Waiting on the Mystery

“Mystery,” a song on the new Sara Groves record, speaks to her recent bout with anxiety, depression and writer’s block – the longest she had ever experienced.

On the director’s cut of this striking album (“Invisible Empires,” currently downloadable from her website), she shares some candid commentary about the frustrating season she endured. And she credits her husband Troy for convincing her of the need to write through it.

“You need to write from where you are now,” she recounts him saying when she expressed her desire not to write from a negative place. “You can’t change where you are and then start writing,” he continued. “You’re not going to get out of this until you start writing again.”

And so she did:

…My body’s tired
From trying to bring you here.
And my brow is furrowed
Trying to see things clear.

So I’ll turn my back to the black
And fall
And wait for the mystery
To rise up and meet me…

She recalls bursting into tears after writing these words, as they expressed so completely what she truly believed, yet they came unexpectedly and without full volition.

I’m a huge fan of Groves’ work. It’s simple and honest and beautiful, and it always points to the God she fervently serves.

This song, in particular, resonates with me in a way few songs do.

I suppose that’s because I’ve been through similar dark periods, and I can’t always figure out where they come from or how to move beyond them.

Friends and family can help. Faith can help. Music can help.

Sometimes, though, nothing at all seems to help, besides waiting for that “mystery” to reach in and lift the clouds. It always does.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Thanks, Sara. You too, Troy.

Read the complete lyrics.

Nothing Compares 2 Real Words

I blame Prince. And Sinead.

A couple decades before texting ever captivated a generation, these two colluded to legitimize ridiculous abbreviations for already short words.

Instead of writing “Nothing Compares to You,” Prince penned “Nothing Compares 2 U.” And Ms. O’Connor played along with the gimmick when she recorded the song that ultimately put her on the mainstream map.

Those seeds eventually germinated into the lexicon that has crept in and degraded our language.

I’m no living language denier, but I don’t see the purpose of substituting “ur” for “your” or “l8r” for “later” or, heaven forbid, “enuf” for “enough.” These replacements are neither clever nor necessary.

If efficiency of letters were the sole goal, then we wouldn’t be saddled with stray letters inserted at the end of certain words, a la “No wayyy.”

But we are. And it’s not just those rebellious teenagers who are doing the misdeeds. Middle-aged moms and dads are adopting the texting habits of their youngsters – and it ain’t becoming.

I have slightly more patience for those common texting acronyms like “LOL,” “IDK” and “brb.” Annoying as those bad boys may be, at least they function like real acronyms, with each letter representing the first letter of the corresponding words.

But the intentional dropping of letters or substitution of numbers for letters…not cool.

A notable exception to my hard line against compressed words is my affinity for using “U2″ as a replacement for “you too.” It’s just too irresistible and reminds me of an obscure band from Dublin. Besides it’s not actually a misspelling.

In fact, spelling is one of those rare notions that I take very seriously. Like God. And Chipotle chicken burritos with black beans.

Which, incidentally, both go quite nicely with some good old-fashioned Prince:

The Weirdest Part of Weird Al

Is anyone else puzzled by the enduring career of nerdy musical ‘artist’ Weird Al Yankovic?

Decade after decade, this accordion-playing, polka-loving purveyor of pop parodies just keeps banging out mildly clever derivative hits.

His latest creation is “Perform This Way,” a spoof of current pop phenom Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Recent reports that Gaga refused granting Al permission to use her song escalated into a frenzy he skillfully dubbed The Gaga Saga. Alas, it was apparently just a misunderstanding, and the sweet Lady has given the green light to include the single on Al’s “Alpocalypse” album (his 13th!), scheduled for release on June 21.

Collective sigh of relief.

Although some artists have previously denied Al access to their work (Prince foremost among them), others report being quite flattered by his request to rework their tunes (including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Nirvana).

And so far, the 51-year-old’s prolific parodies have sold more than 12 million albums, including six platinum records and four gold records, as well as garnering three Grammy Awards and nominations for nine others.

