I began listening to this post’s guest DJ late, and by a rather circuitous route. First, I discovered the writing of David Dark, whose books are among some of my favorite cultural commentaries. Then I began hearing about his immensely talented “better half”: Sarah Dark.
Or, as she is better known: Sarah Masen.
The name Sarah Masen rang a bell, but I still, to this day, do not understand how I missed her idiosyncratic art-pop records. Her distinctively ethereal vocal style, her meditative lyrics, her atmospheric and dreamlike orchestrations could easily be packaged as a new wave of Christmas music, but I find the struggle and comfort in these songs compelling all year round. Listen to The Trying Mark and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.
(How did I miss an album titled The Dreamlife of Angels, which has the same title as my favorite film of 1998?)
I’ve been playing catch-up.
When it came time to ask around for some Christmas music playlists, hers was one of the first names that came to mind… so early, in fact, that I was far along in sending invitations when Todd Fadel of Agents of Future recommended that I ask Sarah, and I was so excited about that idea that I thanked him for it and prepared a second invitation, only to realize I’d already sent her one.
So it is with gratitude and pleasure that I introduce to you — if you haven’t been introduced already — one of my new favorite singer-songwriters, a voice unlike any I’ve enjoyed.
SARAH MASEN DARK:
About 6 or 7 years ago I started thinking a whole lot about the Magnificat. And Mary. And the possibility that while magnifying the Lord there was probably a tremendous amount of, “Seriously?! How is this going to work?!?!” From the bewildering mother-country of the hand upon the forehead, I offer up my contribution to the Christmas Party list 2014.
“Mary,” by yours truly
I am both disgusted and rolling my eyes at the audacity of listing one of my own, but I know very few people have heard it and I love this song. I offer it as one really believing that it’s a hum-along-dinger for the season in spirit and in truth. It is my shout-out to a long time game of call and response with a major source of inspiration to me and the number two songstress on my party list, Jane Siberry.
“The Gospel According To Darkness,” by Jane Siberry, from her album When I Was a Boy
This. Song. Rawks. It matters in such a deep and tender way. For instance, when she says, “I see you looking around at the people on the streets/well things aren’t what they seem/If you push them hard enough you’ll find that most of them do not feel worthy of love/Now how did that come to be?” I mean for real people. What a question to ask during the holidaze?!(Shout out to the very talented Tony Miracle for introducing her work to me in the 20th century. His music also rawks.)
“Sisters,” performed by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, from the 1954 movie White Christmas
I hope Mary had sisters. I mean cool sisters. Like my sisters who watched White Christmas with me over the years and who, if I was Mary, would take my mind off of the fact that I may be stoned for being pregnant without a husband in first century Palestine and stuff. (Side note tune to add is “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” sung by Danny Kaye. He is so funny!)
“Must Be Santa,” by Bob Dylan, from Christmas in The Heart
My second-born remarked that he sounds a little homeless. His adaptation of “Must Be Santa” is a particular favorite. I’m not sure what the Holy Mother would say about Dylan, but I suspect she could relate to being a little homeless what with the manger and all.
Final pick takes me to a song that isn’t necessarily filed under “Christmas,” but I was listening to it recently and it struck me as deeply in keeping with the Magnificat. Deeply.
On December 22nd, 1964, shortly after his death, Sam Cooke’s own amazing orchestral Magnificat was released as a single. “A Change Is Gonna Come” became an anthem for the American Civil Rights Movement, “scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” It feels particularly right this year in light of recent events in Ferguson and New York.
I hope everyone’s holiday is a Merry one. They have been full of strange negotiations since that first one way back when a young couple housed a holy baby (by the way, “Strange Negotiations” is another great song for the list from Dave Bazan. Probably best listened to as a centering exercise before entering family get-togethers).