Tag Archives: U2

…it’s a name for a girl – Part 1

I need to caveat, from the start, that I don’t usually write about serious topics here, and don’t plan to make a habit of it.  Not that writing, U2 and the Lakers aren’t serious for me, but they’re not “if we disagree, and keep discussing it, tempers are likely to flare and we’ll both stomp off muttering curses under our breaths, slightly sick from the adrenaline rush of actual emotional conflict” serious.

But that’s sort of where tonight’s post will lead.  It’s not like it’s all that controversial, but I’m also not likely to be in the mood for non-committed back and forth on it.  Most topics, I can take either side, enjoying the effort more than what side the victory is on.  Not this one, I don’t think.

I also need to caveat that I don’t plan to go into detail about any of the tangential topics that this one would naturally raise.  I’m going to give you the minimal amount of background necessary to grok where I’m coming from, and then we’ll move on.

And I finally need to caveat that this post already has two (and now three) caveats more than I like—my blog, I get to do what I want, when I want, and shouldn’t have to explain things.  But as I noted, this is a somewhat serious topic, and since I don’t tend to go publicly diving in those waters that often, I’d like for them to be clear and not open for a variety of troll-baiting interpretations.

And now, with sufficient baggage strapped aboard, we’re off…

So, here’s the background.  Once upon a time, I was very religious.  Serious case of bornagainitis.  Probably because I was first introduced to religion at a critical moment in my life…parents recently divorced, transitioning from elementary school to high school, puberty, intellectual awaking…all that great after school special crap.  My mind and heart were desperate for something deep and involved to sink their teeth in to, and a fervent Born-Again Christian meal just happened to be walking by.

I will now skip ahead 20 years—and easily a couple hundred thousand words, if I just stuck to summarizing the high points—and expect you to keep up.

These days, I don’t like religion.  I don’t think my actual beliefs have changed all that much, but I am a lot clearer on A) what exactly “a belief” is, and B) what mine are.  There’s been a demi-glace-like reduction to the overwhelming symphony of ideas and concepts I first walked into 20 years ago, distilling the core principals to their essences while somehow increasing and balancing their complexity at the same time.

Which are pretty words to sum up something I already posted here a while ago:  Before enlightenment:  chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment:  chop wood, carry water.

To conclude the incredibly-brief background section of this post:  I once was Christian, in an organized fashion, and while I now pursue disorganization (spiritually speaking), my beliefs are rooted in that ground, and despite two decades of scrutiny, and wide-spread exploration into a large number of seemingly-incompatible belief systems, those aspects I’ve identified as the basic principals of Christianity stick with me to this day.

One of which is the topic of the post I’m almost finally about to start writing.

(And no, I’m not talking about the Bud Light version of Christianity, the “Jesus was a cool guy, and what we can really learn from the bible is to be good to each other and love each other and maybe go to church on Easter, but there’s no need to get too bogged down in the details” version…fucking pussies.)

(And, one more [fuck me, does that make four?] caveat:  when I mention the word God, no, I do not mean it the way you think I mean it, except yes, I mean it exactly the way you think I mean it.  Which is to say, I’m not about to get into specific definitions here in this post, and do not assume that I’m being vague because I’m assuming that y’all already know exactly what I’m talking about; I’ve just spent 645 fucking words setting up this post before even mentioning what the post is going to be about.  I’m not leaving out a specific description of God because I’m aiming to be brief.  You want to challenge what I have to say because I mention God, and how absurd is it to believe in a dude with a beard on a throne living up in the clouds?  Well, I don’t believe in that either.  When I say God—at least for the purposes of this post—I could be talking beard-dude, I could be talking Yahweh, I could be talking the Ineffable, I could be talking tP / t…meet me halfway, if you would.)

What I want to talk about is grace, and why it’s a unique concept, one that blows apart the typical Christian-centric structure that usually encloses it.

I think I can say—without tempting too much in the way of debate—that as long as we’re moving along through the dimension of time, we’re all heading from something to something else.  There is an ideal, no matter how minor, vague or undefined, that we’re moving towards.  It can be superficially consumerist (“I’m not thin enough,” or “I’m not rich enough.”), it can be more personally meaningful (“I don’t take good enough care of myself,” or “I need to treat the people I care about better.”), or overtly hedonistic (“I am not nearly as baked as I should be,” or “I have not slept with nearly enough girls as I’d like to.”) ,or overtly spiritual (“I am not yet as far down the Eightfold Path as I aim to be,” or “I have yet to properly give Satan his full due.”), or any of a million different variations of all of the thoughts that pass through our heads in any given day.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be fully conscious:  dropping trou and squatting is moving you closer from the present state of stomach cramps to the ideal of “deuce successfully dropped,” no matter how consciously you’re staking out those milestones.  We’re talking prime mathematic givens here, not specific recipes.

When the spiritual aspect is considered, just about every possible path (I hesitate to call them “religions,” since there are far more people pursuing spiritual paths without the trappings of religion than there are people genuinely pursuing a religiously-defined path, as opposed to giving that religion lip service while more actively following one of the consumerist/personal/hedonistic/etc. paths already mentioned) is just that:  a path.  Today, you are Here.  Tomorrow, you will be There.  If successful, that There will be closer to the ultimate goal than Here is.  And most of the time spent walking that spiritual path is focused on defining the steps needing to take you from Here to There, and monitoring your progress.

This is true even for most Christian paths, which to my mind completely misses the point.

See, Christianity has this unique concept, one that none others have or embrace, called grace.

Grace is a gift.  Grace is something un-asked for, given regardless of whether or not it’s deserved or has been earned.  Grace is, in the context of the notion of a path described above, a profoundly disturbing disruption of the basic understanding of how things work.

Put another way, grace is the fucked-up quantum entanglement to traditional religious Newtonian processes.

In the specific context of Christianity, grace is the given forgiveness of your sins before you can ask for it and with zero comprehension or concern for the notion of atonement.  Grace is the gift given by God that removes the need to walk any distance down a spiritual path.  Grace says that you do not have to earn the ideal you are pursuing by measuring yourself against some external spiritual yardstick—you already have it.  Grace says “I have a pancake on my head; your argument is invalid.”

Enough with the platitudes:  let’s get down to business.

Here’s what’s amazing about the concept of grace:  because it cannot be earned, it is given to everyone.  That fat fuck next to you on the bus, the one you caught staring at your ass, making you wish you hadn’t worn the low-riding jeans, knowing he’s saving up the brief, furtive views for his spank-bank later?  Yeah, he’s been given grace.  Your boss, the one who gave you a list of things to do today, and then kept passing on emergency requests from his boss, and then spends his time in the break room bitching about how you’re too lazy to get through the short list of easy tasks he gave you earlier?  Yup, he’s been given grace too.

…That guy who screamed out something in Farsi before triggering the ball-bearing-laced plastic explosive he has strapped to his chest in the midst of a crowded market?  Again, yes, he’s been given grace.

Which is kinda the point:  if grace can’t be earned, then when given, it’s given to everyone.  There’s no criteria for being an eligible receiver.  That’s what’s beautiful about it:  the drunk puking on himself in the gutter is as beloved and worthy of grace as you are, and while that might feel like a bit of a raw deal for you and your paid-my-rent-on-time-no-speeding-tickets-in-two-years self-esteem right now, it very profoundly says that all of the joy and wonders of God and the universe are equally available to both of you.  All of you.  All of us.

Which is how it should be, or else what’s the point?  I don’t want to believe in a God that would pick and choose which people are worthy of Him based on an ever-changing, semi-objective matrix.  I mean, are we to assume that God was okay with Abraham having multiple wives back then but isn’t in favor of it now?  That’s too much like trying to get into the right clique in high school.  Sure, he might like caring for puppies now, but who’s to say he won’t like people who paint their dicks blue later?  Sure, that sounds absurd…but it fits within the set.

