Tag Archives: songs

(364) Stay Tuned

Yesterday a friend gave me this awesome shirt:


I decided it was perfect for my musings today. I am typing this as I go, after thinking about the theme a lot, after going to Lakes Park and sitting in my power spot. Here goes…second last post!


Moving toward 2016, I understand my life is going to be more and more about sound. How the world sounds. How I sound. How we sound to each other.

Walking in the park today, I was behind two people who both had ear buds in, yet were talking loudly to each other. They obviously were listening to something, but decided it was important to communicate.  But here was my thought: If we really want to hear each other, we should be cognizant of shutting out other noise. It is like the people who talk on the phone when the television is on. Why?


This year has opened me up to sound. I planned a whole vacation around sound. We heard bluegrass music and blues music and synthesized music and musicians talking about the sounds specific instruments make, the sound of Jim and I singing together in the music booth at the Birthplace of Country Music, the sound of the Flint, the Cumberland, and the French Broad Rivers, the sound of old blues musicians wafting across Dockery Farms, the sound of The City of New Orleans speeding next to Money Road in the Delta. These sounds have stayed with me and I call on them from time to time.

Today as I walked I brushed my hand through all the palm fronds I passed. “How can I duplicate that sound” was my constant question.


Paul Simon had an exhibit on his songwriting at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I was unable to get there, so I purchased the exhibit booklet. In it is Simon’s speech when he was inducted into the Rock Hall.  He said:

I thank Sam Phillips for Sun Records, for rockabilly’s Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, whose recording of ‘Mystery Train’ remains my all-time favorite. I spent a career trying to get that sound.

This stood out to me for many reasons. First, because “Mystery Train” is my favorite Elvis tune, mostly because of the way it sounds. And second, because this came late in the book and I had already read Simon’s words over and over again about trying to get to a sound.  The exhibit was called “Words and Music,” but from what I read it was really about sound.

As I stay tuned to the sounds in my life, I am looking to get them into any music I create. My music teacher talked mainly about sound when I told him I wanted to write songs. Silly me — I thought it was about lyrics. Seems that isn’t always the case.

Not sure why I’m just learning that.


A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook:


We are the music we love. I want to do this experiment. Tell me the song that matters most to you, and I will listen for you in it.


Years ago I heard that our DNA, when related to various musical notes, creates a different musical composition for every person. This idea has never left me, and continues to intrigue. Today I found there is a website for it (of course there is) where you can actually send in your DNA information and the type of music you like, and they will create the composition for you. Here is a future birthday present!

If interested, check it out here.

They have created songs for all kinds of things, including this one for whales:


So, yes, sound is in our very DNA.

With sound comes vibration. This is why crystal bowl meditation and bells during ritual services and chanting monks lift us to new dimensions. Sounds and vibrations are our lifeblood. They can heal or poison.


As I finish up this blog, my plan is to stay tuned to the Five Questions in my life. They have truly become a part of me during this journey, and now I cannot imagine living life without seeing it through the lens of the Five Questions. Not writing about it will free me up to be in the moment, to search for the sound in the message, to stay tuned to doing the next right thing. All year long I have been listening, and this message comes to me continually like a drumbeat.


Here (hear).






(352) Angel

It was the summer of 1997, the month I was told I might have ovarian cancer. My friends and I had tickets for Lilith Fair, the first year, and nothing was going to stop me from being there. I recall Sara MacLachlan, Paula Cole, and Mary Chapin Carpenter were on the bill.  I don’t remember who else.

I was in the throes of getting several tests before my scheduled surgery, and the day after the concert I was to have a procedure.  I needed to be cleaned out for this procedure, so had to bring a huge plastic jug of stuff to drink while at the concert, in order to maintain the proper timeline. I was fortunate they let me into Blossom Music Center with the jug, as they were being very picky about what was being allowed into this outdoor venue.

At one point of the concert I left our seats and made one of many treks to the bathroom. I decided it would be better to park myself on the hilly grass rather than keep going back into the pavilion. The moon was out and Sara was singing. I didn’t know her music that well at this point. I rested on the grass, looking at the moon, and realized she was singing about an angel.

In the arms of the angel

Fly away from here…

You are pulled from the wreckage

Of your silent reverie.

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort there.

This was the first time I would hear her soon to be hit “Angel.” There, alone in my own reverie, future uncertain, I heard these words for the first time. And yes, I “found some comfort there.”

After my surgery, this was the first song I would have my friend play for me in my hospital room. I had brought my CD player with me specifically to listen to certain music that I believed was helping me heal that summer: James Taylor’s Hourglass, Sara’s Surfacing, and Gabrielle Roth’s Ritual.

Less than a year later, I would hear the song at a significant time. I had just left my father’s hospital room and was heading toward the parking garage. I had this thought that my prayer for him was to be in the arms of the angels, perhaps because the last prayer we had prayed together was the Guardian Angel Prayer. I heard “Angel” as I was getting on the highway.  Not long after I got home, I would get the call that he had made his transition.

Sadly, I feel “Angel” got overplayed, and it is really hard for me to hear it with any of the feelings I used to associate with it. Regardless, it is still a lovely song, and it helped me tremendously through a difficult time.

Here is a beautiful version with Emmylou Harris.


