I knew it wouldn’t take me long before I was again returning to the top ten brand of self analysis, and sure enough here I am. Even during the compiling of my favorite musical works which I posted earlier my mind was frequently making another list, that of my favorite albums. I’m not precisely sure why I make this distinction other than to say that having list that combined the two forms of music was far too difficult to rank without constantly contradicting myself. So, having no authority to answer to save the good Lord, who is probably annoyed at the vanity of these lists regardless of their content, I feel free to have two distinct lists and for no other reason than it pleases me that I should do so.
I think one of the themes that runs through the list, having had a much more difficult time narrowing it to ten than on my previous effort, is the strong lyrical content. I am very much in love with poetry and many of the albums here listed are very strong on that count. As before I have to stipulate to a couple of criteria I have set for myself before beginning my list. I have chosen these albums as whole works and many albums were left off of this list not so much for my lack of fondness for them, but rather because they did not have the top to bottom cohesiveness that these have. In other words if I had a list of favorite songs many would be from albums not here listed. Because of this stipulation I have excluded greatest hits and other compilation albums leading to the absence of works like Bon Jovi’s Cross Road and Kris Kristofferson’s 16 greatest hits. With the preface complete these are my ten favorite albums as I find them today.

10. My Private Nation by Train

My Private nation

“When it rains it pours and opens doors
And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry
And in the midst of sailing ships we sink our lips into the ones we love
That have to say goodbye”

It’s lines like this that elevate what would otherwise be just another pop rock band lost amidst the depressing chaos of modern music to wondrous heights. By far the most contemporary album on my list I have always felt that Train has been done a great disservice by the marketing of their work. I cannot deny the appeal of the witty banter of their playfully upbeat and catchy singles but I think it often distracts from the true quality of their work. For anyone who dismisses this band for their popularity and radio friendly image I’d say look past all the Hey Soul Sisters and the Drops of Jupiters and find the Mississippis and Lincoln Avenues that are hiding on these albums.

Favorite Songs: My Private Nation, Lincoln Avenue, Following Rita

9. Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

After the crafted lyricism of My Private Nation Astral Weeks can appear a bit chaotic but for all its apparent discord there is something very unifying about this impressionistic work. An album that I fear would have no chance of being published today there is a wonderful stream of conscience element to the lyrics that seem to defy interpretation. I always like to turn this album on and just let my mind wander wherever it wants. I really enjoy the jazz and folk elements particularly when the flute peeks in quietly. This album lets you dive in and find things you never thought you were looking for when you do.

Favorite songs: Astral Weeks, Cyprus Avenue, Slim Slow Slider

8. A Trick of the Tail by Genesis

A trick of the tail

“Forever caught in desert lands one has to learn
To disbelieve the sea”

I have my uncle Steve to thank for this entry. Tony Banks and the now Peter Gabriel-less Genesis really go above and beyond with this work both musically and lyrically. It’s a bitter sweet listen having to reach back in time to find this level of musicianship. I told myself I wasn’t going to let this list devolve into complaints about the parade of unfortunate currently spilling out of the radio so I’ll try to keep myself on course. Over all this is another entry in the Genesis catalogue that really enticed my ear to really listen to the album as a whole. I considered putting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in this spot, and despite the fact that I really love that conceptual and expansive work the tangential and rambling narrative seems to sometimes distract itself, which I’m sure was the point. The deciding factor for me was the mastery that I believe allows A Trick of the Tail to have so much more to say than its distorted fairy tales would let on.

Favorite songs: Dance on a Volcano, Squonk, Mad Man Moon

7. In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra

In the wee small hours

“My cigarette burns me, I wake with a start;
My hand isn’t hurt, but there’s pain in my heart.
Awake or asleep, ev’ry mem’ry I’ll keep
Deep in a dream of you.”

For anyone who wants to defend the position that it’s the singer and not the song that matters this album is your battle standard. That’s not to say that these songs are not undeniably wonderful, but for someone such as myself to cherish so highly a work where the performer had little or nothing to do with the writing of the songs he performed indicates how strongly I believe Frank Sinatra’s heart wrenching performance was indeed the breath of life that gives this album its power. By power of course I mean the crushing weight that this album carries with it throughout. This album is a very personal one for me and can be a strangely comforting companion in sadness. I guess it would seem a bit strange to seek out this album when sad as you would think it would compound the issue to a crippling level, but I’ve always felt that simply diving into that feeling and exploring it helped far more than trying to cure it with the distractions of an upbeat or uplifting distraction.

