I’m preoccupied with my upcoming trip to the USA. Every time I think about New York, the first song that comes to my mind is Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel. It’s been on my mind all day.
Before he starts singing (around 2.40), he tells the story of the song, which is absolutely worth listening to because because a – he’s wonderful and I could listen to him talking for days and days and b – his voice is straight-on sex.
Also this one, the first version of the song:
Some time after midnight, the night of a scorching day. The air feels heavy and moist against my skin. It smells of ozone, of pale rye fields and fields of golden wheat, of grass and moon and of electricity. I read of JJ Cale’s death today and I’m listening to his music on my headphones out there in the dark, in the garden, with the moon rising white and silent between the firs. Its light casts my shadow on the garden wall, a black ghost woman in a swirling, twirling dress, arms above her head, hips moving in a rhythm as old as time, as fresh as each breath of air.
She dips and sways, she rocks and jumps. She’s going crazy in a frenzy of summer, seduction and sadness. I want to be her, even as I realize that I am. Her stark profile as she dances in the moonlight to music only she can hear stays with me as I return to the safety of the sleeping house.
This song is like a drug. I’ve been listening to it all day and it fades all the small things into nothingness and connects me with the wide, wild and unspeakable mystery.
It swells my heart with a quiet but intense joy, and yet I feel like crying for the mundane and the fantastic.
It’s an epic song, a twelve-minute gem of a song, a song that treads with conscious yet light steps through time and place, through thoughts and believes, searching for what was left behind or maybe what was only a dream, and after a journey around the world it ends in failure. Beautiful failure full of dignity and the inevitability of Greek tragedy.
The pictures are so deep and yet so instantly recognizable. Every word is familiar and everything is woven together so beautifully. This is songwriting on the level of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. If you know me just a little bit, you will know that this is the highest accolade I can give.
[thank you, Adam!]
What is it about films with choirs? Or is it films from Scandinavia with choirs?
First, there was Oh Happy Day. And last night, my sister made me watch As It Is in Heaven. She bought the DVD as a Christmas present for herself and so far, I’d resisted watching it. Why? I knew it was going to be sad. I could tell from the title.
She assured me that yes, she’d cried upon first watching it. And yes, she’d probably cry again this time as well. Not because it was sad, but because of the beauty. After that, I was even more sure that it was going to be sad.
I don’t dislike films that are sad. My problem is that I get so very emotionally involved. I sink completely into a film, a book, a story, characters and people. And not just for the duration of watching or reading – every time this happens, a little bit of me gets changed forever. I hope for the better. It’s too painful a process to go through otherwise. Beauty can slay you.
To avoid that pain, in recent years, I’ve opted for light and forgettable, funny or serious, action, mystery – anything but emotion and depth and beauty. I was afraid of what it would do with me. (For an impression on what beauty does to me, you can have a look at some of my older posts, when I was very much engaged with the topics of beauty and stillness – here, for example, or here or here – or, for good measure, try this or this.)
I have promised myself to be courageous this year, however. So I was. And you cannot imagine how much I tried to stay in my head, watch with a detached, analytic attitude. I couldn’t hold it up past the first three minutes. Throughout the movie, I got angry, scared, experienced that choking feeling that goes with a sudden and intense romantic scene, felt wistful, afraid, joyful, thoughtful, sad, happy.
It was a wild and beautiful ride of emotions. And to say that I cried at the end would not tell you a tenth of the truth. I choked. Tears streamed down my face. I clung to my sister’s hand as she clung to mine, reassuring each other and all the time not taking our eyes off the screen, not even daring to blink as the inexpressible was expressed in pictures and sounds and filled every cell in my body until it hurt.
The aftereffects? I slept very bad. I always sleep easily and deeply. Last night I didn’t. And when I slept, I dreamed. And when I woke, this was all I could think about. And I’m still under the spell.
