“Oh, Death!”/Liner notes for the album, “Slow Trauma”

Slow TraumaSlowTrauma Cover

In the “old days,” they were called liner notes;
You know: Those written extrapolations an artist would offer about his or her new album.

As a kid, drums were my first instrument. They were learned in a dusty basement with a stack of old LPs, my first real school-room;
And liner notes? (the ones complete with the who played what?)
I thought they were the coolest thing on earth.
I still do.

Many of you know, I like writing about what’s “behind the work;”
A peering through the cracked window into the collection of songs;
You know, the inspiration, the etcetera, etcetera…

I suppose in a day and age, where fewer and fewer people read, it’s all just a vain exercise now. Selfish perhaps.
For me? Maybe, it’s just my little way of scrawling out: “Kilroy was here.”
(A fascinating historical sidebar: Kilroy was presumably an American soldier in WWII, who inscribed his presence here and there across Europe on things like Church steeples or walls, as the Allies liberated Nazi held territories. Get this: No one knows where it originated or who he (or she) was.

C’est la Vie & so be it…

“Slow Trauma” is the name of the new one. It drops/releases on 3.15.16.
It’s getting close to something like album #80 for me…
Kilroy has been here a few times

Sure, it’s an Americana record. And an “honest-to-God” Rock & Roll record, too.
That’s what I do.
That’s the “genre” where I feel most comfortable in my “musical skin.”

It’s also, very much a record about Death.
Let me explain…

I always felt the world was “off axis.” Not “the thing it should be.”
I knew early on “I” was part of the problem, as well.
And of course, good people, friends, loved ones “leave the party too soon…”
(“How’s that again?”)

For me anyway, doctrines like “The Fall of Man” mattered a lot. I gravitated there in an effort to make sense of it all…
In a very existential way they mattered.
It matters not whether such concepts be rooted in ancient history or deeply accurate mythology; Such doctrines are our attempt to explain how “modern man” has gotten “from A to B;” You know: How we arrived (in our oh-so-enlightened modernity) at this point on the timeline.

Arrived. Arrived here. Arrived in the “now.”
Arrived confused, beleaguered & deviled;
Our spirits permeated with a kind of numbness, wrapped in a kind of spiritual lethargy, stunted; Arrived cold & weary.
Arrived as a race of people given to fear, greed, cruelty. Garnished with a lust for violence and domination.
Its been going on forever…For. Ever.
No, we’re not so very modern after all, really.

Death. Cessation.
A component of my interior world.
I feel like I’ve been staring it down in one form or another all of my life.
I’ve been “institutional material” once or twice.
It has certainly shaped my melancholy temperament and driven my art in noticeable ways.

I know some movements across the spectrum of human history have glorified it, romanticized it, even reveled in it…
Death. What’s to revel in?
Me? I don’t see it that way. At all.
I think it’s more like an aberration.
A blasphemy.
God, damn it. (That’s a prayer. Not an expletive.)

The idea of the cessation of life has haunted me ever since I was oh, 7 or 8 years old.
Too young to feel or sense guilt about anything, as far as I remember.
Later on, I did heavy-duty “homework” on the Christian Faith.
And yes. I converted. It was a few moments, days of indescribable joy & confidence…
And then it all vanished in the shame of failures. Maybe it was my complete unfamiliarity and naivete of what the spiritual life was all about.
One’s prayers feel like they hit the ceiling and fall to the floor.
Guilt makes one alone and silent.
A babe lost in the woods…

I studied the Life of Jesus, the Lord, the Savior; I still do.
Learned about the Church’s history, it’s beauty, it’s heinous failures, it’s claims, and promises.

For me, the question was: How does one reconcile that tension/fear of death with it’s visceral dynamic with the hope of Christ’s Resurrection and it’s promise of our own?
I don’t know.

But, this is all too esoteric, isn’t it…?
I’ll play my hand.
I was always “weighed & found wanting.”
The unequivocal mood of my interior life? Feelings of damnation.
Like some dark beast crouching in the corner of my consciousness, it was almost always “there.” Watching, waiting, unrelenting.
I spent years struggling with the deeper aspects of Mercy & Forgiveness, mostly because, from day one, I felt so unworthy of any of it…and because my own “holiness” has always been crap anyway. I struggle to “see myself” as even remotely redeemable.
No “gussying-up” any of this.
(Recently, I’m wondering if it’s the “raw data” of good songs…
Well, at least the kind of songs I like write.)

