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Archive for the ‘songs’ Category

I just played this video for my students while they free-wrote, responding to one of the two prompts:

1. Give a history of your life  by listing the different books, television shows, movies, songs, bands, or albums you were obsessed with at various ages.

2. Write what comes to mind when you hear this song.

I usually respond to the prompts along with my students and this time was no exception.  I chose the second one.  I’m writing and thinking, do my students know they are listening to a song about resurrection?  Does it at all ring true to them?  Do they yet know how much death is required of them if they want something good to come out of their lives?

I keep coming back to this song (the first time I heard it was in 2002, when I was roughly the same age as my students) because I find it to be a good reminder, true on so many levels–spiritually, materially.  Just today, I met with my professor about my thesis novel and we decided that it really needs to be told in third person limited.  Those who knew me know that I wrote a hundred pages in third limited, switched perspectives from a 30 year old woman to a 10 year old girl, and then switched to first person retrospective, looking back to when the narrator was a ten year old girl.  Each time I make one of these switches, it’s like I have to die to the book again and hope that it resurrects as something better.

The thing that this principle asks (you have to die if you want to be alive) is pretty simple:How much do you want it? How much do you want this book to be a good piece of Literature with a capital L?   How much do you want Life with a capital L?

 

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This mini-essay came out of a writing exercise (the first one in “The Practice of Poetry,” edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell).   It’s a collection of exercises written by poets.  The first one is from Ann Lauterbach and she just says to write about an early experience with words.    She says the purpose is to “trigger your initial experience with language” (3), and to link experiences with reading and writing.  I did the prompt and thought it was something worth archiving in my blog. I may keep working with it and better shape it–polish it, but here it is in its rough form. Also, I may have written something like this on the blog before because it’s a memory I come back to a lot. Whatever. Enjoy.

Each Sunday my parents took me to a meeting with their Christian fellowship. We met in an elementary school.  I was younger than six and too young, at least for me, to wonder what was the function of the room when it was not used for the Sunday meeting.  The room was simply where we went on Sundays before I went off to Sunday school; it was the place where I must sit still and endure three songs, sharing, and a prayer.  I recall a brown carpet, folding chairs.  The room was narrow and there was a hallway with a staircase nearby.  Sunday School was up these stairs and in another room that was small and also brown and had lots of bookshelves.  I was too young to wonder what kinds of books these were and I don’t know if I was old enough to read.  This is the very fact that makes me think that in this memory I was too young to read.  If I could, I would have been more interested in the books because I am pretty sure I have been obsessed with books since I knew how to use them.

Our church was never called church but called “fellowship” and our services were never called services but “meetings”, which now strikes me as a bit cult-like, but really, the gesture was meant well; the grown ups did not want to align themselves with the unattractive aspects of how Christianity had evolved over the years.

We began each meeting with singing; these songs were not planned out beforehand but requested on the spot from fellowship people.  In other words, we sang what other people felt like singing. It was democratic. We used a songbook somebody in the fellowship put together by numbering songs and sticking them in a folder with a table of contents.  (These folders were definitely brown, though the other brown details I am unsure of.  It could be that because these folders were brown that I see this entire memory in different shades of brown).  The lyrics were typed on an old type writer and I believe ridden with typos, though I didn’t notice this yet because, again, I couldn’t read.  Most of the songs were hymns, popular hippie christian songs (a crust of bread in a house of peace is worth much more than the finest feast), or songs people in the congregation wrote.  My mother had a song in this book that I would hear many times before I knew it was hers.

So, we were singing.  It was right before my father prayed for the kids to go off to Sunday school–or as I later joked, “prayed the kids out of there”–and one of the songs, called “Yahweh,” had an eerie tune.  I took interest in darkness even as a toddler and I tended to prefer songs set in a minor key.  I still prefer them.  In the song we sang, “Though I walk through the fire, I will not be scorched or burned.” I realized what the song was saying and thought about them somewhere along the lines of: whoa. shit.

I was sitting next to my Sunday school teacher, Claudine (a Swiss woman who was the mother of my best friend at the time), and I asked her what those words meant.  Why was the speaker of the song walking through fire (and the sea in an earlier verse)?  Wasn’t that dangerous?  She asked me to bring it up in Sunday School.

