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The Revelator at Calvary

I.

The word came from Bethany,
“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

I have learned,
though your ways are—
these three years on—
often veiled to me,
impenetrable as a stone-sealed tomb,
yet to watch, to notice,
to store up your words
and moves and deeds.

I saw the shadow
cross your face;
I heard the catch,
ever so slight,
as you reassured
(them? us? you, yourself?)
“This affliction
is not for death,
but glory.”

II.

Now, as I stand here
and watch you hang,
I remember.

After two days time,
we turned, and came again to Judea.
As we walked, you told us,
“He sleeps, but I will wake him.”
But I still—
these three years on—
cannot see in the dark.

Though blind, I watch on…
Though deaf, I listen still…

Once more, (always once more)
begin the slow unfolding.

III.

When Martha,
clothed in her grief,
cried out:
“Lord, If you had been here,
my brother would not have died,”
your reply fell on ears
filled up with the tears and blood
of years,
wasted in the wilderness
of our father’s stony hearts
and of our mother’s rigid, salt-pillar necks.
Though I clung to your words,
forbid myself to lose a single syllable,
I did not hear.

And when you wept with Mary,
I watched your body heave
with sobs, deep and reckless,
watched you spit with anger
for the death of a friend.
I captured and kept these bitter pictures,
and my heart was moved,
but I did not see.

So when you called the dead man’s name,
and he stumbled forth,
confused, disoriented,
hands and feet yet bound,
eyes, ears, and mouth
still captive to his burial clothes,
I felt a kinship with him,
as if he was my brother,
as if it was my body and blood being
called forth from it’s sepulchral inertia
by the sound of a loud voice,
at once familiar and foreign.

IV.

Still, you hang,
(weak)ening,
and the impossible approaches.
Still, I watch and listen,
struck dumb,
seeing, but not perceiving,
hearing, but not understanding.

“Lord, If you had been here,
my brother would not have died,”
they said.

But today Lazarus lives,
by the word of your mouth,
while you suffer, bleed
and keep silent
as death asserts his reign
once more.

All is lost.

V.

Without warning,
all is plunged into darkness;
the cries of pain, the jeers of the onlookers,
the wails of the mourners…
all recede
into silence
.

And within this tomblike stillness,
I see…

Lazarus, my brother,
emerges from the pitch,
but he is many,
thousands and tens of thousands,
their burial clothes torn like a veil,
revealing eyes
set ablaze with wonder.

A voice,
familiar and foreign, speaks a single word,
“Ephphatha,”
and from their ears
blood and water flow,
as from a pierced side.

A terrible and wonderful noise
erupts from everywhere
and nowhere;
a song, a victory march,
both lullaby and reveille.
My brothers and I, enveloped,
are lifted up by love and song,
and with a cloud of voices,
we sing.

Up and in, yet beyond our reach,
a pillar of cloud flashes and turns,
a thunderhead with no beginning and no end.
I know,
I have ever known,
that which conceals itself within;
that which i was made
to gaze upon,
and love,
and be made whole.

And from the cloud,
your voice, strong and clear,
speaks, as it spoke to Martha:
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

VI.

The vision departs.
I, bound once more to the dirt,
look up,

as you, my God,
give up your spirit.

Oh, terrible beauty.
May it never and always be.

Jesus, the Christ,
help my unbelief.

                            -April 2014, The 5th Week of Lent

Quote IconWhen music affects us to tears, seemingly causeless, we weep not, as Gravina supposes, from “excess of pleasure;” but through excess of an impatient, petulant sorrow that, as mere mortals, we are as yet in no condition to banquet upon those supernal ecstasies of which the music affords us merely a suggestive and indefinite glimpse.
Edgar Allen Poe
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The Evolution of A Song(writer) - “When I’m Gone”

So, this might be a little bit nerdy, but I find the creative process, from initial idea to finished(abandoned?) product to be really interesting to read about.  I love getting a glimpse into the way that someone moves from point a to point b (or c,d,e, so on & so forth…), and all the bunny trails that they may chase before they finally arrive at the place that “feels right”. So over the next few days, I’m going to dissect one of the tunes from my This Machine Sings Grace EP, “When I’m Gone”, which I think probably had the most interesting and longest gestation period of all the tunes on the record and certainly went through the biggest transformation(s).

