Thursday, December 19, 2013

A New Christmear List



Though I never liked to admit it, Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. Life just gets better around Christmas--houses get covered in lights, the world smells of sugar, cinnamon and pine, the weather gets cold (and traditionally drizzly for my family), and there is an abundance of ridiculously delicious food.  I loved it when the boxes would come in from the garage and I got to put up all--and I mean all--of the Christmas decorations. I loved building little houses out of graham crackers while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. And when I was a child, I loved the magic of waking up in the morning to find that the living room had been flooded with piles of neatly gift-wrapped, and sometimes GIANT, packages.

I used to make long lists of toys, but these days it has gotten difficult for me to think of things that I want that a person could go to a store for. Honestly, presents are nice, but being with family and good friends, and feeling taken care of is plenty. I guess I've gotten old...But in the spirit of the holidays (in some twisted way or another) I have spent some time making a list of Christmas wishes (that I mixed with shadows of New Year's resolutions and revolutionary fervor) for your perusing.

This year, I would like

  • To shake things up
  • To bring soul back to culture
  • Lyrics to have meaning
  • Music to have feeling
  • Dances to have story
  • To invoke silence to provoke thought
  • To pique curiosity and instill a desire--no a drive--to discover how we fit into the universe, be it through art or science, discussion or reflection (I want more reflection, by the way--there is so much to take in but we give ourselves so little time to digest), or a mixture of both, all and/or everything
  • The acknowledgment that the emotions we feel are as complex as the colors we see
  • The acknowledgment that it is okay to feel
  • You to come with me on a journey to discover not why we are here, but rather what it is like to truly be here
  • You to absorb all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, emotions, words, thoughts, beliefs, situations, resolutions, chaos, clarity, craziness, kindness, lightness, darkness, suffering and satisfaction, and savor every bit of it
I can get myself some of the things on my list. Can you get me the rest?

A very happy, healthy(ish) and reinvigorating holiday season to you! I will see you in the new year (or sooner if I get ispired ;) )!

Be bold.

R

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fixtures and a Phantom Audience



It was a one mile walk from the train station--the farthest I had ever piggy-backed my guitar. I kept expecting the wide thoroughfare I was walking to narrow into a cozy downtown street, but streets tend to not bend to my will.

The store was smaller than I expected and much louder--there was a rock duo practicing on the stage in the back. This was not the scenario I had in mind when I got on the train earlier that evening. I thought I was tonight's main attraction...To be fair, I was allowed to perform, but I was to perform on the empty sidewalk in front of the store and compete in loudness against the band inside and the speeding cars on the road.

I felt like an indoor cat thrown into the wild. Months of performing in the same cozy coffee shop had left me comfortable and soft. There are so many more distractions outside! And nowhere to focus! And it felt so ridiculous to fight to be heard when it seemed no one was listening.

Okay, well, actually, I was lucky and a friend of mine came to support me, but even then I found myself wondering, "Why am I doing this? Why did I travel for an hour to get here? Why am I trying to fight all this noise? Who cares? Who even knows that I'm here?" It's so easy to ask those questions and look for a reason to quit, because feeling like your presence doesn't matter tends to make you feel worthless and simply not happy.

But the thing about trying to succeed as a performer, or even just as a person wandering through life, is that you never know who is actually watching or listening. You don't know how thin the walls are, how good someone's hearing is or how far your illumination travels. You don't know the extent to which you are affecting your surroundings or, perhaps more profoundly, someone's life. And you may never know.

So, to quell the barrage of questions running rampant in my head, I reminded myself that I was not there for accolades and praise. I was there to gain experience and more importantly, I was there to make the world better in whatever little ways I could . I was there to be a floor lamp-- an unnoticed fixture in a room I could help light--because it's not a matter of how pretty or appreciated the lampshade is, but a matter of how bright the glow.

Be bold.

R

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Grease Monkey: The Magical Grime Beneath Our Fingernails

Here it is--the last of my Outlines and Offerings and the second (and final) "hidden track"!


I was never really a "car girl." I don't read Car and Driver. I don't keep rankings of horsepower or top speeds. Indeed, I probably wouldn't be able to tell you much about any car beyond the color and the company that made it (and only after looking at the hood ornament), but one summer my dad decided it was time for me to learn some basics about cars. And he was going to teach me on his old car.

I loved it. I loved crawling underneath its belly to bleed the brakes. I loved climbing into the engine compartment to change the spark plugs. I loved the fact that it had about eight keys to open all the different doors and compartments, and even with all those keys, you still had to coax and encourage the doors to open. Once we got it running, I loved the growl of the engine and the fact that you had to spin the steering wheel like you were on the teacup ride at Disneyland to make it turn. I loved the thought that I--as tiny and mortal as I am--could make such a huge, hulking, timeless beast of a car come to life.

