Starflyer 59 project

I’m going to plow through the sf59 catalog one song, one day at a time and share my thoughts. I am no music critic and no judge of taste. There are plenty of other people who can do the music critic shtick better than I could and I will leave them to it.

I’m just going to share whatever it is the song makes me feel, think or remember. I’ve grown up with this band and can mark most major milestones in my life by what sf59 album I was listening to at the time.

I will stick to LPs mostly and will only divert into EPs and side projects as I feel compelled. And so it begins.

Powerviolet – We Won’t Sing for You EP

Jamming from the edge of consciousness

Have you ever caught that moment when you are lying in bed and your brain switches from normal, real life thinking to crazy dreamland stuff?  If you pay attention, you can catch that moment when your thoughts go weird – that moment when you stop thinking about all the errands you have to run tomorrow and start riding down to the corner store on the back of a scaly, spiny dragon with your best friend from second grade.  If you can hold on to your awareness, even while your dreamland self is flying over the neighborhood on a dragon, you can effectively live in two worlds at once.  It is as close to magic as we mere mortals can pull off in this world so laden with rules and hard boundaries.

We Won’t Sing For You, the debut EP from Powerviolet, has me thinking about this magical moment when you can live in two worlds because this is where this music exists.  The looping layers of guitars by J. Elliott take my imagination to space-scapes unknown (I will not call them landscapes as they are not entirely terrestrial).  The sound of the guitars are so expansive that my imagination goes to places of endless horizons – driving down beach roads with the immensity of the ocean in the corner of my eye, feeling the rush of falling in love, flying through outer space at dizzying speeds with planets zooming past me as I head toward whatever it is out that there that is so unending. 

Contrasting the sprawling guitar loops is Bryan Peach’s percussion.  The percussion is consistently tight and controlled.  It is fast and pointed; it has a way of piercing through to remind you that, yes, you are still here on this spot of earth and at this moment in time.  It pushes through and brings the awareness that you are still you and everything is still real and moving forward right now.

It is the blending of these elements in We Won’t Sing For You that creates that magic here.  What J. Elliott and Bryan Peach accomplish together is rather like a fisherman who can not only see the fish moving beneath the surface of the water, but can thrust his hand below the surface, grab the fish and pull it up into the light of day.  Every time I listen to the album, I want to imagine.  I want to move.  I want stop being so damn terrestrial and run towards what is so unending.

Check out Powerviolet at https://powerviolet.bandcamp.com/music.

“Wherever You Go (First Space Song)” – Easy Come, Easy Go Disc 2

This song is a strange mix of elements.  The drum pulses in the beginning, but it sounds distant – almost like it was recorded in a stairwell then the recording was pushed through a delay pedal.  The drums repeat the same pattern, measure by measure for the rest of the song.  It has a monotonous feel to it.

After the drums start the song, there are punctuated hits from a guitar (which also sounds like it is on a delay) and what I think may be a synthesizer.  The bass jumps in and it rumbles.  The bass is what moves this song forward.  The grumbling low notes on the bass (ba-ba-ba) jump up an octave (BA-BA-BA-BA) on each measure makes if feel like the song stops and then lurches forward over and over.

Deep in the mix, there is an acoustic guitar track playing chords.  That is the most that we will get with guitars filling out the rhythm on this song.  All of the guitar energy is focused on two lead parts.  The most prominent lead part has a clear tone and plays a drawn out, lonely melody.  The second lead part is distorted and condensed.  It plays those punctuated hits every four measures and occasionally plays a counterpoint part to the primary lead part.

Since this is designated as the first space song, my mind automatically went to “2nd. Space Song” which, ironically, I knew before “Wherever You Go (First Space Song)”.  “2nd. Space Song” always sounded like outer space to me.  I know, it’s not particularly imaginative.  But I could envision Space Ghost chilling out to those fuzzed out guitars back in the mid-90s when that kind of sound was the thing everybody wanted (including former superheroes turned galactic talk show hosts).  I thought I would hear outer space in this song too; it was where my brain expected me to go.  But I cannot hear outer space in this song.  I hear another kind of space entirely.

This is a driving song, and I don’t mean that in the way people normally mean that.  This isn’t just a song that has a good pace for driving.  I mean that this song is sonically mimicking the experience of driving a vehicle.  Now I may really be shooting myself in the foot by making this song about driving when I still have the write-up the “Prepare to Detour” left to do for this album.  But I go wherever the songs take me so here we are.

The whole song sounds like it was recorded in an aluminum can.  The stuttering drums are the sound of the reflection panels embedded in the pavement smacking against your tires in their own rhythm.  The bass line is the rumbling drivetrain stopping, then going through red lights in midtown traffic.  That primary lead part is really what seals the deal with this interpretation for me.  It’s drawn out and lonely in the same way that you feel when you’ve been driving all day, all alone, in your own space watching trees, buildings and signs continually slide out of your view as you push forward.

But just as this lead guitar isn’t alone in this song, we are not truly alone.  There’s always people in the cars around you, close but separated.  Outside of some potential hand gestures or honking horns, you can’t communicate with them.  But they are still there sharing space with you for a little while. 

Do you ever think about people in cars next to you?  Do you think about where they are going or what their lives are like?  I do.  I wonder if they have families or what they like to read.  In times when I need to pass some petty judgment on some fool who doesn’t know how to drive, I imagine what horrible bands they might listen to based on what kind of car they drive and what they are wearing.  Many a’fool has been labeled as a Creed fan while driving perpetually in the left lane on interstates and wearing those weird, plastic sunglasses with the elongated, reflective lens (you know the guys I’m talking about, right?).

