The Story of Ray Lamontagne

I never learned to count my blessings / I choose instead to dwell in my disasters

I never learned to count my blessings / I choose instead to dwell in my disasters

Friends are awesome.

And friends who share your love for Ray Lamontagne? That’s just the icing on the cake. For your enjoyment, here’s an online conversation between a friend and I about the beautiful gentle soul, singer/songwriter Ray Lamontagne.

BJH: there’s a lotta things that can kill a man / there’s a lotta ways to die / yes, and, some already did / and walk beside me

Alison: i looked my demons in the eye

Alison: said “do your worst, destroy me”

BJH: awesome

Alison: gentle ray

Alison: i always picture him in this romantic little Victorian shoe shop in a quaint village and he’s the poor shoemaker of the fairytale

Alison: who possesses this otherworldly voice, the only thing that gets him through the drudgery of fashioning shoes for the grotesquely elite

BJH: Yeah… me too

Alison: One day, he’s visited by a traveling trickster who offers him a bag of coin which would allow Ray to retire comfortably in a seaside cottage with his loyal mutt Boots … but for a price

BJH: well written, btw

Alison: Ray must sing into a box and give away his voice forever.

BJH: lulz

BJH: he chose well

Alison: Ray is faced with a choice: give away his voice, or retire rich and alone

Alison: He chooses the drudgery and singing, knowing that it is better to be poor and keep your voice than to be rich and lose it forever

BJH: OR he has to sell his voice and retire, rich and with his dog OR sing for no one and retire, old and alone in anonymity. He does sing into a box and he has ‘retired’ some shoemaking

BJH: and he’s rich beyond my imagination, i would assume

BJH: he’s also young enough that his dog may still be alive

Alison: i think so

Alison: Boots!

BJH: yes, boots

BJH: and not the yelling-dora-style boots, neither…

Alison: nope

Alison: i like our story

Alison: we should get it illustrated



Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born

architect of my mind, smooth the planes

Anxiety is not only a pain which we must ask God to assuage but also a weakness we must ask Him to pardon; for He’s told us to take no care for the morrow — C.S. Lewis

So is it true what they say?

That I can live a carefree, unfettered existence and not worry about a thing?

It seems so impossible, so irresponsible, so unlike me. What would my mind do if not eternally ruminating over nuances, scrutinizing interactions, infusing meaning into silences? What would I do with all that time?

You have the Creator of the Universe living inside of you. Every distraction, every anxiety, is designed to keep you from living a supernatural life based on that fact. Living in the rest of God empowers you to find the rest of what God has for you — Steve Thompson, from Colossians 1:28

So maybe that’s it. Rest. Remaining calm in the midst of chaos. Keeping the peace within at any cost, even if it means pulling away, closing my eyes, and breathing because it’s the most important thing in the world. Not fretting, not speculating, not analyzing, catastrophizing, obsessing, because my mind feels that if it’s not picking apart something it’s not being responsible.

Flip it the other way around. Maybe it’s the thinking that’s the problem, the nucleus of negativity, the kink in the system. Maybe being responsible means resting, slowing down, allowing love and light to fill the dark corners.

Maybe the absence of fear is peace, a wave unfurling on the shore.

let go, give in

Year of the Dragon & the Lioness

2012: Year of the Dragon

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day   — Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Happy New Year, friends from real life and the blogosphere!

Although we’re already well into the New Year, I’m still excited about the fresh start and anticipating the wonderful things to come. There’s nothing quite like a new year to remind you it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, to try new things, to make new goals.

I’m big into naming the year and then watching how it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: 2011 was named REINVENTION and reflecting back, it definitely was a year of reinvention on levels both physical and spiritual. A long-awaited for surgery reinvented my physical body and was literally transformed, resulting in a brand-new confidence and lack of shame I never had before. I also embarked on a lovely journey overseas, and learned that it’s true … travel changes you.

I read Sarah Ban Breathnach and Marianne Williamson and let their wise words transform how I looked at myself as a woman and someone of value. I got myself into the best shape I’ve ever been in my life (with a little help from the surgery, of course). I read so many books that changed my life. For months I wandered like a ship without a rudder, purposeless and directionless, feeling neither peaceful nor excited about my chosen career path. I had to hole up in the coffee shop and do some intense thinking, praying, and decision-making until I landed on a new choice, a new path, a new adventure. Schooling begins next week and I couldn’t be more excited!

I had to, like Ray Lamontagne sings, “look my demons in the eye, said do your best, destroy me.

