Songs of Comfort

In these stressful times, I often turn to music to comfort me. Music can soothe like nothing else. It can put me in another place and time, and it definitely puts me in another frame of mind. Music can be an embrace, especially in socially distant times like these.

Here are a few songs that never fail to comfort me.

Mister Rogers Remixed: Garden of Your Mind by PBS Digital Studios. I draw comfort from this song because Mister Rogers is the epitome of comfort for me. He’s the father I never had. This song is a remix of many of his words of wisdom. It delights me to think that you can grow ideas in the garden of your mind. No matter how stressful life might be, somehow, if you view the world through Mister Rogers’ lens, you just automatically feel like everything is going to be all right. If you enjoyed this song, there are a few other PBS remixes you should check out. Namely, Bob Ross, Reading Rainbow, and Julia Child.

Another very comforting song is Let The Mystery Be by Iris DeMent. I just feel like she and I would be friends. And the song itself reminds me that I don’t have to have everything figured out, especially the biggest, most important things, such as my own mortality. This song just feels like a relief to me.

Sometimes you just want to be reminded that It’s OK. NNAMDÏ sings a song by that very title. It tells us that there’s no need to pretend we’re ok if we’re not. It’s important to remember that. I sing it in my head all the time.

And then there’s a song sung by the UU General Assembly 2020 Virtual Choir. It’s called Tomorrow, but I have no idea why. That word doesn’t appear anywhere in the lyrics. It’s primary message is that there will be better days. I think we all need to hear that from time to time, and when you hear it as sung by a hundred voices or more, you really believe it.

This one, I have to admit, is an odd choice for comfort. It’s got a sing along quality to it, and makes me feel like I’m part of the music. Colin Hay shows you how to sing the “Tumblin’ Down” part of the song, and you repeat that all the way though as he sings the lyrics. They blend well. Check out Come Tumblin Down. I have no idea why. It just makes me happy to sing with Colin Hay.

Another song by the UU General Assembly 2020 Virtual Choir is this song called “We Are”. It makes me remember that who we are is wonderful. It makes me feel like humanity is pretty darned good. I wish I always felt that way.

I hope these songs bring you comfort. I’d love to hear what songs bring you solace in the comments below!

comfort

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Musical Emotions

Our hero declares his love. The music swells. They kiss. And all’s right with the world.

If that movie trope replaced the sound of the swelling music with the sound of crickets, it just wouldn’t be nearly as romantic, would it? Music has a way of evoking emotions in us. It’s really rather fascinating when you think of it, that all of us (in western culture, anyway) pretty much have the same emotional responses to various types of background music. Because all it is is sound. How do we link feeling to it? Where is that point of connection, exactly?

I used to have a side gig captioning movies and television shows. (It was kind of fun, actually, but the pay was horrible. That’s why I quit.) Because of that, I pay very close attention to the work of other captioners. “I wouldn’t have done it that way,” I sometimes think. People don’t realize how much flexibility there is to that job. But the other day I was kind of amused when a captioner wrote “Poignant music” as a description.

I mean, in context, it made a lot of sense. But in reality, if you are deaf, how would you imagine a soundtrack to the word poignant? Even for those of us who can hear, does any particular music pop into your head when you read that word? And yet most of us, reading that while watching the movie, would get the point.

Another fascinating nuance to this topic is that the music in a lot of movies is generic, and created long before the script is ever written. There’s a whole category called Production Music or Library Music that is kind of one size fits all as the situation requires.

For example, a production music company may ask a musician to give them something upbeat and suitable for industrial documentaries. And that’s all the notes these musicians get. Or perhaps they’ll ask for something western themed, or fight scene, or what have you. And from that, they compose, and we hear and respond appropriately. It kind of makes you think about how easily our emotions can be manipulated.

If you want to enter a whole new world, I suggest you go to Youtube and do a search of Library Music. It’s really rather fun and can take you to a lot of unexpected places. At least emotionally.

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The Post-Holiday Snarkle

Is snarkle even a word? I hope not. Because I’m making it one now. Remember, you heard it here first, dear reader. I wish I could work up the energy to copyright it.

It’s the day after Christmas, and after all that build up, as usual, I feel a bit of a let down. I’m tired. I’m glad it’s over with. I won’t miss Christmas music. I just want to wallow in the fatty leftovers and settle in for a long winter’s nap.

I dread taking down the decorations. I am so over beating myself up for not mailing out Christmas cards. I plan to enjoy some peace and quiet.