If you can, and if you’re up to an intense experience, watch this movie. Don’t read reviews or summaries, just take heart and watch. It’ll be worth it. I’ll leave you with one of the key scenes, which works beautifully by itself (what a song!), but is a hundred times more intense still in the context.
I meant to write a blog post today expressing my thanks, talking about Christmas a little bit and drawing some meaningful, poetic conclusion of the last year. I’ve been writing it in my head for days. But all I feel today is frustration, sadness and anger, and I cannot write it.
The truth is, I don’t like New Year’s Eve (or Sylvester, as we call it in Germany). There is no real significance behind it, yet everybody makes such a big thing out of it that it’s easy to feel left out. Especially if you have nothing to celebrate, or do not feel ready for a new start.
All the end-of-year lists, the summing up, the best-of lists… They make me anxious. I feel under pressure. It’s true that for the past fifteen or sixteen years, I’ve sat myself down in a quiet corner some time during the afternoon of the 31st of December and written some kind of conclusion of the year, of my year. It’s frequently helped to ground me, to focus on the big things. It’s strictly personal, however, and nobody will ever read it until I’m dead.
Two days ago I was taking a nap on the couch, more or less because I was bored and didn’t feel like doing anything else. When I woke up, in that little space between sleeping and being fully awake, I had the idea that I wanted to write down wishes for the new year. Not resolutions, because they don’t work for me, not things I ‘have to’ do, or ‘should’ do. But write wishes, things I want, things I wish for. And because I want them to have significance, I wasn’t going to write them on normal paper, but make beautiful, unique, personal cards in a rainbow of colours and pictures and write my wishes on those. So I made cards. They haven’t turned out perfect – far from it! – because I’m not good at crafts. But I like them. They are personal and they are pretty enough to satisfy me. Now it’s early afternoon and I have the cards, but I haven’t written anything yet, because I’m still in that mood of anger and frustration. I want to get rid of it. I don’t like starting new things with old things hanging on. I like clean sheets. Figuratively as well as literally.
And while I try to get into a better frame of mind, I’m listening to the song that I’m going to wear on my banner in the next year. It’s a song that holds a special place in my heart. It chides me and at the same time gives me infinite freedom. It challenges my comfort zone and never once gives me the feeling that I’m not capable of anything I set my mind to. It has such mystique and power and freedom and a deep wealth of pictures and emotions. This is the song I want with me throughout the year, the song I need at my side. This is my personal anthem for 2013.
Oh, there’s a river that winds on forever
I’m gonna see where it leads.
Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted
I’m gonna stand on the peak.
Out there’s a land that time don’t command
wanna be the first to arrive.
no time for pondering why I’m a-wandering
To the ends of the earth, would you follow me?
There’s a world that was meant for us to see
To the ends of the earth would you follow me?
Oh, there’s an island where all things are silent
I’m gonna whistle a tune.
Oh, there’s a desert whose size can’t be measured
I’m gonna count all the dunes.
Out there’s a world that calls for me, girl
headin’ out into the unknown.
If there are strangers and all kinds of dangers,
don’t say I’m going alone.
To the ends of the earth, would you follow me?
There’s a world that was meant for us to see
To the ends of the earth would you follow me?
I was a-ready to die for you baby,
doesn’t mean I’m ready to stay.
What good is living a life you’ve been given
if all you do is stay in one place?
I’m on a river that winds on forever
follow ’til I get where I’m goin’.
Maybe I’m headin’ to die but I’m still gonna try
I guess I’m goin’ alone.
*I can’t make out these lines… Sorry.
I’ve not really got around to listening to any new music lately because I’m (still?) stuck on a handful of music mixes that I just repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and … And because
- I’m a friendly soul who likes to share, and
- even more because I’m just so in love with this music and need to infect other people with the virus as well, and
- even even more because the people who have put together these mixes have put so much thought and love and passion and time into it and really deserve some appreciation,
I’m linking them all up here for you. All you need to do is click on these beautiful, enticing, mysterious pictures to be taken to some of the best sounds your ears will have heard in a long time.
