Reading Weeds, Part II: The Thorns Beneath the Blooms

Spring, like new-fallen snow, makes photographers of us all. Whether or not we have a camera to hand, the freshness of new green and new blossoms sets our noticing muscles to full workout mode. Everything is worth capturing. 

And everything worth capturing is worth musing over. Spring beauty is full of metaphors. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago was the hawthorn, a blooming European tree that’s gone feral all over our island, spread by birds who enjoy the hawthorn’s deep-red berries in fall.

Wild hawthorn

So I wrote a song about lovely spring, and what its loveliness hides. Since it speaks for itself, I shall let it do just that:

Golden Day

Bless the spring, bless the earth,

bless the blossoms of rebirth.

Bless the hawthorn’s sweet perfume,

bless the thorns beneath the blooms.      

There’s no place for suffering on such a golden day,

but I know it’s hovering, not so far away.

Bless the one who struggles for a little grace;

to this tender sunlight let her lift her face.

—G. Wing, 2015

Bless the thorns beneath the blooms…

 

Gangstagrass: Building Bridges One Song At a Time

Hip-hop and Bluegrass: could there be two American musical genres further apart? (OK, maybe Hip-hop and Country. But I’m not holding my breath.) Chances are, if you love one, you loathe the other.

image from Gangstagrass.com

In this oh-so-polarized nation of ours, any sign of crossover strikes me as positive, like hearing about about interracial, inter-political, or interfaith marriages.

Gangstagrass , out of New York City, is almost exactly what it sounds like, except their style of rap is NOT what I would call “gangsta.” It’s progressive. Literally; just the fact of its existence moves us, as a country, forward. My friend Steve recently came across Gangstagrass at the Wintergrass Festival in Bellevue, WA this year. (Thanks, Steve, for sending the videos.)

Here’s what their website has to say:

Gangstagrass has toured internationally, blowing minds on main stages from SXSW to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, with a live stage act taking full advantage of the improvisational aspects of both hip-hop and bluegrass. With two emcees R-Son and Dolio The Sleuth trading verses, Dan Whitener on Banjo, Landry McMeans on dobro, and Rench on guitar, and frequent 3 part harmonies, the Gangstagrass live show has garnered a reputation among fans for its dynamism and spontanaety. Currently touring across the US, Gangstagrass is using live performances to organically develop new material for an album that will further explode the boundaries between genres generally thought to be incompatible.

This is not a puff piece, so I’m not going to claim that Gangstagrass is top-level bluegrass OR rap. What they are, though, is a group worth listening to: for the music they make, and for the fact that they came together to make it at all. Whom else might they be bringing together?

Give them a listen, OK? And feel free to recommend other mixed-genre groups you might know about. Our country needs them right now.

O Come ALL Ye Faithful: A Non-Divisive Christmas Carol That Actually Celebrates Christmas

Have you ever noticed that the words of some of your favorite Christmas carols make you uncomfortable? Maybe they frame the holy spirit in a way you don’t. Maybe their picture of Jesus isn’t yours. Or maybe they go too far in the other direction, pretending naively–or with obnoxious commercialism–that the holiday is really about Santa Claus and gifts.

I love Christmas for its traditions–food, evergreens, decorations, family, gifts, and, yeah…food. (I love food.) Raised in a vaguely Judeo-Christian tradition, I don’t call myself a Christian, but I deeply admire Jesus, and singing to celebrate his birthday seems like a good idea to me. I just need the right kind of song to sing.

So I wrote one.

Come ALL Ye Faithful  by G. Wing, 2012

 

Chorus:           

O come all ye faithful and sing a Christmas song         That doesn’t make non-Christians feel as though they don’t belong

 Let’s sing about a birthday that brings so many joy

 A humble, patient mother and a tiny baby boy.

 

I know that we can’t all agree on what the season means

So let’s avoid divisive lines that highlight our extremes

For some Christ is the Savior, for some he is the King

But for many, Jesus’ teachings are the real gift he brings.

Chorus

A man of peace, a man of prayer, who turns the other cheek

And preaches that the earth belongs to the blessed meek

Now that’s a man whose birthday anyone could celebrate

Without regard to questions of his anointed state.

Chorus

So Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Jew, and yes, even atheists

Should all feel welcome in this song to join with Christian deists

And sing a joyful glo-o-ria about a starry night

Without the lyrics telling them their own beliefs aren’t right.

Chorus

If you find this song offensive to your sensibilities

Just look at all the Santas and the glowing Christmas trees

If they can all be blended with a Christian world view

Then surely you can harmonize this carol with them too.

Chorus

In honor of the season, here’s a classical Madonna and Child image:

Madonna with Child and Angels by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato (courtesy OpenClipArtLibrary)

 And here’s one a little closer to my heart, Dorothea Lange’s 1936 Migrant Mother:

The least of these…

If you want to hear what my Christmas carol sounds like, send me your email and I’ll send you a recording. Meanwhile, whatever it means to you: Merry Christmas!