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When I was in high school, my mom (an English lit major) introduced me to William Herbert Carruth’s (1859-1924) “Each in His Own Tongue.” For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking a great deal about this poem recently. 

I’m not an atheist, but I have the utmost respect for those who consider themselves atheists. And I get it; I get why someone wouldn’t believe in God. I do wonder – and I always have – how much religious definitions of God affect people’s decisions on the matter. For example, I certainly don’t believe in the God of fundamentalist right-wingers who use religion as a way to justify bigotry, intolerance, cruelty, and in the most extreme cases, murder. I certainly don’t believe that it’s “God’s will” for people to suffer, as so many pious people like to point out. Put simply, my definition of God just simply isn’t the same as someone else’s. So it’s a hard thing to talk about, and a subject I generally steer clear of. 

One argument that I have to mention (because it’s referenced in the poem) is the theory of evolution. I believe in evolution, and I think people who use religion as a way to argue against it may as well be living in a fantasy world. But why can’t one, for the sake of argument, entertain the thought that evolution is science paired with something so miraculous, so beyond our comprehension? No one ever seems to look at it that way, which I find puzzling. Why does it have to be one or the other?

I suppose it’s human nature that very difficult life circumstances make us question the meaning of our life and, if we do have any sort of faith, the very notion of “God” itself. And that considered, I have found this poem to be very comforting recently and very beautiful. So without going into any further analysis, I thought I would just post the poem. 

Each in His Own Tongue / William Herbert Carruth
 
A fire-mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jelly-fish and a saurian,
And caves where the cave-men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty
And a face turned from the clod, –
Some call it Evolution,
And others call it God.

 

A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high;
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the golden-rod, –
Some of us call it Autumn,
And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent sea-beach,
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come welling and surging in:
Come from the mystic ocean,
Whose rim no foot has trod, –
Some of us call it Longing,
And others call it God.

A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight, hard pathway plod, –
Some call it Consecration,
And others call it God.

 

Despite having grown up around a fair amount of Led Zeppelin (thanks to my sister), I first became acquainted with “When the Levee Breaks” while watching the amazing film, “Argo.” I’m not going to lie — I haven’t looked at the lyrics, which is a rarity for me, considering how much I value poetry. But thinking of the levee breaking as a metaphor, I suppose it’s describing the point where all control goes out the window. And the groove? Yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that. And Tori has covered it. I believe there’s a quote somewhere where Tori described Robert Plant as “the Goddess.” Goddess with a capital “G.” I found it: “Something really clicked in me when I discovered Led Zeppelin. And you have to understand what that did for me because first of all, oh my God, besides the guitar playing, which was you know, I *wanted* to be Jimmy Page. That’s what I really wanted to be. But I wanted to *be with* Robert Plant. Just the way he’d move his body and the sensuality. I mean, I just knew I had found the Goddess, that was it.”

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Thanks to my sister’s amazingly eclectic and wonderful musical tastes, I listened to the Sugarcubes in middle school; so, naturally I bought Bjork’s first couple solo records. For whatever reasons, they never really grabbed me, as much as I had loved the Sugarcubes. Maybe for the same reasons Kate Bush didn’t grab me until I was 24; too “out there”? Not really sure, but whenever one truly discovers particular artists, it’s almost always worth the wait.

For many years, I’ve been a bit contemptuous of Bjork and her fans, because as a member of the musician community, it’s seemed very trendy and cool to love Bjork. See: http://www.bjorkestra.com/, formed by a former grad-school-classmate of my husband’s. And I guess it’s in my nature to be suspicious of trendiness, but that’s my own issue.

In an attempt to get some new music going in my headphones, I pulled out a couple of my husband’s Bjork records, and I was pretty much immediately blown away. The creativity, the sounds, the lyrics, the textures and imagination. Bjork has been written and talked about ad nauseam, so I’ll just say that I think she’s an amazing role model for people in general, but especially for young women in the age of Miley Cyrus. Listen to Bjork’s music, experience her live performances – she is totally worth it.

