our experience while we live it.  Mark Kozelek provides the antidote to that agony, with a lyrical take on life that says even at its simplest and dullest, our lives are truly profound.  His words paint a picture of both the bleakest and the most beautiful moments of the human condition.  He can turn the most mundane events into vivid coming-of-age stories and the simple thoughts of a narrator into the words of a sage” – Kaki King.


Now, those are the sorts of songs I will chose to own.  That is the sort of creativity I yearn to discover more of to help me know what it sounds and feels like to be alive even in my darkest moments.


Much of this blog is inspired by music and books.  I was a late developer in forming an appreciation of the latter.  One of the first novels to really resonate with me was Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity“.  It tells the story of a guy called Rob who owns a record store and is trying to make sense of why all his relationships with the opposite sex failed.  That brief description probably doesn’t sell it, but it’s a tragic, insightful and witty read and the author clearly understands the way music feels to many of us.  On first reading it back in ’96, the following excerpt really struck me;


“Some of my favourite songs: “Only Love Can Break your Heart” by Neil Young; “Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me” by the Smiths; “Call Me” by Aretha Franklin”; “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” by anybody.  And then there’s “Love Hurts” and “When Love Breaks Down” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” and “The Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness” and “She’s Gone” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” and…some of these songs I have listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen or nineteen or twenty-one.  How can that not leave you bruised somewhere?  How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong?  What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable?  Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?  Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?


People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over.  Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.  The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”


Do I feel miserable and melancholy right now?  No.  Did I feel all mopey listening to Mark Kozelek’s songs on Monday night?  No – I actually took great pleasure from the experience.  Do these songs resonate with some of my own experiences of the human condition?  More so than you could ever know.



(That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace

Worship is so much bigger than songs, regardless of whatever style or tradition we might prefer.  Do we think too much about how worship makes us feel rather than what true worship might cost us?

My wife’s latest post has really got me thinking.  I would really encourage you to check it out here.

“It sounds like razors in my ears
That bell’s been ringing now for years
Some day I’ll give it all away
That’s how you sing amazing grace

Oh, can you hear that sweet, sweet, sound
Yeah, I was lost but now I’m found
Sometimes there’s nothing left to save
That’s how you sing amazing grace
Amazing grace
That’s how you sing amazing grace”

From “(That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace” by Low

The above is one of my all-time favourite songs.  The contrast between something that “sounds like razors in my ears” and the “sweet, sweet, sound” of recognising we were once lost but now are found is only gained through sacrifice and surrender.

P.S. Skip a coffee and purchase this song from iTunes instead.  It may sound quiet, but its textures and harmonies are richer when  played loud.

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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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