2024

Over the Rhine has been my favorite band for about 30 years now, give or take. This song, Given Road, from this gorgeous record, Love & Revelation, is one of the most haunting, stirring songs they’ve ever recorded.

I encourage you to listen.

Best savored at maximum volume.

I COULDN'T NOT WRITE THIS REACTION TO RAISE THE ROOF

Green Library Online Exhibit Supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement

This is important. You should visit it.

65 Stories: Say Their Names (a Stanford Libraries exhibit)


Raise the Roof by MeShell Ndegeocello (Read by Staceyann Chin)

“Raise the Roof” is a song from her forthcoming album No More Water: The Gospel of James Baldwin by Meshell Ndegeocello. It speaks about the Black American experience. I will never, as no white person will ever, be able to know precisely what that experience is like. But this song helps me feel what’s being felt by a whole lot of people, and it makes me want to be a better ally. My reaction to the song fits somewhere in that space.


My Reaction to “Raise the Roof”

This song is a poem. A heartbreaking, compelling call to action. A demand. An overdue alarm, a siren, an earthquake desperately shaking and rousing and stirring and waking everyone up from whatever apathetic existence they’ve resigned themselves to live in, languishing in lost hope.

This song is a reminder that the past hasn’t gone anywhere.

Parks and land and trees once public are sold to devil’s red developers with too much money and too little conscience.

These men, and they are men, take everything. They bulldoze and ruin. They make a profit. A profit without investment or acknowledgment or apology. Just. Profit. Just for them.

Greedy and gorging themselves they stand on the once public property they now own. They stand in blood soaked mud, and on tree stumps, and on what’s left.

They are proud and tall lumberjacks, dismissive destroyers with shined clean boots and expertly ironed bulletproof uniforms. Their careless, heavy feet pulverize anything in their path. What is in their path is rotting, still strange fruit dropped from southern trees they saw down and slaughter.

But strange fruit still ripens and rots even when the Poplar trees are stumps and roots. Strange fruit is on the ground under a black boot and can’t breathe. Strange fruit is carrying a toy gun before a badge and a bullet do what they’re designed to do. Strange fruit is 17 years old, wearing a hoodie sweatshirt bloodied and shredded by a vigilante’s not guilty verdict. Strange fruit dies - dead - as a direct result of a system that displaces, disregards, disenfranchises one group of people and rewards another.

Lumberjacks whose killing carnage goes without consequence don’t care. They don’t need to; they’ll be acquitted. Not guilty. And they don’t care what’s in their path because it’s their path - they designed it for themselves, they built it for themselves and they see it as the only path that matters.

But it’s not the only path that matters.

Alarms are going off and the earth is stirring, quaking, awakening.

And so we are woke. We are watching. We are done mouthing minced words. We are ready.

It’s time to raise the roof on these motherfuckers. Indeed, it’s time.


Notes

Some songs move me to want to write about them - to make and create something in inspired response.

I have lots of ideas about what I want to write for lots of songs I love to listen to. “Tusk” and “Walk a Thin Line” by Fleetwood Mac. “Narcissus” by Roisin Murphy. An essay for every major song on Boys for Pele by Tori Amos.

But my OCD ADHD brain usually kicks in and then works and overworks all those ideas, dulling rather than polishing them, demotivating me and getting in my way. The ideas and inspiration get stuck. I don’t write anything.

Sometimes I hear a song that’s so compelling and important, I can’t not write about it. Like, right now. Like, I won’t be able to do anything until I write about this because I can’t do anything until I write about this.

Hyper-focus takes over and forces my fingers to the keyboard, my eyes to the screen. I start writing and words seem to know where to go - structure being more intuitive than intentional. Then it’s done and I am released until another song grabs me by the arm and tells me it’s time to write.

The song “Raise the Roof” by MeShell Ndegeocello, is one of those compelling and important songs that I can’t not write about. So I wrote. And I stopped. And I hope it encourages someone to listen to the song, and consider all the considerations that need to be considered: fascist, racist oligarchical regimes are running and ruining the country, and we need to stop them once and for all. What will your contribution be?

Waking up this morning, which is a little overcast causing it to look like a grey muggy sauna out there, with a few songs from k.d. lang’s Ingenue. It’s one of very few albums I listen to that doesn’t have a single skippable song. “So It Shall Be” is my favorite this morning.

This song just spoke to a place in me that really needed to hear it. I’ve got to get my life together.

“Wise Up” by Aimee Mann song.link/us/i/1544…

2023

MAESTRO: THE MUSIC OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN

Browsing Apple Music for another reason, I stumbled onto a playlist of new music selections from film and television. I stopped scrolling when I saw Maestro: The Music of Leonard Bernstein.

The song featured in the playlist is the second movement of The Chichester Psalms, which is the most dramatic of the three movements in the piece. I loved singing it in high school and later as an adult in the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus with the Columbus Children’s Choir.

But the second movement isn’t my favorite. The finale is my favorite.

The finale (Psalm 133, vs. 1 ) is the one that makes me cry every time I listen deeply to its message. I find both profound hope and a longing sorrow in its words and melody. I feel it. I don’t know how else to describe it, I just feel it from the deepest parts of whatever plane it is we’re all tapped into. Even as, or maybe especially being, an atheist.

