He Knows My Way

It’s been extremely hard to put roots down. Since moving to Portland in 2006, I’ve been planning my departure.

At the two year mark at PBC, I was so restless that I nearly quit. I was dying to be released from the yoke of being somewhere I didn’t want to be.

Despite my determination to leave school, I stuck it out and graduated from PBC in 2010, only to counter more restlessness.

Nothing makes you want to move like being stuck at a dead-end job for longer than you can bear. Even worse is the discouragement of knowing that doctors can’t help you regain your health. But it’s hard to stop trying when the false hope it creates gets you through the day.

My aching desire to make something of my life materialized in the form of auditioning at two music colleges and enduring months of waiting for the verdict. Both letters read, for different reasons, “We regret to inform you that you have not been admitted…”

I can remember cracking a few times, you know, like when you freak out and start beating the steering wheel and screaming at the top of your lungs. That sort of thing.

After a while, all the deferred hopes and failure descend like a thundercloud closes in on a single desert tree. God’s voice get’s buried.

I was sure that when I finally heard God’s voice there’d be a destination attached. “His answer certainly must involve moving”, I thought. But from what I can gather, that’s not it. Not yet anyway.

Despite the immense frustration I’ve felt this year, I still have the same goal: steward well the things with which God has entrusted me. His promise must hold true, that “He who is faithful in little will be faithful in much.”

Dark days strike with a vengeance, but may I always respond like Job who said, “He knows my way; when he has tested me, I will come forth as pure gold.”

Advertisements

Characters of the Imagination

Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to put to words what animals feel and think, based on their facial expressions and erratic behavior.  So take this as my attempt to give these animals a voice. Allow me to introduce:

The Fox

To me, the fox is not just a cunning creature with an ever growing appetite for thievery; he’s also a crafty salesman who digs himself into a hole with the personal facts he chooses to divulge. If he could just tame his tongue, he’d be able to close the deal.

Hi, I’m Fox!” he announces.

Nice to meet –

“I’ve got a bushy tail, and you can trust me!” interrupts Fox.

Wait, what do those two things even have in common?

Fox just stares….

Uh, you are very bug-eyed right now…something’s fishy, Mr. Fox!”

“I once bit a child in the park! Sign right here!”

My intuition say NO, Mr. Fox! (Door slams).

Just like that, Fox loses his client. Lucky for him, he is never completely in the hole. He’s still got stealth, which comes in handy when he’s running off with other people’s hard-earned goods.

The Bear

The Bear doesn’t just have an appetite for mischief, like the Fox; he has an appetite for you. “Come over to my place” Bear says, slyly. We’d love some company. Bear keeps telling you that the main course is “on its way.” But why does Bear have this look on his face like he just won the lottery – and he’s ready to cash in?

The Mountainlion 

The Mountainlion shares the Bear’s carnivorous appetite, but he’s more about the thrill. What can I say, Cougars love the chase!

Lion hopes you run from him. He meditates on it day and night, like he’s mobilizing an airstrike. One of his recurring  fantasies goes like this:

It’s mid afternoon, and there’s no sign of life for miles. Then suddenly, you hear a sinister laugh crackle through the canyon. Lion is letting his victim get a head start, while he drums his claws on a rock and smokes a cigar.

Lion’s been known to say, “If you ever run from me, I’ll chase you with such ecstasy that the last thing you’ll see is a grin from ear to ear on the face of your greatest nightmare. My advice: face me like a man.” (He says it like a boxer challenges his opponent before the match.)

There’s a whole slew of unethical activities on Lion’s record, but lying isn’t one of them. He’s true to his word.

Finagins the Cat

Finagins used to be the Palmer’s household pet, but recently got busted for clawing the leather furniture. Now, instead of pushing open the door to the room of yours truly to try and snuggle, he’s forced to find warmth and shelter elsewhere.

Oh no, Finny! Where will you go to escape the occasional frost of these mild pacific northwest winters?