It’s far more likely that the ultimate point of convergence with God isn’t defined by nor dependant upon details like that.

But that makes for a difficult follow-up question:  if everyone has been given grace, does it matter what we do?  Are we all going to heaven (or whatever you want to interpret that particular phrase to mean)?  And if we are, then does it matter one bit what we actually do?  Can those people doing what strikes us to our core as evil be just as promised the Promised Land as those of us who try each day to do more good than harm?  And the people who aren’t even paying attention, who are wandering through life in a self-induced haze, do they get to wake up at the pearly gates and say, “Hey, there’s a heaven.  Who knew?”

I don’t think so.  It’s not that it isn’t there, waiting for them; it’s that, fundamentally, gift giving requires two people.

Anyone who’s been a scout of any kind (boy, girl, whatever) or had a father/relative/etc. teach them more “traditional” skills will know what an Active Transfer of Control is, even if that particular name wasn’t used.  It’s the first lesson of knife safety.  When someone is handing you a knife, they hold it out and say, “I’m giving you this knife.”  You reach out, put your hand on it, and once you have a firm hold of it say, “I have the knife,” at which point that someone lets go, and the knife is yours.  Or there’s the rock climbing ritual of “On Belay?” “Belay On.”

What it comes down to is a clear, active decision with awareness of what that decision means, with no unstated assumptions.  And that’s the second half of the grace equation:  the gift has been given, but you still have to accept it.

And really, the only way to do so is with a prayer I learned long ago, when I first joined the Church, just read along and say the words out loud as you do, “Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name I repent of my sins and open my heart…”

Ah, I’m just fucking with you.

Not to say that that particular method isn’t perfectly and completely valid.  Here’s where that thing I said earlier, that I “hate religion”, is proven to be not entirely accurate.  You certainly won’t hear me speaking against—especially to denigrate—anyone’s particular religious beliefs (unless there’s a joke to be made, because one of my most profoundly-held beliefs is, if you can’t take a joke, fuck off).

The flip side of grace being available to everyone means that everyone has to be able to receive it, if they’re willing, and that notion is incompatible with having a single, set, pre-defined path for doing so.  Which does mean that all paths are valid, including the familiar, stereotypical ones you all already know about…

…within reason.

Because—and here another traditionally-Christian tradition pops its useful head up—words are cheap.  Or as a youth pastor back in my high school days (for reals…which may help explain my willingness to do some desert wandering, given his mentorship) quoted to me, “Money talks and bullshit walks.”

You know and I know that unless you’re dealing with a world-class actor—or you’re intentionally willing to deceive yourself because of some unresolved and possibly unrelated issue—it’s pretty damn easy to tell when someone’s going through the motions.  My six year-old daughter may say “Sorry” for sticking her fingers all through my rice, but she was laughing when she did it, and sullen when she says it, and I know the only reason she’s saying “Sorry” is because she doesn’t want to get punished again, not because she’s honestly understood that her actions have negatively impacted another’s life and desires to communicate to that person her awareness of the consequences of her actions, both empirical and emotional, and regrets her actions, and her willingness to make amends.

And she’s a lot better at faking it than most people I know my own age.

There’s a reason you don’t handle knives with just anyone, and why you don’t rock climb with people you don’t know.  The giving-accepting relationship requires trust, since the only definitive proof you’re going to get of the other person’s trustworthiness is when you pull your hand away, and either the knife falls to the ground, possibly impaling your foot, or slices your fingers as the other person fails to release it, or when your handhold slips and the rope that’s supposed to catch you shortly after you fall whistles through the carabineer loud enough for you to hear the entire way down.

To sum up the point of these analogies, it’s pretty obvious to God, however you define Him…and to yourself, really…whether or not you’re telling the truth when you consciously decide to accept the grace that’s been given.

I’m not going to tell you what specific fruit will be borne when you do that.  I have my own thoughts on the matter, but there’s a reason I ultimately decided against going to seminary and becoming a preacher, and it’s because I have a hard enough time sorting this shit out for myself, and the most difficult thing to do was de-brainwash myself from all the rules and regulations other people had posted on my walls.  I’m not about to just switch seats here.

But I can at least tell you what I think are some pretty critical components of the process, however they end up manifesting themselves:

You have to know yourself.  More importantly, you have to be willing to know yourself.  Borrowing from David Brin here when I say that the greatest inherited skill human beings have today is self-deception, especially rationalization.  You take the dumbest motherfucker off the streets right now, hand him one more beer than he knows he should really drink tonight, and he’ll find some way to convince himself that not only is it okay to drink that beer, but the world is a better place because of it.

In order to accept grace, you have to be able to know if you’re telling the truth or not.  You can ask any smoker who’s in the car on the way to 7-11 even though they’re trying to quit how hard that can be.  I found it through the progressive mind-clearing zazen of Zen.  Others find it through prayer and bible study.  Others find it through rigorous adherence to the scientific method, even when their pet theory—the one that’s going to get them tenure and an extra zero on the end of the grant check, maybe even that ½ paragraph blurb in Time magazine’s year-end round ups of the “best of” in science—turns out, by the evidence, to be completely wrong, and not in the “well, then the opposite must be true” way, but in the “wow, I have no fucking idea what’s going on here” way.

It just requires an acceptance that most of what you think you know about yourself is completely, flatteringly wrong, and a willingness to turn that laser-sharp ability to dissect others’ faults onto yourself.

Simple, right?

Next time:  so you’re willing to examine how much of a shit you are…what’s next?

Sore and tired

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about for this next post.

Lakers?  The NBA’s in its deadest spot of the year right now, mid-summer with most of the major personnel moves already made and training camps still more than a month away, but I can always come up with something to say there.

U2?  I could let you know the results of this mad march through their entire career (still going, btw, with Zooropa just about to wrap up as I type this; I’ve had to take the expected breaks for family/food/bathroom/etc., so it may not finish tonight), or any of a hundred other thoughts I’ve briefly touched on here and elsewhere and expand on it in full.

But no, neither of those, at least not tonight.  If I’m going to complete this Refresh of the blog, catching both it and everyone who swings by up on where my head is at right now, then I need to cover all the bases.  And aside from my family (which I will not now nor at any point the future be writing about here), the three most important things in my life are the Lakers, U2…and writing.

So, a post about writing it is.

I need to point out something that I’ve mentioned in the past but never quite explicitly laid out before:  writing has seldom been a compulsion for me, the way it seems to be with every successful, productive writer I’ve read and admired in my life.  Sure, there have been stretches in my life where nothing has felt right unless I’ve been at a keyboard, or sitting with a notebook and good pen, churning out the wordcount.  As recently as this past spring, I had stretches where I was putting down well more than 10,000 words a week.  (To give a reference point, the average published novel is approximately 90k-100k words, meaning at a rate of 10k words a week, you could write five complete novels in one year.)

But that’s the exception, not the rule.  I don’t ever really get hit with writer’s block; it’s more what Kevin Smith so eloquently referred to as “writer’s laze”.  As in laziness.  As in, more often than not, I don’t want to expend the energy to create something that will entertain others as much as I want someone else to entertain me.  Getting back into a groove where that someone who’s entertaining me is me takes a convergence of events that I have yet to fully understand, let alone master.

Viewed another way, my relationship with my writing would be familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time working out.  When you’re in the thick of it, taking even a single day off leaves you feeling awful, with your entire life out of sorts until you get your body moving again, muscles working, sweat flowing…  But if you take more than a few days off, it gets harder and harder to remember how good it feels when you’re in the thick of it, and easier and easier to reach for the remote/beer/chips instead.  That’s not the whole of it, but it’s a measurable part.