There’s been a lot more time for this specific brand of contemplation in 2020 since everything is curbside.  Now I don’t just pass these people on the road; now we are stuck in the same parking lot in each other’s space for God knows how long and there’s a lot more time to think about all these things.  Not just wondering about the old dude in the truck three parking spaces to your left, but to think about what it means to be stuck alone or to be stuck in the same space with the same people for so long that you could just pull your hair out over it.

We just came through the holiday season where many of us had to settle for celebrating alone or in small groups.  It’s not an easy adjustment to make.  And this just caps off an entire year of trying to figure out how to be close to others but still yet separate, wherever we go. 

Now we are rolling into a New Year’s Eve that many of us will spend alone – not going out to bars to listen to bands, not going to a friend’s party, not celebrating as we want to at the end of a year that has been so horrendously difficult for so many of us. 

And it’s lonely.  Just like that lead guitar is lonely.  But just like this song keeps moving, we can keep moving. This song is a reminder that there is still life and meaning to be found in these moments when we are stuck within our own spaces. There’s still something to say even when, like this song, you aren’t using words to say it. And there’s always, always, always still more places to go.

Happy New Year, my friends.

“Happy Birthday, John” – Can’t Stop Eating EP

You may be wondering why I am yet again stepping out of chronological order (and posting a song from an EP no less).  I am posting about this song in honor of a friend and fellow sf59 fan whose birthday is today.  His name is not John but does begin with a J.  This Mr. J is and will remain a man of mystery, a man whose depths may be concealed from those content to remain dazzled (and distracted) by his constant humor.  I admit I do not know him well but want to capture what I know here with this song.  (He also requested this song specifically, so there’s that…)

Damian Jurado’s original version is folk genius.  With only an acoustic guitar, a fiddle and Jurado’s shaky, haunted voice, he paints a sonic landscape of loneliness and regret.  I can imagine an old hillbilly sitting on his porch deep in a holler in West Virginia, stuck in place drinking beer and remembering his mistakes.  JM turns this song into a ‘70s-esque classic rock anthem.  This version still paints a landscape but this time it is of people singing this in a Dazed and Confused type of party in a field after everyone’s had enough smoke and drink to start remembering their mistakes again.  The difference between the two versions is that Jurado’s version seems so terribly isolated; it makes you aware of aloneness.  JM’s version makes you aware that you aren’t the only one who has fucked up so much. There is solace in knowing you aren’t alone.

The vocals are smooth and solid.  The acoustic guitar is steady and full and is the foundation of the song with the bass and drum.  Two electric guitars, an electric piano compete throughout the song to see which will have the most nostalgic swell.  While the regret was so prominent in Jurado’s version, this version almost celebrates the pain.  I don’t know if it is reveling in the pain itself or if it is the satisfaction of surviving through struggle.

It didn’t occur to me until I started to write this that this song is so thematically similar to Pedro the Lion’s “The Poison”.  But where Jurado only hints at the devastation, Bazan rides it down the like a water slide to inevitably splash into a pool of beer, manipulation and despair.  It’s not particularly relevant here, but I find it interesting that three guys in the same circle of friends will take the same concept and express it in such different ways.

Happy birthday, John 
Where has your sweetheart gone 
She left today with one week’s pay 
And the boy she calls your son

Is the singer directing all of this at a friend or is he singing to himself in third person?  I’m not sure.  You can probably take it either way.  While the birthday mentioned here may refer to a literal birthday (as is the case with our mysterious Mr. J), it may also mean the birth into a new awareness – the awareness that the life you thought you had wasn’t really what you thought it was.  

It is the awakening to understanding that what you thought was real was fantasy.  Maybe it was a naïve illusion of what you wanted your family to be like.  It is the awakening to the realization that you really should’ve paid attention to all those red flags you ignored.  Maybe the reality is finally breaking through the façade and you understand now that the life you want takes work, particularly work on yourself.

Let’s not wait for your invitation 
Pour yourself a drink 
Think about what happened

Mr. J knows loss.  He knows disappointment.  He knows pain.  However, Mr. J does not let you see this easily.  He will dazzle you with many’a magic trick, a slight of hand to keep you distracted and entertained with jokes, random trivia and the best memes on the planet.

But I wonder if, on quiet evenings, Mr J pours a drink and thinks on what has been lost.  Does he think about his mother?  Does he remember past lovers?  Does he think about the ex-wife?  Does he regret the years and effort lost on trying to make fantasy feel like reality?  I don’t know.

Happy birthday, John 
The warning lights were on 
But you were far too gone 
To notice what went wrong

I do know that Mr. J did not stay in that state of perpetual regret.  He kept moving.    He was born into that awareness of self.  He works for what he wants.  He has a fabulous girlfriend (who is total girl crush material).  And he a funny and compassionate friend.

I am better for knowing him.  When he’s not busy making me laugh, he listens to my bizarre (and long) stories – like how I recently fulfilled a 23 year old dream by acquiring a scarf handmade by Kelley Deal of The Breeders (and design of the scarf is, I’m convinced, inspired by what Stormy Daniels wore in court hearings).  He encourages me in whatever creative thing I have going on, whether it is my writing or building new living room furniture.  And if you weren’t already convinced of his infinite patience and good character by all of that above, he shows compassion for me when I am struggling.  I am blessed to know him.

