The “Audible Sigh” Years Vigilantes of Love 1997-2001

*****The Audible Sigh Years*****

An historic record;

21 songs produced by Buddy Miller & Bill Mallonee at: www.billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com

21 songs produced by Buddy Miller & Bill Mallonee at: http://www.billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com


A blistering band.
A brief reminiscence.

“You pick up an instrument. You wrestle it. Then, you learn to tap the inside and turn it outward. You find your voice, your “nomenclature” for telling your part of the story…and then you start to dream a bit….”
How do you know when you’re making history?
17 years ago I made an album. It was called “Audible Sigh.”
Sure: A grim title in some ways. Such had been our experience as rock & roll “band in a van” for the 2 years leading up to walking into Buddy Miller’s studio in Nashville.
We were on the verge; all the variables in place, we thought.
I had the songs. We were an undeniable band with years of experience on the road.. And yet, and yet…
We made a great record. In 3 weeks we recorded 21 songs.
Killed it.

Folks still talk about it.
Critics went nuts over it.

The whole experience changed my life.
It’s still changing it in ways I never imagined.
In some place, deep within, i will always be “walking wounded” because of those 4 years (1997-2000) with 3 of the coolest musicians in the world.
Produced by Buddy Miller & myself, it featured many a guest appearance. (Emmylou Harris, Julie & Buddy Miller, Brady Blade, & Kevin Heuer). 
But at the core? It was always about 4 guys.
Guitarist Ken Hutson, bassist Jake Bradley, drummer Kevin Heuer and myself.
“Audible Sigh” was celebrated by many a critic as one of the best Americana records of the 90’s. 
It still continues to make “best of” lists.

The band was on the potential verge of it’s biggest break through. 
We’d laid the foundation via diligent, heavy touring and 2-3 albums a year. We worked hard against overwhelming odds.
The 150 or so songs I’d written during this period were visceral, raw, tough, tender, full of soul, spirt and post punk energy; 
And they were well-played, night after night, by Kenny, Jake, Kevin and myself.
Through 4 albums and an EP, from 1998-2001. 
We made many friends. Many of them here on this newsletter.
We are still very grateful for each of you.
It was a surreal & strange 4 years. 
Through the albums Roof of the Sky, Audible Sigh, Electromeo, ‘Cross the Big Pond and Resplendent/Audibly “Live” what I continually hear is a band that is hungry & alive. Immediate and relevant.
and giving it’s all.
Our repertoire was nearly 100 songs. That’s an amazing set for any band. Each of those those gentlemen (Ken, Jake & Kevin) were, and still are, my heroes.
But, looking back? I honestly think I saw the “writing on the wall,” at least far as the outcome goes. Life “owes” no one anything.
You pick up an instrument. You wrestle it. You learn to tap the inside and turn it outward. You find your voice, your nomenclature for telling your part of the story…
…and then you learn and then you start to dream a bit. Then you work hard, often against insurmountable odds…and slowly you start to see, feel, believe that it could “go to the next level.”
But, no one can do it all alone.

So MANY of you here on this list were there. You pulled, encouraged and prayed for us. You bought lots of records. We’re grateful.
Thank You all.
So many promises made to us from “the industry.”
From labels, to managers, to booking agents. 
In the end? 
All lies. Lies characterized by incompetence & neglect; flippancy and short-views on their part. 
When you realize that people with small views and tin-ears are dictating your future? 
Well, it was bordering of nightmarish.
We soldiered on a bit, post 2000, but, as I said above: the writing seemed to be on the wall.
Bands live in vans. 
We were on the road 200 shows a year.
We laughed. We joked. We fought. Ate, drank, slept. 
Fought through weariness and depression.
Rejoiced. 
Immersed in the backdrop & glory of the four seasons of this great country, we bonded.
We looked after each other. 
We were family.
And then it was gone…

Musically? 
I think we knew what we had was big magic. Night after night, under the most adverse, discouraging circumstances, this was a band that delivered; Delivered raw, heart-on-sleeve America-roots music with passion & spirit. 
Me? I rarely saw what VoL delivered equaled by any of the more “resourced,” “successful” acts.

