Sunday, January 02, 2005


Jan 05 email newsletter
Vol. 2, No. 1

At 1:20 p.m. today, persistent rain from the grey, overcast sky turned to sleet. It’s about 26 degrees outside, expected to fall to 21 or so by 5 p.m. before, I guess, kinda settling in cold for the night.

It’s fitting weather for one of the last days of 2004, a somber year for the world and for me personally -- a year where, or when, many of us must strain to recall the best moments. Here are three:

* the waitress I saw Tuesday who’s still got some sweetness left in her young face, all the sweeter seeming, perhaps, because it’s sure to fade;

* so many of the children floating through my mind, whether at their best or their saddest, who face such promise and such peril -- the little girl, 8 or so, getting into the music as she danced to a live band New Year’s Eve a year ago, and the older girl, almost 18, who slept too many nights alone behind churches or restaurants, but is resolutely optimistic (somehow, these two count as one); and,

* the picture on the wall near my computer of a beautiful, intelligent young woman beginning to become wise as she continues to chase a dream.

Sure, it’s the opposite of exaggeration to recall only three “best” moments. There were many more, some of them just as fleeting and some of them -- often, those involving family and friends -- that last a lifetime. Not all of the moments involve young women, either. This morning, I talked to my mother and came within an hour or so of completing a too-long project to get one of my father’s tapes transferred to CD with a cover photo and liner notes. He sings and plays fiddle, bass, steel guitar, guitar, and keyboards on 22 country classics.

This afternoon, I play a little game. You can play, too. From the 400 or so CDs I heard in 2004, from the 4,000 or more songs, I choose the 18 songs -- they’ll fit on an 80-minute CD -- that spoke to me most clearly during a year when a mother cut off her own baby’s arms to send the child to God, a woman cut the baby from another woman’s womb, and thousands of people die in unnecessary war and thousands starve to death while so many of us eat too much.

Here’s the CD of my life (the best I can do with other people’s words and music), taken from Texas CDs released in 2004.

1. "Wish I Was (a grain of sand playing in a baby’s hand, falling like a diamond chain into the ocean)" sung by Cowboy Johnson, A Grain of Sand: A Collection of Mickey Newbury Songs (written by Newbury).

2. "Eve Takes the Fall" by Lisa Markley, Live at Gloria Dei Nights, in which Markley points out that man toils, and woman bleeds.

3. "’52 Les Paul" by Michael O’Neal, Dark Side of a Small Town, shares a whole, complicated history – and, most likely, a future -- in a seemingly simple transaction.

4. "Hearts Break" by Slaid Cleaves, Wishbones, and that’s just the matter-of-fact way it is.

5. "War Prayer" sung by Kimmie Rhodes, Lost & Found (written by Rhodes and Gary Nicholson), reminding us to be careful what we ask for.

6. “The Orphan Song” by Kristy Kruger, An Unauthorized Guide to the Human Anatomy, sorrow and misfortune know no borders.

7. "Love in the Wasteland" by Jay Johnson, Royalbluemoon, some of the best pick-up lines, or loveliest sentiments, ever sung.

8. "One Drum" sung by Bonnie Whitmore, Picking up Pieces (written by Whitmore and Harmony McGill), what a sexy love song.

9. "Into the Mystic" sung by Lavelle White, Into the Mystic (written by Van Morrison), a groovy love song.

10. "Cold As It Gets" by Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream, reminds us how rotten the world can be.

11. "Runnin’ Away" sung by Eliza Gilkyson, Land of Milk and Honey (written by her father, Terry Gilkyson), as matter-of-fact existential as the Cleaves song.

12. "Midnight Train" sung by Joe Ely, The Flatlanders: Wheels of Fortune (written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore), death’s trip.

13. "Death Came a Knockin’" sung by Ruthie Foster, Stages (traditional); my, my, we seem to have taken a somewhat spiritual (whatever that means) turn here.

14. "Ain’t Got No Chains (no rattlin’ death a-followin’ me)" by Doug Burr, The Sickle & the Sheaves.

15. "Quiet Me" sung by Terri Hendrix, The Art of Removing Wallpaper (written by Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle), a reminder of the possible peace inside.

16. "World So Full" by Jon Dee Graham, The Great Battle, a reminder of all the goodness outside.

17. "Let Us Build a Monument (that we don’t understand)" by Beaver Nelson, Motion.

18. "Toes" sung by Norah Jones, Feels Like Home (written by Lee Alexander and Jones), a reminder to jump right in sometimes instead of cautiously sticking your toes in the water.

That’s it. You play, too; share yours with me.

(This column took longer to write than usual. Now, the ice begins to make pretty patterns on one of the windows of my magic castle. Perhaps, later, I’ll go outside to see how the trees look in moonlight.)