Singing For Prisoners

Johnny Cash (1932-2003) has been one of my favorite musicians for most of my years. His distinctive voice, acoustic guitar melodies, and authentic lyrical stories are what have kept me re-listening to and discovering his music for my entire adult life. Only recently, though, have I given much thought to what is perhaps the most remarkable thing about him as far as I’m concerned. Which is that he sang for prisoners.

He performed at prisons for prisoners several times, with perhaps his most famous performance being at Folsom Prison in 1968 when he recorded the ‘Live at Folsom Prison‘ album. The way he talks to the audience mid-song, I think, is special, as are lyrics of songs like ‘The Wall.’ Though I don’t know Cash’s reasons for performing at Folsom or other prisons, and am sure that he was trying to help his own career, I also get the definite impression that he was trying to do something kind for the prisoners. To make them feel better.

Many people, I think, would sneer or scoff at attempts to make prisoners who may have murdered or raped other people feel better. The term ‘deserves to rot in prison’ comes to mind. So, why might have Cash, in some instances at least, disagreed and thought prisoners deserved kindness?

Maybe his song ‘Man in Black,’ in which he describes why he wears black, answers that question: “I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of the time.”

Cash’s actions and words exemplify his understanding of a really hard thing to admit, which I remember adamantly denying. Namely, that people are foremost products of their environment. For good or for bad. Like a fire or a flood (or a rainbow), people don’t create themselves. Similar to non-human natural phenomena, people sometimes do need to be contained or avoided to maintain safety. I admit that.

However, I think that it is important to see that spending the energy to hate a person (like a prisoner who ‘deserves to rot’) is as fruitless as spending energy hating a flood. It does no good. That bad has happened and we have to move forward. Like the energy that could be spent creating a wetland to stop floods, singing to prisoners could create a glow in them that also might keep them from burning the world at their first opportunity. I think Johnny knew that. He also seemed to see that there are prisoners everywhere, few behind bars. So, upon seeing that too, let’s sing however we can.

A song: ‘Donkeys, Elephants, and Caribou’

I made it my goal for today to write a song about doing a better job of conserving our natural heritage. The song that I came up with is called ‘Donkeys, Elephants, and Caribou.’ The lyrics are below the link to me playing the song, so that you can read along (or read only) if you’d like.

Donkeys, Elephants, and Caribou

Paul wakes up and makes his eggs,

he says: ‘here we go again.’

The old engine fires, moves his tires

to the place that hollows his years.

By the forest-bordered river he drives

where there’s so many memories

that for a moment he forgets

the radio’s conspiracies.

 

With hair done and makeup on,

Winona walks through the park.

The girls will be indignant today,

the news never disappoints.

But, for a moment, the gossip-world erodes.

As a young fox pounces on a leaf,

Winona feels a warm glow

that she hasn’t felt in weeks.

 

But Evelyn the politician says:

Pauls shouldn’t trust Winonas,

because donkeys and elephants don’t mix.

And demonizing and dividing she knows,

gets herself far more votes.

And people become so dizzied that they

fail to see the beauty that she sells to

get profiteers to give her money.

 

The Evelyns of the world will do whatever they can

to change the image that in the mirror they see

But they’re just reflections of Paul, Winona, you, and me.

And their charisma is often meant just to deceive.

Don’t listen when they say to disagree, without thinking.

 

So, let’s prove the politicians wrong.

Let’s tell them loud and clear

that there’s something about which we all agree.

Whether we’re ‘R’s’ ‘D’s,’ or ‘L’s’,

We won’t sleep under your spell.

We demand our natural heritage to be protected,

Or you won’t be elected

Or you won’t be re-elected

Or you won’t be elected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Admirer, Let Me See

My recollection is that the notion of ‘secret admirer’ is often associated with Valentine’s day. Though it seems like a lot of letters to fit on a little heart, I vaguely recall that the words ‘secret admirer’, or something like that, used to be written on some of the candy hearts (or maybe the box holding them?) that I was given when a kid. I understand why sometimes admiration has to be secret in human society, but I know that being a secret admirer and/or secretly admired can be a rather sad situation to be in. And that thought is why I decided to make this post tonight (past my bed time!), just before Valentine’s Day. It seems like secret admiring could at least subconsciously be in some minds due to V-day, and thus now might be an opportune time to share one of my creations. Regardless, I’m sharing!

