Stirrup: Something Divine for the Inner Ear

Stirrup: Something Divine for the Inner Ear

Inviting a Listening Soul

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Heard a Song Today, Changed My Life

June 20, 2014

I’m so embarrassed.

I’m too old to fall in love with rock groups and contemporary songs. That decidedly teenage evangelical zeal regarding something between two speakers just feels so naive (although arguably a prime impetus behind this blog)

Stumbled across a song a few weeks ago and it hit me so hard I couldn’t even tell Julie about it for 3 days because I hoped it would just leave me alone, or I would mature, forget about it and not have to bring it up. Nope. Maybe this post will exorcise it.

Here’s the cut and lyric, longer than my standard 30 second limit, but I don’t know how else to get there. Start it and refer to or scan the words,  and skip below to my reflections: Hit the time cues if nothing else. (Especially 2:30 for the point of this mess)

Did i ever care enough to stop myself
Did my begging heart get the better of me
My hate can’t exist if i’m alone in this body
My hate can’t exist alone
Every breath of this plagued air that you’re breathing in
You’re breathing death
As sorry as I already AM I can’t stop this from happening
Nothing ever lasts in my head full of lies
And in my selfish begging heart
The same heart that want’s you in my blood
It want’s you to feel. It wants to hold you
I’m not lonely for once but I know it wont stay
And I’m sleeping at nights but my love fades away
The days become longer
My hands are so frail
There’s a numbness surrounding and I’ve nothing to say
I felt love for a while
But it died in the promises
I felt love for a while but it died
Had i loved you before it ever had a chance just to be love.

The group is called The Elijah. They’re no longer around and the song might not be very good – that’s my problem but I can’t stop thinking about it. It is sort of pretty and also in one section remarkably ugly and that’s what has me haunted.

And maybe believing in art a little more than before I heard it.

First, the minor piano chords and dramatic arrangement spell S-A-D, so I am in my wheelhouse. Love the military drum and power chords with utterly simple and predictable but effective strings. Sounds like a sad song at the end of a spectacularly tragic movie.

Second, I know the poetry is pretty elementary. But when the lead vocal (“clean vocal”) gets to “nothing ever lasts” (1:25) there is an earnestness that I miss in our ironic, cold techno hip-hop pop world. The guy can sing. And whatever else he is, he is serious.

Third, the drama increases dramatically at 1:50  “It wants you to feel” might be the Rosetta Stone for appreciating what they are up to here. When he splits to harmonies what is already too earnest by half elevates me further. This is 80s power rock with a (fairly overused maybe) message about difficult love. The doubled drumming and ascending string line draw us toward a pinnacle. Music has a unique role among the arts in appealing to our feeling. And if nothing else this song is designed to make you feel. Not the end-all goal of music, but not a bad start.

Okay, but not just pretty feeling. Cuz frankly I get tired of pretty feelings in song (and in many arts). Something else I had never ever, ever. Heard.

 It wants you to feel…

2:30. They call it a “scream vocal”   

“I’m not lonely for once but I know it won’t stay.

And I’m sleeping at nights but my love fades away 

Jeez Don, you made me listen to this?

Extraordinary. Hideous isn’t it? No argument here. It is almost unlistenable for me. Many commentators on line suggest it is what “ruins” the song. Maybe. If you want a safer, more enjoyable song that is nicer to listen to I can point you to the vast majority of rock and roll. But it wouldn’t be “I Loved.” This song wants you to feel, and that vocal has some feeling to it I have seldom, if ever, come across. I think an immense something would be lost without this vocal. It would be a prettier, but less interesting song.

3:10 Quite the duet, no?  My embarrassment is about these moments. Am I only supposed to listen to music that sounds nice?

“I felt love for a while but it died”

3:40 Well, thank God that’s over.

The scream vocal is what differentiates this song from the pack (though I have since discovered more of a similar genre…not coming soon to this blog dont’ worry). It is what has drawn me back a couple dozen times – even to hate it and wonder at its brazen inappropriateness.  It is ridiculous and silly and overwrought (sound like any emotions you have felt lately?)

The_Elijah_DVD_front_cover I had to go online and listen the whole album “I Loved I Hated I Destroyed I Created” 45 minutes went by in a flash in a foreign land I can still hardly talk about. All I can say is I have listened to good and bad rock and roll for 4 decades now… and never anything like this.

