Song for a Big City Boy Gone Fishin’…

THE LAWS OF COUNTRY MUSIC

(By Mark Nielsen, (c) 2017 )

There are laws in nature, and in Nashville, too.

So if you wanna write a country song, here’s what you do:

Don’t even touch your guitar till you’re sad and blue,

Then write your way outta the hole you done fell into.

     [Chorus:  ]
I say anyone can write themself a country song

If it makes you want to dance and it ain’t too long.

They can cheer you up, or they can knock you on your ass–

Hey Bartender, fill up this glass!
My daddy used to tell me put away the pedal steel,

Just use a regular slide and stay awake at the wheel,

bend them guitar strings and make a high lonesome wail,

And do your best to stay sober and stay the hell outta jail.
I say anyone can write themself a country song

If it makes you want to dance and it ain’t too long.

They can cheer you up, or they can knock you on your ass,

Hey Bobby, you’re playin’ this too fast!
Next you make the drums swing just like Bob Wills,

And don’t let the damn bass player take them pills.

Get a fiddle if you wanna but don’t make a fuss.

And keep all them dirty groupies off your private tour bus.

       (Spoken over a fiddle figure or tame guitar part) :

     They’re liable to steal something, right? Or take a picture and sell it to the tabloids. Ruin your …umm… squeaky clean public image…

You get big brass balls and an iron fist, 

you don’t understand it all but you get the gist,

Make it a little heavy metal with a peppermint twist

Add in some honky tonk piano, is there anything else I missed?
I say anyone can write themself a country song

If it makes you want to dance and it ain’t too long.

They can cheer you up, or they can knock you on your ass,

Just don’t let nobody call them low class!

        (Spoken over the band’s wailin’ outro) : 

Aw damn! I broke my own rule and wrote this tune too dang long. They ain’t never gonna play this’un on the radio. Better call up my manager, have him see if one of his other artists wants to buy a song cheap to fill out their record. I’m overdue on my rent this month, need to make me a quick $300.

Kevin Max, formerly of dc Talk, covers a great song from one of the greatest “alternative” (i.e. Non-Nashville, non-plastic) Christian bands ever, The Call.

Covers it well, too! With some Bob Dylan, Rich Mullins, and other great stuff on the the forthcoming “Serve Somebody” EP.

btw, go find the original by The Call, while you’re at it… it’s a beautiful contrast to this version.

Like like LIKE. Thanks for including such diverse voices on your new covers EP, Kevin Max. It’s about time believers and seekers got out of our private, silly debates over who’s a legit Christian and who ain’t. If it’s praise, it plays. If it corrects, it connects. If it rocks, don’t you dare stop it.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 23, 2017

Fear the Living

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Whether it’s Trump and the 49% who voted for him, or the warmongering Saudis, the desperate fearmongering Israelis, the bombers AND attendees at dipshit teenybopper concerts, the grunge rock prophets who are their own worst enemy, the despots and thugs in our homeland and throughout the world (especially the Third World), or the noble elitist thugs on Wall Street and running the Swiss banks, the nihilist libertarians and godless communists lying in wait in every nook and cranny… what does one do when one loses faith– not in God –but in humans as a species? 
One takes one’s medicine, then watches The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods, and Homeland, and learns of human nature. Then one gathers one’s family close, one shows up again –for now– at the latest McJob, and one waits for clarity while licking one’s wounds. 
Save us, Jesus. We screwed it up again.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell’s Blackest Day 


. (Aka “Hope is a basement window, broken, to exit out of a dark alley”)

Fell On Black Days -video, acoustic solo, Chris Cornell

        https://youtu.be/gu4Qmy2UGdA

Whomsoever I’ve cured I’ve sickened now

Whomsoever I’ve cradled I’ve put you down

I’m a search light soul

They say but I can’t see it in the night

I’m only faking when I get it right

Cause I fell on black days

How would I know that this could be my fate

Fell On Black Days, Soundgarden, on 1994’s Superunknown

Chris Cornell has died, reportedly by his own hand. Who will be able to replace that beautiful wolf now, howling at the moon, trying to pull it down and ingest it whole?

