Who Am I?


There are always a few different lists going around Facebook at any given moment designed to tell people who you are, what kind of person you are based on a handful of questions.  Sometimes these things are thematic–like using only one word, or basing each answer on a consecutive letter of the alphabet, etc.  I never take part in these things.  It’s not that I’m all that closed off, although I can be.  It’s not even that the questions are mostly irrelevant, although they often are.  I just don’t think these things would really tell you who I am.

I think of myself as a private person, but given that I blog and am on FB, I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.  I also like to think I have a pretty tight rein on my emotions, but if I’m being honest that is probably the biggest lie I’ve ever told myself.  I have about as much self-control over my emotions as your average three-year-old.  But I hate losing control of my feelings in public, so I guess that’s something.  I do have trouble letting people in; intimacy and I are not exactly on speaking terms.  I’m opinionated and I like to blast my opinions and thoughts (educated or otherwise) out there for the world to see.  It’s actually something of a defense mechanism, though.  I know that distracting people with my opinions on politics, etc. will get them to think they know who I am and stop asking about me.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I will occasionally be posting songs I really relate to, that I can see myself in.  There’s the me I project, and the me I see in my mind’s eye.  The latter is the person these songs will let you all see, too.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I guess all that stuff really is in the eye of the beholder.  My eye beholds this.

You ever get the sense that you’re waiting for something to happen?  The feeling that there is something else in this world that is meant for you, but you have no idea what it is or how to articulate it?  Not greatness or a great romance, necessarily.  Just something. . . different.  That’s me.  That’s this song for me.  I know there’s something out there but I haven’t found it yet.  Maybe I never will.  I’ve tried to define it in so many different ways but I can’t quite.  It’s a search for peace and contentment, something that will finally allow me shut my brain off and let the anxiety and worry disappear.  I also know by now that I’m probably never going to find whatever it is outside of myself.  It won’t stop me from looking.  But in the meantime, I have Jackson Browne to help me at least put a name to it.  I’m a Hold Out.

“Rock Me on the Water”


So I was listening to this song today, and I had one of my little epiphanies.  Of course, as a Buddhist, I suppose I should be using a term like “moment of enlightenment.”  Whatever it’s called, it was just one of those things that as soon as it dawned on me, it was the most logical thing in the world.

Wanna know what it is?

In a minute.  Listen to the song first.

I’ve always loved this song.  On one level, it’s pretty dark.  There’s a lot of talk about judgement and redemption and salvation, and not all of it is positive.  In this worldview, there are people who might not be saved.  They’re the ones who’ve cut themselves off from the world, the people who don’t want to help anyone but themselves: “You’re lost inside your houses, there’s no time to find you now.”  But there’s hope here, too.  “Well the fires are raging, hotter and hotter, but the sisters of the sun are gonna rock me on the water.”  All you’ve got to do is “get down to the sea somehow.”

My epiphany came near the end, in the final verse.  This is a song about salvation, about finding hope for the world in your community; it’s one of Jackson Browne’s favorite themes.  He knows that people need to work together to save not only themselves, but the world.  But he also knows that the only one who can save you is yourself.  That in the end, you’re judged alone:  “When my life is over, I’m gonna stand before the father, but the sisters of the sun are gonna rock me on the water.”  Of course, that line is a contradiction in and of itself.  He’s going to be judged alone, but he’s not going to be alone when it happens.  Which led me to my moment of enlightenment:

I’m not going to be judged.

Or, to be more accurate, the only one who can judge me is me.  I’m responsible for my life, my actions, my thoughts.  I can choose to follow a path that helps others, that gives something back to the world.  Or I can choose to walk the path that helps only me.  I can be in the world, or I can be in my own world.  It’s no one’s choice but mine, and no one will judge me for it but me.

My tendency to judge other people by my own standards is something I’ve always struggled with.  And I probably always will.  I will continue to look at other people’s behavior through my own standards, and I will continue to find them wanting.  But my opinions are mine.  And ultimately, my opinions will have no effect on those people.  It shouldn’t.  That’s part of this epiphany, you know.  Everyone else is responsible for their own lives and actions.  I have to learn to live with that.  Maybe that will help me temper some of my less attractive attitudes.  Maybe not.  That’s my problem, not yours.

“Rock me on the water, sister will you soothe my fevered brow.  Rock me on the water.  Maybe I’ll remember, maybe I’ll remember how.”

Got Live on TV if You Want It: “Mutineer”


Let me tell you how I got here.  I was thinking about posting something from Jackson Browne’s 2003 solo acoustic tour, which I caught at UCLA’s Royce Hall with the BFF.  It was hands down one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.  Browne played by himself onstage, surrounded by a handful of guitars, a baby grand, and an electric piano.  His set list was to take requests from the audience.  (I remember at one point someone shouted out a request for “Somebody’s Baby,” and his reply was “Really?”  He played it.)  It was one of those amazing, transformative experiences that makes life worth living.