The state of my soul has always been one of disarray and doubt;
Grievous sin and inconsistency.
And, I mention this, because the state of one’s soul has always been irrevocably linked to death and the hereafter.
The solution, in Christianity, has always been the Cross of Christ and the defeat of Death itself in his Resurrection.
That’s the Creed’s declaration.
My ability to grasp these beautiful truths by faith, to see oneself as a forgiven child of God, has always felt elusive.
Perhaps, i was/am still trying to “earn it.”

Still, the visible Church (it seems to me) often spends much of her time putting boundaries on just how far and to whom the Cross of Christ reaches; boundaries on just how far His Mercy reaches and how efficacious His Grace is.
No wonder eyes roll and hearts despair.

I must tell the whole truth, however:
On my “better days,” I have no doubts.
Well, fewer.
Love Wins,
Grace Triumphs
And that we’re all made Whole.
And I do mean “ALL.”
Every. One.
“He Is Risen,” goes the Easter liturgy.
And you & I, the stumbling, wayward congregation of the spiritually poor, blind, sin-sick and lame respond:
“He Is Risen, Indeed!”
I’m there.

So: All of this interior turmoil & wrangling?
What of it?
It’s the stuff of songs, I think.
It’s been just under the skin, or right out in the open of almost every song I’ve ever written; some 1500 in all, I think…
Cheap therapy, I say…

Slow Trauma. No, not all gloom & darkness…
I promise.
Sonically, I went for a ragged elegance; layered guitars, lyrical vulnerability…and rock & roll;
And yes, I think it has a few transcendent moments.
At some point (in the face of the all the “absurdity” that manifest in this thing we call Life) I think one just has to say with Julian of Norwich, that great mystic who was so not a part of her century: “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be most well.”

Slow Trauma
Hope & Joy do come up in the “plus column.”
But, that’s AFTER the wrestling & wrangling.
Wrestling and wrangling. Through the feelings of hopelessness & damnation.
“That’s what faith is all about, Charlie Brown.” ~ St. Linus

There is so very much I have to rejoice in; so much to be thankful for.
The gift of writing songs, playing instruments is, making records is perhaps, my favorite.
And yes, I see it coming very much “from the hands of the Lord.”
He know before my birth even, that i would need this gift to survive and make some sense of the fallen skin i live in in an all-too-fallen world.
He knew and provided and that is Jesus’ Mercy, as well.

You make certain peace with the fact of your own mortality; and your own sad, stumbling, “lacking-in-courage-humanity” at some point.
Why was I the last to know about my own “Judas skin” that I’m so comfortably living in?
At some point, you’re not surprised at yourself anymore.

But, really now?
An album that explores some of that?
I dunno how you ‘sell” that, but that’s what it is.
Then again, I hardly sell any records anymore anyway.

I can bring You nothing. Never have, mostly likely never will.
But, sometimes, sometimes I have these “better angels of our nature” days…
I’m Yours, Lord, if You’ll have me.

Slow Trauma.
Life beckons. You only get the day, one day at a time…
And the world? It is starving and hurting.
Best get about doing one’s part to lessen the grief.
Do your part, in your corner and among your friends, to kick at the darkness and at death itself.

That’s some of what this album is about…
“Kilroy was here.”

bill mallonee
Lent 2016

MAYBE, I’D RISK IT ALL (Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan)

MAYBE, I’D RISK IT ALL (Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan)
by: bill mallonee

(This is a brief essay serving as liner notes on the release of a new album of mine called “New York State of Mind”)

I wrote these songs recently with the grandest city of them all in mind, and that of course is New York City. Songwriters are drawn to the places that inspire. Places that offer solace. Places that offer diversity, even incongruity. And sometimes, because cities can be so harsh, they serve to throw such things as love & beauty & acts of kindness you find there into sharper relief. I saw it on the road quite often.
And, as a songwriter, I can never think about the City of Cities without thinking of Bob Dylan.

There will never be another, you know?
Dylan. The most golden of our national treasures.
Not that he needs them or that they do any good, but I find myself praying for Dylan.
I’m not even sure why.

Words fail. They fall impotent to the dusty ground when trying to describe the impact of Dylan on modern music…
I feel that way about even attempting to name the impact on my own spirit as a songwriter.
We all walk in his shadow.
Greenwich Village 1961.
Here we are 55 years later.