And maybe one song is enough. But I found a limit I didn’t know was there; my preference for sonically pleasing at the expense of all else. The bias I once despised in Barry Manilow I found lurking in the dark recesses of my own Inner Ear.

Is art only supposed to be “pretty?” “affirming?” “easy?” because that would explain merely 98% of what we hear on any given day. I am appalled at how safe (and dull) the great majority of popular music is today, exquisitely produced and marketed though it may be.

The Elijah (oh that name!) thought maybe something else. Music could try something daring. Love or hate it (and in some ways I hate it) you can’t accuse these guys of selling out or playing it safe.

And today I somehow feel like I might be a braver, and better preacher because of it.

Real Life Covers

April 22, 2014 1 Comment

Stumbling across a number of on line collections of famous album covers edited into photos taken of their original setting. A nice way of contextualizing pictures some of us spent an inordinate amount of time perusing as we listened to favorite music.

I’ve been here on Abbey Road – you have to brave a complex intersection behind this photographer to look down a lovely residential block now often very busy. Apparently the boys were at a bit of a loss for what to put on the cover, decided to simply name it after the (then) mundane studio they were wrapping up in (the first fully visible white building on the left here). As a goof Paul took off his shoes.

Abbey Road

Also while in London we crossed over this bridge and I was suddenly struck by a vaguely familiar site. This is still the largest brick building in Europe: an empty and haunting factory Pink Floyd used for their concept album “Animals.” In the day (1977) they actually made an inflatable pig and floated it between the smokestacks. We would hardly be impressed now by the idea being actualized with photo shop on somebody’s office computer!

The tragic, dark feel of the songs reflects the prevalent struggle amid industrialization, a struggle even more obvious in the more class-stratified English culture. More ominous on the sleeve than here on a bright sunshine day.Animals

I’m not really a Dylan fan, but saw this record (“Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan”) in enough older friend’s collections to love seeing this picture from the West Village in New York City.

Freewheelin Bob Dylan

“Late for the Sky” was Jackson Browne’s (best by some critics) beautiful singer-songwriter collection. He wanted to match the mood of a Rene’ Magritte picture apparently. Taken a few blocks from his own house in California.

Late for the Sky

And the first Led Zep album I bought was “Physical Graffiti” an album of surprisingly wide ranging sonic depth of field. I was prepared for the epic Kashmir” (best Led Zep ever?) and then so delighted with the acoustically beautiful “10 years Gone” and instrumental “Bron Yr-Aur.” 

The site is an apartment building in New York City. The clever design had cut-outs for windows that showed different scenes depending on how you re-inserted the record sleeves, or simply spelled out the name of the album.

physical graffitti

Hard to believe sometimes that the very things that launched our fantasies and inner sonic journeys have such concrete antecedents.

Does the origin diminish the mystery? Or flesh it out?

A Generation Afloat 40 years on an Ocean of Disco Bliss

April 15, 2014 5 Comments

Here’s a riff to take you back: 


The Hues Corp

 “Rock the Boat” was on the radio constantly and reached number one 40 years ago. Whether you were a fan of disco or not, it totally changed the music scene a generation ago. An article in the Wall Street Journal (really!) claims this song launched the Disco movement in Spring of 1974. That article is found here. It’s got some interesting historical and personal detail about the recording.

Joe Sample (who had a much more interesting career playing jazz with the Crusaders and then on his own) was responsible for those killer piano chords. The Crusader’s bassist and guitarist also played.

Then of course this chorus that still invades my Inner Jukebox too often: 

“Our love is like a ship on the ocean, we’ve been sailing with a cargo full of – love and devotion!”

I don’t know anybody who would, even then, have claimed to really like the song, or to have liked most of the music that then became so popular (the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive,” to tickle your Inner Ear just a bit today). We found the entire thing, up through Saturday Night Fever, anything by K.C and the Sunshine Band and even including the guilty pleasures from Michael Jackson’s Thriller just a handful of years later to be vaguely embarassing. This was a long ways from art, or social commentary, or the edgy instrumentation we had associated with real rock.

But boy did we get up and dance when those same damn songs came over the speakers at every wedding and party we attended for a decade or two. Even TODAY there is a frenzy when the Village People or Donna Summer get cued up.

“Ah, but wait Don, before you ride that elitist and snobby hobby horse, we are only enjoying these songs now ironically, everybody dancing knows it’s all a goof…it isn’t like anybody things those things are COOL anymore.”

