Monthly Archives December 2023

Brilliant Songs #44: Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”

One plink of a C note on the piano, followed quickly up the scale by an F and then A note to complete a lovely little triad one could teach a child in a moment or two. Then a repeat, after which the left hand descends to a note on the lower register, and, depending on the particular arrangement, a violin, cello, or other accompanist joins in to commence one of the most contemplative pieces of music ever offered up to human ears.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” translates as “Mirror(s) in the Mirror,” suggesting an endless reflection of images, the triad of the initial notes forming a foundation that seems to stretch out and carry listeners along to infinity...

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“We Must Risk Delight”: Jack Gilbert’s “A Brief for the Defense”

It may seem odd that after poring through my poetry shelves this past week looking for works of joy and gratitude to befit this holiday season, I would land on and offer you a poem whose first two words are, “Sorrow everywhere.” The next two words are more dismal yet: “Slaughter everywhere,” followed by an image of starving babies…“With flies in their nostrils.”

I am imagining you on the verge of clicking your mouse and tapping away, away, just not feeling up to “everywhere” including whatever hallowed corner of your world you’ve been able to set aside this holiday season as a sorrow-free zone.

Can’t say I blame you.

So I will have to ask you to trust me in stating that this deeply philosophical, 30-line poem is as fine and freeing a meditation on joy as I have ever come across precisely because it stares so unflinchingly at what its author Jack Gilbert refers to as “the ruthless furnace of this world.”


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Oh, Bah, Humbug on All That Bah, Humbug!

You know what really makes me tired and stressed this time of year? Hearing all about how tired and stressed people are this time of year. Enough already, out out outta here with your abject tales of how rough you have it from Thanksgiving through the New Year! This is what you want to spend even two cents of your emotional capital on?

I know, I know, families can be complicated (religion even more so), rampant consumerism carries a lot of baggage (and too damn much crazy packaging!) and the cost of a Christmas tree seems to have gone as far north as the North Pole.

But still.

In the sum total of such things, we celebrate so very little in this life of toil and loss and worry that our team will yet again miss out on the World Series next year.

And if your vote is to cancel five or six weeks of this darkest time of year, when basically all of your ancestors stretching back to the Caveman Boulevard days some...

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Brilliant Songs #43: Damien Jurado’s “Silver Joy”

Sometimes I find myself wishing there were fewer supremely talented musicians and other artists plying their trade across the world so I could better keep up without feeling badly about missing out on as much as I do. Yes, I’m aware of the highly dubious logic of that statement, so I’ll drop it right now.

Instead, I’ll share yet one more jewel by a singer-songwriter there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of—unless you’ve been hanging around the Seattle club scene the past quarter-century or so. Or were doubly fortunate as I was this week in viewing the splendid and unlikely intergenerational road-buddy movie with a holiday backdrop, Alexander Payne’s  “The Holdovers,”

There, amidst a carefully curated soundtrack that ranges across multiple genres to support its 1970 setting, looms the beautiful and tender “Silver Joy,” from Seattle-based acoustic guitarist Damien Jurado.

Jurado, now 52, launched his c...

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Modern Political Debates Are a Disaster for Our Civic Life—We Should Demand Better

Some 10 minutes into the “debate” last week between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his California counterpart, Gavin Newsom, I—a confirmed debate devotee since my 9-year-old self watched Richard Nixon and John Kennedy square off in a series of substantive, policy-and world-view-driven forums prior to the 1960 presidential election—turned it off.

Committed as I am to keeping up with the affairs of the day—which includes the almost uniformly contentious and dismal exercises that pass for modern political debates—I was suddenly overcome at the spectacle playing out in front of me. To slightly alter the Howard Beale character’s vehemence in the 1976 film, “Network”: “I’m frustrated as hell, and I’m not going take this anymore!”

So I clicked the remote and settled back into reading the novel calling kindly for my attention from the table next to me, my blood pressure all the gladder for my decision.

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