This song was inspired not just by love of the ocean (and ambient soundscapes), but specifically by "English Rose," a song by the Jam. The Jam never achieved the sort of success in America that they had in their native land, but I was a big fan starting in the early 1980s. "English Rose," comes from "All Mod Cons," which came out in 1978 (tempus fugit), and is one of my favorite Jam albums; Paul Weller, the Jam's principal composer, always felt his song was a whole piece, music and lyrics, that couldn't be separated or understood one without the other. I feel very much the same about "The Sea" (tempus fugit).
Can you believe we are halfway through the 53 Weeks project? (Well, halfway through next week's song is technically halfway, but you know what I mean.) This song is inspired by the #1 most searched question on Google -- what's the weather today? I used to commute via subway in New York City in all sorts of weather and I just remember how miserable it could be on rainy days, so that inspired this song and video.
On August 8, 2023, a catastrophic wildfire engulfed Lahaina, Maui, one of the most historic towns in the Hawaiian Islands, and the first place I ever stayed on Maui over 20 years ago.
When I began writing songs about Maui history about 15 years ago, Lahaina -- former Hawaiian royal capital and center of the whaling industry -- seemed like a natural fit. I crafted the song to be what's known as a forebitter, a type of whaling song sung not to pass the time during work but during the sailors' leisure hour. Our narrator, Jim Jones (named for the character in the Australian folk song, not the cult leader), passes the time in the Antarctic Sea on watch dreaming of the easy life in Lahaina -- a place he's never seen.
My kumu, Keli'i Taua, helped me craft a number of my early Hawaiian-history ballads, including this one. He was especially enamored of the last stanza:
"And when I die at land or sea
Please take my body down
And bury me 'neath the breadfruit trees
Somewhere in Lahaina Town."
This stanza contains the only line I've altered for this version of song, changing "breadfruit trees" to "banyan tree" in reference to the giant tree in the center of Old Lahaina that has become a symbol of the town's resilience in the face of such total devastation. I hope Keli'i would approve.
Every single penny I receive from streaming this song or from people buying copies on iTunes or Amazon Music will go to my ongoing efforts to connect directly to families who've lost everything. Please play this song as many times as you can! Mahalo.
PS: In an eerie coincidence, I named the whale ship in this song "Dora Gray," a name I totally made up. The hurricane which fueled the deadly fires in Lahaina was Hurricane Dora.
PPS: All the images in this video are pictures I've taken in Lahaina over the years. :-(
Week #28 of the "53 Songs in 53 Weeks Project" is an ambient / classical / minimalist piece about climate change.
Last week's song, "Lahaina Town," [https://youtu.be/EqAL705QAbk?si=K0hEU...] was a combination of nostalgia, sorrow, and a contemplation of mortality, and this is week is no different -- except the sorrow here is at the rapidly increasing loss of an entire continent. I was lucky enough to visit Antarctica over two decades ago -- hence the nostalgia -- and much I what I saw then is changing under the pressures of a rapidly warming earth. The footage in this video is all material I shot in Antarctica on that voyage.
As noted recently in The Guardian:
"Melting ice around Antarctica will cause a rapid slowdown of a major global deep ocean current by 2050 that could alter the world’s climate for centuries and accelerate sea level rise, according to scientists behind new research.
The research suggests if greenhouse gas emissions continue at today’s levels, the current in the deepest parts of the ocean could slow down by 40% in only three decades.
This, the scientists said, could generate a cascade of impacts that could push up sea levels, alter weather patterns and starve marine life of a vital source of nutrients." (read the full article at https://www.theguardian.com/world/202...)
The composition's title is inspired by a song by the great John Cale, "Antarctica Starts Here" -- but other than that titular homage (and the fact that they're both in the key of F) there's no connection between the songs. This piece begins with a solo clarinet, which is soon joined by the cello and bass. Throughout the song, that string duo pays a non-repeating pattern of F Bb Dm C, followed by the repeating pattern of Gm Dm Am Eb.
