When the Matches Go Out

When Marie-Henri Beyle visited Florence, that city named for its place among waters, he thought the art he came across might kill him. Visiting the Basilica Santa Croce in 1817, he wrote that he “was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart…the wellspring of life was dried up within me. I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground.”

When I first heard of what is now called Stendhal’s syndrome (Beyle’s penname was Stendhal), I was overcome myself, with envy. I was studying English literature and art history in college, but I had never been so undone by my subjects.

The summer after learning about Stendhal’s syndrome, I bought a collegiate Eurail pass, starting my travels in Italy. I went to Rome and Florence. I saw the Sistine Chapel, and I thought it was beautiful, but other than slight nausea from the summer heat and dehydration, I had no physical reaction. I considered my failure to experience this ecstasy a deficiency; a true art lover, surely, could have brought herself to such a place with the appropriate knowledge and awe.

I left my art history on the sun-soaked campus in North Carolina when I joined the Army. The art I carried with me was music, from one choir to the next in North Carolina, Bosnia, Korea, Texas, and finally Seattle.

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Blaze: David Wilcox Opens the Heart, Part 1

David Wilcox describes himself as a “father, a husband, a citizen and a songwriter…a traveler—an adventurer at his core, always on his way somewhere.” The celebrated songwriter and creator of more than eighteen albums began his career with a bike ride through North Carolina when he was a teenager and has called Asheville home ever since.

Wilcox’s latest album blaze debuted Tuesday. I talked to him about narrative and responsibility, creative process, and how songwriting opens his heart and teaches him to engage with the world.

Shannon Huffman Polson: Your lyrics have a very real narrative element to them, sometimes even writing songs from the perspectives of different characters. Where did that idea come from and what does it do for you?

David Wilcox: I love the experience of being carried along by a story and having it open to another layer like a good parable does. This can surprise me with an emotional experience that’s a surprising compassion or reframing of a circumstance. A good story can do this—I love stories that walk beside you and gradually walk you to a place you might not have gone otherwise.

Those are the songs I love to have in my life. That’s what I aspire to. The songs I write I write because I want to learn from them, I want to see the world the way they see it.

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Look at the Light: Thirteen Songs for 2013

Arcade FireGuest Post by Joel Heng Hartse

I’m writing my dissertation right now and for once I am trying to be bold, to not worry about whether what I am arguing has been substantiated by someone with more knowledge or status than myself. This is probably what is called for.

Sometimes, though, it is nice to shut up and let the wise ones have their say. This is my sixth annual end-of-the-year playlist for Good Letters, and unlike previous years, I am not going to offer any commentary on the songs I’ve chosen; instead, I offer these songs paired with excerpts of books, articles, or other things I have read recently (or not-so-recently) which resonate with me and, I hope, the songs. [Read more...]

Daniel Amos’s “Dig Here Said the Angel”

Dedicated to Billy Corgan, who challenged Christians to “make better music” and branch out beyond U2’s musical blueprints in an interview with CNN in September. I challenge you to buy and bury yourself in this album, Billy; it sounds nothing like U2—in fact, Daniel Amos influenced U2!

Just as the films Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty are narrated by dead men, so too is the Daniel Amos song “Now That I’ve Died.” Unlike these undead narrators, however, the protagonist of the song is literally better off dead.

“I lost my stiff, stiff neck and my hard, hard heart / my self-respect is off the charts,” he sings. “Just hanging out here on the Other Side / dead to my pride, now that I’ve died.”

The song simmers for most of its duration and ultimately reaches a boil. In five minutes, the band reimagines the resurrection life, and succeeds in clearing the clouds of harpists who spend all of eternity bored out of their God-fearing gourds.

“Now That I’ve Died” is one of many highlights on Dig Here Said the Angel, Daniel Amos’s fourteenth proper studio recording in a career that spans almost forty years. To fund the record, the band launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, hoping to raise $14,000; fans donated over $32,000.

The result is my favorite album of 2013 thus far.

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Leaving the Edges Wild: An Interview with Over the Rhine, Part 1

Guest Post

By Meredith Holladay

September 3 marked the release of Over the Rhine’s newest album Meet Me at the Edge of the World, a double album of nineteen songs. Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler have been making music together since 1989, the same year Image Journal was founded. Both have a rich identity of exploring the outskirts of art, faith, and mystery.

Linford and Karin crowd-sourced funding for their previous album, The Long Surrender, the new record, and with Meet Me, they even opened Nowhere Farm—their farm in southern Ohio—to contributing fans for two nights of concerts, food, and stories. Welcoming fans to their farm was important, as the place has a unique presence on the new album.

After moving to their farm, Linford’s father gave them the advice to “leave the edges wild,” an idea that has captivated them in their cultivation of both their land and their music. I spoke to Linford about place, songwriting, the sacred, and what’s next for Over the Rhine.

Meredith Holladay: Describe the experience of having your fans at Nowhere Farm?

Linford Detweiler: It was meaningful—a little nerve-wracking for Karin to contemplate having 500 folks in her back yard, but a lovely weekend. We put up a circus tent and played the songs that had grown out of the soil of Nowhere Farm for the folks that pitched in generously to help us record Meet Me at The Edge Of The World. When the tent came down, we couldn’t tell anything had happened—no trash lying around. Those that attended were very respectful. It felt like a celebration.

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