Saturday, December 27, 2008

Peace on Earth: Overjoyed

Christine Kane: Overjoyed


If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart. ~ Lao Tzu

In these few days post-Christmas and pre-New Year's, one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite songwriters reminds me that peace (inner as well as global) is less about struggling and achieving and do-ing... and more about appreciating and accepting and be-ing - wishing you all the best in 2009 and beyond...

Peace on Earth: A Matter of Faith

Susan Werner: Together


On her album The Gospel Truth, Susan Werner wrestles with the question of religion. Much of the album is angry or bitter. The songs detail the hypocrisy of those preach hatred in the name of God, politicians who use religion to justify their wrong-headed policies, and also tell of Werner’s struggles with her own religious upbringing. But these struggles, and this venting, are not the last word. Werner concludes the album the song “Together”. Although the lyrics include the words, “if there is a God”, the song is nonetheless a prayer for tolerance. Coming at the end of this tumultuous album, it represents Werner’s reconciliation with her feelings about faith; she renounces the trappings of faith as she originally encountered them, but she holds to the moral values that her faith embodies.

Tracy Chapman: Heaven‘s Here on Earth


By contrast, Tracy Chapman’s songs have never revealed any doubts about her faith. She has detailed many personal struggles, as well as political actions, in her work, but these have always seemed like spiritual statements. “Heaven’s Here On Earth” makes this explicit. Chapman makes it clear that she does not wait for the Lord to provide a better life in the next world; rather, she believes that God expects us to make this world the best it can be for all who live upon it while we are here.

I do not presume in this post to offer any judgment as to how anyone should conduct their spiritual life. I merely wish to present the contrasting views on the matter of two artists I greatly admire. It is for each of us to decide which path is the one we will walk, (perhaps, none of the above). But it does seem to me that each of these songs is, in its own way, a prayer for peace.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Peace on Earth: Bomb The World

You can bomb the world into pieces
But you can't bomb it into peace...

Michael Franti and Spearhead: Bomb The World (Armageddon Version)


In a lifetime count of over 300 concerts, from tiny venues to huge stadiums, the best concert I EVER attended was a turn of the century Michael Franti and Spearhead set at the Iron Horse, a small, generally folk-oriented club in Northampton, MA. I remember little in detail but the feeling itself, though I have faint recollections of a full range of sound from beatbox hiphop to Franti's acoustic growl. Mostly, though, I just remember two hours of grinnin' glee and madcap hopdancing on the wooden stairs, eye to eye with Franti himself, the whole crowd pogoing with me as one, until I was sure the whole place was going to bust open and the party spill off to subsume the entire universe.

And it wasn't just me. On the way out of the show, one of the students I was chaperoning lay down in the middle of the street and screamed "kill me now, God, and I can die happy." I picked him up -- after all, I was supposed to be the responsible grown-up -- but I knew exactly how he felt. The best kind of happy drunk, without a lick of liquor.

Since then, I refuse to see Franti again, though I continue to keep his songs in the mix whenever I can, and welcome any opportunity to share the works of this undersung peace-loving, world-changing, roots-showin' hip-hop-slash-folk wild man. Because from here, it's all denouement. NOTHING could match that show. And given Franti's lifemessage -- that music can change the world -- maybe that's the point.

Who said peace songs have to be merry and bright? Christmas is over; let's funk this place up. Play at full volume. Power to the peaceful, y'all.

Peace on Earth: Wise Men

Coyote Run: Wise Men


Nothing says peace and fellowship like a didgeridoo... :-)

From their website:

Originally formed in 1999, Coyote Run has changed significantly from its Celtic Folk roots, evolving into one of the hottest bands on the Celtic Rock circuit today. Blending traditional tunes with rich, literate lyrics, compelling melodies and rock, jazz and flamenco instrumental hooks, this band weaves a tapestry unlike any other out there. Their lyrics and music take the audience on a journey that is at once heart stopping and foot stomping. Tears, laughter, clapping and spontaneous dancing are regular features of a Coyote Run concert.

We've presented Coyote Run three times in our second-Saturday-of-the-month concert series and they're always a crowd pleaser - I included this powerful anti-war song, which exhorts peace in four different languages, in my 2008 holiday mix...

Peace On Earth: Gifts

Steve Forbert: Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977


Joni Mitchell: For Free


As the holiday season begins to wind down, I hope it has brought joy and love of family to all. Part of our theme this week is fellowship, and it seems to me that there can be no greater act of fellowship than the giving of a gift. In these hard times, I am starting to see accounts of times when the need was great, and some of those who could made gifts to those in need anonymously, and with no knowledge of who was receiving the gift. It occurred to me that musicians do this all the time. Their gift is their song. And there are those musicians who do this without regard to how, or even whether, they will be paid.