Rest assured there will be more of that this year.

beautiful lioness

It’s funny how this year I haven’t settled on one specific word to name my year; rather, two images that keep appearing that resonate with me, for perhaps similar reasons.

Firstly, the dragon. It is the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese Zodiac, after all. Dragons are a complex mythological image depending on one’s background, but I’ve chosen to adapt them to a personal symbol for the damaging, unhealthy things in life that don’t need to be there (insecurity, negativity, catastrophizing situations) and the act of overcoming them.

This year, let’s slay those dragons, whether we’ve created them ourselves or if they’ve appeared on their own. Let’s be valiant, victorious, let’s rise up from out of the ashes and not let another year go by without conquering our fears and letting go of our baggage. Let’s be strong, shining, and joyful no matter the circumstance.

I’m particularly drawn to this verse:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights

–Habakkuk 3:17-19

The second image that resonates with me is the lioness, the fierce protector, the powerful female, the queen, the deafening roar of one awake to her calling. Wild, free, purposeful.

I’ll save elaboration for when I’ve fully grasped the meaning of the image, but in the meantime, I’m excited for what this new year will bring: for the adventures, the victories, the tales of bravery and boldness, the ways in which we all may slay our personal dragons and roar in the face of adversity.

It’s going to be one wild ride! Will you adventure with me?

Slow Down, Come Undone

stay awhile ...

It seems as though I need to revisit some of the important lessons I learned on my summer trip. I’ve become increasingly aware of the frantic pace of our lives here in Southern Ontario and it agrees with me less than it ever has before. Everyone’s always hurrying somewhere and multitasking and stressed out and cramming so many activities into their day that they wonder why they always feel agitated and confused and snappish and bleary-eyed and kinda sorta dead

I thrive in serenity; chaos makes me a zombie.

I’ve heard others say that when flying or driving into Ontario from other provinces, you can feel the stress and tension and  sense of go-go-go in the atmosphere. Whether or not you are spiritually sensitive or in tune with emotional climates, you can’t help but admit that we’re a stressed out bunch and it’s robbing us of our happiness, our liveliness, our peace, and ourselves.

We work, and we work, and we work, and we become mindless drones … For what? For more money? If money is the price we pay for our health, our sanity, and our wholeness, then clearly we must be doing something wrong.

I could slow down for a little while ...

I resent being part of a (capitalist) society that values my productivity and profit over my person, that is more interested in company loyalty than my company, that seeks capital over community, that would rather I become an exhausted, overwhelmed, eye-twitching, rash-skinned robot for the Almighty Dollar than an enthusiastic, peaceful, thriving, and alive individual with opinions and a pulse.

Something’s gotta give.

Surely we are more than our job descriptions, surely there’s more to our lives than what’s in our wallets and surely we’re valuable beyond how well we perpetuate the system.

We’re human beings, not commodities.

Yet this is not what I see. When I was traveling, I saw a different way of living that appealed to me. Even though these places were by no means third world or impoverished, they were still a lot less affluent than what I’m used to here. Wee villages in Scotland and Northern Ireland, somewhat remote, far from booming metropolises and the excitement of cities … there was something so laid-back and peaceful about those communities that made me feel like I belonged, like my heart was at rest and my soul at ease.

Now I’m back to the “real world,” and I have to tell you, I’ve lost a lot of what I learned there and I’m desperate to get it back. Life is so busy, so frantic with its false urgency and immediacy that I’m wondering if it’s all worth it. If our running around and doing is costing us our humanity.

words to live by

The other day I was outside of my work when an older woman tripped over a bike rack by Shoppers Drug Mart and fell. I went to help her up and make sure she was okay because I thought, you know, it’s a human instinct to help someone. Not so. What struck me is that there were a lot of people going in and out of Shoppers and no one stopped to help her, and if anyone working at Shoppers had seen her fall, no one came outside. When I told someone about this later, they replied, “Well of course not. No one wants to be liable and no one can afford to get sued.”

How sad is it that our jobs and our money mean more to us than someone’s health and wellness? But that is the selfish axis upon which the first world turns …

I’ve been noticing how much I can get sucked into the vacuum of personal prosperity and the self-absorption that can overcome me when preoccupied with my own busyness and bustling. I have less time to sit and enjoy an individual’s presence; when I’m at work I don’t make eye contact and am too focussed on getting things done as fast as possible to be more productive and procure more profit for the company (even though the company for which I work prides itself on genuine human interactions, it is still a massive corporation existing in a capitalist world which is a flaw within the system and not in the company itself); manners fall by the wayside; the smallest things annoy me; hurriedness breeds exhaustion which results in a perma-grumpy zombie.

