RAMH@8: To One Thing Constant Never… and a Playlist

Drawing by V. Spahn

[Image: cartoon by French cartoonist/illustrator/humorist V. Spahn. Roughly translated, I believe the caption says something on the order of, “Oh, shoot — I meant to get to the office early this morning!”]

Like many people who fired up blogs in the Great Flowering Era — i.e., pre-2009, say (the year when Facebook first turned a profit, or at least become “cash-flow positive“) — I imagined Running After My Hat would become a journal.

A journal, of course, is different from a diary. A diary celebrates or simply notes the everyday, with lesser or greater force depending on its import to the author; a journal discusses, considers, weighs, argues, and/or blathers on about topics which may or may not be based upon something mundane, but which may also spring, unbidden, from the author’s mind and soul. The latter more closely resembles my RAMH ideal at the outset.

I suppose the place has attained that ideal, over time, although the topics have come to differ from those I’d first imagined. I apparently have much less to say about writing, for example, than I once thought I would. (On the other hand, some of this is reticence by design.)

It’s also become, well, stranger than I’d planned — stranger in ways that I could not have anticipated. I didn’t know, in 2008, that the blogging wave was already cresting. For a while, I actually tried to post something new every single day; by the time RAMH attained what I think of as its own peak, though — 2011-13, maybe — the posting rate had already declined, roughly in proportion to the dwindling audience.

To be fair, the decline in my output was mirrored by the decline in my input — my reading of and participation in other blogs. It’s not as if RAMH were the only blog withering at the time. When Google dropped its “Google Reader” blog-aggregation product, in 2013, I believe the transformation of the Web from a writers-and-readers model to a social-chatter model was complete.

What’s left, then, has become more like a real journal: a place for talking to myself, as time and circumstance allow, about topics and in ways I don’t mind making public, but also about topics and in ways I can’t imagine sharing in Facebook’s short-attention-span theater. (RAMH posts do automatically trigger brief summary posts on Facebook, for anyone who might be interested, with links to the full RAMH entries.)

Although I haven’t done a statistical analysis, I bet ninety percent of the content here has come down to two things: posts in the “Ruminations” category — all of them whiskey river Fridays posts, I think — and posts related somehow to music. Translated, this means that my output here seldom exceeds two posts weekly: not a good mechanism for attracting and retaining loyal readers, but at the same time a good tool for “keeping my hand in.” I like ruminating, and I like learning (and talking at length) about some aspects of music, too: both pursuits which ultimately depend not on facts, but on the processing of facts. And I don’t mind processing them openly, for my own sake, even if for no one else’s.

All the other stuff I used to post about here has transitioned to That Other Place. That place has its uses, as I’ve learned. But there’s not much room there for running after one’s hat, any more than I’d find in a shopping mall at the holidays, or a crowded amphitheater.

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Midweek Music Break: Hanna Bech

[Lyrics]

As I’ve observed before, some mysterious pixie-dust substance seems to have been stirred into the musical waters of Hamilton, Ontario. (See this post for one example.) It probably won’t be the last time I observe it. But I’m pleased to include today’s selection among the lot:

Hanna Bech, and Hanna Bech, and Hanna Bech, and...So far, I have not been able to learn much about our featured artist, Hanna Bech. This reflects both her newness and her novelty, which of course are not necessarily synonymous:

  • As far as I can tell, prior to 2015 Bech was presumably just an aspiring performer. The evidence seems to point to her during that time as a somewhat conventional amateur musician (“amateur” in the sense of not being paid to perform): instructor in voice and various instruments, participant in a couple of choirs, and so on. She certainly does not seem to have spent a decade in the stereotypical pop-star trenches — playing in bars, singing backup in studio sessions, building an audience. Instead, she seems to have just, well, started.
  • …And yet she must have spent much of that middle-of-the-road time thinking about what sort of pop performer she might want to be, when the moment arrived: not an aggressive challenger of status quos, but a, well, a beguiler.

If not obvious from the video, you can probably tell from the promotional photo (above right) that Bech has a playful side: it toys with (without quite parodying) her own video’s quirky* split-screen, commenting-on-itself camerawork and editing. The sound and sense of the song itself provide further hints; musically and in, well, spirit, it seems to me akin to Lenka’s “The Show” (which first appeared in this post seven (!) years ago).

I have the lyrics only for “ABCs,” but much of the rest of her recently released EP (with two exceptions) seems cut from the same bouncy fabric. As Bech says at her site, the EP (called Naked Bones) resembles “a film score and indie pop going on a first date — dramatic, playful, with a rhythm that carries it forward.”