Favorite songs: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Deep in a Dream, I’ll be Around

6. Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

Bat out of hell

“The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight
There’s a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright”

For all of the serious in the world sometimes you just need to be a teenager again even if only for a moment and I can’t think of anything in music that captures the epic, turbulent, self-destructive, reckless, irreverent, careless, and free spiritedness of that age than Meatloaf and Jim Steinman’s riotous anthems. Eight and nine minute titans sing out with their tongues set firmly in their cheek and with total disregard for the song structures of the music of the day, an inspiration I have proudly assimilated into my own work. Jim Steinman, whether or not you approve of his bombastic and over the top approach, paints with many a skillful musical touch that are the hallmarks of not just his work on the Bat Out of Hell trilogy but all of his work. All the fireworks and thunder of a classic rock album with one of the saddest and truest songs I know.

Favorite songs: Bat Out of Hell, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, Paradise by the Dashboard Light

5. The Stranger by Billy Joel

The Stranger

“Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
Show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on”

Anyone who knows me knows that Billy Joel was going to be on this list somewhere the only question being where and which album and I want it known that the album choice was not as simple as it might appear. Ultimately I couldn’t deny the power of The Stranger, but Turnstiles and the much underappreciated(in my opinion) Streetlife Serenade made very strong showings as well. I cannot say how much I love the way Billy Joel plays the piano. He’s so creative and fluid that if it weren’t for the power of awe I’d be extremely jealous. I also appreciate how his writing seems to avoid, because of his willingness to allow a song to develop naturally, classification. Music has become all about “what does it sound like” and try to nail artists into a genre. When they don’t quite fit they say things like “he’s a rocker who sings ballads” or, “he’s a pop star with a bit of rock crossover” of course none of this covers his fifties rock work, doo-wop, blues, jazz, orchestral, and myriad of other pieces and works he’s done. I don’t know if it’s the case, but I’ve always thought he was more interested in writing the songs he wanted than how they were received or catalogued.

Favorite songs: The Stranger, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, She’s always a Woman

4. Nether Lands by Dan Fogelberg

Nether Lands

“Seldom seen
A scarecrow’s dream
I hang in the hopes of replacement
Castles tall
I built them all
But I dream that I’m trapped in
the basement.”

If I have any aspirations as a lyricist one of them will inevitably be to have half as much skill as a wordsmith as Dan Fogelberg. The poetry of his songs, this album in particular, is absolutely stunning. Perhaps the falsetto on the song Nether Lands doesn’t age as well as the rest of the album and maybe even dates the work in a small way, but this is less than a footnote on a work that can be looked at just as much as a collection of poetry as an album of music. I don’t mean to say that the music is in any way superficial it’s rather the opposite. The songs from a musical standpoint appear to work as a cohesive unit, I would have to do a much more detailed listening than I’ve done in some time to say with certainty how, but even the most passive of listens can’t but conjure a strange continuity to the tracks.

Favorite songs: Dancing Shoes, Loose Ends, Scarecrow’s Dream

3. Who’s Next by The Who

Who's Next

“Out here in the fields
I farm for my meals
I get my back into my living.
I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven.”

After much internal debate I went with this album instead of the iconic rock opera Tommy. What gave this album the edge is, while I initially stipulated that the albums were to be looked at as a whole, this one works just as well in its parts as it does as a whole whereas Tommy does not. This is the quintessential rock album as far as I’m concerned and for evidence you need look no further than its titanic opening track Baba O’Riley. I think this is also the strongest collaborative effort for the band as a whole. From Keith Moon mercilessly attacking the drums to John Entwistle getting a chance to stretch his song writing muscles to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend at the height of their respective skills there’s nothing about this album that I don’t like.

2. I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project

I Robot

“Sooner or later when your big chances come,
You’ll look for the catches but there’ll be none.
Remember before you grab the money and run
That someone is watching you…(he’s gonna get you)…”

My piano teacher Dave Clark introduced me to The Alan Parsons project way before I was old enough to understand what the heck was going on. I think he gave me more credit for maturity than I deserved. However, I held on to this album for a couple of years revisiting it every once and awhile trying to find out what he was raving about so often. Then suddenly one day it just clicked and music was never the same again. This album is every bit as much an experience as it is a collection of songs. I love Tales of Mystery and Imagination nearly as much but this one is in a whole other league in my book. This work lingers with me every time I listen to it and I am honestly chilled when I hear The Voice.

