The Shape Still Holds

For Caetlin

I found this in my suit pocket
One of Sunday’s palms saved from its fate
Delivered from becoming Wednesday’s ashes by the deft craftsmanship of a friend
Now, this empty cross
this leaf taken from its branch
It stands as a symbol
Of friendship
Of love
Of the grace that gives us the strength to even be here today
Though it no longer grows it lives on
Because the shape still holds

It refuses to wilt
Standing as a reminder of what it became
Not what it began life as
But what it was transformed into
This small token stands as a defiant reminder
That things do not fade away so easily
The shape still holds

And so it is with us
Or at least I hope so
Through our lives we are woven
Shaped and formed into something greater
Through the lessons we learn
The lessons we teach
The stories we share
The love that we have for one another
The great love shown to us
And we take a form
In the hearts and minds of those we meet
Each life we intersect with making one more fold
One more knot
One more movement towards this form that lasts

And so
We make each other remarkable
We give each other that new purpose
That second life
Beyond what we started as
Grace makes us into something new entirely
And in that grace we take the shape that was made for us

We continue on
Even when we stop growing
That shape still holds

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I Am Rooting For You, Opening Band

Dedicated to Shortly, a band from Detroit I did not know existed before last night but nevertheless am now hopelessly devoted to

I’m not on time for a lot of things. Most people know that about me by now, adding a few minutes on to whatever time I say I’m going to arrive to get a better picture of my involvement in an event. There’s only two things I’m incredibly punctual for.
The first is the airport, for obvious reasons. Your friends might forgive you for being a minute or twenty late to the party but the plane will absolutely leave without you and never give you a second thought.

The second is less apparent. If a concert ticket says doors at 6, show as 7 I will be there as soon as I can.

I will never miss an opening band.
I refuse.
Somewhere hidden at the top of the card might be the next band I pledge my life to.
Maybe it’s the old critic in me that constantly wants to find my next love, something that I can share with everyone I’ve ever met.
And that band that plays at 7 when the headliner isn’t going on until 9:30 might just be it. I’ll never know if I’m not there.
And even if it’s not, every band needs someone to cheer for them, to dance, to be a part of the collaborative work of performing.
I’ve dragged friends onto the dance floor to save a band from playing to no one
I’ve had my heart broken as I can see a band make the decision to play their closer a few songs early to get off the stage
And maybe that’s because I’ve been that band too.
I’ve played shows where more people helped us set up than attended, and those that did looked like they couldn’t wait to leave.
I still remember the vacant stares as we kicked into my favorite one of our songs.
It was as if each side of that stage existed in a dimension without the other.

So maybe that’s why I’ll always be there for you, Opening Band.
You’ve made something you love and have taken it on the road to share it with the world
You’re taking incredible risk to even get to this show, driving through the night without the accessories of success.
You’re showing up dead tired to play for people who have never heard of you
Who for the most part aren’t there because they want to hear your songs.
And you deserve better than the roar of an uninvested few.

And so I hope at every show you reach at least one person who won’t stop talking about what they just saw.
I hope you turn into the show people lie about having been to.
“Oh man I saw them when they opened for…
There were like 5 people there. I couldn’t believe it!”
Or at least get to the point where a cult following loudly declares to anyone who will listen that they bought tickets for you, not the headliner
I hope your live show gets even better and that the best songs you write are still to come
I am rooting for you, Opening Band. I hope you know that
And I don’t think I’m alone.

Album Lyrics – Complacency

Here’s the link to listen: click here

The Plan

(Demetri Martin, from If I)

It was a crazy moment, to have a plan from eleven years old
Every choice, every summer: classes, extra activities, SATs, essays,
Leading to that one big goal, and then being that close to it and realizing,
“I made a huge mistake, I have to admit it, cut my losses, I’m out of here.”

And it was a total crisis, a total crisis of relevance.
Because I was now an adult – yes, okay, it’s cool to be quirky, maybe, on the side.
Do some puzzles, make puzzles, whatever, you learn how to ride a unicycle,
That’s cool when it’s on the side, right? And you have a plan.
What happens when you remove the plan?