Let’s not wait for your invitation 
Pour yourself a drink 
Think about what happened

So, Mr J, pour yourself a drink and think about what happened.  But not just the loss or the times of defeat.  Think about how you stood back up and kept moving.  Think about how far you have come to be where you are and who you are right now.  I hope that makes you feel proud because it most certainly should.  Happy birthday, J.

Starflyer Fans Do Fabulous Stuff

One thing I always loved about sf59 is that it was basically a guy with a day job who does this amazing songwriting and recording on evenings/weekends. Starflyer fans have the same kind of creative ethic and are out there in the world spending their free time making something new.  Check out what Starflyer fans are getting themselves into.

Podcasts/Radio Shows

Marvin Dog Mediahttps://www.marvindogmedia.com/ – Since 2012, MarvinDog Media has been striving to provide quality entertainment/distraction/belly laughs to anyone who will listen.  Shows on toys, cartoons, cereals, TV pilot episodes and Star Wars.  Everything an ‘80s kid could want!

Starflyer 59 Retrospective by Blue Collar Love – https://linktr.ee/bluecollarlove – A Starflyer 59 themed podcast by the two dudes who stole my nom de plume.

The Noise Kaleidoscopehttps://www.mixcloud.com/andrew-ryan-fetter/ – The Noise Kaleidoscope airs Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30pm EST on WQRT. 99.1FM in Indianapolis, and streaming online at wqrt.org.


Aberrations of Lighthttps://aberrationsoflight.bandcamp.com/album/banuary – Aberrations of Light is an intrusion upon the timeless through ambient guitar lines, loops and drones.

Arms Bizarrehttps://armsbizarre.bandcamp.com/track/just-in-time – Arms Bizarre surfaced in 2012, making cloudy music in sunny Virginia Beach, Virginia.

the cinder highwayhttps://thecinderhighway.bandcamp.com/releases – The Cinder Highway has been making friends, enemies, and musical sounds since 2016.

Crazymoneyhttps://open.spotify.com/album/30KSRiF4kd8UWL3lrU7MWx?si=tyQ7v658TAi0OsTTUn8uZA – Indie Rock

Dim Glimpse –  https://soundcloud.com/user-69217323/kick-the-can – You know those scenes in Faulkner’s books where sketchy things are happening when it’s not quite light enough to see…? That’s the goal of Dim Glimpse …just to sound like those scenes.

Dreadnok Ripper https://youtu.be/ddT5ZyDbnF0

Echo Broke Alonehttps://echobrokealone1.bandcamp.com

Enigmatic Foehttps://enigmaticfoe.bandcamp.com/ – With sharp lyrics, the playful pop bite of the best of the 70s and 80s, and the kind of self-deprecation usually reserved for a Woody Allen movie, Jared Colinger’s lyrics run the gamut from the joy of new love to disillusionment with the old, from wanting to like yourself to being afraid of what we have in our minds.

Even Beams –  http://evenbeams.comEVEN BEAMS is an instrumental musical project, focusing on the intersection of faith and the Space Race of the 20th century.

J Elliothttps://jelliott1.bandcamp.com/album/ding-dew-ep – The songs on the Ding Dew EP are like a drawing on a piece of notebook paper that you love, but you can’t replicate on proper material. They happened in a moment and they were preserved on voice memos.

Joel Julianhttps://joeljulian.bandcamp.com/

Johnny Abeshttps://www.instagram.com/johnnyabes/

Joshua Bizarrehttps://spiritus3.bandcamp.com/track/stuck-inside-your-head – Spiritus is a solo project from Arms Bizarre singer/songwriter Joshua Webster. Recorded at home on a Tascam 424 and inspired by bands like Guided By Voices, The Breeders & Pedro The Lion.

Leem of Earthhttps://music.apple.com/us/artist/leem-of-earth/1437849712


Mike Adams At His Honest Weighthttp://www.mikeadams.info/ and https://mikeadamsathishonestweight.bandcamp.com/music

Modern Malhttps://youtu.be/YDetpZ063MA

Pacificowww.pacificorock.com – Pacifico is not a band.  It’s an idea.  Pacifico collaborated with Jason Martin on Thin Skin And An Open Heart and Ronnie Martin on Everest.

Quiet Localhttps://open.spotify.com/album/2Bkobq9lPYBo6Ggl9b9pwG?si=YloGpEkbQOitZ3reoBOM2g – Quiet Local has been through the ringer, and the result is the sound of coming to terms with Life, Loss, Grief, and Hope. Songs of anthemic wisdom couched in the rawness of reality . Drawing from the endless beauty of Montana and the surprising sweetness of life, JAD Souza has set out to capture songs about the here and now.  

Red Letter Skywww.Redlettersky.com – An exploration into the mind of Jesus, told from his perspective, as he faces his untimely death.

RoadKeeperhttps://roadkeeper.bandcamp.com – Roadkeeper formed in 2018 as a self-produced project that combines a songwriter’s emphasis on lyricism with the soundscape and sense of space of shoegaze and psychedelia. The four-piece core band is one color on the canvas rather than the canvas itself. The group produces songs that are humanist, socially conscious and at times political. 

Sad Piano Covers – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRuymyh6uAp9wC-sP235kjA – Taking songs which may or may not be sad, and play them on the piano in a sad way, and they sound sad.

Shiny Shiny Blackhttps://youtu.be/5w_D3JpUyXw – Married couple with a band and recording studio.

Silent Pictureshttps://silentpictures.bandcamp.com – California experimentalpsychedelic, shoegaze rock.

Skip Rope Opus –  https://skipropeopus.bandcamp.com – An indie band that consumes books, music, philosophy, and experiments with low-tech sound equipment between their Central California and Iowa homes.

