wings, 2022, etc
Hi, my darling. Lazy Sunday in Amsterdam on this fine January 2, 2022.
I have about six trillion tabs open.
I am very sleepy.
I’m resisting the urge to eat the chocolate cake I have in the fridge (set, enticingly, as my reward for finishing this ttalk).
Said chocolate cake, a double chocolate extravaganza, was the final flourish of a pretty spectacular (if! i! may! say! so! myself!) New Years celebration.
The festivities included Ben and Tete, dear friends who live out here now. They are also pretty much the only people we trust to actually be safe with omicron ripping through these mean Amsterdamian streets, so we recently asked if they’d like to be in a cutie pod with us.
Thankfully they said yes, which means a 200% increase in unmasked indoor hangs for me in the literal past two years. This also means they will eat like absolute royalty because I have that full two years’ worth of Jewish grandmother feeding energy to get out of my system.
So for New Years I went in, you feel me?
We ate like Dutch queens and kings, and when midnight came around we got to enjoy my favorite part of Holland New Years, which is that the entire sky turns into a firework.
(If you haven’t been to Holland for December 31, I promise you have no possible framework to understand this.
(I will try my best.)
I’m not talking a city display, or some rogue citizens with their own private stash. I’m talking: From the moment the clock strikes midnight until as of this typing the next two evenings, there are fireworks exploding from literally every rooftop. The entire sky is full of epic fireworks in every part of the city for hours, not minutes.
It is EPIC.
My Dutch brethren I know this is a controversial topic with the fireworks potentially on their way to being illegal, but I’m glad that at least this year, after all we’ve been through, we got to see the show.
Because it has been so quiet, so lackluster, so … held back, even when the world temporarily “opened.”
I needed the enormity of those fireworks. This time last year, for example, we were gearing up to leave NY. Amidst the overwhelm, I posted the below story on my Instagram.
Zero fireworks. The list spoke, instead, to how I felt about both the move and my whole life.
A year later now.
January 2, 2022, to be specific, and the thing that’s driving me insane today is that I cannot, cannot, cannot figure out the lyrics for the last song I need to finish for this album.
The song, borne of one of the first demos I put down when we got to Amsterdam, has deep potential. It is a little bit maybe a lot a bit of a banger. I remember its melody and many of its lyrics came out of my body pretty much formed: A verse, a pre and a chorus, out the gate.
I owe the inspiration to our neighbor in the building directly across from our studio, who faithfully sits at his computer and works from home from 8 am to 8 pm. He is bald and has an eternal cup of tea by his side and just … works.
I got up to start on a demo that morning, and he happened to wave at me.
It was the cutest thing to ever happen.
And I thought two things:
(1) “Man, do I love him”
(2) “Man, do I miss movement.”
There’s no real accounting for why we think these things. Why, when our neighbor is being a bobi, we think, “Whoops, time to get tf out of here.” But I went with it and sang the demo out. The melody was fire, the lyrics took my usual course of t wanderlust. If you remember the spreadsheet from my initial writing days, this is how I described the silvery beginnings of the song before we recorded anything.
Wrote it just shy of a year ago.
Recorded it in June.
Lived with it for another six months, and it’s still driving me nuts.
Nuts, I tell you.
The lyrics currently center around the line, “I can feel the wings pricking at my shoulders.”
Not a new sentiment or even sentence for me. I first put this lyric in a song called “you and i,” written just about a decade ago for my beloved father.
(The beauty of sticking around in music, we can take the lyrics from our old songs and put them wherever we want, you know?)
(To that end - I know there are many hundreds of you reading taalitalk now, but what are the odds that you’ve been with me since the very, very beginning and know that song?)
(It was so sweet and earnest)
(I used to play it on a toy piano.)
Maybe one or two of you knew me back then, probably not.
Either way, I adore you and am so grateful you’re here. In the very likely event that you didn’t know me then, I scoured the internet to find a video of it for you. One of my OG fans, Bill King, filmed the below on his phone at one of my monthly residencies on the little stage of Rockwood. Please enjoy us as absolute babies almost a decade ago, birthing the lyric that is making me now rip my hair out.