And I’d have to say, right now, I’m very comfortable on my writing couch, and finding it harder to remember how good it feels when I’ve worked up a wordcount sweat.

Part of it is just that this stuff is cyclical, and not something I’m going to beat myself up about.  If I ever, ever feel like writing is something I have to do, and begin chastising myself for not doing it, like a sinner eager for the burn of confession, then I will stop cold turkey.  Writing improves my life, its presence in my life makes it a better thing; I will never allow it to be viewed in reverse, that writing is the default baseline, and its absence is a sub-optimal, suffering existence.  So, I’m not working right now at the same pace I was recently.  That’s okay.  I love the people around me, I show up on-time for my job and work hard while I’m on the clock there, I find lots of things in my life that make it well more than worth living…a downswing in my writing production does not negate any of that.

Part of it is the new job I’m working at.  There’s a much longer post in my head, waiting to be written, about this specific sub-topic, but the short summary is that after eight years of joy and suffering, I’m in a new place, with a new vocabulary and syntax—and I don’t just mean the words we use at the workplace, I mean the rhythm and intent that the entire workplace operates at—and it’s taking me some time to figure out how my life fits with all that.  Imagine a musician, just joined an orchestra, learning a new piece of music.  And while he’s not worried about his ability to play the new piece and play it well, and fit in well with all the other musicians around him, it’s still new to him, and so all the little things that define him as a musician worth having around have to come from conscious intention, rather than unconscious trust.  I know, after I’ve been there for a while, I’ll know the people, places and processes well enough that I can focus my conscious intent on what’s truly important, rather than the moment-to-moment logistics, but at the moment, it’s consuming rather a large percentage of my mental RAM, which doesn’t leave a lot left for working on a novel that has three main characters, their stories intertwining, all while a massive religious war is breaking out (and I’m right now at the moment when the armies are invading and alliances are forming and breaking…it would be a bit much to wrap my head around if I were reading it, let alone trying to create it out of blank pieces of paper).

And part of it is just that the creative tank is low, and I need to fill it up.  You don’t tend to realize just how limited your input of vital nutrients is until you push yourself out of your comfort zone and start relying on every last ounce of what you’ve got.  Borrowing from an analogy earlier in this post, about six months ago I started working out in earnest, driving my body to do more and more each day, only to completely crap out a month ago, and realized that I hadn’t paid any attention to my diet.  I was still eating the same crap food, but my body needed far more of it, and much better of it, if I was going to be able to keep up at that pace.

If you replace “body” with “writing output”, and the food bit with creative stimulus…well, that’s where I’m at right now.  I can’t work off just the pure adrenaline that accompanies the realization that I can work, I need to make sure that all aspects of my life are pulling in harness, input supporting output, the rhythm and routine of things resulting in a harmony that’s pleasing and worth pursuing.

I’m in the earliest stages of that process right now, and thus the actual wordcount output has been a bit low.  I don’t expect that to last.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting an old story tomorrow, one of my all-time favorites, just to keep the fiction blood fresh here.  Something to keep the pump primed until the spice begins flowing again.

What the hell am I thinking?

…or, I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.

I am about to do something so absurd, on the surface you would have to question my sanity.  But dig a bit deeper, and…well, yeah, it’s pretty fucking crazy.  The word “fan”, after all, comes from “fanatic”.

But there are some good reasons for what I’m about to do.

First, I kind of already started on it today, somewhat by accident, and realized that if I’m going to do it, I may as well do it right.

Second, I’m doing it because I can, because technology allows me to do so.  Most folks view the digital revolution in music to mean that people are more interested in individual songs for download than in full albums; the flipside of that is that you’re no longer limited to just a single album…you can build a playlist that’s quite a bit longer.  If you’re into that sort of thing.

Third, this is probably the best possible opportunity to do so.  U2 have reached a point in their career that’s unparalleled in modern times.  I’m not going to argue about their “ranking” in the all-time rock greats—you can feel free to argue the relative merits of Sgt. Peppers, or the purity of Exile on Main Street, or the poetry of Dylan, the hubristic-majesty of Tommy, the unrestrained power of “Black Dog”, or the integrity of that fucking hipster indie band, they’re kinda obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

But no band in history has had a career as long, as varied, and as accomplished as what U2 have done.  The only possible contenders would be The Beatles, The Stones, and R.E.M., when looking at both longevity and artistic accomplishment, and all fall well short of what U2 has done.  The Beatles didn’t last nearly long enough (would you believe that U2 has been together, releasing innovative albums and selling out stadiums nearly twice as long as The Beatles were together?), The Stones peaked in the late seventies and have been releasing variations on that same album for three decades, and R.E.M. has been navel-gazing with no drummer for the last decade and a half.

There is no other band where you can assemble, in order, nearly 34 years of amazing rock and roll and listen to it start to finish.

Which is what I’m going to do.  I have created a playlist that starts with U2: 3 and ends with the live version of the Redanka’s “Kick the Darkness” remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from their 360 tour.  It’s 12.7 hours long, 173 songs, and I’m going to listen to the whole thing, start to finish, in one go.

When I said that this is the perfect opportunity to do so, what I meant is that U2 is on the brink of a possibly major evolution in what they do and how they do it.  They have—depending on how much you believe what they’ve said recently—literally five different projects between 80 and 90 percent done, just waiting for that final tying-together moment to finish them off.

  • The soundtrack for the Spider-Man musical:  While this is mostly Bono and the Edge, anyone who thinks that when they needed someone to play bass and drums on the tracks and looked further than their childhood friends is crazy.
  • The Rick Rubin sessions:  Back after finishing the Vertigo tour, U2 went into the studio—Abbey Road studios, in fact—with Rick Rubin to record an album.  One song, “Window in the Skies”, saw the light of day; the rest were shelved for a later date.  They’ve constantly said they will revisit these rock-centric session and finish the album.  They’ve never said when.  Bastards.
  • Songs of Ascent:  This album is by now both legendary and infamous amongst the hardcore U2 fans.  When their last album was wrapping up, all four of the band members said that they had a bunch of material that was finished but left off the album because it didn’t quite fit.  It was atmospheric, spiritual, meditative and like nothing they’ve done since the more abstract moments on The Unforgettable Fire.  They said it would be out by the end of the year, it just needed some final polishing.  That was in early 2009.  We’re still waiting on it a year and a half later.  Bastards.
  • An “electronic” album:  Both Bono and the Edge have mentioned this lately as something they’re really excited about, all new songs (i.e. recorded after Songs of Ascent) that is offbeat and driven with a groove they didn’t know they still had in them.
  • The “rehab” sessions:  In between the US leg of the 360 tour and the 2010 relaunch of the tour, Bono hurt his back, had surgery, and the band had to delay the start of the 2010 leg until he had healed and rehabbed.  They couldn’t practice for the tour, but they could sit in the studio in Bono’s house and record new material.  Again.  Which still hasn’t been released, though we have heard at least one of those songs performed since the tour started up again (one, incidentally, recorded before Bono hurt his back, so it isn’t technically part of the “rehab” sessions, but fuck it, this is all getting a bit confusing).

All of that is to say that there’s no telling what’s going to happen next with them, and now is as good a moment as any to take a detailed tour of where they’ve been so far.

I’d actually thought of listing the entire track listing up here, all 173 songs, because fuck it, it’s my blog, I’m not exactly paying by the inch, I can write out the names of 173 songs if I want to.  But instead I’m just going to give a quick overview of the playlist.  It will be worth reading—at least, I would enjoy reading it, were another U2 fan doing this insanity and I happened across his blog—because this is not a simple one-album-after-another affair.  There are stretches in their career where fandom has, quite successfully, second-guessed their track selection and ordering, and it gives a much more interesting perspective on those particular moments in their career.  So that’s what follows:  a short list, with occasionally-extensive commentary.  Which is what I do here, so if you’re already at this blog, and have read this far through this post already, and are suddenly balking at going a little further with me…what the hell is wrong with you?