If Finny could talk, I’m pretty sure he’d say something like, “WHAT happened? I know I was running off all the time with neighborhood kitties, and I know I sharpened my claws on your new furniture, but c’mon! It’s a new year, time for  Jubilee!”

Finnies sometimes makes a run through the house, only to get swooped up and sentenced again to the great outdoors where dogs chase you up trees, and homeless cats treat you like you’re not one of them.

“Oh, look who it is. It’s Fin”, they snicker. “Yeah, Fin, ha”, says the shamefully uncreative backup homeless kitty.

“How do you do, your highness? Can we get you some warm milk?”

Fin scowls, but he does not entertain their taunts. That’s because Fin hates being treated like an outsider, but loves the idea that he’s a king.

Life isn’t all bad for Fin. After all, Robby adores him. He holds him like a baby in his arms, and continues to, even as Fin squirms to get out of Rob’s stronghold. So no matter how much guys like Ryan Grover hate Finagins and hope for his ill, there’s still Robby. And one person’s love can take you a long way.

Finny would prefer the love of two people, or even three, but he perceives that the world is a harsh place. “If empathy was our currency” says Fin, “our economy would even more in shambles!” Well said, Fin. I can smell your cynicism from here.

“But whenever I confront the swirling chaos and hostility that encircles planet earth…”

Oh, you’re not done yet, philosopher?

“…I humbly take a bow, and hold up Robby’s love like it’s a nobel prize. Someone out there loves me, and that’s better than a warm bed.”

Review of Paul Simon’s “So Beautiful or So What?”

By John Adams

For a man who turned 70 last October, Paul Simon still sounds remarkably spry, much more musically creative and lyrically wise than most younger musicians yet still energetic and upbeat after all these years. After spending the 1960’s as the first half of the legendary Simon & Garfunkel duo, Simon has carved out a respectable solo career for himself since the early 70’s. Along the way, he’s established a reputation for adventurous musical syncretism (most notably on his 1980’s album, Graceland, which brought African instrumentation and rhythms into mainstream American pop music) and also as something of a spiritual seeker.

So Beautiful or So What picks up both of those threads and carries them further. The album’s music style is tinged by world music, employing exotic instruments such as the kora, celeste, marimba, and talking drum and melding African, Appalachian, Zydeco, and Native American influences (among many others) into a spicy gumbo that tastes good to the soul. Simon then uses this tasty music concoction as a launching pad from which to explore spiritual themes and spin tales about souls aspiring to make their lives into something significant and even beautiful.

The orienting number, and the first song Simon wrote for the record, is “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” a title which betrays both the hope and the urgency of Simon’s spiritual quest as an old man approaching death. The song samples sermons preached with gusto by the Rev. J.M. Gates, a fiery Southern Baptist preacher from the early 20th century. While the tone of the song is generally upbeat, its lyrics also reference the brokenness of the modern world (“Got a nephew in Iraq, it’s his third time back”) and there is perhaps an intentional irony in sampling Gates, since he was mostly known for preaching sermons attempting to warn people away from going hell. The hope of Christmas and of Heaven, Simon seems to imply, coexists with the darkness of the world and the horror of wasted lives.

The double-edged nature of ultimate reality is a theme that resurfaces at other points on the record: “Love is eternal, sacred light, free from the shackles of time,” Simon croons on “Love is Eternal Sacred Light, before continuing, “Evil is darkness, sight without sight. / A demon that feeds on the mind.” The choice of what we become, Simon seems to urge throughout, is ours to make. “I’m gonna tell my kids a bedtime story, a play without plot,” he sings on the album’s title track, easily the strongest number on the record. “Will it have a happy ending? / Maybe yes, maybe not. / I tell them life is what we make of it. / So beautiful or so what?”