It was also his first tour after the death of his longtime friend Warren Zevon.  For those of you who are only familiar with Zevon for “Werewolves of London,” I feel kind of sad for you.  Zevon’s wry, dry sense of humor and resigned sadness are things of beauty.  He was a little too quirky for much mainstream success–kind of like Randy Newman, but less political (see this post for more on Zevon).  But for his fans and friends, there was no one better.  On Jackson Browne’s tour, one of the few planned moments of each show was when he would play one of Zevon’s songs.  The show I saw, Browne sat at the electric piano, and began playing the opening notes to “Frank and Jesse James”, but stopped, saying he couldn’t play that one (not sure why, but it seemed kind of emotional for him).  Then he played the gorgeously sad “Mutineer.”  It was a lovely and loving tribute.

Which brought me to The Late Show with David Letterman.  Like Browne, David Letterman was a longtime friend of Zevon.  Zevon was a regular guest on Letterman’s show, often filling in for Paul Shaffer with the band; Letterman appeared on Zevon’s 2002 album My Ride’s Here.  Not long after Zevon announced he was terminally ill, Letterman devoted an entire show to his friend.  It was one of the sweetest, saddest things I ever watched.  I’m tearing up a little right now, thinking about it.  They joked around and Warren played several songs, including “Mutineer.”  I’m not going to analyze or explain this song.  I’m not sure I could do this gentle song justice, anyway.  But the chorus ends with the line “You’re my witness, I’m your mutineer.”  That night, everyone who watched witnessed something unspeakably beautiful.

Repost: “Take It Easy”


Note: I’m still recovering from Christmas, so here’s a repost of the first song I selected for the jukebox.  

If you’ve listened to a classic rock station for at least an hour sometime in the last twenty years, you’ve probably heard “Take It Easy.”  The version by the Eagles is almost ubiquitous.  It’s the theme song of the 1970s: A paean to hedonism that is so relentlessly sunny and carefree, you almost get sunburned listening to it.

That’s not the version of this song I care about.

“Take It Easy” was famously co-written by Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne.  Browne recorded it for his second album, 1973’s For Everyman.  Sonically, structurally, and instrumentally, it is almost exactly like the Eagles’ version.  Almost.

Lest anyone forget, Jackson Browne is a master of angst, and in his hands, “Take It Easy” becomes not a rallying cry to get high and have sex, but a desperate search for meaning in a meaningless world.  You get the feeling that the singer is sleeping with seven different women not because he can, but because he needs to find that one woman who will provide the comfort and safety he so clearly craves (the one who says she’s his friend appears promising, but he’s taking nothing for granted).  He’s “running down the road” and “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” partly because he doesn’t seem to have anywhere else to go.  The fade out (which is the only significant difference between the recordings) is wistful guitars slowly tapering off.  There is no peace in this song.  The repeated title line becomes not a statement of cool relaxation, but a plea for sanity.

The part that really brings this out for me is the second verse.  The singer, who is probably hitchhiking, meets a woman driving a “flat-bed Ford” and convinces her to pick him up.  It’s the desperation in Browne’s voice that gets me every time.  When he sings “C’mon baby, don’t say maybe, I’ve got to know if your sweet love can save me,” he means it.  He may just as well have sung “Oh please give me a ride, because I’m hot and thirsty and dying of loneliness out here in the middle of nowhere.”  This girl is his last chance, and if he doesn’t take it, he’s going to die.  That level of sturm und drang is something Browne does better than any of the rest of the SoCal soft rockers.  He is scared and unsure and lost, and it shows in his voice.  There is a need for connection and the fear that it will all amount to nothing in the end, so why even bother.  In Jackson Browne’s California, there is a price to pay for everything.  And he just got stuck with the check.

“Doctor My Eyes”


Uh-oh.  If I’m not careful, this could become a theme.

I forgot about “Doctor My Eyes” yesterday because it doesn’t fit in with the eyes=love thing I had going.  This is a whole different song about a different kind of feeling.  Or not feeling, as the case may be.

Jackson Browne has written a lot of songs about existential angst.  This particular song is about the eye-opening experience of growing up and realizing the world is a lot more complicated than previously believed.  It’s easy to believe this may be somewhat autobiographical; by the time Browne put out his eponymous debut in 1972 (aka Saturate Before Using), he’d already seen a lot of the world.  He’d left home as a teenager, played backup for Nico (who recorded one of his songs), and become an integral member of the quasi-incestuous SoCal music scene (and that’s just the Cliff’s Notes version).  The through line of the song is wondering whether he has become too cynical, “having done all that I could, to see the evil and the good without hiding,”  He finds himself unable to react to what he sees anymore.  He’s jaded and afraid that his immunity to “the slow parade of fears” will overwhelm his ability to feel altogether.  “Doctor, in my eyes, I cannot see the sky. Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?”