We start with “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, the best non-album song they ever recorded, and seriously, one of the best songs written between 1975 and 1985 by any band in any genre.

Then comes two of the three songs from U2:3, the EP they recorded that got them their record deal.  Just “Boy-Girl” and “Stories for Boys”; no need for “Out of Control”, the version here is nearly the same as that on Boy (“Stories for Boys” is included because of how much it changed between this EP and Boy).

Then comes Boy, October and War, in order, no need to futz with the order or include any rare B-sides; they were spending all their time touring instead of recording and dithering like they did later on.

After War, we skip Under a Blood Red Sky.  I’m focusing on the songs here, and while there’s certainly a different energy and impact when the songs are played live, there’s no need to revisit them again so soon.  We’ll save that for when I decide to do this madness over again, next time with just bootlegs, no studio recordings.

“Boomerang I” introduces the The Unforgettable Fire era, and leads right into the first song of the album.  Again, no need to re-order anything on the album proper.  After wrapping up with “MLK,” we head to “Boomerang II” and “Bass Trap”, two of the B-sides recorded at this time that don’t have much of a real home anywhere else.  And then comes the first huge departure from cannon.

The Joshua Tree is reconstituted as the band originally intended it:  a double-album.  19 songs.  Full track listing follows.  The story of how an epic double-album became one of the greatest “normal” albums ever released is very interesting, but not something I’m going to get into here now; it’s a long story, and this post is already spiraling out of control.  Suffice to say, almost every single song is both familiar and incredibly fresh and new when heard in the double-album context for the first time.

The Joshua Tree – Restored

  1. Beautiful Ghost/Introduction to Songs of Experience
  2. Where the Streets Have No Name
  3. Silver and Gold
  4. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
  5. Spanish Eyes
  6. With or Without You
  7. Luminous Times (Hold On To Love)
  8. Walk to the Water
  9. Bullet the Blue Sky
  10. Running to Stand Still
  11. Red Hill Mining Town
  12. In God’s Country
  13. Trip Through Your Wires
  14. Sweetest Thing
  15. One Tree Hill
  16. Deep in the Heart
  17. Exit
  18. Race Against Time
  19. Mothers of the Disappeared

After the restored JT comes another album that fandom has reworked with incredibly successful results.  I should note that this version is my own, not the one more commonly accepted by the other nutjobs out there, but I like it, and that’s what matters, given who’s doing the listening.

Basically, we take Rattle & Hum, strip out all the live stuff, add in all the B-Sides during this era (seriously, U2’s B-sides from 1985-1989 would comprise a decent career for most bands), and then combine and bake until golden brown and delicious.

Rattle & Hum – Studio

  1. Desire
  2. Dancing Barefoot
  3. God Part II
  4. Hawkmoon 269
  5. Unchained Melody
  6. Hallelujah Here She Comes
  7. Love Rescue Me
  8. Everlasting Love
  9. When Love Comes to Town
  10. Heartland
  11. A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel
  12. All I Want Is You

From here we’re into the most amazing single moment of any musician’s career, the transition between the long-haired, earnest boys of The Joshua Tree and “Fuck the revolution!” and the cynical, smoking men thrusting their hips to “Even Better than the Real Thing.”  I could write thousands of words just about how important and amazing Achtung Baby is, but, again, not here and now, probably later.  I’ll just say that the tracklisting for Achtung is the closest to perfection mortal man has ever achieved, so it remains untouched.

After “Love Is Blindness”, we get a quick tour through some of the B-Sides of this era, those completed before ZooTV became Zooropa:  “Slow Dancing”, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, “Lady with the Spinning Head”, and “Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk” (which was written, believe it or not, as part of the score for a stage production of A Clockwork Orange; again, a story for another time).  And then we crash into Zooropa proper, with no need to change up anything until the air-raid siren comes on in the wake of Johnny Cash’s devastating “The Wanderer” (a song that Bono considers U2’s best, as in the [paraphrased, non-verbatim] quote “It’s a shame that I don’t even sing on our best song).

From here we enter the Passengers/POP era, the last legs of the long, dark tunnel of self-discovery, revelation and deception they entered nearly a decade prior when they landed in Hansa studios to begin work on Achtung.  First the interstitial stuff, “Your Blue Room” and “Always Forever Now” and “Holy Joe (Guilty Mix)”, after which we head straight into POP itself, a grossly-underrated album and one which I love just fine in it’s original form.  And we wrap up the 1990’s with two amazing B-sides, “The Hands that Built America” and “North and South of the River”.

And it’s at this point that I start to become a bit…deviant.  U2 is my favorite band, and are still blowing my mind almost three and a half decades after they first came together.  (Of note, they first sat down together in the fall/winter of 1976, right when I was being born; coincidence?  I think not.)  But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and they have had some missteps along the way.  These became more noticeable at the end of the millennium, and to be honest, it’s mostly either non-musical errors in judgment (what to release and when) or “secondary” musical issues (what versions to release and why).

So here we are at All that You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and I’ve taken many liberties here.  First, I’ve added in several of the songs that were recorded but never released, not even as B-sides.  I’ve also swapped in different versions of some songs because I think the unreleased versions are just better.  If there’s one common thread to all the mistakes they’ve made in the last fifteen years, it’s that they’ve over-thought what they were doing; where I can, I’ve resurrected their initial inspiration.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind – Instinctual

  1. Levitate
  2. Elevation
  3. Love You Like Mad
  4. Walk On
  5. In A Little While
  6. Flower Child
  7. Stuck in a Moment (acoustic)
  8. Summer Rain
  9. Wild Honey
  10. Beautiful Day
  11. Kite
  12. When I Look at the World
  13. New York
  14. The Ground Beneath Her Feet
  15. Electrical Storm
  16. Stateless
  17. Grace
  18. Always

Then a few B-sides, “Big Girls Are Best” (written for Ali when she was pregnant, any father/husband will understand) and “Neon Lights”.

How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb – Instinctual

  1. City of Blinding Lights
  2. Miracle Drug
  3. Crumbs from Your Table
  4. Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own
  5. Love and Peace or Else
  6. Native Son
  7. All Because of You (alternate)
  8. Fast Cars
  9. A Man and a Woman
  10. Smile
  11. Original of the Species (Killahurtz Casa De Angeles Mix)
  12. Window in the Skies
  13. One Step Closer
  14. Mercy
  15. Yaweh (from Vertigo: Live in Chicago)

And then another B-side, “I Believe in Christmas (No Snow)”.

No Line on the Horizon – Instinctual

  1. No Line on the Horizon
  2. Magnificent
  3. Breathe
  4. Stand Up Comedy
  5. I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
  6. Get on Your Boots (Long Intro)
  7. Fez – Being Born
  8. Unknown Caller
  9. White as Snow
  10. Winter
  11. Moment of Surrender
  12. Cedars of Lebanon
  13. Soon

And we end the whole thing with “No Line on the Horizon 2”, like U2 Meets the Go-Go’s, and the live version of the Redanka’s “Kick the Darkness” remix of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” from their 360 tour.

Which brings us right up to the present day.  I’m not sure what I’m hoping to accomplish with this musical death march.  It’s a sort of “It’s so crazy, it just might work,” scenario, and when you hit that point, the details tend to not matter too much.  When it’s all listened and done, I’ll try to drop back by here and let y’all know how it went.