And so I’ve resolved to slow down:

to make eye contact, to listen, to give someone the time of day, to get there when I get there, to relish small pleasures, to enjoy my food and beverages the way they were meant to be enjoyed instead of wolfing them down, to be a courteous and patient driver, to allow for silences, to study the clouds and the sky in the morning and in the evening, to listen to birdsong, to make time for myself, to say no, to not take on too many commitments just because I should but not because I really want to, to use my manners, to read the whole paper, to use proper grammar, to lessen my distractions, to give my full attention to one thing at a time, to not be overbooked, to take the scenic route, to smell the flowers, to sit quietly in stillness, to trust God’s timing in everything and strive just a little less each day.

And I also commit to frequently come undone:

to abandon all fear and stress and worry and distraction and to lose myself in poetry, in lines of verse that jump out and grab me, in absorbing novels, in cloud formations, in bodies of water, in the sound of wind, in perfectly orchestrated moments … and most of all, in sweet music that embalms the soul.

Last night I listened to Ray Lamontagne, eyes closed on my bed with the lights out and my arms outstretched. It was the most healing thing I could have done on a Friday night after a work week that kicked the crap out of me, and it made me feel a little more connected to myself and things that matter more than money.

Looking for the Great Escape

I need a vacation.

"trouble been doggin' my soul since the day I was born ..."

I feel like, in admitting that, I will elicit the response Jerry Seinfeld gives when the unemployed George Costanza announces he’s going to the Cayman Islands: “What? You’re going on vacation? What do you need a vacation from — getting up at 11 a.m.?”

(For the record, on my days off, I usually get up at 8:30 a.m., which isn’t nearly as indulgent as 11 a.m.!)

Even though I haven’t gotten a lot of hours so far at the new job and the freelance thing is slow going, I’m mentally drained from the anxiety — and thus, the physical exhaustion — that a genuine, full-blown quarter life crisis brings. Anxiety has, since I was a kid, been that tireless pest waiting in the wings whenever the smallest of crises arises, blowing it up to exaggerated, breath-reducing, stomach-twisting proportions. “Worry just will not seem to leave my mind alone,” Ray Lamontagne sings in the song “Trouble,” and I heartily concur.

However, I never intended this blog to be the place where I vent my emotional frustrations — that’s what my personal, for-my-eyes-only journal is for, and I’m much more guarded than that! (One of my friends is always saying I’m a closed book and I must say I really love that in a way!)  So I will leave you with some quotes, verses, and poems that have been nourishing my ruminating mind …

gleaning wisdom from multiple sources

“There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything” — Gandhi (found on my sister’s fridge)

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life” –1 Peter 5:7, from The Message Bible

“Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one fine pillow” — Philip Gulley

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow” — Mary Anne Radmacher

sometimes, like the Cowardly Lion, we forget we're the kings of the forest

” […] Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you” — R.S. Thomas, from “The Bright Field”

“So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you larger than any you’ve ever seen, if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows moves over your hands and everything you do. You must realize that something has happened to you; that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hands and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you” — Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

“None of us is immune to the pain of rejection, but the more we grow in maturity and self-worth, the less likely we are to take it personally. When we acknowledge that rejection is not an indictment of our being, but an experience we must all face again and again if we put ourselves out there, rejection becomes easier to bear. The only sure way to avoid rejection is to sit mute in a corner and take no risks. If we choose to live courageously, we will experience rejection — and survive to show up for more” — Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. from Fear and Other Uninvited Guests

Now live courageously my friends. Hold your heads up high and when life knocks you down, remind yourself who you are and get back up again. And again. And again and again.

You’ve Got the Music in You

i got by with a little help from my iPod

A friend of mine recently tagged me in a Facebook meme with the following directions:

For every year (well almost every year) of your life there should be an album, a song or simply a beat that helped to form you and who you are. Take a few minutes and a trip down memory lane. Think of the top albums that define you. The order is up to you.

I thought I’d take a few moments to think about the albums that have made me … me, and it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be!

