erik lundegaard

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Tuesday May 08, 2012

Lyrics of the Day

Out above the rooftops
The moon is holding sway
A narrow eye low in the sky
Knowing what I'm knowing

I have left the table now
And this is just to say
Every song I've ever sung
Has been a song for going

--Joe Henry, from the song “Room at Arles,” from the album “Reverie”

Vincent Van Gogh, "Bedroom at Arles," 1888

Vincent Van Gogh, “Bedroom at Arles,” 1888

Posted at 06:30 PM on May 08, 2012 in category Music
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Wednesday September 21, 2011

The Saddest Dusk I've Ever Seen: R.I.P. R.E.M.

This morning on Facebook I added my two cents to a thread started by Candice Michelle Dyer of Georgia. She asked: “What do you think is the saddest song in the world?” and offered “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones and “Waiting Up with Johnny” by Cabbagetown's Joyce Brookshire before letting us all loose. The thread currently has 103 responses, including Irma Thomas' “It's Raining,” Billie Holiday's “Strange Fruit,” Bob Dylan's “I Threw It All Away,” and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

Somewhere in there is my answer: “Half a World Away” by R.E.M.

It was from their “Out of Time” album, which was released in 1991, just as the relationship that defined my twenties was ending and I was hurting. I was hurting so much I didn't want to be in the same hemisphere with her, so I returned to Taipei, Taiwan, where I'd lived in 1987-88, and taught, wrote, and swallowed more pollution. And listened to that R.E.M. album. Half a world away.

“Half a World Away” is kind of a cheat, isn't it, for saddest song, since it begins by talking about the saddest dusk:

This could be the saddest dusk
I've ever seen
Turn to the miracle of life
My mind is racing
As it always will
My hand is tired, my heart aches
I'm half a world away
Here, I have sworn
To go it alone
And hold it along
Haul it along
And hold it
Go it alone
Hold it along and hold

At the same time what makes it truly sad is Michael Stipe's voice. Something about it, in my younger, more sensitive days, would make tears well up in my eyes.

Tears aren't welling up in my eyes this afternoon but I am sad for the news, heard a few hours after posting my answer to Candice's FB page, that R.E.M. is calling it quits after more than 30 years.

Here's the statement Michael Stipe posted to the band's website:

“A wise man once said, ‘The skill in attending a party is knowing when it’s time to leave.’ We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we’re going to walk away from it. I hope our fans realize it wasn’t an easy decision, but all things must end.”

But I'm not sad for them—they had a great run, and made great music—nor for me, since I still have what they made and I assume each member will continue to make music in whatever form he desires. I'm just sad that it's been more than 30 years, and that that time is gone, and this is where we are now. That that could end. Something so central. Or So. central.

R.E.M. helped me get through the period when the other central thing ended, so I could be here, feeling only slightly sad, as the news hit. My  mind is racing.

Posted at 01:09 PM on Sep 21, 2011 in category Music
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Tuesday July 19, 2011

Lyrics of the Day

Hey Little Hypocrite
"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" by Steve EarleWhat you gonna say
When you wind up standin' naked
On the final Judgement Day
How you gonna justify it
Who you gonna call
What if it turns out that
God don't look like you at all

--“Little Emperor” by Steve Earle, from the album “I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive”

Posted at 03:05 PM on Jul 19, 2011 in category Music, Quote of the Day
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Monday May 30, 2011

Memorial Day After Tomorrow

I was driving home from Trader Joe's Saturday afternoon when I heard a Tom Waits song, “Day After Tomorrow,” sung by others on “Prairie Home Companion.” I'd never heard it before. I try to stay on top of things but of course things keep piling up. It was part of Waits' album, “Real Gone,” released in 2004, so the song must've been written in the middle of the Iraq War, yes? He also performed it on “The Daily Show” in 2006 but I missed that, too. It took seven years and Garrison Keillor before I heard it. Some part of me is incensed that it took so long for something so perfect to reach me.

Was Waits influenced by Terrence Malick's “The Thin Red Line”? His lines: “They fill us full of lies/ Everyone buys/ About what it means to be a soldier” recall Sean Penn's lines at the end of Malick's movie. “Everything a lie. ... They want you dead or in their lie.”

Tom Waits singing "Day After Tomorrow"

Here's a video of Waits playing it in concert. Here's a video of him playing it on “The Daily Show.”

Here are the lyrics. It's a beautiful song. How nice to find beauty on the way back from Trader Joe's on a Saturday afternoon.