Those two exceptions? Track #3, “Butterfly,” and especially the one with which she closes the EP: “Fear of Crumbs (f u gluten).” Again, I don’t know the lyrics; from the snarky title alone, I’d imagined it would fairly, if not quite stridently, assert the rights of the gluten-intolerant. But musically it doesn’t strike me that way at all; its music — its sound — made me think of Bonnie Raitt’s rendition of Joe Henry’s “God Only Knows.” (Video here.) Not, y’know, pop-y at all: pretty much just a piano and a vocalist, contemplative, maybe even a touch wistful (if not outright melancholy).

Edit to add: According to Hanna Bech herself (as I just learned via email), the lyrics to “Fear of Crumbs (f u gluten)” are “a dry raspy humour.” So much for my discernment!

In any case, I offer you today Hanna Bech’s Naked Bones: a mix of bouncy, “I may be stuck in traffic but I’m tapping my fingers on the steering wheel”-type moments, and some haunting, anomalous hints at deeper waters stirring below the bounce.

E.P.: 'Naked Bones,' by Hanna Bech

____________________________

* Yes, “quirky”: Bech herself has explicitly embraced the label… Among other examples, she helped organize a show last year, featuring as clutch of other idiosyncratic performers as well as herself. The title: Queens of Quirk.

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A Taste of Darkness, Seasoned with Light

'Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,' by Adam Koford on Flickr

[Image: “Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,” by Adam Koford on Flickr.com. Used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Custom

There is a difference it used to make,
seeing three swans in this versus four in that
quadrant of sky. I am not imagining. It was very large, as its
effects were. Declarations of war, the timing fixed upon for a sea-
departure; or,
about love, a sudden decision not to, to pretend instead to a kind
of choice. It was dramatic, as it should be. Without drama,
what is ritual? I look for omens everywhere, because they are everywhere
to be found. They come to me like strays, like the damaged,
something that could know better, and should, therefore—but does not:
a form of faith, you’ve said. I call it sacrifice—an instinct for it, or a habit
at first, that
becomes required, the way art can become, eventually, all we have
of what was true. You shouldn’t look at me like that. Like one of those
saints
on whom the birds once settled freely

(Carl Phillips [source])

and (italicized portion):

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a buddha with wings,
it was beautiful,
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—
five feet apart—and the grabbing thrust
of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow—

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us—

as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,

and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow,

that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Anyhow”

Tedeschi Trucks Band - photo by Mark Seliger

[Tedeschi Trucks Band. Photo by Mark Seliger.]

We first encountered the Tedeschi Trucks Band here just about four years ago, following the release of their first album, Revelator. They haven’t been sitting on their hands since then, not at all: “Anyhow” is the first single from their newest (third) album, Let Me Get By. [Lyrics here.]

Of today’s musical selection, No Depression writes:

On “Anyhow,” Tedeschi starts out moaning like a lost soul but ends up soaring, channeling the spirit and sound of Bonnie Raitt, while Derek conjures up Duane [Allman] behind her.

Yeah, that. I’m not 100% sure I buy the specific comparisons. But if any voice could match Derek Trucks’s guitar work for sheer forceful power, it’s Susan Tedeschi’s. The woman can flat-out sing — and soaring is dead-on.

I found a high-quality video of the band performing the song in their Swamp Raga Studio in Jacksonville. I have no idea if this specific recording made it onto the album. But what especially interested me is that from the audio alone, I’d never have guessed that almost everyone performing is sitting down. Tedeschi Trucks has a solid reputation as a live band (I myself have never seen them in concert); you might think, y’know, Boy, that group must really move when they’re alone and into their music. Not so, apparently. (Which doesn’t bother me, I hasten to mention; I think what we’re seeing in that video is discipline. “Things” happen in live performances, and they’re not all happy things: people can trip over wires, bump into microphones, get distracted by bees — certainly not the kinds of events you want to capture in a studio recording.)

This reminds me a little of a conversation I had with a guy I used to work with, back in 1990-91. At the time, I’d taken a leave of absence from my stable job in New Jersey, moving to Virginia to see if I could write and publish a book. (I could, as it happened.) On a visit back to Jersey, my friend John B asked me about my workday as a writer. He couldn’t picture the act of writing. (Back then, I didn’t do first drafts via computer, but via good old pencils and paper.) “What do you do — you just sit at a table and… and you, uh, write?” I wonder what I do look like when I write. Come to that, I wonder what any writer looks like when in the act? It feels to me as though there must be an awful lot of staring into space involved.