Cute, eh? Though I sound positively dreadful, I have a lot of love for that configuration of musicians. Two of my favorite people on the planet, Daniel Ellis Ferris (on vocals slash such impressive 6’7 height that Bill couldn’t fit him in frame) and Nick Jozwiak on vocals and bass.
God, that band.
I remember the panic and pain and resignation and then joy that led to its forming. I remember the freedom I felt to be with people (men, no less!) who actually believed in my music, who weren’t looking for anything else from me, weren’t looking to put me down.
I owe Daniel and Nick my life, to this day. They were and are my family. And we would sing together every month at stage one, that magnificent 55 cap room.
(At another show that likely went just like that, a famous friend of mine, José James, happened to be in the audience.)
(I thought it was one of my worst shows, yet there he was, tweeting.)
I had no idea how much my life was changing in those moments. José pulled me aside that night and gave me a ten year vision of where he thought my career could go that was damn near prescient.
So much of what he told me that night came true. But still I’m here, a decade later, unable to crack this song. The band on the recording sounds so epic, the production is stellar, it’s my lyrics that are lacking. And though I know that perfectionism is a killer, I just can’t bear the idea of you hearing it in this current state of mediocrity.
I can’t bear the idea of not giving this song its proper due.
This album is about the worst year of my life. It is an allegory and it is a love letter, and I need every damn word to be there for a reason.
But right now this one’s chorus lyrics still sound like mediocre placeholders. When we initially did the vocals in Brooklyn, I hunkered down and recorded the entire album in a marathon two days. The lyrics still weren’t finished, so I did a trick that almost always works for me: I let time decide, and sang whatever I had on the mic.
Normally this is a great strategy, one I encourage my students to consider, even. Set a deadline and then finish the thing. You almost always have the right words.
Not this time. And due to circumstances out of my control, I’ve had the unique experience of being able to listen to the album in its entirety for six months with these placeholder lyrics. That’s why I know, in my soul, that they remain just … off.
I will however, subject myself to the torture of sharing them in their current pablum mediocrity with you. Because this is a great therapy session!
The chorus currently reads:
I was made to fly
(My soul knew)
Every little doubt I faced was just another celebration
I was made to fly
To break through
Nothing left to fight or chase if you’ve already found your space inside
Oh god, my love. That last line. HEINOUS.
I can feel that if/when I get this song right, it’ll be a call to action. It’ll be a way to speak to myself, much like my song “Los Angeles,” and it’ll mean so much if/when it occurs.
But the issue is that I don’t believe it just yet.
I know that the theme of flight lives in my lyrics in its literal form, the ever coursing wandering Jewish blood in my veins. But soaring … the idea of being made to fly? That is some goal shit. And I don’t have the confidence yet to back it up.
So I am stuck. I spent a morning banging my head against the wall, trying to will that confidence into my heart.
I decided instead to bake my defacto new Jewish grandchildren/COVID pod some saffron buns.
I transported the buns down the harrowing Dutch staircase.
Navigated across town through a massive riot/protest.
Landed near Ben and Tete’s.
Just outside their door I happened to see the world’s cutest dog, which JJ caught in real time.
And then I lifted the buns up to their perfect canal facing window and we got to eating with our faves. I didn’t need to be confident or verbose or anything really, just got to enjoy my perfect little pod.
As we left, the light was beautiful and Ben snapped this one, which I’ll treasure for a while.
And now I’m home. This album needs to be done by the end of January so that you can listen to it in June. I’ll get the song or I won’t, who knows.
It’s pouring outside. God do I love this about Holland: It seems to pour only at night. Only when you have the wüdbürner at its absolute apex of coziness, or at 2 am when you’re warm and safe. The rain patters loud enough to rouse you, to allow you to look around, thank the good lord for this perfect safe haven of a city you’ve found, and smile yourself back into slumber.
I’ll get the song or I won’t, who knows. After the year(s) we’ve all had, I’m giving myself a break for now.
Till next week.