Tag Archives: A Words Look

A Words Look: Gun by Uncle Tupelo

Although picking a favorite song by Uncle Tupelo is like picking one of your own children over the others, I have to say Gun, from the 1991 album, Still Feel Gone, sits slightly higher than the rest of their fantastic musical library. This song just rocks it. And that “Crawling back to you…” verse just rips a hole in your soul. Plus, it was written as a collaboration between the original members and perhaps a sign of the more harmonious days of the band.

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I was sad and a little pissed off when Uncle Tupelo called it quits after their masterpiece 1993 album, Anodyne. Then you understand when you listen to Anodyne and hear the tension between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. You see the split in the songwriting and the sound of the songs. That tension was probably what made Anodyne so special. Almost beyond the realm of belief, Anodyne was recorded in two weeks and each song only took one take. Jay Farrar’s title song is beautiful and sad and haunting. I still listen to Anodyne from start to finish at least once a month. It is that good.

Out of the Uncle Tupelo ashes came two great bands as Farrar went his way with Son Volt and Tweedy started Wilco. Both debut albums, Trace and A.M., are fantastic records and Wilco continues to be one of my favorite bands. Jay Farrar’s song, Sultana, was the first I’d heard of the Civil War-era steamboat disaster and the song inspired me to find out more about the event, which led me to write my middle-grade historical fiction, Sultana Sinking.

Gun

Falling out the window
Tripping on a wrinkle in the rug
Falling out of love, dear
It hurt much worse when you gave up

Just don’t tell me which way I oughta run
Or what good I could do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now so don’t bother

Climbing up the ladder
Breaking my shin on the very first rung
Waking up the neighbors
It’s all right, they understand they’re just as dumb

And they don’t tell me which way I oughta run
Or what good I could do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now, so don’t bother me now, don’t bother

Crawling back to you now
I sold my guitar to the girl next door
She asked me if I knew how
I told her “I don’t think so anymore”

Don’t tell me which way I oughta run
What good could I do anyone
‘Cause my heart, it was a gun
But it’s unloaded now so don’t bother

Songwriters
JEFF TWEEDY, JAY FARRAR, MICHAEL HEIDORN
Published by
Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

A Halloween 2015 Words Look: Poe for Evermore

Besides Ogden Nash’s poem, The Duck, Poe’s The Raven ranks as a Mike Hays favorite. But, alas, it was too much work to memorize the whole thing for school poetry recitations, so The Duck was/is my go-to poem.

Here’s a link to the whole poem, The Raven, if you wish to read it in its entirety to celebrate the holiday. Better yet, listen to one (or all) celebrity readings of the poem at the Mental Floss link.

This post is my condensed version of Poe’s classic with only the last lines of each verse. To my untrained eye, it gives a cool, new perspective to the poem, especially when read fast.

Only this and nothing more.
Nameless here for evermore.
This it is and nothing more.
Darkness there and nothing more.
Merely this and nothing more.
’Tis the wind and nothing more!
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
With such name as “Nevermore.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Happy Halloween 2015! Forever-more.

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A Words Look: SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon

I am re-reading SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon to prepare for my late July guest blog post on the wonderful literature review blog, Mother Daughter Book Reviews. SUMMERLAND is a fantastic book which seems to have somehow got lost in the shuffle for reasons I will lament upon in the blog post.

Released in 2002, it is a masterpiece combining myth, a hero’s journey, Native American culture, and baseball in order to save the Four Worlds from Coyote, who means to put an end to it. Young or old, I highly recommend adding SUMMERLAND to your reading list.

Summerland

Below are a couple of my favorite quotes from the book, in which, the young, chosen-one hero, Ethan Feld, finds a copy of the Ferisher (fairy) instruction manual on catching, How to Catch Lightning and Smoke, in his possession, and begins to read it.

“The first and last duty of the lover of the game of baseball, “ Peavine’s book began, “whether in the stands or on the field, is the same as that of the lover of life itself: to pay attention to it. When it comes to the position of catcher, as all but fools and shortstops will freely acknowledge, this solemn requirement is doubled.”  -Introduction to How to Catch Lightning and Smoke by E. Pevine.

It was here, playing for the Snake Island Wapatos amid the cottonwoods and wildflower glades of the seventy-two-team Flathead League, that he (Peavine) had first begun, in his words, “to grasp the fundamental truth: a baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day.”

A Words Look: RAISING STEAM by Terry Pratchett

I will miss the writer Terry Pratchett. He was a master.

I came to the Pratchett game late. I don’t know what rock I lived under, but I did eventually see the light and find his work. The Discworld novels, the Tiffany Aching books, DEATH, Hogfather, the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, GOOD OMENS. It makes my head spin to consider the volume of outstanding art he produced.