“Anyhow” is certainly soulful. At the other end of the energy — and danceability — spectrum, though, I could pick any of a handful of other songs from the album (which this time around, includes all original material). Let’s follow up “Anyhow” with… oh, say, with “Don’t Know What It Means.” I wonder if they all sat still in the studio for this perky bit of sheer funk?

[Lyrics]

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Midweek Music Break: Tracy Chapman

[Video: “Give Me One Reason,” by Tracy Chapman, with choreography by Chris Martin and Larkin Poynton. That’s Martin and Poynton dancing, too — and only Martin and Poynton. I’d already watched this a few times before that fact hit me, and then I had to watch it a few times more.]

When Tracy Chapman’s single “Fast Car” broke in 1988, it seemed to come out of nowhere, and suddenly was everywhere. (I could swear I remember a Muzak version.) Even so, thanks to a personal life full of complications, I paid less attention to music — including Chapman — for the next few years. By the time I started listening to stuff again, I learned that her career had zoomed (on the strength of “Fast Car” and her biggest single, “Give Me One Reason”) and then subsided in the meantime. It finally seems to have settled into something of a sui generis long-term marathon, punctuated by public appearances and likewise out-of-nowhere cover versions of her work.

Her Greatest Hits compilation came out a few months ago. It includes remastered versions of both “Fast Car” and “Give Me One Reason,” naturally, and a live version of “Stand By Me”; the latter was recorded during Chapman’s appearance during the last week of David Letterman’s Late Show, in May 2015. (The video of that performance quickly went viral all on its own.)

The album reminds me that there’s nothing flashy about Chapman’s songs. They’re just straight-ahead good music, highly personal and/or deeply political as the case may be. Like Chapman herself, they give and they give, rewarding repeated listenings and reworkings, in various forms, by other performers.

The dance routine in the above video, choreographed and performed by Chris Martin and Larkin Poynton, has nothing to do with the lyrics of “Give Me One Reason.” (When Chapman sings “Squeeze me,” for instance, the dancers don’t hug themselves or each other.) It simply celebrates the song’s music, as the vehicle — a fast car — on the roof of which the footwork, the elbow jabs, the sheer virtuosity of the performances are zipping up a highway.

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Please Continue. But Count on Interruptions.

[Video: “Stay Go,” by Robert Cray, from his album Shame and A Sin.]

From whiskey river:

You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.

(Wallace Stegner [source])

and:

As the pen rises from the page between words, so the walker’s feet rise and fall between paces, and as the deer continues to run as it bounds from the earth and the dolphin continues to swim even as it leaps again and again from the sea, so writing and wayfaring are continuous activities, a running stitch, a persistence of the same seam or stream.

(Robert Macfarlane [source])

…and, from whiskey river’s commonplace book:

From The Long Sad Party

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We begin to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the stars,
how small they were, how far away.

(Mark Strand [source])

and:

If you found a contradiction in your own thoughts, it’s very unlikely that your whole mentality would break down. Instead, you would probably begin to question the beliefs or modes of reasoning which you felt had led to the contradictory thoughts. In other words, to the extent you could, you would step out of the systems inside you which you felt were responsible for the contradiction, and try to repair them. One of the least likely things for you to do would be to throw up your arms and cry, “Well, I guess that shows that I believe everything now!”

(Douglas R. Hofstadter [source])

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Winter’s First Week

Cover: 'December,' by George Winston

A bit of a changeup from the usual Friday routine here. Let’s start with a couple of things not from whiskey river (because, well, why not)…

...a song for winter

…and:

Christmas Trees
(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

(Robert Frost [source])

…and:

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

(Nancy McCleery [source])

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A Quirky Eclectic Christmas Mix (2015 Ed.)

[Video: Anaïs Mitchell, “Song of the Magi”: a subtly subversive “Christmas carol” if I’ve ever heard one. (Lyrics)]

Want to visit the pages for earlier playlists, which include videos, other songs, and some background material not in the “official” list? Here y’go:

2008 2009
2010 2011
2012 2013
2014  

If you’ve visited RAMH at about this time in previous Decembers, you know (more or less) what to expect from this post. You probably don’t know it all though…

For starters, I’ve moved the text listing of all songs — which was taking up way too much space in the post itself — into a separate pop-up window. If you’d like to keep the complete current songlist open for reference in a separate window while the music plays, use this link. (This is just a simple text list of song titles and artists, not an actual player.)