Florida Coast

Take me through the everglades
Take me to the top of this mountain I’ve made

Keep your head above water
Keep your head above water, you’ll
Keep your head above water, you’ll
Keep your head above water

I miss places I’ve never been
Got to stop thinking “remember when?”

Get Through

Maybe the sophomore slump will end soon
I thought I could be like Xaphoon
I thought I could write songs like songs “for emma” too
I can’t promise it’ll all be good
But I can promise you we’ll get through

Birds

Circle all you want there
I won’t let you nest in my hair
You’ll keep it up long enough
That’s not belief, that’s fear

Circle all you want there
I won’t let you nest in my hair

Interlude

I revolve around you
Your shadow becomes my shape
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is your tide
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is your sky

Your shadow becomes my shape
My path is mostly yours and my
Kingdom is escape

Sacred Spaces

The places I love are scattered everywhere
They’re sinking and floating
Drowning, dehydrated
I don’t care
They’re sacred

The places I miss are scattered everywhere
They’re haunted and empty
A ghost like me can’t stay
I don’t care
They’re sacred

Reckless

There’s a vast blank wall up ahead
Useless and frightening
The clouds might swallow you whole
With an ominous flash of lightning

No longer staying silent
Your dreams have gotten violent
You tossed and turned last night
Fumbling and shaking
You panic and drop the flashlight

This is as reckless as you’ve ever been
Time and time again
There’s no way to win

I lay on my back
Dreaming of ways
To hide from prying eyes
I grew up under an endless sky
Where sunsets can last for days

Complacency

I could say that I’m happy
But that would be a lie
Under the oppression of a perfect blue sky

I’m trapped
By the light reflected in your eyes
I’m trapped
Under wishes and hopes
I’m trapped by childish fears
And the urge to keep chasing ghosts

Maybe that’s dramatic
I shouldn’t be so dire
But sometimes it feels like I’m the last one
Standing up to the empire

I could be quiet and call it maturity
I’d know that it’s complacency

I was ready to run away
But now I can barely stand
My legs are getting heavy
I’m sinking into the sand

I was ready to run away
But now I can barely stand
My legs are getting heavy
I’m sinking into the sand

Invisible

At the supermarket checkout
A sandwich and a bottle of tea
I’m tired and awkward
But she stares right through me

Standing on the bus I pull the stop
The driver doesn’t hear, I know
I should say something
But we’re already past and I’m too slow

I glance up and he looks away
You walk out when I want you to stay
Maybe I’m invisible today

Late night at work
I walk to the car in darkness
Nobody pauses, nobody steps aside
I’m not bothered, through the crowd I glide

Put on those headphones and press play
They’re staring at me but I’m far away
I know I’m invisible today

Album Lyrics – Paths

I’ve always thought of my own song lyrics as poetry first and music second. I released some songs recently and I’m putting the words here so that people who don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to the album or don’t like the style can still consume this content.

A Detour

I can’t sleep
It’s the last day off
Before we have to go back
And pretend like we know what we’re doing

I can’t keep
Staying up this late
I’ve got to understand
Before I decide to keep moving

I used to spend summers
Learning curse words in churches’ gravel parking lots
We’re stuck inside now

I can’t keep staying up this late
I’ve got to get my head on straight

Fever Dream

The world is ending and we’re knee-deep in ocean
I just wanted to know that I belong
So let me dream
With the light on

Hurricane

Everything is blue and green
Above and below I see aquamarine
But off in the distance
A hurricane brews
How could we miss this?

Landlocked cities turn away
Why should they care what happens
In the shadow of the ocean’s spray?
It’s gray outside and the lighthouse is out
The grass has turned brown
In the cowering harbor towns

So trees snap
The sky turns black
I want to go back
To a calmer time
You told me everything would be fine
But the hurricane’s finally here
And I need to stop wishing
It would disappear

Morning Rain

I could do without the thunder in the morning
I don’t mind that it’s pouring
But I want to go back to sleep

Let me breathe
Without a crash outside
We shouldn’t have to wonder if we’re gonna survive

I don’t care about making a name
All I need is a cold
Morning rain

Give Up

Maybe it’s time to give up
Maybe it’s time to find out
What’s on the other side of the spout
I don’t care if I’m never the same
But I hope it’s not a drain

Days are numbered
Unclaimed, fleeting
Stolen, seemingly
Someday leaving
Days are leaking away

A Toast

Weddings are a day for bloated, overwrought metaphors.

