I spent Sunday morning in bed with my coffee listening to Chopin’s complete nocturnes playing on my phone beside me. Think of that. Music created centuries ago played by a pianist years ago streaming in my room, my consciousness, here and now.
Each keystroke playing me as if I was the instrument it played. As if the music arising in the room with no piano in sight were fingers keying notes within the body of some vast collective consciousness.
Aside from the way the notes rippled through me, thrilling and caressing and demanding, was that crystalline silence between each song and each hovering note. The silence that held thought at bay as I listened. The silence that allowed feeling to be all, to allow me, whatever this me is, and this music, whatever this music is, to be one entirely inseparable thing.
Every day I spend listening to music, sometimes stretches as long as five or more hours at a time, while I’m deep into my writing. Often I’m playing a list of my “likes” which includes a lot of music by Pat Metheny, who is considered one of the greatest contemporary jazz composers and innovators of our age.
Recently his “The Truth Will Always Be” came up, will its slow, melancholic build-up to a transcendent and ecstatic crescendo. One of my favorites. Its title speaks volumes and is a comforting reminder in these turbulent times.
No matter how many lies, big and little, are out there circling the globe, stirring up whirlwinds of trouble, trying to distort, obscure and obfuscate, they can do nothing to obliterate the truth, and the reality of all that is good and worthwhile in this world. The truth will always outlast and outshine the lies and campaigns of disinformation, hate, distrust, and fear. They will tarnish in time, grow stale, irrelevant, and crumble away, or wither from within.
But the truth will carry on and carry the day, moment by moment, in the tangible ways it has of expressing its reality to each of us.
Below are the lyrics to Metheny’s song, which expresses this truth. Read it while listening to his music.
And, in the meantime, may the truth be with be with you, my friends, on this lovely Monday morning here on the central coast of California.
And may the “truth that will always be” comfort those in places of the world not so lovely this morning.
The Truth Will Always Be
And every morning before I’m awake I walk around the world to make sure she’s alright And every evening ‘fore I bolt the door I give the stars a stir to make sure they will spin all night For I see people who will scratch And spit and kick and fight And I see nations war about whether Right is left and whether wrong is right And I know storms inside your head Can amplify the plight But no matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful And every Troy with wooden horse I take to peaceful waters but can’t make him drown And every Bastille that gets storm troopered Hail to the chief comes raining, rainin’, rainin’, rainin’ down And I’ve seen people conduct lightning Down to a summer’s day And I see nations playfully hurl Snowballs packed with stones and clay And I know rain inside your head Can seriously put a stop to play But no matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful, so let it rain And we see flying saucers, flying cups And flying plates and as we trip down lovers lane We sometimes bump into the gate and I know Thunder in your head can still reverberate But no matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather You and the clouds will still be beautiful No matter what the weather So let it rain, so let it rain, so let it rain Just let it rain, so let it rain, so let it rain So let it rain, just let it rain, so let it rain, so let it rain
I first become aware of jazz singer Nina Simone when I watched the film Before Sunrise, with a young Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They meet by chance on a train in Europe and spend the day together walking the streets of Vienna and carrying on an endless lively conversation before he has to catch a plane home to the U.S.. In the final scene, they are at her apartment waiting until it time for him to leave. He puts on a recording of Nina Simone. She entertains him by describing what the sultry singer is like at live concerts, imitating her sexy talk and sexy walk. We watch him watching her, becoming more and more certain, he’s not going to make that plane.
Since then I’ve become a fan of Simone as well, her voice having, as one music critic puts it, a “magnificent intensity” that “turns everything—even the most simple, mundane phrase or lyric—into a radiant, poetic message”.
Three favorites are below, as well as the film clip of that final scene I was telling you about. If you are a romantic, like me, it’s worth watching.
Otherwise, skip to Simone, and have a sultry Sunday.
I came across this much beloved sailing poem recently, which captures so beautifully and vividly my own exuberant experiences at sea aboard La Gitana. I’ve paired it with paintings by the “Poet of the Sea” Winslow Homer, along with some classic sailing songs: Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” and Loggins and Messina’s “Vahevala,” which includes some beautiful sailing video as well as some amazing guitar, flute, and violin riffs.