Just over a month ago, I wrote a very short song called ‘Let Me See’ that is somewhat related to this idea of secret admiration (see link below – skip straight to the lil’ ditty if you are tired of reading!). I’m a writer first and foremost, though, so I can’t really justify in my mind uploading a song without also producing some words for someone to read. That said, I do consider my songs primarily word endeavors rather than musical endeavors… Anyways, I hope that you enjoy the written and/or non-written (via the song) words below:

Sometimes lyrics bubble up from an unidentifiable place in my mind for no apparent reason, especially when I am strumming. And the lyrics of this song seem to fall into that rather mysterious category. I often begin songs with the words ‘I don’t know,’ because that is my general stance (even though I love to understand as much as I can). That old habit of beginning strumming sessions with something like ‘I don’t know’ is my explanation for why the first words of the song are what they are. Where the ‘No I don’t really, really, know…what you want from me’ came from, I’m unsure. Maybe Alice the basset hound was pawing me in the face after I had just let her back in from being outside. Probably not, though. I think that she was probably up in my bed. Subconscious echoes, I suppose, explain most of what I do, including thoughts and lyrics. It was late, and I wasn’t tired enough to sleep. I know that the entire second half of this recording is the result of me improvising in regard to words during an uninterrupted stretch of composition while strumming, which is my absolute favorite way to ‘sing.’ It is always cool when the result of such ‘flowing’ is something that I can admire in retrospect.

I find it interesting how I can now decide to upload a song of me singing without a second thought, even though I know anyone could listen (though the vast majority won’t, even of those who receive a notification that I wrote a post). And I know that some of those who listen might criticize me secretly, or openly, for a variety of reasons. Less than 5 years ago I’d be mortified at the thought of such criticism. But the possibility of entering someone else’s consciousness in a positive way far outweighs the risks so far as I’m concerned.

And that risk/reward equation was also, I’m sure, somewhere in my mind when I wrote this song, which includes advice against secret admiring (when possible!) that I will try to follow myself.

I hope that the vibes in this song might contribute at least a tiny part to the larger, complex processes (the innumerable things read, heard, seen, felt, etc.) that ultimately cause one of you out there to attain a liberating moment, after which you might feel something like I do when thinking about my old fears. Glad that you ‘sang’ (metaphorically, or literally) even though you may once have been terrified just at the thought of negative reception. And the memories of being terrified might make the feeling of freedom more sweet.

Changing Places

I have changed places (moved) many times in large part because many places (particularly, natural environments) are changing. Environmental change endangers much of life on Earth, including human life. Thus, numerous times, going back to my first year as a student at Purdue University, I have been hired by some entity (non-profit organizations, universities, governments) to help monitor and/or respond to those environmental changes. This conservation-related work has led me to work/learn in 15 states in the U.S.A, as well as to Canada and to Costa Rica (one of which was reluctant to let me in…), and to more adventures than I ever thought that I might experience. It has been a great ride. That said, I’m glad to be in a place now where I plan to be for at least a couple years. Travel can be tiring, and settling down for a bit (so I’ve heard) can be rewarding.

I’ve decided to submit this post to WordPress in order to deliver to you a couple videos. Video 1 overviews a project led by Indiana University which has caused me to (very happily) move again. Video 2 is a short song/poem by one of my favorite artists about moving. I hope that from the first video you will learn a bit about why acknowledging, caring about, and responding to the dangers of environmental change is important. From the second video, I hope that those of you who are also ‘movers’ (or have moved at least once!) will feel the glow of companionship via ‘I can relate to that!’ thoughts.

Or maybe these videos will cause, ‘hm, I didn’t know that people thought that way’ thoughts, which are important, too – and may eventually lead to another category of thoughts which aren’t possible now…

Video 2 can be better fit into a short window of time, but both are relatively brief. I hope that you enjoy them.

Video 1

 

Video 2

 

Puddles of Hope

I recently wrote and recorded this song, so thought I’d share. Like almost all of my songs, I wrote this in order to think a situation through. I also made a video to accompany it, to help paint a clearer picture for those not between my ears!

There are a lot of rainstorms this time of year in Florida. Basically every afternoon. Luckily, I happen to enjoy the rain a lot, so felt inclined to create a metaphor that might cause the experience of rain to bring a smile to one’s face (to combat the ‘rain on your parade’ metaphor, and other dreary, similar ones).

While I wrote this song/poem I was thinking of one of my favorite poems, ‘Drunken Boat,’ by Arthur Rimbaud. Maybe you’ll love Arthur’s words as much as I do.

Here is the link to my song and ‘music video’:

Misunderstanding / Miss Understanding (a ditty I wrote)

I like words, and don’t know what I would do without them. But they are often misunderstood. So a couple nights ago, after a long day, I started strumming and said the first words that came to mind, which within half an hour turned into a song about how the same sounds mean different things to different people. When I began, I was frustrated by people purposely misunderstanding situations for their own benefit, but found myself smiling by the end after creating something that I had not originally intended to create – a familiar cycle for me when I pull out the old guitar and make a song, or when I write anything for fun. I have included lyrics below this video, so feel free to take a look at them before or after you watch me ‘singing’!

 

Lyrics:

Mis(s )understanding I don’t care for you much

Mis(s ) understanding you’re a bitch, I don’t like

You create trouble due to laziness, you lie and deny

I wish you didn’t exist, but don’t get me wrong

I know we’re at the point, in this very song

That maybe two of ten agree what’s going on

So I guess I must accept this strange phenomenon

And admit that my ‘it’ could be your ‘she’

While ‘to be(e) or not to be(e)’ could involve honey