They say life is risk. 
So there’s a life risked for a 4 year span.
The highest elation. Filigreed with transcendent moments…
and, in the end, the deepest despairs. 
By the end of 2001 it was in shambles and all over. 
Irreplaceable.
To be honest? I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten over it. 
I’ve never put so much trusting energy into people or anything in my life. 
VoL
”rest in peace”

17 years down the stretch, since Audible Sigh, and I’m never sure anymore if what we do here counts for anything anymore. Is it only in our youths that there were days when all seems like a dream; but dreams real enough to be charged with a sense of purposefulness and hallowed-ness?

Never have I seen since or been part of something driven by so much hope, expectation and sheer “pluck.”
I wept inside for years after it was over.

“Perspective, old chum! For God’s sake man, pull yourself together!”
Forgive me…
I got to write songs people still sing. I made an album that, I think, still sounds better to be in the Americana word than 99% of what passes for country-alt today.
I was allowed to “open a vein,” to invest heart & soul in each performance on every stage all across this country and in the UK.
As a band, we got to make magic, transcend a bit of time, and maybe even move to the fringes of something bordering the Eternal…
We’ve all heard of near death experiences.
Perhaps these were “near life experiences…”

Or maybe “perspective,”is dropping back to sheer material reality.
Life Good. Life bad…
Life in it’s wondrous incongruity.

Who knows? Who cares?
It’s my little part of the story
I’m proud of it all; 

proud of VoL;

proud of my friends; 

proud of our fans.
As the old standard goes:
Thanks for the memories…

~ bill

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“THIS IS THE PART WHERE WE KISS GOOD~BYE” (An album release and essay on selling a guitar)

“This Is The Part Where We Kiss Good~Bye”/WPA vol.17 by Bill MalloneeTHIS IS THE PART WHERE WE KISS GOOD~BYE_2
Old songs. New versions.
What to say? Many of you know my “perpetual ritual” of selling gear to keep “wolf from door.” All of this comes with the territory of being an indie artist. No surprises, really.
You learn there are no guarantees in this world…But, that alone becomes the “raw data” of songs, in my book…

I had to part with the “Killing Floor” guitar a few years back. (“Killing Floor” was an album that “broke” the band I was in at the time to a national level.Vigilantes of Love” was a plucky/indie folk-rock phenom at the time)
The guitar? An old Takimine. Nothing vintage or spendy…but to me?
Well, by the end, I’d probably had written 1000 songs on “her.” C’est la Vie.
Anyway: The WPA recordings have been the moniker I’ve used for some 22 EP/albums. These are new versions of songs that were standard stock hits” for my band Vigilantes of Love in the first few years. They’ve remained in the set list almost perpetually. They’re also some of the most auto-biographical songs I’d written up to that point…

Tools of the trade:
All done on a 4 Tracks recorder. The WPA (stands for Works (in) Progress Administration) records have been characterized, generally, by lots of immediacy; in the moment renderings, with a heavy emphasis on lyrics & an adventurous spirit on the guitar arrangements.
Now you know.
SO: Before i shipped the guitar off to it’s new owner, I re-recoded some of the “hits.” They all went to different places. Hope you’ll dig it.
Below is the track list AND a short essay I sent forth as a bit of a eulogy for an instrument who treated me well…
Enjoy, if you have time…
Grace,
bill
AMERICA, AMERICA 05:41,
JUDAS SKIN 05:16,
ANDERSONVILLE 05:01,
RUN THROUGH MY VEINS 05:25
PARTING SHOT 05:55,
JUDAS SKIN (alt mix) 05:16
AMERICA, AMERICA (alt mix) 05:41,
RUN THROUGH MY VEINS (alt mix) 05:25,
PARTING SHOT (alt mix) 05:55