If you spend any time in a city of a reasonable size, you will have encountered a busker at some point. These are musicians who perform their work in public spaces for all to enjoy. Yes, they open their instrument cases and hope for donations, but their main focus is sharing their art for all to enjoy. Steve Forbert first performed this way, in Grand Central Station in New York City, so we can trust his account of the experience. Joni Mitchell describes her response as a listener to a talented busker.

Special announcement: I now have another space in which to share wonderful music. My own music blog, Oliver di Place just went up this week. Follow the link on the sidebar, and let me know what you think. I look forward to seeing you all there.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace On Earth: The Christmas Wish

John Denver & The Muppets: The Christmas Wish


Merry Christmas, Star Makers and readers!

This album, John Denver & The Muppets: A Christmas Together, is what it takes for it to feel like Christmas for me. It has been part of our family tradition for years and has always been a favorite. I mentioned it before on a post about John Denver, but there's something about him that seems to go well with Christmas...and the Muppets, well, who doesn't love the Muppets? This album is beautiful and a Christmas classic for my generation I would say. It has all the fun you'd expect from The Muppets, but also all the serene beauty of a calm holiday by the fire.

This song, though sung by Kermit and the gang and not John, is a song of peace and love and sounds very much like something John would sing. I love the words because it encourages us to remember that Christmas is about sharing and putting away differences to allow for the fellowship of mankind whether you're a Christian or not. Admittedly, I've always found one of the great things about the Muppets to be the friendship of so many odd creatures. Where else would it seem almost normal for a bear to be a harmless, yet pitifully poor, comedian, a frog to date a pig, and a dog to be an amazing pianist? They may not fit in within normal society, but they have each other. The fact that they joke around but also can be melancholy too and will go out of their way for each other really is the spirit of friendship and of the holidays. So today, their Christmas Wish is also mine. I hope you are having a joyous holiday!

Christmas is a time to come together
A time to put all differences aside.
And I reach out my hand
To the family of man
To share the joy I feel at Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peace on Earth: The Christians and the Pagans

As I commented the other day, we are in the process of transporting a family of five via minivan through three states/1600+ miles - I'm thinking I am pretty much immersed in the dynamics of peace and fellowship (or lack thereof, depending on everyone's mood/appetite/sleep habits)...

Also, since I strongly request that we listen to holiday music most of the time we're driving, I have had ample opportunity to (belatedly) identify all the tunes with bells in them - should we ever resurrect that theme... bring it on!

When I first became aware of Dar Williams, I was delighted to discover The Christians and the Pagans, now one of my favorite holiday songs - the boppy tempo of this tune belies the solemnity of the underlying theme: Amber and her girl friend (which Dar has often confirmed as girlfriend) Jane visit Amber's aunt, uncle and and nephew... and undertake a serious discussion of the meaning of the holiday in December.

Amidst the setting of red-dye-#3 candy canes, hanging Marys and burning pumpkin pies, Jane and Amber attempt to explain the similarities between Christmas and Solstice - I was only going to quote a few of my favorite lines but that proved impossible... so I beg your indulgence in reprinting it all here...

The Christians and the Pagans ~ Dar Williams

Amber called her uncle, said "We're up here for the holiday,
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay."
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree,
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three.
He told his niece, "Its Christmas Eve, I know our life is not your style,"
She said, "Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it's been awhile,"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said,
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses.

The food was great, the tree plugged in, the meal had gone without a hitch,
Till Timmy turned to Amber and said, "Is it true that you're a witch?"
His mom jumped up and said, "The pies are burning," and she hit the kitchen,
And it was Jane who spoke, she said, "It's true, your cousin's not a Christian,"
"But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share,
And you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere,"

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
And where does magic come from? I think magic's in the learning,
Cause now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.

When Amber tried to do the dishes, her aunt said, "Really, no, don't bother."
Amber's uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father.
He thought about his brother, how they hadn't spoken in a year,
He thought he'd call him up and say, "It's Christmas and your daughter's here."
He thought of fathers, sons and brothers, so his own son tugged his sleeve, saying,
"Can I be a Pagan?" Dad said, "Well discuss it when they leave."

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table,
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able,
Lighting trees in darkness, learning new ways from the old, and
Making sense of history and drawing warmth out of the cold.

Peace on Earth: Happy Xmas (War is Over)

John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War is Over)


Bells. Guitar. John (oh John, how we miss you). A slow build to a celebratory chorus with just a hint of bittersweet. A waltz, the swaying tipsy laughter. Hope, excruciating and generous: War is over, if you want it. Applause.

