But for the grace.

When you love someone who has battled her very own demons of addiction, as I have and continue to do, the sudden and shocking death of a celebrity like Whitney Houston (or Amy Winehouse before her, or countless others before either of them) isn’t just sad in a “she had such talent” sort of way, but in a very real and alarming “there but for the grace” sort of way, too.

In the coming days, the internet — and blogs like this one, I’m sure — will be flooded with Whitney Houston remembrances. Some people will be reflecting on the woman they actually knew and cherished. Others will be paying tribute to a celebrity they especially appreciated,  identified with, or maybe even “loved” in that odd way we sometimes find ourselves caring about well-known people safely beyond our reach.

And yet, for some of us, those of us who spend a fair amount of our lives juggling a deep love for an addict and the fear of addiction’s ultimate grasp, the remembrances are less about Whitney’s life, or even her death, and more about the (often purposely) unacknowledged frailty inhabiting our own homes.

May Whitney rest in peace, indeed, but may those of us who remain to fight addiction’s battle, or love those who do, find a measure of peace, as well.

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Recommendation.

You know how I get when I find a new band that I love. Well, this band has been a bit of obsession ever since seeing them open for Over the Rhine (two days before the video below was recorded). After all, they’ve already warranted an entire “The 5” post, here.

Here’s a great chance to see them perform an entire opening set, if you’re interested in this sort of thing. Mad talent, funny guys, good stuff.

If you enjoy their music (and let’s be honest, you should), go to their website and be sure to download their free (!) albums, which are available here. Then, be sure to support them. Go see a show, buy a t-shirt, or order some old school vinyl.

You’re welcome.

Eva.

Fifteen years ago today, vocalist Eva Cassidy lost her battle to melanoma at the age of 33. Unfortunately, Eva’s amazing talent was barely known outside of her local D.C. music community until several years after her death. It’s rumored that Eva had been reluctant to release Live at Blues Alley, a recording that has become of her most popular posthumous releases, because she thought she sounded like she had a cold. Listening to it now, as I still often do, it’s hard to imagine why. In a world full of auto-tuned pop “sensations,” Eva’s music serves as a reminder of the beauty of true, unvarnished talent.

As some of you may know, melanoma has been a subject close to our hearts since my wife’s diagnosis this past summer. We were lucky. My wife’s melanoma was caught early and removed successfully. Not everyone, obviously, is as fortunate.

Today, take a little break and enjoy just a moment of this incredible talent, taken far too soon.

Beautifully broken.

My journals are filled with pain. The very act of writing has often been a respite for me, a time for soul-searching therapy and then, a necessary emotional purging. Committing my disconsolate feelings to the written word both acknowledges and organizes the brokenness. And so, when I’ve found myself in the trenches of some sort of emotional turmoil, or later just trying to make sense of it all, I’ve found myself writing. For whatever reason, I allow the pain and hurt to infiltrate the written word in a way that I would struggle to find acceptable or “safe” in spoken conversation.

I write about the “good times” — joy, laughter, and love — far less. I assume it’s because those thoughts and feelings don’t require the same mental gymnastics or organization that comes from writing them down. Those thoughts and feelings also don’t require the cover of silence offered by text on a page in order for them to be acceptable or shared.

The scary thing about this blog is a feeling of permanence that I’ve never allowed in my private journals. It’s routinely been my practice to delete my old writings and journals, sometimes immediately, which is a benefit of writing on the computer instead of in a Moleskine. Deleting them doesn’t eradicate the pain of those moments, obviously, but it’s been a step toward some sort of closure for me, a way to close the book on an experience.

As part of my wife’s 12-Step process of recovery, she has made a lot of amends. Amends, if you’re familiar with the lingo, are about more than simply making apologies. Amends seek to take responsibility and make restorations, wherever possible. Much brokenness came from that time in our lives when we were traveling to hell and back with her addiction. As much as I appreciate (and frankly, at times, need) her willingness to take responsibility for so much of the destruction of that time, I also know that some of my brokenness can never been repaired or restored. I know this is a source of guilt for my wife, in no small part because of the times I expressed my grief and despair as feeling as though I was “losing pieces of myself.”