Favorite songs: Some Other Time, Don’t Let it Show, The Voice

1. Rain Dogs by Tom Waits

Rain Dogs

“Hey little bird,
fly away home
Your house is on fire,
children are alone”

I was so very tempted to put the entire trinity (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank’s Wild Years) in this spot but just managed to restrain myself. While I feel that the three albums can and should be listened to in concert and so wonderfully compliment and complete one another I had to admit Rain Dogs is unique even amongst its brethren. I guess if I may be permitted a totally classless comparison, for which I hope to be forgiven by Tom Waits should he ever hear about this, it’s like the original Star Wars trilogy while all good Empire Strikes Back is in a class by itself. Tom Waits is perhaps not easily accessible to many, I could perhaps even go so far as to say most, but many of his works are filled with a musical genius that I fear has gone extinct in the world coupled with incomparable poetry this album and I Robot were the only elements of this list that ranked themselves without need for debate.



Two boys, on a land beneath the ocean. The light from the sun filters through miles of water and seaweed forests as they look up through their watery sky. They aren’t on the bottom of the ocean, but rather from their little world inside the world the sea is their sky, hovering just abover the reach of their fingers like a low ceiling. They have few periods of light during their days as they are constantly moving in and out of the shadows of the continents that pass like clouds overhead. Once a day the ruins of an antique castle float over them like the rising and setting of an ancient moon. Both boys want to know where the light comes from, but they also know that they could never hold their breath long enough to swim to the surface. One of the boys tells the other that there is a great eel living in the ruins of the castle above them (I say eel, but it might have been a snake, when I woke up I couldn’t remember accurately for the life of me) that, if they can catch it, can swim fast enough to take them to the surface before they drown. So they jump up into the water when the castle is passing them by and swim into the ruins. Once inside they catch the eel, or snake, and it races up through the water (the sensation was incredible, felt so real) until it splashingly deposited them on the surface.

I was driving to Memphis for something, with my friend Grant, and we had to be there by 830(no idea why). It was dark and I got lost on the road. There’s lots more to the driving part…mostly confusion and strange roads. Eventually we ended up in this beautiful city. You couldn’t drive into it because everything was so close together. Anyway, we leave the car and go in. The streets are narrow and filled with people. The buildings are all made of this warm white stone on the outside, but are rather modern on the inside. Someone tells me it’s called Sumnerville…I might have been told or I might have just known I’m not sure which. So we keep wandering through the streets and shops and Grant keeps telling me it’s time to go but we never head back to the car. Then we run into Amanda and it feels like I was there to meet her which confuses me cause I thought I was on my way to Memphis. I start telling her that we’re late, but instead we all continue to walk through the city. Eventually we come to a bar that is filled with people and live music. We walk in past the smokers into a corner of the bar. Amanda and I sit down on the floor because there aren’t any chairs left. The last thing that happened was that she fell asleep next to me and Grant says, “You missed it…”