First, there’s this beauty. Lots of soothing sounds and gentle harmonies that have the same effect on me as standing underneath an autumn trees that softly rains its golden-yellow leaves down on my head.
Then, there’s this: the bitter-wet freshness of decaying leaves alternates with the crisp edges of sound as all the trimmings are falling away.
This one is more about the whole getting-back-to-school feeling of glorious autumn days gone past, with the undercurrent brimming full of memories of love lost, childhood gone and dreams of space and home.
And then, there is this: a magical, no-nonsense, laughing-through-the-tough-times, sparkling gem with the energy of summer and the sharpness of burning leaves.
And as a bonus I’m also adding this, which only went up today but which I’m loving very much already for its tones of irreverence and the feeling of space and the smell of woodfires and the memory of people stomping, dancing and clapping in a wooden-beamed pub (which is not my own memory, but feels like it could be…).
It’s late morning. The sun is shining with a bright, white, winter light in between the high, grey-blue clouds. The trees in the garden are practically bare, only a few last red leaves cling to the branches.
The dog is napping, stretched out in the sunlight. It’s very quiet. Tracy Chapman is providing the perfect soundtrack.
It was last year, round about this time of year. I was living in London and so was, until the next morning, a wonderful Indonesian friend. We spent her last evening together, drinking coffee, wandering the cold streets of London, drinking hot chocolate and taking photos of her and river and us and the skyline along the river and talking, talking, talking.
While we were walking along the Jubilee walkway (that bit between Westminster Bridge and the Southbank Centre), I heard some music from up ahead that I really liked. I love street music and this sounded like a lot of fun. As we got nearer, all I could see though was a small CD player and a girl walking and dancing in front of it. We slowed down and looked and she approached us and asked if we liked the music and we said we liked it very much. She gave me a CD in a paper envelope, on which she’d handwritten a date and location and the name of the band she was blasting into the cold London night.
It was called Katzenjammer and she told us that she was ‘just’ a fan, doing this promotion by herself because she loved the band so much and not enough people knew about it – that’s some serious fan points in my book! Anyway, for some stupid reason that I cannot remember, I didn’t manage to go to the concert, even though I had really planned to go. And so I forgot about Katzenjammer.
Just last night, I was zapping through the TV channels after watching two really old episodes of Monk. I came across a concert that happened this summer at a big festival in Germany and I really liked the music and the look of the girls – so pretty and spunky and confident and feisty and funny. And that’s pretty much what the music sounded like as well. I quickly looked up the concert in the TV guide and – as you will probably have guessed by now – it was Katzenjammer.
They’re from Norway, and they’re an all-girls band who play about twenty instruments between them and the music sounds like a delicious, sweet and tangy and slightly naughty cocktail of rock, circus music, folk, the music of the better class of cabaret, with a good dose of ska rhythms thrown in, sprinkled with scenes from a French café and the last stand in at Mexican fort. I know, that’s a crazy mixture! But it works. It definitely works. I’ll even prove it to you.
Understand what I mean?
P.S. I’m not sure what “Katzenjammer” exactly means in Norwegian, but I suppose it’s very close to what it means in German, which would be either, literally, ‘cats’ wailing’ (probably closely related to ‘caterwaul’) or, in the figurative sense, ‘hangover’. 🙂
One of the most persisting and pervading day dreams or dream pictures I have is that of driving my car down from a plateau into a huge, empty landscape, the road rolling straight ahead of me, the sun beating down, the windows wide open, hair whipping in the slipstream, blasting music, not a single soul to be seen anywhere, just endless nature, sand, gravel, rocks, plants, maybe some birds of prey gliding on the thermals and the endless open road before me.
