Album #3 Update: It’s started. I have 3 nights in the studio and 11 songs scratched out. I also have a lot of thoughts about my lyrics and what they say about my general well being. It’s been an interesting time for lyric reflection.
In the studio, I sing my songs into an assortment of microphones and doo-dads. I don’t know what any of them do, other than capture the sounds coming out of my face. But I wear headphones, and every word I’ve written warbles straight into my brain in sometimes uncomfortably intimate ways.
Isn’t that a strange thing to say? “Uncomfortably intimate” … with myself.
Hello Sister Sorrow
Brother Anger is out picking fights
So it’s just you and me tonight
I’m working with Logan Christian at Midday Studios again. He engineered and co-produced Queen of Everything, and I think his brain is filled with magic, math, and mystical diagrams. When I’m recording, I am hyper-aware that his brain is also filled with my lyrics. For the life of me, I do not know how to write a song that doesn’t disrobe my heart and march it naked through the streets.
If I ever figure it out, I’m not sure you’ll want to hear it.
I’m up to my old tricks again
Negotiating with the dark again
Praying, “Help me” to the walls again
I’m up to my old tricks again.
In the same narrow time frame, I played a listening room -- The Goldfinch Room in Stephens Auditorium. A listening room is a room in which people... listen – really listen – to all of the noises coming out of your face/fingers/soul. They don’t chat with their friends or ask you to turn it down. They sit quiet and still like gargoyles, watching and listening as you barf out the contents of your life and secretly wonder if you’re insane (I assume).
The people in silhouette on the other side of the stage lights aren’t wearing headphones, but they might as well be. Every thought I have pulled out of my guts and thrown into a song, stands in its underpants. Knees knock like rungs on a glockenspiel.
[I mix metaphors and use too many. May I please just have this?]
This weekend, after a particularly depressing pass playing live in the listening room, I felt the need, suddenly, to reassure the audience that I was quite fine.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I promise.”
StilI, I decided not to play my song “Hole in the Head”.
I half-listened to a podcast yesterday – an interview with Pete Rollins, an Irish writer/philosopher/spiritualist. I all-the-way listened, however, when I heard him say:
“Happiness is getting what you want. Joy comes from not getting what you want.”
I’ve thought about this for some time -- Happiness vs. Joy – and why I aspire to the latter instead of the former. Happiness is lovely enough, but it’s conditional. It’s gratitude for sunshine and a gentle breeze. Joy sets no conditions. It is gratitude for all of it. It is the post office, there to deliver in rain, sleet, hail, and snow.
My inner voice got teeth
So sharp you wouldn’t believe
And I got stories I don’t want to tell you
‘Cause I’m afraid you’ll leave.
Because it has no conditions, Joy is more sustainable, and that’s why I like it. And in an unexpected way, this idea that Joy comes from not getting what you want made me feel better about all of my sad-sack lyrics.
I think I’m a joyful person, ultimately -- a mixed bag of bad days and good days, high and low, but undergirding (overarching) all of it, there’s a steady hum of genuine gratitude and awe, and that's where I live most of the time. Today at work – which, for the record, is not always an easy place to be -- I put a dollar bill into a vending machine to buy a bag of Sun Chips, and out came the Sun Chips as well as a one-dollar gold Sacagawea coin from the change dispenser.
The Sun Chips cost $1. No change was owed. Yet here it was anyway, fully reimbursing me for indulging my hankering for crunchy baked goodness. Like God said, "Sun Chips on me today, Puddin'!" I’ll be damned if I didn’t read all kinds of unexpected abundance into this simple gesture, and delight myself into a giddy mess right there outside the high school faculty lounge.
To me, that’s Joy (part of it anyway): Delight in the small and absurd while the rest of the world spins out.
And to me, that explains why a joyful person can write such sad lyrics. Maybe Joy comes in sideways with its teeth knocked out. It sees the painful complexities and dirty underbellies, names the shady underhand, hurt and suffering, and it delights anyway, because it anticipates abundance in every transaction.
Remind me to mention this the next time a listening audience worries.
Take this bitter tongue and make it wise
Take me from my knees and help me rise
Mother Mountain, I’m at your feet
Mother Mountain, I’m begging please.