It's tempting to say more. But some songs speak for themselves.

Bonus: My favorite covers, two of many that take a more melancholy approach.

Damien Rice: Happy Christmas (War is Over)


Teleportation Please: Happy Xmas (War is Over)

[free here]

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, everyone. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Peace on Earth: Peace in the World

The Subdudes: Peace in the World


Christmas Gumbo is a holiday album that came out in 2004 and features music from several well known New Orleans and Louisiana artists. It features offerings from Marc Broussard, Allen Troussant, Aaron Neville, Beausoleil, and many others. It also includes this peaceful prayer from The Subdudes.

The song itself contains references to small snippets of life on Christmas Eve around North America. On each stop in the journey, someone in a less than ideal situation is the recipient of a gesture of holiday cheer that brightens their time a little bit. A soldier returns home to his family in Santa Fe. A homeless man in Montreal receives a home cooked meal. A broken family in Baton Rouge finds it in their hearts to forgive each other.

In each case, the subjects welcome a small bit of peace into their lives.

Peace On Earth: Maybe There's a World

Yusuf Islam: Maybe There's A World


It was unheard of when beloved singer-songwriter Cat Stevens converted to Islam at the height of his fame back in the 1970's. Now, we find it less shocking to see celebrities dabble in other religions, but then it was very odd, and his disappearance from songwriting was even more of a shock. But his conversion gave a famous face to the religion, and now more than ever, it is good to have someone we recognize and respect making music of peace from a culture that is so misunderstood in our part of the world.

In 2006, under his Muslim name Yusuf Islam, Cat Stevens produced his first original album in over twenty years. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first heard a song from the album, but I was pleased to find that it had all the charm of the Cat Stevens records I love so much. He couldn't have chosen a more pertinent and important time to make a comeback and share his message of peace.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Peace on Earth: Christmas in the Trenches

John McCutcheon: Christmas in the Trenches


When I saw the announcement of this week’s theme, I knew immediately that I had to post this.

1914 was the first year of what we now call World War I. By year’s end, a series of trenches had been dug to mark the battle lines. These were crude affairs which turned to mud and threatened to collapse in bad weather. Horrifying new weapons were being used by men on each other, and each side had a propaganda machine which mostly succeeded in demonizing the enemy.

In spite of all of this, on Christmas Eve, 1914, the enemies who faced each other as mortal foes suddenly, for a brief moment, became simply men again. Recalling their humanity, they put down their weapons, and began first to speak to each other in shouts across no-man’s land, and then to sing Christmas carols. Soon, cautiously, some men from each side began to climb out of their trenches and meet each other. For the remainder of that day, the impromptu truce lasted, and the men were just men, sharing a small slice of time. Soon enough, commanders on both sides learned what had happened, and the men had to become enemies again as the war resumed.

This all sounds like some unbelievable TV Christmas special. But it really happened. And John McCutcheon has captured the story perfectly.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peace on Earth: All I Want for Christmas (Is World Peace)

Timbuk 3: All I Want for Christmas (Is World Peace)


Though the intent of this week's theme is to provide an opportunity for both Holiday music and, more generally, songs of peace and fellowship from the entire musical and seasonal spectrum, I couldn't resist kicking things off with a peace-themed song from Christmases past.

I had a thing for Timbuk 3 in the late eighties, thanks to an equally outcast friend who played synthesizer; my fandom was piqued, in part, by the 1987 release of this perfect 80s geek rock holiday single, and it culminated with the following year's release of Out of Eden, before fading into the pre-grunge era as the decade turned.

Looking back, I find most music from the era both dated and precious, as if a packaged piece of childhood. All I Want for Christmas is a perfect sample: quintessentially late eighties, and particularly Timbuk 3, from lead singer Pat MacDonald's wry, unsubtle political songwriting to the faintly fuzzed-out nasal harmonies in doubled fifths. The lyrics are quite a literal commentary on commercialism as a reflection of war, running down a list of violence-inducing toys in each verse before falling into a somewhat petulant, trancelike repetition of wanting world peace instead.

Like much of the Timbuk 3 / Pat MacDonald canon, in fact, it fits well both lyrically and sonically with follow up to yesterday's post on Jim White, albeit a bit more danceable; fans of Oingo Boingo and Wall of Voodoo will find the song especially pleasing. Meanwhile, those looking for a slightly less dated take on the same sentiment will enjoy this live bootleg bluesy electro-folk 1993 cover from similarly politicized post-folkies Bruce Cockburn and Jackson Browne; it takes a minute to warm up, but it's worth it.

Bruce Cockburn and Jackson Browne: All I Want for Christmas is World Peace

[unreleased; popularly available on Santa's Boots]