Good art follows you around the room…

Isn’t that what they claim? Well… There’s a few problems with that. First, I’m not sure I’m cultured enough to know whether that holds a shred of truth or not. Second, who is “they” anyway? That can’t be skipped. Not by thinkers anyway…

IF good art follows you around the room, then is it a fair parallel to say that good music means something to all of us? Even if when we glean different things from it?

So what if you listened to a song, loved it, cried when you thought through it, and then like a good book, placed it on a shelf to read it again another day, only to stumble across it from another who took a different perspective altogether?

That just happened to me. I’ll admit freely this encounter is as foreign to me as breathing – I experience it almost continually. I remember the first time I listened to “The Trapeze Swinger” from Iron & Wine a number of years ago. I think it was Art James and Emily Donohue that were covering it actually. I recall vividly looking up the lyrics and reading them over and over, then closing my eyes to listen to their voices. It washed over me as if a surf was reaching up to me in the sand and dampening my body then receding only to saturate me again and again.

“The Trapeze Swinger” – Iron & Wine

Please, remember me happily
By the rosebush laughing
With bruises on my chin, the time when
We counted every black car passing
Your house beneath the hill
And up until someone caught us in the kitchen
With maps, a mountain range, a piggy bank
A vision too removed to mention

But please, remember me fondly
I heard from someone you’re still pretty
And then they went on to say
That the pearly gates
Had some eloquent graffiti
Like “We’ll meet again” and “Fuck the man”
And “Tell my mother not to worry”
And angels with their great handshakes
Were always done in such a hurry

And please, remember me that Halloween
Making fools of all the neighbors
Our faces painted white
By midnight, we’d forgotten one another
And when the morning came I was ashamed
Only now it seems so silly
That season left the world and then returned
And now you’re lit up by the city

So please, remember me mistakenly
In the window of the tallest tower
Calling passers-by but much too high
To see the empty road at happy hour
Gleam and resonate, just like the gates
Around the holy kingdom
With words like “Lost and found” and “Don’t look down”
And “Someone save temptation”

And please, remember me as in the dream
We had as rug-burned babies
Among the fallen trees and fast asleep
Aside the lions and the ladies
That called you what you like and even might
Give a gift for your behavior
A fleeting chance to see a trapeze
Swinger high as any savior

But please, remember me, my misery
And how it lost me all I wanted
Those dogs that love the rain and chasing trains
The colored birds above their running
In circles around the well and where it spells
On the wall behind St. Peter
So bright, on cinder gray, in spray paint
“Who the hell can see forever?”

And please, remember me seldomly
In the car behind the carnival
My hand between your knees, you turned from me
And said, “The trapeze act was wonderful
But never meant to last”, the clown that passed
Saw me just come up with anger
When it filled with circus dogs, the parking lot
Had an element of danger

So please, remember me finally
And all my uphill clawing
My dear, but if I make the pearly gates
I’ll do my best to make a drawing
Of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl
An angel kissing on a sinner
A monkey and a man, a marching band
All around a frightened trapeze swinger

Yes, there was a foul word. I could have warned you, as I always have prior, but this time I didn’t for a very specific and narrow reason. It wasn’t blasphemous, and it was crucial. Ordinarily I’d tell you there is no good reason for bad language just as there is also no good reason for us to sin. Yet we do. Sometimes to adequately illustrate the fallen presence of man, we need to grasp just how ugly we can be. Don’t dwell on it other than to recognize how imperfect and lesser we all are, sometimes even worse. The lyrics were chosen specifically to provoke a response from you but also to convey the story – that’s context, and we are duty bound to absorb it properly.

As long as I can remember I applied this song to a man who had died and as people passed by him on their way to heaven they stopped relay to him stories of what had taken place among the Earthly living as if he’d be denied that knowledge. It seemed to fit. I rested on that. I didn’t explore why he was stuck in between. I thought it was so sad, and didn’t want to chase the rabbit, so I left it as it were, a long sense of a man reviled to so much despair…

But, what if the song was about a young woman, a daughter perhaps, that took her life? The agony for the song takes on completely different perspective in that sour light. I was forced into that torment this eve. I called up my good friend whose daughter inflicted her own mortality after seeing a link to a cover of this song tonight from him. The suffering and strain in that consultation barely honored either of us. It was all we could do to make it through the colloquy without darkness smothering us both. As if I wanted to embrace more melancholy? Yet, he’s my friend and he needed me. Another man reviled to so much despair…

Gregory Alan Isakov – The Trapeze Swinger

I wasn’t sure I’d like another cover of this ballad, but I think Isakov nailed it. It’s compelling and soulful and crushing. It forces me to acknowledge and perceive. I love it and I’m grateful it was composed, recorded, and shared.

I’m not sure I have the scripture in mind for this that supports my reasoning. I’m torn between something that speaks to death like John 14:1-3, or maybe a piece from Ecclesiastes 7 that reminds me to not destroy my life. Those are fine, but I’m attracted for reasons I can’t expound to John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Maybe I need admonishment; to know that while it takes a minuscule piece of me each time I counsel a friend in this manner, that the cost is not only bearable, but a debt I can afford, however anguished. As if I lay down my life for my friends one tiny piece of me at a time…

Then I pray and think to myself: “There but for the grace of God go I…” – John Bradford

Be salt. Seek light. Please.

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