That first clarinet is soon joined by a second clarinet playing counterpoint. Then, In the second iteration or stanza, the clarinet lines repeat and are joined by an oboe, and then in the third iteration by a flute, each new instrument adding a different melody, while the previous instruments either continue their original patterns or drop out. Ultimately, by the fourth iteration, there a bit of dissonance between the flute and clarinet -- an evocation of the cognitive dissonance we all face as people when it comes to the fact that we are hurtling, pell-mell, toward total planetary change. The fifth and final loop returns to the first clarinet melody, culminating in a crescendo of all the instruments in Eb. The piece purposefully doesn't resolve back to F, which I think leaves the listener with a sense of discomfort.
Week #29 of the "53 Songs in 53 Weeks" project is a companion piece to week #18, "Blue Roses" (which you can listen to at https://youtu.be/qB3iqwmEOY0?si=t_fcp.... That song told one side of a breakup from a melancholy point of view. This version tells the story of the same couple from the other partner's point of view -- from the point of view of the person who was blindsided. It has a some Power Pop in its DNA along with a little post-Stray Cats, pre-orchestra Brian Setzer and I don't quite know what else. It was a fun song to write and record and I hope you enjoy it.
Thanatopsis means "meditation on death" in Greek and it's the title of a poem by William Cullen Bryant that was very popular in its day. I don't love it as a poem, but there are a few lines that have always stuck with me, as Bryant contemplates the fact that everyone who knows you will, themselves, eventually die.
"All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee."
I decided to write about this concept of the inevitability of death in this little ditty. Musically, it owes much to Philip Glass's "Songs from Liquid Days," which has been a touchstone for me for many years.
The video itself is a little A.I. experiment where I asked the computer to produce paintings of clouds in the styles of various famous artists (Van Gogh, Picasso, Agnes Martin, Georgia O'Keeffe, etc.). I particularly concentrated on female artists after reading a short article recently that A.I. has a gender problem: too much of the data fed into it is both by men and about men, so I was curious how well it would do. Some are spot on -- some are baffling
Week #31 is an instrumental that started out as the backing track for next week's song (which is titled "(You Are My) Palindrome" -- I'll post the link here when it's available.)
As I started trying to meld the lyrics I'd written to the tune in my head, I realized that they simply didn't match, so I detached this melody from that project. Still, I liked the direction this piece was heading, and, thus, I decided to turn it into an instrumental.
A few days later, after I'd recorded a few drafts, I was walking into a room and didn't realize that the song was playing on my phone. A friend commented that it sounded like I'd written myself "walk on" music, and thus the title was born.
Walking, especially in cities, is a particular love of mine, which inspired the video. Like last week's tune, "Thanatopsis" (see below), the video here is made up images where I've asked A.I. to generate paintings on a theme in the style of different artists. Here, the theme was a "busy street in the rain" and the artists come from an A.I. list of "ten most important painters in history." That list -- very heavy on male artists because western history of endemically misogynist -- is: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, Pollock, Kahlo, and Matisse. Not necessarily the choices I would have made, but that's what ChatGPT came up with. (Astute viewers will notice an 11th artist -- the video begins with a faux Pissarro, whose street scenes are among my favorites.)
This week's song is a little wordplay about wordplay. I'm not entirely sure it makes sense -- and I realized that as I was writing it -- so I included a line about the meaning not always being "in the words you've read." That's one part cop out, one part truth. While it's true that words are just a vehicle for meaning -- not the meaning itself -- it also gets me off the hook of having to parse all my analogies. Is the person you love your palindrome if they can see you from multiple angles? Or are YOU the palindrome? Or is it just a fun way to use imagery in a song? You decide.
Speaking of imagery, this video is my third in a trilogy of songs that use A.I.-generated images based on the styles of famous artists. This time, I chose a number of early-to-mid-20th century artists, like Agnes Martin, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, etc., with a smattering of slightly later artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. As in the previous two videos ("Thanatopsis" [ • Thanatopsis by Promised Road ] and "Walk On" [ • Walk On by Promised Road [Instrumental] ]) the results are mixed in terms of fidelity, but I think they fit the song.