There certainly is a way we shield ourselves from the embarrassment of knowing who we once were. Irony and taking an emotional distance from our all-too-human loves and hates is how we protect our present cool self from becoming the bell-bottom wearing, butt-shaking, inexplicably smiling and grooving image we laugh at Next Reunion. Who can blame us? Have you seen what we looked like? What we thought important?

But I don’t know if our Inner Ear really knows the difference. I think Music Lust that touches our soul might keep an open access through the years. There is only so much worldly wisdom and sophisticated remove we can teach these listening hearts. They keep loving the stupidest things regardless of what comes after to illuminate their foolishness.


Sometimes I think the supremacy of rhythm over melody, vocal, lyric, instrumentation etc. is the main story of pop music. It is the lesson Disco best taught and provides even now. Disco ruled the clubs, then radio and every dance we went to for years. The high production values made the sassy horns and inevitable string arrangements lift you right up with it. I really don’t think it is good song writing, but is very good at something.

I eventually made a button, with one of those new, way-cool pressing machines youth pastors had access to, that said “Disco Sucks.” This was about the meanest thing I could think of to say. To anyone, or about anything. I was falling for English Art Rock and Jazz, weaning myself from what I felt to be an increasingly vacuous Top-40. That button was My Own Private Rebellion.


Except I think I might have been wrong.


So how bout you? When did Disco either hook or disgust you? And today in the recesses of your dark heart do you maybe still carry a high-heeled Feverish torch for a Love that Dare Not Mention Its Name?


Never Before. Never Again. All 5 Top Billboard Spots

April 4, 2014

20121115-the-beatles-x600-1352990279It was 50 years ago today, April 4, 1964 that the Beatles accomplished what no artist had ever done before and nobody has done since. They captured all 5 of the top spots on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Click on your fave to check out information at the Beatles Bible

Music and its marketing has become far more diverse since then, the number of genres we have been broken down into far exceeds what any artist could cross-over. So nobody thinks the record will ever be matched, let alone broken.

Our country would soon start to splinter politically, but in the music world for a moment we knew something new and extraordinary was on the radio, and everybody was listening.


A Bad Cover

March 17, 2014 3 Comments

son-of-godIf you haven’t heard Dolly Parton sing “Stairway to Heaven” I can’t quite recommend it, but it will increase your esteem for her. She both does homage to a great song and makes the song her own. She takes some chances as singer/song interpreter and I feel we should recognize that.

David Byrne sings “Take Me to the River” like he wrote it himself. In his hands the phrases sound odder than the incredible soul of Al Green. But there is a soul all its own that makes the song totally work.

In researching for this post I actually watched Miley Cyrus do a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit;” a daring song that singlehandedly changed the musical landscape of contemporary radio. She seems to be trying to simply copy Nirvana’s version and Kurt Cobain’s delivery, rather than say anything herself. It’s embarassing.

Run DMC and Aerosmith took plenty of creative license with the cover/remake of “Walk this Way” and suddenly a song we were totally done with became new and interesting again. I remember the first viewings on MTV and being surprised that I actually liked it better than the original.

Some of us thought Joe Cocker went too far with his screaming and convulsing version of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” but nobody turned it off before it was through…we just had to see the whole spectacle to the end. Now we can’t ever hear the original without thinking of Joe’s version. He just owned it.

I even liked Earth, Wind and Fire doing the Beatles‘ “Got to Get You Into My Life” because the distance from the original just felt liberating.

It isn’t that a faithful cover mimics the original, but uses it more as a launching pad. We are invited to imagine even more of the song’s spirit and possibility with the new cover version.


“Son of God”, the un-new sort-of-movie your friends might be talking about mostly made me want to watch Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” again – a film with more beauty and symbolism, more creative interpretation and interest to it. Mel Gibson’s nasty and brutish “Passion” had idiosyncrasies that had us all talking about it – we really had to go see it.Even the “Jesus” movie from a decade ago seemed fresher.  

wanted the Son of God here to break into Godspell or Jesus Christ Superstar songs to break up the monotony of a story many of us know well. Opening and closing scenes showing it all to be told from John’s perspective on Patmos years later may have made sense in the airing of the miniseries this was cobbled from, but added nothing to this movie. Scenes accompanying the closing credits were almost exclusively taken from what we had just seen, designed  to play as greatest hits of what was already a superficial Greatest Hits package. And no fan of any band really likes Greatest Hits packages. They are crass and manipulative efforts, reducing artistry and depth to what is easily palatable and marketable. Here too. I speak as a Jesus fan. 

