The places that I’ve grown up in
Have informed me of who I am
The tides of island waters
Have shaped me like the sand
I grew up like the skinny palms
My skin kissed by the sun
Birds of paradise greeted my window
And everywhere did I run
I’ve spent some time in humid suburbs
More than I’d like to admit
But it’s the times spent in nearby mountain creeks
To my memory, I do commit
The places that I’ve grown up in,
I have shaped them too
I took the oceans and the sands
The mountains and the little woodlands
And to my heart, I did imbue
I wonder then
Many have as well
What our purpose
In this world
Do they occur
To the common salamander
As she rests
Betwixt the underside
Of a rotting log
And the mossy ground?
I don’t think they do.
Just as she - the tiny and color splotched salamander, does
Prancing her joyful dance on the forest floor after each fresh rain
Digging her soft fingers into the moistened ground for grubs
Migrating from the water and wiggling to the forest and then back again
All the while these wonders occur outside her musings
Just as she,
So too will I
Hold That Head of Yours Higher
I am that which moves in the night.
I am the dark, yet I am the light.
I walk through the world with power and ease.
Never will I not be felt, never will I cease.
I do not preach lies with wisdom and mirth.
Be who you are and act what you’re worth.
Hell is not what you have heard.
It is not a place and not a word.
Hell is inside the weak and broken.
Hell is the one who lives unspoken.
We are not frail, we will not give in,
To the rule of others and their own sin.
Fight for yourself, live as you desire.
Because Hell is in you and you are the fire.
You and I
Indeed, truly all I need
Is but a simple kiss.
Would most surely
Come skidding to a halt.
For her, I do not need to think,
Becomes second nature.
To what ends would I not go,
To present her happiness abundant?
None come to mind.
I would be bold.
I wish to impart.
Linger but a moment more,
And I am yours.
It’s a Cold Night
As I hold you in my hand
Blood drips from your nose
With each gasp you take
You lie in wait
Then suddenly a tremor, a surge, a pounce
And to your side you flop
The concrete is growing colder now
But I quickly try and scoop your jittering limbs back onto my palm
And stroke you as gentle as I can manage
You remind me of my younger years
And I'm sorrowed seeing you now
Bereft of your own
Rest in the north field
I hope your night is warmer
With the cloth and leaves I bundled around you
Whisking you back to the summer days
When you were born
MY FAVORITE ALBUMS
This was harder than I thought, especially ranking them. My favorites are forever in flux.
I. BLOOD ON THE TRACKS by Bob Dylan
favorite song: Shelter from the Storm
II. IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER by Belle & Sebastian
favorite song: Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying
III. GET LOST by the Magnetic Fields
favorite song: With Whom to Dance
IV. MARQUEE MOON by Television
favorite song: Marquee Moon
V. LONDON CALLING by the Clash
favorite song: Guns of Brixton
VI. I'M WIDE AWAKE, IT'S MORNING by Bright Eyes
favorite song: First Day of My Life
VII. EITHER/OR by Elliott Smith
favorite song: Between the Bars
VIII. VERSION 2.0 by Garbage
favorite song: You Look So Fine
VIV. THE AIRBORNE TOXIC EVENT by the Airborne Toxic Event
favorite song: Sometime Around Midnight
X. EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME by Band of Horses
favorite song: the Funeral
My Top 10 Albums
I’m doing write-ups on my personal top 10 albums because that’s fun for me… tl;dr, just check out the headings below.
My report card grades are due tonight at 11:59 PM and I’m sick of scoring student work, so I’m letting myself work on this challenge one album at a time as my reward for hitting various work checkpoints. Listening to these various albums while grading has already brightened my mood. Nothing fights a feeling of enclosure more effectively than music that expands the mind.
The key word in the challenge to me is “album.” To me, an album should be more than a collection of songs. A great album must be greater than the sum of its parts, so that listening to it in its entirety elevates the whole experience; on a great album, there should be no skippable filler. For this reason, I have taken a liberty with the challenge instruction to identify the “best song” by naming an excellent song outside of the best-known singles. If I couldn’t find such a song and could only justify a choice with tracks that made the radio and Billboard charts, then I deemed the album insufficiently great for this list. I also deliberately tried for variety to make my list more interesting: at least a little diversity of genre, and no more than one album per artist (or else there would have been a hell of a lot more Pink Floyd). I’m also leaving off musical soundtracks as primarily belonging to a different art form, or else Hamilton would have made my list.
I’ll begin by noting that my honorable mention albums include Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile and literally everything David Bowie ever did, but probably Station to Station. (Sorry, David Bowie.)
10. Soundgarden, Superunknown – “Let Me Drown”
I had a devil of a time choosing a song from this album, best remembered for “Black Hole Sun,” because each track is a showcase. Whether the song is rollicking or brooding or both – which is the case with “Let Me Drown” – Chris Cornell’s power vocals cut through the grunge and add whole other layer. The earlier Badmotorfinger is a snarling badass of an album, but give me the tuneful and varied songwriting of Superunknown, grunge in its most elevated form.