Randomness, April 18, 2010

Was going to post a process piece tonight, recapping where all the stuff I’m working on is at and how it’s getting there, but today has been good enough that I’m shelving that piece and just going to try to capture a small snapshot of the day.

Lakers won, and while it wasn’t pretty, it was convincing. Big Drew was back in a big way, and Artest…well, I don’t care what voted awards that goaltending goofy-grinned Ed Hardy douche is getting from sportswriters in Orlando, Artest just took the greatest player at his position–and arguably one of the top 3 players in the entire game–and made him look like he was on the JV and realizing he still had at least another year to go before making varsity. Lakers in 5, barring injury.

KG suspended for a game, just a small interest payment on the bad karma that fucknuts has earned over the last 3 years. His retirement is going to be a serious bitch, and I’ll be smiling the whole time.

Dodgers won, Manny pinch-hit homerun in the bottom of the 8th, Kershaw looking every bit the ace he’s supposed to be someday through 8 innings.

Got good news from work today, an unexpected move by the powers that be that’s putting quality first, and I’m both pleased and surprised by the whole thing.

Got some serious momentum flowing on “The Last Star”. It won’t be done this weekend, but I finally found the hole in the page and fell in, so I know this isn’t just an exercise, it’s a real Thing.

Made the single best slow-cooked tomato/meat/wine pasta ragu I’ve ever made, it’s the love that’s the difference.

Watched U2 ZooTV in Sydney, was reminded how absolutely beyond anything else before or since that tour was…amazing rock, high theater, and a true modern evolution of opera, all in a 2 hour, 500,000 Watt package.

And in between everything else, spent most of the day with both daughters crawling all over me and laughing. It’s not hyperbole: there really isn’t anything better than that.

If I could sleep in tomorrow morning (and thus stay up late working more on “The Last Star” without too much penalty), the day would have been perfect, but I’ll settle for pretty-fucking-great with a smile on my face.

Now with a graded blue candy coating…

New, cooler look for the blog, for a cooler time of year.

***

Dumping a few key links on here; I’ve been trying to explain to someone what I mean when I say that something has stepped outside the calculus of “really, really good, approaching great”, and simply nailed greatness.

Just a card trick

For this one, I wish I could see the “studio” version, with good lighting and no audience applauding at the appropriate moments.

Chess

You’ve probably seen this before, and if you haven’t, you should’ve.  So here it is.

Macphisto

I prefer this to the Mexico City With or Without You, in part because the chick doesn’t try to sing along (and thus reveal to 80,000 in the audience and millions who watched that she’s tone deaf).

Greatest Ever

His recent clutchness is nothing new; we in LA have known about this for years.

Google Books is both cool and evil, and cool in its evilness

Biggest collective moment of “Good god, of course,” I’ve ever had when reading a book.

***

BTW, am in need of more new music, desperately.  Drop me some links in the comments or email, si vous plait.

***

Excelling at brevity tonight, I am.

Shhhh….

Wow…got a bit dusty in here.

Highlights of the last 364 days, in no particular order:

– I received Grace.  Actually, my wife did most of the work, but result was the same.  She’s currently sporting a large, ugly scrape under her right eye and a big shiner, the result of being smaller than our exceptionally dumb dog, and too slow to get out of the way.  There’s a metaphor there, but fuck it, I’m not going to do all the work for you.

(Okay, I lied, that was in a very particular order, I could’ve spent the rest of the year in a Matrix-style gooey-bath coma, or as the judge for the coke and hooker olympics, and this still would have been the most important thing that happened to me, and the first thing to mention.)

– I worked on what may be the most critically-reviled major-launch, AAA game of the last 10 years.  Woohoo.

– We rescued a momma-cat and some kittens (she wasn’t much more than a kitten herself), and while one has found a home, we’re still surrounded, and quickly running out of food.

– My Boo became a little girl, started real school, and broke my heart every time I looked at her.

– I started writing again, after a too-fucking-long absence, which includes this blog (which is actually still being maintained, dumbfounding me).

– I had the greatest anniversary in the history of anniversaries, and dare anyone to try and say otherwise.

There was a lot of bad shit too, mostly to do with money, but I’m not going to dignify any of it by listing it out.  Suffice to say, when the revolution comes, I will be amongst the fuckers lining folks up against the wall, and not one of the fuckers actually up against the wall.  My goal, oddly enough, is to reverse that.

And now, as an early gift for the final year of the decade…

Speaking of, if you disagree, and think the decade ends tonight, do me a favor and close your eyes and count to ten.  Did you start off, “Zero, One, Two…”?  No?  Then put on your big boy pants and apply a lesson from one part of your life to another.  The next decade starts in 201ONE, not 201ZERO.  Jesus…

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, an early gift.  An early draft.  Please excuse the passive voice, it’s there purely as placeholder so I can get past a tricky spot and remember to come back and do some actual writing there later on.


Chapter 1

Jared knew the man was approaching from behind while he was still a ways off.  He was tightening his packs, making sure they were properly balanced, and could hear the footsteps approaching, a steady shuffling in the gravel contrasting with the chaos of he and his men getting ready to leave.  A quick glance in the polished surface of the bike’s muffler showed a shape approaching.  It was an imperfect reflection, but it was easy enough to make out the crimson robe and large golden cowl.  Especially when he’d spent so much of his childhood surrounded by priests dressed the same way.

He gave the leather straps one final yank, making sure they were tight and secure, and addressed the approaching priest without turning around.

“Was there something else Father?”

He heard the stutter of nervous feet coming to a sudden stop.  He turned around and found the priest staring at him, wringing his hands.  Jared could see that the old man was flustered; he knew it was difficult enough for the people living in these outlying towns to muster the courage to speak directly to him (on the rare occasions when they were close enough to be heard at all).  But this man was a priest, and so knew the not-so-secret secret of his Sight, and must now be wondering if Jared had somehow divined his approach, had known it would happen before the idea had even occurred to the old man.

The presence of the Sight in even the humblest, poorest of boys was a scary enough unknown to drive a rational train of thought from most men’s minds.  And Jared was not humble, and not poor, and no longer a boy.  And he had to catch himself here—he realized he was frowning, which would not help put the old man at ease.

This happened more often than he would like:  people assuming that any insight or observation he made was the result of the Sight, rather than simple attentiveness.  Like paying attention to the sounds around him, and glancing at a nearby reflection.  It did have its uses; people were less inclined than usual to question him when he offered his opinion or gave a command, even considering who he was and the role he would someday have to assume.  But he didn’t always enjoy it.

He consciously set aside his long-enduring frustration and smiled at the old man, waiting for him to speak.

“No, Your Royal Highness.  Um, I mean, I had…

“There’s a boy here.”

And there the priest stopped, either too overcome with nerves to continue or just assuming that the Prince would know exactly what he was talking about from so few words, because of the Sight.  And Jared thought he did know; again, not from the Sight, jus a bit of intuition and self-awareness.

“There are many boys here, from the looks of it.  I’m guessing you mean that there’s one particular boy here, and he’s just joined you, and is having a difficult time of it?”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“And you were wondering if I would speak with the boy before I leave?”

“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”

“Well then, give me a moment and we’ll be off.”

Jared turned and walked towards his guard, who were still readying their bikes as he had been a moment ago, and called out to his Captain.

“Matthias!  Small delay here.”

A small man, barely older than Jared himself, stepped away from the other men-at-arms, grinning wickedly.

“Have we insufficiently pillaged here?”

“No, your evil ways have been quite sufficient.  There’s just something I need to attend to before we leave.”

“The crown must weight heavy on someone so dull and infirm.”

“The crown part is easy, despite my lack of wits.  This is a different matter.”

Matthias noticed the priest standing near his Prince’s ride, and his next question was more serious.”

