If the lyrics sound vaguely familiar, it’s because you might know the Moby version of this song. I won’t link to it because I don’t want to dilute the effect of Cash’s interpretation, which I find to be an intoxicating combination of chilling, inspiring, heartening, and terrifying. With all the horrific things going on around the world these days, even the most committed atheist wants some powerful entity, higher or not, to cut down those who do such terrible things.
In a number of months, after the weather turns cold again and the darkness of winter is creeping closer and closer, I’m going to thatched-roof, one-room hut on the beach, at the southernmost tip of Baja California in Mexico. My thatched-roof, one-room hut is in the absolute middle of nowhere. I will wake up, open the screen door, step out onto the beach, and walk down to the ocean for a swim. Then I might read in the shade. I might nap. I might take a walk. I might have a beer in the evening. That’s all there is to do, and I will do this for an entire week. Until that week starts, I will listen to this song and imagine myself there.
Islam is a beautiful religion. One of its most wonderful aspects, for me, is the Call to Prayer. I’ve heard it in in Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, and the West Bank. Even for a Christian, it has a calming, centering effect.
I am completely remiss in not posting this last Sunday, when the holy month of Ramadan officially began. In the Islamic tradition, the month of Ramadan marks the month the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhamed. Ramadan is also the time when the doors of Paradise are open and the doors of Hell are closed, with the devils within chained up.
To all of my Muslim readers: Ramadan Mubarak. Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair.
Wood varnish, modern dance, and New York City. Those are the three things that come to mind when I hear this.
Wood varnish: I am seven. My mom refinished…man. I lost count of the number of things she refinished in the house I grew up in. Our beautiful old upright piano, tables, chairs. Not to mention all of the other home improvement projects she had going on. A Michael Jones cassette was part of the music rotation she would put on the paint-splattered radio-tape player that kept her company when the fumes were too strong for a kid to deal with. Michael Jones was soon supplanted by Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” and I took “Pianoscapes” for myself. It heavily influenced my own early compositions. Don’t get me wrong – this music isn’t that great. But what it did do for a little kid writing her own stuff was make it okay to experiment with melodic changes, time signature changes, and rhythmic changes. It also made it okay to write “songs” that were more than ten minutes long. You’re welcome, neighbors.
Modern dance: I am ten. I took a bunch of different styles of dance when I was a kid but modern dance was the only one that I really got into because – surprise! – there aren’t a whole lot of rules. Perfect. One homework assignment was to create our own dance and set it to music. The person who came up with the most popular dance (decided by a very public vote) would choreograph a whole group routine. I used “Tapestry.” I did not win.
New York City: I am thirteen. For my thirteenth birthday, I got to go to New York City and visit my godmother. She lived by the courthouse in Manhattan and worked in the fashion industry. She was (and still is), very tall and very glamorous. She took me shopping to buy my very first make-up (Clinique – what’s up). She bought me my first pair of black cigarette pants. We ate escargot and went to the theater. It was incredible. We also went to a bookstore that had a CD section and I bought the CD version of the now six-year-old cassette tape. I put it on her CD player when we got back to her enormous apartment and I remember walking around her very modernist two-bedroom, looking at the city lights glowing in the dark, with this piece pouring out of the speakers. That’s a very happy memory.
It can take a long, long, long time to figure things out. The sermon in church this Sunday*, preached by the absolutely marvelous Stan Fornea, talked about this at length. Specifically the idea of mystery, and how we as Christians, and American Christians to boot, are problem-solvers: we don’t like dealing with the unknown. We like certainty and facts. We apply this to the religious sphere by attributing things to God that aren’t really God’s problem. As hard as it is to swallow, some stuff might just be completely random.
I think this is absolutely maddening and also delightfully freeing. To not have to ascribe meaning to a screw-up, a bad day, a good day, a human interaction, any of it – to not have to dig around in the dirt for some ultimate purpose – means we can throw up our hands, say “aw the hell with it,” and try again. Or not! Devoid of the suffocatingly cloying “everything happens for a reason” maxim, a fluke is just a fluke. You’re not destined for anything. We aren’t forced to give a damn. It’s kind of great.
“How come I end up where I’ve started? How come I end up where I went wrong?”
Who knows. But you get to decide whether, and how, you want to figure it out.
*Yeah, it says Luis Leon; it’s Rev. Fornea. Trust me. Also – you’ll have to trust me on this too – Rev. Fornea preached without notes. He’s amazing.
Hooray, climate change! Thanks for making the temperatures hurl themselves from the 90s to the 50s in the space of a day! Miri it is that we might get to look forward to bizarro-world weather swings like this as our new normal, and the phrase “wardrobe-planning” take on a new scope. I don’t own a car and already judicious with my energy usage at home, so I’m not sure what more I can do reduce my carbon footprint that wouldn’t equally reduce my living standards to those of our friendly English composer “Anonymous” in 1225. But at least I’d have pretty songs to sing.
Miri it is while sumer ilast with fugheles song, oc nu
neheth windes blast and weder strong. ei ei what this
niht is long. and ich with wel michel wrong, soregh and
murn and fast.
Merry it is while summer lasts with the song of birds; but now draws near the wind’s blast and harsh weather. Alas, Alas! How long this night is! And I, most unjustly, sorrow and mourn and fast.
This sounds like Thompson Twins, Lou Reed, and U2 got together and wrote a song. In fact when I first heard it I thought it was a lost New Wave track. Wrongedy-wrong-wrong. Panama is a new band from Australia. The driving rhythm and steady bass guitar makes it sound totally U2 with a dash of New Order and Depeche Mode, while the fairly consistent volume level reminds me of Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle.” This is good song for a long night-time drive, or a cold and snowy Monday.