R.I.P. Johann Johannsson

I have been listening to Johann Johannsson’s music for over a decade. I have written numerous poems as reflections upon and inspections into my emotional interactions with his music, his aesthetic. His heartfelt compositions have guided my dreams many a night, as I plug in my iPod and set it to shuffle through his music and other similar compositions. His music was integral to my process as a writer, as a music junkie, and someone continuously learning to deal with depression (it serves as a balm, believe it or not).

A week and a half ago, I was distressed to learn of his untimely death, amongst the many depressing things Twitter served up for me that Friday morning. Upon reading of his death, I choked back a couple lonely tears. Not because I had lost a “friend.” Not because my family had been whittled down by one. Because I faced a void in the sonic landscape of the future. Because an artist with real drive to make his audience look around and within themselves had vanished from the land of the living.

There will be no new albums or soundtracks or concerts of his to look forward to. Not one new sweep of cellos and field recordings composed by him will soar out of my stereo speakers.

This is not hero worship, but homage to an artist who truly touched my soul. Sometimes, you can legitimately, validly, and logically love a human being you’ve never met and, quite often, those people are artists, because art enriches our lives in so many facets. So many facets that we may have a better understanding of exoplanets than all the ways in which art can enrich, and even save, our lives.

Only twice have I seen him perform live – both times with the NYC-based ACME quartet. The first time was at the Triple Door (downtown Seattle for those that don’t know). My mom bought me and three of my friends tickets for my 35th birthday present. I still wonder how they were able to book him with tickets on sale for only $16 (wtf?!?); maybe he got a cut of the dinner sales. Maybe the money didn’t matter…yeah, right…keep fooling yourself, Gabe. All of that doesn’t really matter. It was the tectonic impact of the performance that mattered. I wept openly at the beauty of the performance. I firmly believe in open, unfettered emotional reactions to music and my engagement with it. It was a powerful performance. My friends teased me a little bit for being so weepy. I took it in stride and didn’t care one lick; I had seen a once-in-a-lifetime performance. It was clear that Johannsson gave his all in his live performances; he wanted you to feel it.

The second time I saw him perform was at Benaroya Hall. I took my septuagenarian friend, Ursula, with me. She frequents classical music performances and I thought it would be interesting to take her to a new-ish experience. As a retired person, she doesn’t have a ton of expendable income, but I somehow convinced her to join me, despite the fact that she hadn’t been very familiar with his work. I probably still owe her 30 bucks in recompense for her displeasure; she didn’t like the music, but she sat with an open mind. She was integral in the post-performance discussion. She voiced her distaste for his music, but was receptive to the fact that it had an impact and that, clearly, many people loved it. The exchange was scintillating and probably exactly what Johannsson would’ve wanted, regardless of approval rating.

After the show, we went across the street where my friend Tracy was playing a show…at the Triple Door no less. At one point, I went outside for a cigarette and saw Johann and the quartet loading out after the show. With a couple whiskeys in me, I had the courage to cross the street and approach them. In a simple manner, I just told him that I loved his music and thanked them all. He had a nervous response. It seemed that he was a quiet and reserved person and I may have made him self-conscious. He displayed gratitude through his discomfort. I went back inside to my friends, but with a shine that I had again witnessed a great performance with the addition of getting to meet him briefly.

All this is to say, the passing – all too early, all too suddenly – of Johann Johannsson has struck a deep chord within me. I will forever listen to his music with deep meditative approach and concentration, with a joy and a sorrow and an awe. His body of work cannot be dismissed or ignored in the canon. He deserves a level of recognition we’ve normally reserved for those we deem “masters,” because he is truly a master, in a realm and a time that rarely sees one in the way we venerate the masters of Classical music such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. Part of the sadness is that knowledge that so many people won’t know his grand impact until long after his death.

To Johann Johannsson, I offer my deepest gratitude. Thank you for the sounds you have gifted us with and I hope you find a grand performance hall in the afterlife.

Advertisements

Dear Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Just in the few moments

we had, earlier this week,

I was enjoined to a soul

you spoke with fire and relentlessness,

but you also had a voice

that cracked, in moments,

as if you were overwhelmed.

it was precious, endearing

and it was moving.

there were seconds at which

I thought you were breaking,

the recounting of a trauma,

the simple telling of the daily attack

my heart bled for you

in those moments, those ticks up against the breaking

I wanted to offer up comfort

to give a physical enrapturing, a holding

when your voice creaked and cracked

if only you would accept it.

They were moments of trial and triumph

moments I wanted to assuage

even if I know I’m powerless in the face of them

a single soldier facing an army so loud and braggadocious

but it also felt like connection.

I really only wanted to be

a decent man in your eyes.

