Thursday, May 28, 2020

13 Songs: Everything Falls Apart

Death, Trouble, and Hard Journeys

1. “Everything Falls Apart,” Dog’s Eye View.
“Don’t look now, things just got worse.”

2. “Next Best Western,” Lucy Wainwright Roche. 
“The highway takes its toll, the green light flashes go.”

3. “When I Get to Heaven,” John Prine. 
“Dah-dah-dah, doo-doo-doot.”

4. “Opelousas (Sweet Relief),” Maria McKee
“It’s in a bottle of wine or just losing some time.”

5. “Nobody Dies,”  Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
“What to say? What to say? What to say?”

6. “All Kinds of Time,” Fountains of Wayne.
“The clock’s running down.”

7. “Hummingbird,” Tim Easton.
“I take you on.”

8. “Might as Well Get Stoned,” Chris Stapleton. 
“Since my whiskey’s gone . . .”

9. “If You Have Ghosts,”  John Wesley Harding.
 “The moon to the left of me is a part of my thoughts and a part of me is me.”

10. “A Long Way Home,” Dwight Yoakam.
“Without one clue that it’s a long way home.”

11. “Step into the Light,” Mavis Staples. 
”See what you will as you’re climbing up that hill.”

12. “Farther on up the Road,” Johnny Cash.
“Got a song to sing. It keeps me out of the cold.”

13.  “Runnng on Empty,” Jackson Browne and David Lindley
“Running into the Sun, but I’m running behind.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Jeff’s Next Page is 5 years old!

So, I missed it yesterday, but this blog is half a decade old. 

Back when I was just starting this, I was feeling a need to jump-start my creative life. Because of other priorities — my marriage, family life, friendships, the work I do for money — my creative energy tends to be invested here and there, in a scattershot way that can lead to some satisfying projects and experiences, but doesn’t really build. 

I decided it would be good to have a place to write out my thoughts in a way that is a little more sustained than a social media post. I thought it would be good to make some art and use this blog to talk some about whatever art I made. 

And thus it has gone! Now I have a YouTube channel with short videos of songs and poems I’ve written, and I’ve once in a great while managed to land a poem, story, or essay in some cool online journals, wrote a published an ebook novella, and I’ve upped the ante as a storyteller/performer. 

 Still not famous, and don’t expect to ever be famous in the worlds of literature, music, or performance. I can say, though, that my creative world is alive, humming with energy, and that I have a small but interested readership, listenership, etc.

For those of you who come here to read my writing, and who follow my creative work, thank you! 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Nobody wants to hear about Jason’s dreams

Jason Isbell is hanging in there with his attempts to get us to hear about his dreams. 

On his new album, Reunions, the gifted songwriter includes a cool callback that his most attentive fans will appreciate. I take it as a funny reference to a moment in “Chaos and Clothes” (from 2017’s The Nashville Sound), where Isbell sings: 

In my sleep, I build machines
Nobody ever wants to hear about my dreams, 
Last night I saw a burning Ferris wheel,
The meaning’s anybody’s guess ...

I like the brief passage a lot. It’s funny to me because the very first thing Jason does after telling us that nobody wants to hear about his dreams is to immediately describe an image he saw in a dream. It captures a thing a lot of us may have experienced on both sides: you have a (to you) striking dream but can’t get anybody to listen, or you get stuck hearing about somebody’s rambling-ass weird dream. Because there’s not much narrative sense in dream logic, listening is often frustrating and boring. 

But having set up that dynamic in “Chaos and Clothes” — “I’m telling you about my dreams whether you want to hear it or not!”— it’s even funnier for him to revisit it in the new album. The callback comes in the song “It Gets Easier,” which begins:

Last night I dreamed that I'd been drinking
Same dream I have 'bout twice a week
I had one glass of wine
I woke up feeling fine
And that's how I knew it was a dream

Last night I dreamed that I'd been drinking
Cold burn of whiskey down my throat
My hand turned into a rattlesnake
And I laughed myself awake
And that's how I knew it was a joke

As far as these lines or that song, anybody might appreciate them, on their own or in the context of the new album. You don’t need to have already been a fan to like it. 

But ongoing fans can appreciate it at a different level: those lines don’t live only in the context of a song or an album, but a body of work. His work and your (my) ongoing fandom becomes a years-long relationship. The work sinks in for the people who like it enough to, you know, LISTEN-listen, to let the songs become part of our lives, and to pay deep and repeated attention. When you listen like that, noticing things like the callback I’m describing can become tribal membership stuff. There’s a running gag, and you’re in on it.

I don’t even care how intentional it is (though I think Jason’s a noticer and likely knows what he did). Cool with me either way. 

I mention it here partly just to share my enjoyment of a smart, funny, cool thing that struck me in a song lyric. But I also want to use it as a representative example of the pleasures of context. 

There’s a joy to be had in having some artists that you follow. You listen to all their work for years. You have favorite songs, sure, but there’s more to it. They have a vibe, a way of being in the world, and it resonates for you. Their voice in your head becomes like a friend on your life’s path. You pull for them to do great work. Your share your fandom with people in your life. Maybe the songs become an important part of your relational culture with people you love. And when you get to go see one of your short-list very-favorites play live, maybe quite a few times over different chapters of your life, man, it is a burst of pure oxygen. 