It’s the embodiment of freedom, the mental picture that keeps me going because I know, deep down, that one day I will drive down onto that plain at the fastest speed I can, with the most heart-rending, howling-at-the-sky-worthy music turned up as high as I can take it, and when I’m at the point where I will feel as though shortly I will explode into a thousand pieces and shatter the universe, I will stop the car, screeching and whirling up dust, and jump out and let out an almighty scream to shake the world in its foundations as it reverberates from the mountains behind me and in one tiny moment I will be a part of everything, every particle of this world, of the rocks, the water, the wind, the people, even you, and I will split your heart with the beauty and the magnitude and the free-whirling mystique of this world and leave you changed forever.
While I’m drinking hot ginger tea with lemon and honey and typing away at my future bestseller (yeah, well, one can dream, right?), I’m listening to a fantastic album: From the Top of Willamette Mountain, by Joshua James. You can stream it here in full.
I admit that I’d never even heard of Joshua James before I got this link from a friend and then I had it open as a tab on my browser for a while and then, when I listened to it the first time, I was immediately caught up. His voice is just a touch raspy and scratchy and the songs speak to me of solitude and loneliness and self-reliance and longing and space and memories. It’s a perfect mixture to capture my heart. The album is mostly quiet, but it had me humming along at the second spin already, as each song is distinct and individual and sparkling, while still retaining that edge that keep them from being just “nice”.
If you’re a writer on a mission to win NaNo, or just writing because that’s what you do, and you like to have some music to inspire you, try this album.
If you have nothing to do with writing but like good music, also try this album. It’ll be worth your time. It’ll be out on November 6th on Intelligent Noise.
While putting together a collection of music for a friend, I got stuck on Nick Drake. To be exact, on Bryter Layter. And writing a little anecdote for said friend, explaining why I’d chosen this album, I relived the times I described and it suddenly became so real and so overwhelming that I couldn’t go on and am now, on an autumnal Saturday night, at my desk, listening to the whole album and drifting somewhere between daydreaming and remembering. I will just hope that the friend in question does not read this post before I can send the music off, because I’m just going to copy what I just wrote for him half an hour ago because I can’t describe it any better:
I can’t say that I have a favourite Nick Drake album, but if I had one, I think it would be this or Pink Moon. This is my “falling-asleep-under-the-stars” album. I listened to it almost every night when I was travelling in Croatia. I’d be outside in the sun all day, hiking or swimming or reading or writing or meditating and when it started getting dark, I’d crawl into my little tent and watch the stars through the mosquito net of the open tentflap, snuggled into the sleeping bag more for comfort than warmth and I’d listen to the rustle of the wind in the pines and the creaking of wood as the earth slowly cooled down and then I’d put on my mp3-player and listen to this album very softly.
I held on to that feeling in a poem. I’ll share it below the songs, together with a photo I dedicated to the poem.
cold stars are out
warm and safe
in the dark
in my ears
piano and guitar
for lonely songs
with intricate longings
and the vulnerable voice
of a musician
who died too young
and yet can make me feel
in this night
Yesterday afternoon I danced on the beach.
Now, before I go on with my story, I need you to rid your imagination of any romantic pictures these words might have conjured up. I did not twirl prettily in a flowered summer dress over the sand, nor did a handsome stranger invite me to dance a waltz, a rumba, a samba or any other dance, barefoot, under palm trees.
Instead, imagine a thirty-year-old woman, dressed for warmth rather than fashion in three layers of jumpers, wearing seagreen sneakers and a very boring, basic-navyblue scarf, standing on a pebble beach, toes perilously close to the waves licking up the slope, face tilted towards the autumn sun that peeks out from behind the clouds, eyes closed while the wind is whipping strands of hair around her face, earphones firmly in place, playing an air guitar and every few minutes breaking out into furious air drum solos or those kind of jumping, skipping dance steps that would not look out of place at a rock or ska concert… Have all that? Congratulations, that madwoman was me.