“Is everything okay?  Should I rouse Canaan?”

Jared looked over at his own priest, already astride his own motorcycle and dozing, the stains on his robe of last night’s food and drink—especially drink—clear in the morning sun.

“No, the matter’s not with me.  No need to wake the poor thing.”

Matthias was visibly relieved.  It had been nearly two years since the last time the Sight had overcome his Prince, and he was due another Fit at any time.  It was why he had argued against this visit to the outlying towns when they were first setting out two months ago, and why he was in such good spirits now that their tour was nearly at an end.  They were only a few days’ ride from home, where Jared could be properly cared for—in private—when his next Fit inevitably came.

“Alright, then,” he said, “Will you be long?  Should the men stand down and ready to take another meal here?”

Jared shook his head.  “This should take only a moment.”

He turned back to the priest and waved in the direction of the Care-Keep, its spire clearly visible on the other side of the town.

“Lead on, Father.”

The priest nodded and began walking back towards the Care-Keep, a nervous shuffling that suggested a great deal more urgency and speed than was actually translated to his pace.  Jared found it easy to keep up with him, asking a few questions as he passed through the town, observing the life unfolding around him, seeking an understanding that came from him mind, rather than his curse.

“How old is the boy, Father?”

“Twelve this past summer, Your Royal Highness.”

Twelve was a bit old to be first afflicted by the Sight; it normally accompanied the first of a boy’s physical changes, around ten years of age, so it made sense that this one would be having a more difficult time than most accepting his fate.  He must have thought himself too old, clearly past the point where the Sight would have struck him, and thus safe from it.  It would have been a shock to find himself cursed after all.

Jared paid attention to the people around him as they walked through the main street—unpaved but the gravel well tended, many of the shop fronts actually open and doing a small business, both for those who lived here and those who were passing through—and noted that there were a number of children about, many helping their parents, many others playing with each other.

It was a good sign; the droughts of three years ago were finally a memory, and as the weather was now growing chill, the days shorter, the people of this town—and the others they had passed through on their journey—were already finished with the harvest, and had time to make proper preparations for the winter, as well as celebrate the joy that sufficient food could bring.  The past years had seen too many families desperately working until the first snowfall, and sometimes even after, trying to scrape together enough sustenance that they might have a chance to survive the winter months.  This was life as it was meant to be lived, not endured, and that would have made things even more difficult for the boy when the Sight came to him:  not only was he supposedly too old, and thus safely past it, but he would have been enjoying this unexpected Good Year with his family and friends…only to have that suddenly ripped away from him.

He followed the priest to the other end of the main street and through the arched doorway into the nave of the Care-Keep, pausing as the sudden change in light left him momentarily blind.  As his eyes adjusted, he took a moment to reach out and actively use his Sight to get a feel for the place.

It was empty.  Not of people—he could feel the priest, just ahead and to the right of him, also waiting for his vision to adjust to the dim indoors.  He could also pick out the other two priests of this Care-Keep elsewhere in the building, quiet and unmoving, probably sleeping late; this was a small town, and the three of them would be plenty to attend to everyone’s needs.  There was a hot spot of activity further away, towards the rear of the building, likely the non-ordained help, responsible for cooking and cleaning and everything else that needed doing to keep things working as they should while the priests attended to their sacred duties.  And somewhere directly ahead of him was a blinding glow:  likely the boy he was to speak with, still burning intensely in the aftermath of his first Fit, and the onset of his Sight.

But nevertheless, the Care-Keep was empty.  Layers upon layers of psychic dust everywhere, long undisturbed.  The boy was likely the first in this town in a long time to require the priests’ attention, and in the intervening years, the priests had grown lazy, and quiet, attending to their other duties—to the town and people within it—as a series of chores, performed by rote, rather than the sacred obligation they were.

Jared found himself growing more and more angry.  Spiritually, there was no difference between this Care-Keep and an old abandoned barn.  Except that barn would harbor them memories of the simple births, life and deaths that had happened within its shelter in years past.  Here, there was nothing.  It was a miracle that the rest of the town throbbed so with life, with its heart so dead and cold.

Jared decided to mention this to Canaan, and make sure, once he returned home, that the boy was brought to a different Care-Keep, even if it meant leaving his town and family behind—as though the onset of the Sight didn’t do that job well enough, wherever the boy ended up living—to a place where he’d actually receive the care and instruction he needed.

Shapes grew out of the darkness as his eyes became accustomed to the low light, and he could see the priest already making his way into the main hall, not even waiting to see if his Prince was following him.  Another burst of anger at the insolence, added to the clear dereliction of duty here.  He took a deep breath and tried to set it aside, knowing it wouldn’t help him with the boy, and went after the priest.

He could see the boy immediately, sitting by himself near the front, staring blankly at the altar or an indeterminate point somewhere beyond.  He was taller than Jared had expected, though he corrected himself:  the boy was nearly two years older than most when the Sight came to them, of course he’d be tall, already in the midst of sprouting to his full adult height.

He didn’t approach the boy immediately—just because the priests here were criminally lax in their service didn’t mean that Jared had to follow their lead—and instead walked past him, directly to the altar.

He knelt, bowing his head, emptying his mind, reaching out with his Sight to encompass the altar, the Care-Keep, and the entire town in his no-mind attention, as he’d been taught so many years before.  And then opening his heart to them all.

And in the quiet whisper and thrum that was the coursing life of the town, he discovered his anger again; it had turned inward (as it so often did), but this time with cause.  Who was he to be judgemental of the priests when he’d also failed in his duties?  He’d been so concerned with the primary reasons for his trip here and the other towns as Prince—accounting, reviewing the magistrate’s plans for seeking out and stopping the illegal mining operations that tended to spring up here near the border’s of his father’s lands—that he hadn’t visited the Care-Keep himself before now, just a few hasty moments of prayer and meditation with Canaan by the fire before sleep, and likely wouldn’t have even thought to enter this building at all had the priest not approached him.  His responsibility was not to observe and pass judgement on others’ piety; setting aside his parents and secular destiny, as a man with the Sight, it was his role to serve, to tend to his own soul and those of the people around him, wherever he might be.  And in that he had failed.  The inability of this Care-Keep and its priests to properly serve its people—with or without a boy of the Sight to attend to—was a sadness.  That he was only just now noticing, and absent the involvement of the very people he’d been so quick to condemn:  that was a sin, and something only he could redress.

Having found the seed of his anger, he embraced it, named I, and in doing so robbed it of its power over him.  He was free again to once more reach out to the town, this time with his whole, unemcumbered heart.  He felt the dust begin to stir, then blow away.  It was more than he could do to fully restore life to this Care-Keep and the town it served—much more than a dozen Sighted men could do in the brief time he had—but he could at least lay the paths for the work to come later.

He exhaled deeply, concluding the ritual, and opened his eyes.  As he reached out to the dried Hiaku leaves in the bowl on the alter before him, taking one and crushing it over the phalanx of candles, scatter the dust amongst the flames, he added one more item to discuss with Canaan and the priests back home:  bringing a team of Sighted out here, even in the face of oncoming winter, to continue the work he had just begun, to restore life to this nearly-dead Care-Keep.  If the current priests could be revived in their own faith and duties in the process, all the better; if not, there was no end to the secular work they could be put to in keeping with their oaths to serve.

He got to his feet and turned around, and found the boy staring directly at him, tears streaming down his face.

“My name’s Jared.”

The boy opened his mouth, stuttering briefly before saying, “Why do I…feel…” and then he began to cry in earnest, but did not bow his head, keeping his eyes locked on the Prince.

“There’s a lot to learn,” Jared said, “A lot for me to tell you, and only a little while before I have to leave.

“Come with me.”