The simple truth is that we never really can completely close the book on our those experiences or gain back all of those lost pieces. While the pain of those moments dissipates with work and time (more with work than time, for the record), the brokenness left behind is something that shapes who we are and who we will be. For a long time, this fact seemed like a negative, a lingering inescapable punishment. What I’m beginning to discover now is that the process of living through and then moving beyond the brokenness is where I’ve learned the most about myself… and, hopefully, about the world around me.

Out of the brokenness, beauty.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
-Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

I find myself gravitating toward people who have lived with and through their own brokenness, only to come out on the other side of it as a better person. Those are the people who I find myself wanting to spend time with and that’s the kind of person that I hope to someday become.

One of my favorite songs on the newest Over the Rhine album, The Long Surrender, is “All My Favorite People Are Broken.” It’s the moving album finale, a tune filled with love, recognition, and the perfect melting instrumental goodbye. The song walks the delicate balance between warmth and sadness, which is, for me, one of the more endearing hallmarks of Over the Rhine’s music.

All my favorite people are broken. Beautifully broken. My heart should know.

Blessed.

This past March, Lucinda Williams released a new album called Blessed. While I’ve been aware of her country/bluesy/folk music for some time (after all, she’s been making music for a few decades now), her hypnotic duet with Karin Bergquist — “Undamned,” a beautiful song about love and grace and redemption — on Over the Rhine’s gorgeous The Long Surrender album gave me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with her and her music. I’m glad I did.

Lucinda put out a series of short “blessed” themed videos prior to the album’s release, part album promotion and part inspiration, that I found really compelling, too. You can watch them all below. They are described as follows:

Individual Testimonials of what it means to be “BLESSED”. Everyday people from the city of Los Angeles, CA sharing their story of why they are Blessed. These beautiful stories were volunteered, when simply asked to hold in their own hand writing a sign featuring the title of the upcoming album.

The overriding idea of the project, I gather, is that we’re all blessed in some way, regardless of our individual circumstances. The key is in the ability to recognize those blessings. And heck, maybe a sign helps, too.

Enjoy. Be blessed.

A little civility.

If you’ve paid even a bit of attention to my Facebook fawnings, you already know of my affection for the band The Civil Wars. I’m a bona fide music nut, no question, with a range of musical tastes that is only surpassed by my apparent Musical Attention Deficit Disorder, or MADD. No offense to the drunk driving moms.

It happens often… I’ll come across a new band or musician that, for a moment, just might be the best thing I’ve ever heard. Muscial perfection, I’d tell you. And then, like a junkie looking for his next fix, I move on to the next great thing. This has been my unapologetic routine for years now and I have the music library to prove it. Every once in a while, though, I come across a band or a performer that just “sticks,” for whatever reason. The Civil Wars is one such band.

The only problem is that when I find myself prattling on about The Civil Wars, as I tend to do, someone will inevitably ask me how I first heard about them. Then I have to admit that, while under the sort of television viewing duress that can only happen in marriage, I heard one of their songs on (the infernal) Grey’s Anatomy. Of course, I don’t remember anything about the particular episode — although I am sure Meredith’s weepiness was making me contemplate the benefits of carbon monoxide poisoning — but when I heard just a clip of “Poison & Wine,” I was hooked.


Chelli and I went to see the lovely duo live a few months back and I am happy to report that now she, too, is completely hooked. We already have tickets for their Columbus show this fall. While I love their recordings, seeing them live is something else entirely. They are two of the most engaging performers I’ve seen. Even though their music is often melancholy (my favorite kind), their delivery has the sort of charm that makes it all okay.


So humor me. Take a listen. Download their free live set, Live at Eddie’s Attic, on their website [http://www.thecivilwars.com/music.php] and see if you just might get a little hooked, too. At least you won’t have to tell somebody that you first heard about them on Grey’s Anatomy.