A Week in the Life

As I listen to people these days, I am reminded of one of the Beatles great songs. It begins “I read the news today, oh boy…” That song is titled “A Day in the Life.” Most of us have heard it. Most of us probably enjoy it. Most of us are probably following the lead of John Lennon and reading (or at least watching) the news. Any guesses of what the news will be this week? I think we can all answer that question. Some event may provide a slight distraction but the focus will quickly return to the latest on COVID-19. There is nothing wrong with watching the news but I do hope we all have found some other ways to spend time as well.

 

I hope most of us are involved in things that keep ourselves and others healthy. Your “day in the life” will likely be at least slightly different from mine, but due to the restrictions placed on social interaction I have already become pretty predictable.

 

I will eat oatmeal. I’m ok with that, there’s not much better than a combination of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla with a fruit topping. I will probably cook something a little more complicated at some point. Maybe a soup. Maybe something on the Weber. I like to smell like smoke after cooking. “You smell like smoke” someone may say. “Thank you” I will reply.

 

I predict that on Tuesday I will send a song to Karissa and Keightley. We do it every week and call it “Tunesday.” Last week it was “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. This week I will be sending out “Hallelujah.” The Jeff Buckley version.

 

I have entered the world of vlogging. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have attempted to communicate some sense of meaning and hope through short video vignettes. I suspect I will be at it again this week as one way to maintain a sense of connection with the people of the church. It seems like such a trendy exercise, maybe I’m destined to become trendy. The earlier one I call “Tuesdays With Randy.” The next one I call, you guessed, “Thursdays With Randy.” Pretty trendy eh.

 

I always enjoy reading but admit my reading time has increased during quarantine. Most recently, I am rereading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. It is assigned for a class I am taking and I always consider it a bonus when I am assigned a book I have read before. It does encourage the risk that I will start to think I know what I’m talking about. That will be up to the professor to decide when I complete my critical review essay.

 

I will spend time in the garden. We have planted cabbage, radishes, onions, arugula, spinach, swiss chard, romaine and bibb lettuce. We have already started to harvest lettuce, arugula, and spinach. I will add to the compost. Probably kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and crunchy brown leaves. When I don’t smell like smoke I like to smell like soil.

 

These are the things that make up a week in the life. At least for one average guy trying to be compliant with social restrictions. It has become rather predictable. I am hoping to shake things up a bit in the near future. Maybe I’ll follow John’s lead. Later in the song he sings “I saw a film today, oh boy.” Yeah, I’ll probably do that.

Some Reasons to Listen to Johnny Cash

What can you say about a guy who is in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2011), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992), and the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980)? What can you say about someone who sang with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, U2, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and a long list of others? About someone who sang a Bob Marley song with Joe Strummer? It’s as if everyone wanted to sing with Johnny Cash. Even my Dad, and he was not known as a singer.

 

His songs sound like country, rock, gospel, blues, rockabilly, and folk. Growing up, we heard a lot of Johnny Cash music and I have never tired of listening to it. Fact is, it is a good time to listen to some good music and there are a lot of reasons to listen to Johnny Cash sing. Here are twelve of them, starting with the most recent recordings.

 

Aint No Grave (2010), A song credited to Claude Ely, a preacher who wrote this as a twelve-year-old diagnosed with tuberculosis. It has become a traditional spiritual and Cash sings it as well as anyone. Even more, it was featured in a trailer for a pirate movie.

 

The Running Kind (2003), Written by Merle Haggard, Cash’s version was released two months after he died. Johnny Cash sings this with Tom Petty. Hearing this will make you wish they played and sang in the same band.

 

The Man Comes Around (2002), Cash was a man with a “wild and unsystematic theology” (Thanks to Richard Beck for that description). This song is the proof. Biblical imagery, influences from other songs, a conversation with his son, and a dream about the queen of England result in his final great song.

 

A Boy Named Sue (1969), Written by Shel Silverstein the poet and humorist. This song is funny and Cash is a masterful storyteller. It makes for a wonderful combination. I think I like it even more because it was recorded live at San Quentin State Prison.