Instead of listening out for the police sirens coming to escort me to the nearest loony bin however, I concentrated on my new favourite album, Lord Huron‘s Lonesome Dreams. At just a tick too loud and with the view of white-crested waves on a grey-and-mint-green sea and having to jump back with every third or fourth wave when it rushed up and then left salty foam on the wet, sunlight-glistening pebbles, I couldn’t have chosen a more fitting place to indulge in this album.
This music is all about space. It’s big, wonderful, airy music full of oxygen and bursts of wind and energy. Or like the sea, with its powerful currents, sometimes lapping sweet and gently on a beach, sometimes raw and direct and dangerous. And I realize this description won’t do anything for you, until you’ve actually heard their songs. After that, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me. So listen to this:
And then listen to this:
Did I mention that they have the weirdest, most wonderful videos?
When I first came across Lord Huron’s music, I was doing a very demanding university degree and going quietly insane with assignments and I had two of their songs and I adored them because they kept me sane and calm with their cool, airy sound (like breathing fresh mountain air!) and I just played them again and again and then begged my music-savy friend for more of their stuff and he immediately understood my need and sent me all he had.
(I should add that I’m very, very much in favour of space and solitude and sitting alone on the beach or a mountainside and just being there.)
So maybe you can understand that I was looking forward to this album with an intensity that almost hurt and when I actually forgot the release date during my recent travelling, but then was sent the album by the same wonderful friend and had wiped away the tears, I did not immediately put it on, but kept it for exactly that: listening to it, just a tick too loud, on the beach, with the whole ocean right at my feet.
I’m going to leave you with this. I’d like to point out some of the lyrics, but that’s practically its own post. So maybe just a few lines that I especially love.
I was a-ready to die for you, baby
Doesn’t mean I’m ready to stay
What good is livin’ a life you’ve been given
If all you do is stand in one place
…Ends of the Earth
I lie under starlit sky and the seasons change in the blink of an eye,
I watch as the planets turn and the old stars die and the young stars burn
We’re all gonna die but I’ll never believe it
I love this world and I don’t wanna leave
…The man who lives forever
After more than a week mostly away from the internet, my laptop and even my mp3-player, I’ve been back at a desk again (my sister’s, not mine, but still) and breaking my music fast.
Yesterday was The Lumineers. Their debut album has been out for half a year now and I knew the songs, but for some reason, I hadn’t listened to the whole album in one go. I did yesterday. I played it in a continuous loop on my headphones while working out some characters for a story that came to me in a dream. Actually, a lot of story ideas come to me in dreams, but that’s another blog post altogether. Right now, I want to tell you about this album that kept me tapping my feet, drumming on the desk or just rocking the desk chair.
The eleven songs on this are all beautiful. I can’t even decide which one I like best. On one listen it’s the one, on another it’s a different song. Each one is precious and all of them have intriguing lyrics.
You know how sometimes you go on listening to a song and you can sort of sing along but you don’t really know what they are singing because you haven’t really listened? And then, suddenly, a line will jump out at you and grab you by the throat and you will be mesmerized. It’s like walking along the road and watching all the flowers, and then seeing a glint on the floor, so you bend down to have a closer look and you realize there’s a bit of gold on the road and then you look up and you see that the whole road is made out of gold.
That’s what happened to me yesterday, not with only one song, but with the whole album. Every one of those eleven songs suddenly turned into something personal and significant and wonderful. It’s already breath-taking when it happens with one song, but when it’s a whole album? No words left to describe it.
Go and support this young band: buy the album, have a look at their videos or see if maybe they play somewhere near you. Unfortunately, they won’t be anywhere near me, but I just now, while typing this post, wrote a post-it for my sister, at whose desk I am seated, and stuck it to her wall, right on eye-level, because they’ll be performing quite near her in mid-November.
That’s all. Oh, wait. I’ll leave you with this wonderful, wonderful weekly collection of links that my friend Adam puts together every Monday on songsfortheday. Apart from general awesome music and info, he put up a video of The Lumineers, so it’s quite topical.