~ Shaking Hands With The Past ~
Dear fans, friends, & the just plain curious,
I hope you will enjoy, “where these songs went,” as i played them one last time on this guitar that has become a dear friend of mine..
This guitar was responsible for how part of myself was born, nurtured and formed. From that stand point, it’s really not anything epic. But the fact that, like a prospector’s pick, it tapped a part of me that’s “birthed” over 1000 songs is well, pretty unique.
Here’s how the guitar & I met:
The legendary Mike Guthrie (Athens, Ga.’s only vintage instrument dealer) called me one day in the summer of 1991. “i know you’re playing more acoustic these days,” he said, so i think you should get down here and see what just came in.”
As it turned out a Univ. of Ga. music school student had just come into the store and sold his Takimine acoustic guitar. “It’s perfect for you,” mike said. “It has a great pick-up, great tone…and it best of all? It looks good one you.”
At a “slightly used instrument” price, i walked with it that day.
I had just started an off-shoot band called Vigilantes of Love. (Athens scene musicians were always playing in side projects in those days. VoL was myself, accordion player Mark Hall with an occasional guest appearance by harmonica player, John Evans. It was initially & thoroughly an acoustic project, a detour away from my more electric/pop band “The Cone Ponies. I’d been writing at a rate of about 50-60 songs a year for the previous 4 years. Most of those early songs were written on an old 6-string National dreadnought. (It was then quickly adapted to a paisley-pink Fender telecaster (ooh la-la!) and played electric.
But, this new Takimine was my first “serious” acoustic guitar. With the acquisition of the “Tak” my writing seemed to move into a different sort of world. The guitar was very playable. It enabled me to explore technique and alternate tunings. It allowed a world of ease when writing, rehearsing and playing “live.” All of those variables combined with everything I was listening to in those early days. I relished the tone and immediacy of Dylan’s early acoustic records; was enthralled by the warmth and technique of a player like Neil Young on his epic album, “Harvest;” I was smitten by the simplicity and tender beauty of Tom Waits rendering “Time, Time, Time.”
These “influences” combined with two other dynamics. The first was that of the energy of the early Athens Music scene (still fledgling in 1990.)
VoL’s club was not the “Fabulous 40 Watt” nor the “Uptown Lounge.” Our watering hole was the small but vibrant subterranean “Downstairs Cafe,” located on Clayton street.
It was here that Mark & I previewed countless songs that would eventually surface on the albums “Jugular,” “Driving The Nails,” “Killing Floor.” There were at least another 50 or songs we played. I was writing up till the time of a show frequently.
(Sorry, no recordings exist of those works.)
We were, quite often, selling out two shows a night on weekends….but then again, the cafe could only hold 40 folks at a time. This was 1991-1992, folks…
Still, for someone who never felt embraced by the hipper “powers that be” in the Athens scene, it was affirming enough.
And so: Nothing breeds success like success.
It is significant that this is where i first, marked out my ritual of “write it, play it “live” asap, record it…and take it on tour.”
I’ve done that now for 50 plus albums over 22 years.
Armed with my sweat-drenched Takimine, and some “fake-swagger-as-a-coping-mechanism-for-my- shyness,” it truly felt like new worlds were opening up to me both as a writer & as a performer. That guitar, it’s feel, it’s tone, and it’s growing-song-by-song-relationship, enabled me to write about all that was sad & fractured in my world; and all that was possibly hallowed and beautiful.
Maybe something buried within, needed a “nomenclature” to be brought to the light & rendered less destructive to me.
That guitar was that tool for such an excavation.
SO: When I tell people that the guitar was “something like a salvation” I am not joking.
Guitars are funny. They are beautiful, as well.
Although they are “things,” this guitar became a friend.
“She” was on almost every album. I could pull it out of the case & instinctively “know” that something GOOD was going to happen.
Whether that “Good” came in the form of a new song, some new little technical flourish or a gateway to a new set lyrics, it became (to me) a loyal & trusted friend.
It “turned the inside out.”
I now believe that’s what a good instrument is for.
~ “HERE’S THE PART WHERE WE KISS GOOD~BYE” ~
Recently, the guitar (which as most of you know) had to be sold. It was sold to stare down impending financial crises. Such crises have been a constant issue for me for near a decade now.
Maybe that’s just the life of a troubadour.
Was i pushed or did i jump?
who cares, really.
I suspect i was “chosen” by the vocation as much as i think i did the choosing.”