He walked over to the boy, and as the boy rose he put an arm around his shoulders, leading him back to the entrance of the main hall.

“What’s your name?”

In between sobs, “Sam.”

“I’m glad to meet you, Sam.”

Just before the doorway between the main hall and the nave, Jared turned he and Sam to the right, heading towards a smaller archway and a winding set of stairs beyond it.

“Are we…” Sam asked, “…We’re not allowed to go up here.”

“The first thing you need to learn, Sam, is that those words don’t apply to you anymore.  The Sight is a burden none of us should have to carry, but it does have its benefits.”

Not to mention the fact that Jared was also the Prince, and thus forbidden nothing outside his father’s word, but there was no need to confuse the boy.  And, truthfully, the Sighted were forbidden nothing that they wanted…which was part of what made it such a curse.

He had no problem guiding the boy to the stairs, knowing exactly where they’d lead.  Every Care-Keep—even the one in the capital where he lived—was constructed to the exact same design, passed on through the generations from an origin now nearly-forgotten and not often considered.  These stairs led to the top of the spire, an area that was normally off limits to everyone, including the priests, but as he’d told the boy, those rules no longer applied to him.

The boy followed Jared up the steps, circling around and around, until they came to a trap door.  Jared reached up and pushed it open, and then led Sam out onto the top level of the spire.  There were no walls, just the pointed roof above them, and circling in place, they could see the entire town, laying below them, and the fields to the south of them, the forests to the north, the paved highway stretching away like a dirty scar to the west, the road Jared and his men would be taking home, as soon as he was done here.  The blue sky overhead was hard and brittle, a cold wind skipping beneath it.

He walked Sam over to a small bench, sitting him there and then joining him.  Sam’s tears were tailing off, and he was mostly wiping at a damp face and dripping nose with his shirt-sleeve now.

“This is how we’re going to begin:  tell me what happened to you.”

Sam sat in silence for a bit, and Jared reached out to him, feeling the walls he’d thrown up against the memories of his Fit.  They were thick and expansive, but not very well built and still fresh, and Jared was able to very quietly and softly find a few cracks in them, wearing them away, gently opening the door for Sam’s memories to come through.

“I was…I was awake, but I thought I was still sleeping,” Sam said, the words faltering from his mouth as they were pushed out into the world by the weight of the memories behind them.  “I thought I was dreaming.

“My daddy was awake, and I could see him, even though he was downstairs, sitting at the table.  It burned!  I smelled smoke, and it hurt.  And then there was my momma, and sisters, and they were all around me, everywhere, and I was in the middle, and they were all fire, and I never had anything hurt me like that.

“And there were all these voices talking, not just my daddy and momma but everyone, like the whole town was right there in my room with me, yelling at me all these things I couldn’t get.  I couldn’t feel the bed anymore, couldn’t feel my arms or legs or nothing.  And it got louder and hotter, until there wasn’t anything else, and then I don’t remember anything.

“I was here when I woke up.  No one’s come to see me since, not even momma.”

It was all pretty standard stuff, things Jared had heard a dozen times before.  It didn’t compare at all to what he’d gone through when the Sight had come over him for the first time when he’d been just nine years old, but as in most things, Jared’s experience had proven out to be quite different from everyone around him.

He leaned back, giving the boy the space to say more if he wanted to.  There was more to it, of course, but most boys of this age—particularly in a small town this far out from the capital—didn’t have the vocabulary to describe the deeper feelings that came with a Fit.  The was it felt like some second-skin, between your real skin and your bones, was being slowly flayed away, and a burning essence would leak through the cracks.  The way you could feel how small your skull was, your mind exploding outward, torn to pieces as it passed through the bone cage it normally hid within.  The way the very You that you normally inhabited was utterly gone, and you were thrown between everyone around you like a leaf in a raging tide.

Young boys usually didn’t have the words to try to describe it.  And Sam was no different, despite being slightly older than most who went through this for the first time.  He sniffled a few more times, but remained silent.

“Okay,” Jared said, “I want you to pay attention to me as I say this.  I hear you, and I believe you.”

Sam looked up at the Prince’s face, and could see the truth there, and latched onto it.

“I went through the same thing when I was much younger, and so do many boys your age, every year.  It wasn’t a dream; it really happened.

“Now I want you to forget everything those priests,” (it was hard to keep his disappointment in them completely out of his voice, but he pushed quickly past it), “have told you about what happened to you.  They mean well, but they’ve never gone through it themselves.

“What happened to you is called a Fit.  It’s when the Sight overwhelms you, and there’s no way to control it.  It’s scary, but it can’t actually hurt you, and if you’re ready for it, and properly prepare yourself, it will be over before you know it.”

“Have you ever had one?”

“Of course I have.”  Jared laughed a little, and was gladdened to see that Sam knew he wasn’t being laughed at, that it was just genuine amusement at the idea.  “Every single boy who has the Sight will have Fits.  That’s how it starts, and they come back around every couple of years.  The priest do what they can to help you hold them off and keep the Sight under control, but eventually it builds up to the point where it won’t be controlled anymore, and it takes over for a little bit.

“But here’s the important part to remember:  having a Fit doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.  We all have them.  And more importantly, if you work hard at it, the rest of the time, you’ll be fully in control of it.

“Wanna see what that’s like?”

Sam looked up at him, confused.  “How?”

“Just hold my hand here, and close my eyes.”

This was a trick that Jared had learned years ago, from an old Sighted man who lived within his father’s house.  Had lived, for he died shortly after Jared had met him (he’d never known the old man existed until his own Sight came over him), but in that brief window of time, barely two months, the man had taught Jared more about the Sight than everyone else combined in those first few years.  Jared didn’t have two months with Sam—barely more than another hour or so—but he was going to do what he could in the time he did have.

He took Sam’s hand, closed his own eyes, and reached out to the boy.  He opened himself and gathered Sam’s essence within him, and then began reaching out to the people and places around them.

“Alright, now there’s someone, just below us…probably the priest who brought me here.  He knows we’re up here, and is worrying himself sick, but doesn’t dare come up here to disturb us.  And there, off to our left, two more people, I’m assuming the other priests of this Care-Keep, and they’re not doing too much, probably reading or napping.  To the right you can feel people working hard with a purpose…probably your help, getting ready for the noon meal.”

“That’s Josie and Sam!  His name is Sam, like me.”  There was a sad pause, then, “They’re the only ones who are nice to me anymore.”

“Then cling to them.  Most people will have a hard time being nice to you now…they don’t understand what happened to you, and will be a little scared.  When you find people who don’t care, and love you for who you are, love them back with everything you have.  Understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”  Jared very carefully brought his and Sam’s essences back to their bodies at the top of the spire, and then released Sam’s back to himself.  When he opened his eyes, he found Sam still sitting there, eyes, closed, but there was a small smile rising through the tears still drying on his face.

“Do you see what I mean?” he asked Sam.

“You really did that?  Went where you wanted to go, just because you could?”

“Yes.  I could, and I did.  And I took you with me.

“It’s not easy to do, especially bringing someone else with you, but the most important thing for you to learn is that control.  With it, you are blessed, and able to live and serve beyond anyone else.  Without it, you’re an animal, raving and writhing in your own mess.  Do you understand me?”

“No, not really…but I’ll try.”

Jared was momentarily stunned by the boy’s honesty.  Of course he didn’t understand, the very idea of controlling the Sight instead of having it control you was something Jared was still struggling with, twenty years later.  But it was unusual for a boy in so vulnerable a place to admit that he actually was vulnerable.  There were depths here that his humble surroundings hadn’t suggested.  Even more important to get him to a Care-Keep with priests who would do right by him…maybe even back to the capital itself, with Jared’s own priests (except Canaan, of course).