I’m packing. I’m practically gone. Off for almost two weeks. This weekend, I have the happiness of attending the wedding of two very wonderful friends, in a tiny village on the Norfolk coast (the east of England). After that, I’m teaming up with my youngest sister for a week (or so) of hiking and general nature-revering. After that… no idea. Bum around somewhere and be a nuisance to my England-based friends, I guess.
But before I’m off, I’m leaving you a little goodbye present.
This morning, I listened to a song that a friend recommended. I listened twice, liked it, and then I didn’t listen to it again all day (because I was running around, stressing about packing and doing last-minute travel-and-wedding-related stuff). Just now, at eight in the evening, I caught myself humming a tune that I couldn’t place… It had a snappy, catchy, happy riff that sounded as if someone was sliding down the banister with lots of noise, then lightly skipping up the stairs again… I kept humming and suddenly I realized that it was the song from this morning.
Any song that stays in your subconscious the whole day and emerges again almost completely intact after only two listens is well worth being talked about.
So I’m talking about it. It’s called “Sweeten the Deal” and the good-looking guys behind it are The Deadline Shakes. Listen, and please tell me if you can find other words to describe that quick downward plunge and upwards skip. And if you want to tell me if you like it, you can do that, too.
I was just cruising through the dozens of unnecessary TV channels when I happened upon one of the better ones, showing an episode of “Later with Jools”. I assumed it was more or less contemporary, maybe a recent re-run, when suddenly he introduces the next act with “Please welcome Johnny Cash!”. My misconception went so far that I assumed it would be a look-alike, for a joke or something. Alright, not seriously, but for second, yes. And then, there he is, the Man in Black, singing “Get Rythm”. At that point, of course I knew it must be a pretty old episode. But then, after the performane, Jools also introduced June Carter Cash and they all sang “Will the circle be unbroken” together.
Apart from being nice and touching, it got me to thinking – these guys have been dead for nine years, yet there they are, on the TV, June rocking and moving, Johnny more stolid, yet clearly putting on a good show. Obviously, that’s what video recordings do, and what they have done ever since motion pictures were invented. Yet at the same time, isn’t it at least a tiny bit creepy?
In the same way, Freddy Mercury took part in the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, just a few weeks ago. He ‘stood’ on the stage, singing together with the audience and it looked just like any projection from any of the people really standing on the stage. Now, Freddy has been dead for over twenty years, yet he was still rocking the Olympic stadium! Again, isn’t that… frightening? Weird? I don’t know. I LOVED that they gave him this place, he clearly deserves that honour and of course Brian May was there to take over after the projection, in his usual wonderful style. But even though I thought it was fitting and right to give him this position, it’s still a little unsettling to see Freddy Mercury, strutting the stage, doing his stuff, right here in 2012.
There are waves of sound surrounding us. They travel through the air and if we position our ears right, we can catch them and our brain will turn them to sound. We hear something. Lately, I’m trying to find the correct way to listen to the conversation between the flowers in the garden. They are chattering almost non-stop, I just can’t hear it. Yet. I’m working on it. I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.
Until I’m able to hear the flowers, here are some other soundwaves. Open your ears and indulge in these beautiful albums that you can stream online. All free, all beautiful.
I’ve had this open as a tab in my browser for days, but only got around to listening today. I love the deep, scratchy voices, the harmonies, the quiet and quietly threatening tone of it – it’s a little bit dark, a little bit longing, a little bit stark and a little bit lonesome and it makes me sway and hum along and daydream of the desert.
Check out the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on fire”!
A collection of Nick Lowe songs covered by country/folk artists. Good original material, good covers.
No need to loose words about Paul Simon, right? This is a live recording and it covers old and more recent material in equal proportions.
A quiet record with a dark theme that I enjoyed very much. The record. And the theme.
I remember this concert. Actually, I’ll never forget. How can you forget perfect happiness?
(This is yet another re-blog from my music blog as I’m merging both.)