9. The Decemberists, The Hazards of Love– “The Hazards of Love 1 (‘The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle The Thistles Undone’)”
Given my criteria for a great album, it should not be surprising that I’ve got a concept album on my list. This one is a fairytale: a young woman finds a wounded fawn who transforms into a handsome young man, under the spell of his mother, a witch, and the two sheltered youths fall in love – pregnancy, the witch’s jealousy, and a kidnapping provide complications leading up to a tragic end. The deeply creepy “Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge)” is a highlight – ghostly children taking revenge on their murderous father! – but it’s the first full song on the album that provides its best intro. Colin Meloy’s endearing voice and delight in wordplay are on full display, and the track immediately draws the listener into the fable.
8. Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster – “Dance in the Dark”
I don’t generally do pop music, but this album is an exception. I first checked out Lady Gaga because of the crazy and awesome music videos she made in this era – the art form was moribund at best in 2009, but Gaga made videos an event again, for which we are all in her debt. It’s hard to escape the headliners on the album (“Bad Romance,” “Alejandro,” “Telephone”) but it’s all so damn good. This overshadowed track has a driving beat, earworm synth, and, at its core, a pair of evocative and simple lines: “Baby loves to dance in the dark / Cause when he’s looking she falls apart.” Despite the number of repetitions, the lines remain plaintive until the end, thanks to Gaga’s skillful singing and a well-timed spoken word bridge that expands the song’s scope. Considered as a whole, The Fame Monster grapples not only with fame but with love, joy, possession, fear, and their intersections.
7. Muse, Absolution – “Falling Away with You”
Once Muse got big, the band wallowed in its own pretension and facile slogans; the sound remained good, but the self-importance lessened it for me. Absolution, though, came before all that. I first sought out the album because I caught “Hysteria” on the radio, and it rocks, hard. Muse can do that; they can also create beautiful, melodic layers. Absolution balances it all. As much as any track, “Falling Away with You” contains these competing, complementary styles. The lyrics, here and elsewhere, would not hold up on a page sans accompaniment, but they’re not meant to: the arrangements and upper-range vocals invest them with largeness. Later Muse is self-righteous and pandering, but on this album, you hear searching instead of answers. It’s music reaching for something beyond itself.
6. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – “How Much a Dollar Cost”
Rap: not my genre. Kendrick Lamar, however, is a genius, and this is the album that brought me to his work. There’s consistent development of themes throughout, but a fascinating variety of styles to the music: he raps over free jazz(!), he raps over a funk track (featuring George Clinton), he raps a politically-charged banger (“The Blacker the Berry,” the first Kendrick track that blew my mind). There is other-level wordplay here, and I really want to talk about “King Kunta,” but I committed to avoiding hit singles, so… “How Much a Dollar Cost” is a fable with slow-paced music that belies the building intensity of Lamar’s flow. Wealthy as he is, he meets a homeless beggar (“Guilt trippin’ and feelin’ resentment / I never met a transient who demanded attention”) but doubts the man’s sincerity. He accuses him of drug and alcohol abuse (“I comprehend, I smell grandpa’s old medicine / Reekin’ from your skin, moonshine and gin”) and putting on an act (“I’m imaginin’ / Denzel but lookin’ at O’Neal, Kazaam is sad / Thrills, your gimmick is mediocre”). But as happens in fables, the haughty man who refuses to help the poor pays for his arrogance. It’s good storytelling. The whole album is good storytelling, with Kendrick’s signature wit, flow, depth, and ability to dramatize the tensions in his life. There’s more than just a portrayal of conflict across Kendrick’s albums: there’s a complex and brilliant man’s whole thought process laid bare in all its nuanced, searching glory.
5. The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – “Thru the Eyes of Ruby”
My favorite song of all time by anybody is “Muzzle” because the poetic lyrics have brought me comfort on more occasions than I can count; the greatest Smashing Pumpkins song is “1979.” Both are here, but since my goal is to show others why I love this glorious double album, I want to write about the overlooked “Thru the Eyes of Ruby.” The song is gentle, and the song repeatedly builds into a swirling mass of distorted guitars, and there is no contradiction in those characteristics. Billy Corgan’s pinched singing voice is similarly distorted and complements the music perfectly. The lyrics are worth the trouble, though: the album was packaged with a booklet containing all of them, and I spent many fond hours in my teenage years pondering them. “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” has some characteristic gems. “Your innocence is treasure, your innocence is death / Your innocence is all I have.” In the song’s final lines, Corgan repeats, “The night has come to hold us young.” The words invite thought.
The album’s first disc is titled Dawn to Dusk, and the second Twilight to Starlight. Some evening when you’ll be driving the interstate into the night, put the Smashing Pumpkins on and let them carry you where you’re going.
4. Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures – “Shadowplay”
Some of the songs on this album evidence the “punk” in “post-punk,” and some are moody dreamscapes, but all of them combine to create an atmosphere like no other band’s work. “She’s Lost Control” is the headliner, but I have long considered “Shadowplay” a highlight. It’s impossible to separate the music from the tragedy that ended Joy Division, but even if you don’t know the story, there’s always something menacing just outside the edges as you listen. Nonetheless, the album feels like a melancholy embrace, in no small part because Ian Curtis’s haunting, earnest baritone vocals. Turn the lights and volume low, close your eyes and play Unknown Pleasures through. The feelings run deep.
3. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs – “The Suburbs”
You’ll find many who say Arcade Fire’s first album, Funeral, is the alpha and omega, but for all that debut’s greatness, I love The Suburbs more. When driving home to the town of my birth, this album rises inevitably from the car stereo. Youth, maturation, change, loss, struggle, nostalgia – the lyrics have a lot to unpack, and the music just as much. “The Suburbs” was, technically, a single, but since its Wikipedia entry opens with a note that it “reached number 94 on the Canadian Hot 100,” I feel that it’s still a valid option for my low-recognition song choices. I use the lilting opening chords for my ringtone, and if I’m not too quick to pick up, I hear the opening lines that instantly transport listeners to a time of life: “In the suburbs I / I learned to drive, / And you told me we’d never survive / Grab your mother’s keys, we’re leaving.” And with that, the journey to the past begins.
2. Nirvana, Unplugged in New York – “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam”
Nirvana is the legend of the 90s. Name the band and nine people out of ten probably think of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” first. But if you want to hear the beating heart within the iconoclast, listen to Unplugged straight through. Of all the songs the band played that night, the cover of “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” fits most strangely into their oeuvre, and that’s why it’s an essential listen.
1. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon – “Us and Them”
It’s omnipresent in our culture, one of the bestselling albums of all time, and near the top of virtually every great album list ever created—and there’s a reason for that. Ask anyone in the world to name songs on Dark Side of the Moon, and I’ll guarantee that person will list “Us and Them” fourth at the earliest; it’s the sixth track in order, and “Time,” “Money,” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse” all get more radio play. But what a magical song it is. What a magical album it is. Not many artists in any medium have attempted to encapsulate the human experience in a single work. If anyone has ever succeeded, Pink Floyd pulled it off on Dark Side of the Moon.
Lines (Trigger Warning: SH)
I used that one line
As a reminder
To never forgive them.
Every time they hurt me
I redrew it
And reopened it.
I wanted a permanent scar,
A tattoo of my home
So I would never speak to them
Or trust them
With my future children,
Or sit by them
At family gatherings.
And then I drew more.
One for every time
They took away my hope
And my freedom
And my confidence.
I kept a tally of the days
They wouldn't let me breathe;
The days I couldn't let myself breathe.
I justified it in my head
With a projector
That displayed little white lies
Behind my eyes at all times
Constantly playing on repeat
In the shower.
I'm not hurting myself.
This is a physical representation
Of what they are already doing to me.
A little reminder I like to write
In red pen on my arm,
To remind me
That I'm not
A problem child
Who throws temper tantrums,
Who can't be trusted with
Or a door
Or a school-provided computer
Who can't receive encouragement
Without taking advantage of it.
And I liked writing that reminder
Maybe a little too much.
Because I began to write and rewrite it
All over my body.
It gave me peace
Knowing I could just look down at myself
And see those words
And automatically know
What my life consisted of at the moment.
And what it always would consist of.
I loved the familiar burst
Running through my brain
Through my cheeks
Across my shoulders
And into my chest
Where it radiated
Throughout the rest of my body;
Specifically the sweet spots
On hidden areas of my left limbs
Where I sometimes wrote and rewrote,
traced and retraced it
It was calming,
It was like CBD
But less advertised.
I couldn't stop
To save my life.
But I did.
I can't wash the ink off,
I always just end up
Rubbing my arms and legs
Raw with a washcloth,
And I sigh
At the things
I would rather have left
And probably forgotten
By my ever-distracted,
Truest North (or The Fight For Flight)
To you~only you~will weary legs stumble with no sign of slowing
oozing through cracks of trauma
like battle signs showing
missing pieces now where peace is~
Fuck a rib my heart stays outside beneath our queen’s glib starshine radiance
only wrapped within her sunchild’s warmth while we wage war with a wicked world which once whittled away wonders and wished our ways wayward…
But the heavens knew
~oh my heavens~
her settling stardust revealed the error in azimuth corrected course to an endless beginning
a whisper of life despite settling for dust and reckoned for dead my way-finder now set to a reciprocal heading
always to return to the place where we found our *way* under our stars that settle one-third of the *way* between the beginning of your pulse and the end of your gun
~cien por ciento~
meet me under those que están treinta y tres por ciento entre tu pacemaker y peacemaker
There, I’ll be waiting (wayting?)
There, as we plan to make promises
The End of Fight or Flight
We have been running,
to and from what-
God only knows.
We can slow down now,
cracked open ribs
bearing what pieces we have left.
Safety feels foreign,
we snarl at any threat.
Protective of what is now ours,
we make promises and plans.
When the dust settles,
and our pulses slow down,
meet me under our stars,
in this new season
of our sleepy beach town.