.
In My Time of Dying -article detailing his final performance

  • [Article linked above is about Cornell’s final show, just this week… and his carefully chosen swan song, a plaintive shout-out to God.]

There are musicians. And then there are artists who transcend their chosen genre, field, form or medium. 

And then there are the great souls: greatly influential strugglers, battlers, many of whom bear the burden of an entire generation’s struggle to find or create meaning and hope amidst the chaos. Kafka. Picasso. Shakespeare. Cash. Beckett. Stravinsky. Hitchcock. Marley. Eliot. Dylan. Monet. Ramone. As unhappiness stalks them, they invent entire new art forms and movements, by the sheer force of a fierce imagination and a hunger to expose some elusive truth on behalf of us all. Or at least they strip away our illusions, so we might have a chance to glimpse the truth on our own thru the fog (possibly made by an onstage fog machine).

.
Then there are also the paired powerhouses, who –simply by being contemporaries, or foils, if not partners– challenge and collaborate and compete and make each other better, and bring millions of us along on their wild, conflict-filled ride:

Miles and ‘Trane. Kahlo and Rivera. Simon and Garfunkel. Dali and Magritte. Bird and Dizzy. Dylan and Cohen (the original “twin sons of different mothers”). Lennon/McCartney. Mick and Keith. Townshend and Daltrey spawning three generations of punks. Plant/Page. Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash. Pryor and Carlin. Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica. I’m sure I’ve missed dozens more in various fields. 

Even more rare: trios like Bowie, Iggy, and Eno. Or Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg.  Moe, Larry and Curly.  (I’m only half-joking here. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.) 

We may not like everything –or maybe anything!– that these giant souls did (or are still doing), either together or in parallel. But still, they must be reckoned with.

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And now I would add Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (plus Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, and some excellent solo work) to one or all of the above lists. 

    What we have now is A trio in search of a fourth.   Cornell. Cobain. Vedder. If there is a Mount Rushmore of what used to be called alternative rock and is now called Modern Rock, Chris Cornell is on it, with Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on one side of him and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder on the other. Auditions for the fourth face on the mountain shall begin tomorrow, at a Seattle warehouse near you. 

In other words, we can discuss Alice In Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Nine-Inch Nails, Foo Fighters, Green Day, Cornell’s pals Linkin Park, or various metal, nu metal and post-punk music till the end of time. But for average fans and casual Facebook browsers, from now on (partly because Cornell was likely a suicide), the historical, sociological and creative connections between Cornell, Cobain and Vedder now bind them together in our minds. These symbolic and yet very traceable links between them far surpass those with any of the other equally talented but less influential musicians to emerge from their era.

Cornell was the captain of this rag-tag team, too, in my opinion. The more level-headed, less popular elder statesman of the movement. Based on my understanding of what came to be called the grunge scene– and Here I point directly to Cameron Crowe’s excellent “Pearl Jam Twenty” 2011 documentary for testimony of this– Cornell was the glue. He was the Zelig, the class president, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon guy, the guy everyone knew and almost everyone loved. A superb writer, and the best pure singer of the bunch, by a mile.

I’m actually much more of a Vedder/PJ fan, but even I can admit that Chris’ vocal technique and diction are better. And while I can also admit that Nirvana was important, I think that Kurt’s  “influence” points more to the screwed-up nature of our culture than to Cobain’s ultimate talent (which was substantial, but not enough to canonize him like some folks have). Compare him to James Dean: not a very large body of work to point to, not every performance brilliant– but a tragic end made cult heroes of both men before they had time mature or to “fade away” (and yes, the Buddy Holly reference is intentional, though he was likely the most important of any of the above “tragic end”  figures–with Holly more on a par with Prince, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston or John Lennon, to cite a few other tragic ends in music). 