Why has he been the guiding star for so many of us?
That ever “moving target?” That pop culture icon of immense proportions; that infuriating, seemingly feckless artist, who played for no crowd or trend, and never “adjusted” his art to please a critic nor ever kissed their feet?

There is quite likely, given the magnitude of his work and personality, no one who could ever answer that question exhaustively.

I can only answer for myself:
He made rock & roll smart. Intelligent. Lyrically transcendent.
It called to deeper truths.
He was the first to discern and then promulgate through rock & roll the basic truth of life: That behind all the world’s issues, even in it’s most obvious manifestations of power, war, greed and betrayals (and even deeper within our individual selves) that there is a void filled only by something larger, something spiritual and something lasting.

His “predecessors” look more like the Hebrew prophets he no doubt read from as a young man.

But, he was also crafty in his tact.
Flash your card, but never completely show it.
Tip your hat, but never shake hands.
He’s spent his whole life infuriating & confusing every group, or sect, or trend that wanted to “own” him.
I absolutely love that about Bob Dylan.

That and the fact that he rarely, if at all, ever spoke in code.
His art is filled with a sobriety and substance that is generous, direct, immediate.
He delivered the goods with dignity and a touch of humor.
Again, just like the Hebrew prophets.

The young man shows up in to New York town in Jan. of 1961. He visits Woody Guthrie, the greatest American troubadour of conscience who is dying of Huntington’s disease at Greystone State Park hospital.
Dylan meets Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, too. In February ’61 he blows into Greenwich Village. Sleeping here, sleeping there, bumming gigs and food, and hitting open mics. His sound and approach subtly began to change. He “finds his voice.”
And he senses his audience. Very important for any performer.

Gradually, he transforms himself into a different kind of “folkie.”
He soaks up every bookish thing he can read the back cover of, digests it, references it, internalizes it, integrates it and radiates it in this new music. Enter John Hammond & Columbia records. Enter manager-shark Albert Grossman.
The vineyard is fresh. The earth, the nation itself, is warm with possibilities.
The fruit just beginning to show. All is pregnant with expectancy.
The sun is just rising…It’s a new world.

And it’s learning how to listen for the first time.
…and Bob Dylan is there, poised and ready.

He “upped-the-ante” for rock & roll; set the cross-bar higher. I’m not sure it’s ever been touched since then, really. If Kerouac taught exploded words, feelings & images on the page, then Bob Dylan did the same over the air-waves of America.

Even then? There was no straight, consistent line to stardom, even less when it came to discerning his popularity. He played a few songs for the voter registrars, crooned a few more for the peace-freaks and then moved on; he got the hell out of Woodstock when the hippies showed up for the fest.

Dug on Jesus for a few records…and then distanced himself from what he perceived as a narrow, shallow, even apostate Church…
Retreating back into solitude & mystery.
Ever the prophet. Ever “cat & mouse.”

None of it. None of the getting from “A” to “B” and then moving through the paces of these 50 past years could have been easy.
His is a well that seemingly never runs dry…
There will never be another.

Maybe that’s why I pray for him…
That’s just a little bit of a window into this record.

No, I’ve never met him.
But, there’s hardly a time when i don’t pick up a guitar and think:
“This is what Bob gave us all the “right” to do and how to do it.”

There are those who have to play by the rules and those who make them. Bob Dylan made the rules…and makes them still.
The man is a remarkable human, Giant and Genius in a genre that boasts very few of those.

New York City.
It was Dylan’s “nursery;” His “proving ground.”
The City that more than any other embraced his genius and his art…and still does…

The art he made, the way he delivered it, the boundaries he broke to say what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it…
Every singer-songwriter owes him their life in some way.

No. I’ve never met him and he’s likely never heard of me.
I’d like to speak with him, of course.
It’d would all be stumbling and stammering on my part.
And, sure, he’s heard it all before.
But, perhaps he’d be benevolent and surrender a minute of his time.

And what I’d want to say is this:
“Thank you. Thank you so very much for your songs; for your journey, for who you are.
It couldn’t have been easy, I’m sure…
But, it has all meant so very, very much to me…
And “Thank You” for giving me “permission” to do what I do.”

And maybe, if no one was within earshot, I’d risk it all.
I’d smile and say: “Hey, man, I pray for you.”
And maybe, he’d return the smile.

And I’d hope he’d understand…

bill mallonee
New York State of Mind/Feb. 2016