Tape Deck Mountainhttps://tapedeckmountain.bandcamp.com/ – “Shoegaze” project, Nashville, TN via San Diego, CA.

Vamooseryhttps://vamoosery.bandcamp.com/ – A unique, female-fronted, progressive rock outfit from Coventry. Vamoosery is passionate about engaging people with distinctive music and energetic performances.

Zero Levelhttps://zerolevel.bandcamp.com


Anabaptist Revisionshttps://www.patheos.com/blogs/anabaptistrevisions/ – Anabaptist Revisions is devoted to all things Anabaptist-Mennonite, including theology, ethics, history, church life, preaching, nonviolence, and more.

Loyd Harp – https://dougvanpelt.wixsite.com/heavens-metal-mag/home/author/Loyd-Harp and https://www.indievisionmusic.com/author/fullsweep/

Jonny Spinasantohttps://www.facebook.com/JonnySpinasanto/ – Speculative fiction writer

Misha Willettwww.mischawillett.com – Agile lyric poems on classical and contemporary subjects.

Together On Two Newshttps://www.togetherontwo.com/news –  Blogging about music and stuff.


Heart Crate https://heartcrate.org/ – Comics and a non-profit providing relief to children who have been impacted by trauma by giving them personalized crates of super fun stuff.

Levi Watson –  Instagram.com/leviwatson – Abstract nature artist

Mike Slobot – www.slobots.com – Robot and music art that is heavily into shoegaze, especially SF59.

SPAGHETTI KISS APPARELhttps://www.etsy.com/shop/spaghettikiss/ – Otherworldly designs – dragons, skulls, jellyfish, oh my!

Strange and Fantastic Social Media Stuff

Marcelhttps://instagram.com/willbite?igshid=z5141bhbfukk – He’s a baaaaaaad dog.  Follow his exploits on Instagram.

“I Had a Song for the Ages” – The Changing of the Guard

NOTE: This was written for the fan tribute for the tenth anniversary of the release of The Changing of the Guard. I know it’s out of order from what I have been publishing. My OCD knows it too!


The Changing of the Guard as a whole is about reaching a certain age, evaluating yourself and what you have made and then dealing with the dissatisfaction that comes from that.  We have a song ruminating about who you thought you should be grow up to be when you were a kid watching heroes in movies.  There are others remembering the fun of creating when you were young and you could barely keep up with your own ideas.  These early songs create a contrast for the emotional heart of the rest of the album.  There is a reckoning coming and it will hit you when you have left your youth behind; you have a job that wears you out, a house to clean and you find yourself napping on the recliner in the evenings instead of doing anything creative. 

“I Had a Song for the Ages” hits with some speed; the pace is quicker here than the rest of the album and this creates tension.  The intro has a descending, clean piano line while the bass contrasts this with an ascending line.  The rhythm guitar alternates between two chords, creating a chunky groove underneath the piano and bass.  The drums hold a steady, tight beat.  Then the piano taps out.  The bass line descends.  The rhythm guitar does a quick hopscotch down a whole step and back up again just to add a kick at the end of the chord progression.

Things continue in the same way in the verse except that the lead guitar and vocals fill in the space left by the absence of the piano.  The bass continues to ascend and descend in steady lines only to jump around everywhere in the moments between the vocals.  Each instrument and vocal part in the song work to grab your attention, but they take turns instead of hitting you all at once.  The intent is clear here:  There’s still important stuff going on so pay attention or you will miss it.

Oh youth, is wasted on the young
I’ve been hearing this lately
Rolling off my tongue
So, my ground is in the past
So listen up closely: This could be my last

The opening lines have more meaning than just showing that the singer is old and would very much prefer if you kids get of his lawn already.  These first two lines are a lament.  There was some quality to youth that made things easy.  But now what was easy to do requires so much more effort.  The singer doubts whether he has the ability to continue creating as he once did.  He warns us – this show may be ending so pay attention before the curtain call.

Does it matter what my age is, Lord?
Am I the dust from the swept up floor?

But the singer is not convinced it should end yet.  He prays about it.  He wonders if his age will block him from the vitality he used to write and play his songs.  Do you have to turn in your rocker ID card once you start driving a sedan?  He doubts his worth in the present.  Maybe he’s a relic of some past time and the kids want to hear something different now.  Maybe the struggle to create means that there is no well left to draw from; it has dried to dust.

I had a song for the ages
Forgotten in the pages

These two lines are the saddest lines on the album to me.  We can interpret these lines in different ways.  One way to we could view these lines is that the singer knows that he created something great in the past but it has been forgotten by the world.  This interpretation is sad enough, but a recent experience has made me see these lines in a different and far more harrowing way.

I dabbled in some songwriting in my twenties because that’s what you do when you’re young and you have a guitar and a few notebooks.  I kept a notebook with me at all times and I would just down lyric ideas that would pop up throughout the day.  Some of these ideas made it into songs but most did not. 

About a month ago, I was cleaning out a spare closet, found an old backpack and hidden with it was my notebook of lyric scraps.  Flipping through the pages, some of the lines were better than I ever remembered writing and some of it made me cringe (you know, mid-twenties relationship drama lyrics UGH).  What surprised me most of all was how much of it I had completely forgotten.

If I ever thought that writing when I was young was easier, this notebook would prove otherwise.  It was empirical evidence that I have always been wrestling with words, wrangling consonants and vowels to sound the way I want them to sound and say what I want them to say. And more often than not, the words leave me beaten on the mat.  This idea that it was easier when I was young is a delusion.  It is hard work.  It always has been.  When you try to write something true, something that comes from the depths of who you are, it’s is usually a hard row to hoe – full of rocks, dead roots and hard ground.