And when I left it, I missed it. I missed the feel of its steel curves under my hands. I missed the physical labor that working on it required. I missed feeling like I was doing something that altered the world.

As much as I appreciate modern technology ( I wouldn't be able to do what I do without it), I think it can prevent us from getting our hands dirty and learning how reality works. It can keep us from building things, fixing things and understanding how we fit into the universe.

Working on that car reminded me how amazing and complicated our creations are and, more importantly, helped me rediscover the beauty and joy of existing in a tangible world.

Now mix all that with a love song.





Grease Monkey
By Rachel Oto

He was a mechanic
Grease spots on knees
He was friends with the concrete floors
And subtleties of how things work
How we could make things work

But, oh my sweet lovely, I’m blind
Suffering all my sweet losses
Like you

He took my naïve hands in his rough palms
Looked in my childish eyes
Told me, “Stay strong”
But I was never strong

But, oh, my sweet lovely, I’m blind
Suffering all my sweet losses
Oh, my sweet lonely goodbye
I should be pure and strong
Like you

Like you
Like you
Like you

‘Cause, oh, my sweet lovely, I’m blind
Suffering all my sweet losses
Oh, my sweet lonely goodbye
I should be pure and strong

Like you
Like you

Like you

Thank you for listening to these Outlines and Offerings. I will continue to post regularly and try to keep things thoughtful and musical.

Be bold.

R

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bess: Hidden Tracks and Hauntings

Before I dive into today's song, I would like to announce that I will be performing at Meowmeowz Rock Shop in Pasadena this Friday, around 6 PM. Come out if you're in the area!

We are in the last week of songs for this round of recordings, and for all intents and purposes, these last two songs are the "hidden tracks."

I loved hidden tracks. They were the songs I imagined the artists would play if, for some miraculous reason, they decided to visit my house and put on a personal concert. Or they were the songs I imagined only I would know the lyrics to when they asked for volunteers to come up onstage to perform with them. They were the songs that proved what a devoted fan I was. I guess they served their purpose...

Anyway, at around the same time I was "finding" all the hidden tracks, my eighth grade literature teacher was begrudgingly exposing my class to poetry. She didn't really have anything against poems, but she made it very clear that she was against the "sad" poems that talked about lovers who were "stupid" enough to kill themselves in despair.

The title has gone through some transformation 
One such poem was Alfred Noyes'  "The Highwayman," a ballad about a thief who loves the inn-keeper's daughter, Bess. It was dark, romantic, violent and ended with death. It was all the things that my teacher didn't care for. I guess I was significantly more romantically-inclined than she was.

To me, it was the most beautiful poem I had ever read, and once I had read it (and re-read it) there was no way I would ever forget it. Indeed, after many years, it resurfaced as inspiration for a song.

As has the chorus
I was trying to write a song that absolutely wreaked of melancholy and heartbreak. I wanted a song to sing as I held my knees to my chest and pined for the boys who didn't love me. I wanted a song that would spear a hole into your gut and make you feel like your soul was draining out. I wanted a song about true love, pain and sacrifice, and as I tried to figure out how to write that song, I remembered "The Highwayman" and how it made me feel the first time I read it.

A change in the point of view, a journey into the emotions of a lover, a few tweaks to the story and lots of playing around with chords, and I had it.





Bess
By Rachel Oto

They’re on to your scent
To your cape and your clatter
They don’t sleep as soundly these days
They’ve all seen your face and the bounty beneath
But they don’t know I know it better
Better

Don’t leave without the brush of
My hair on your flesh and my kiss on your breath and
Tell me you’ll take me with you
One day soon, someday soon

They’re waiting in shadow
Til you leave my window
And ride down the trail to their men lurking
They’ve bound my wrists tight
A bullet my heart its site
And I will warn you with my own life

Don’t leave without the brush of
My hair on your flesh and my kiss on your breath and
Tell me you’ll take me with you
One day soon, someday soon

You heard my call
You fight them all
You hold me in your arms
You close my eyes
And whisper, “I love you”
And follow me far away
Far away

Don’t leave without the brush of
My hair on your flesh and my kiss on your breath and
Tell me you’ll take me with you
One day soon, someday

Don’t leave without the brush of
My hair on your flesh and my kiss on your neck
Tell me you’ll take me with you
One day soon
Someday soon

They’re on to your scent
To your cape and collateral

Be bold.

R

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ash On the Ground: Lighting Fires

It started with a poem:


And as these things happen, it eventually turned into a song. A song based on the idea of internal fire. A song that ended up being about pain I didn't know.

