Tag Archives: Iron and Wine

The Music that Mattered

27 Mar

A good friend, Aaron, recently posted a question on Facebook asking us to reveal the pivotal albums that have shaped our individual musical pasts. Albums that have opened up to us entirely new worlds of music/mindset/intellect/and feeling. The music that mattered- and still does. The stuff that when first heard made the earth rumble and our teeth rattle. Socked us in the stomach. Hit us right in the heart-place.

His albums were as follows: Nevermind, Led Zeppelin “II”, The Downward Spiral, and Ænima.

Admittedly, I got a tad carried away in listing mine. There are just so many. I’ve had at least nine lives so far, and looking forward to having a few more.

Anyway, here are [some] of the albums that came to mind when I think about music that, when first heard, made me feel like the earth was spinning backwards (but in a warm and fuzzy way):

This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About by Modest Mouse
OK Computer by Radiohead
Grace by Jeff Buckley
Louder than Bombs by the Smiths
Thrill is Gone by B.B. King
The Creek Drank the Cradle by Iron and Wine
Clint Eastwood by the Gorillaz
Surfer Rosa by the Pixies
You’d Prefer an Astronaut by Hum
Nevermind by Nirvana
The Colour and the Shape by the Foo Fighters
Superunknown by Soundgarden
Ten by Pearl Jam
Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction
Red Dirt Girl by Emmylou Harris
Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn

I forgot Tidal by Fiona Apple and Fashion Nugget by Cake but hey, nobody is perfect.

Creek Drank the Cradle led to years of indie folk adoration, but Red Dirt Girl and Van Leer Rose might have led to Creek Drank the Cradle. I don’t know, I have memory problems. Superunknown was on repeat for most of my teenage years, and I still prefer harder rock that I can sing along to in anguish while driving over the speed limit. Clint Eastwood made pop music fun and cool for me. Ok Computer was just perfect.


The first time I heard the song ‘Fade Into You’ by Mazzy Star I broke a little on the inside…

But it’s always hard to say what sort of music influenced me most. A great first date question, I suppose. It makes for some nice pondering as we drive to Santa Fe to see Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum.


Who Do You Need When You Come Undone?

30 Nov

“but when a southern anthem rings 
she will buckle to that sound 
when that southern anthem sings 
it will lay her burdens down”                                – Southern Anthem, Iron and Wine

When I am sad I go home.

All my life I have known who I am and where I come from. I’m a Southerner. An Oxonian. Sometimes a place can define you, make you who you are.  Not in any sense of fatalistic determination, I simply mean that when your environment is as all encompassing and (arcane) as Oxford, Mississippi the in late 80s and early 90s, it’s hard to not be a product of the southern gothic. At least for me. Move as I may, however far, I have that place so deeply ingrained in me it’s in the very core of my thoughts and actions, in the substance of my tears, and when I slip up, it’s in the slow drawl of my speech. We Oxonians have a sense of place- or of history- of a collective past so contradictory we spend our entire lives contemplating it.

When I am sad, I go home. It is my admission to vulnerability. I go to Mississippi. When my heart aches, I visit the red clay hills and steamy green deltas that both broke and healed me when I was young. The river. My river. My lake. And my town and my place. And I become part of a colletive we. Our place. I melt back into the clay from which I come.

The sights of magnolias and giant oak trees, of weeping willow and Spanish moss, of kudzu forests in the shape of dinosaurs, and the sounds of crickets and birds, and the smells that hang in the humidity like a thick blanket comprised entirely of a watery air. It’s all so familiar. It embraces me.

But It’s not the same. I grew up in a small town that was just beginning to be known for the miraculous nest of culture that it is. Now that we’re caught on, alumnus and other out-of-towners buy up the real estate and bulldoze our history in order to install chain restaurants, condominiums, and shopping centers. High end wine and cheese bars and private clubs are everywhere. They have torn down the older, crumbling buildings that I knew so well and erected newer, flashier, and higher city blocks than I ever dreamed of as a child. The woods have been replaced by high rise apartments. The population has more than doubled. My town is underneath, buried beneath progress.

Sadness frightens me- triggers the stress response- fight or flight- and I RUN. I run to something, though I don’t know exactly what it is- I simply run to the future. I run to move the ground beneath my feet. I run because I don’t want to answer for it, I don’t want to explain to them what it is.

And I am not quite certain as to who the ‘them’ I am referring to is.

Maybe ‘them’ is everyone who doesn’t get it, and those who don’t let it go, and those who don’t know, those who know too much.

Terrible Knowledge

-the kind that has a weight; the kind that leaves a scar.

I run back to where it originates, where everything originates in my world.

There is hope and beauty and peace in the absurd.

I have this memory from when I was very very young. So young that when I recall my memories they are just blips and blurs. My brother and I are playing in the backyard, up the hill by the blackberry patch at the edge if the woods. I remember the oak trees and the shape of the hill. The crunch of leaves beneath my feet. I remember the neighbors and their small farm. The old green truck that sat in the garden for so many decades it became part of the plant life. I hear the sound of the call of the wild turkey hens. I can smell the dirt and leaves. The memory is as alive as the little green grass snakes that hang from the trees. And I remember the blackberries. Our game is simply to push each other into the thorns. Our parents scold us. We both win, and neither of us ever win.

And all of it is gone now.

I remember the nightmare I had about Sardis Lake, full of faceless bodies missing their limbs and I remember not wanting to go water skiing because of it.