"When I’m Gone" is, like all of the songs on the EP (with the exception of "Jesus", a Velvet Underground cover), a song that tells a piece of a larger story, and it was written with that in mind. That story will be much more fully fleshed out on my upcoming full length, Saint Croix.  Anyway, it’s not the oldest song that will appear on that record, but it is the first one that I had written in nearly 3 years for the project, which I had started and abandoned a number of times since it’s initial conception about eight years ago.

At the time that this song was written, I was falling in love again with the sort of story-song form that I had abandoned for quite some time in favor of electronic music - ambient soundscapes, remixes, music for pictures and the like.  I’ve been a fan of electronic music for a long time, and after my band broke up in 2005, I slowly but surely moved more and more in that direction, and away from the more traditional pop-song form that had been my wheelhouse to that point.

There were a couple of reasons for the move in this direction. First of all, I was used to playing with a band who made a BIG sound. Suddenly, I was making music alone for the first time in, well, ever and electronic music had appeal in the sense that I could, as a single guy with a computer, continue to make a big sound. Secondly, and probably just as impactful (maybe more so), was the fact that I’d lost confidence in my abilities as a songwriter. Without the Rosewood boys at my side as a creative team pushing me to write, offering ideas and feedback, and just giving me a reason to create consistently, I wasn’t sure I had the ability to take my fledgling tunes and make them compelling. I gave into “the resistance” in a big way, and so free-form soundscapes and such were a way in which I could scratch a creative itch without investing to much emotionally in my work.  Don’t get me wrong, in many ways, it was a fun detour, and I learned a ton about different elements of sound design and production, but for me it was ultimately a dead end.  If you’re interested, you can listen to (and if you want, download) a selection of tunes from this period below.

Perhaps ironically, just as EDM started to take off over the last few years, I started to lose interest and have a real desire to pick up my guitar again.  I found myself listening to classic songwriters like Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen again as well as current torch-bearers like Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle, Gillian Welch, Josh Ritter, Hayes Carll, Jason Isbell and many others. I found myself savoring stories and reconnecting with the way that words and music, that may be simple on their own, can combine in ways that have meaning deeper than they could ever convey on their own. I was falling in love with craft again.

It was in this time that “When I’m Gone” emerged and with it, the intent to finally finish the project that will be Saint Croix.  Below you’ll find the single mic recording that I did as soon as I finished the song. As I mentioned before, I was listening to a ton of Hank Williams and Bob Dylan at the time, and you can hear it in the incredibly derivative performance that I give in this demo, but I was excited about the song. Lyrically, it has a classic country feel to it that I really like, and the structure is a little different than the vs-chrs-vs-chrs-bridge-chrs-chrs that dominates radio these days, but it still feels hooky (to me, anyway).

Ultimately, this song kickstarted my return to serious writing and recording, but it wasn’t long before I felt like the style in which I had originally written it felt borrowed. I knew that I wanted to pursue a more traditional form of songwriting than I had been, but after years of playing in a Big Rock band, followed by years wandering in a wilderness of electronic sound, I wasn’t quite sure what my sound was anymore.  What followed was a long period of exploration that I will continue to document for you all tomorrow. :)

In the meantime, listen to the original demo below, and the download my new EP, This Machine Sings Grace, here and listen to where the song ended up.

Hope you enjoy,

B

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An Update

Hello all -

I apologize for a bit of silence this last week.  I’ve been at home, having a bit of a staycation and spending some time with my family before I dive into the whirlwind that will be the last 2 months of 2013.  I will continue to post over the coming weeks about the who, what, where, when, why and how of my forthcoming record, St. Croix, but wanted to share a few things now that have solidified in the last week as I’ve been working out details and planning the months ahead, leading up to the release.

The first and most exciting piece of news has a bit of a story of it’s own.  Over the last year I’ve been writing a lot of music, and with more intention behind it than I’ve had in years. When I began to write, I had a pretty clear outline of what it was that I wanted to do with the record these songs would eventually compose.