I have been very fortunate in my life and have always found myself surrounded by the best sorts of people--supportive, caring, generous and kind people. Thus, the story arc of "Ash On the Ground" breaks the "write what you know" rule--I honestly don't have any firsthand experience with the situations presented in this song.

At least in terms of plot points I don't have any firsthand experience with the situations presented in this song.

But for me, it was never really about all of the terrible things that happen to the speaker, the abusive relationships or the suffering. It was a song of rebellion, a battle cry, a declaration of...self-ness. It was about courage, inner strength and self-validation. It was about claiming your place in the universe. It was about facing adversity. It was about overcoming adversity.

I don't know what it's like to be hurt in the exact ways I wrote about and I hope that doesn't make me sound duplicitous or disparaging, but I do know what it's like to realize your own worth. If you have ever been hurt in the ways I describe, there is very little I can say that will make things any better (real life is more complicated and painful than song), but I hope that the fire within you burns bright.





Ash on the Ground
By Rachel Oto

Father’s wonderful
Like a bayonet
Love with every strike of his steel hand
Baby don’t cry
Baby don’t cry
You’ll be alright
You’ll be alright
He says
Girl, this world’s a gun pointed at your head
Every bone I break is so you’ll make it
So you’ll be strong
So you’ll be strong
Baby I’m strong
Baby I’m stronger
And I’ll show you tonight
I know

He’s the blaze, the bang, the bite
He’s the flame, the fiercest fight
He’s the burn to keep me down
And I am just ash on the ground

Tommy’s beautiful
Like the jaws of death
Ring on every finger that has graced my head
Baby don’t cry
Baby don’t cry
I say
You’ll be alright
You’ll be alright
Nothing like the bruises blooming on my flesh
Bouquet of his love will be all I get
Nothing is wrong
Nothing is wrong
He says
Baby I’m strong
Baby I’m stronger
And you’re too weak to mind
I know

He’s the blaze, the bang, the bite
He’s the flame, the fiercest fight
He’s the burn to keep me down
And I am just ash on the ground

This can’t be it
This can’t be it
I’m more than this

Got to go on
I got to go on
Got to be strong
I got to be strong
Got to move on
I got to move on
Baby I’m strong
Baby I’m stronger

I’m the blaze, the bang, the bite
I’m the flame, the fiercest fight
I’m the fire you can’t put out
You are just—you are dust

I’m the blaze, the bang, the bite
I’m the flame, the fiercest fight
I’m the fire you can’t put out
You are just
You are dust
You are just

Ash on the ground

Be bold.

R

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Donut: Glory of the Suburbs


Back to regular posting. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving--I certainly did! There is something rejuvenating about going home to family and feeling taken care of. And eating a LOT of good food. Yes, I love going home to see my family and old friends, but when it comes to the activities available in my hometown, the feelings aren't always so amiable.

See, my sleepy little suburb, okay, technically very industrious, huge, kind-of-sort-of suburb-like city, goes to sleep early. If you want to hang out with friends outside of your house after ten o' clock (sometimes nine o' clock), your options are limited. Sometimes you sit in the car on the driveway and chat, sometimes you go for long meandering drives, but my friends and I usually end up at the local twenty-four-hour donut shop. It's not very glamorous, and more often than not, it's rather crowded, but it's a place where you can get out of the cold, indulge in relatively not-stale, fried, glazed treats and talk with old acquaintances.

I can't say that I keep close tabs on all the people I knew in high school, so it's usually interesting catching up with them, but sometimes these late night conversations leave me feeling...lonely. Or as though I'm not living on the same planet as the people I'm talking to. Or at the very least, as though we are speaking very different languages.

And there it is again--all the glorious angst!





Donut
By Rachel Oto

Hole-filled cakes for
Hole-filled hearts at
Dead-end hours in
Low-end cars
Slowly losing
Sugar-coating
On the table
A soul pours
A coffee stain

Maybe you would get me
If I could offer more
Eighty cents on the counter
Smiles dropped on the floor
But no one moves to
Claim the loose change that falls

Hole-filled cakes for
Hole-filled motives
Creamy centers
Every order
And words leave stains
Dried-up pain

Maybe you would get me
If I could offer more
Eighty cents on the counter
Smiles dropped on the floor

Maybe you would get me
If I could offer more
Eighty cents on the counter
Smiles dropped on the floor
But no one moves to
Claims the loose

Change that falls
Change that falls
Change that falls
Change that falls

Maybe you would get me
If I could offer more
Eighty cents on the counter
Smiles dropped on the floor

Maybe you would get me
If I could offer more
Eighty cents on the counter
Smiles dropped on the floor
But no one moves to
Claims the loose change
No one moves to
Claim the loose
No one moves to
Claim the loose
Change that falls


I might have to attempt to make donuts now...

Be bold.

R