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…I feel terrific! Terrific, having said goodbye to FB, that is. The pros and cons of FB have been written about ad nauseum, so I’ll try to provide a somewhat brief and probably not but hopefully fresh perspective. I will attempt as well not to get too narcissistic…that would be perpetuating the navel gazing, I’m-so-awesome-and-important characteristics of FB anyway, yes?

I don’t claim to be any more spiritually evolved than the next person, but I do feel like I’ve reached a point in life where I just can’t tolerate disingenuousness. Life is hard. We all know that. Life is also wonderful, and we surely know that too. And the highs and lows of life are what jolt us into reality, jolt us into perspective that helps us grow. And so many of the qualities of FB don’t seem to line up with this striving towards becoming more honest and more real; FB is, generally speaking, an avenue for people to show off about how awesome their life is. And life can indeed be totally awesome. But life can also be really, really complicated and really hard. I realize FB isn’t supposed to be an avenue for spiritual growth (at least not with anyone or any organizations I know), so I’m not promoting that sort of approach to a frankly shallow form of social media. I’m promoting getting away from it entirely…if it bothers you.

I’ve been thinking about the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah” lately. “It’s not a cry that you hear at night, it’s not someone who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and broken hallelujah…There was a time when you let me know what’s really going on below, but now you never show that to me, do you? Remember when I moved in you and the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was hallelujah.” THAT’S real. It’s not about painting a facade. So FB has become hard for me, as it has for so many people.

I should start by saying that for many years I was a big fan of Facebook. I first signed up in 2007, and I found it fun, entertaining, and a great way to stay in touch with friends and family…in a very superficial way, of course, as I hope we’ve all come to realize. On my 5 year wedding anniversary in 2011, I was excited to post some wedding photos because our wedding was pre-Facebook; so, many people I knew who weren’t at the wedding, even those close to me, hadn’t seen our wedding photos. I enjoyed posting photos promoting upcoming concerts & recitals, trips I did, and so on. But there was always a dark side. My philosophically evolved husband did not care for my posting personal photos of our life, which I’ve come to understand very well. Our relationship is private and sacred – it’s not a spectacle. Understood. So that’s a big point.

Apropos that, I guess my official “beef #1″ with FB is how it’s become an avenue for people to brag about their relationships/marriages. For example, you’ve got the young married couple who obnoxiously broadcast their adoration of their partners for the “world” to see. “I love you, honey, you’re the most amazing partner a gal could have.” I mean…really??? Isn’t that person, like, in the next room? Or on the other end of the phone? Isn’t it far more meaningful and powerful and REAL to say it to someone’s face? Or at the very least on their voicemail when they’re out of town? More to the point, said comment is pretty seriously private, am I right? I’m finding myself more and more thankful that Jason and I fell in love before Facebook. Even in my most active FB days, photos aside, I can’t imagine even beginning to try to portray that love over the internet for everyone to see…even though on some level I’d be dying to tell the world what I was feeling. Love is really a sacred thing, right? And should sacredness be broadcast for everyone, real “friends” or not, to see? That’s a big question that straddles various subjects way beyond FB. I have a friend who thinks that people who advertise their supposedly amazing marriages on FB are actually the ones with the most dysfunction. Definitely possible.

Beef #2: Musician friends bragging about their careers. We all have great times in our careers, we all have shitty times in our careers. If you’re making it (I mean, REALLY making it) as a musician, you deserve all the credit in the world, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a really, really tough life, and that deserves a huge amount of recognition, no doubt. But the constant broadcasting on FB, hidden behind such gems as “Feeling so blessed that I get to play with such amazing musicians…playing three gigs in one day…blessed.” I guess I’m one of those people who finds bragging to be very obvious, so it really just becomes embarrassing. All of that said, I definitely understand wanting to advertise gigs, so that’s not really the point here. When I got a full-time teaching gig, I really wanted to let people know that I was still playing, still gigging, still making creative performance a part of my life. As I get older, I’m caring less about people knowing that, but I still get it. The blatant, embarrassing bragging is harder to understand.

