Thursday, January 3, 2013

The songs of 2012

After looking over this list of of my songs this year, I realize that most of them are pretty fatalistic on the surface. Well, this year has been an emotional whirlwind, so the music reflects that. But look underneath that fatalism towards the defiance most of the songs also ooze. "I might not live much longer, but I'll go kicking and screaming, and to hell with whoever tries to get in my way." That would be the title of this 10-track mix, if I had the penmanship to print it on a CD.

None of these songs came out this year, as far as I know. But most of them were new to me, or took on new meaning. I hope they bring you as much solace as they did me.

(click the title to listen to the track on Youtube)

10.  When I go Away – Levon Helm

I might write ad nausium about my love for Levon Helm, but it's warranted. This song he recorded on his last album before he passed away earlier this year. Whenever I get too close to the edge of my balcony, when it gets harder to breathe, when I look around and don't know where I am, this song can be a savior. I play it as loud as it will go and sing it as loud as my little voice will allow. Two, three, four times. As long as it takes to wear myself out enough to think clearly again.

KEY LYRIC: See that storm over yonder, it's gonna rain all day/ and then the sun's gonna shine through the shadows when I go away

9.  Harlem River Blues – Justin Townes Earl

I can't listen to this song without remembering the first time I heard it this summer. My good friend Ryan and I were driving in his hot little red Honda to Madison, Wisconsin on the world's farthest beer run (stocking up on New Glaris beers only available in-state, nine hours away). Ryan always tries to introduce me to new songs, and I reject many of them. This one, from chord one, sold me. And now I hum it all the time.

KEY LYRIC: And I'm no fool, mama I know the difference between tempting and choosing my fate

8.  Marie LeVeau – Papa Celestin

Heard this one on an episode of "Treme," and had one of those, "I didn't know something like this existed" moments. What an incredible piece of music–folklore mixed with history mixed with jazz mixed with mad showmanship. Listen to this one and just try not to wander around all day yelling "OOOOH Marie LeVeau!" Walk into the coffee shop and when the barista asks your order, "Oh Marie LeVeau!" When your mom calls the see if you're interested in having dinner this weekend, "Oh Marie LeVeauu." And when your boyfriend or girlfriend makes any gentle suggestion about your lifestyle choices, "OH Marie LeVeau, Voodoo Queen, way down yonder in Neeeew Ooooor-leaaaaans…"

7.  Video Games – Lana Del Rey

Heard this one in Rishikesh on what could be considered history's most epic first date – a weekend trip to the Ganges River and Beatles Ashram with someone I just met. Louis played me this song while we were tucked under the covers, the wind from the valley quite literally howling at our door. As far as new music goes, this is tops because it conveys the eeriness of love like a lot of the old songs did. It gets a pass, even if it is new.

KEY LYRIC: I was told you like the bad girls, honey is that true?

6.  Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key and Ingrid Bergman – Billy Bragg and Wilco

Ok, ok. You caught me. For such a die-hard Woody Guthrie fan, I never took the time to listen to Mermaid Avenue, the album of unrecorded Woody songs sung by Billy and company. And now that I have heard it, I am kicking myself for not letting this be a part of my life since high school. But music is like that, isn't it? It finds us when we need it most, even if we don't know why. I also heard this album on my Madison trip with Ryan. And we played it all day, every day, all summer.

KEY LYRIC: Hey Little Girlie, will you let me see/ way over yonder where the wind blows free

KEY LYRIC: If you walk across my camera/ I will flash the world your story/ I will pay you more than money, Ingrid Bergman/ Not with pennies, dimes, nor quarters/ But with happy sons and daughters

5.  Indian Red – Mardi Gras Indians

Another "Treme" find. This one is particularly useful when work doesn't go right. My boss in Rome didn't get my email. I couldn't get to work on time. My training isn't going well. They want me to make more Powerpoints than there are fish in the sea. I could just happily excuse myself to the bathroom, mumbling on my breath, "And I won't bow down, on that dirty ground, because I love to hear you call my Indian Red."

4.  Mr Blue – Busman's Holiday

I heard this brilliant cover of the Fleetwood's 1959 number one hit earlier this year. RadioLab was doing an episode on how human's perceive colors and requested different bands to cover their favorite "color" songs for the show. This one stood out. An all-male version of a song that relies solely on its harmony.

KEY LYRIC: I stay at home at night/ Right by the phone at night/ but you won't call and I won't hurt my pride

3.  Love Interruption – Jack White

Well this song took on different meanings as my year evolved. I heard it when I was freshly in love. So much that it hurt, so I only heard those parts of the song, "I want love to grab my fingers gently, slam them in a doorway, smash my face into the ground." And then the love was gone, and I felt the other kind of hurt, and I heard the sarcasm in the song that I didn't hear before. And then I tried to slowly get over the heartbreak and heard the defiance, "I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me anymore…" when we all know that he will, I will, we all will.

KEY LYRIC: I want love to roll me over slowly/ stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around

2.  Tower of Song – written by Leonard Cohen, performed by Martha Wainwright

I use this song the way other people (sometimes myself) use whiskey. When things are going truly, truly wrong, you sit down, throw your hands in the air and spin the cap off a bottle of something cheap. Well, this song is like that, because when you sing along, you can allow your voice to be as vulnerable and desperate as Martha's. On one of my worst days in recent history, this song was there with me, destroying and protecting me. Picture this, a thunderstorm hits Bangkok so strong, that the water on the balcony is flowing over the edges rather than through the gutter. Unprepared for the heartbreak I had incurred, I was sitting in the rain, beer bottle in hand, looking through the rain to the clouds, and screaming this song on a loop. It saved me, as much as any piece of music can, allowing me to wallow as much as I wanted. But then the rain stopped, and the beer ran out and the computer died and I was left soaking wet on someone else's balcony, alone with myself, the last person I wanted to be with...