He probably didn’t need to worry.  While I understand and identify with the song to some degree, I also know that this is a young person’s dilemma.  I felt this way, too.  I thought I’d gained enough knowledge about the world and all its absurdities to be able to just turn off my feelings.   As you get older, you find reserves of emotion–sympathy, empathy, compassion, love–that you could never imagine feeling when you are young.  There is a depth to your emotions, too, that comes with experience.  And you find that even though sometimes you think there can’t possibly be any more room in your heart or soul for anything more, there is always room for one more.  While very little actually surprises me anymore, I am astounded by my capacity to simply feel.  I cry more and laugh harder.  I get angry just as often and still deal with it pretty poorly, but at least I know about it (I’m also a proponent of the bumpersticker philosophy “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”).  I grieve and celebrate.  I smile at things that I never would’ve noticed twenty years ago.  I watch sunsets and stop to smell roses.

The world is definitely more complicated and troubling than I thought it was in my 20s.  Things are harder than I expected them to be.  And there is more beauty and joy than I ever thought I’d find, too.  I guess it’s a pretty fair trade.

The Universe Speaks


I heard two songs that mean a great deal to me today on the radio (I really have to talk my father into keeping the SiriusXM).  One of them has been important to me for many years now, the other for just a little while (but when a song makes you cry when you’re listening to the itunes clip, that’s a pretty good sign it matters).

I love a lot of songs, that should be obvious by now.  But some matter to me because I can hear myself in them.  I don’t mean it’s something I can sing them well (because I can’t), but that I identify with the song for some reason.  I feel like I’m the person in the song, or that it is being sung to me.  (Tip: Always do what the voices in your head tell you to do.  Unless it involves an axe.  Then just say no.)  Both songs contain good advice, stuff I probably ought to think about more often.

Jackson Browne’s “Hold on Hold Out” is a rambling 8 minute epic from the end of Hold Out.  It’s a love song, sort of.  It’s about sticking to your beliefs and dreams in the face of opposition.  I’m what many people would consider a loser: middle-aged, unemployed, unmarried, childless.  Sometimes, I even throw myself a little pity party about all that I haven’t accomplished.  But see, the thing is, most of the time I don’t feel like a loser.  I’ve chosen not to measure myself by the traditional markers of success.  Although I’d like to change the unemployed thing, everything else depends on how you view it (just like Obi Wan Kenobi said).  Age is just a number.  I have my friends’ kids to dote on (my niece & nephew are adults now, even if I do still call both of them “baby”).  I don’t really want to be in a relationship with anyone.  I have my music and family and friends.  I have a place to live and food to eat, and I’m healthy; that’s a lot more than a lot of people have.  I get to go to Disneyland.  Things are pretty good.  When I need a little burst of confidence, “Hold on Hold Out” is one of the songs I turn to.

See, I like to think of myself as a Hold Out.  Holding out until I feel like the pieces are in place, finding strength in knowing what it is I really want.  “They say you’ll fall in no time at all, but you know they’re wrong.  You’ve known it all along.”  I believe things happen for a reason.  I’m in charge of my life, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone pointing the way once in a while.  And I know that however the world views me, I’m worthwhile.    That’s what “Hold on Hold Out” is about.

Snow Patrol is new to me.  I saw them performing “New York” from their new album, Fallen Empires, a few weeks ago.  So I looked them up and listened to the samples on itunes one night.  I downloaded it because it was too late to go somewhere they sold CDs and buy it, and Amazon would take too long.  The song that convinced me is track four, “This Isn’t Everything You Are.”  This is the song you listen to when the pity party has gone on a little too long.  It starts rather pessimistically, a guy trying to comfort a troubled friend, although being told “don’t keel over now” doesn’t seem particularly encouraging.  It feels a little like rock bottom.  “And in one little moment it all implodes.  This isn’t everything you are.”  Whatever is holding you back or troubling you, it doesn’t define you.  You are strong enough to come through it.  I am strong enough.  “Breathe deeply in the silence, no sudden moves.  This isn’t everything you are.”  I am not alone.  “Just take the hand that’s offered, and hold on tight.  This isn’t everything you are.”  I can get through it.  “There’s joy out there somewhere, I know there is.  This isn’t everything you are.”

I felt pretty emotional just sitting in the car today.  If “Watching the Wheels” had come on, I think I would’ve burst into tears.  But I also feel good.  Confident.  I can keep holding on, because this isn’t everything I am.