Yet somehow, as I put it to my sweetheart today, this Cornell thing is different for me. He was more of a “quiet giant”. He had suffered from clinical depression for a long time, as I do, but by all accounts seemed to be kicking depression and addiction’s twin asses for some time now. Here’s what I said to my fiancé:

It’s not a big deal, but in my case, it’s like: Jeez, I didn’t realize how much I liked that guy (Cornell) UNTIL he died tragically. A weird feeling. Different than someone like Lennon, Bowie, Cohen or Prince.

Plus, he was my age. 52. (I’m 51, but let’s not split hairs… I don’t have any to spare!) If he hadn’t conquered his demons by now –like his equally awesome Audioslave bandmate Tom Morello apparently has– then that suicide makes a depressive and aging “starving artist” like me pretty frickin’ nervous. 

I read Springsteen’s memoir a few months back, and he too talked about mental health as a daily battle, but a winnable one with good support. Cornell appeared to have that support. I’d like to believe I have it figured out too, that I’m winning the war (despite losing some battles, at multiple stupid  day jobs and one “failed” marriage). But what makes a man like Cornell take that leap into the abyss? As blogger, actor and ubergeek Wil “Star Trek” often says: 
Depression lies

So we keep asking questions, looking past those lies, to the foggy outlines of the truth out ahead of us. The divine Presence has not and will never abandon us. Cornell sang his way toward that, with songs like “Higher Truth” on his terrific 2015 solo album. 

So I keep seeking and questioning  myself, too: 

  • Why do I want what I want? (To write novels and/or screenplays, in my case.) 
  • If it never comes to fruition, am I still a valid human being? (Hint: YESSSSSSSS! Next question please…)
  • What are my own safety checks and support needs?
  • And do I need to check myself before I wreck myself? (For example, watch for substance abuse potholes, liars who tell me I’m a failure, or shame-bound/perfectionist tendencies within myself.)

I have to put this to rest, for now. I’m doing okay. I am writing in the right direction, “singing for my life”, as Christian folkie Bob Bennett once wrote.

Nevertheless, we lost a good one this week. If grief leads us to greater gratitude, then Chris’ death is not altogether tragic. We will never have the whole story. But we will have his songs and performances forever. 

Mystery loves company… take my hand. We’ll get through this.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 28, 2017

We Take It Apart, Then God Rebuilds

.   .   .

From Fr. Richard Rohr:

“God is in some very real way suffering. God is not watching it, but in it! Did your church ever tell you that? How else can we understand the revelation of the cross and that our central Christian image is a naked, bleeding, suffering man? Christians strangely worship a suffering God, largely without realizing it; and Christian mystics even say that there is only one cosmic suffering, and we all share in it, as Paul also seems to intuit (Colossians 1:24).”

  • “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24, NIV)

… … …

My Marking Time Meditation, reflecting on the above:

There is always suffering (or struggle, or work, if we want to be modern or existential about it), and with it there is love, which always leads to progress (if not always to unqualified joy or complete, immediate success).

We (or perhaps sin, or False Self, or Ego) are the cause of that suffering, either our own suffering or that of others–usually both.

God does not cause the suffering, but God does see and feel and even inhabit it. Sometimes God even heals the wounds that suffering has caused.

To counteract suffering, we get grace, gifts (both material and spiritual), and the compassion of a Creator and divine parent. All of these and more are available to every human, regardless of religion, geography, or economics. But it is we who refuse such gifts. Or we buy and sell them, commodifying what was always supposed to be free, denying them to many people, thus prolonging or increasing their suffering. We take the gifts apart, we devalue them, we ignore them, we hoard them till they rot in our silos, we even destroy them (our own, or those of our “enemies”).

Then despite our foolishness, God puts those gifts (both concrete and spiritual), and puts us, back together yet again. And again. An endless cycle, but more like an upward spiraling trajectory. This is the divine dance of history.