I don’t remember what Claudine said about it to the other children.  Undoubtedly, something about God’s protection. I don’t remember who else was in that room or what the other children said.   I probably said a lot.  I talked a lot then in class as I do now.  All I can remember is that I understood that the fire in the song was not a literal fire.  I think this was my first time understanding that language can be figurative, that language can have layers, that it can be used in different ways to connect to people.  In this case, an image: walking through fire unscathed.

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In my Spanish class, we did an exercise to help us remember how to use adjectives (aligning gender and number), and so we’d get a list of nouns and would have to describe them.  Pretty simple.  One of the words was “lago” or lake, and everyone, it seemed, wrote “húmedo,” or wet, and the profesor cracked up.  He said it was never appropriate to write that the lake was wet, because the lake is made of water.  Not even in poetry would we use this description.

In church, Sunday, the worship team (I wasn’t singing this week) led a song “I want to be where you are.”  The lyrics popped into my head this morning (because these songs get in your head like what).  The chorus goes: “I called, you answered/you came to my rescue and I/I wanna be where you are.”   It’s a pretty song, but to sing “I want to be where you are” to God is like calling a lake wet.  We can’t be where God is not.  Not in my experience, at least.

I just read the story of Jesus calling Matthew (perhaps this is why the song popped into my head, though that story is about Jesus calling and Matthew answering and the song is the other way around), and I’m amused that after deciding to follow Jesus, the next place Matthew goes is home, to throw a party for a bunch of ‘sinners.’  Jesus calls Matthew, and the next thing you know, he’s partying with him.  Maybe this verifies that there is no place where God is not.

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I used to be in a coverband here in Bangkok. (Good old Mozilla underlines “coverband” in red, which makes me smile because it makes me think that I might have made that word up, or at least, shoved the two words together to make one…) I write my own songs but someone had this sick idea that tourists only want to hear songs they know. This might be true. I don’t know, I rarely consider to myself to be a tourist, definitely not in Bangkok, and when I am a tourist, I tend to put all my energy into appearing like I’ve lived in that particular destination my entire life. It’s sort of a bummer to me to know that there is not really much opportunity to play my original songs for people here. My Thai friends don’t understand the English and most of my English-speaking friends don’t understand why I would listen to, let alone write, secular music. (That said, I do know some exceptions to these two types of friends that I’ve just thrown onto this blog entry.)

So, what we have here in Bangkok and Thailand is a humongous collection of coverbands. The interesting thing is, the songs these bands cover are mostly stuff I’m not familiar with. Here are some names of songs that are super popular here that I didn’t know before I came, or if I did know them, I never thought about them twice:

Hotel California Thai people are so nuts about this song.  Is everyone else too and I just didn’t know?

Tears from Heaven You’d think the song just came out yesterday.

Out of Reach I sang this with my coverband and every time the song started, I knew who the Thai women were in the audience because they’d start clapping.

All the Love in the World Do other Americans know who the Corrs are? Because I sure didn’t before I came here.

On Top of the World I think the Carpenter’s sing this?

Take It Easy The Eagles are like gods here, and my boss’s four year old son knows the words to this one.

When You Say Nothing At All This song cracks my shit up every time I hear it because I decided that it’s so popular here because the chorus, “You say it best when you say nothing at all,” probably describes, for so many, the language barrier between Thai/Farang couples. And I had heard this song before (isn’t it from Nottinghill?) but I always found it to be obnoxious.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain is a nice song, but I’d never heard it before I came here. I understand that I do have sort of strange taste in music, I guess, sometimes, maybe. See my “About” page.

And then there is this song called Linda, Linda, and another one called Lemon Tree, that I hear everywhere. I might have heard Lemon Tree before but I’m not sure. It’s a cute song, I can see why people like it. But I’m not sure why it’s always played for foreigners, unless it’s just that American’s aren’t as crazy about this stuff as the rest of the Farang world.

I really started this post because I wanted to think about my experience working within the confines of a cover-set. There can be room for creativity here, if the musicians allow for it. My band, I am very proud to remember, was great at interpreting the songs we played into their own musical language, if you will. I did most of the singing and had the best time with songs that women don’t usually sing, or at least, that I had never heard sing. I loved it when we covered “Losing My Religion,” because it’s such an amazing song, first of all, and I could just do it in my own way. I didn’t need to try to sound like Michael Stipe. We also did “Stuck in a Moment,” which I’ve never heard anyone else cover, so that was nice. It was a pleasant surprise how both of those came out. And our drummer added a hip-hop beat to “Kiss Me” by Six Pence None the Richer and so it became our own sort of thing.