The album at times feels like an old man’s retrospective take on his entire life: good, bad, and everything in between. In “Love and Hard Times,” Simon thanks God that he found his true love before it was too late, and “Dazzling Blue” recounts similar moments of bliss. “Questions for the Angels,” on the other hand, finds a homeless man in Brooklyn at the end of his rope, asking, “Who am I in this lonely world? / And where will I make my bed tonight?” and “Rewrite” is the story of a crazy Vietnam vet eking out a living at a local carwash, hoping to change a “so what” life into a “so beautiful” ending. “The Afterlife” ventures imaginatively into story after the story, imagining it as a place which requires a long process of waiting and change, but which eventually leads to a place where “you feel like swimming in an ocean of love and the current is strong, but all that remains when you try to explain is a fragment of song.” Simon’s mystical, poetic take on spirituality and life is moving and often beautiful, although it never does justice to the fullness of Biblical revelation.

At the same time, however, as Ben Witherington said in his review of the album, Simon seems to be a person who is “wide open to the Spirit,” a person who, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is being made into God’s instrument (a quote which interested Simon himself). Seeing as how Simon’s last album contained a song titled “I Don’t Believe,” perhaps this is an encouraging sign that the Lord of every heart is leading Simon closer to a relationship with himself. No matter what the ultimate outcome of our spiritual speculation, So Beautiful or So What? is valuable in its own right as the record of a lifetime of accumulated wisdom, and of a musician who has completely mastered his craft. It’s easily one of the year’s best albums.

Review of “Bon Iver”

By Deb AdamsI could never figure out why, but I used to have an unnatural disdain for Bon Iver. For those who see the countless times I listen to Bon Iver albums on Spotify may find this unbelievable, but it’s the truth.

Perhaps my perceived disdain for Justin Vernon’s music was in fact a reaction to the situation surrounding my first exposure to his work. When he made his appearance in 2007 with the single Skinny Love from For Emma, Forever Ago I was working a dead-end job for a construction company that was always one complaint away from a sexual harassment lawsuit.

So when Skinny Love came on the radio that first time in the company pick-up truck I was driving, I got turned off to the “My my my” of the chorus and thought, “What is this? This is awful!” Immediately I’d change the station.

On top of that, the For Emma album cover depicted a winter scene, and here I was, sweating in the company truck with no air conditioning. For me, albums with seasonal qualities should only being played at a certain times of the year. (You could say I’m slightly obsessive compulsive in this area.)

As far as his 2009 EP Blood Bank, I completely ignored it. When I first heard Roslyn from the Twilight soundtrack, I wasn’t yet drinking the Bon Iver cool-aid. (Yes, I’m aware that I not only just admitted to seeing Twilight, but also to liking it so much that I would check out the soundtrack.) For some reason, I just wasn’t struck by his music, even after hearing his beautiful harmonies with St. Vincent.

But here is where I most misjudged Vernon: I judged his talent according to some insane measurement I had created in my head that had little to do with his musical abilities.

But this past Fall that all changed. I was in my dorm room one day listening to Bon Iver in its entirety, and it happened: I fell in love. At times, his deeply personal and somewhat nonsensical lyrics would fill the room as I was shutting my eyes to sleep; but most of the time, they carried me through my daily piles of homework.

Once I started listening, I couldn’t shut it off. The way I fell in love with this album was completely different from any other I’ve ever listened to: I felt like Bon Iver represented where I was currently in my life.

Although the meaning of his songs are at times lost to me in between lines of poetry, the lyrics seem to represent a sense of longing and loneliness.  Underneath his falsetto, which I’ve learned to love, he sings sweet, sad lyrics about many things, mostly love.

Every song on Bon Iver is named after a particular place (some real and some made up, like “Michicant”) and is supposed to conjure up the feeling of being in one of those places. Although Calgary is the only one those places I’ve actually visited, I can still imagine what his experiences must have been like simply by letting his music take me there.

Eventually, I know I will no longer imagine the locations mentioned in the titles (such as my favorites, Holocene and Calgary), but will instead reflect on the places I happened to be during that passage of time in which his album kept me such faithful company.

So instead of disdain, I now feel regret for taking so long to actually give him a fair chance. Who knows if I would have taken to his early works given a different first context. But whatever the case, I know I will be giving him my full attention from now on.