 

Long Legged Guitar Pickin Man (1967), Written by Marshall Grant of the Tennessee Two, this song features June Carter Cash and shows off the spunk of both Johnny and June.

 

Tennesee Flat Top Box (1961), Again this is a song that just sounds like Johnny Cash. Not just the sound and style, but the lyrics may have a bit of biography in them.

 

The Rebel – Johnny Yuma (1961), This was the theme song for a television show. When I was born my Dad claimed I looked like Johnny Yuma. Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked this song.

 

Cocaine Blues (1960), Cash’s original version was called Transfusion Blues and used softer language. Later he recorded it live at Folsom Prison. Whichever version you listen to – Johnny Cash rocks. This song is evidence.

 

Luther Played the Boogie (1959), A rockabilly tune that again, may be influenced by real-life. Cash’s band mate was a guitarist by the name of Luther Perkins. Just listen, you will be very glad you did

 

Big River (1958), Johnny Cash was a master of his style of music. This song epitomizes that sound. Listen to the live version by the Highwaymen for an additional treat.

 

Folsom Prison Blues (1957), Cash is able to make you think he has spent hard time in prison. He didn’t but knew how to play for those who did.

 

Get Rhythm (1956), An optimistic song that was first recorded as a B-side. A shoeshine boy does not let hard work get him down. This is a song that allows Johnny Cash be Johnny Cash. I love it.

Chris Thile

Chris Thile is a mandolin virtuoso and I am a fan. When you see or hear him play, it doesn’t take long to realize that Chris Thile really enjoys music. It seems he would have near the same amount of fun if he were playing in a room by himself. But this past Tuesday he was at Messiah College playing to a packed house. He was animated. He was energetic. He played the mandolin like it was part of him. We heard bluegrass and Bach and songs he wrote just for kicks. He played for nearly two hours and we wanted him to keep playing. He had a section of the show called “Up to You.” Two requests were made from the audience and he formed a medley on the spot. It seemed he wanted people to pick something obscure, it’s as if he has every song memorized. Not just his own songs, I was convinced he had memorized every song that has ever been sung.

 
Chris was a child prodigy and began writing and recording at an early age. He plays with Nickel Creek (a band formed with childhood friends he met while receiving music lessons), he plays with the Punch Brothers (a bluegrass-like band). He hosts the radio Show “Live From Here.” He was part of “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” where he played with Yo-Yo-Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan. Chris Thile is a mandolin player. I am a fan.

Some Reasons to Listen to Waylon Jennings

I am told I always enjoyed music. My parents claimed I sang along with Claude King and Roger Miller on the radio. I don’t remember that, but I do remember when I first heard Waylon Jennings. His music was straightforward. It was acoustic. It was heavy on both guitar and attitude. It was Nashville and Texas mixed with Rock and Blues and I suddenly had a favorite sound. Waylon Jennings provided the primary soundtrack for my teen years.

Recently, Jessi Colter has written a book about Waylon, An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life With Waylon, and the Faith that Brought Me Home. My current reading list is too long to read that book now, but I am sure I will be listening to a lot of his music this summer. Here are some reasons to listen, twelve to be exact, from the most recent to the earliest.

Clyde (1980), J. J. Cale wrote this. He also wrote “After Midnight” for Eric Clapton and “Call Me the Breeze” for Lynyrd Skynyrd. One of the reasons I love this song is that it includes a dog singing harmony.

I Ain’t Living Long Like This (1979). This is likely biographical and brutally honest. Like many of his songs, this one reveals the conflict that comes with stardom.

There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang (1978), Actually on a Johnny Cash album that also included I Wish I was Crazy Again. You will want to listen to both.

Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Gone Out of Hand (1978), Again, we discover much of Waylon’s songs were likely autobiographical. He sings about his life. Likely one of the appeals of his music.

Belle of the Ball (1977), The opening lines reveal a self-portrait. “A vagabond dreamer, a rhymer and singer of songs, Singing to no one and nowhere to really belong.”

Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) (1977), Maybe the signature song for Waylon and Willie. I still stop the radio if I hear it playing. What am I talking about? I stop the radio for any Waylon or Willie song I hear playing.