In the morning, no later than four or so, a boy awakens suddenly to a painful stinging of numbness in his left arm. After a few moments of discomfort and wading through his staunch self assurances that he wasn’t having a heart attack, he tries to force himself back to sleep. However, the lingering echo of the numbness and his general state of disquiet prevent him from doing just that so he settles on going for a walk. He isn’t sure why, but he was sure that his restlessness wouldn’t settle for less than movement of some kind or another, and walking seemed to be the only option at that time of the morning.
His suburban neighborhood was like a strange honeycomb of streets and cul-de-sacs, and even though he had grown up there, that span being the better part of two decades, he wouldn’t have been able to name ten of the streets by name if pressed. He swallows a Xanax, Wellbutrin, and Lithium, he plugs in his IPod and steps out into the night. The moon wanes gibbous high on his left as he trades the cold tile of the foyer for the hard concrete of the porch. He doesn’t have any particular destination or distance in mind so he just queues up “Rain Dogs” and resolves himself to walk until all the tracks have played.
For the first few minutes he follows the main road that cuts directly back through the subdivision ignoring the many branching paths as he goes. He eventually reaches the rear of the neighborhood and, having seen only a few early morning joggers and even fewer active cars, he decides, rather than to just turn and retrace his steps back to his house he would simply take every left turn that presented itself until he reached one of the major cross-streets that borders his housing development. Even as the idea comes to him he feels that it is both wildly intriguing and strangely exciting.
He knew that in a well ordered development this could lead to a decidedly rectangular, and ultimately self-defeating path, but from what he had seen of his neighborhood’s senselessly winding roads and poorly planned dead-ends he felt reasonably safe, and it wasn’t as though he was planning to adhere to his route schedule against all obstacles, he left just enough leeway in his turning instructions to prevent disaster. Thus, with logic stolidly in his corner, he turns left.
He walks for what feels like hours as the music separates him from the sounds around him. He drinks in the smells around him, the good and the bad. The crisp twinge of wet grass and sweet flowers not yet oppressed by the heavy heat of the sun and the occasional rank odor of an open garbage can hover in patches of air that he wades through as he passes. Suddenly the strong scent of decay creeps out at him from behind a fence in an abandoned yard of an empty house that crawls past him on the right side. He assumes it’s an opossum or armadillo, but he doesn’t look to see.
Almost immediately his left turn odyssey carries him out of familiar waters as he comes to the first new street. Rather pleased with his own game he begins to wonder how so many winding roads of photo-copy houses can fit in such a small place. This thought was followed quickly by the outlandishly amusing one that perhaps the development contained more houses than there was physically room for…the mundane version of Dr. Who’s TARDIS. It wasn’t a thought that lasted long.
He keeps encountering new street after new street, left turn after left turn. Some of the roads did bend and wind to the right, but he doesn’t count that against himself as he disqualified all optionless diversions along a given road as “non-turns”, and he thanks them for keeping him from walking in circles. His logic is impeccable.
The long shadows of the intermittent streetlamps and the feeble glow of the pale moonlight do little to illuminate the darkness beneath the trees overhanging the road, and he frequently finds himself moving into and out of the light like Morse code…should anyone be watching him from above. He thinks about running at a steady pace to make his typing more legible, but that’s nonsensical. As the walk continues, he beings to feel stranger and stranger about the neighborhood’s unfamiliarity. He wonders how so much of it can be so foreign to him after living there so long.
As the last few songs on the album begin to pipe into his ears he realizes that he’s been walking for nearly an hour without sighting a familiar street. At first he wonders if he hasn’t somehow wandered far away from home. He attacked the sudden fear with logic, “That’s ridiculous!” he admonishes himself aloud as he checks his suddenly quickening steps to prove his certainty to himself. He knows that he hasn’t crossed any of the streets that border the development; he would have recognized them instantly if he had. Despite his logical deduction he couldn’t help his sudden wondering…maybe his pharmacist had given him a bad xanax. In that case what could he trust? Certainly not his logic.
“Maybe I’m delusional, I could be reading the signs wrong,”
“How would you know if I was?”
“But if I’m delusional there’s no reason the delusion should be limited to simply the street signs,” he reasons as he stops walking.
“Makes sense to me, but under that logic how would I even be sure I’ve stopped walking?”
“Maybe I didn’t even start…” he says curiously.
He had spent most of the previous evening stressing about the end of the world. Not the hysterical panic of a religious sense which never scared him much due to the leeway given by the possibility of an afterlife, but the sobering panic caused by the sinister, inexplicable, and brutally sudden end peeking out from the pages of Carl Sagan’s and Stephen Hawking’s books which had so completely consumed his attention hours before his sleeplessness set in. He didn’t know what it was about someone explaining the universe that scared him so, but he kept going back for more, as if he were addicted to that fear.
With his thoughts drawn back to the night before his heart begins to beat more and more quickly both from his growing concern over being lost, and his fear of the cruel insensitivity of the universe around him. As always he shelters himself in self diagnosis,
“Don’t worry,” he says to himself, “your heart’s beating fast both because of the anxiety and the exercise. You haven’t slept much and are walking to calm down. Not manic at all. Just let the medicine do its work. You aren’t going to die.” It was like a rote prayer to logic, but seldom did anything to help. What did help was, just as the second to last song came on in his headset, he looked up and noticed himself standing at the crossroads of a familiar street, and he immediately knows where he is.
He wasn’t sure if he had misread the sign as he came to a halt, or whether in his panic he had just not paid attention, but at that moment he didn’t care. He makes his way back to the main road that runs across the western face of the subdivision bus as he walks through the early morning sprinklers to his house something still seems strange. The water splashes across his shoes as he tromps steadily over the puddle laden sidewalk and wonders.
When he finally reaches his own porch again, he looks up at the moon. He hardly expected to find it in precisely the same position, after all he had been walking for over an hour, but as sure as he had been that the moon was waning when he left he is now doubly sure that it is waxing now. For a moment he wonders at which point he was, or is, mistaken since logic dictates the moon could hardly wane and wax in the same night let alone the same hour. The moon seemed to be a mirror image of the one that had hung over him when he left, but he decides that when he left the house he was certainly at his most agitated so it was clearly the most likely time for his mind to misinterpret. Praising the restorative power of exercise on the unsettled mind he pushes his way back into his house and declares himself cured.