Love will be compared to any number of things and about half of them will make sense.

Because the truth is we’re all searching for something to help us explain these feelings that seem to make everything alright.

It’s magic to begin with and so the words that we would use otherwise suddenly become meaningless, our tongues tied into the same knots our hearts make in those moments in which we find ourselves overcome by this intense joy.

And most of the time we don’t end up saying anything at all

But I’m a poet, and bloated overwrought metaphors are kind of my thing so you can’t expect me to stop myself, can you?

For the two of you it’s obviously a bicycle.

Two separate yet similar entities that are bound together by something much more solid.

But that’s the easy one. So’s the one about wheels with spokes bound to something at the center.

The real meat is how hard it is to go backwards. Spinning pedals in reverse futilely with no resistance, but no momentum.

Stopping and weakly kicking your feet at the ground trying to get a few inches back. It’s almost never worth it.

I hope that the two of you realize how much more fulfilling it is to go forward, to explore, to go somewhere new.

I hope you realize that even when you feel resistance you’ll know that’s the only way this thing moves

But most of all, I hope you enjoy the ride.

So here’s to Robert and Rachel, may you never run out of trail to explore, and may you always enjoy getting there together.

 

Tuesday Two-Step: Tetherball & TW Walsh

Woo it’s been a bit since we’ve done one of these!

Nashville’s Tetherball has a way of combining smart indie-pop with an almost doo-wop sensibility on their new single “Social Jedi.” The guitars take you along “tumbling down this ladder” right behind the vocals while the drums keep you snapping right along with it. It’s a brisk little tune that felt like it was over too soon, a testament to how much I wanted to play around in the sound. Check out the Pac-Man themed video below and get a little more of a taste of Tetherball when the EP Pheromone Flood comes out February 26th.

We’ve also got a new video from TW Walsh, formerly of Pedro the Lion.  “Fundamental Ground” kicks off with the line “I’ve been in this room for way too long.” The song feels haunting in a way that expresses the melancholy of not going anywhere even as you search for something bigger out there, that base thing that must be holding up everything else. Walsh’s vocals have an uncertainty to them that plays up this theme.  Check out “Fundamental Ground” here and pick up TW Walsh’s new album Fruitless Research when it releases this Friday.

Discovery

When you think about it, the Magi were just First Century paparazzi.

They heard from someone else the location of someone important

They showed up unannounced, unexpected, and interrupted someone’s private moment

They come to worship, nominally. They come to adore what they’ve found

But in reality I think they’re here to prove that this star is just like us.

I can’t help but wonder if Mary and Joseph ever knew a peaceful night while they waited in Bethlehem, snuggled up close to God

I wonder if between the constant flow of people who those shepherds had shown the way, moving out of a lowly stable to finally find room at an inn, and the crying of a helpless Lord if they had time to rest.

I wonder if they asked God to maybe turn off that star that burned brightly overhead for just one night

And here these people arrive. Because of that same star.

“We thought we would find a king here, so here we are!”

And they rejoice, exuberantly yet briefly, and leave these gifts

I wonder if Mary and Joseph appreciated the sentiment but wished they would’ve all just brought gold instead of the other stuff.

And we call this an Epiphany.

We call this a moment of insight, a spark of realization

This idea that a star could be just like us

That God could be more than something far away

That God could be with us right here and now

It’s having all these words, these prophecies, these tales of something that is to come and in one moment having a realization: It’s all true.

And the Magi slunk back to their own country, warned not to make that short trip back to Jerusalem to let everyone know what they had found.

Unable to sell those people on the story they worked so hard to uncover.

And yet there is still joy on this day of Epiphany

Because we can still discover for ourselves what awaits us underneath yonder star.