There’s noting that captures the joy of summer more than sailing.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, A gray mist on the sea’s face and gray dawn breaking. I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the seagulls crying. I must down to the seas to the vagrant gypsy life. To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover, And quiet sleep and sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
by John Edward Masefield (English poet, writer 1878-1967)
This painting is considered by many as Van Gogh’s finest floral, and one of the only two paintings he chose to exhibit publicly. It was painted after breakfast on the first day at the asylum where he went to heal after mutilating his ear.
The garden has always been a place for healing, and the fact that Van Gogh found some healing comfort in painting these lovely things I find incredibly moving. A poster of these irises has been living with me for years, hanging over a hutch in my dining room in my last home. And now it adds its blue and turquoise dazzle to my pool room bath, decorated in blues and turquoise, shells and candles, and other sea inspired paintings.
The sea too, like the garden, has always been a healing place. Spending time there gives us a sense of coming home, connecting us not only to nature at its finest, but also to some deeper sense of calm and beauty that we recognize instrinsically as part of our primal nature. When we are hurting or out of sorts, seeking that connection brings us home to ourselves and we find healing. Music and art share those healing qualities.
That call for us to come “back to the garden” for healing and renewal is found in an old song from the sixties, one of my favorites, that I listened to recently when doing research on a new novel. The song isn’t actually called “back to the garden” as I’d thought. But a google search of those words brought me to it nonetheless. It was written by Joni Mitchell in 1968. The trio Crosby, Stills, and Nash were the first to sing it, and made it famous, but I like the way Joni sings it better. She named it “Woodstock,” but it’s less about that famous festival than the idea behind it. It captures the spirit of the times, that hope of healing the nation, of turning the turmoil of the times—“the bombers riding shotgun in the sky”—-“into butterflies.”
You may remember the song’s intoxicating refrain:
We are stardust We are golden And we’ve got to get ourselves Back to the garden
The garden evokes the Garden of Eden, a time before The Fall. And the reference to stardust, of course, reminds us of our even more primal origin, the fact that the stuff of which we are made is the stuff of stars.
Whether we go to the garden for healing, or the sea, what we are really doing is connecting with some primal part of ourselves that includes the whole universe of being. If only we truly knew and understood what that means, turning bombers into butterflies, or a mutilated ear into irises, would be inevitable.
She calls herself a “musical consort to time.” She once wrote: “I endeavor, through music, to delve into all time spaces to tap resources of knowledge and power as ancient as the Universe and as young as unborn worlds.”
After listening to her music, I’m convinced this is true.
I’ve never been a huge fan of ambient or electronic music, but I discovered Strom’s on Sunday while drinking my morning coffee in bed, as I always do, and skimming through the day’s headlines on my cell phone. I came across an article about her in the Washington Post. Her first new music album in 30 years, “Angel Tears in Sunlight,” has just been released to much acclaim. It is also her last album, as she died recently in San Francisco.
She was born blind 74 years ago and became a pioneer in electronic music. Her her first album, “Trans-Millenia Consort,” which I’ve included below, was released in 1982. But alas, she was blind, she was a woman, she was fiercely independent, and she was playing in a man’s field of music.
After the release of her first album, she released her work independently out of pure passion. While not widely recognized, she had a fan base that kept her music alive underground. Appreciation for her music was reignited when a compilation of pieces from her previously self-released albums came out in a new album called “Trans Millenia Music” in 2017, garnering much praise and a new enthusiastic audience.
One of the things I enjoyed most about listening to her music that morning on my phone was being able to feel the sound-vibrations in my finger tips. It added a whole new physical dimension to the experience. Interestingly, while listening to it, my fitness tracker registered it as a “deep sleep” experience. Perhaps because of how finely tuned-in I was to the sound waves flowing through me, as if I was travelling with her through time in my own inner-space. A fine consort she is.
“A Return to Joy!” That’s what I was going to blog about today after watching the horror of the January 6th insurrection, and then savoring every minute of the Biden/Harris Inauguration celebrations on January 20. But it’s not that simple, is it? So much work is yet to do to create the lasting joy we need. And back to normal simply isn’t enough.
One the highlights of that day for me and so many others was Amanda Gorman’s recital of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” which went viral. It was a soulful and soaring oration that inspire so many of us with hope for the future, a new generation.
She starts out by asking “where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” and reminding us of “the loss we carry, a sea we must wade.” She reminds us that “quiet” isn’t always “peace” and the norms we accept as what “just is” isn’t always “just-ice.”