Now I understand these two lines in a completely different way.  It’s not that he recorded a song for the ages and it was forgotten by the audience.  Oh no, it’s not going to be that forgiving.  He had a great song, a great truth within him, but he never hashed it out into being.  It’s left in scribbled fragments on pages in a notebook and the pocket of a backpack in the back corner of the spare closet where it has stayed for more than a decade.  (And I think that is one of the saddest lines I’ve ever written).

Come here. I’ve got something to say
If you’ve heard it already
You can go out and play

The singer is now intent on saying what he is called to say.  He does not do it for your approval.  He does it because it is what he does.  He will put it out there for those who are intended to hear it.  He’s not concerned about those who pass harsh judgment on his work, saying that they’ve heard it before.  He tells them that they can go out and play.  This could be dismissive the way you would tell a child to go out and play if they are getting on your nerves.  It could also be a challenge, possibly referencing playing an instrument or playing in a band.  If you don’t like what the singer is doing, then stop complaining about it and go out and play your own music and write your own songs already.  Really.  No one is stopping you.

So, I’ll look you in the eyes
So, now you’re all near me;
There’s no need to cry

The singer will be forthright with you; that is what he promises with his work.  He will play, sing and write from his own truth.  Those of us who need to hear this particular truth will be drawn to it.  It is in this dynamic between writer and reader, singer and listener, that the creation fulfills its potential.  What did not exist before now does exist and it has meaning and impact.

Does it matter what my age is, Lord?
Am I the dust from the swept up floor?
I had a song for the ages
Forgotten in the pages

Now what will you do with this?  Is there some work that you started that you never finished?  An idea that you never quite figured out how to make real?  Does it still call to you when you remember it?  Will you answer it finally?

The divide between what you can potentially do and what you actually do can seem impossible to bridge.  It is not impossible, but it takes work.  It’s not going to be fun.  Sure, you may have fun moments in the process of creating whatever kind of work you create (music, art, dance writing, you name it).  But if you dig your heals in and create from what is deep within you, it is going to feel uncomfortable at least some of the time.  Hell, you may even feel like you are in a bare-knuckle brawl most of the time.  Lean into it.  That conflict tells you that something great is happening, possibly something for the ages.

“She Was My Sweetheart” – She’s The Queen and Easy Come, Easy Go Disc 2

I keep trying to give this blog up and be done with it already and it keeps coming back.  I’m like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III.  “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”  These songs are demanding.  Now that they’ve got their hooks in me, they are not letting go.  All this time I thought that as the writer, I was in control of this thing.  I was the fisher; the ideas were the fish.  I could see the fish in the muddy depths of these songs and catch them.  But my metaphors were all jumbled up.  I was the fish all along and these songs caught me long ago.  What else can I do now but be pulled along on this line leading me to where ever it is that we are going.

“She Was My Sweetheart” may have been the first hook that got me good.  It was chronologically the third sf59 song I ever heard and the second written by JM. The first sf59 I heard was their cover of Steve Taylor’s “Sin For A Season” on the I Predict A Clone tribute album.  Sonically that song was as thick as clay mud.  I liked the new direction with the song, but it still felt like a song I knew.  I could hear the architecture of Steve Taylor’s writing underneath all the mud piled on top of it in the sf59 cover.  My first sf59 album was the She’s the Queen EP.    The first song, “She’s the Queen”, had all that sonic mud that I expected.  The chord progression was unique and not something Steve Taylor would ever write.  But still, the song was what I expected sf59 to sound like.  

Then “She Was My Sweetheart” walked quietly into the room with its cymbals and bass line.  Now this was something different.  With the exception of being cymbal heavy, the drums were light.  The bass had a groove to it.  The rhythm guitar was muted and chunky, not even close to the muddy or crispy tone I was expecting.  The lead guitar tone was clear and that tremolo made it feel so warm.  It was sweet and pure.   The vocals had that kind of wistful sadness that you have when you speak of a love so far gone.

Even the structure of the song itself was different.  The verse chord progression feels bright with its major chord shuffle.  F – Bb – C.  Then the tension comes in with a D chord as the singer asks how (How?) the sweetheart can be gone.  This D chord is lower than the verse shuffle so it is unexpected; it catches you off guard.  This progression finishes off with the same chords as the verse shuffle making the tension-inducing progression in the song D – Bb – C.

Notice the genius of what happens next (Tell me how).  We get a glimpse of the outro progression where the tension of the D chord gets folded into the bright verse shuffle making the outro progression F – D – Bb – C.  The pain of being left alone and wondering why the relationship ended this way gets blended with the good memories of being together.  In the blending, the jaggedness of the D chord gets smoothed out and things feel right again.  And isn’t that just the way that it is in life?  You find your resolution and peace when you accept and assimilate both what has brought you joy and what has brought you pain.

This song really wants to drive this point home so we a treated to an extended outro of this progression played while the lead guitar ruminates on the surface.  We’ve seen this song template of verse – chorus – verse – chorus – long outro on other songs like “Everyone But Me” and “Cry”.   It’s interesting that these songs with this structure have a similar sound (’50s pop) and a similar theme (being left alone) even though they were written and recorded decades apart.

