“To Say How Good, To Say How Strong”

I made a Spotify playlist, for 2019 to begin. Something that was less a statement about what I was leaving and more what laid ahead — 2018 was an unimaginably hard year in so many ways, and I just wanted to leave it there to die. (This was, for all kinds of reasons, never going to happen; parts of what made it so hard were always going to live on into 2019, and when the New Year finally did arrive, it came in like a surprise, somehow. I remember on December 31 thinking, Wait, isn’t this early?) So, I made this playlist that was, for want of a better way to put it, songs about my emotional state and being strong and starting over and and and I’m sure you can imagine the kind of thing.

Mirah’s “Energy” was the first song on it.

I love Mirah. I have done for years, but my affection for her music has only grown in recent years, and her most recent album may be one of my favorites, and this track — the last one on there — one of my favorite songs from her altogether. I love the sonic structure of it (The second half feeling like a response to the first, a defiant build from the cautious optimism of what had come before), and I love the language of it, too: “No, we can’t choose/How the day falls/How the stars lift/We can just, we can just give tenderness,” or especially, “When I’m mad and I’m burdened/And I’m feelin’ uncertain/And I just want to lay down my mind/I’ll wake up again/And a new day begin with more energy.”

It’s a song that’s a little sad, a little tired and a lot ready to keep going because things will get better. And that’s exactly what I needed to start my year. “We only know that it’s not that easy,” indeed.

“Listen, The Sky Will Sing this Song as it Burns Up All The Memories”

This song has been in my head ever since I saw Mirah perform it with the Portland Symphony this past weekend, for two reasons in particular. Firstly, the bridge(?) melody that starts at 0:58 and the way it acts as counter to everything around it but also manages to amp up the expectation and tension before the strings crash back in, and secondly, the lyrics “And I’m so number one that it’s a shame, a shame/That you let other numbers in the game.” I have no idea why, but those lyrics seem so perfect to me.

I don’t pay enough attention to Mirah’s lyrics, which is a shame; I’m too often smitten by her melodies and her arrangements (“The Dogs of B.A.”! “Country of the Future”! Both have such wonderfully overwhelming arrangements, can you blame me? This one, too — that bass line at 3:38 that acts like a tuba), but she has a wonderful way with words that I need to recognize, too.

366 Songs 158: The Dogs of B.A.

There are too many things about the song that I could list as loving: The sound of the rain before it starts, and the sound of the sea as it finishes; the longing that’s so present in Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn’s voice as she sings (“I looked into the darkening/And while the air did chill/I knew that though I’m here in exile/That you should love me still.” I adore that couplet, the history implied and the selfishness of love gone away with the “You should love me still”); the accordian that appears at 2:13, weirdly and wonderfully fitting as the spoken word section begins and a reminder of how like the sea this song has been until now, ebbing and flowing, wonderfully choppy.

“So many tears could make me blind.” Another lovely, melancholy line (I’m listening again, as I write).

There’s an exoticness to this song, an alienness. But it’s not necessarily an attractive one, which I find makes the song more compelling. There’s something to “The Dogs of B.A.” that reminds me of the feeling you sometimes get in unfamiliar locations, where you don’t understand the language or where you are; even though everything surrounding you is beautiful and unusual, there’s a fear there, too. A sense of being lost, and powerless. This song suggests that to me, and not just in physical locations; it transfers that idea to romance, and love affairs gone wrong. I like that.