Saturday, June 02, 2007


Wide awake at 4 a.m. Touch the music like a lover, slowly moving your hands. Feel the eager, clinging, hot-blooded, wandering embrace that the music returns in the pre-dawn chill of the spring morning with countless starry points above in the dark, thick night.

Soon, the beginnings of another East Texas symphony will come from the silence that lasted two or three hours after the coyotes quite howling, coming from the velvet night. What we don’t hear can be just as important as what we do. Soon, a single cry from an owl, and the second owl will answer. Soon, the dogs, Ginger and Jazz, will begin to bark at ghosts in the woods, or more likely deer moving almost silently around the bramble bushes. Soon, other birds will begin to summon daylight with their noisy little chirps that will never have the owls’ gravity.

Now, the rhythm of the music begins to move us physically. Now, the melody of the music touches our emotions. Now, we begin to anticipate the harmony – the patterns of relationships among the various anticipated sounds – that will touch us intellectually. Now, we begin to anticipate the timbre – the individual sounds, and the sounds that the sounds make together – that will touch us spiritually. These are the holy Trinity of the music: 1) the physical, 2) the emotional and intellectual, and 3) the spiritual. They are here, a couple of hundred yards from where the small flow of the Neches begins to think about becoming a river.

Physical: touch/feel, sight, smell, taste, the sound itself, time (at least in the western concept), perhaps weariness.

Emotional and intellectual: absence, affirmation, celebration, and connection; absurdity, amusement, belief, coherence, identity, meaning, passage, permission.

Spiritual (appetite): ego/sense of self, yearnings for whatever, satiation/goodness/beginning, emptiness/evil/end.

The music we embrace, and that embraces us, is elemental, sometimes, like someone we love, hard to really know. There is sometimes more depth than what we may imagine; that depth can be a muse’s whisper in the wind, like rustling in the trees.

Soon, it will be daylight on Friday, a small hint of rain in the air. Now, rather than settling for someone’s CD on the player, I search through my 2007 so-far favorites for some of the best, often enigmatic songs that fit this restless “time out of time.” I embrace these songs like lovers; their words and music embrace me, sleepless in the early morning dark.

First, because I wish I could fall asleep, the jazzy “Fell Asleep Driving,” written by Paul Slavens and Kelly Higgins, sung beautifully by Lisa Markley. It’s a piano-and-vocal, metaphorical song about “driving on through the lunatic night” that washes over me, though I understand it better spiritually than I do intellectually.

Then, “Sugarite” from Abra Moore: Lyrically simple, steeped in soulful, semi-psychedelic music and vocals, it shares the story of a wandering woman who follows the darkness, “pining for the lightning,” and reaching through the rain.

Ruthie Foster turns Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor” into a classic Sam Cooke-style, poetic, physical R&B piece: “baby remember all the things that we did when we slept together in the blue behind your eyelids, baby, sweet baby.”

Williams is a natural next, so I play her edgy, emotional “Unsuffer Me.” In the album’s liner notes, she quotes her father, poet Miller Williams: “You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” This brilliant song is so true to her dad’s sentence that the careful listener should understand its ache without even trying to intellectualize it.

“Enough,” a slow rock song from Nathan Hamilton, tells of rooms “filled with mirror and skin,” where there is “milk to the mouth of the weak.”

“Rosie’s Lullaby,” from Norah Jones and Daru Oda, is a plea to be saved from the strong pull of the salty sea. Jones’ voice is familiar now. The “newness” is gone, so it’s easier to pay attention the music and the words that need to be heard.

Joe Ely’s “July Blues,” of course, because July approaches. The song is a five-minute, 50-second greasy blues about heat and languor: “My baby’s suckin’ on ice cubes that ain’t even there, she say, “Joe, hey Joe, how’d you like to have a nice cool drink from my spring?” Ely calls it a kinda lowdown song that things are going to get better someday. It’s also a timeless song, Ely says, because the longer he lives, the less he believes in time. Facing my sixty-first summer, I’m not sure I agree with him; still, it’s a song that clings to the emotions and the spirit.

Randy Brown’s “Truth is a Rabbit (in a bramble bush)” comes from an inconsistent album, but is a doubly fine song, built from a Pete Seeger quote, that energizes me with its own truth, helps prepare me for the day.

Finally, “Heavenly Day,” a simple set of lyrics that Patty Griffin’s voice turns into a quietly joyous song about being with someone on a carefree, beautiful day into an anthem for comforting presence.

Daylight comes. Embrace it. Embrace the enigmatic.