I’m doing “life without parole,” you know?
All I have to “offer” are the songs. And I have amazing, incredible fans. They’ve ‘been there” for me, through thick & thin…
They still listen to songs & music as if it matters.
On those 2 strengths, I have attempted to run something of a “cottage industry” outside the supposedly “real” industry.
And while I have had great “ink” spilled on my work for many years, it’s never made for anything like financial stability.
I
dunno. Maybe, I don’t have the “killer” instinct and maybe that’s what it takes to “make it” in the music world.
I’ve also heard about getting such things as getting a “big break.”
Sometimes it felt like showing up at the ball park, with my glove and bat and uniform, but never being chosen to play on the team.
There’s only so much of “reality,” if any one can control.
What to do?
Simple: You start your own league…
Me?
It was always about the love of the song and it’s recording. And never about the “game” of “making it” in the music biz.
Or at least I got over the “biz” part of it early on. It seemed to be peopled by a lot of “soul-less” shakers & movers & poseurs. I/we distanced ourselves from that as far as possible early on…right into oblivion.
75 some records later, “oblivion” and i are on a first name basis
I love what I’ve done and i still love what I do.
But, it has been extremely hard and (i won’t lie to you) often bitter.
I find myself struggling (like many, many people in these changing times) to just barely pay the bills.
This is NOT whining, I assure you.
Just an observation; A taking of inventory of the heart.
Still, such a sad “outcomes” seem to stare me (as it does many folks) in the face daily.
No one tells you this stuff on the front end.
You experience it, embrace it, distill it…and drink deep.
It all goes back into the songs…That’s life.
My life.

I suppose it’s also my deepest “spiritual struggle.”
How to make sense of it all?
To tell the truth? I’ve probably given up trying.
Details on this album: I recorded, over the course of the last 3 days I had the guitar, 5 old “Vol standards.”
“Judas Skin,” “America, America,” “Andersonville,” “Parting-Shot” & “Run Through My Veins,” seemed likely choices. Those tunes were written on the Takimine, as well.
(Sure, there could have been another dozen or so, given only a few days to record, over-dub other parts, mix & upload the songs before heading out on tour, choices had to be made.)

The arrangements? All new, each with a new intro. (You may not recognize the songs initially.) They have been embellished (when appropriate) with strings, mellotrons, cellos & orchestral harps.
These sounds are some of my new loves.
I have always tried to let songs breathe and grow as they will.
I think it happened here.
I think they were “made better.”
As I said: I hope you will enjoy, “where these songs went,” as I played them on this guitar one last time.
I am glad the guitar will have a new home.
You were so very, very good to me.
Thank you for so many years loving service.
Long may you run.

And so the end of the matter?
The songs keep coming, and fans (like “you”) keep buying albums online & at shows…and so I can’t complain.
Above all?
Life may still seems sad and fractured, but it is nuanced with glimpses of hallowed-ness, beautiful beyond description.

Bill Mallonee
Easter/2013

*As a side note:
when listening, please add a bit of low end &/or shave some of the “treble” response on your playback systems as you see fit.
I found the new compressor i was using to be slightly “toppy.”
https://billmalloneemusic.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-the-part-where-we-kiss-good-bye-bill-mallonee-wpa-17

Slow Trauma: A Review

A wise and insightful review on the new album!
Fr. Joel Weir is an Americana songwriter.
He’s also a priest in the Orthodox Church…
enjoy,
bill

Saved Together

a1380705147_16

I’ll start this review with a disclaimer. I’ve been a fan of Bill Mallonee since he and his band, Vigilantes of Love, stopped by the Christian college I attended, in a sleepy little Indiana town, back in 1994. Back then Bill sported long, sun-faded hair, John Lennon glasses and played a big yellow Les Paul. Musically, he introduced me, a kid heavy into both Seattle grunge and Christian alternative, to the world of “americana” or “alt-country” (whatever they were calling it then). Really, he was introducing me to Woody Guthrie, and inciting me to give a second listen to Dylan and Young. Why? Because the ragged honesty and even rebellion “against the system” I was finding in the flannel bands had their roots, really, with those first truth-tellers. The lore of Uncle Tupelo says that Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were in punk bands before realizing the most punk rock…

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“The Poor Live In Two Places”/liner notes for the album “Hard~Scrabble Dreams”

“The Poor Live in Two Places.” by Bill Mallonee
These are liner notes for the download album, “Hard~Scrabble Dreams”

Dear Folks & Friends,
This album was inspired by 3 sources.

One was John Steinbeck’s eloquent, near eternal work, “The Grapes of Wrath.” The characters & spirit of the fictional Tom Joad still serves as a spark to the conscience and a beacon of justice to us. Hard Scrabble Dreams
“Money doesn’t talk…it swears,” the old saying goes.