Review of Radiohead’s “King of Limbs”

By Luis de Jesus

It’s been four years since the innovative release of In Rainbows, Radiohead’s last studio album. Being a band known for their proclivity to experiment with their music and methods for album releases, the bar was set rather high for the follow up. But whose bar is it? The bar certainly is not Radiohead’s, who have displayed multiple times that they don’t cater to the industry or even to fan expectations. The last word there is the key. When it comes to a new record from the Oxford quintet, one must be quick to dispose of any preconceived notions one has about the band and approach the music with a fresh pair of ears. This is no easy task, for Radiohead has a rich musical history spanning since the early nineties, but it is a necessary one.

Allegedly inspired by a thousand year old oak tree in the Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, eights songs here are pure studio creation, made up of intricate tapestries of woven drum loops and samples. In fact, The King of Limbs is by far Radiohead’s most percussive and beat driven work to date, drawing comparisons to Flying Lotus’ masterwork Cosmogramma (which also featured Yorke on a track). In fact, this album is so beat-centric that the band has even taken on a second drummer to assist in performing the songs live.

“Bloom” starts the journey with a haunted piano sample before plunging the listener into a thicket of percussion loops and skittering bleeps. As the song progresses, additional loops are added and piled on top of each other until the listener finds themselves surrounded by swirling atmospherics and even trumpets. The next few songs follow this similar song structure of percussion loops and sampled sounds, until the instrumental “Feral”, when Thom’s voice itself gets the sample treatment in the form of chopped up, wordless syllables that sound as if they are trying to escape from the claustrophobic drumming.

The second half of the record can be seen as the more accessible half. Kicking off with the groove oriented “Lotus Flower”, Thom’s falsetto hovers delicately over the hook as maracas shake and hands clap awkwardly in the background. The album highlight “Codex”, easily one of the band’s most beautiful songs, is a piano ballad whose beauty is enhanced significantly by the total absence of a beat. If the album up to this point has had the listener wandering through a dense forest, “Codex” is the clearing with a lake in the midst of it. This imagery is further assisted as Thom sings “The water is clear, and innocent” and the piano and trumpet notes gently wash over you.

“Give Up The Ghost” has probably the only strummed acoustic guitar sound on the entire album, with the percussion being merely a hand tapping the guitar body on the rests. The beat comes back on closer “Separator”, which is one of the more straightforward songs found on the album.

With The King of Limbs, Radiohead has created a paradoxical album. It is both at once challenging and approachable. This album can be listened to both casually and deeply. Due to the nature of the way the songs were constructed one would benefit greatly by listening with headphones all the way through at least once. There are so many patterns and rhythms that develop amidst the variety of loops that there is something new to be heard nearly every time. In addition, despite the digital cut and paste manner of its construction, the album sounds remarkably organic and earthy. It might not have been the immediate album everyone was expecting after In Rainbows, but it’s a great representation of where the band is at the moment and a features songs that are strong enough to stand with some of the best in Radiohead’s rich canon.

Review of Eisley’s “The Valley”

Originally posted on Luis de Jesus’ blog

Though no one wishes for it, heartache often ignites a creative fire in songwriting. In short, great pain makes great art. If harnessed, the negative feelings and conflict can enliven the shadiest corners of our souls. As a passive cry is raised to a roar and as a spark bursts into flame, so exasperation pushes suppressed feelings beyond our threshold of timidity.

It’s certainly true in the Dupree’s case. Their latest, “The Valley” reaches deep into the well of grief and disappointment, only to draw up a refreshing, redefined and emotionally bold new Eisley.

On the standout track, “Smarter”, Chauntelle chugs her powerchords with a hint of metal influence, as if to say, “we aren’t your average gals”. Meanwhile Sherri and Stacy’s voices in “Watch it Die” are ripe with heartbreak when they sing:

“My love for you has died tonight, I don’t know how to own you

My love for you was faulty, now baby just watch it die”

It gives me chills; I can feel the emotional sting, like a father hearing his daughter sob over a recent breakup. Instantly, I want to console. Yet by the record’s finale, the songs reveal their part to play in the healing process.