So “She Was My Sweetheart” got its hook into me decades ago.  It was the first song that taught me to expect the unexpected with sf59.  And that, more than anything, is probably why I have stayed with this band and it has stayed with me.  It’s a relationship that continues to pay off.  This song is a prime example.  It is such a simple song compared other sf59 productions, but here I am still learning new things about it a quarter of a century later.  For example, did you know that the tempo speeds up in the outro?  In all the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song over the years I never noticed a change in the tempo.  Then I play along with my guitar one day and as soon as I get settled into the rhythm of the outro chord progression, I feel the bass pulling away from me as it speeds up.  How is it that I have listened all this time but never heard that before?

Now at this point you might be expecting me to dive into the lyrics and tell the story of some love lost.  I certainly have the stories.  But there is enough heartache in the world right now; I don’t need to bring it here.  And besides, what else could I say?  She’s gone away.  

“Goodbyes Are Sad” – Easy Come Easy Go Disc 2

I always thought of “Next Time Around” and “Goodbyes Are Sad” as being a tiny two act play. “Next Time Around” provides the conflict and betrayal; “Goodbyes Are Sad” provides the peace and resolution. This is probably because I had the vinyl single back in the days when that was the only way you could hear these songs. If I was going to go to all the effort to set up the record player to listen to the single, I was going to soak in those songs until my skin wrinkled. And so the story of these songs formed in my mind each time I flipped the record over.

Both songs sound otherworldly and out of time, like someone deliberately made the tape drag during the recording. Listening to them on vinyl added to that otherworldly effect (hey, this was back in the days when listening on vinyl was still exotic). I loved “Next Time Around” but, honestly, there was something in the song that made me unsettled. I craved the resolution in “Goodbyes Are Sad” and was relieved every time I flipped the record to that side.

When I think of this mini-drama I would feel flipping between the tension of “Next Time Around” to the calm of “Goodbyes Are Sad”, I notice that it mirrors what is happening in the world. We are stuck in the conflict now and I don’t know about you, but I am craving resolution.

One day you’ll find it’s here
Would you recognize the feel?
Feeling like I do

Like I do

Last time we talked about how one might not recognize their own anger. I made the case for feeling what you feel, allowing the anger to be what it is without marginalizing it by what you think you should feel. And since I wrote that, the country has exploded with anger. The country is feeling what it feels and it’s uncomfortable for all of us, but that’s how growth works. If you don’t work through the anger in some way, it will become malignant in time.

Is three days enough to heal
Is three days enough
To take in your healing like I do
Like I do

Anger is useful up to a point. There is a risk that you will hold onto it for too long and then it becomes dangerous. What will get me to hold on to anger is when a relationship ends badly and anger is the only living emotion left of that relationship. I can keep the relationship alive if only in my head by composing well articulated, take down rants that I can imagine that I might deliver at some future time if I happen run into that person again. As long as I am angry, as long as I rant in my head, I don’t have to deal with the reality that the relationship is over. I don’t have to deal with the sadness of grieving.

There is so much to grieve right now. People have lost loved ones. They have lost jobs. Small business owners are facing having to permanently shut their doors. Some of us have lost our belief in the country we thought we lived in, a country based on the principles of equality and fairness under the law. Others are reeling from seeing the social media posts of people they loved or respected and realizing that those people always had morally repugnant beliefs.

The reference to “three days” in the lyrics echos the three days between the death and resurrection of Christ. I want to believe in the resurrection of what has been lost, but it is so hard to see right now when things are falling apart. Breaking. Ending.

Goodbyes are sad
You’re the best that I wish I had
So I’ll wait a million more

All roads lead to an end. This is true even for what you love the most. That is such a frightening truth. It is no wonder that we would rather stay angry than to face it. But not facing it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. So let the anger go if it is past its usefulness. Then bury your dead. It’s how you find the resolution you need. It’s how you find healing.

“Next Time Around” – Easy Come Easy Go Disc 2

The out of sync guitars stumbling around each other tell you right away that things aren’t good around here.  The tempo drags like someone pulling corpse.  The drums beat out a simple, steady march/dirge.  The bass sinks beneath the earth and buzzes somewhere below your feet.

The vocals are pushed out, just louder than a whisper.  You can hear the breath as the sound is forced out of a tightened throat.  The music drones through the verse.  Then we hear that tortured lead guitar; that aching tone is so muffled that it sounds like it is underneath something. 

The song continues, tired and heavy, through another verse and chorus.  The lead guitar carves its way to the forefront as the second chorus extends into the outro.  A new guitar is added into the mix here, with its waves of high-pitched feedback (which sounds similar to the feedback at the end of “Too Much Fun”).  Each bar in the outro gets more intense. 

Next time around. 

The pressure builds with each slow beat.  The drum and bass hold the song together as two high-pitched lead guitars phase in and out of each other and two rhythm guitars trip on alternating lines.  The vocals become a chant.   

Next time around. 

Feedback swells in the back of the mix, filling the sound with vibration so deep it could be your own heart beating. 

Next time around. 

And just like that, the tension cracks.  Something gives somewhere and the aching winds down.  One by one, the instruments and vocals withdraw until we are left with those two rhythm guitars toppling over their unplanned mess.

Next time around.

The lyrics tell of a lover’s betrayal and how the pain of that is multiplied by gossip and drama seeking.  The singer wants justice, some sign of reciprocity that will balance the scales.  Will you feel the same way I feel next time around?  The question says what the singer cannot admit directly – he is angry.

He wants those who hurt him to feel pain.  He wants them to hurt the way he has been hurt.  Seeing them get what is coming to them will balance the scales.

Instant karma.  You reap what you sow.  We crave it so much, this retribution, that we’ve come up with so many cliches for describing it. 