I got your letter today
and I miss you all so much here
I can't wait to see you all
and I'm counting the days here
I still believe that there's gold
at the end of the world
And I'll come home to Illinois
on the day after tomorrow

It is so hard and it's cold here
and I'm tired of taking orders
And I miss old Rockford town
up by the Wisconsin border
What I miss, you won't believe
shoveling snow and raking leaves
And my plane will touch down
on the day after tomorrow

I close my eyes every nite
and I dream that I can hold you
They fill us full of lies, everyone buys
'bout what it means to be a soldier
I still don't know how I'm supposed to feel
'bout all the blood that's been spilled
Will god on this throne
get me back home
on the day after tomorrow

You can't deny, the other side
Don't want to die anymore then we do
What I'm trying to say is don't they pray
to the same god that we do?
And tell me how does god choose
whose prayers does he refuse?
Who turns the wheel
Who throws the dice
on the day after tomorrow

I'm not fighting, for justice
I am not fighting, for freedom
I am fighting, for my life
and another day in the world here
I just do what I've been told
We're just the gravel on the road
And only the lucky ones come home
on the day after tomorrow

And the summer, it too will fade
and with it brings the winter's frost dear
And I know we too are made
of all the things that we have lost here
I'll be 21 today
I been saving all my pay
And my plane will touch down
on the day after tomorrow
And my plane it will touch down
on the day after tomorrow

ADDENDUM: On the Tom Waits Library site, they include annotated lyrics, and, yes, he wrote it during the Iraq War but tried to make it about more than the Iraq War. Quote: “Yeah just a soldier writing home to his family. Tried to make it so it's not really about necessarily this war that we're in now, the Iraq war, but in fact about any war really. Because I guess the letters home are probably the same. I think most of the soldiers are really like the gravel on the road ... that the others are driving on, you know? Spent shell casings.”

Posted at 08:04 AM on May 30, 2011 in category Music
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Tuesday May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bob

A few years ago some friends and I were having an online discussion of a song, The Damnwell's “I Will Keep the Bad Thing from You,” and one friend, a more critical friend, thought it unworthy, particularly the refrain “Catch it while you can it's the feel-good hit of the summer.” I liked the song, and defended it elsewhere, but I agreed with that critique.

Then my friend said the song was unworthy by comparing it to Bob Dylan. This is where I objected. “Bob Dylan should never be brought up in these kinds of discussions,” I said. “It's like comparing a movie to 'Citizen Kane.' Nothing compares.”

Seriously. Dylan has written our best love songs:

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her

--“Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” from the album, “Bringing It All Back Home,” 1965

He has written our best political songs:

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

-- “Masters of War,” from the album, “The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan,” 1963

He has written our best story songs:

The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drilling in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim's ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king
No nothing ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts.

-- “Lily, Rose, and the Jack of Hearts,” from the album, “Blood on the Tracks,” 1975

Funny? Yes:

Now, I gotta friend who spends his life
Stabbing my picture with a bowie-knife
Dreams of strangling me with a scarf
When my name comes up he pretends to barf
I've got a million ... friends

--“I Shall Be Free No. 10,” from the album “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” 1964

Insulting? Of course:

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you

-- “Positively 4th Street,” a single, 1965, and on the album “Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits”

Timeless? The times are a' changin' but the wisdom in his songs often felt ancient and eternal:

Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

--“Girl from the North Country,” from the album, “The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan,” 1963

How about spiritual?

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

--“Gotta Serve Somebody,” from the album “Slow Train Coming,” 1979

It's actually better to mix and match categories since most bleed into one another. “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” may be our best political song, as well as a great story song, with a bitter angry humor to its last verse:

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence

--“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” from the album “The Times They Are a Changin',” 1964

I could go on. Sometimes I say that phrase and don't mean it, but I could reproduce great Bob Dylan lyrics all day, on this day, his 70th birthday. Instead I'll just link to his site where you can read the lyrics yourself. I'll link to Loudon Wainwright III's now-20-year-old song, “Talkin' New Bob Dylans,” a humorous take on the difficulty of coming up in his wake. I'll recommend Martin Scorsese's superlative documentary “No Direction Home,” from 2005, which gives a portrait of the artist, and of creativity, that is among the best I've seen.

It reminds us that none of us are nouns, we're all just verbs, we're all moving from one place to another—one sacred place to another, J.D. Salinger would say. It may even suggest that the true problems of the world arise when we dig in and say, “No, this is it. This is the one thing. Only here is where meaning lies.” Dylan didn't do that. Dylan kept going. He's still going.

Posted at 08:34 AM on May 24, 2011 in category Music
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