The venting-through-song process has undoubtedly strengthened the family band’s bond with each other, and in time, they’ll have the grace to turn over a new page in life, making peace with the past.

From cover to cover, the 11 tracks move straight to the point—the majority being catchy, upbeat 3 1/2 minute songs laced with well-crafted harmonies. The closer, “Ambulance” comes almost too soon. Or perhaps, not too soon. It’s nice to find an album that doesn’t drag.

Although a divorce and broken engagement are never easy topics to write about, the Duprees work through the shattered dreams with an assurance that the lovesickness isn’t forever. Brighter days are ahead. Whether they’re on a mountaintop or in the Valley, music has proven to be a close companion. And we reap the benefits of their toil.

Thank you Eisey for showing us that what starts as heartache has the potential to turn into something beautiful.

Aside

At my previous job, I worked with a JW (I shall call him Jack) who didn’t believe in miracles. I felt great compassion for him.

Jack always looked lonely. When he spoke of his life, he had a disappointed tone; he wanted to be so much more–a musician, a husband, a success. After all, who dreams of valeting cars in your latter years?

When I told him about my Dad living through two brain aneurysms, he shook his head and said, “I know this is a sensitive subject for you, but God doesn’t still heal. That ended with the NT church.”

Imagine believing in a God who doesn’t use his power to restore the lives of hurting, dying people? I’d prefer to be an atheist.

“But listen, Jack. The medical expert over Dad told my mom point blank, ‘He won’t be the same man. He’s the most severely damaged someone can be neurologically.’ But our prayer overrode the doctor’s verdict; my Dad is back to teaching college classes.”

Jack looked at me with pity, as if to say, “This poor kid is believing a lie.”

But I looked at him with compassion. He wasn’t married and he knew he probably never would be; and his chances of landing a good job this late in life (without an outstanding resume) were slim.

Jack didn’t believe in miracles. But I witness them every day. Usually, they can’t be seen with the human eye, for they’re orchestrated by God’s spirit. The inner work that happens in a person is by far the greatest miracle.

It’s the greatest, and it’s most jaw dropping. One pastor I know used to deal drugs and use violent means to secure his deals. His encounter with Christ radically changed him. He’s now one of the most selfless men I’ve ever met, and he deeply cares for people.

But God doesn’t only extend his mighty hand to the killers and drug lords. He’s been faithful even to me.

I used to very bitter toward my parents for reasons I won’t disclose. All I can say is that certain disappoints fractured me, and I was too young to know how to react. Even when I wanted to forgive, I couldn’t.

I’d sit at the dinner table and not even look Dad in the eye. He’d come into my room to talk, and I’d ignore him. It was horrible, and I knew it, but something inside me wouldn’t let go. I was like a wounded soldier that wouldn’t let anyone close enough to help.

I still don’t know how He did it, but God slowly and delicately removed my bitterness like it was a piece of shrapnel. My bitter feelings were not overcome because I read a book or reasoned myself out of it; it was a supernatural act of God.

I could name plenty of other terrible things that God has pulled me out of, but that’s not my purpose here. My point is, God still does miracles–both visible and invisible.

Once, as Jack and I were waiting for the bus, we got to talking.

“You know, Gabe, I used to play guitar like you. I had dreams of being in a band, and I always wanted to be good with women. Neither ever panned out. Pretty unimpressive, huh?”

I really didn’t know what to say. So I tried to answer like Jesus answered people in the Gospels.

“You know Jack, lucky for us, our significance isn’t based on how successful we are in life. God judges our character. Most people tie their personal worth to their accomplishments. But that’s a terrible way to live, and you’ll never be satisfied. Although what we do is extremely important, ultimately it’s not about what we do, but who we are.”

Jack (as I have called you here), I wish you the best and hope you keep picking up the guitar. May you find what you’re looking for, the truth, and may it remind you that you’re deeply loved by Father God.