This movie was designed in a Hallmark Channel mentality (or Touched By an Angel mentality given Roma Downey’s leadership) to make us feel very specific and predictably maudlin emotions while never challenging our preconceptions. We get to feel victorious over the bad guys (everyone but Jesus) and gloat in our self-righteous “getting it” in ways others don’t. This is more than weak “preaching to the choir” as a great number of reviewers have complained. It is reversal and mis-representing the function of the Gospel: This is a Jesus here who only speaks to others while all the time letting us off the hook.

Interestingly, while the critics are always tougher on movies than viewers, the discrepancy regarding the Son of God is especially notable: 78% of viewers voted it “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes versus only 23% of critics. It is really difficult for us to be critical when we want so much from a movie! We love the story so, it has shaped our lives so and we love to be moved by the Good News. Me too.

There is one great post-resurrection communion scene that reaches for original interpretation and dares grasp for faith struggling amid doubt. Much of the political intrigue they get right as well. But too many dated special effects, actors speaking with British accents (has anybody analyzed why this is so common in Biblical epics??), and rehashing so many old tropes of previous and better movies makes me long for a more original, risking, (and hence more faithful!) cover.


March 11, 2014

This was too great not to copy from the New Yorker last month. About one of my all time favorite songs:

Major 1


Beatles: Great Band or Great Timing?

March 4, 2014 3 Comments

With-The-Beatles-608x608You can’t choose 50/50 at the end of this post, I am just going to declare it right now. I’m sorry but that would be too easy!

You may or may not be familiar with the Theory of the Great Person in history. It says that regardless of when Jesus, Muhammad, Martin Luther, Einstein, Albert Camus, or Justin Bieber… (the most influential thinkers of our culture) lived, they still would have made a huge impact.  It wasn’t terribly relevant that Emmanuel Kant lived when he did, or Martin Luther King; their thinking and writing were seminal in beginning their respective Enlightenments due to their own content, not the setting into which they were introduced.

Others say nonsense; timing is everything. The cultural shifts that are constantly taking place allow for certain lucky dogs to be doing their relatively standard thing at just the right time. And that is why we lift them up as “great.”

Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sergeant Pepper argue I feel for immense giftedness and utterly unique greatness. On the other hand I think parts of Yellow Submarine and the White Album show the Beatles weren’t even close to perfect and not even always interesting. It was a unique time in our culture when such personal song writing and pop personality posturing really struck a nerve. Few others happened to so ably cash in on it.

I really believe there are reasons so few of us care anywhere near as much about the Rolling Stones*, The Who, The Kinks, or The Moody Blues or other bands (British Invasion or otherwise) as about the Fab Four. So I am leaning towards the Great Person end of a score here. (If you think, as do some, they were okay as a group but simply rode well a moment in history your score is going to weigh heavier on the second number). I really believe they were extraordinary, and in addition they hit the culture wave (and helped it along) perfectly.abbey-road-vinyl

Regarding the Beatles and the theory of the Great Band/Great Timing I’m gonna go with 80/20. 80 percent of their massive success was due to skill and 20 percent due to sheer luck. 

80/20. But I’d love to hear your percentages! Leave a comment with score and explanation!

* We used to debate Beatles versus the Stones! Comparing mostly pop to bad boy rock and roll is beside the point for some I realize. Interesting however to compare 7 years of a career frozen at a high point versus 50 years of a band still carrying on today. The Beatles have sold twice as many albums (a little over 2 billion) and toured for a tenth as long.

The Only Flamenco Guitarist I Know

February 26, 2014 5 Comments

Paco de Lucia died today in Mexico at age 66 (which seems younger to me all the time…). I am no guitar aficionado certainly. I really only know his name and a couple of songs. I can hold my own with any praise band (which isn’t saying a lot) but have often wished I could play lead in a meaningful way (don’t we all? No?)De Lucia

But back in the late 70s I was just finding Jazz Fusion. It in turned shaped my love for Jazz in general. This eclectic mix of jazz instrumentation and form with electric and rock influences offers a dramatic departure from tradition I often find compelling. In fact more compelling than most Jazz that predates it. Miles Davis may have started it, Certainly Weather Report and Chick Corea‘s Return to Forever band perfected it in my mind/ear.

