Archive for the ‘Songs’ Category

“Sex” is the suggested theme for this current week, 29, of #songaweek2018 (the song I’m working on writing this week). Wouldn’t you know I already hit that theme for week 28! Not that I meant to. I didn’t even mean to use week 28’s actual theme, “anniversary.” But it does seem to all relate.

I started with two lines I had saved as a random idea earlier this year (in the spring, of course). And just let it unfold from there.

A little glossary in case you need it – “hygge” is one of those newly-discovered old ideas that’s been all the rage in recent years, especially in the winter. And “alohomora” is a spell in Harry Potter books that opens things (the “unlocking charm” according to Harry Potter Wiki).

I didn’t want to take the time and effort to film myself recording this week, so I dug up a “strange little newsreel” on publicdomainreview.org. For added entertainment value, go watch it at their site with the original audio intact.

Let’s go at it now with another spring
Pull the earth closer, waken everything
Let the water fall, let the pollen fly
Let the stars get in our eyes

We’ve been keeping our happiness on ice
Frozen fantasies of life
Numbing out with chocolate and wine
Excusing it as hygge, hygge, hygge, who?

Let’s go at it now with another spring
Pull the earth closer, waken everything
Let the water fall, let the pollen fly
Let the stars get in our eyes

Throw the covers off boats and motorcycles
Dodge the dropping icicles
Everything feels magical
Hello, alohomora, more and more and more-a

Let’s go at it now with another spring
Pull the earth closer, waken everything
Let the water fall, let the pollen fly
Let the stars get in our eyes

We’ll dance ourselves dizzy
Under the rising moon
We’ll sing hallelujah,
La la la la la la, la la la la la

Let’s go at it now with another spring
Pull the earth closer, waken everything
Let the water fall, let the pollen fly
Let the stars get in our eyes



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This song came together quickly, and I didn’t feel very deliberate or in charge of its construction. Somehow I had this phrase “it’s your turn to live now” in my head, so I started there. I got the bones of the chorus down, and then felt compelled to look up the end of 1 Corinthians 13. The words in the NIV version flowed so well I used them mostly verbatim for the verses.

I think this is a bit of backlash to the trendy term and idea of “adulting.” Also to the longer-held romanticism with childhood and childlikeness – Peter Pan never wanting to grow up, because growing up means selling out, losing your imagination, diminishing. I’m sure I’ve used this idea in my own writing from time to time, because I can empathize with it.

*But* this song is exploring the beauty and power of a person fully grown and fully alive – and in that very reality, forever continually unfolding, becoming, changing. Because that’s what living is – a process, an active evolution, an ever-reaching-forward, a dance, a song, a story. Now that does sound a little childlike – and I guess that’s why Peter Pan didn’t want to grow up, not because he saw maturity at its best, but rather what happens to too many of us when we “finish” childhood – we settle, harden, start to die instead of continue to live.

Here’s my song for week 27 of #songaweek2018. Nathan played along so it’s a Cabin of Love song. With an exciting photobomb by a cute kid.

It’s your turn to live now
Your time to breathe free
Your moment to walk in the sun
And stand on your feet

On top of the mountain
Of all the fears you’ve outgrown
It’s your turn to live now
Inhabit your home

When I was a child
I talked like a child
I thought like a child
I reasoned like a child
But when I became a woman
I put childish ways behind me

It’s your turn to live now . . . creeds you’ve outgrown . . .

Now I know in part
Then I shall know fully
Even as I am fully known

It’s your turn to live now . . . dreams you’ve outgrown . . .

And now these three remain
Faith, hope and love
But the greatest of these is love

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My father-in-law’s cousin owns a cabin on Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota, not far from the Boundary Waters and the Canadian border. It was built in 1932, which seems a strange economic time to build a vacation home, but reminds me a bit of the Civilian Conservation Corps projects that began the next year.

This past week twenty of us – my husband, his parents, his three brothers and their families, and his honorary sister – all gathered at the cabin, converging from California, North Dakota, Ohio and Minnesota for four days together at the lake.

I love seeing and hearing the loons on the lake – in the day you can hear them laughing, at night their mournful calls float through the windows while I fall asleep.