The Catch-Up: Frank Turner

So this is going to be something a little different from the first two parts of The Catch-Up. This isn’t going to be a quick little review of Frank Turner’s Positive Songs for Negative People (If you really need that here’s an even shorter one: I liked it a whole lot).

One song in particular caught my attention on my few spins through the album. On the song “Demons,” Turner goes on about living life to the fullest, how “Time is not there to be saved.” The song ruminates on taking advantage of everything that one comes across, even going as far to say “If life gives you demons, make a deal.” Not to shy away from temptation or evil but to take hold of the power that may be offered. I appreciated the shot taken at Pascal’s Wager (the idea that you should say you believe in God on the chance that God exists just to cover your bases and not go to hell) because even as a pastor I think that’s the worst possible reason and method to engage with faith. And while I think that Frank and I would disagree on the true value of selling one’s soul to experience life to the fullest, or even whether or not it’s for the best to give in to every temptation just for the story you’ll have after, I think that he’s got something to say about how we end up using the life that we have.

The chorus starts with the line “You’re not delivering a perfect body to the grave,” and I think that’s honestly poignant. There is a call for the Christian life not to be played safe, not to exist in a bubble and refuse to be tainted by “the culture” but to engage with the world around us. We’re not going to live a brief, wholly perfect life and then die. There’s no efficient way to speed-run existence, finding all the exploits that we can to get the most out of it as fast as humanly possible. We were given life to use, to serve others, to share love, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. And while this is a temporary situation that we find ourselves in, there’s something to be said about using every second of it. I believe that part of that is refusing to be stagnant, to innovate and iterate on what the Church has done well and to find ways to shore up the places where the Church has been lacking. In those moments of trying to do new things, sometimes there will be mistakes and yes, even flat out failures. But it’s not about doing the perfect thing 100% of the time. It’s about being willing to step out in faith to make use of the time that we’ve been given to help bring about something beautiful.

The song ends with “You won’t get everything you wanted/But you will never be defeated.” I think especially in this season of Advent, as the body of Christ waits in anticipation for what is to come this is something to hold close. The Christian life isn’t about getting everything you ever wanted. Pascal was a chump when he reduced the whole thing down to heaven or hell. But it does come with knowing at the end of all things, God is with us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

The Catch-Up: Cavanaugh

I was introduced to Open Mike Eagle through his incredible performance with Thundercat on Why? with Hannibal Burress. His A Special Episode EP entered steady rotation and digging back through his discography showed me an artist who had a unique style about him. So when I heard about Cavanaugh, his collaboration with Serengeti I was pretty excited to listen to it. Time and Materials is a concept album about a high-rise building that contains both luxury condos and section 7 housing and keeps the different groups of residents split by using separate entrances. The story is told through the characters of maintenance men Mike and Dave and gives Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti exaggerated versions of themselves to play off of as they spit grim lyrics about the life of blue collar artists.

The production, handled entirely by Open Mike Eagle (his first time to produce an entire project) has a dark electronic vibe to it. Opening track “Zorak” has an almost industrial quality as Dave and Mike trade verses  on top of it. Lead single “Screen Play” has our two characters discussing their lives outside of work, how they wish they would be able to leave it behind but they can’t. It feels like these two characters are talking to each other because they know that no one else is going to understand them. It’s a lonely song but one that’s handled with such care that it ends up being the best possible introduction to the people we’ll be spending the rest of the album with

There’s a line that haunts the final track that I can’t get away from. “Lemons” opens with a chant of “Keep the us with the uses/The yous with the yous.” In this world that Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti have created there’s a tension between the two groups that make up the Cavanaugh development and these two, Mike and Dave, are the only ones who get to see both sides. There’s both an isolating feeling of knowing that they are the only ones who can get the whole story (this probably plays into the melancholy that looms over the whole album) and a responsibility to tell that story even if it gets to be too much. The characters of Mike and Dave seem to need each other because no one else wants to listen.

Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti have made something special with Cavanaugh. The two emcees work in a near-perfect sync to make something much bigger then either has done alone and I can’t wait to hear what story they decide to tell next.