We played a game we called ‘scientist.’ We would poke at algae with sticks and fling it at the ducks. We roamed the woods in search of the tree with the initials carved into it. It had a mark, a wound left by lovers years before. Scarred. We found the spring that fed the lake- we named it. We saw the cannonball, left there from the war that raged and destroyed deep in the dark cervices of the county, and that still rages to this day. We stumbled upon a very old tombstone, picked it up, and brought it home us.

My best friend and I roamed wild in a forest that to us had no end. We lost our boundaries. We shot a squirrel. As it jumped from branch to branch we chased the poor bastard with a bombardment of .22 bullets. Finally one struck it- right through the head- and it fell 20 or so feet down to us. We killed it. The devil made us do it. We cried. Smeared the blood on our faces. Tied it to a brick and threw the body in the lake.

I remember the home movies we would make at the creepy old ice house. And how we would dare each other enter Faulkner’s woods or walk around Rowan Oak on the darkest, moonless nights.

How Ole Miss was nearly indistinguishable from the town itself.

“Meet me on the Square” 

Ice cream on the Square Books balcony and wasting time at As Seen on TV. Even the old Purvis’ pool hall, where children weren’t really allowed but we dared to go anyhow.

Living in a tornado alley and the familiarity of climbing into the tub and leaning an old mattress against the tiles, listening to the rain and thunder outside. And the the sight of the pottery manufacturing factory that Floyd and the other cats came from after it was leveled by a storm.

“We’ll be at the Grove”

I visit the plot of earth, next to my father’s, where I will spend my physical eternity when the time comes.  I will share my rest with many great men- my father, William Faulkner, the yellow fever deaths, past classmates, accomplished professors, and lauded statesmen. All gone now.

A comfort in the insanity. Acceptance in the inevitable.

And time slows down. A year happens each day I am at home- my Southern home- and when I return to my reality time has skipped ahead and things are different. It is my time machine. My reality check.

I’m lucky to come from such a place, to know the deep sadness and heavy air that hangs optimistically over the deep south. And it puts my own sadness into perspective because no matter how many times I see someone off to St. Peter’s, my sorrow is minuscule compared to the suffering and pain and loneliness that Oxford- that Mississippi- has known. I am insignificant in the story of the South.

And it is not a defeat to be sad. Just an observation. And it is not cured by these visits. Simply acknowledged. A celebration of the macabre.

A habit I cannot shake.

Perhaps when I am sad I go to the place that I associate with sadness. Sometimes I am too tired- and that underlying southern sadness is just all that I have left. And I think I want that more than nothing. Because to let my southern sadness go, to forget the great albatross that has anchored me thus far, would be to belittle it’s value to me all those years. To let it go and move on and forget about the place underneath the kitsch and development would be saying that there was nothing there worth remembering. And the nothing is scary and empty and sad. It is a cycle that cannot be broken. And to leave it and let it go entirely feels like a betrayal of how much I once felt for my woods and lakes, and how those places enveloped me, and what my kudzu covered jungle meant to me as I formed the shape I take now.

But sadness is not all. It can’t be. There has to be a balance.

If we loved once then we can love again.

The joy and thrill of beginning life still exists there alongside it. It is found on Bramlett hill. The innocence and awe of the world. The kind that wears off as we learn to weather the storm. With every break and every hurt is the reminder that I am still alive, that the deepest cuts heal and the gnarliest wounds mend up. Our scars are our maps.

I see the town as I remember it- I get lost now with the new roads and the new place- but the old Oxford is still there, underneath, lurking. You cannot kill a ghost.

And I am not sad I left. But there is always a sense of longing that I feel when I am away. I guess it is easier for me to preserve the memory from a distance.

But when I am sad I return to my home.

Spreading Sadness through Songs

11 May

About a week or so ago I got pretty down about one thing or another (dentists are such disappointing people) and I compiled a little playlist of my sad songs to sob to in the bath tub.  My playlists are always so erratic.  After a few days, however, I noticed how cool it is that many of those same ‘sad’ songs can also make me feel better.  My ‘pick yourself up’ list is quite similar to my ‘sad’ list.  Not too sure what that says about me but, hey, at least it helps to change my mood.

Of course, the end-all cure-all is still dance ’til you feel better (thanks James Brown) but the dance playlists will have to wait.

Here is my last week’s mood in music:

Dog’s Hymns – Low Red Land

Dramamine – Modest Mouse

Heart Skipped a Beat – the XX

Let’s Dance – M. Ward

Marlene on the Wall – Suzanne Vega

En Tus Pupilas – Shakira

Fade Into You – Mazzy Star

Mulholland – Shearwater

No One Said This Would Be Easy- The Postmarks

Cross Bones Style – Cat Power

Drug – Czars

Kettering – The Antlers

The Dress Looks Nice On You – Sufjan Stevens

Abandoned – Lucinda WIlliams

Always On – Zaza

Common People – Pulp

I’m So Lonesome Could Cry- Hank WIlliams

The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice

Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead

All Your Jeans Were Too Tight – American Music Club

With Bells On – Cross My Heart

Bermuda Highway – My Morning Jacket

Fountain And Fairfax – The Afghan Whigs

Lover, You Should’ve Come Over – Jeff Buckley

You’re a Wolf – Sea Wolf

Bankrupt On Selling – Modest Mouse

Better Off Alone – The Black Angels

Stay Golden – Au Revoir Simone

Do You Realize – The Flaming Lips

Ghost in This House – Alison Krauss

John Wayne Gayce, Jr – Sufjan Stevens

In My Time of Need – Ryan Adams

Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles

Upward over the Mountain – Iron and Wine

He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot – Grandaddy

…isn’t it lovely how music works?

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