An End To Cynicism?

For the first time in some months I updated the songs on my MySpace profile. I hate the site and its miserable UI, but it’s the most important social networking site for a musician, so I should pay more attention to it.

But as I looked at the songs I had up there, I realized that the change I was making had more to do with shuffling the songs around. Things have changed, dramatically, since the last time I added new songs. The last thing I added was the “John McCain Blues” video, and, well, he is down the drain. It’s not relevant anymore, thankfully.

I also removed “Dear Leader,” a song I wrote after the 2004 elections that began, “When I was young / We used to have elections.” The idea for that song came in a conversation at Rocky Sullivan’s, the now-defunct political watering hole, during the nightmare of the Democratic National Convention. That was a much darker time, and maybe we’ll be able to look back at it as the low point of a bad period, rather than a harbinger of more frightening things to come.

So it’s gone, and maybe I’ll have some more optimistic songs in the future. I think we all owe it to ourselves, and to our country, to practice hope not as a slogan but as an attitude, as an inspiration, as the impetus to get out there and do the work that must be done. Some of that work will be activism and volunteering, but a lot of that work will be in everyday life, in conversation, in the way you respond to someone who talks about how government never works, or Obama will never really make a difference, or all politicians are crooked. To the extent that any of those things are true, they’re true because we allow them to be. Because we’re complicit in our despair and inaction.

It’s time to end that. Hopeful songs are harder to write than cynical songs. It’s easier to be snarky and cynical than to believe you can actually make a difference. But it’s worth the effort. Look what we were able to do this year.

I haven’t recorded anything new in a while and probably won’t until I’m ready to do a real recording session. In the meantime I added some of the songs I did for February Album Writing Month earlier this year. Two of them were experimental pieces that weren’t written so much as improvised. I constructed “The Heaviest Odds” out of a set of drum and guitar loops, and then played some harp over the result and inserted a quote from Gandhi which is relevant to the above discussion. “The Open Sea” is amplified harp over a minor-key guitar part played on the steel resonator I’d just acquired, with a lyric fragment that had never found a home in a song. It’s a journey from darkness to light, again, relevant in ways I hadn’t thought about when I recorded it originally.

Finally, there’s a live version of “The Severance Reel” from this summer — a song I wrote in celebration of leaving my corporate job for life as an independent consultant, a life that among other things let me spend much of this summer at music festivals, including Southern Week at Ashokan, where this song was recorded on open-mic night, with my dear friends Tricia Khleif on harmony vocals, and Kari Denis, who inspired the song, on fiddle.

Give my best to Scylla and Charybdis
Tell them I won’t pass this way again
I’ve no need to sail the straight and narrow
I’m for the open sea ahead of a brand new wind

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