Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Try Something New: Five Albums from 2015...

Here are five albums that I have been listening to from 2015. This is not a best of list, but more an excuse to expose my readers to new music that has been running in the background while I plug along...

Frank TurnerPositive Songs for Negative People
Mumford & SonsWilder Mind
Cage the ElephantTell Me I'm Pretty
Elle KingLove Stuff
Alabama ShakesSound & Color

Frank Turner: Positive Songs for Negative People

Frank Turner is a 30-something former British punk turned Folk Singer who has released his 6th album in 2015. Both this and his last have been extremely popular in the UK which paved the road to an American audience. The deluxe version of his recent album has acoustic versions of most of the songs and they are haunting echoes of the originals. I can't decide if I like them better, or merely because they remind me of the more "plugged-in" versions, but nonetheless I find myself listening to the second half of the album more than the first.

Mumford & Sons: Wilder Mind

Indie/folk/alternative band Mumford & Sons has been hot since Little Lion Man exploded onto the charts in 2009. The band seemed to be better received commercially in the US than in their country of origin, the UK, but managed to gain immense popularity in both countries as well as beyond to Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Belgium, etc.  Although Wilder Mind lacks the pop of their earlier efforts, Mumford & Sons have written another excellent album. If new to the band, try their albums in order, Sigh No More (2009), Babel (2012), and then Wilder Mind (2015). If you love the sound of their first efforts, you are sure to like the follow-up, and then, obviously, all three should be in your collection.

Cage the Elephant: Tell Me I'm Pretty

Dan Auerbach (who has an amazing solo album, Keep It Hid) of the Black Keys produced this brand new album by Cage the Elephant. Mess Around has been on the radio since October, but the full album hit stores and the internet two days ago (Dec. 18). What I am hearing is pretty good. As is so often true for albums that follow up commercial success, this album seems to lack the instant punch of killer singles, but promises a more subtle and perhaps mature sound. I can hear Auerbach's influence which is a great thing for the traditionally acidy sound of Cage the Elephant. Sweetie Little Jean, Cry BabyCold Cold Cold, and Too Late to Say Goodbye are all grabbing my interest already. The video single for Mess Around is comprised of clips from Georges Melies silent films that were the backdrop of the story Hugo by Martin Scorsese, cool!

Elle King: Love Stuff

Like so many people I was brought to Elle King by her song Ex's & Oh's, a catchy southern rock/alternative single with an upbeat tempo that has shades of a bluesy sound similar to the Black Keys. The rest of the album is more straight southern rock and does not have the same instant appeal to me as her lead single. That said, there are still quite a few excellent songs, Where the Devil Don't Go, Song of Sorrow. The content of her work is naughty, nasty, hard, and sometimes just rough. Elle King has attitude to spare  and shows little or no restraint in offering her opinions and energy in her music. Take it with a grain of salt, it's just rock and roll, baby.

Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color

The south rises again with this gem of a band from Athens, Alabama. Having cut their teeth in the southeast and self produced their first album in the mecca of southern music, Nashville, Alabama Shakes has put in the hard work and is now starting to reap the benefits they so rightfully deserve. Supposedly the band got its first major break when a popular music blogger  for SirusXM posted one of their songs on the internet. Offers, deals, national recognition all began to pour in. There is a soulful feel to their sound that has shades of R&B and a clear 70s influence with the clean recording technology of the 21st century. On top of well developed rhythms, catchy riffs, and a heavy use of backing vocals rests the cream of Alabama Shakes' sound, the unique vocals of Brittany Howard.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." --Psalm 119:130

"Keep on moving to the first rays of dawn": I've been thinking about light a lot lately. Darkness so often becomes the descriptor of negative loneliness and despair, while light holds promise of warmth and illumination. When I see friends posting online about their pain, I find I offer words about light: "Even if you feel you are in complete darkness, you are not alone. Call out and the lights of your life will answer."
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
--John, 1:5
It is so essential that we surround those who perceive themselves to be in darkness; and to be ready to steady their falls; and to reach out to them when the stumble; and if they call out we must be prepared to answer with loving kindness, peace, and compassion...

"Keeping it on 'til the day stays strong": I call my father sometimes when I perceive myself surrounded by darkness. My father reminds me that the sun is shining. He tells me that it will come up again tomorrow. He explains to me that that the sun is important for us, both physically and metaphorically. He suggests that even when it is cloudy or rainy—and when I cannot see the sun—that it is still there, shining on something. The sun can blind if we look into it directly, but nourishes us when we allow it to shine upon us. The sun is life. The sun helps growth. The sun is constant. Thank you, sun. Thank you, dad...

I like the sun in its transitioning moments, morning and evening. Long shadows provoke me and provide me with opportunities to learn.
The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
--William Wordsworth, The Tables Turned

The morning sun—often cool and yet still warm on our face in the dampness chill of dawn—offers hope, a quiet reflective time to prepare for the day. The evening sun often brings a warm melancholy with it—another quiet reflective time accompanied by gratitude or perhaps some regret. It is good to hold on to the gratitude and leave the regrets with the passing of the day...