Right now you might be expecting a well-meaning sermon from me about the virtues of forgiveness, a passionate testimony about how forgiveness severs you from the chains binding you to pain but seeking retribution pulls the chains tighter so that their shape is imprinted in your skin.  I could give that sermon, but it would just be me trying to repeat what others have lived and said (for the best example of this type of sermon, search on YouTube for “Forgiving Assholes” by Nadia Bolz-Weber). 

This is not the lesson experience has taught me.  What I know from my own experience is darker stuff. I can tell you why someone would refuse to recognize that they are angry at all. And I can tell you why someone would hold on to anger long past its expiration date. I know the ugly, messy stuff.

It might seem incredulous to claim that someone can be angry and not even recognize it, but as a culture, we are adept at finding ways to stuff our emotions down to the threshold of non-existence.  Anger is one of those emotions that can sneak up on us, particularly if we are preoccupied with thoughts of retribution – retribution is so close to justice that it makes it almost respectable. That’s how it gets you.

The boundary between righteous anger and self-interested malice is no wider than a hair pulled from your head.  And nobody wants to admit that we feel malice.  The world tells us the story over and over again about how only the bad guys have anger.  People with good hearts don’t let anger get the best of them.  We could be drowning in a flash flood of anger and deny that it is even there because we want to be one of the good people.

This is particularly true for those of us who grew up in the Christian church (or grew up watching Star Wars).  We are told from birth that we are to turn the other cheek, forgive as we have been forgiven and pay attention to our own eye motes, fine thank you.  If you don’t get it that way, you’ll get the other way from all the messages that we are supposed to be grateful to God for all that we have and focus our energy on our blessings.  This cocktail of well-meaning but potentially harmful Christian advice is enough to make it so that you cannot acknowledge or even feel your own rage.

The danger here is that if you do not acknowledge your anger or allow it to pass through you, it will come out in other ways later – first through apathy, then through violence.  So I want to take my time and say this slowly:

It is alright to feel anger about what is happening right now.

We all have reasons to be pissed with the way the world has been forcibly changed in the wake of COVID-19.  Some of us have lost jobs and don’t know how the bills will get paid.  We’ve been separated from people we love.  We can’t control our lives right now.  There’s too much anxiety and fear and not enough supplies and groceries.  All of this is unfair.  We crave some way to restore the balance but there is no clear way to do that.  And it is okay to be angry about that.

It’s okay to be angry even if there are other people who have it worse off than you.  You see, this is a trick we use (or others may use on us) to convince ourselves that we don’t have a legitimate reason to be angry.  Don’t fall for it.  Just because someone may have it worse than you doesn’t mean that what you are going through doesn’t suck.  Even if you are safe, comfortable, can work remotely and have all the supplies you need during this quarantine, you still have a right to feel angry.  Even if your biggest complaint right now is that you miss going into the office and goofing off with your favorite coworker, you still have a right to feel angry.

Now I’m not saying to pack up a U-Haul and move into your anger.  And I’m not saying to storm your state capital building with assault rifles (because all that does is display your weakness to the whole world).  Acknowledge that the anger is there, then let the feeling pass through you.  Work it out in whatever way works for you (and doesn’t hurt anyone else).  Maybe it’s exercise, good conversations or belly laughs.  I’ve been working mine out on my guitar playing David Bazan’s “Eating Paper”; it’s anti-corporate, anti-greed message says what I need to say (plus it is one of the sassiest JM guitar riffs this side of I Am the Portuguese Blues – convince me I’m wrong).  Maybe it will take a long time to work through it.  It depends on how deep the anger goes in you.  But commit to it. Spend time with it everyday so it doesn’t fester and turn into something inhumane.

This is not easy work.  It is hard to know the difference allowing your anger to be what it is and clinging to it past its expiration date.  Anger has a way of seducing you into keeping it around for longer than it is useful.  It can give you power and energy and that is certainly tempting.  Anger excels at illusions too and that can keep you trapped.  One of these illusions is particularly devastating, but we will talk about that more the next time.

“Elijah the Prophet” – Easy Come Easy Go D2

I am settling into this Americana era drone.  This is a good song to have on for sitting still.  The intro has an edge to it, but the song invites you to sit for a spell and prop your feet up by the time we get to the palm muted guitars in the verse.  The bass seems to be mixed at a higher volume proportional to all the rest of this sound (I mean, really, how many guitar tracks where recorded here?).  By the time you get to the first chorus, you are pulled into this soupy mix.  The chorus is thick like a casserole made by an old church lady.  It sticks to you.  

Things continue on like this through another run of the verse and chorus.  Then we have a bridge which is the intro/chorus riff but turned up to 11.  Then we have the best moment in the song – the reprieve.  The reprieve is something characteristic of this era of sf59.  Think back to Silver; it was all sound, all the time.  There was more experimentation with variations in intensity in Gold.  With each album, the use of variation improves.    Somewhere along the journey, JM learned that sometimes we all need to take a step back.  We all need a reprieve.

Elijah the Prophet (the man, not the song) needed a reprieve once too.  It is surprising as Elijah comes off as bad ass in most of the stories about him.  Elijah goes after King Ahab, railing against the hypocrisy of Judah.  He was the first to resurrect the dead.  He called fire down from the sky on his enemies.  Death did not take him; his mortal body rode a chariot of fire into the heavens.  