I am, indeed, in a snarkle. That’s a sparkle hangover. That’s a desire to be snarky but resisting the urge. It’s also the sound I’m making because I’ve come down with a nasty winter cold, mainly because I’ve had a lot more human interaction than I do the rest of the year. It’s a phlegmy sound, deep within my sinuses. Snarkle.

Now, to just get through New Years Eve. One hurdle at a time.

I think I need some fruitcake. Not.

Post-Holiday Snarkle

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10 Day Album Challenge #4: Haley Heynderickx, I Need to Start a Garden

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

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Recently, I stumbled upon a very unique alternative folk artist from right here in the Pacific Northwest. Haley Heynderickx hales from Portland, Oregon, and her music is just as unique and quirky as that city. She has a smoky voice that grips you, surrounds you, travels through you. Her music is haunting. She’s a phenomenal lyricist as well.

The first time I heard this woman’s beautiful voice was during one of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. When she sang Oom Sha La La, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve listened to every song of hers that I could find on Youtube, and of all of them, my favorite has become The Bug Collector.

Fortunately, both songs are on her first album, I Need to Start a Garden. I strongly encourage you to check it out and support this artist. Either way, Haley Heynderickx is definitely someone to watch.

Haley

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10 Day Album Challenge #3: Paul Simon, Graceland

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

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In these days of digital streaming, there’s really no need to physically own albums anymore, but there is one that I like to be able to hold in my hands. If I were organized enough to digitally download all my music, I’d still keep this one CD: Paul Simon’s Graceland.

This was a controversial album from the very start. Many said that Simon shouldn’t have broken the South African cultural boycott until Apartheid was finally abolished. And while I do agree that extreme pressure needed to be applied to that outrageous system, I actually think that waking the world up to this country’s culture did a great deal to humanize it for all of us. It’s much harder to accept atrocities visited upon people whom you admire. So exposing this rich culture to the wider world by way of this amazing album hardly prolonged Apartheid. If anything, doing so made the practice all the more horrifying and unacceptable.

Another thing I love about this album is that Simon collaborated with so many different artists to bring it to life. I absolutely adore collaborations, because when you combine the best of two or more people, what you produce is more than 1 + 1. Somehow, the magical math of it all creates something even bigger and better. And that’s the case here.

If it weren’t for this album, I would have never heard of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for example, and I admire their work to this day. I had the great privilege to see them in concert several years ago, and it was an evening I will never forget.

This album has a unique bass line, and brings world music, especially African Rock, to center stage. Whether it’s “Gumboots” or “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” or “Graceland” or “Homeless” or perhaps the most famous “You Can Call Me Al”, this music is a love letter to all the culture and artistry that Paul Simon had the pleasure to be inspired by in the mid ‘80’s. I maintain that this was not cultural appropriation. This was a cultural celebration.

Even after listening to it more than 30 years after it came out, it’s like being serenaded by a wonderfully vital and valuable friend. Check it out. I have reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.

Graceland

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10 day album challenge #1: Eva Cassidy, Songbird

So, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

When I got this challenge, I must admit that my heart sank. I have never considered myself a very sophisticated music lover. I know what I like, but I have a hard time putting into words why I like it. Who am I to comment on another artist’s art?

And then there’s the fact that I absolutely HATE chain letters. At least this one didn’t threaten me with death or dismemberment if I didn’t comply. But still.

I don’t like to be told what to do. And 10 days’ worth of writing is a heck of a commitment. But at the same time, I was intrigued at the thought of stretching my writing wings in a musical way and flying right out of my comfort zone.

Okay, so I’ll play. But no one is the boss of me! I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this for 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, yes, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

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So, for my first entry, I’ve chosen the album Songbird, by Eva Cassidy. Yes, I’ve written about Eva Cassidy before. She died an untimely death long before I ever heard her beautiful voice, and that adds an extra special poignancy to every song she sings. Her voice is like sinking into a fragrant warm bath after you’ve had a particularly stressful and strenuous day. Ahhhhh… She really was a songbird.

The reason this album is on my mind at the moment is that the 4th of July is coming up. What does that have to do with Eva Cassidy, you ask? Well, when the fireworks start, my dogs are always terrified. I mean, totally and completely freaked out. And I know that some people react the same way. But last year I discovered something. Eva Cassidy is the balm to my dog’s spirit.

