This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is one from Tom Waits’ “Dirt in the Ground.”
“The quill from a buzzard
the blood writes the word
I want to know am I the sky
Or a bird
‘Cause hell is boiling over
and heaven is full
We’re chained to the world
And we all gotta pull
And we’re all gonna be
Just dirt in the ground”
Paired with Waits’ pained, warbly, and rough voice, his words take on the existential questions that we, as humans, think about daily. What will become of us? What will be left? And what will we have to show? Waits attempts to answer the physicality aspect of these questions: “we’re all gonna be just dirt in the ground.” He touches on the point of the soul and where it leaves to, but dismisses its importance, rearing himself back to the point that no matter who we are or what we have done we will always end up being just dirt in the ground. Waits’ powerful message and distinctive voice reminds us to stay grounded and focused on what we have and what we know for certain will become of us when our last breath is taken.
The words this week appear in the Japandroids song “Younger Us” from their 2012 album Celebration Rockreleased on Polyvinyl Records.
The lines are:
“Remember that time you were already in bed/
Said ‘fuck it’ got up to drink with me instead”
I remember getting the seven inch this song originally appeared while on summer break back at my parents’ house in the south burbs of Chicago and immediately heading down to the basement record player to spin it. Since then this track has woven itself into my mental fabric, providing the sonic backdrop to Champaign-Urbana nights and the fits of nostalgia that bring back a yearning each Fall for the wide-angle-Future feelings I associate with that time in my life. In these two lines, Brian King provides the perfect emotional snapshot of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, stuck between the bored prudence of maturity and spontaneous stupidity of youth, reaching blindly for one while clutching the strings of the other. These words will always remind me of roaming the streets of Urbana in search of a bus stop or the smothered beat of a house party, semi-cognizant of impending conclusion to this pseud0-reality but choosing the comfort of carelessness instead. This one goes out to my friends struggling keep a passion for life under the tightening stranglehold of social expectation. We’ll always have younger us to remind us to stay crazy forever.
This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes to you from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens. It reads:
“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”
Throughout the novel we meet characters that are presented to us as angels or demons or spawns of Satan or everything in-between, yet in this range of dispositions no one is fundamentally anything, good or bad. Everyone is a bit of both thrown together; demons that show mercy and compassion and angels who do some damage here and there. In this whirlwind of times, it is often difficult to distinguish people from being anything other than good or evil, but the reality of the matter is that we are all human. We will always have a bit of both in us, even if we don’t mean to. What one person positively accomplishes does not mean they are fundamentally good, it just means they were a person who strived and reached and did what they set out to do. We are, and will always be, fundamentally people.
This weeks Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Sufjan Steven’s song “Casimir Pulaski Day” off of his album Illinois.
“On the floor at the great divide
with my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom
In the morning when you finally go
And the nurse runs in with her head hung low
And the cardinal hits the window
In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March, on the holiday
I thought I saw you breathing”
Sufjan speaks to the disheveled, hurtful remembrance of coping with the passing of a loved one. It is never easy. It comes on slowly and then all at once until you’re left “crying in the bathroom,” questioning the reason behind all of it (“and he takes and he takes and he takes”). As a holiday whose meaning is often forgotten, seen as nothing other than a day off, Sufjan titles this track as such to bring it back to the forefront, to not allow important moments as such to be forgotten. The entire song is composed of little pockets of memories the narrator holds dear, ones he wishes to never forget, even if they are painful. He reminds us that we must also not forget, not allow these moments to fall into the abyss but to keep them as a reminder of all that they meant to us.