One other (bigger) change here: the little audio-player gizmo has changed since 2014 (for reasons boring and technology-driven):

  • The song titles, alas!, now appear as grotesque file names rather than, y’know, good old English. You’ll still be able to glean the titles themselves, but still…
  • Play, pause, forward and reverse buttons — that stuff is still here.
  • …but the player now includes a “popout” feature, which opens up the player in a separate, smaller window of its own — good for tucking to the side, if you just want to keep the music in the background while you go off elsewhere on the Web.
  • Finally, if you’re observant, you’ll notice a more standard, more obvious way to obtain the current track for yourself — without requiring the secret RAMH “decoder ring” trick I’ve provided in the past.

Enough of all that. Here’s the little player doo-dad. (Note that the post itself continues on below it — if you need something to read in the meantime!)

A Quirky/Eclectic Christmas Mix (complete)

If you’re pressed for time, and/or just don’t want to (re-)listen to the earlier years’ selections, the similar gizmo which follows lets you listen to just 2015’s ten-song list, without having to fast-forward through earlier years’ lists:

A Quirky/Eclectic Christmas Mix (2015 Only)

Update: new feature

You can now open the full playlist in a separate window with “shuffle” mode enabled. This will begin playing as soon as the popout window open. (Some mobile devices/tablets disable the autoplay feature, though.)

Pop Out to Shuffle!

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In the Land of What’sToCome

[Video: The Hello Strangers, last seen at RAMH in October 2014, released this video cover of Doris Day’s 1956 classic earlier this year — not coincidentally, on Day’s 91st birthday. Also not coincidentally, their grandfather, Ronald Chace, had both sung with Doris Day and played second trombone in Les Brown’s Big Band during Day’s tenure with Brown in the 1940s. The Strangers recorded this song in Chace’s memory.]

From whiskey river:

After Thanksgiving

Lord, as Rilke says, the year bears down toward winter, past
the purification of the trees, the darkened brook.
Only 4:45, and the sky’s sheer black
clasps two clear planets and a skinny moon
as we drive quietly home from the airport,
the last kid gone.

The time of preparation’s over, the time of
harvesting the seed, the husk, the kernel, saving
what can be saved—weaves of sun like
rags of old flannel, provident peach stones,
pies, pickles, berry wines to
hold the sweetness for a few more months.

Now the mountains will settle into their old
cold habits, now the white
birch bones will rise
like all those thoughts we’ve tried to repress:
madness of the solstice, phosphorescent
logic that rules the fifteen-hour night!

Our children, gorged, encouraged, have taken off
in tiny shuddering planes. Plump with stuffing,
we too hurry away, holding hands, holding on.
Soon it’ll be January, soon snow will
shuffle down, cold feathers, swathing us in
inches of white silence—

and the ways of the ice
will be narrow, delicate.

(Sandra M. Gilbert [source])

and:

Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.

(Charles Wright [source])

and:

How To Listen

Tilt your head slightly to one side and lift
your eyebrows expectantly. Ask questions.

Delve into the subject at hand or let
things come randomly. Don’t expect answers.

Forget everything you’ve ever done.
Make no comparisons. Simply listen.

Listen with your eyes, as if the story
you are hearing is happening right now.

Listen without blinking, as if a move
might frighten the truth away forever.

Don’t attempt to copy anything down.
Don’t bring a camera or a recorder.

This is your chance to listen carefully.
Your whole life might depend on what you hear.

(Joyce Sutphen [source — click on the ‘Two Poems’ link])

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Recognizing — Just Noticing — Reasons to Go On

[Music video by Dr. How and the Reasons to Live, a band based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. All I really know about this is what the caption at Vimeo says: “featuring Maarten Vanhaverbeke’s cross-Canada cycling trip.” The band’s Bandcamp page is here. It describes the band — genre Americana — as “a joy ride that is unique to feel, great to see and awesome to hear. Imagine Yogi Bear finding his picnic basket. Yeah, that’s happiness.”]

From whiskey river:

Probability

Most coincidents are not
miraculous, but way more
common than we think—
it’s the shiver
of noticing being
central in a sequence
of events
that makes so much
seem wild and rare—
because what if it wasn’t?
Astonishment’s nothing
without your consent.

(Lia Purpura [source])

and:

We are stories still going.
(excerpt)

If you’re reading this, if there’s air in your lungs on this November day, then there is still hope for you. Your story is still going. And maybe some things are true for all of us. Perhaps we all relate to pain. Perhaps we all relate to fear and loss and questions. And perhaps we all deserve to be honest, all deserve whatever help we need. Our stories are all so many things: Heavy and light. Beautiful and difficult. Hopeful and uncertain. But our stories are not finished yet. There is still time, for things to heal and change and grow. There is still time to be surprised. We are still going, you and I. We are stories still going.

(Jamie Tworkowski [source])

and:

It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.

What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

(Laura McBride [source])

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