From Wikipedia:

הִנֵּה מַה־טּוֹב, וּמַה־נָּעִים– שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּם־יָחַד.

Hineh mah tov, Umah na’im, Shevet aḥim Gam yaḥad

Behold how good, And how pleasant it is, For brethren to dwell Together in unity.

The finale comes in from the third movement without interruption. The principal motifs from the introduction return here to unify the work and create a sense of returning to the beginning, but here the motifs are sung pianississimo and greatly extended in length. Particularly luminous harmonies eventually give way to a unison note on the last syllable of the text—another example of word painting, since the final Hebrew word, Yaḥad, means “together” or, more precisely, “as one”. This same note is that on which the choir then sings the Amen, while one muted trumpet plays the opening motif one last time and the orchestra, too, ends on a unison G, with a tiny hint of a Picardy third.

It’s truly one of the most beautiful, quietly powerful parts I’ve ever sung. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it.

GET ME NEIL ON THE LINE, NO I CAN’T HOLD

Michael and I took a walk to the branch library.

We can see the building from our back door, but you can’t walk there in a straight line because the fenced off baseball fields and playground are in the way. (We just love those fenced off baseball fields and playground. They aren’t a nuisance at all, and neither are the parents who bring their kids to them in the summer, who take up all the street parking and yell and scream and yell and cheer and yell and yell. And certainly the small playground on which play the younger, louder, screamier siblings of the baseball playing kids is not as big of an eyesore as the used car lot up the street. It’s not a plastic monstrosity of blue and red made occasionally patriotic by the white, christofascist private school attending, taxpayer-funded voucher-presenting children who climb on it and scream and yell and cheer and yell and yell. Both the baseball fields and the playground are just beautiful, necessary additions to our quaint urban neighborhood that we fully embrace and adore and love from 10 feet away. Just adore and love, I tell you!)

I was picking up a book club book for the book club I belong to at work that I’ve never attended and never read a book for. I got about 5-minutes into a selected audiobook once. My boss literally handed me her copy of a selected book once. Neither interested me enough to be, well, interested.

The quarterly discussion group meeting is always on my calendar, and always I find an excuse not to go.

But today at the library, another book caught my eye while we were walking around the branch, which Michael hadn’t seen since its renovation during the pandemic. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman. It was shelved face-forward and the cover art, created by Colleen Doran, tugged at me.

Of course I’d only heard of it from “Carbon” which is a song by Tori Amos on her album Scarlet’s Walk, a loosely semi-autobiographical concept album about a trip through post 9/11 America. The song is probably my favorite on that record. It has an irregular time signature, 6/8 or 12/8 or something - I can never remember any of them besides 3/4 and 4/4 and 2/4. (I get so proud of myself when I recognize a 2/4 measure has been tacked on to the end of a 4/4 measure to add an extra beat before settling back into 4/4.)

“Carbon” has the great lyric, “Just keep your eyes on her horizon” (which I hear as “keep your eyes on her her eyes on”). It’s also one of several Tori Amos songs that contains a wink to Neil Gaiman. Tori Amos fans love it when Tori Amos winks to Neil Gaiman.

Get me Neil on the line
no, I can’t hold
Have him read
”Snow, Glass, Apples” where nothing is what it seems
”Little Sis, you must crack this,”
he says to me
”You must go in again
Carbon-made only wants to be un-made”
Blade to ice, it’s
Double Diamond time

I grabbed it from its place on the shelf. I recited the lyric to Michael, who didn’t really care but would never say that out loud when I talk about Tori Amos. I commented on the artwork. He said he liked it, too.

I checked it out with the collection of Kurt Vonnegut short stories I probably won’t read for the book club meeting I probably won’t go to.

But this book, “Snow, Glass, Apples”, I’ll be adding this book to my own library.

STRANGE THINGS: MY REACTION TO THE SONG

I drafted this little paragraph after I listened to a song by Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet. The song is called Strange Things and it lives on an eponymously titled album.

Abigail Washburn is a clawhammer banjo playing singer songwriter. She plays bluegrass, speaks and sings in Mandarin, is married to Béla Fleck, and has a very short, but very powerful and memorable TED talk about the importance of music and the power it has to connect people and cultures (Building US-China Relations … by Banjo).

Strange Things created such a strong physical reaction in me, and evoked such terrifying and frantic and vivid, essential imagery, that right away I wanted to tell friends about it. Driven, I tried to capture in words the experience of what I was hearing and seeing and feeling.

Here’s what I came up with.

It’s been a very, very long time since a song has provoked such a strong physical response from me as this one has. My heart speeds up like mad by the end. I breathe heavier. So heavy I notice it. I get goosebumps on my arms when she wails at the end. It’s like I’m there excavating with her. Digging and driving, shoveling and blowing up the tops of mountains for more, screaming a warning, yelling a whisper, conspiring with a twisted prophet, amplifying propaganda and prophecy. This song digs so deep into the soil it scrapes core. Blood soaked Appalachian prayers and hymns from a worn out book.

I know I sound nuts but holy cow this is a wild 5 minute ride. You must listen some time.

xo