Even modern physics and the laws of thermodynamics bear it out: nothing –no matter— can truly be created nor destroyed. Matter is only transformed. We are matter, and we matter to an inherently compassionate and creative Universe (which is God, hiding in plain sight).

Through struggle, through sacrifice, through God’s own suffering, and all upon a foundation of love (either from others or direct from the Source), we are rebuilt. Civilizations are rebuilt. Our houses, our careers, our families, our relationships, our hearts, our very identity –all of these deserve nothing less than to be built and rebuilt upon the firm foundation of God’s love. And when they are, our suffering is lessened, we have more help, and the struggles bear good fruit.

Yet whether we build on rock or on sand, still all of these gifts –indeed all of creation– will be subject to suffering. They will fail, due to our own sin, or to the ravages of time, and will fall apart again. Yes, we are blessed to notice and add to their beauty, or their functionality. But like us, our creations are subject to death, the pendulum swings back the other way, “things fall apart”.

To quote George Harrison: “All things must pass.”

Only love –the God-ness in me, the Person-ness of God– is eternal, unchanging and strong enough to make Something out of the chaos that has always existed.

Love is the Biggest Bang, the sacrifice that leads to a new creation (umm …that new creation would be you, if you want it), the joy disguised as suffering.

Why else would Jesus’ incarnation, death, and bodily resurrection be necessary?

Suffering either means something, or life itself is meaningless.

Me, I choose to let my struggles –and God’s struggle right alongside me– mean something. What’s more, I choose because I was first chosen.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 25, 2017

Nothing Is Wrong (orig. poem by Mark Nielsen)


 .                              .                               .

Nothing Is Wrong   (4-25-17)
Nothing is wrong.

I have seen and felt Something that is right. 

Something–

some wave, some rhythm, some rhyme, 

some treasure, 

too sublime to measure–

that is not wrong.

There is a bright and shining Something

smack dab in the middle

of this nothing

(or at least in the same neighborhood).
Not everything is nothing.

Something is always something,

whether or not 

it is a whispered sweet nothing,

whether or not we

see that it is good.
Something is right.

Some thing is true. 

Real. Reasonable. Right.

Not just right but right here.

Right now. Now right. Forever.

A solid something. Fixed.

Alive.
I knew what it was once.

This string around my finger

is here to remind me.


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Hardly Working at Sweet ‘n’ Sour Inc. (Postscript to “Every Bad Job Ever Rant”) 

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To be a functioning member 

of the Privileged Working Class,

is to be in a rush to a job

where you mostly sit on your ass.

.
Comfortably afflicted,

changing bulbs that don’t need changing

just because the schedule says so.

There’s no need for rearranging.

.
Checking off the little boxes,

putting in for overtime,

going through the daily motions.

Status Quo is not a crime.

.
It’s “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”

–every day (or every night).

Can you really pick your battles?

Then chances are you’re male, and white.

.
Class is dismissed as he-said-she-said.

“That’s not my job” is used five times a day.

And it’s hard to tell who’s minding the store:

when the Fatcat’s away, the mice will play.

.
To be in the Privileged Working Class,

is to numb oneself to questions of power.

You pray at a flickering altar of apps

as decades go by in what feels like an hour.

— 

Original poem by Mark Nielsen, writing his way out of (or drilling deeper into?!) a dark hole of career dysfunction and generalized social/existential dread. April 7, 2017.

Have a nice day.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 29, 2016

Check out this cool episode: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-working-songwriter/id1079001185?mt=2&i=376039650, I listen to several podcasts these days. This one, hosted by folk/Americana singer Joe Pug, is for Americana fans in particular… interviews with other writer-singers. (Here, it’s with Hayes Carll.)