Ironically, Weird Al’s musical career has outshined and/or outlasted many of his targets: Joan Jett, Toni Basil, Billy Ray Cyrus, Robert Palmer, The Knack, Coolio, etc., etc.

He’s a fascinating character, to be sure. 

Some interesting factoids about Mr. Alfred Matthew Yankovic:

  • valedictorian of his high school senior class.
  • earned a degree in architecture from California Polytechnic State University.
  • practices veganism.
  • opened for acts as diverse as The Monkees and Missing Persons.
  • directed music videos for numerous other artists, including Ben Folds, Hanson, The Black Crowes and The Presidents of the United States of America.
  • named as the top artist that should be nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a 2009 Rolling Stone poll (followed by Rush and The Moody Blues).

But for me, the weirdest part of Weird Al is that he’s still piloting a thriving musical career.

In a fickle industry that relegates artists to the bargain bin with relative ease, this nerdy gimmick of a guy has exhibited real staying power (although I’m fairly certain his CDs are available in many a bargain bin).

Don’t get me wrong…I’m grateful for any ’80s pop singer who is still considered relevant in 2011. But given the chance, I’d really like to trade Al in for someone along the lines of Pat Benatar, Level 42 or The Go-Go’s.

So again, I ask: Is anyone else puzzled by the enduring career of nerdy musical “artist” Weird Al Yankovic?

Pumping Up with the Partridges


You can learn a lot about a guy by checking out the music on his iPod.

Mine includes a diverse mix of classic rock, ‘80s pop, Christian worship, current artists and a few left-field head-scratchers thrown in for good measure.

I primarily use the device to fuel my early-morning workouts, and this eclectic tuneage caters to my audio cravings du jour. Buried within this mix, however, is also an unexpected favorite that has made its way into heavy rotation. 

While my fellow muscle-heads are jamming to Linkin Park, AC/DC and who-knows-what-else, I’m often cranking to the sunny strains of “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “I Woke Up in Love this Morning.” Nothing gets my blood pumping quite like a Partridge Family chorus. I’m partial to the Up to Date album, which is the one that showcases all the Partridge birthdays on the cover (David Cassidy’s is this Tuesday, by the way).

Although it’s been well documented that the Partridge recordings actually feature Cassidy, Shirley Jones and a bunch of unknown studio musicians (rather than the complete TV family), I’m still a sucker for those catchy choruses, cheesy lyrics and infectious harmonies. Besides, I always did suspect that Tracy Partridge couldn’t shake a tambourine to save her life…

I think of my guilty pleasure as the musical equivalent of mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s comfort food that brings back positive childhood memories and contentment.

Unfortunately, it’s probably also grounds for my immediate dismissal from the neighborhood gym-rat association.

What the heck, it’s worth it. C’mon get happy.


All My Favorite People are Broken

Don’t worry, I won’t be naming names. But let’s face it, most of us are a pretty sorry lot. And the rest just hide it better.

Which is why I am so entranced by a song on Over The Rhine’s latest – and probably greatest – CD. It’s called “All My Favorite People Are Broken,” and like most OTR songs, it’s pithy, profound and hauntingly beautiful. 

The overall gist of the tune is: you’re messed up, and I’m messed up. And that’s OK. We need each other.

Now that’s a message I need to hear.


There’s Magic in the Mashup

Michael Jackson, meet Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. You’re going to make beautiful music together – whether you like it or not.

I am a huge fan of the musical mash-up (a.k.a. “forced duet”). I’m particularly drawn to the blending of artists from completely different generations and genres. These seemingly ridiculous pairings are the ones that can generate the most magic.

That’s true outside the musical realm as well. Innovation springs from the intersection of disparate stuff. A familiar example is Cirque du Soleil, a mashup of the circus and the theater that has spawned a completely new artistic category.

Inspiring as Cirque is, the most exciting mashup potential resides in odd collaborations that lead to solutions for the most pressing of human problems. Cures for diseases. Environmental fixes. An end to poverty.

A recent pairing of two competing cancer drugs led to a 100 percent response rate. Just imagine what innovations could arise if we continue breaking down the (manmade) barriers to stretch our minds – and our humanity.

Mash it up, people!