I had only been in my house for a couple weeks, so I knew this would be a particularly challenging fireworks experience for Quagmire. He had yet to feel completely settled in our new home. So I knew that I’d be staying home and making an extra effort to keep him calm on that most despised of holidays.

I decided to close us both into our new bedroom, turn the lights down low, and listen to soft, soothing music. It is my humble opinion that there’s no music more soft or soothing than that of Eva Cassidy. So that night we listened to the Songbird album on Youtube over and over and over again. (For what it’s worth, Quagmire’s favorite song on the album seems to be Fields of Gold.)

And it worked. Quagmire curled up at my side and fell asleep despite the pops and booms coming from beyond our little valley. Now this album will be forever linked with the 4th of July in my mind.

The next time you’re feeling anxious, listen to Songbird. It’s like musical Xanax, but in the best possible way.

Thanks, Eva Cassidy.

Songbird

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Clowns in Context

Clowns get a bad rap. Many people are really freaked out by them. It’s ironic, when you think about it. Most clowns (unless they are pedophiles or serial killers), only want to make people laugh and smile. They are simply there to entertain. Very few career paths can make that claim.

But I’ve known several people who are coulrophobic. I get it. Clowns are masked, essentially, so you can’t be sure of their true intentions. And there have been plenty of evil clowns in media and literature.

For me, it’s all about context. Clowns don’t bother me at a circus or a festival or a children’s party. But put one in a dark alley, or in a tunnel, or at the edge of a forest, then, yeah… no bueno. At that point, even my instinct to think the best of everyone would be severely challenged.

Every once in a while, the world experiences a creepy clown epidemic. Teenage boys (the origin of most ill-conceived ideas) will dress up as clowns and wander the streets, making people nervous, or actively trying to scare people. If this is something you’re thinking of doing, I’d strongly encourage you to change your mind, because if your clowny ass tries to scare me, rest assured I will punch the red nose right off your face. And if I manage to stop there, you should consider yourself lucky, bozo.

Clowns

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What I Love about Seattle, Washington

I’ve been living in this delightful city for 2 ½ years now, and I have never been happier. It sort of feels like I went to bed in Florida and I woke up in the Land of Reasonable People. Not a day goes by when I don’t look around in awe. How did I get so lucky?

Now, more than ever, I’m grateful for the liberal bubble in which I reside. In the current political climate, I think it’s the only reason that what little sanity I still possess remains intact. I love that my senators and my representative are all Democratic females. I love that we have a member of the socialist party (also female) on our city council. I love that our mayor is gay. And granted, it was a federal judge who ruled against Trump’s travel ban, but that judge was located right here in Seattle. I couldn’t be more proud.

The City of Seattle also just divested itself from Wells Fargo Bank due to its involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline. Integrity in politics. How refreshing. (Not that we always get it right. For example, the homeless situation here is abysmal, and there’s absolutely no excuse for it. But it’s a start.)

We’re also proud to be a sanctuary city. Immigrants are welcome here. Contrary to supposedly popular belief, that makes me feel safer. I don’t like the idea of people being snatched from their homes. That happens a lot more frequently in this country than any terrorist attack.

I love the fact that individuality is celebrated here. It means that creativity thrives. Because of that, you can experience a wide variety of art, music, culture, and food in this fair city.

Oddly enough, I’m glad that we have horrible weather in the winter. It makes me appreciate the rest of the year that much more. I spend a lot more time outdoors here than I ever did in Florida.

I love that no one here needs air conditioning (yet). I love the parks and the flowers and the diversity of the landscape. I want to explore this city and this state a lot more. I love that every neighborhood has its own personality.

I love that the environment is taken so seriously here. If you don’t recycle, you can practically cause a riot. And there are so many outlets for environmental activism.

I love that this is the most literate city in the country. I love that the library parking lots are always packed with cars. I love that people enjoy talking about books.

I don’t smoke pot, but I love that it’s legal here. I don’t drink coffee, but I love that it’s celebrated here, and I love hanging out in coffee shops. I am musically inept, but I love that you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a musician. This is the land of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, after all.

Now, if you want to talk about horrible traffic, out of control growth, and the outrageous cost of living… well, that’s a topic for another post.

seattle

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Creativity is NOT a Luxury

As more and more public schools cut back on their art, theater, and music programs, I wonder about the deleterious effect this will have on our society. Without creativity, we would all be living in soul-sucking communist era apartment blocks. It would be nearly impossible to express new ideas. We would have relatively few ways to interpret the world.

