Have you voted yet? I’m lucky enough to have an early voting station in the lobby of my office building, so I already got to cast my ballot in what feels like the most consequential election of my lifetime. Precarious times.
For me, this is not just about hoping to snatch democracy from the jaws of tyranny but the future of the planet from the claws of those that deny climate change.
When my buddy Ron recently put out the call to make some art to get out the vote, I said “I’m in!” So he sent me some lyrics, aimed at getting younger folks out, to make into a song.
I made a few little adjustments – worked some of Pete Seeger’s participation in – and cranked out this one-minute punk rock Vote song. Please share.
You will listen to bad music
You will wear dumb clothes
You will sport extreme haircuts
You will awkwardly make out
Who cares. It doesn’t matter. You’re young.
One day you’ll look back
At all those selfies
And laugh your ass off
But not voting is different
It really matters
It’s never mattered more
Only way to save the nation
Your chance to stand up
and save the planet
Get off your ass and vote
Get off your ass and vote
Get off your ass and vote
Vote Vote Vooooooooote!!!
On one of our walks around campus a few years ago my friend Dan shared some Buddhist phrases that he uses as mantras. First: “Everything changes. Everything’s connected. Pay attention.” And second: “Right now, it’s like this.”
Those stuck with me and I made some slight adjustments to make them more singable, ending up with:
So pay attention
This is what it’s like right now
After a little searching, I discovered that the first three lines can be attributed to poet Jane Hirshfield, who wrote, “Zen pretty much comes down to three things — everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.”
The last line seems to come from a Buddhist monk named Ajahn Sumedho, who advises us “to see things the way that they actually are rather than the way that we want or don’t want them to be (“Right now, it’s like this…”).”
Gary Sanders’ hands
I like the way singing these lines brings me back to the present, focussing me with a sense of curiosity and wonder on how much is happening at this moment. I hope I’ve made the song catchy enough to stick in your head and bend your attention for a second to the interconnectedness of things.
The video of tall grass with cattails in the wind comes from a lovely city park we stumbled upon one spring day in Boston. I hope you can get lost in the beauty of the wind through the grass and trees.
If you’ve got a dog or cat, you probably talk to them as I do. And I bet they speak to you too.
Frida and Townes, cuddling on the couch
Saturday Morn is a song about walking my dog, Townes, early one Saturday as my cat, Frida, followed us from a distance.
I was very much in my head that morning, frustrated and dispirited. But as my mind wandered, Townes’s buoyant doggy spirit brought me back to the sunlight and serenity of the park.
Eventually, Townes’s insistence that we play and fetch and swim lifted my mood. So this song is about how our beloved animal friends get us out of ourselves and bring us back to the glories of the present.
“Ya got some buddies there I see”
the runner said to me
as me and Townes and Frides lounged in the sun
Twas a gorgeous Saturday morn,
cool breeze, warm sun
the day barely begun already runnin’ round
Townes was chewing on a stick,
Frida chewin’ on her leg
we were all rollin on our backs in our grassy gowns
I was sittin on a stump by the stream
across from where I’ve been
I could see the rut I was in and how well worn
How I sit day after day,
dreamin’ of places I’ll play
without finding a way to get it done
And Townes said “Let’s jump in the pool and chase things”
and Frida said “Don’t mind me, I’ll sneak along behind”
I said Come on, move along, let’s go now And home we flied
Takin advice from the dogs is a mugs game
Takin advice from the cats is fine
Take me some good advice for when you need relaxin
Stay kind to yourself in your mind
And take yourself a little time
Cause I know that Townes is right,
a dog needs his exercise
but I feel like some catnip and following behind
Now they’re dozing on the porch
and I’m strumming a few chords
try in to get my head restored to the how and why
I know that I need that plan
that details who I am
defines the discipline to win the war
To forget about my worst
put out my best and bust
on to the scene like the first one to be born
And Townes says “Please don’t be gone all the time”
and Frida says “I’ll wander off into the night”
and I said “I’ll stay and myself that I’ll play
and walk you every day forevermore
and walk you every day forevermore”
Here’s a little journey I took on a Sunday morning 25 years ago that is still with me.
