Thursday, January 30, 2014

Missouri Blue: The Gift of Hope

The following is part of a series of short essays about particular Logos tracks. I think it helps to relate to the music better to understand their stories. All of these tracks can be listened to or downloaded at

1. Missouri Blue (listen here.

The motel in Marshall, MO.        

Most of my tracks have stories behind them. Sometimes they are revealed to me in the process of writing them. At other times, the composition itself arises from the circumstances of my life. The best pieces are often born of the most difficult stories. Missouri Blue is one of those.

It was December of 2010 and I was having something of an existential crisis. My marriage had ended eight months earlier, and now I had quit my job at Moog Music and uprooted my entire life in Asheville, where I'd lived for 17 years, and moved to Denver, CO. I was seeking a bigger life in a bigger place, but the catalyst for my move was actually the desire to be with a woman I'd known only a couple of months, (most of that long-distance). I was in the throes of a romantic and mystical revelation, a Quixotic leap of faith into the unknown.

And then came the inevitable crash. After living my entire adult life in one town, a place where I had developed deep social connections and financial resources, I suddenly felt like a plant violently uprooted and transplanted into strange soil. I went into what can only be described as a state of shock.

At first I was invigorated by the excitement of being in a new place. But soon I found myself desperately homesick and uncertain how to navigate this strange new life. I began to feel empty and numb, sinking into a mild depression. I couldn't bring myself to leave the house most days. Furthermore, I had no idea how to find employment in a strange town, without any local references. My savings began to dwindle and the reality of living with someone I hardly knew proved to be more difficult than I'd anticipated. Disheartened, I returned to Asheville, tail between my legs, with the intention of returning to my old job, saving money, and trying again. It was a week before Christmas.

As I was driving home across the barren wasteland that is rural Missouri, my car began to overheat. Foolishly, I attempted to drive it to the next exit. But moments later the engine seized up and the car came to a stop. I had blown a head gasket; the car would never make it to its destination.
The nearest town was Marshall, MO, a bleak and remote speck of a place. After being towed to a repair shop where the vehicle was pronounced dead on arrival, I went in search of lodging, not knowing what else to do. I found a dingy motel down the road. It was one of the bleakest places I've ever seen. The room had a foul stench and insufficient heat. Roaches crawled across every surface. I didn't see another person at the motel the entire time I stayed there.

I spent three days in that motel, waiting for a friend to come rescue me. It was a kind of purgatory, an in-between place. When I looked at the map to see where I'd marooned myself, I realized the great irony of my situation: unable to decisively commit myself to my new life, I'd wound up stuck right in the middle, geographically speaking, of my new and old life. I was roughly half way between Denver and Asheville, which happens to be the exact middle of nowhere. And it was grey and cold and desperately lonely there.

I had my laptop and a keyboard with me. I decided to make the most of my time in purgatory. I opened Ableton Live and began improvising. Reaching for an electric piano sound, I played some simple chords. They sounded so sweet to me, yet tinged with sadness. Some icy sounds came next: soft pads and bell-like melodies. It sounded like Winter. But as more elements got added, a sense of tension began to creep in. The piece got thicker and darker and more intense. The anxiety in my soul that had pushed me out of Denver had a voice, and it sounded like a highly distorted guitar. Soon my beautiful, winter melody was a cacophony of electronic noise.
And then the original sound came back. The electric piano chords returned and the whole process came full circle. It was so soothing to play those chords again, to realize that there was hope throughout the process, even when it seemed most bleak.

I managed to make it back to Asheville on December 21. I arrived just in time for the annual Winter Solstice party at The Landing (an intentional community I co-founded). I felt such relief to be among friends and family at last.

Three years later to the day, I performed the final version of the track I ended up calling "Missouri Blue" at the Landing Solstice gathering. I live there now, with a partner who makes me very happy and a baby who is about to be one year old. The song, meanwhile, has changed a lot as well, but the spirit remains the same. It is a gift for my daughter, one of six that I created for her in the form of songs on my most recent album. This one is a reminder that even in our most lonely, difficult times there is still hope. And that sometimes, you have to go away to realize how good home actually is.

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