And if the musicians who created these songs knew that Thailand (probably Asia in it’s entirety, or maybe the whole world?) was playing these songs over and over with no regard for copywright, would they get pissed? Like when Radiohead got pissed about Prince covering Creep? (We covered that one too, by the way…)

I prefer to hear the songwriter sing the song, but I do know that the cover-singer can be creative, too. And sometimes they do a better job than the original. I like to ponder superlatives like, “What’s the best _____ of all time?” and one of the ones I like to ponder the most is “What is the best cover of all time?” I’m pretty sure it’s Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I mean, the original just doesn’t compare. Observe:

ORIGINAL:

JOE COCKER:

What do you think is the best cover of all time?

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Do not think about tomorrow

Let tomorrow come and go.

Tonight, you got a nice warm boxcar

Safe from all the wind and snow

(Woody Guthrie)

This line has been my anthem. Woody is my hero and my dawg. It makes me laugh and reminds me to think about the present, which it seems that I have been urged to do lately. It’s very easy to think about the future because I’m about to go through some serious uprooting. I’ve spent the last year point seven getting comfortable here (really, it wasn’t that big of an adjustment) and now I feel like I have to start all over. Starting all over isn’t really that bad of a thing, but for the first time in my life, I don’t really want to. Is it because I’m getting older? Is it because I just fit really well here, where everyone is the same size as me and has a knack for making inappropriate jokes? Anyway, I don’t know how I did it, but I feel like I planted roots in this place.

This is why Woody’s words are comforting to me. Let tomorrow come and go–it will come and go, whether I let it or not. I love that he’s singing to a Hobo (Hobo’s Lullaby) because I totally feel like one right now. I’m going to India for two weeks, never staying in the same REGION for more than three days and then coming back to Thailand for two days and then hopping on a plane to the US where I suppose I will feel like a deer in the headlights while I use that 25 hour trip to try to figure out what in the sweet name of Jesus just happened to me.

But tonight, tonight I have a “nice warm boxcar,” so to speak. And this has been a theme for me. Not the boxcar, the now. I told P’N yesterday that God has been trying to get me to focus on the now for quite some time and I think he sent me over to her so she could teach me a thing or two about it. She was amused.

My boyfriend that I keep mentioning is also very good at looking at the now, which is also helpful. So I am well equipped to learn.

Lastly, I stumbled on Psalm 25 a few weeks ago and I keep coming back to it, particularly these verses:

4 Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;

5 guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.

Jesus is very much into thinking about the present, as we who know his teachings know, and like most of the things he said, I have to be reminded of them over and over again. “Teach me your paths,” is such a great idea that I have been mulling over. I am not a Universalist, but I believe Jesus is a part of everything that is good and true and merciful, and that our relationships with him are like paths and they do all look different, except that they all involve goodness, truth, love, and mercy. And this gives me confidence, that if I put my trust in God, I will be on a path that involves goodness, truth, love, and mercy, and a whole bunch of other wonderful, God related stuff. I thought of this a couple days ago. But was just reminded again when I noticed my officemate’s status on his MSN name: “Trust unto God and he will direct your paths.” (P’Neung is the only Catholic in the office besides my boss–the rest are Buddhists).

“Teach me your paths,” the Psalmist says. God does not mind repeating lessons until we get them.

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Another Song

Midwestern American Song (number twenty something)

Across the river where the old ghosts live

there are shrouded memories; piles of history;

seasons of rain and seasons of drought

Maybe this time we’ll cross to the other side.

On top of a temple, a transparent sun dwells

golden between two gray blankets of clouds. Today

all I can want is to hold your hand. Please say,

dodging the ways you are on your way here.

Will you tell me which part of Kreunteap I can claim for my own?

What will I tell my grandchildren about this place I never called home.

I never called home.

Beyond this jungle, a tropical tango

of violent flower beds; drowning colors; dead

songs of the ancient times brought back to life–

Oh, I’m terrified of all I can relate to.

Will you tell me which part of Ayutthaya I can claim for my own?

What will I tell my grandchildren about this place i never called home?

I never called home

Across the river where the old ghosts live, there are

shrouded memories. Piles of history.

Seasons of hope and seasons of doubt.

(Maybe this time…)

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