Good Hearted Woman (1976), Again with Willie Nelson and another reminder that they are both really good at their kind of music.

Are You Sure Hank Done It This a Way (1975), This is a tip of the hat to Hank Williams and a protest to what was happening in the music scene. Hence, he was labeled as an outlaw.

Waymore’s Blues (1975), It’s rock, it’s blues, it’s country… this song is as American as music gets. And again, it includes a d. o. g.

Bob Wills is Still the King (1975), a tribute to Texas, to Western Swing, and the man who helped shape it. Or a back door attempt to dethrone him.

Honky Tonk Heroes (1973), Before you listen to this, get an extra pair of shoes. This one just might make you dance holes in the ones you are wearing.

Lonesome, On’ry and Mean (1973), a hard charging song that set the tone for what was to come in the Waylon Jennings catalog of music. Perhaps the beginning of what became known as Outlaw music.

Some Reasons to Listen to Tom Petty

My free trial period for Sirius XM radio ended today. I will miss some of the stations. One of them, Tom Petty Radio. It makes for a good day if you can listen to Tom Petty by the simple push of a button. His station reveals he had disc jockey skills. He loved music. He was funny. And you get the feeling he was fun to hang out with. It is certainly fun to hang out with him on his channel.

It’s not like I’ve listened only to Tom Petty the past two months, but I have listened to enough Tom Petty to know that a whole lot of people could sing along to a Tom Petty greatest hits album. His catalog is full of familiar songs. My favorites might not all make it to a greatest hits album, but here are some pretty good reasons to listen to Petty. Twelve reasons to be exact, from the most recent to the earliest.

I Should Have Known It (2010), If we took a Tom Petty song and made a mash up with a Led Zeppelin song this is what it would sound like. The most recent song on this list, it just shows that I never tired of Petty.

Tom Petty knows how to cover a song and his version of Little Red Rooster (2001) written by Willie Dixon and made famous by The Rolling Stones is just plain good stuff.

Wildflowers (1994), Probably my favorite Tom Petty song because… well it’s just my favorite. I think he is singing to himself.

Out in the Cold (1991), if you want to just hear Petty rock, this is a good start.

You and I Will Meet Again (1991), There is some hope and sentimentality that just makes me want to hear this song again and again.

Feel a Whole Lot Better (1989), Another cover, this time from The Byrd’s. What can I say except I feel a whole lot better when I hear this song?

Runaway Trains (1987), Vintage Petty, listen to this song. You will thank me.

Have I mentioned Tom Petty can do a cover? His version of The Isley Brothers Shout (1985) will make you throw your hands up.

A Thing About You (1981) reminds us he was pretty good at his kind of rock.

Louisiana Rain (1979), Petty is exhibit A that you can take a boy from the south, but you can’t take the south out of the boy.

American Girl (1976), The song that introduced me to Tom Petty. I have heard it a thousand times and will still stop the radio dial if it comes on.

Rockin Around (With You), Petty and the Heartbreakers had fun from the very start. This is from 1976, the first album by Petty and the Heartbreakers. Who could have known what the next 40 plus years would be like?

Summer Stuff

This morning, I was standing in the middle of Sherman’s Creek under a clear blue sky. There are so many reasons to love summer. One of them is fishing on days like this. Another one is berries. And I have tasted the first wineberries of the season. It has been a great year for berries, I have been eating black raspberries. But it will be hard to beat this year’s mulberries. I remember spreading a sheet under a mulberry tree and climbing it to shake the ripe berries out. (For the record, that is effective). This year I did not use a sheet, but I did think about standing underneath a tree with my mouth open until a ripe one fell into my mouth. (For the record, not so effective). This past week, we ate blueberry and mulberry pies. They tasted like summer.

We also grilled asparagus and corn on the cob and spiedies. I was introduced to spiedies while living in upstate New York as a teenager. They are tasty marinated meats and quite frankly I can’t believe they are not a nationwide delicacy by now. Anyway, spiedies cause me to reminisce.

