Christmas, the Rare, Acoustic Version

cardinalDriving from one roast beef dinner to another on the day after Christmas we heard an early acoustic version of one of my favorite songs, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by the Police.

The stripped down version was a little creepy and certainly felt like it was lacking something as Sting meandered through those “thousand rainy days since we first met.” Suddenly there was real sorrow in being turned on and you wonder what quality of love it is that will “go on and on and on.”

It was the other side of unrequited passion, the sort with a raspy throat after too many lonely tears. There is such bitter joy in watching the beloved from afar, because as magic as she may be, it is so wasted at a distance from the man who pines for her.

What a meditation on sorrow in the afterglow of a Christmas surrounded by family and feasting and a midnight mass with comforting carols and radiant poinsettias and glowing evergreens!

Perhaps it makes sense that this Christmas would seem a little subdued to me and I would find messages in an introspective, alternate take of a rock song. This year I approached December 25th with a new reverence as I began to understand what Mary giving birth to Jesus really means for me. I set much of the maddened consumer rush aside, and found my holiday in meditation and prayer, not in a roll of gift wrap.

This sense of slowing things down and tasting the real essence of Christmas rather than being distracted by the icing on the gingerbread men offers so much, but it also forces you to gaze into some of the shadows of self and family life that are usually disguised by trimmings and bows and those extra few glasses of wine. I’m not going to get into my own dramas here, but I am sure that we all have years when the unexpected confronts us and what we expect to be most magical evening of the year becomes an opportunity to practice all that we have learned the rest of the year.

Recognizing that everyone is entitled to their own complexity and respecting the universe within them.

Acting with compassion as your guide rather than operating under the illusions of expectation and entitlement.

Finding peace in stillness rather than the laughter of the crowd.

Not being afraid of the spaces between notes or the pauses between conversations.

Trusting that everything is going to be alright.

And, most of all, remembering that everything She does really is magic and believing in a little divine intervention to keep the familial ship afloat.

Oh, and finding the happy, well-known version of your favorite song featuring short shorts and funny hats just might just might help too!

Pledging Allegiance to a New Flag

Opening for Ani DiFranco on Wednesday was an ageless, potty-mouthed bald dude with an unstoppable guitar and an undeniable voice. His goes by Hammel On Trial and he is… an experience. I think I remember being incited to join a chorus of “F@*$ YOU!” in the distant past, and I assume I joined in with gusto at the time. Expletives generally have a way of being more cathartic than belting out a good “Om,” but I only offered a half hearted contribution this time around.

Have I stifled my primal need to curse with a crowd under a sheen of gentrified repression or have I reached the point where that throwaway term that can be everything from a threat to a verbal comma no longer holds the same kind of power for me?

He occupies a necessary place in music and society – to hold up the mirror to our world’s racism and homophobia, the general fear of sex and rebellion, our inability to stomach some essential ugly truths. This is not to say that I want to play his CDs when I wake up in the morning or that I could have handled much more than his thirty minute warm up set (though warm up the place he certainly did), but I have respect for what he does.

I say that especially because even after all the anger and deliberate attempts to shock, which I have limited attention for, he offered this bit. It’s his new stab at the pledge of allegiance, written in response to his six year old son’s lessons in the age old recitation:

I will pledge allegiance to no more flags until they come up with one for the earth.

A republic of humans all races and colors for which they stand. One planet in an endless sea of other planets.And if they discover life on those, I’ll pledge allegiance to those too.With respect to your religion as you respect mine. Where liberty and justice is not determined by how much wealth you’ve accumulated,or your political or military power,or your sexual orientation, or how you control the media. Where no one can maintain their wealth as long as one person on the planet doesn’t have adequate food or shelter or health care or educational opportunity.

THIS IS THE FLAG I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO.

On Witnessing a Righteous Mama

Seeing Ani DiFranco last night for the first time in years was like going home to a cherished vision of my emerging self, the one that realized I was woman with a passion for justice and a voice that had to be heard. At the same time, listening to a thirty-eight year old mother singing brand new songs allowed me to stand firmly rooted in the being I have become.

In the space of nineteen songs, she reminded me how to be twenty-one all over again, but she also taught me to be twenty-nine and thirty-eight and I think, if listened carefully enough, I could find the secret to agelessness in her sound and her stature. To witness this woman create and express and take action, to inform and inflame and inspire… what more do you need to your fill heart and soul with the courage to be fully alive?

One of the first times I saw Ani was in the lead up to the 2000 election when she called all of us in the true blue states to throw our votes in Nader’s direction to show our support for the Greens and third party politics. I saw her at least once a year through the early days of the Bush administration, and the anger at the political disaster that was our national state of being was boiling righteously. Then life changed and my partners in crime who would scream at the first chords of “Gravel” with me melted away, and I didn’t seen her for four long years. I half-heartedly agreed with friends who just felt they were beyond all that ranting chick stuff and songs about abortion clinics and date rape and capitalism gone deeply awry.

Last night was different though… The entire world shifted when our little folk singer was able to sing a brand new tune about Obama’s victory that had to have other people besides me wiping away tears of joy. “Thank you, America” she sang “for more than I expected.” Isn’t that how we all feel in this fresh blush of pride for being the country that grew up a little by allowing itself to follow youth and a new beginning? What an amazing rebirth: to stand in a concert hall full of progressives and scream until our fillings rattled not because we raged at the anti-choicers and the war mongers and the biggots, but because there was a woman standing on the stage before us who was talking about a man who now stood on the world stage. Ani gave us the soundtrack that will support us in our quest for change that we all dreamed about while we struggled under the thumb of those old regimes.

Though the audience filled the theater with whistles and shouts of “We love you Ani!”, nearly everyone sat until the encore. Was it that her fans had become elderly, or were we all just full of the sort of reverence that had us hanging on her every word rather than dancing in the aisles?

I think it is ok that we have all grown up a little. For all that we still need to hear that “everyone is fucking Napolean,” we all need to just be in this more steady place of bliss and brilliance. We can believe that the world really has changed and that we are lucky enough to be around to listen to it. Even better, we can find the inspiration to record our own histories of how all this good stuff began to find its place in reality.