"Runnin 'til the night time blazes on": We are one week from the darkest time of the year; people have begun lighting their homes with twinkling lights like stars, and towns have begun lighting their streets and central places with "holiday" lighting. I love the little lights all about!

We light candles in windows to indicate that someone's home... waiting; we light lamps in high places to guide people home. In the home a warm fire casts a glow on the hearth and perhaps on the hearts those who gather around it in their togetherness. There by the soft mesmerizing light there might be conversation, laughter, or quiet reflection. The light in the window beacons to the stranger on the road, or to the one who is late to the gathering. It is a time of year to come together and hold those we care for close to us. It is a time when we must protect our most precious relationships from the darkness...

Lighting the night is an ancient practice. From the Germanic druids lighting their forrest trees at the solstice, to Maccabeans experiencing miracles of lamp light to light sacred spaces. "For Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, a lamp offering carries the wish to attain buddhahood and the aspiration to recognize the clear light at the time of death, thereby experiencing liberation in that moment. In this way lamp offerings are associated with transitions in one's life." (https://www.kagyu.org/ktd/monastery/butterlamps_preview.php)
If you wish for sublime realization, offer hundreds of lights.
--Root Tantra of Chakrasamvara
I wish for sublime realization. I yearn for acceptance of the truth, even when that which I seek is not pleasant. Desire for illumination drives me; my attachments and desires bind me. Such a catch-22.   

Back in 1992 I lived in a Burmese Buddhist monastery/guest house located about 1 km from the enlightenment spot of Siddhartha Gautama—the Buddha—while I earned a semester's credit worth of comparative Buddhist studies, cultural anthropology, and Hindi. Four months in India and Nepal changed my life. I found a language for my perceptions of the world. I found a practice that made sense to my intellect. I found a way to put my intellect in its place.

One evening I had the opportunity to spend an evening with hundreds of friends and strangers, each lighting hundreds of lamps with the hopes of collectively lighting a million lights. What a night! There was a celebratory energy amidst the quiet reflective act of using wax-wick-sticks to light butter lamp after butter lamp in the courtyards surrounding the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya. The light cast upon our faces as the sun went down, and the warmth from the lamps on our skin as the pleasant cool of the Indian night arrived, was calming, peaceful, wonderful. The darkness never arrived that night. Not even a little bit. The lights of thousands of lamps lit the crowd who shared a similar purpose, each individual lost in a collective effort...

"All along I keep singing my song": Each year I try to find a theme of light for our Christmas-time holiday card. I have offered an Celtic proverb each year: "May the blessing of light be on you—light without and light within." And I have included a blessing each year as well: "May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home. May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam. May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures. May all life's passing seasons bring the best to you and yours!"

This year I switched it up a little, removing the blessing and including the following instead:
There is always light to show the way; especially on the darkest nights, stars in heaven shine their brightest. May the sun shine warmly for you this coming year, and on those cold crisp nights, when the moon is new, may the stars about you light your way.
I hope light in all its forms finds its way to you, the reader. Blessings, peace & compassion...

Keep on moving to the first rays of dawn
Keeping it on 'til the day stays strong
Runnin 'til the night time blazes on
All along I keep singing my song
--Matisyahu, Sunshine

Sunday, December 6, 2015

"To live is enough..."

Beautiful things: Recently I offered my recommendation for the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I've been thinking about a short exchange that takes place between Walter and the famed adventurer, Sean O'Connell. Sean Penn plays this elusive, grizzled, zen-like photographer, quietly delivering his lines as a sage might mutter in the vague direction of an attentive apprentice:

"Beautiful things don't ask for attention."

Beauty attracts attention, demands it by its very essence, but in humility does not seek that attention. We, who observe that beauty are compelled to it and to admire it. It is something that happens in the moment without intention or reflection. It just is...

Right there. Right Here: While sitting in a crag high in a central Asian mountain range, peering though a telephoto lens at the elusive snow leopard, Walter asks Sean "When are you going to take it?"...
Sean O'Connell: Sometimes I don't. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O'Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.
The moment is important. Our thoughts can be so easily overwhelmed by focusing on regrets of the past, or anxiety about the future.

"If you have one foot in the past, and one foot in the future, you are ready to piss all over today."

This positioning, spending too much attention on what was, and what might yet be, makes experiencing life so difficult. The need to capture beauty through a lens gets in the way of "staying with it." Just be right there. Right here.

All moments in the now: Even terrible moments progress better when the now is attended to, rather than being absent "Right there. Right here." But the best moments are those that we want to stay in, and in the moment, time stretches out into forever and therein lies a kind of happiness that is quite amazing. The moment becomes a thing of beauty that does not ask for attention, and in fact, is ruined by too much cognition...
Our true home is not in the past. Our true home is not in the future. Our true home is in the here and the now. Life is available only in the here and the now, and it is our true home. -- Thich Nhat Hanh
When I am in my true home I am living, and that is distraction-free bliss...