There’s been this vision in my mind of a huge two story wall existing in some secret location which served as a Discworld storyboard. I imagine illustrations of characters, storylines, locations, and a sapient pearwood trunk—all on an octarine background floating on the back of the Great A’Tuin. Truly a piece of wall art one could spent a decade studying. Maybe someday…

Terry Pratchett died March 12, 2015 from his Alzheimer’s. His speech on his Alzheimer’s is magnificent and can be read in a past post. It is a bit depressing to think of the stories he did not get to paper. The volumes of ideas nature kept for itself and we will never see. I think a good life goal will be to read every Terry Pratchett book published. I will give it a try, I believe.

Here’s an example of Terry Pratchett’s genius. It is from his latest (and 40th) Discworld book, RAISING STEAM.

“Most of them arrived in time to see something heading out toward them, panting and steaming, with fast-spinning wheels and oscillating rods eerily appearing and disappearing in the smoke and the haze, and on top of it all, like a sort of king of smoke and fire, Dick Simnel, his face contorted with the effort of concentration. It was faintly reassuring that this something was apparently under the control of somebody human—although the more thoughtful of the onlookers might have added “So what? So’s a spoon,” and got ready to run away as the steaming, dancing, spinning, reciprocating engine cleared the barn and plunged on down the tracks laid in the field. And the bystanders, most of whom were now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except, of course, for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that one day he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes indeed. A prince of the steam! A master of the sparks! A coachman of the Thunderbolts!”

RaisingSteamCover

Bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders…

Nobody can do it like Terry Pratchett did.

Rest in peace, Sir.

You will be missed.

 

A Words Look: “These Days” by Jackson Browne

These Days is one of my favorite Jackson Browne songs. As I have aged, it has also slowly crept up the ladder for a permanent top-tier spot in my heart and soul.

Middle-agedness seeps from every word and note of this song. Life at a crossroads; the point in life where one contemplates the past and begins to fear the future. It is just a beautiful song.

Surprisingly, one of the first songs a teenage Jackson Browne wrote. Remarkable.

Absolutely, positively, mother-loving remarkable.

“These Days”

Well I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days
These days-
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
For you
And all the times I had the chance to

And I had a lover
It’s so hard to risk another these days
These days-
Now if I seem to be afraid
To live the life I have made in song
Well it’s just that I’ve been losing so long

I’ll keep on moving
Things are bound to be improving these days
These days-
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten, my friend
Don’t confront me with my failures
I had not forgotten them

A Words Look: Wordless Rhythm

Drum speak without words. The performance by a skilled drummer creates a mood and feeling out of raw rhythm. It paints a picture in the same way we, as authors, create a world using words. Imagination, talent, and fundamental skill combined to produce something beautiful.

I am a percussion fan despite the fact I have zero rhythm and zero musical talent. Planet Drum, Neil Peart, Buddy Rich, John Bonham…the list of my percussion inspirations goes on and on.

Sometimes I do play a pretty mean drum solo on the Wii Music drum kit. Well, I play a mean drum solo when nobody else is home and the TV is muted. But it is fun to dream, isn’t it?

Here is a very cool video from a early season K-State Wildcats women’s basketball game. The atmosphere Peter Rabbit, along with KSU mascot Willie the Wildcat, creates is magic. I can’t imagine how pumped the crowd would have been in a later season contest with a packed arena.  Enjoy!

A Words Look: “What Sarah Said”

On November 13th each year, DJ John Richards from KEXP radio in Seattle (www.kexp,org) does a tribute show to celebrate his mother’s life on the anniversary of the day she died. The 2014 show was the 10-year anniversary of her passing. It is an emotional four hour show celebrating, love, death, family, and, most importantly, life, as only the combination of words and music can accomplish. It is a beautiful radio show.

This “A Words Look” post will be dedicated to John Richards and KEXP radio for producing such an amazing piece of work to honor those we loved who are no longer with us.

“What Sarah Said”
From Death Cab for Cutie off the Plans album.

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I’d already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

‘Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said that “Love is watching someone die”

So who’s going to watch you die?..

  • From SongFacts.com:
    Sarah is an acquaintance of lead singer Ben Gibbard. The narrator is the one that is dying. His wife is standing with him waiting for his inevitable death and he is saying that he knew death would come for one of them at some point. She shows her love by standing with him, and he asks her, “who’s gonna watch you die?” because he will already be gone.
  • Gibbard (from his record label’s website): “The song was inspired by a friend. She was walking with her husband one day and just burst into hysterical tears because she realized that one day one of the two of them would have to watch the other die.”