This little ditty is based on "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle," an aria from Georges Bizet's opera "Carmen." This aria, commonly known as "Habanera," is one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of those songs that started with a tune around which lyrics were then crafted. I'd had the opening couplet running around in my head for months ("She was walking across the Central Park/Which she knew she shouldn't do after dark"). In keeping with the music, I decided the "she" in this case would be a protagonist walking to a Spanish dance class on East 79th Street when she runs into -- quite literally -- a man walking down Fifth Avenue. Our male characters has just spent the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art sketching a Spanish painting. In some ways, this is a very niche song, but it's also a very rom-com, "meet cute" story.
Why a "Spanish Rose"? No idea. It was a placeholder lyric (much like how "scrambled eggs" stood in for "Yesterday" when Paul McCartney was writing that song) that ended up in the final song.
(People literally running into each other is also a strand in the tapestry of my song coming out in two weeks, so it's obviously something I've had on the brain of late.)
The images in the video are all A.I. versions of the lyrics rendered as Goya paintings, except the actual Portrait of Philip IV by Velazquez, which is mentioned in the song.
This one is, uh, weird.
(I think it’s funny, and perhaps telling, that my oddball pieces are released under my given name and my more mainstream work is under my pseudonymous band, Promised Road.)
When you listen to the Beatles’ White Album do you:
a) Skip “Revolution #9” every time
b) Sometimes listen to it, because it is oddly intriguing
c) Listen to it all the time because it’s the best track on that album*
If you answered b) or c) you might enjoy giving this week’s track a spin.
This song is indebted to the aforementioned Beatles track, along with the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson opera Einstein on the Beach and Steve Reich’s Different Trains along with a little bit of Caroline Shaw, a bit of Nico Muhly — it even has a bit of the Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein Four Saints in Three Acts buried almost imperceptibly in its DNA.
There are two vocal tracks. One is a variety of male and female voices counting — first in French, then German, then Spanish, and finally English.
The other vocal track is an Italian man reciting a translation of T.S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” the original English version of which I’ve included below the video, if you click through to the YouTube page.
As I said, weird. But, I hope, weirdly compelling. Take it for a spin!
October 27, 2023, makes the tenth anniversary of the passing of Lou Reed, an icon in the world of rock and roll music. Brian Eno once remarked that "the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"
For me, it wasn't that first V.U. album, but -- as this song relates -- Reed's solo album "Transformer" from 1972 that opened my eyes to the ways music could be made that were absolutely different from the bulk of what I'd been listening to in heavy rotation up to that time. Unlike many of my songs, which feature fictional characters I've created to fit the narrative, this song is entirely taken from my own life -- though, I will admit, the details are hazy. What year did I buy "Transformer"? I can't quite recall. What year did I run into Lou Reed in Greenwich Village? Probably 1989, but that's hard to recollect now, too.
"The Door" isn't just about Reed, but about his friend and collaborator David Bowie. The Japanese lyrics in the piece are a nod to Bowie's "It's No Game," which leads off the Scary Monsters album. I won't tell you what she's saying -- that's an Easter Egg for those of you who speak Japanese.
The song gets a little frantic at the end -- three electric guitars not quite playing in sync or even the same chord progressions. If you are familiar with Reed's more avant-garde work, this will seem tame by comparison, but I wanted to include something inspired by his era working with Robert Wilson and with his wife, Laurie Anderson, who surely inspired the string trio that leads off the piece.
The title comes from the last thing Reed published on social media before he died -- just two words, "the door."
"Ghosts" is a re-recording of a song I wrote a couple of years ago. It received some airplay on Maui radio, but I never released it because I wasn't completely happy with the final mix and with my vocal performance. So, I took the opportunity to record new vocals and create a little video for it and I am pretty happy with the way it turned out. This is a song very much in the spirit of "My Hometown," and "My City of Ruins" by Bruce Springsteen, though I'm not sure it's set in New Jersey. I don't know where it's set, but it has a more midwestern vibe.