I’ve got artists that crossed my path at a certain moment when my ears were really ready to hear them. Some fall away. But with some —and Jason Isbell has become one of them — they come along for the rest of the ride and you come to understand the work in a deeper and more satisfying way. 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Kind of a While

I said, “You’re looking so good, 
Mmm, you’ve got the prettiest smile.”
She said, “I’m feeling good too, 
and it’s been kind of a while,
kind of a while.”

She said, “The days were blasting by
like a westbound train, 
the song in my head was 
‘I Wish it would Rain,’
But now I feel like the me
that knows how to be
free and wild . . .
It’s been kind of a while, 
been kind  of a while.”

I said, “I know just what you mean, 
when darkness stretches on for miles.
I was so hopeless and so lost,
for kind of a while,
kind of a while.

I couldn’t even breathe right,
yeah, it’s hard to explain.  
The closest  I can come is
 I was living in chains, 
Then you baked me a cake
and I laughed ‘cause
it was hiding a  file . . . 
It’s been kind of a while, 
been kind of a while.”

And we might know 
enough to know
There’s no such thing 
as a perfectly smooth road,
no places where the 
summers are cool
and the winters are mild.

She said, “The days were blasting by
like a westbound train, 
the song in my head was 
‘I Wish it would Rain,’
But now I feel like the media 
that knows how to be
free and wild . . .
It’s been kind of a while, 
kind  of a while.”

Words and Music by Jeff Knight

Monday, April 27, 2020

Who is Jeff Knight? What is Jeff’s Next Page?

Because I recently entered an original song, “Kind of a While,” in NPR’s Tiny Desk concert, I expect some newcomers around here. That being the case, hello and welcome.

I’m a writer and songwriter in Austin. I write poems, songs, and stories, used to do a fair amount of slam poetry performances around the state of Texas, have published some fiction and poetry here and there, and sometimes perform as a storyteller. I make my living as a writer and editor, currently working on new hire training for big tech companies.

If you scroll the blog, you’ll see posts about everything from the late great Adam Schlesinger to my thoughts on how marketing copy for craft beer can boost a sense of tribal membership. You'll also find links to some of my writing here and there on the web.

Meanwhile, my entry to the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest  is embedded below, published on my YouTube channel, also titled Jeff’s Next Page.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

RIP Adam Schlesinger

I bought you
A light blue
T-shirt last night
From some band
I couldn’t stand
But their logo was alright...

That’s a lyric from Adam Schlesinger, who passed away at 52 yesterday from COVID-19.

You may not know his name, but you probably know his music. His band Fountains of Wayne had a huge hit with “Stacy’s Mom,” as well as a whole catalogue of smart, funny, cool pop songs.

He also wrote songs for That thing You Do (remember that Tom Hanks  movie about a one-hit wonder pop band?). And he won Emmy awards for his songwriting on the tv show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

And it would be hard to overpraise his contributions to the Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore romcom Music and Lyric. The core song of that movie, “Way Back into Love” is fantastic, both on its own and as a way of reinforcing the theme and advancing the movie’s plot.

But this is my favorite of his. Adam’s the bass player and backing singer, and these guys were a really great songwriting team. Fuck.

RIP, Adam.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Collages and quarantines

In the part of your life that is about being alive, your one wild and precious life, what it’s like to be you, your sense of who you are and how you fit in with everything, all that, doing creative work hangs out near the center circle, along with love, beauty, laughter, and the other alltime greatest hits on the Super Awesome Mixtape of your soul.

I’m mostly talking about my own experience, but I guess I’m evangelizing, too.

Doesn’t matter what it is. Doesn’t matter if you’re doing pro quality work.

Years ago, in my thirties, hanging out with a friend who was into collaging, I started making collages on a once-in-a-while basis.

I found it really satisfying and therapeutic. I incorporated it into my parenting, too, making collages with the kids. It’s a great way to pass time, you fall into flow, and at the end there’s something interesting to look at and think about.

I get old magazines for free from the library, sort through them, various images or phrases catch my eye, and I cut and arrange and glue, and an hour passes. And I’ve made something! I keep a notebook that has color copies of the old ones. I enjoy flipping through it sometimes.

The decades-long project, collaging alone and with others, gives me a mental health boost. It also serves some of the same function of dreams, processing stuff that is hanging out right below the obvious surface of mind.

And it sharpens the saw in terms of something like lateral intelligence, combinatorial insight, meaning-making, the broadest sense of the word “play”  (like the immersive way kids play, or the play of light on water, or the cool brain riffs we call wordplay, or the way it feels to lose yourself in the moment when playing music or sports or games), you know, man: all the juice I need to be there for me when I’m making my For-Real art, writing my poems, stories, and songs. The collaging takes all that stuff out for a walk, gives it some air and light, knocks off some cobwebs. And it feels like being awake and alive. 

Anyhow, I recommend you find some kind of arroyo to channel the flow of your creative energy.  I’m gonna do some writing. Play some guitar.  Sing.

And, as you’ve likely deduced, I’ve made a couple of collages during these days of self-quarantine.