But even the most rooting tooting prophet ever needed a reprieve once.  It happened after he challenged the priests of Baal to a “praying for rain” death match.  The priests of Baal make their alter, give their sacrifices, set the alter alight and pray for rain.  But nothing happens.  Elijah takes the time to trash talk the priests before building his own alter.  He orders that the alter be drenched with water, soaking the wood that would be the fuel for his prayers.  Elijah stands before the Lord and prays that his sacrifice be accepted.  A pillar of fire descends through the air, consuming the sacrifice and destroying the alter.  Even the earth and the pool of water surrounding the alter are obliterated.  Then Elijah orders the death of the priests of Baal and the rain finally falls.

I wish you’d leave me alone 
Some day I’ll be coming home

Jezebel intends for Elijah to meet the same punishment that he ordered for her priests of Baal.  But instead of accepting the punishment or calling down holy flames to smite his enemies, Elijah runs.  

Get me far
So far
You’ll never know

For 40 days and 40 nights, he runs to Mount Horeb, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.  Elijah hides in the darkness of a cave.  But the cave cannot shield him from God’s awareness.  The Lord asks him what he is doing hiding in the cave.  Rather than answer God’s question, Elijah goes on a pity party rant about how his mission has been a failure and no one in the world is worthy of redemption.

God stops the pity party and tells Elijah to go outside and stand before Him.  God gives a vision of a mountain to Elijah. A fierce wind blows, a great earthquake shakes the mountain and then a fire passes.  Again, God asks Elijah what he is doing in the cave.  Elijah gives the same answer he gave before, indicating that he could not understand the vision.

Elijah, the greatest of the prophets.  Elijah, bringer of fire.  Even Elijah, who stood next to Jesus in the Transfiguration had his moment where he hid in a cave and pouted like a toddler who didn’t get his way.  We all need a reprieve.

I’m missing you these days
Find some other way

I feel like we are all in a metaphorical cave right now, stuck in quarantine and we do not know how long we will be here.  It has been interesting for me to watch how people are responding to a handful of days at home.  I’ve been at this game for a lot longer and you newbies are cute.

I had to retreat into my cave months ago.  A sudden, unexpected medical issue came up (you’ll probably hear more details about this in the future).  It weakened me and forced me to learn to stay home and be quiet.  The irony is that this has turned out to be one of the most productive periods of my life (I just haven’t really been productive here very much).

I was forced into all this productivity by pain and tedium.  I had to focus on something just to make it through.  I started learning how to play songs on the guitar that I’ve wanted to learn since I was a teenager.  I’ve even learned a whole new way of playing.  Learning the music I listened to as a teenager reminded me what it was like to feel that young and to have the passion to chase after something new.  I started writing new things.  When my old way of writing could not say what I wanted to say, I found new ways to write.  I have filled notebook after notebook of stories, ideas and chord progressions.  A pillar of fire descended into my living room; divine inspiration hit my chest and warmed everything around me.

Get me far
So far
You’ll never know… You’ll never know

We all need a reprieve.

I can’t help but think that the quick rise of COVID-19 cases and the forced quarantine isn’t just the universe telling us all that we need to slow down.  We need a break in our routines.   We need to remember what it was like to feel young or to want to create something new.  Maybe we’ve all been sent to our caves to remember what it is to care for our neighbors.  And maybe some of us will emerge from our caves only to spout the same pouty shit we were saying before, just like Elijah did.  And that’s okay too; it will all work toward a purpose in the end.

Going to your cave, so far away from your daily routines, is a chance to break away from the old and tired and to start something new.  Challenge yourself to learn something that you never thought you could.  You might be surprised to find (like I was) that you can do what you thought was impossible for you.  The energy and the satisfaction you get from that will jump start you and then you are on your way.  Who knows when you will stop again?

“All Done Wrong” – Easy Come Easy Go D2

This is probably the happiest bop you’ll ever hear about being a complete failure. The drums start with a fast, clean beat. Multiple palm-muted rhythm guitars and a mobile bass hold the space and the tempo throughout the song.

Lead guitar 1 slides into the intro with all its reverb-laden glory, laying out a simple, catchy melody (we’re really all here for this lead guitar, right?). During the verse, Lead 2 comes in with arpeggios on ascending chords. When the chorus hits, Lead 2 plays descending arpeggios while Lead 1 lays out hook after hook. The two Leads dance around each other like this for the rest of the song.

The vocals are smooth but almost vulnerable at times. The synths come in the first chorus, filling in sound with pensive chords. They are more insistent when they come back in on the second chorus. They come into their fullness in the outro (ok, maybe some of us are here for the synths). You may be contemplating all of your failures at this point in the song, but at least you have something sublime to listen to while you do it.

No tassels
We don’t like where you’re from
Your hair is all wrong
And the clothes that you have on

We’ve all had experiences where we didn’t measure up to what people expected of us. Some things you can change in an attempt to meet those expectations. Other things, like where you are from, you can never change. What do you do when you face such all-encompassing criticism?

Your friends say it’s all done wrong
The plans you make are never gonna shape
Your friends say it’s all done wrong
The plans you make are never gonna shape
Well it’s all done wrong

Maybe what you do is start evaluating the friends you’re hanging around. Really, who needs to be discouraged in this way? I find that the excessive criticisms you receive from people (the type that include words like “all” and “never”) usually reveal more about who they are than what the criticisms say about you. Maybe it’s time to think about that.

The big mistake
We don’t like what you’ve done
Because of one month long
Well it’s lost all of its fun

The mention of “one month long” makes me wonder if this a reference to the infamous, solo, month-long Gold recording sessions. To call Gold “all done wrong” is foolhardy indeed.

Unless we are talking about the Gold vinyl reissue, then . . .

It’s all done wrong