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 23, 2016

Trump, Fossil Fuels, and a Cabinet Coup Like Never Before


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“Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere”, by Alex Steffen :

https://medium.com/@AlexSteffen/trump-putin-and-the-pipelines-to-nowhere-742d745ce8fd#.lkrhbihqq

My own analysis of the article, especially the “Cabinet Coup”:

I’ll say it again, friends…

Follow the money.

As in oil, gas and coal money. 

As in Russia being an old-style economy propped up almost solely by petrochemical exports. As in China “developing” and keeping economically competitive by not regulating carbon burning, polluting even the air in their own capital city up to dangerous levels. 

Trump’s cabinet and his companies and his powerful friends –and even their enemies/competitors– all MUST perpetuate the myth of carbon-dependency, lest they all lose billions and trillions of dollars when the *economic* Carbon Bubble eventually pops. 

Do the math. Chao/McConnell (a husband/wife team) –her in Transportation and him manipulating Congress. “Texas” Rick Perry heading up Energy? Exxon CEO and Putin pal Tillerson as SECRETARY OF STATE?!?

Yes, what Trump says or does matters. But power is more dispersed than that in the U.S. government.

Meanwhile the horizon Trump’s investor crew is looking at is just 8 years out or less. They don’t care that an economic crash rivaling 1929 –or worse– is likely within a decade or less. They’ll get in now, make trillions (probably in “infrastructure” development, private security contracts with the government or multinational corporations, stuff like that ), then they’ll get out before the Carbon Bubble pops, leaving poor dumb suckers like me to drown (in debt, or else in the IRREVERSIBLY rising sea levels).

As for mortal wounds to the planet (a million cumulative paper cuts with every fossil fuel ton we burn), and as for billions of deaths at a time in about 80 years (because no president can bend other nations to his or her will, nor prevent private panics, nor tsunamis, nor hurricanes, nor glacial melting)… we have to switch to renewable energy ASAP, before our grandchildren end up in some sort of Mad Max nightmare scenario.

Trump is Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Agro, Big Banking and Mother Russia’s gutsy “All-in” bluff, in a deadly Texas Hold’em game. They’re playing poker with Mother Nature, but using my own tax dollars to play. 

But Mother Nature is The House, and the house always wins. 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 11, 2016

Office Pirates – Fashion, n’ Fear of Faux

An ongoing series… JOIN OR DIE, YE LILY-LIVERED LANDLUBBERS!!!

 

pir-fash-5-1b

If ye’ll allow me t’ borrow from some geniuses (Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David), here’s proof dat de the best pirates be dem dat can laugh in de face of death, bad hair days, an’ other humiliations.

pir-fash-6b-clampo

What? Of course I knows that ye spells usefull wit’ one ‘L’ nowadays. But I’m stealin’ back the king’s Olde English– an’ there ain’t a blackguard nor villain on all five continents what can stop me! (What? Seven continents? Aaaarggghhh! Now don’t be a know-it-all. I’m old an’ wise, even if I is set in me ways…)

pirate-7-post-it-patch

There’s not enough waves nor storm clouds in all th’ Carribbean t’ keeps me from reaching me goals, nor from using at least thirty exclamation points a day!!!!!!!!

So t’ hell wit’ ye, all ye Nancy boys an’ uppity wenches!!!! I only needs one good eye t’ see that ye would fall like a house o’ cards if we was t’ do battle. Therefore turn back, I tell ye!!!!! I have to make it around Cape Horn and on to Exclamation Point by mornin’, or all th’ best booty will be gone!!! Anyone what stands in me way shall be run through, or else be run aground and left fer the buzzards an’ sharks to dispose of.

See ye’ on th’ high seas. Don’t expect to be safe from me, nor my crew, on our sturdy schooner The Paper Tiger.

Nevertheless, I am a fair man, an’ was once a gentleman. So ye may move about, within limits. Just stick to the shoreline, an’ ye’ll be fine.

Sincerely,   (… or p’raps not!!!)

Cap’n Lilac Beard

 

 

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