I wrote week 26’s song for #songaweek2018 in the gazebo behind the cabin one afternoon while the cousins played in the water. The first lines came from the weekend before we were at the lake, when we took our kids sailing for the very first time, and I pointed out the sunlight glinting on the water. No camera can do it justice. The same is true of the sunsets over Lake Vermilion (or anywhere really!).

That evening I played the song a couple times for Nathan and his brother Micah while we sat around before dinner, and then asked my daughter to record us playing it.

Don’t take my word for it, you should go and
see for yourself how the sunlight glints on
waves of the water all around
your boat on the lake where the loons are laughing low

Breathe with the trees and the birds and the insects
so many creatures you never noticed
different from you but all the same
it’s life on the lake where the loons are laughing low

You can’t stay forever but you can drink it
deeply enough that you could keep it
down in your soul where you can always
feel the lake where the loons are laughing low

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I started writing this song for week 25 of #songaweek2018 from the center of a Nerf gun battlezone. I was the lone adult at home while my son and three of his cousins took up their battle stations and went at it. That morning was the lull in a busy week, and the best time I could find to work on songwriting.

Earlier in the week, the amur maple in our front yard broke irreparably in a summer storm. The next day, my brother-in-law and his family came to visit for several days, and one day we all went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. My kids were eager to show their cousins a certain painting I’ve previously showed them, where if you look closely enough in a dark place in the woods, you can see the profiles of two ghostly faces, the remnants of another painting underneath the more visible one.

And running through everything last week, the horrendous news of my government thinking it’s a good idea to separate children from their parents – and doing it, to thousands of families. I haven’t had anything to say because it feels a little like saying the earth orbits the sun, or things we drop fall because of gravity, or everyone needs food, water, and sleep. Children belong with their parents. Tearing families apart is abominable immigration policy.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about this news story when I wrote this song, but it was keeping me up at night, throbbing like an unnoticed alert at the back of my head, a perpetual lump in my throat. I am both a child and a parent, and this action of my government leaves me breathless.

So as my mind and heart were processing all that in the background, I wrote into this song a baby, a tiny hand, the trusting heart of a child, the courageous heart of a parent embarking on an impossible journey into a better day for their children. What’s happening at our southern border isn’t what this song is about, but the heartlessness of my government towards people trying to cross that border has directly and indirectly added countless lives to the numbers of the fallen, the fading, the lost. (And it’s been going on a long time. Start here for an introduction to the US Border Patrol’s scheme of “Prevention Through Deterrence.”)

The very last line of the last verse, “into the fray,” was inspired by my friend Jen Bluhm’s song “Into the Fray,” which I learned was taken from a poem which came from the movie  The Grey. Which relates a bit to the line about the painting as well – that so much creative work exists, and has existed – so much good work that will never hang in a museum or get a million views or a thousand plays or even a second glance. So much is fading, so much is lost – and yet, it all – all of us, our works and actions and interactions – are expanding this mysterious circle of life.

All of the above are my reflections on what was influencing me as I wrote this song. I’ve been using these blog posts expressly for that purpose – to talk about the background of the songs I’m writing – but sometimes I think talking too much about the origin of a song can take away from the experience of listening to it with your own ears and perspective.

So here’s the song, in its own words, for your own listening ears and thoughtful consideration.

I held the edge of the universe
It sighed like a baby
And slept in my arms
I heard the very last note of the concert
They played at the end of all things
Then I lifted my voice

How many the fallen, the fading, the lost
Expanding the circle of life

The tree that broke in the thunderstorm
Will crumble to soil
And grow living things
The painting speaking to me from the wall
Keeps past lives under its skin

How many the fallen, the fading, the lost
Expanding the circle of life

The morning holds out her tiny hand
And begs to go walking
Into the day
You know you never can tell what’s beyond
the horizon but you go willingly
into the fray

How many the fallen, the fading, the lost
Expanding the circle of life

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It’s summer, which means the kids are home all the time, and this week we’ve got a houseful of extended family visiting. I’m sneaking a minute in my room to write this blog post, so here’s a quick rundown of my song for week 24 of #songaweek2018.

The suggested theme was “joy,” and I already had in my head the first two lines of this song, which seemed a good start.

There’s a little bit of Mark Heard in here (“Dry Bones Dance”), which itself was partially inspired by Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones. Also some Coco, a movie I liked a lot. A bit of my own experience and observations of other people’s lives – how beautiful when old flames keep glowing as old friends. And a summer morning drive through southern Minnesota.