Steinbeck’s character’s continue to live and move and “be” as a witnesses of what it’s like to be “grist for the mill,” casts off of the “America for some but not for all” mentality that was finding parley among corporate rich, and the new emerging rich in pre-war America, as well.
Steinbeck’s characters are the flotsam & jetsam of q new greed driving pre-war America. a greed that seems intent on getting as much as possible as fast as possible. (The new priests of such a philosophy live loud and large in our ow time.)

Part of the genius in Steinbek’s telling of the tale of the Joad’s migration to California from dust bowl Oklahoma, lies in his ability to poetically alternate between the macro-cosm of the greed of emerging agribusiness, and the microcosm; The micro-cosm is viscerally characterized by that havoc of soul that is caused Joads by the short-view/greed driven practices of banks, lending companies, entrepreneurs, & agri-busniess.)

The second inspiration for this album came in the form of a gift from Muriah, a photographic essay, called, “Bound For Glory” (America In Color 1938-1943); it is the story of the field photographers sent out by The Farm Security Administration (later the Office of War Information) into parts of the country devastated by the Great Depression. Their job was to record and capture on Kodachrome film lives of Americans on Eastman-Kodaks new film. Their images of “just plain Americans,” I believe, are some of the most heroic and inspiring you’ll ever see.
This book is their arresting testimonial.

The most enduring, and precious inspiration off the three was a gift as well:
It was a gift from the American people.
It came (and still comes) from the folks I’ve played for over these past 25 years. This land & it’s great people have always been the frame of reference of my work, from the day I first crawled into an rattle-trap van to do my first US tour in 1991.
They, and their stories and lives, have been inspiring me ever since.
I cant escape it, nor would I wish to…

As a rambling songwriter/troubadour, it has been my privilege to meet & converse with folks from all walks of life; to ‘get inside their skin,” hear their stories, their hopes & dreams, their disappointments and griefs. There is no class room or instructional video that could have provided me with such clarity.
It is always, always a humbling gift. You feel small and clean at the same time.

What do you do? What can one say, when they realize that their own story, pales in comparison with the crosses these “salt-of-the-earth” folks have born?

I’ve been made privy to their stories, their dreams, their struggles and their grief.
Being a songwriter who prefers house shows and other venues where it’s “up-close-&-personal,” all of these exchanges come “with the territory.”
My audience is often the poor in spirit, the disheartened and disenfranchised.
Sure, I played my shows.
I try and give 110%.
I always hope it’s enough.

But, I also “took notes.”

I learned much by observation & reflection. You learn about terms like “systemic evil,” and “good-old-boy” clubs.
I learned that the economic systems that glorify the independent, aggressive and savvy “virtues” of the American businessman often fail to mention that every successful empire builds it’s wealth and power and prestige on the backs of the poor, the meek, the less privileged.

And (just like all the books I loved as a youth testified to) something else surfaced almost daily: Among the poor, there was a faith, a heroism, a determined-ness and a day-to-day “true grit” that seemed like a grace from God present in their lives & sirits.
Rarely did they complain.
Rarely did they “give up.”
And always they seemed to love each other and find something good in everyone.
They were often saints or saints in the making…

And so here’s the kicker:
The “poor” live in two places: The first place isn’t hard to miss: In every ghetto, on every “poor side of town,” on every “wrong side of the track,” you’ll find them. The poor are all around us. Even Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you…”

But the poor also live inside of us. We are them.
They are many things, but in the face of their joy & heroism, they are always a reminder that a man is not the measure of his possessions. They remind us that it is not by our own hands that we attain or succeed in this world (as much as we’d like to believe otherwise.)
Indeed, they remind us that our souls are not so full and that our spirits are not so at peace. Those things (our precious souls & our spirits) daily need nurture, a kind word, and grace. We must become adept at sorting out the fools gold from the real treasures.
We desperately need such grace…
Even if it’s the grace we must extend to ourselves.

The poor remind us that it is still a world of grave injustice and a world where there is so much yet to be done. So many wounds to bind up, so many broken thing to be set straight. Would that God would grant us all grace begin to hear their cries more clearly and respond with our hearts and hands.
Would to God that we could get about making a new and better world.