Beef #3: Oversharing super personal information. Like, health stuff. Super personal family drama. Not cool. It just screams “I’m attention starved and desperately need affirmation and empathy.” It’s not that I don’t empathize, but broadcasting it on FB just seems embarrassing and just way TMI.

Beef #4: Friend #1 makes passive aggressive statements about friend #2. Everyone else has no idea of the actual particulars of the situation, of course, so friend #2 naturally becomes a criminal. Not cool. And not a healthy way to address a problem. Seems pretty desperate to me.

Beef #5: FB is a time waster. Like TV. Or Pinterest (which I love). At least with Pinterest, there’s an artistic element that doesn’t give away or beg lots of personal information. (Obviously I’m feeling guilty about my pinterest obsession). ;)

There are little things I miss, but they’re purely fleeting and superficial. Like, I’d love to share that I just bought my two favorite Bill Murray movies on DVD or that I’m not consuming dairy products these days and that I’d love suggestions for substitutes…but maybe those things aren’t so important in the grand scheme of things. ;)

Lots of people love FB, stay healthy with it, and will probably be life long users. Many people have no interest in painting a facade of their life, or bragging, or being passive aggressive as a way to get at somebody. And those people will stick with it, likely. Not I. And thank goodness!

Leonard Cohen has a FB page, I think, though I suspect he’s not posting annoying, overly personal or passive aggressive comments. ;) Below the photo, is Allison Crowe’s version of “Hallelujah”; I really like her version (KD Lang’s is actually my favorite, but she leaves out a couple of my favorite verses; this one includes one of those verses)Image:

This month Natasha Khan (AKA Bat for Lashes) has given us another beautiful record, entitled “the Haunted Man.”  And I can say with certainty that I am pretty much in love with her and her music.  For many reasons.  The music is nothing short of stunning: emotional, visceral, atmospheric, imaginative, feminine, often danceable, it harkens back to elements of 80s New Wave music, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, the Cure, and Kate Bush…but Natasha Khan really has her own sound, despite these influences.  But she definitely comes from a tradition of theatrical British musicians.  I may lose people here, but her music makes me think of chilly towns in Belgium or France in autumn with grey skies and frost on the ground.  (Around the time I discovered her music for the first time in 2009, I happened to see “In Bruges” in a hotel in Mexico City, and I was totally fascinated from that point on…with Bruges and with Bat for Lashes).

I think as human beings, we are always looking for role models — regardless of our age.  For many, many years, Tori Amos was a role model for me — through my teenage years, through my twenties.  And much of her message and music, particularly from the 90s and early 2000s, continues to be a tremendous source of inspiration, personally and musically.  But what Tori has done in recent years seems to be steeped in glitzy appearances, crazy haute couture clothes, plastic surgery, far-fetched supposedly “feminist” themes, and often over-produced sounding music.  I mean, she pretty much lost me and so many of her fans the second she used the term “MILF” in a song.  I shudder.  That hardly seems like a feminist term.  (I still love Tori, btw).

But Natasha Khan is something different, and I think frankly, something/someone more like me and my best friends…and certainly more like someone I aspire to be.  There is a naturalness to her, a lack of pretentiousness, despite her rather dramatic music.  Take the cover of her new record, for example.  She is totally naked, with an equally naked man draped over her shoulders; she is carrying him.  She said of the shot, “”I think it freaks people out because I’ve got no makeup on, there’s no retouching. It’s super-raw and wild and black and white. But that’s what Patti Smith did, that’s what PJ Harvey did, that’s what all the coolest people have done, from my icons anyway.”  Writer Caitlin White (spinner.com) states, “…a sexualized female body has become a banality that doesn’t even cause a blip — but a completely natural, make-up free woman literally supporting a man leads to endless speculation.”