LeafVein

leafvein

{02.18.18}

 

That tree has a mythical beauty;

moss-laden branches and leaves beginning,

as if it holds a manuscript for eternity in its numerous fractaled patterns.

It wraps me in a comfort the world seldom offers.

It is kin.

It is a map to the universe with a living, beating heart.

I would welcome it as a grandmother,

issuing condolence for bearing witness to the world

and wisdom to guide me through the darker passages.

Weave a story, assuringly,

threaded from knot and twist

and cone and leafvein.

If I died in this moment, my soul would be calm.

Let me become the soil

that connects water to root

to photosynthesis to whatever it is we call god anymore.

Become the holy man I thought I could be,

amongst the subterranean tangle

and the rain-kissed height of the canopy.

Imbue my grandmother’s gnarled and loving hands prouder than ever.

Become a story to pass down from Spring to Autumn.

Rekindle the conflagration

that once claimed a ventricular residence

in my heaving, raging chest.

But before my dying moment,

I will construct a philosophical shrine

at grandmother tree’s trunkbase.

There, in the quorum of leaves,

we will abolish violence and the solipsism

of the human heart and psyche.

You needn’t be prostrate

in the presence of this godly, oaken ancestor.

Instead, proud and tall

and reminiscent of a humble dignity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critical Shards

critical shards

{02.11.18}

 

I have a rich, layered, and all-too-harshly-critical inner monologue

yes, this is directed at other people, but

quite often it is a beating of self-effacing epithets

a litany of self-disappointments

critical shards comprising a very unfriendly mirror

even worse, it serves as an amplifier

for what I surmise everyone else

is thinking of me; how they view me

it serves to surprise me when someone likes me

and none of this is logical

I know I’m likeable

I know I’m smart and funny, but

self-hate manifestations of depression

don’t follow the orders of rationality and logic

it produces a child in the theater of my mind

watching with grave fear, when we look

at other people, when their gaze meets ours

we hear the awful judgments in their head

the judgments which are most likely never theirs

just these feedback loops and echoes from my own

inner monologue.

this isn’t to say I don’t love myself,

but to illustrate just how virulently

depression tries to eat you alive from inside your own mind.

Baseball Trivia 02.09.18

As of this writing – February 9th, 2018 – this career bullpen arm has played for one more team than Edwin Jackson. He has won one World Series ring and pitched 23.1 career postseason innings, relatively impressive for never starting and pitching in 10 different series, amounting to a little less than an inning per appearance. In 951.0 regular season IP, he amassed 15.4 WAR, striking out 10.8 hitters per 9 with a 1.238 WHIP. Despite a lack of eye-popping traditional stats – 59-50 W-L, 3.78 ERA – his 119 ERA+ suggests he was a valuable weapon, validating his long and winding career with numerous teams. Amongst his myriad of different teams, he has worn six uniform numbers. This righty had a three-pitch repertoire comprised of a fourseam fastball, slider, and curve, relying heavily on his fastball at a bit over 81% usage for his career. You have multiple guesses if needed; half as many guesses as teams he played for.

Suicide Is Painless

DISCLAIMER: This is not a cry for help. This is not for you to coddle me on social media. This is not for you to respond to in some clamoring way thinking I’m actually about to off myself. This is part of a larger writing project in which I’m trying, with great effort, to communicate what life is like with depression and suicidal ideation. Please, PLEASE, do not attempt to back me off of a ledge I’m not actually standing on, because that does not help in the least bit.

Suicide Is Painless

{02.04.18}

 

I have scripted my own death thousands of times

the taste of steel against my teeth

my tongue pressing into the muzzle

like a burrowing animal seeking its den

my trembling hand arriving at steady and resolve

pupillary explosion and horrified silence

in the faces of those surrounding me

a point of no return squeezing the trigger

right before release point

at the very last moment, I can smell iron and gunsmoke

 

and I’m vanished into a Jackson Pollock

of crimson and marrow at 2500 feet per second

Baseball Trivia 02.02.18

This player’s nickname is a lunar occurrence of about once every 2.7 years. His last name is also relatively rare and he shares it – no blood relation I’m aware of – with a left-handed power forward who played 13 seasons in the NBA. Working as a clerk at a liquor store in the offseason, he was shot twice by burglars fleeing from a nearby crime scene, but recovered in time to make it to Spring Training. That year he went 15-6 as a starter for the Oakland A’s – his best single season record – while only striking out 86 of the 804 batters he faced over 194.1 innings. That season initially looked like his best by traditional stats, but only his third best by the Wins Above Replacement metric at 1.9 (according to Baseball Reference). That season and the next two following seasons he made it to the World Series, and won a ring, with those Athletics. After 13 seasons (fun bit of synchronicity with his NBA name “kin”), he had a career ERA+ of 89. Can you name him?