“Alright, open your eyes.”  Sam did so, and looked back up at Jared.  “I can’t explain everything to you right now…it’s a process that takes years, not minutes.  But I want you to know a few more things before I leave.

“One:  you are the only one responsible for what happens to you next.  The priests here are nice, but…not exactly what you need right now.  But they’re what you’ve got, so you’ll have to make the best of it.

“Second:  drink the Hiaku tea they prepare for you, when and how they tell you.  No questions.  The tea will help you gain control over the Sight, and forestall the next Fit for as long as possible.  If you drink it when and how they tell you, your next Fit won’t come over you for several years, and in the meantime you can prepare for it, learning and readying yourself.

“Third:  the priests here only serve two purposes.  They prepare the tea for you, and maintain the histories that the Sighted pass on to themselves through the generations.  That’s it, as far as you have to be concerned.  They do other things for the people of this town—well, they should, at least—but you’re no longer just another boy living in this town.  You’ve the Sight.  And there concerns are no longer your concerns, at least not until you’ve gained control over your Sight.  You’ll do that with the tea, and with practice, and by reading through the histories of those who’ve come before you.”

This was all a lot for Sam to take in; Jared could easily feel how full his mind was getting, could see it in his face without bothering to reach out with his Sight.

“Is there anything you want to know?” he asked the boy.

“Does it ever stop?”  And there were many more questions buried within that one, like “Will I ever get to see my family again?”  “Will I ever not be weird and an outcast?”  “Will it ever be quiet again?”  Jared didn’t have answers to the rest of them, not in the few minutes he had left, and so just answered the first one.

“No, it doesn’t stop.  But it does get better.  Easier.”

He put his arm around the boy again, and leaned back, staring out into the cold blue sky, letting a few moments of silence fill in all the cracks he could feel opening in the boy beside him.

Voice and Doubt – A Tale of Attempted Artistic Suicide – Part 1

What follows is the first part of a rather long, non-fiction, semi-autobiographical essay that is, in part, an attempt to explain why I write what I do and how I got to where I am right now.

I do have more real fiction on the way; there’s one piece in particular that’s shaping up nicely, but I’m enjoying working on it so much that I don’t want to rush it.  I’ll post it in full here when it’s done, but in the meantime, here’s the first few lines:

Smoke, curling and coating.  Ashes of mourning, dawning embers, and smoke, enfolding loss and birth.

And now, to today’s main event…

Read:  Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


Part 1 – Wherein the author explains why the story is as important to him as the Story

I’ve mentioned this to most of my friends, and it’s something that becomes abundantly clear after spending a few minutes touring my library or music collection:  I’m more interested in creative depth than breadth.  While I have hundreds of books in my library (a number that would be in the thousands were it not for fiscal and spatial limitations), and hundreds of GBs of music on my computer, the actual number of writers/musicians is fairly small:  a few dozen on the shelves, and a few hundred on the disc.

What I tend to do when I’m looking for something new is to cast my net very wide, and when I find something that catches my attention, I dive deep on it.  And if what I’m exploring continues to hold my interest—something that’s usually apparent fairly soon—then I become a completist, and try to find everything I can about the artist:  not just their entire body of work, but where they came from, what they did, and how that became the work I enjoy.

I don’t think it’s necessary to know all the biographical details about an artist to enjoy their work.  And sometimes, it can even be a detriment…in order to enjoy Wagner, for example, I have to somewhat consciously block out thoughts of the type of people who were likely sitting in the audience, paying him money, for most of his premieres.

But what that background information can do is provide some incredible depth.  Because great works do not come from boring people…their lives may be simple, or uncontroversial, but rarely are they mundane.

Take for example the U2 song “One”.  You don’t need to know its genesis to appreciate it as an amazing song about (among other things) people who are very different from each other, to the extent of outright conflict and dislike, having a brief, grace-filled moment of clarity where they realize that they are more alike than not, and that the strongest, most powerful bonds between people come not from chatting about things they agree on, but from stretching across incredibly vast divides and attempting to connect anyway, not just in spite of but because of those divides.

But here’s the story of where the song came from:

[I should note that most of the narrative details of this period—and the direct quote below—are not taken from my personal experience…obviously…but from the book U2: At the End of the World, by Bill Flanagan, a masterful work by a masterful writer.]

U2 were in a major creative crisis.  They had taken a short time off after finishing the last leg of the Joshua Tree tour (the Lovetown stretch in Australia and other nearby locations), and had regrouped in East Germany on the night the Berlin Wall fell to try to create some new music for this new world they were seeing unfold before them.

Aside from the book-jacket-worthy creative aspirations, they were also hoping that the change in location would be able to reinvigorate them.  After the years-long tour for The Joshua Tree, their meteoric success over that stretch, and tail-end critical backlash against Rattle and Hum, they were burnt out creatively and emotionally.  Larry Mullen at one point said that he felt like the world’s most expensive jukebox:  just go out and play U2’s greatest hits.  One night on the Lovetown tour they were so jaded by their experiences that they went out and played their entire setlist completely backwards, just to see if anyone noticed:  no one did.

They needed to prove to themselves that their success wasn’t just a fluke, that there was substance behind the celebrity, and that whatever it was they had done to generate these insane levels of sales and popularity, they could do it again.

The question staring at them…were they famous and successful because of their work, or could they (to borrow an analogy that I’ll expand on later) publish their shopping list and have it sell millions of copies?

(This is, incidentally, a pretty critical theme to what I’m talking about here; time to get out your highlighters.)

And within a few weeks, it was obvious that nothing was working.  They were fighting with each other, in complete disagreement as to what “new” meant.  Camps were being formed, sides chosen…on one hand, there was lofty discussion about “sound” and “vibe” and the like, and on the other hand there were no actual songs to work on, regardless of the soundbites.  Things were getting desperate, with a few measures of melody going through dozens of wildly different incarnations, everyone hoping and praying that something would finally stick…and fearing that it wouldn’t.

They had all, at one point or another, thrown around a few lines during interviews, meant totally in the abstract and theoretical, that what made the band special was that they were friends, and liked doing this music thing with each other, and it didn’t matter what was happening with the music itself, if those bonds, those bits of common ground ever weren’t there, they’d quit, it wouldn’t be worth going on.

And now, no longer abstract or theoretical, those lines started surfacing between them…as in, “This isn’t working, we’re at each others’ throats…why are we bothering with this anymore?”

And then, one day, the Edge was working on a new section for yet another song that appeared to be going nowhere, trying to decide between two possible guitar pieces that might work…

“He comes back into the control booth, picks up an acoustic guitar, and plays both of them for Lanois and Bono to see which they prefer.  They say that those both sound pretty good—what would it be like if you put them together?

Edge goes back out into the studio and starts playing the two sections together, one into the other.  Larry and Adam fall in behind him on the drums and bass.  Bono feels the muse knocking on his head…[he] goes out to the microphone and begins improvising words and a melody:  ‘We’re one, but we’re not the same—we get to carry each other, carry each other.’

By the next morning they have recorded ‘One,’ as strong a song as U2 has ever written.  It came to them all together and it came easily, as a gift.”

Now take that story—the initial conditions of disagreement and strife, the underlying fear that they’re no good and about to be found out, the growing dislike for their closest friends, and that grace-filled afternoon when this song was “written”—and go listen to “One” again.

Bit different, isn’t it?

In some cases, stories like these can provide just enough garnish around a specific work to give it some added flavor…like I said, “One” is a pretty damn good song, whether you know how it was written or not.

But in other cases, the story of serious, long-term creative crisis can entirely change your perception of a work, drawing all of the themes and events into a whole different focus.


Coming Shortly:

Part 2 – Wherein the author really gets down to business, and continues talking about people other than himself