Brilliant Songs #8: Gretchen Peters’s “Disappearing Act”

Gretchen Peters has been making music for a long time now, and as befits a singer-songwriter who looks in about equal measure around at the world and inside herself for her material, her music changes with the years. This is even as her core obsessions, if you will—seeking a measure of consolation and sense of identity in a fractured, wounding world—continue to propel her creativity.

Last year, at age 61, she released “Dancing With the Beast,” a deeply felt set of meditations on aging, change, depression, family pain, even truck stop prostitution (no, that last one is not autobiographical).

All manner of topics, in other words, that befit an artist who confided to NPR last year in an interview: “I have a theory that there are two kinds of people—there’s people who find sad songs depressing, then there’s us.”

As someone who counts himself quite happily among that “us,” I found t...

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Early Takes on the Democratic Frontrunners

So many candidates, so little time. That, I think, was the prevailing note of low expectations for the initial round of Democratic Party debates last week. Which made it all the more surprising that so much of substance seemed to be revealed—and then endlessly rehashed through the media thinkolator that saw pundits, academic debate experts, other politicians and your neighbors Sam and Myrtle weighing in on the event, often with wildly divergent views on what they had seen.

So much for anyone, at anytime, having the One True View of what happened and who “won.” 

Which makes it all the more fun and allowable for me, and you, and your crazy uncle in rural Mississippi if you dare ask him, to weigh in as we will. So that’s what I’ll do here, in a kind of impressionistic take on the major candidates and whatever else crosses my mind therefrom.

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The Guy’s Guy Who’s Gay, and No One Cares—Ma...

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Seventh Annual “Songs of Summer”

Three summer-themed songs the first weekend of every summer solstice—that’s been the formula these past six years. And being as fond (some might more sardonically say “enslaved”) by ritual as I am, I can’t see any reason to give it up, at least until we run out of summer songs (sometime in the year 2525, perhaps, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, to cite a decidedly unsunny song…).

As always, suggestions for future songs are welcome, and if you want to check your suggestion against songs already duly honored in this series, all past selections are listed at the end of this iteration. Or just follow the link here to scroll through each year’s You Tube selections.

So: to the music, yes?

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Bruce Springsteen does an acoustic version of this song from a 2014 concert in Perth that was tempting to offer up here, but ultimately, Bruce is so identified with that rollicking band of his doi...

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On “Rocketman” and Artists, and Rocking One’s World

Prodigies rarely have it easy. No matter how much fame or wealth they may manage to accumulate on the basis of their outsized talent, they often wind up leading desperate lives, besieged by an inner desert of radical isolation from everything—loved ones included—that would offer them comfort and a reason to go on.

Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, Phil Ochs, David Foster Wallace: barely the tip of a vast iceberg of genius talents who struggled mightily before cutting short their own lives when their inner demons overpowered the seemingly all powerful will-to-live that animates all life forms.

Despite multiple dark circumstances that had him pushing toward and then hovering on the edge of such self-destruction over many years, British rock star Elton John has managed to escape a place on that list, at least as of today, well into his 72nd year...

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On Not Going It Alone: Robert Kagan’s “The Jungle Grows Back”

Can America go it alone? And even more importantly: Can the world go it alone without America? These paired questions form the backbone of Robert Kagan’s recent book, “The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World.”

And with a mere 163 pages to make his case, Kagan wastes no time in making his convictions known: absent strong American leadership and engagement, he thinks the world, arguably as or more dangerous than it has ever been, is ripe for all of the same brutality and oppression that has always been either dominant or lurking at the edges of the human enterprise.

Because no matter how much we employ our ideals and reason to tame the malevolent forces always looking to usurp human freedom, without eternal vigilance and strong leadership, the jungle always grows back.

Kagan is a senior “Fellow” (job title, not a generic description) at the Brookings Institution, a conservative think...

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