The twenty year fortress is heavy today
the wastepaper walls and typewriter halls
have shrunk to lay upon me
and stick like the threads of spiders.

It cannot be lifted,
but is never so oppressive than when I am tired

The footprints of my younger self
are etched upon the floors
just as all my fingerprints
are carved upon the doors

My shadow’s stained the sidewalk
the streetlights know my name
and should I go a dying
that memory I’d remain

Can I bring myself to crawl from out beneath the tower?
The tower is heavier than usual today.

The doors are neither locked
nor the windows barred
but on the heaviest of days
the future seldom reaches beyond the yard

Am I to ever haunt this place
though all my friends are gone
from Marius’ empty table
a chair for me to sit upon

The fortress it is aging
and dragging me along
to make that weight the heavier
shades of darkness, greyer dawns

How can you pick your feet up
When there’s nowhere for them to land
Silence, broken futures,
and a weight that’s far to grand

Push, Push, Push
If an Everprince I’d be
Before the falling tower
Finally buries me

But how can I abandon
What will lately fall behind?

What if any of the fortresses foundation am I?
And dare I seek to learn.

I am tired, today is heavy
It is time I put it down.

My empty room is crowded
With things no longer here
Where is the cloth balloon?
the paper crayons?
the tapping at my window?

They all had voices these childhood things
But they are silent now
The ceiling fan lost an arm
In a battle no one now remembers
And the only light still lightning
Is drowning in its last mournful and incessant hum.

And what will keep us company when at last her breath gives out to spill a new born dark on the room of strange neighbors?

They cleaned the broken glass
And stole away the shards
Covered the charcoal pencil door,
broke its handle
it had a glass handle
it never opened anyway

I hid the Never mural when the clothes again were hung, but there’s still blood in the finger-painted walls. I traced my shadow freely for proof that it was there that the laughing corner faces would have someone keep them company.
But these are not the things of childhood
They are awake
long shadows from small doorways
a whistled reassurance down the lonely hall
paper over paper
and solid armor words
can neither resurrect the room I can remember but no longer see nor can they protect me from the shell it left behind

my empty room is quiet
where the silent sounds are loudest
I can still see the metal hook
Where the cloth balloon was hung
And perhaps the room remembers
My room
My empty room remembers

It was a Sunday,
the fourth of August
nineteen ninety-one,
not that I remember the day

what is tile…
then was linoleum
what is wood was carpet
the front door had been blue
but only the pictures can be sure

I am there and I am seven
Or rather he,
he is there, he is seven

that boy still owns the hallways
and I am just the borrower.
If I lay my head beside him
when his bedtime nightly comes
can we close such a distance no smaller than an age? Can I shed my mind of the hurling of the world through vastness and void
and just share that space with that boy?

I have nothing to tell him
There’s nothing I could teach that he will not learn in time, but rather I’d beg him to refund me the price the years have charged

I’d ask him why we cried atop a Massachusetts stair and told our Mother we’d forgotten how to fly.

I cannot ask him, myself so young, I’ve forgotten where he lives. But maybe on the fourth, of a Sunday in nineteen ninety-one he yet remembers.

I want to see that boy at seven even with my waking eyes if only to conquer a bit of time and unite two brief instants of a life that is by those ticking seconds divided until I become indivisible
And die.

In the house that stands before me
Nine windows have gone dark and aged to quiet sleeping.

They had steadily winked as sentries for longer than could ever have been rightly asked, to preside over the cracking paint and crumbling foundation to which time condemns the things we label home.

The warmth is now departing
It’s seeping through the panes
like the last exhausted breath of dying that is pushing me away

How far can that wind take me?
With only my pockets left for sails
To that so near strip of gravel
That separates the familiar and the foreign?
Not hardly so far as that.

The light no longer scapes the dark
Nine windows hint no flame
It’s the gravity of the collapse that holds it there and pulls me back again

With the home fires slowly burning out
before me and behind me not but blackness all about
where I’m going
what I’m leaving
rain, and fire, and doubt

but there’s yet on lighted window
in that dying house’s face
a flicker from a small room
abandoned while its marking time
that unforgiving empty space

If I turn my back upon it
the candle will cease to shout
then there will be no looking in
through the light not looking out

and at once I turned myself from it
on my shoulders felt no heat
the light behind subsided
ten windows now asleep.


on May 29, 2013 in Poetry | No Comments »

There was a lad of ten or twelve
with a rusty heart of stone and wood
and he waited for that pretty girl
as his love told him he should

But when she heard that he would wait
no matter how she hid
to test his promise she made him wait
and wait he ever did