And yet she claims the “the dawn is ours,” and despite all we’ve “weathered and witnessed” what we’re left with is “a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”
She ends her poem on a high clear clarion call:
When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it
It’s uplifting hopefulness stirred our hearts. It was the “light” we’ve been craving after four years of “darkness.” We needed to know that there are young people like Amanda who will pick up the torch and move our nation forward.
Not long after the inauguration, I watched another video gone viral, this time of the young rapper Marlon Craft reciting his song “State of the Union.” His vision of America was starker, darker, more painful to hear. He too pointed out hard truths.
How “The state of the union is that there isn’t one /If a house divided can’t stand.”
How “fake superiority created by authority” convinces the poorest “he still one caste up, cause at least you not black.”
How “to keep you off track” when “the elite eat on the backs of your labor, you point at your neighbor—instead of up.”
How we talk about “generational wealth, But outside making money for ourselves, We won’t give the next generation no help,” and “It may already be too late to save the f—ing planet.”
He asks: “How many of us really choose our own thoughts and vices?” and “Who knew algorithms would really dictate what we cheer?” and “Can you track your opinion to it’s origin?”
He notes that while “white liberals” may “acknowledge their privilege, “they aint givin’ it up.” And how “You can’t abuse populations, leave ’em destitute and vacant and then ask them to care /About anything but their next move.”
Truth is if not for COVID, Trump would’ve won re-election in a landslide So we evaded armageddon, for good old store brand oppression But if a leader more savvy, and less sociopathic with true fascist aspirations come along, it’s gon’ be tragic 74 million proved if the right rhetoric is used We could end up on the wrong side of World War II 2
And to defeat white supremacy, you gotta first want to defeat white supremacy I don’t think most of us really do
It was always gon’ get worse ‘fore it got better Racism was never gon’ go quietly to the night
But Marlon, like Amanda, ends on a hopeful note and brings it back to each of us:
I do believe that [racism] along with greed, can make it’s way out of our institutions so that all are free one day I ain’t say that it will,
It depends what we do, there’s only one person the future starts and ends with It’s you
We have to clearly delineate the problem before we can fix it, and these two young people, one black and one white, a poet and a rapper, are doing it for their own generation as well as for us.
The torch that many of us carried for so long is being handed off. And as dark as this current moment in history is with more people lost to Covid in ten months than were lost in WWII in 4 years, with our country painfully divided across party lines, with racial and economic inequity putting a strangle hold on so many families, with raging wildfires and hurricanes and a planet in peril, these two artists give me hope for the future.
They are creating the kind of art that makes all the difference: Shining a light in the darkness so we can see our way forward.
One of the things I love most about Christmas is the music, especially the classical carols. Listening to them brings such strong memories of my childhood and my faith, filling me with a sense of warmth and comfort and inspiration. With Christmas day only a week away, I’m sharing a few of my Celtic favorites from my playlist.
I hope you enjoy them. Please share with me your favorite holiday songs and the artists who sing them. I’m always looking for new songs to add.
Loreena McKennit is one of my favorite singers and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen one of my favorite carols, so I’ll begin here.
I love Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and found this lovely version by the Celtic Women.
I’ll end with my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night. This one by the Celtic Trio is deeply moving.
Women Dancing in a Circle Warren B. Davis (American, 1865–1928)
Long ago my daughter gifted me with a CD of sacred music from around the world. It became a favorite to play during my morning meditation and exercise routine. I’m not sure you can get the CD anymore, but I was able to find a few of my favorite songs on You-Tube.
If you listen to these, you will notice how the music often starts slow, which is perfect for meditating, stretching or Yoga. But then the rhythm picks up and it’s almost impossible not to want to jump up and move, to dance or jog along with the beat.
The first song, Shema Yisearel (“Hear, O Israel”), is a sacred Jewish prayer sung in the morning and evening. Rita Glassman is an ordained Cantor and composer.
This next one is a mantra sung to the African Goddess Oshun of rivers and waterfalls, the “unseen mother present at every gathering.” Deva Premal is celebrated for her spiritual and meditative music.
This last is a Hindu mantra, or universal prayer, which roughly translates, “You Divine Mother are my everything.” The song ends with the “Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti” chant, an invocation for peace. Gina Sala is also well-known for singing sacred chants.
Friends on Facebook shared these two music videos with me recently. I loved them so much I had to share with you here. Watching them brings such comfort and joy, especially during these challenging times. I can’t get enough of them. I hope they inspire you as much as they have me. Enjoy!