(347) Across the Borderline

My favorite Willie Nelson album came out in 1993. It was an album of covers, which many of his are, including “Graceland” and “Don’t Give Up” among them.  I’ve been listening to the CD in my car, and today the title song caught my attention: “Across the Borderline.”


As I listened to the words, I thought it was pretty ambiguous. Is the narrator talking about heaven or making or dreams come true?  It is all about loss and having to let go.  It talks about a “broken promised land.”


There’s a place where I’ve been told
Every street is paved with gold
And it’s just across the borderline
And when it’s time to take your turn
Here’s a lesson that you must learn
You could lose more than you’ll ever hope to find


When you reach the broken promised land
And every dream slips through your hands
Then you’ll know that it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you’ve paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline


But then the lyrics take a shift, and it seems to be talking exclusively about Mexicans crossing the border:


Up and down the Rio Grande
A thousand footprints in the sand
Reveal a secret no one can define
The river flows on like a breath
In between our life and death
Tell me who’s the next to cross the borderline En la triste oscuridad (In the sad darkness)
Hoy tenemos que cruzar (today we have to cross)
Este río que nos llama mas alla (this river which calls us further away)


This took me back to my classroom of 10th graders, March 2010. They were working on an immigrant project, and as part of the project they were to do panel discussions regarding their immigrant background. The Mexican group was most compelling because of a story by one young man: David. As he told the story of crossing the river, tears streamed down his face. They had to meet up with a man and his mother lost track of the group, got swept away somehow. She ended up having to walk ten miles in the desert to find them — how she survived such an ordeal, I’ll never know. The story had every single person in the classroom in tears. I know it had a lasting impact because at the end of the year when we discussed the favorite things about the class, that day stood out to many students. They had received a huge lesson in empathy and understanding for the plights and traumas of others…something we can all use a bit more of these days.


But hope remains when pride is gone
And it keeps you moving on
Calling you across the borderline

When you reach the broken promised land
Every dream slips through your hands
And you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
‘Cause you pay the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Now you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline






(91) Stop Signs


Life is full of stop signs. And most often, it is art that makes us stop and take notice.

It happened yesterday. I was reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This book has won honors such as the National Book Award and the Newbery Honor.  Believe me — it deserves it. I will have more to say about it in future posts.

Meanwhile, back to the story. This entire book is done in a prose poetry style, and reads like a very engaging story. I got to page 119 and here was the STOP sign:

Wednesday night is laundry night — the clothes

blowing clean on the line above

my grandfather’s garden. When no one is looking,

we run through the sheets,

breathe in all the wonderful smells the air

    adds to them.

STOP.  Running through the sheets on the line.  I had to stop and take that in. It is a detail from my own childhood (and I’d even add adolescence, because I swear I kept doing it as long as there were sheets on the line).  A detail I HAD FORGOTTEN.  I cannot believe I forgot it, but I had.

This is why writers are so needed in this world. I like to think that I’ve remembered all the wonderful things from my childhood, but obviously not. Now I am wondering what else I’ve forgotten.

But stop signs aren’t limited to books or poetry. It applies to art and music as well.

About seventeen years ago, I visited the Cleveland Museum of Art with a friend.  I had been to the art museum many times in my life.  At this particular time, I was suffering a bit of depression. I came upon a painting by Frederick Church called “Storm in the Mountain” and what I saw was a STOP sign.


In the state of mind I was in at the time, this painting spoke to the deepest part me — a place I simply don’t have words to describe.  I felt like I understood every single thing about it. I was that broken tree. I could feel the wind. The cold. The hopelessness. I have no idea how long I stood in front of that painting, but I knew when I was done there wasn’t much else to look at except Monet’s water lilies. This painting told me everything I ever needed to know about art. And myself.

This has happened to me since with original works of art, but never with the intensity as that time. In fact, I remember revisiting the museum the next year and the picture barely made an impression.

The experience was somewhat of a forerunner to what was to come. A couple short months later, in May of 1998, my father would be dead rather suddenly, casting me into a new level of grief. Without a doubt, I believe that broken tree says a great deal about grief and the grieving process. Its presence inside me was a kind of comfort during that time.

And that brings me to a music STOP sign. It was the summer of 1999, and I was driving home from a class I was taking at the community college. My life had changed quite a bit from the year before when I had suffered depression, but I was still struggling in some ways.

I was listening to country radio, and a song came on that I was familiar with: “I’m So Happy That I Can’t Stop Crying,” written by Sting, and recorded by Toby Keith.  I had only barely listened to the lyrics over the time  — I knew it had to do with newly divorced dad. This particular day, however, there was a STOP sign. It came when he sang the line: “Everybody has to leave the darkness sometime.”

I knew in that moment that I had come through my depression and the first stages of grief, which are always so difficult. I wanted to press a stop button and rewind, but the song was on the radio, so I couldn’t.  Everybody has to leave the darkness sometime.  The process of melancholy depression and grief doesn’t go away, but somehow we have to find ways to step away, to get beyond it.  We have, like the narrator of the song, to look up at the stars and see there is a purpose, a connection, a possibility for something better.

STOP signs and the epiphany they bring, definitely have made my life better. The self-awareness is a gift given to me by someone I don’t even know.  I think that is pretty incredible – -and it is why we should never stop creating and appreciating the creations of others.