Arts DEVO is not a religious man nor a philosopher, but he is devoted to the songs. It’s in the lyrics of my favorites where I often get confirmation of the few truths that guide me, and the good songwriters usually express them better than I can.
Some say once you’re gone you’re gone forever, and some say you’re gonna come back / Some say you rest in the arms of the savior if in sinful ways you lack / Some say that they’re comin’ back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas / I think I’ll just let the mystery be
—Iris DeMent, “Let the Mystery Be”
One of my projects for 2021 is to learn how to play a couple of covers every month. Since Christmas, I’ve been compiling a list of songs with my all-time favorite lyrics, and as I’ve whittled it down, some inadvertent common themes have emerged.
It’s time to fly into life’s mystery / It’s time to go somewhere we’ve never seen / It’s time to fly into life’s mystery / Fly into the mystery
—Jonathan Richman, “Fly into the Mystery”
We’re here after all. We should explore all the stuff, live the life of our choice and be as free as we can.
Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free
—Leonard Cohen, “Bird on the Wire”
Cohen wrote that song while living on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s with other artists and expats whose attempts at a simple idyllic life were thwarted when telephone poles went up, bringing in electricity and the modern world and killing their 11th-century vibe.
The beauty of “Bird on the Wire” is in its honest assessment of the pursuit of living freely. Even the cosmopolitan poet/songwriter devoted to the notion can’t escape humanity, nor the personal mess of being human (I have torn everyone who reached out for me).
We all try, and we all mess up at least as much as we get right. Every one of us. But the beauty, the pain; that’s everything.
I was talkin’ to my girlfriend; I told her I was stressed / I said I’m going off the deep end, she said, “God, for once, give it a rest” / We’re all waiting in the dugout thinking we should pitch / How you gonna throw a shutout if all you do is bitch? / I got nothing to lose, ’cause I got nothing to gain / It’s like a one-way ticket to cruising this passing lane / I can’t complain
—Todd Snider, “I Can’t Complain”
I hate that a large swath of America has co-opted the word “freedom,” deeming only those with whom they agree as worthy of liberty. As a result, for many others, being free equals escape from small minds and small towns.
Oh-oh come take my hand; We’re riding out tonight to case the promised land / … Mary climb in / It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win
—Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road”
It’s been a pleasant surprise to have an added sense of purpose threading through my song project, something to hold onto during the coronavirus pandemic as I stare out my window, strum my guitar and sing/dream of being free to be in the world again.
Speeding motorcycle, the road is ours / Speeding motorcycle, let’s speed some more / ’Cause we don’t need reason and we don’t need logic / We’ve got feeling and we’re dang proud of it / Speeding motorcycle, there’s nothing you can’t do / Speeding motorcycle, I love you / Speeding motorcycle, let’s just go
—Daniel Johnston, “Speeding Motorcycle”