Epiphany in the Memory Unit

Image of a profile of a person's face with light illuminating the cheeks and forehead, the face is shrouded by a round blurry object in the foreground.The priest’s wife handed me her half full can of beer. It was Christmastime, and the beer she was offering was a Texas IPA, sweating seductively on the table between us. I brought the can to my lips and the slightly bitter taste of the half-warm beer filled me with relief.

I needed a drink. It was 7 p.m., and I’d arrived late. We would be heading out to sing carols at the Alzheimer’s unit of a local nursing home, a well-appointed facility near the neighborhood in Houston where I am a music minister and where the priest’s wife’s husband is rector.

The nursing home smelled faintly of Clorox and overcooked vegetables—as I suppose all nursing homes do—but I had been unprepared for the regret that hit me with that smell. [Read more…]

A Song of Songs for These American Days

highway 61 by H. Michael Karshis on flickrWith thanks and apologies to the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Neil Young, Wallace Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, the Wailin’ Jennys, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, God, Joni Mitchell, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Sam Baker, The Band, Bruce Cockburn, The Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, and all the musicians and poets who have sustained and nourished me to this day.

I read the news today. Oh boy.

They’re sealing the cracks in the ceiling. Now how’s the light going to get in?

A friend on the left says these days her husband stands guard at the door to their home, his life a loaded gun.

Another friend on the left says, if it comes to it, she’ll seek happiness in a warm gun.

Me? I am lying in a burned out basement, calling all angels, but the angels have lost their desire for us. [Read more…]

Quaecumque Vera: 16 Songs for 2016

By Joel Heng Hartse

hartse-best-of-2016-music-playlistYou do not have to feel guilty about loving music. Please keep this in mind. Alan Jacobs, in his The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, writes, “read what gives you delight…and do so without shame.”

Amen, I say, and don’t be afraid to apply this to the music you like, too. There are no guilty pleasures. Listen to what moves you, regardless of whether you think you are supposed to like it, or it is good for you, or whatever.

Here, then, is my annual playlist. If you’ve been reading “Good Letters” for the last nine years, you know the drill: sixteen songs for 2016, each of which got ahold of me this year, for some reason. [Read more…]

ImageUpdate’s Top Ten of 2016

iutop10_2016Every week, the Image staff curates a digital dispatch of compelling new books, music, artwork, and more, with personal recommendations, links from around the web, and a community message board with calls for art and job postings (not to mention exclusive access to Image discounts and VIP workshop registration!). We deliver these dispatches from the world of art and faith entirely free of charge. We call it: ImageUpdate.

And at the end of every year, we review the 100+ books, albums, art exhibitions, and other artworks shared in this e-newsletter and choose the ImageUpdate Top Ten. It’s an almost-impossible challenge to narrow our selection down to the ten “best,” and to make matters even more complicated, ImageUpdate strives to direct readers’ attention to new and emerging artists, and others we feel deserve your time.

That said, we’re pleased to give you the following list of outstanding work featured in ImageUpdate in 2016. Click the links to see the original issues with full reviews.

Receive this weekly curation service in 2017 (for free!): become an ImageUpdate subscriber here.

 

[Read more…]

A Conversation with Claire Holley

This post originally appeared as a web-exclusive interview accompanying Image journal issue 58.

claire1Mary Kenagy Mitchell for Image: You’ve written in our new issue about balancing songwriting with being a mother. What does your son think of your music? Does he come hear you play?

 Claire Holley: Well, his preferences seem to change a lot. When he was one or two years old, his gut reactions to songs were helpful to me: he might fall asleep, smile big, become animated, or he might be uninterested or fidgety. This last response might tell me that a song wasn’t as strong. I seem to remember one time he heard my song, “Wedding Day” and looked out the window reflectively, then asked to hear it again. But it’s risky, I suppose, to trust someone under five about all your material. [Read more…]