It has been hot, a perfect time to roll the windows down and belt out what happens to be playing on the radio. Recently, I have been enjoying Greta Van Fleet’s “Safari Song.” Yes, they remind me of Led Zeppelin. It was a Led Zeppelin song that became the theme for our senior prom. I did not attend prom and did not listen much to Led Zeppelin. Not because I disliked them, at the time I pretty much listened only to Waylon Jennings. And of course to Willie Nelson, whenever he sang with Waylon Jennings. Anyway, over the years I have become a Led Zeppelin fan and that is probably the reason I like Greta Van Fleet.

I really like Chris Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis.” What can I say except Chris Stapleton rocks. He reminds me of one of my favorite singers, Mac Powell. But I suspect the real reason I like him is because he does a great job singing covers of Waylon Jennings.

The more I think about it, summer seems like a time for reminiscing. And I recently heard a song I would hear once in a while when in high school (when I wasn’t listening to Waylon Jennings). Gerry Rafferty sang a song called “Baker Street.” It was never my favorite, but I could listen to the Foo Fighters sing that song all summer long. I especially like the live versions. What is not to like about the Foo Fighters?

The more I think about it, I am a reminiscing fool. All this thinking about school and music makes me think I should put on my Angus Young schoolboy shorts and scoot across a stage while singing “Thunderstruck.” But, Lebron borrowed that outfit and hasn’t returned it yet. Anyway, I will be leaving next week to go back to school. Hope the berries are ripe in Kentucky. Hope I get to wade in a creek. Maybe being back in school is the reason I am so reminiscent. Whatever the reason, I know what I’ll be listening to on the ride. Hope Lebron gives my clothes back before I have to leave.

Me, Dad, and Lucius Clay

Last month I was traveling in the south. I ate at Bojangles and drank Incredible Iced Tea. I listened to Charlie Daniels Band. The Legend of Wooly Swamp is still stuck in my head.  If you have heard that song then you already know “you better not go at night.” You already know “There’s things out there in the middle of them woods, That make a strong man die from fright. Things that crawl and things that fly and things that creep around on the ground.” And you already know “they say the ghost of Lucius Clay gets up and he walks around.”

I was traveling to Florida to visit with Mom and Dad. My picture of Florida has always included touristy spots and beaches. But my picture is changing. Here Dad likes to photograph ospreys and bald eagles. I am surprised by the amount of farmland there. And I really enjoy the forests. I have discovered barred owls and wild turkeys. The locals keep telling me to be aware of panthers.

These forests contain wetlands and swamps. And these wetlands contain alligators. And Dad and I stalk them. I find it interesting they gather in groups called congregations. Sometimes when searching for alligators we run into Dad’s friend Hal. Hal stalks birds. Hal is knowledgeable; talking with him is like consulting a field guide. He has special equipment and the skills necessary to capture great photographs. He is into things like detail, light, and color. Once he photographs birds he creates wood carvings.

One evening while talking with Hal, the sun set quickly and we were caught in the dark. We headed back around the wetland and through the forest. In my mind I was hearing Charlie warn us about being here at night. I could hear the warning about the things in these woods and the things they can do to even those of us who are strong. We could not see what was flying and creeping around out here. And we were unsure of the whereabouts of one Lucius Clay. I can’t help but notice the night sounds in the Florida forest are not the same sounds I am used to. I suppose some fear those sounds. I suppose some fear the alligators. I suppose some fear the panther. While I can’t speak for Dad, I was keeping an eye out for Lucius.

The Babylonian Blues

There is much to like about a barbeque restaurant. The smell of meat smoking, special sauce, the music. My mouth waters just thinking about it. More often than not, in my mind at least, the music of choice is the blues. Whether or not that is true – when I hear the blues, I think of barbeque.

Apparently, barbeque distracts me (I am thinking about brisket right now). Because I am trying to think about an old psalm. The psalms are set naturally to music and Psalm 137 is no exception. But if the psalms were a series of concerts, Psalm 137 is the place where the concert tour gets hi-jacked. There we find ourselves struggling to sing our songs. How are we expected to sing in a foreign wasteland?

Just listen… “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept… Upon the willows… We hung our harps.” Then “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Keep listening… “May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you.”