I wrote this song, Sunday Morn, while living in Dublin, Ireland. It’s about walking up the beautiful, wide, car-free Grafton Street watching a dozen street performers along the way, past the big church at the top then back along the River Liffey.
It’s about wandering in search of the sacred and finding it in a great array of artists along the way. That is certainly how my life has turned out, finding the spiritual, the spark, the source of life in art and the people making it.
I can still see all the buskers chronicled in this song. I hope you can see them too.
I was on my way to church one Sunday morn
the sun was bright and the weather was warm
winter was over but I needed my coat
the streets were clear and the cars ran slow
there a clown breathed flame and ate the fire
juggled a knife a book and a tire
he called all the children and gave em all toys
sent them back to their parents for coins
I came to the poet in a long tattered coat
who sung and chanted every word he spoke
he pointed and pounded his great walking stick
I could hardly get through the crowd was so thick
then I came to a one-man band
who’d rigged up strings to every finger on his hand
from a little dance and from a little song
came a chorus or strings and drums and gongs
two girls sat on the side of the street
on a Persian rug with cards about their feet
for the smallest of bills and they’d shuffle the cards
and give you the blessing of their beggar gods
and a middle-aged lady with old misfit clothes
sat on a crate no song nor show
just dirt on her face and her inhuman eyes
that begged for the money that they despised
and a short man with a beard and beret
had a saxophone and man could he play
low and slow a hoarse sort-of cry
you could see the sadness in all who passed by
and a freckled gypsy boy with spiky red hair
played a penny whistle high with despair
his two younger brothers played violin
as the mother and father passed ’round the tin
and when I finally came to church I was late
and I’d spent my money for the collection plate
tossing my coins in the cups and hats
so I decided to take the long way back
I walked through the street with old women and men
nodding a greeting now and again
down by the courthouse and past the cops
looking in the windows of all the closed shops
my legs had gone weary and my mind had gone blank
as I made it home along the riverbank
arriving again at my door
having spent Sunday morning like so many before
I’ve always been a daydreamer battling the busyness. I struggled through every level of school and early adulthood as the details of my responsibilities got lost on my mental meanderings.
Finally, I found myself a system (called Getting Things Done, or GTD, by David Allen). The GTD idea is to build an information capture and review process for all your tasks and ideas. It’s basically a workflow of lists for all your to-dos and dreams that you review periodically. Boring stuff, I know, but when I really commit to it I find it makes room for all sorts of magic and miracles.
It’s a constant struggle to stick to my system and keep it sufficiently simple, but when I do, it saves me from constant worry about what I’m forgetting so I can daydream up new songs, like this ode to my system.
I use my system to capture information
I use my system to structure inspiration
I use my system to make up my inventions
I use my system to catalog intention
Always planning for a miracle
Always scanning for a miracle
I use my system to connect from a distance
I use my system to fire up the pistons
I use my system to play all day with children
I use my system to listen and re-listen
Always feeling for a miracle
Always appealing for a miracle
So I’m free to make my art and play my part
So I’m free to undertake with all my heart
So I’m free to work out my philosophies
So I’m free from all of these anxieties
I use my system to buy myself some freedom
I use my system to know what to abstain from
I use my system to do and then do nothing
I use my system to amplify the loving
Always tending to a miracle
Always sending for a miracle
So I’m free to be with friends and not my phone
So I’m free to stay at home and be alone
So I’m free to be a fool and not be cool
So I’m free and not a tool of all my tools
So I’m free to let go of what I know
So I’m free to appreciate the show
So I’m free to not feel bad bout feeling low
So I’m free to go wherever I can go
I use my system to get up and get busy
I use my system to keep from getting dizzy
Singing reggae hymns and indie spirituals
Snapping pics and scouting out the visuals
Recording lines for all my oddball musicals
I finally learned it’s cool to be unusual
I use my emptiness to make a place
I use my denied state to fight the hate
I use my heart to steer into the fear
I feel a miracle is almost here
I make songs and sites, a Washingtonian Austinite.
Fresh Baked Songs
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What is a song? A song is a kind of joke or story one tells in a concise manner, with drama. with, strategic reiteration of a theme (the chorus), and pathos. If one can converse with the same brevity and hypnotic mind control as one finds in a “hit” song, one will be all right.