After my mom’s passing last year, I didn’t feel the desire to write. After two novels, I just didn’t have the urge to work on another. The joy wasn’t entirely gone (I released a sci-fi noir short story called Insurance last year with all proceeds benefitting Stand Up to Cancer), but it had ebbed considerably. I needed another outlet.
My mom and I had a shared love of music. I sent her CDs (her favorite format) all the time and even bought her a CD player a few years ago when hers finally gave out after decades of wear (they’re nearly impossible to find in brick and mortar stores now). I made her mixes, burned her the latest Beck and Neil Finn albums, and got her the Day of the Dead box set (covers of the Grateful Dead by Angel Olsen, The National, Real Estate, and others). Some of the music was pretty obscure, like Light in the Attic’s Native North America compilation of aboriginal for, rock, and country form the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Those songs alternated from plaintiff Neil Young guitar folk (Brian Davey’s Dream of Ways and Lloyd Cheechoo’s Winds of Change), to surf rock (Sugluk’s Fall Away and Saddle Lake Drifting Cowboy’s Modern Rock), to Dead Head worthy jams (Sikumiut’s self-titled song), to even space age synth (David Campbell’s Sky-Man and the Moon). And she liked to share music with me too. A few weeks before she died, she texted me to see if I had ever heard of a band called the xx that she learned about on NPR. She thought I might like them (I do).
I had dabbled with the idea of making my own music early in 2017. During the weeks following Mom’s death on April 1st (a cruel, fool’s day joke), however, a more concrete plan developed. I decided that I’d make an album to fill a desperate creative void…and maybe, even if momentarily, the hole in my heart. And I promised myself I’d complete the project before the anniversary of her passing.
“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Andersen
There were a number of problems with this grand vanity project, complications lost to me in the cloud of confusion and grief. I don’t sing…except in the shower. I don’t play any instruments. Not a lick. I don’t know the first thing about producing a song, let alone an album. I’m probably the worst equipped person for a DIY project like this. Still, I somehow picked and plucked my way through the semblance of a number of largely synth-based, instrumental songs. I even had enough stuff for two b-sides on some singles I put out in advance of the album’s release on March 16th.
The first single is Isolation, one of my favorite songs on the album. The b-side is essentially a remix of an album track called Communiqué.
You’ll notice a theme as you review the cover art. Yes, in the words of Lisa and Bryce from Portlandia, “I put a bird on it!” Actually, I put birds on all of it. The bird featured on first single is a chickadee, my great grandfather’s nickname for my mom.
The second single, Love Life, is double entendre, a reminder to love life and love those in it. The b-side is a Lullaby for my friends’ newborn, Michael.
The album’s entitled Ornithology. The title flows from a visit with my mom in Texas a few years ago. We spent the afternoon in the sun of the back yard watching birds flit among the tops of the cedar trees. We listened to their calls and tried to identify their various species by their songs using an app. It is one of my fondest memories.
It’s exciting (and, yes, terrifying…hence the band name, Panic Attack) to come to the end of this journey, to share something with the world that honors my mom and has helped me heal. I hope you enjoy.
Ornithology is available on March 16th. All proceeds/donations benefit Stand Up to Cancer.