Instead of song, we get tears. The singers have literally hung up their instruments. Their tongues are sticking to the roof of their mouths. The point is, if this is a song, it is the blues. When we hear it we hear the heartache and disappointment and tears. We hear the blues. It is unclear who wrote this psalm. I propose it was someone with a name like Fat Matt, One Eyed Willie, or Skeeter.

But if we listen again, we might hear something more. We might hear the faint sound of tenacity. We might hear the desire to remember. We might hear the undercurrent of hope to sing again. We might hear a concerted effort to not forget.

I can’t help but find myself in a place where I wonder what will happen next. And then I hear the clanging of silverware. I am pretty sure I smell smoked brisket and my mouth begins to water when Skeeter walks out with the special sauce and sets it on the table. Did I mention that I get distracted by barbeque? My apologies, we are talking about Psalm 137. We are talking about the blues. But we sing this song with the recognition that things are not ok as they are. We sing this song with the expectancy that things will be different one day. We sing this song so we will not forget. It is time to reach into the branches and take down our instruments. It is time to sing.

Fulfilling Our Niche

What are we to do when we gather as followers of Jesus? Can we begin with a meager “Hosanna!” or “Blessed is the King!” Does the text not tell us the stones will cry out if we do not? Virginia Stem Owens is a writer who enjoys playing with the sciences. I am fascinated by her contribution to this conversation. She suggests faith is always present in creation and that creation has always been more faithful than you and I.

Stem Owens tells us it is our place, our niche, “To give voice to the cry.” The stones are prepared and waiting to sing their praise song if we do not. She goes on “This is our big chance… Still the mute mountains, the dumb desert, the dying stars wait for us to provide a throat for their thanksgiving. There must be a great logjam in the cosmos. One can almost hear it groaning and creaking some summer nights, threatening to give way under the pressure of pent up praise.

What would happen if we stepped into our place? If we fulfilled our niche and gave voice to the cry? Stem Owens asks “Would morning stars sing together as they did when the cornerstone of creation was laid… Would the hidden sea creatures, full of a barbarous beauty, echo from the salted depths, and the innards of earth have themselves in roiling, molten music?”

She goes on “They are waiting – the mammoths metamorphosed into oil among the ferns, the ozone layer hovering like an eggshell over us, the alpine meadows sighing down mountainsides, the grizzlies and mosquitoes licking blood from their snouts – they are waiting to be sprung from their bondage to decay, to lift up and up and up their hearts. They are waiting for us to get our act together. To find out the answer to our interminable question of who we are.”

Some Mountain Music

I just heard a chorus frog. They are identifiable because they make a sound that may remind you of the noise you hear when you drag your thumb across the teeth of a comb. They are not the only singers I hear tonight. More often I am hearing wood frogs. Their song may remind you of a quack. Behind me are two barred owls creating a ruckus. But by far the dominant songs tonight are from spring peepers. How can such a loud sound come from such a small creature? It is a miracle that anything else can be heard at all.

I am on South Mountain, strangely named since it is the northernmost mountain of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. It is a cool night, I can see my breath. There is a clear sky, the spring stars have a soundtrack. Or these songs come with a light show. Either way, this is quite a concert.

Last week I was traveling. My route took me through and around the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains get their name because they look blue from a distance due to the isoprene released in the atmosphere by broadleaf trees. (Look at me using the language of organic chemistry). I followed these mountains north. The weather was warm. The windows were down. The radio was on. And I sang loudly. I am sure the mountains could hear me. Sometimes I was Don Henley, sometimes Willie Nelson, sometimes Tom Petty. I was Robert Plant, Dave Grohl, and Charlie Daniels. I am pretty sure I was Taylor Swift a couple of times and at least once I was Debby Harry. That’s right. Call me… Anytime.

The Blue Ridge Mountains begin in Georgia, peak in North Carolina, and travel north into Pennsylvania. And tonight on their northernmost ridge, the mountains sing to me. Perhaps to repay the favor. Perhaps to show me how it is really done. But I am glad to be on the receiving end of this song.