Low-res video recorded in my parents’ basement, another moment snuck in between family activities:

I wish everyone
Could give up the fight
Throw our vendettas to the wind
And just dance tonight . . .

If only we all
Had x-ray sight
To see through each other’s calloused skin
the dry bones that lost the light
and take them dancing tonight
under a bright . . . blue moon

All our hearts on fire
Every face aglow
Shamelessly conspiring

A long time ago
I wished you were mine
But we found good lovers and we stayed good friends
And I still love the way you shine
We’re all dancing tonight . . .

All our hearts on fire
Every face aglow
Shamelessly conspiring

Go find you a road
Follow it round the bend
Feel the prairie flow around you
Let the dark descend
and keep dancing tonight . . .

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Week 23’s #songaweek2018 suggested theme was “laziness.” I went with it. Here’s a song I wrote in about an hour, with the aid of a cup of coffee and a rhyming dictionary. If you look up “self” in my rhyming dictionary, you find a few compound words ending in “self” along with only these other unique words – “elf,” “pelf,” “shelf,” and “Guelf.” So that pretty much directed my lazy songwriting.

When I went to film and record the song, I discovered that the camera tripod was in use with a laser level for our kitchen renovation, and decided it was perfectly appropriate to be too lazy to take it apart; and instead just set the camera on a chair and film whatever fell within that range. Which meant my face was excluded, so then I filmed another track with just my face and added it later.

So here you are, lazy songwriting, recording, and filming all in one convenient package:

This song’s not gonna write itself
I gotta bring it a cup of coffee
And take that rhyming dictionary off the shelf
And see where it might lead me

Woo hoo hoo, woo hoo hoo
Woo hoo hoo, hoo hoo
Woo hoo hoo, woo hoo hoo
Woo hoo hoo

This song’s not gonna write itself
I better make it a sandwich
And look up the definition of “pelf”
and see if I can work it in

Woo hoo hoo . . .

I highly doubt there was an incognito elf
who politically identified as Guelf
All I know is this song won’t write itself

This song’s not gonna right itself
It’s probably best if we just let it sink
Also I’m out of words that rhyme with “self”
It really kinda makes you think

Woo hoo hoo . . .

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This is the song I was trying to write two weeks ago, which I referred to as a songwriting failure and declared that if a song doesn’t come together in one session it’s typically not worth going back to. I did go back to it for week 22 of #songaweek2018, and got myself this song.

It’s compiled of a variety of ideas I’d collected but was having trouble sculpting into a cohesive whole. Even though none of the ideas were directly inspired by the S-Town Podcast, I finished listening to it just before finishing this song, and that somehow gave me what I needed to pull it all together. Something about the tone of that story, the range of emotion, the brilliance and dull despair that can coexist in one person’s life, the bald facts of life’s brevity and its bewildering mix of beauty and brokenness.

The suggested theme was “celebrity.” I didn’t deliberately work with that theme but again, I think there’s something related here. For one thing, S-Town made John B. McLemore a celebrity, and it’s surreal and feels a little bit wrong when I Google his name and find it being sold on T-shirts now. Also I think most of the verses but especially the ones starting “what does it mean. . .” and “if you repeat. . .” do speak pretty directly to the culture of celebrity worship.

Some days I’m sick of everything
Can’t keep my head up, can’t want to try
Tired of hearing my own voice
Can’t find a reason to even cry

They come to me in fits and starts
These glimpses of my wild heart’s
Most sacred pledge
I’m trying to remember
What I am not supposed to forget

All I could say has been said before
What good is winning if it’s just a game?
I never could stomach spinning rides
But any other world is just the same

They come to me in fits and starts
These glimpses of my wild heart’s
Most sacred pledge
I’m trying to remember
What I am not supposed to forget

What does it mean to gain the world
And lose your own soul in the deal?
Why try to build the greater good
On lesser evils you’re too numb to feel?

I’m drinking elderberry wine
Out in the summer moonshine
with the ones I love
Some happy you can bottle
But most of life is best in the flesh

If you repeat and repeat a word
It’ll start to sound like gibberish
If you stare in the mirror long enough
You’ll start to look ridiculous

They come to me in fits and starts
These glimpses of my wild heart’s
Most sacred pledge
I’m trying to remember
I’m trying to remember
I’m trying to remember
What I am not supposed to forget

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