If we had no way to express our originality, we wouldn’t be able to distinguish ourselves from everyone else. There would be nothing to read, there would be no forms of entertainment. The internet would disappear, as would television and radio. We’d all be wearing the same clothes. All our food would taste the same. We would have to completely rethink our concept of beauty. Nothing would be unique or at all special.

We wouldn’t be able to come up with elaborate excuses to avoid blame. Criminals would become entirely predictable. Politics certainly wouldn’t exist. These might be the only upsides to this situation.

As we go through life, we rely on creativity, often without realizing it. In fact, creativity is what allows us to thrive. It is our ability to transcend, progress, invent, and solve. It allows us to have dreams. It is our reason for being. We cut back on it at our peril.

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My dear friend Amy. Creativity personified.

Nice Guys CAN Finish First. With Your Help.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick to death of the political climate in this country. Everyone seems to be out on the lunatic fringe, and I’m getting increasingly concerned that the only choice we will be left with when the dust settles is the age-old voting for the lesser of two evils. This is really starting to test my faith in humanity.

Fortunately, there’s a soothing balm for this raw cynicism. There’s a chance for you to cast a vote for a genuinely, sincerely decent human being and change his life.

I first met Sean Kagalis many years ago in the virtual world of Second Life. There, he goes by the name Strum Diesel. He does live concerts in there, and people can log in from anywhere on the planet to listen. I became an instant fan. From there, I got to know him personally and have seen him perform in real life, much to my delight. Aside from the fact that I genuinely love his music, I also happen to think that he’s a truly kind, compassionate, and worthy human being. He’s one of those people you want to see succeed in this world. He deserves all good things.

 Oooh! Even better! You can double your vote by going here, signing up through my referral, and then searching for Sean Kagalis to cast your vote. (Yes, a few extra key strokes, but it’s for a worthy cause.)Then I will get an extra vote which I promise to cast for him. It will only take you a couple seconds. You can do it from the comfort of your own home. You don’t even have to get out of your jammies.

If you go to this website, you can have the pleasure of listening to the music of my friend Sean Kagalis and also vote for him. If he gets the most votes this month, he will win a cash prize sufficient to give his career a boost. (More details below.) And you can then feel wonderful about yourself, because you’ll be helping a great guy get ahead. You can feel even BETTER about yourself by voting once an hour. He’s within spitting distance of winning this thing, so let’s score one for the good guys for a change!!!

Here’s a picture of him. You can see the kindness in his eyes. Who wouldn’t want to help this man? I’ll let you get to know him a little bit through the interview below.

Sean

When did you first realize that music was going to be your life’s work?

Sean: Around age 4.  My cousin Chris who was 13 at the time got me into Kiss and he had a drum set.  As soon as I sat at that kit and held the sticks, I knew.

Does musical talent run in your family?

Yes.  My grandmother can sing like Ella FItzgerald.

Tell me about your musical style. What makes you unique?

I just take real experiences and tell my story.  I’m not sure if that’s unique, but that’s my approach.

A lot of your music has political and/or social content. What first prompted you to use your talent as a way to send a message? What impact has it had? Have you had any backlash from doing so?

I was an only child raised by a single mother who is a veteran.  I’ve never met my biological father who works for the State Department.  The first political song I wrote was at 13 years of age while watching the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict.  There is some backlash to my content.  I was recently passed over by a publisher in Nashville because I have an ‘agenda.’   The only agenda I have is to tell my truth.

Tell me about Artist Signal. How does it work?

Every month an artist wins $10,000 for getting the most fan votes which can be cast hourly.  There are voting blocks present on the platform that make it very difficult to win, but my fans have been tenacious.

What would you do with the 10k if you win?

Record a full album of songs chosen by the fans and press it on a limited run of vinyl.

Why are you dropping out of the competition after this month?

I miss my husband, my dogs, and there’s a lot of ‘vote trading’ involved which has my wrist in great pain.  It’s been over eight months that I have been trying.  I’d rather cut my losses and retain the new fans I have made and move on.

When are you going to get your butt out here to the west coast? And have you ever thought of touring overseas?

As soon as this month is over I will shift my focus to booking.  And I’d love to tour overseas.  I have more supporters outside the US than inside. Plus I was born in Germany. I’d love to visit my birthplace.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?   

I’d like to thank my supporters and friends for giving me such a confidence boost.  I’d encourage folks to check out my website:  http://seankagalis.com/

Thanks, dear friend. Now, dear readers, don’t forget to vote here!