Without further ado:

  1. Jesus Freak, DC Talk (1995) — At 10 years of age, this album showed me that Christian music can be edgy and meaningful.  It was an eye-opening moment.
  2. Morning View, Incubus (2001) — My friends and I were absolutely nutty for Incubus (and Brandon Boyd, let’s be honest!) in high school. Especially the zen final track, “Aqueous Transmission,” which we listened to on repeat one weekend.
  3. O, Damien Rice (2001) — I bought this album on a whim without having ever heard him and his gorgeous Irish voice. I am so, so glad I did!
  4. Trouble, Ray Lamontagne (2004) — I was browsing Indigo in the Annex one night when they played this album and I fell head over heels in love.  Lamontagne’s voice is the equivalent of taking a long, hot shower after a tiring day. I want to curl up inside it and live in there forever.
  5. The Best of 1980-1990, U2 (1998) — My sister has to be credited with introducing me to one of the greatest bands of all time. Seriously. Where would we be without “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “With or Without You,” or “All I Want is You?”
  6. Hopes and Fears, Keane (2004) — It’s not that they’re the most talented band ever, but this album just always takes me back to the awkward transition between working at Mr. Sub and beginning my first year of university at York.
  7. Simple Things, Zero 7 — My brother tried getting me into downtempo, trip-hop, ambient music back in high school when I stubbornly refused to accept that computers and groove boxes could make music. Then I saw that sublime scene where this song is playing in Garden State and was converted.
  8. The Amélie soundtrack, composed by Yann Tiersen — One of my favourite movies ever with a largely piano-driven soundtrack. Pure love. Perfect music to write to!
  9. The Les Miserables soundtrack, composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg (1980) — In the seventh grade, our music teacher introduced us to the Les Miserables musical and we studied the musical score. “Do You Hear the People Sing?” Yes, indeed!
  10. 1, The Beatles compilation (2000; features #1 singles from 1962-1970) — This just goes without saying.
  11. For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (2008) — A coworker at The Brock Press had this album playing one afternoon and from the moment I heard “Flume,” I had found my new favourite band. The perfect companion to winter blahs.
  12. Absolution, Muse (2004) — That operatic voice! The highly theatrical melody! High-octane drama! This album is only for the intensely passionate.
  13. Diorama, Silverchair (2002) — I got into Silverchair a little late, and although most would argue “Diorama” is their worst album and the lyrics really don’t make any sense, it helped me get through a really monotonous and depressing job at a factory one summer.
  14. White Ladder, David Gray (1998) — A personal album that is important to me for personal reasons. Always takes me back to my first year of university, which was a pretty weird time.
  15. No Need to Argue, The Cranberries (1994) — Would I be the same person if I hadn’t heard “Zombie” way back when in the room of my friend’s cooler, older brother? I think not.
  16. Mezzamorphis, Delirious? (1999) — I saw them in concert in Scotland but loved them even before that. A Christian worship band with teeth.
  17. The Garden State soundtrack, hand-picked by Zach Braff (2004) — This album introduced me to Zero 7, The Shins, Frou Frou, and Iron & Wine. Thanks, Zach Braff!
  18. Funeral, The Arcade Fire (2004) — I had borrowed my older brother’s iPod when I decided to take up jogging for like, a month. Hearing “Rebellion (Lies)” provided me with the extra oomph to keep going.
  19. Let it Die, Feist (2001) — Another personal album which takes me back to my first year at York.
  20. Parachutes, Coldplay (2000) — Do you remember the first time you heard “Yellow” by Coldplay? I was at my aunt’s for Christmas and she had this playing on her computer. Melt. I think my wretched roommate from York stole my Parachutes album which still kind of sucks.
  21. Grace, Jeff Buckley (1994) — I got into Buckley a little late and definitely after his death. This album contains some of his best, such as “Last Goodbye,” the first song of his I ever heard, and “Lilac Wine.”
  22. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT (2007) — It started with the infectious “Kids” and the accompanying music video (I think I’m in love with the guy painted like a tiger), but I was definitely won over with “Electric Feel.” This album makes me want to dance. Always.
  23. Twice Removed, Sloan (1994) — Another high school album for me, and one of those rare albums where you love absolutely every freaking song. I wanted to marry Patrick.
  24. Dummy, Portishead (1994) — Again, I got into Portishead past their prime but they remain one of my all-time favourite bands. Their mathematical precision combined with haunting beauty on tracks like “Roads” make me feel a bit weak in the knees.
  25. OK Computer, Radiohead (1997) — My love for Radiohead really took off in my second year of university at York when it was cool to sit around and philosophize and listen to bands like Bjork and Massive Attack and Radiohead. “Karma Police” sing-alongs ftw!

Okay, well even though I’m 24, technically I’ve been on this planet for 25 years!