Sainthood?
Often the “poor”are already “on the way.”
For them life is a crucible. One to negotiate with grace, sensitivity and realism.
Often, not a world they chose, but (for whatever reasons) one handed to them.

It is one in which they have frequently begun to manifest those curious attributes of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.” Everything that makes us truly human. Everything that brings forth (to quote President Lincoln) “the better angels of our natures.”

These are things they can’t teach or compel in schools.
Things learned in the hard scrabble of life.
Things regal,
things hallowed,
things eternal.

Peace,
bill mallonee
March/2016

tags: Americana, Indie-Rock, Singer-songwriter, Folk songs
Protest Songs, High & Lonesome, Babe., Faith & Justice Songs, Open Road, Faith Songs, Big Sky; Mercy,

“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…”
Mortality.
(“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.”
Everyone.
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.

Jesus,
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

IN TEARS & IN TENDERNESS (Some thoughts on the verse, “Jesus wept.”)

In Tears & TendernessJesus Wept 2

by: bill mallonee

Ever since I was very young, maybe 5-6 years old, I have been obsessed with death. I sensed “it” early on. The notion of the cessation of Life and one’s personality was repulsive, cauterizing and harrowing. I don’t know how I “internalized” so much of it in my thoughts, impressions and nightmare-ish images, but I did.
Life was supposed to be Saturdays, no school…and freedom

Let’s face it: You get older, Health diminishes. Love seems to fail. Life sputters out, sometimes in horrific ways; It all adds to the helpless-ness and fear. Mortality, finitude, lack of permanence. Whatever one chooses to describe it with, one most days, it all seems bleak & relentless.
“Every thing dies, baby, that’s a fact…” ~ “Atlantic City”/Bruce Springsteen

I know the religious narratives, Biblical and otherwise. The stories we have, whether based in history or myth, are typically ones of beauty with beautiful endings.
Yes. They help one “stare it down.” For fleeting moments they bring some joy and assurance. But (on most days) my faith is weak if there at all. I still shudder at the prospect of death.
…but maybe a little less.
And here’s why…

“Jesus wept.” John 11: 35
It’s the shortest verse in the Bible.
I remember an Easter week story in the Bible. (I have Dr. Francis Schaeffer to thank for this insight.) The scene is the one where Jesus is brought word that his good friend Lazarus is very, very sick. Interestingly, even oddly, He waits a few days before heading out to visit Lazarus. He even informs his disciple/friends that Lazarus has died. But, he also tells them to have some faith. “Wait,” he basically says. “The ‘Last word’ on the subject hasn’t been spoken yet.”

Jesus arrives at the tomb. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. He stares at the stone sealed over the entrance as was the practice in ancient times. He is oblivious to the murmurings and goading of his detractors who are also there. He is lost in memory, the loving memories of his friend.
Now, here’s the curious thing:
The Greek text says something that have been translated as “Jesus groaned in spirit,” that He was “troubled.”
But the explanation (exegesis) that I have heard says that He was angry.
Jesus.
Angry.
It is a moment that draws one up short.
Jesus.
Groaning with anger.
Angry at death,
Angry at loss,
Angry at grief,
and all that it is robbed from his friend, from us.

Angry at all that is absurd.

To me, it was and still is, explosive.
Think about it: The Son of God. (Or whatever name you wish to ascribe to Him)…is angry.
Angry at death.
Angry at a universe that is brutish, cruel and without explanation

There is more to come here:
If all the claims about Him are true, what follows is the most pure, loving, & transparent gesture ever made by a human being on this earth.

The Bible says: “Jesus wept.”

The shortest verse.
And the one with loudest bombshell of Grace.

Got it? Has it registered?
The weeping Christ feels the same way about death…as you do.
No dressing it up.
No “dumbing it down.”
No minimizing the horror or futility of it.
This is something to weep bitter, angry tears over.
“Jesus wept.”
It is an overwhelming display of tenderness.

What does this mean?
What does it mean to have the Son of God weep at your graveside, at my graveside?

It, at the very least, means this:
You are not alone. You are not alone in your anger at death;
Not alone in your fear of death;
Not alone in your anger of all that goes lost, unfulfilled, unfinished when death shows up;
Not alone in your anger even at God for “allowing” such an atrocity/interruption/tragedy to happen.