I’ve always thought that some of Bat for Lashes’s music reminded me of Kate Bush, and to be totally honest, this new record has lots of Kate influence.  The vocals, the electronics, the danceable beats, the layering of textures and samples.  The song “Lilies” (see link below) off the new record sounds uncannily like KB, particularly the vocal style.  But I feel like just about every female artist I listen to (Tori, Joanna Newsom, Bat for Lashes, Austra, etc.) gets compared to KB, which of course, is a huge compliment to KB and certainly a tribute to how unbelievably influential and revolutionary she was/is.  BUT it does get to be a bit of an old cliche.  Natasha Khan says, “”I think it’s really interesting, the way that you get kind of pulled into this group of female musicians no matter how disparate and eclectic you are, just because you are a woman. I don’t see male musicians coming out … imagine if all the male musicians coming out all got grouped into one group? It’s just like, really weird to me.”  She has specifically cited Robert Smith (yay!) as a huge influence on this new record.  And maybe I’m off base here, but I hear some Michael Jackson from the “Thriller” era.

Lastly, BFL has a beautiful, other-wordly quality, which is probably also one of the reasons she’s been compared to Kate Bush.  There is a mythological figure sort of aesthetic quality to the music, and the wardrobe…though this new era doesn’t have quite the Kate Bush winged-creature costume element that Natasha tended to exhibit back in 2009.  In any case, all of it is beautiful, in my opinion.

Oh, and she sounds AMAZING and IN TUNE live.  I also want to raid her wardrobe.

I LOVE the piano sample in this live track at 2:13

As corny as this may sound, I love when she takes her robe/cape off at the end of this one!…

Maybe the most beautiful track on the record.  Magnificent:

Once in a long while, I come across some incredibly astute and thought-provoking comment about Tori’s music via an online forum or youtube page. (Hence, I cannot claim originality with the Barber connection here). Anyway, I was watching a rather old video of a performance of “Upside Down,” a b-side from the Little Earthquakes era in the early 90s. And to my pleasant surprise, someone was comparing it to Samuel Barber’s “Excursions No. 1.” I know probably as much about Barber as the next average professional string player — not a particularly enormous amount, but certainly enough to be intrigued by this comment. So I went and had a listen. Sure enough, there are similarities, at least with the opening motif. My excitement stemmed from the fact that I’ve always felt that much of Tori’s music possesses the same haunting modalities found in composers I really, really love: Bartok, Chopin, Debussy…and Barber too apparently.  Tori was classically trained, having started at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore when she was 5, so perhaps it’s no surprise that classical elements are found all over her music, especially her output from the 90s.  “Upside Down” sounds undoubtedly more simplistic and a bit adolescent (I can say that since I’ve been listening to her since I was 14) compared to the Barber.  But songs like “Peeping Tommi” (also from the same era) are a bit richer musically, and also echo such pieces as Debussy’s “Cathedral Engloutie” (the Sunken Cathedral) and Bartok’s “Roumanian Folk Dances.” I’m not really interested in theoretical analyses of these pieces (sorry, said analysis is just boring as hell, in my opinion, and I’ve had way too many colleagues say to me over the years, “hey, listen to that augmented 6 chord” ugh!), but sonically and emotionally, I feel they come from the same source. When I first discovered Tori (circa 1994), I had been studying piano quite seriously for many years. And one of things I gravitated to in her music, particularly that of “Under the Pink,” was that it reminded me of Chopin Waltzes and Nocturnes. The waltz-y sections of “Yes, Anastasia”, for example, were basically a cooler, edgier, more contemporary version of Chopin.  And all of these other comparisons are really fodder for greater, richer listening experiences.  So listen on!  ;-)

There aren’t too many Joni Mitchell covers I really love — even Tori’s “A Case of You” (or KD Lang’s, for that matter) doesn’t quite cut it for me.  But I really love Austra’s version of “Woodstock.”  Joni’s music is pretty untouchable — it’s on a plane higher, more evolved musically and lyrically than most people can hope for either from themselves as musicians or as listeners.  But somehow the level of emotion and awe and earnestness in Austra’s cover is totally right-on.  So different from the original, yet totally capturing the essence of what the song is all about — hope, revolution, peace, transformation, epiphany of and through a new way of looking at life.  Katie Stelmanis of Austra and Joni are both Canadians, for what it’s worth.

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