listen to your life... and your songs

"Listen to your life," teaches Frederick Buechner. "See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” One of the quiet graces of this time away in Montréal is lots of alone time for listening. 

Two of the more satisfying ways I have come to listen to my life happens when I pause to "hear" the songs I am playing and practicing on the guitar, and, giving a bit of shape and form to the snippets of dreams I recall. This week there were three songs that spoke to me about life's longing (Tomorrow I hope to spend a little time with the dreams.)

+ First was an instrumental version of Joni Mitchell's classic, "Both Sides Now" that I used to perform in the 70s at various coffee houses. I cherish this song on so many levels and this version from "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" is one of the finest. Carefully constructed
lyrical insights comingle with a melody that tenderly rises and falls like the rhythm of life itself. Mitchell's insights about balance, joy and sorrow, and the practice of listening more than judging speak to my soul as profoundly in 2017 as they did when I first heard them in 1967. As I was playing it to myself the other night, it evoked a bittersweet sense of gratitude for the ups and downs I have known over the past 50 years.

+ Second was the equally sublime albeit slightly more sentimental Tom Rush version of "Drivin' Wheel" from 1970. How many times did I nurse a broken heart to that song? How many times did I burst into tears when that freakin' pedal steel guitar rips your soul open at the beginning of the song's bridge? And how many times did I sit alone in the darkness of various rooms playing it over and over as a personal prayer of lament?  Ok, there has long been an aching loneliness inside me that I've embraced and run from, self-medicated against as well as used as a portal to prayerin equal doses, too. "Drivin' Wheel" is what I often feel like inside even while giving thanks to God for more than my share of blessings. Di often says to me:  "I can always tell if you've had one or two glasses of wine." When I look confused, she continues:  "At one your are sweet and loving (like "Both Sides Now" I think) and at two your tears come out both in joy as well as sorrow (like "Drivin' Wheel" is my hunch.)" I must confess that I was a bit surprised for this tune to pop into my head as I haven't played in over 30 years. But then I noted that... well... it had become a two glass of wine night so Tom Rush it was...

+ And number three turned up as the sassy, polar opposite of the first two: David Bromberg's remake of the classic "Jug Band Song."  For those who don't play the blues - and that's probably many - you have to understand both the fun in the faux bravado of this tune as well as the sheer exuberance in the playing. Not only do these guys NOT take the lyrics seriously - they change them up so often that you come to know they're goofing on themselves as 180 degrees away from macho - but this musical form gives the players a chance to strut as musicians. How often did I literally fall off my stool laughing at some body's improvised new lyrics only to be awed when they took an instrumental break? Not everybody can honor a tradition, joke about it and themselves and then turn around and
play a smokin' hot guitar instrumental. I love me some David Bromberg and while this may not be your cup of tea, it was for me a ton of fun to play the other night.

Here's what I'm thinking as I listen to these songs in the context of my life: tenderness and the blues live in an inner embrace that finds expression through sweet songs of the heart and irreverent humor. Not cruel humor, mind you, not bullying humor or that mean-spirited, foul mouthed junk that can be so popular, but self-deprecating humor. Humor born of some humility and nourished by the ups and downs of real life. These are earthy songs, too. Not overly romantic, never sappy, and often with a bit of grit and double-entendre going on, too. I love the sacramental way of incarnation on every level. More often than not, these songs are my prayers. They articulate the state of my soul, they express to God my deepest yearnings and they offer me a small taste of self-knowledge IF I'm listening. 

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