(This is, for the record the last time I'll write about the breakup extraordinaire. That was 2012. This is 2013. I'm done.)

KEY LYRIC: You can stick your little pins in that voodoo doll/ I'm really sorry, baby/ doesn't look like me at all

1.  Ramblin' Man – Hank Williams

The more I've rambled around this year, the more I've met people who embody Hank Williams in this song. Perhaps it's because I have such deep roots in Omaha, I never knew this man existed outside of 1950s folklore, but now I see him everywhere. I see him in a New Yorker traveling India by train. I see him in a man who refuses to leave Thailand and go home. I see him in a photographer who can't sit still and doesn't want to find a home just yet. I see him in an ice cream man who dreams of the next road trip. I see it in the women who choose South Sudan and Somalia instead of a legal career in Australia. I just can't see him in myself yet. Maybe that's why I feel so separate from the people I meet out here.

KEY LYRIC: Some folks might say that Im no good/ That I wouldn't settle down if I could/ But when that open road starts to calling me/ There's something o'er the hill that I gotta see

Happy 2013, everybody. Send me songs I need to hear this year!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My 2012

This year has been a trip. Literally and figuratively. Ups and downs with my faith. Homesickness, loss and new adventure. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, home, Rome, India, Nepal, Julian, Louis, and He Who Shall Not Be Named. Pad Thai, momos, masala tea, Burmese tea leaf salad. Fireworks, water fights, refugee camp hospitals, food poisoning, long flights, bar tattoos and all the moments of reflection in between.

My year started with the Urban Refugee Photo exhibit. A project I worked on for six months, doing photography trainings, searching out galleries, wooing journalists and NGO workers and wearing a dress. It might be my most proud moment for my work at JRS.

But my real 2012 –that is, life outside work, which is what this blog is mostly about– started with me meeting a wonderful fire-spinning poet I met on the Thai islands. We went to Laos and Cambodia and rode motorbikes to lagoons and waterfalls. I found spirituality in a power outtage. In fact, according to my blog, I found myself most connected with God and the universe outside Church this year.

In true Molly fashion, I fell for someone else soon after that and conquered the city of Bangkok with my closest friends in the country– Ollie, Saadia, Ben and Zhava and Mali. We went out for three days with super-soakers and partied in the country-wide water fight that is the Thai New Year

7/11 covered in plastic awaiting the Son Kran water festival

I went to islands and more islands and more islands. I took my friend Mali on her first island adventure, only to end up sleeping in a tent because there was no room for us at the inn. But we all made a new friend in Ole, a Norwegian lawyer and world traveler.

I finished my time in Thailand with a trip to Koh Chang, my favorite Thai island and was filled with so much joy and love that I will never forget frames and moments from the one trip to which I did not bring a camera.

I finished my work at JRS and got to go home to Omaha and have dance parties and hamburgers and time with my dog. I pretty much got to live in Fr Doll's photo studio.

Amari Cheffer, the sister of my best friend forever, got married. We made a marital fort and danced our feet off. My parents owned that dance floor.

After a brief stint in Thailand, I came to India heartbroken and tattooed, which is something I had never experienced before in my life. For a month, I was pretty much alone in the city, barely mustering the willpower to get out of bed every morning and go to work. I tried everything to breathe normally again and get over it. I drew skeletons. I drew robots. I drank gin. I cried. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.

While I was out in the camps, photographing and interviewing, and trying to get the proverbial "groove" back, I decided two things. One, that I couldn't talk to that person for awhile lest I keep torturing myself. And two, that it's ok for me to feel unsure and nervous and alone sometimes, but don't forget all of the wonderful people who are around you just for the sake of feeling lonely.

Then I lost my grandmother. And I couldn't understand for the life of me what was going in my world. I was stuck in India, unable to go home for the funeral because of visa problems and skyped into the funeral. I was writing nearly every day about my heartbreak… But you lucky readers won't get to read about that until my memoirs come out. But in 2012, I still don't recognize that she is gone. It will be my first trip back to Omaha without seeing her that I will start to feel her absence.

I can say this about 2012 – I won't joke around with love anymore. After what happened, I'm no longer of the impression that people just fall in love while they're young; that it's just fun and exciting. I tend to be a pretty reckless person, but not anymore. Love is serious. And life-changing, for better or worse.

That being said, I fell in love again! More or less at first sight… in that we were in Halloween costumes. And let me tell you, kissing someone, and feeling feelings of love while also tending to a broken heart is something that I can't articulate. Like trying to be two people at once – the one who needs to heal over time, and the new, fun, quirky, not-tragically-broken person who someone might want to hold hands with.

I have now been in India for four months. I've been to 12 cities, lived in three apartments, visited two refugee camps, urban refugee homes and projects, a Hindu wedding, swam in the Ganges, drank champagne over Jaipur, boated across Kashmir's Nageen Lake, celebrated Saint Francis Xavier's feast in Goa, rode horses at the base of the Himalayas, finished a website and ate plenty of dahl. At the end of this year, I feel exhausted. And in one sentence, all the things I have seen and felt this year, whatever it was that has led me to be where I am December, 2012, in a way, I am grateful. To all the new people I have met, and all the people I have known over the years who were ready for a Skype call whenever I needed, thanks. I am grateful for India and Saadia and Louis and everyone who has become my family… be it a dysfunctional one.

Let's hope 2013 teaches me just as much and takes me to incredible places with incredible people.

My New Year's resolution? TCB.