And on Al Di Meola‘s Elegant Gypsy, among the other songs of great volume and technical brilliance, was a totally acoustic track called “Mediterranean Sundance” (this excerpt) that changed the way I thought about Flamenco guitar. It made it utterly cool. No longer merely Spanish and old, Flamenco felt modern and up to any challenge that our new music(s) could offer.

I still find their unison playing unbelievably tight, the flare of their solos exciting, and the speed with which they do the whole affair dazzling. I always imagine myself sitting between the two of them recording this as they helpfully separated the competing channels very clearly. Toward the end of the track they take turns “oye!” ing back and forth which makes the event seem utterly spontaneous.

I work in a biz where I am allowed to do many tasks and feel more a Jack of All Trades. In a world where not many of us have the discipline or 10,000 hours to become masters at anything it is wonderful to notice those who have really, really, focused. They are, even in death as well, a testament to us all!


Where Were You When the World Changed?

February 21, 2014 2 Comments

No, not Kennedy being shot, but when the Beatles played Ed Sullivan 50 years ago, when Beatlemania broke out. Here’s a minute long clip if you haven’t already seen too much of it: 

Paul and John seem to struggle a bit for pitch on “hand–” but the harmonies are there briefly. The setting with girls screaming in the background while the boys play away rather amused has become iconic to many of us by now. By their own reports they couldn’t hear well when playing live and suffered numerous equipment failures.

The British Invasion had begun. And our country’s popular culture would never be the same again. There was something terribly sporting and funny about these guys that made their audacious performances seem more endearing than presumptuous.

Here’s an excerpt from their first interview when they landed in the states:

Question: There’s some doubt that you can sing.

John: No, we need money first.

Q: What do you expect to take out of this country?

John: About half a crown.

Ringo: Ten dollars.

Q: Does all that hair help you sing?

John: Definitely. Yeah.

Q: How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?

Ringo: All of us.

Paul: I’m bald.

Q: You’re bald?

John: Oh, we’re all bald, yeah.

Paul: Don’t tell anyone, please.

John: I’m deaf and dumb, too.

Q: Listen, I got a question here. Are you going to get a haircut at all while you’re here?

The Beatles: No!

Ringo: Nope.

Paul: No, thanks.

George Harrison: I had one yesterday.

Ringo: You should have seen him the day before.

Q: What do you think your music does for these people?

Paul: Er…

John: Hmm, well…

Ringo: I don’t know. It pleases them, I think. Well, it must do, ’cause they’re buying it.

Q: Why does it excite them so much?

Paul: We don’t know, really.

John: If we knew, we’d form another group and be managers.

Q: What about all this talk that you represent some kind of social rebellion?

John: It’s a dirty lie. It’s a dirty lie.

Q: What do you think of Beethoven?

Ringo: Great, especially his poems. (Muttering to the others) I’m sick of that one.

Q: Have you decided when you’re going to retire?

John: Next week.

I love how clueless the reporters seem to me now, how threatened they seem by the Beatles popularity, how much fun the Fab 4 seem to be having at their expense

Here’s the 6th highest Top 40 hit at the start of the Invasion. Anybody recognize? Can anybody tell me: was it really only in French??!!

The world was a different place in February 1964. I was not paying attention to anything outside my toy soldiers in 1964, but I suspect some of you have other memories first or second hand…

By the first week of April 1964 the Beatles would hold all 5 top spots on the singles chart, a feat never seen before or since. And they would perform in the states for the last time only 28 months later in San Francisco. I didn’t get to watch the television special the other night, but heard good things about some of the performances (but Yellow Submarine?…really?)

What do you know about the Ed Sullivan appearance? 

When did you first hear of the Beatles?

Get ready. The coming weeks on TV and Interwebs will be a flurry of Beatle-mania. And while me and my classmates weren’t yet  paying attention I am totally digging the chance to walk back down that (Abbey) Memory Road. Check out here the Billboard Chart to get a sense of the world they were about to turn upside down.

Stay tuned to Stirrup for clips and reflections, some analysis both musical and spiritual on the fab 4, and hopefully always a little something to carry with you into your day!

I’ll be asking for feedback from you both personal and musical so pay attention during the specials so I can learn something from you as well!

I Feel Fine.

“50 Years Ago Today…” starts today

February 8, 2014

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