As long as I’ve been listening to music, I’ve had a pretty deep love for the album format, and particular those rare gems where every song seems to be a piece of a greater whole. I’m not only talking about “concept records” here (although I can geek out on those with the nerdiest of music aficionados), but bodies of song that somehow manage to coalesce into something that is so much more special for the way they fit together as a single piece. People have been proclaiming the album format dead for years at this point, but it’s still my favorite way to listen to music.

For my first solo release, I had a plan for a record that would tell a story in the way that many of my favorite albums do.  I had an outline and began writing. I got probably 80 percent of the way down the road to fleshing out the narrative I initially planned, and then things took a turn. I started writing these other songs that just didn’t seem to fit. So the plan changed and I decided to do an EP that would include a few of the songs from the original record and a few of the new songs and then do the full record in 2014. Thus the idea for Saint Croix was born.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. It felt like something was missing. So last week I went back and played through the whole mess, everything I’ve written in the last year, as well as some that were older, but have recently taken on new life, and out of that mess something unexpected emerged.  I had written a record… Not the one I initially set out to write, but one that had a definite structure and theme and flow. It’s less linear, in a storytelling sense, than the record I originally planned, but more personal as well. So, as of last week, Saint Croix has officially become a full length.

This means a few things. First of all, it inevitably means that the full length record will be coming out a bit later into next year than I intended.  It will take some time to record these extra songs, but I’m convinced in the end it will be worth it.

However, I don’t want to keep you waiting, so…

December 23rd you can expect an early Christmas present.

A sampler of sorts. 3 songs from the record. A pre-taste to get you all ready for what’s yet to come.

I’m really excited to share some music with you all.  It’s been a long time coming, and I’m proud of these songs.

Get excited. Be Well. Let’s Rock.

B

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Crawling to the River’s Edge (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts that will run weekly exploring the journey towards the Saint Croix EP.

I’m hoping on the words of a song I once heard,

Though I can’t recall when.

Said “A man’s gotta die before he can live again.”

-From “Saint Croix (After Mojave)”

One of the last songs recorded for Rosewood Fall was a short, tired song of defeat called “Mojave”. It was written, if memory serves, while I was still in college; before there was really a band, before there was a “record deal” (with no guarantee of an actual record, thus rendering it in reality more of an “indentured servitude deal”), before the cycle of write—>record—>submit—>wait for the dreaded “we don’t hear the hit yet” reply from the label—>repeat became a soul-destroying, joy-sucking reality that defined my whole life.

Recording “Mojave” was, in some senses, an admission of defeat in and of itself… A song that totally eschews the Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus approach that we had attempted countless times over the previous 2 years while chasing radio-friendliness. Instead, a single stanza. 4 lines. No repeats.

The Mojave desert is bleeding tonight.

To weary to run, to wasted to fight.

Crossed out of Nevada, left nothing but ruin.

Baby, make up my bed, I’m coming home soon. 

I knew that it would be seen as a throwaway by the ones we needed to impress in order to move our career forward. I didn’t care anymore. I think we’d all known for a while how it was going to end, anyway. None of us were going to get what we wanted, so we were simply waiting out the clock until we could go our separate ways.

By the time we finally committed this song to ones and zeros, it prescience was eerily apparent. I was nearing an end, bloodied and bruised, wandering around in the wilderness, beat up by two years of rejection and increasingly unhealthy ways of coping with the regular ego-batterings. I instinctively knew that I needed to go “home”, but I had long ago burned my maps, and with them any sense of where that might be. Hell, I didn’t even know what it looked like. What I did know, or thought I knew, was that there were really only two options for me: somehow find my way back to this elusive place of safety, or bleed out in the desert.

What I didn’t imagine was that these two options were not mutually exclusive.

Work has begun! My first recorded output post-Rosewood Fall will be available sometime in late 2013/early 2014.  St. Croix. Seven song EP. Songs about living and dying and dying to live.

If God wills, a full length will follow within the year.

Back on the horse and she’s prancing quite nicely! Can’t wait for you all to hear this!

Love,

B