Doing this experiment has taught me two things: a) I have great taste, but you already knew that!; and b) 1994 sure was a great year for music!

DisCOVERing Beauty

"You could have it all ... my empire of dirt"

"You could have it all ... my empire of dirt"

This post follows a conversation my boyfriend and I had recently about songs where the cover is better than the original.  I believe we were talking about Johnny Cash’s powerful cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, recorded just prior to his death.  As one YouTube viewer commented, “Trent Reznor sings the song like someone who wants to die, whereas Cash sings it like someone who knows he’s going to die.” 

In case you haven’t heard Cash’s haunting version and seen the goosebump-inducing music video, take a look:

This discussion led me to consider other songs in which the cover is somehow better than the original or it adds another layer or element that brings depth to the song.  These instances are the exceptions, however, since most covers that are played on the radio absolutely murder the original (Karl Wolf’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” comes to mind, as well as Divine Brown’s cover of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night, to name a few).  I also once heard an electro-pop cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and wanted to throw up.  But sometimes, a cover just gets it right. 

Here are some of the best:

—  “Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley, covered by Ray Lamontagne:

I want to curl up inside of Ray Lamontagne’s voice and sleep there forever.  Arguably one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard.  I’ve always loved this song, despite the fact that it was overplayed on the radio when it was released.  It was one of those songs with a funky, retro feel that made it seem like a song you’ve heard before, somewhere even though it was new.  Lamontagne’s acoustic version, with his smoky vocals, add a poignancy to the surprisingly profound lyrics that you may have missed in the original. 

Scottish hottie Paolo Nutini also does a bang-up job in his lovable, quirky little way:

I want to marry him.  Sorry, boyfriend!  (Jokes)

—  “To Love Somebody” by The Bee Gees, covered by Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne:

It doesn’t get any better than this.  Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne.  When Meg showed me this, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.  My Irish love, Damien, who has one of the most passionate voices and sings with every fibre of his being, performing with Ray’s soft, soulful voice.  Pure perfection. 

—  “Creep” by Radiohead, covered by Damien Rice (song only, no video):

Maybe it’s because I love acoustic covers or maybe it’s because I just friggin’ love Damien Rice, but this version just does it for me every time.  Listen to Damien’s passionate howling in the bridge.  When I first heard this cover, I had to make everyone in the room be quiet so I could fully absorb this song.  It’s best experienced with your eyes closed.

—  “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2, covered by Damien Rice (you might have to turn up the volume because it’s quiet at first):

Yes, Damien Rice again.   My Irish folksinger could sing the phone book and make it sound like heaven on earth.  I am more of a retro U2 fan than a new U2 fan, because songs like this as well as “One,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “With or Without You” and “Pride” have so much raw emotion and speak so earnestly about grappling with spiritual issues.  Damien’s beautifully transparent voice only adds another layer of humanity to the song about the constant search and mystery of life.

—  “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, covered by Rufus Wainwright:

Leonard Cohen can write a song like nobody’s business.  He truly is one of the best poets of this era.  However, like Bob Dylan, he is much better writing music than he is singing it.  Canadian Wainwright is my favourite musician to cover this song because of his melodic, almost operatic voice and the tragic quality he brings to the song strewn with Biblical references (Samson, David, etc.)

—  “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, covered by Judy Collins:

Another Cohen cover.  While Cohen’s original is kind of monotone and the repeated pattern of the classic folk song gets a little (I hate to say it) boring, folk goddess Judy Collins transforms the gorgeous lyrics into gold with her pure, angelic voice.  Even though she’s a bit older here, she’s still a songbird in every respect.

—  “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young, covered by Cassandra Wilson:

This is the cover I told you to download in a previous entry.  I admire Neil Young as a Canadian musician, but he has a really annoying voice, I’m sorry to say.  I first heard this cover in the movie My Blueberry Nights and had to play it before I fell asleep.  The sound effects and night noises in the background turn this lovely song into a lullaby.

And here are some more that I can think of at the top of my head:

—  “Heartbeats” by The Knife, covered by Jose Gonzales

—  “Wild is the Wind” by Nina Simone, covered by Cat Power

—  “Kids” by MGMT, covered by The Kooks (not better than the original, but still cool in its own right)

—  “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, covered by Muse

—  “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan, covered by Jimi Hendrix

—  “Goin’ to Acapulco” by Bob Dylan, covered by Jim James from My Morning Jacket and Calexio (as seen in the movie I’m Not There — Jim James is dressed up like a clown and singing at a funeral)

Are there any I’ve missed?