“Maybe one day, baby, everything comes back…” ~ B. Springsteen

There is no glossing it over or prettifying this life.
Sermonize it, eulogize it, Oprah-ize it…
We all, one way or another, “leave the party” too soon.

Holy Week.
Is it symbolic for all of this journey we call Life?
If, so, here’s what you can bet on:
Take up your cross, so to speak. That cross of your human existence.
You can count on be your heart being broken…a million times.
You can count of your dreams being dashed;
You can count on your best intentions being ignored or, worse, misunderstood.
You can count on losing those who are nearest & dearest.
You can count on knowing loneliness on a first name basis.

But count on this as well:
You are not alone.
Something always seems to be “lurking” at the edges of our days, even the darkest of them.
A “last word,” perhaps?
I find this sort of “incongruity” a quiet witness to the truth of the faith.
The bad news comes first, before the “good news” makes sense.

The human-ness of Jesus.
So utterly perfect that He can grieve perfectly the loss of his dear friend, be angry about it…and still be Lord, God, Savior.
He doesn’t offer explanations as to why evil exists.
In tears and tenderness He just weeps at Lazarus’tomb.
And I suspect He weeps at every tomb.

So, how does this affect you and me in the here and now?
Easter is often offered to us in a sanitized, neutered version. Complete with bonnets, new dresses, colored eggs and bunnies. Nature rejoices. There’s a lot to be said and celebrated about the energy of God’s Love within the life force.
Still, I think, we are lulled into missing the point.

Easter, as the Bible tells it, is the grittiest of the Church’s remembrances.
The events of Holy Week are a crystallization & distillation of all that can “go wrong” in the world…and within our lives.

Holy Week’s pages are filled with accounts of friends who “pledge allegiance.”
Loud, self-inflated boasters who say they’ll follow a friend even unto death.
And then they don’t.
And when given their chance to be courageous arrives?
Their cowardice manifests itself from every word & deed…

Holy Week’s pages are peppered with feckless & conniving “climbers” who will sell a friend out just to save their own skin and possibly get ahead.

Easter’s sad pages are also filled with folks of good heart;
They haul bodies off of bloody instruments of torture and death. They try and bestow what little honor is left on a Body so disfigured by human hatred & violence that It’s hardly recognizable.

Good folks (or at least aspiring to be so) who heard the most astonishing words ever spoken to humankind.
Just like we do every Sunday morning.

In Scripture, Easter week is filled with “Good-Hearted,” “Nodding-In-Agreement,” “I’ll-never-sell-you-short, Jesus,” people who cut and run at the first sign of confrontation or challenge.

We do it all the time. It’s a big club.
We’ve made it an art form.
And so, one of Easter Week’s lessons is simply this:
Be not deceived.
You are not made of such stern stuff.

And because of that, Jesus wept, as well.

He has reason to weep.
He is weeping still.
Weeping at all of the vain glories we chase after.
Weeping at the 2 bit, cheap idols we “buy” and cling to.
Weeping at all the betrayals we’ll no doubt tally up as we live out our days.
Weeping anew at the war machines we create and surround with rhetoric like “patriotism,” “national interests,” and “Glory.”

All in the name of concepts that annihilate Life.

He’s weeping still at the harsh words, judgements and criticisms we thoughtless cut each other to pieces with, often in the name of His religion.
Weeping at the love & kindness & compassion we withhold from one another.

Jesus. Weeping. Endlessly weeping. Perpetually weeping

He weeps at every tomb, even now,
I suspect, in some way, He is weeping at our own tombs.
The ones we will one day enter.

The Lord of Life, The Son of God.
Closer than a Brother.
You, dear lost, lonely, sinful, scared traveler…are never alone.

Limitless in His mercy, grace and consolation.
Tears are one of those things, He has never run out of.

You will hear His voice, just as Lazarus did.
You’ll shake off the shroud of death, and perhaps, with stumbling steps, move into the light & towards that Voice.
New skin. Radiant as a new-born baby.
And, falling into His arms, you will recognize that voice of Tenderness & of Love Itself.

And you may find some of His blessed tears on your new suit of clothes, as well.