Letters

April, 2009

OVER THE RHINE
P.O. Box 12078
Cincinnati, OH 45212

April, 2009

Hello friends and extended family,

I know of a glass blower who gets up every morning in the dark to do his work. Before the world wakes up, before the phone starts ringing, in the sacred remains of the night when all is still, he gathers and begins to fuse his raw materials: the breath from his lungs, glowing flame, imagination, dogged hope.

I used to work from the other direction. I loved the feeling of still being up after the rest of the city (and world) had grown sleepy, the light of a lamp making my third story bedroom windows glow while I leaned over my desk and sailed towards something I couldn’t name.

Someone sent me this little excerpt awhile back, in a beautiful letter of encouragement I should add, the sort of letter that makes everything slow down, hold still:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

(GK Chesterton)

I’d really be okay with this being my epitaph. 

When I was younger I would often write myself short job descriptions. I was thinking out loud about what might be worth hanging a life on, a life I was willing to sign my name to:

Create spaces where good things can happen.

Give the world something beautiful, some gift of gratitude, 
no matter how insignificant or small.

Write love letters to the whole world.

Build fires outdoors, and lift a glass and tell stories, 
and listen, and laugh, laugh, laugh. (Karin says I’m still working
on this one. She thinks I still need to laugh more, especially at
her jokes, puns and witty asides.)

Flip a breaker and plunge the farm into darkness so that the stars can be properly seen.

Do not squander afflictions.

Own the longing, the non-negotiable need to “praise the mutilated world.”

Find the music. 

I still crave the extravagant gesture, the woman spilling a year’s wages on the feet of Jesus, the rarest perfume, washing his feet and drying them with her hair, a gesture so sensual it left the other men in the room paralyzed with criticism, analysis, theoretical moral concern – for what – the poor? Or was it just misdirected outrage in light of the glaring poverty of their own imaginations? 

(Some friends of mine were talking about this scene the other night. We got to imagining Mary with a pixie haircut, which made the drying more difficult. We were drinking wine and Rob had made something to eat late at night: take a cracker, put a thin slice of fresh pear on it, then some sautéed goat cheese from the skillet, and top it with walnuts drizzled with honey from the oven. At midnight?!)

Someone once described our music as a mash-up of spirituality, whimsy and sensuality.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling something, a cup running over…

The simultaneous cry of, You must change your life, and Welcome home.

I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds.

But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you. 

Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)

My sister Grace recently sent me this quote from a slim little volume called Art and Fear:

Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.

A blessing for the writers among us: May all your dead ends be beautiful.

When I was younger and I found myself sitting down in a new season of writing, I would put my pen down and close up the pica typewriter (the only letterpress printing machine I ever learned to operate all by myself, the bell of encouragement and mild alarm ringing at the end of every line, I can still hear it) and feel compelled to clean my rooms, put my world in order. It used to take 3-4 days.

Now it takes 3-4 months.

Our messes get bigger. And bigger.

So, I’ve been getting “caught up” with taxes and filing, putting things away, making lists, getting more than a few lagging projects out the door that are overdue (the first Over the Rhine songbook?!). And on and on.

Someone in our Santa Fe songwriting workshop once confessed, I’m good at a lot of things that will kill me. For those of us who write, there are always so many options that don’t involve the dilemma, the extravagance of the blank page. When we sit down to write, there’s never a guarantee that we’ll have anything to show for it that we can touch with our hands, or see with our own eyes. In fact, life is a lot cleaner and more manageable when I’m not writing.

Yes, I’ll just admit it. I’m a writer that all too often is more than happy to run from writing. But sooner or later I realize something is dying inside. And then I try to get back to work.

**

So talk about extravagant. Spring has been trying to come to the farm. The red maples have been budding. Their branches almost seem to glow at times as if strung with hundreds of delicate lanterns. The goldfinches are turning golden in front of our eyes. Why do they fade for the winter? 

Are we getting older? Yes. We are bird watchers. (We’ll jump out of the rocking chair for a red-headed woodpecker.)

Karin is now a three dog Mama. We took in two strays last winter on a bitter cold night. The mama cattle dog soon got adopted to a 36 acre farm with horses, a heated kennel, a family with two dog-and-horse-loving-girls. They named her Ruby. Ruby landed on her feet and has been living the good life. 

The puppy decided to stay and adopted Karin. She named him Porter.

Hey Porter! (Dammit, Porter!)

So we’ve got the Great Dane, the Weimaraner and the mixed up Cattle Dog pup. Saul the cat observes it all, walks upstairs and goes to sleep. Karin’ll probably post some pictures up soon somewhere. 

Karin has been twittering. 

I still need four pages.

We had too good of a time and made many new friends on Cayamo, our songwriting cruise of the Caribbean. So much great music. Yup, we better had write some good songs. I think every pore of my body was rum-soaked by the end. We needed all that sunshine. Snagged a few good stories too. 

Our cabin on the ship had sliding glass doors and a little outdoor oceanside porch on the 7th level, and I would sit out there at 2am and watch the moonlight on the endless waves and think of all the people who had crossed the ocean on a boat back in the day, off to start a new chapter. Talk about sacred, all those moonlit waves, the deep rhythm of it.

And we still think fondly of the amazing 20th Anniversary weekend we had last December with so many of you. We’ve got a few more 20th Anniversary shenanigans up our sleeves.

But we are going to be home more for the spring. Hopefully we won’t grow too fond of the hearth for our own good. Hopefully we will get our work done. Hopefully we will still make more than a little room for the occasional extravagant gesture.

Which brings me to Texas.

We’re going to pack up the five-piece band and our crew for a week and head for the Lone Star state at the end of the month for a change of scenery, some old songs, some brand new songs, some camaraderie, something surprising. In this new economy we need music and real conversation more than ever. 

We do hope you will join us.

Over the Rhine IN CONCERT:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009, Private Show, Austin, TX
Thursday, April 30, Granada Theater, Dallas, TX 
Friday, May 1, Warehouse Live Studio, Houston, TX*
Saturday, May 2, Texas Union Theatre, Austin, TX*
Sunday, May 3, Texas Union Theatre, Austin, TX* (No OtR songs repeated from previous night.)
*(w/Special Guest Lucy Wainwright Roche)

Pls note that we are playing Austin not one but two nights. When we have opportunity to play a city two nights in a row in 2009, we will not be repeating any songs over the course of the two nights. So there will be two completely different shows. Hope to see you!

Oh yeah, one more, and one of our all time favorites:

Saturday, June 6, 2009, The Ark, Ann Arbor, MI

Check out OvertheRhine.com for more details.

Well, we’re glad we’ve found each other. Thanks for sticking around. Hope our paths cross soon. See you in Texas!

Peace like a river,

Linford (and Karin) of Over the Rhine

PS Pls pass this letter around freely to your friends and family. Chop it up and twitter it. Crumple it in your mind, strike an imaginary match and start a fire. Print it out, line the birdcage with it and let the white doves crap all night long. Spread it on the floor and train a puppy to squat and pee. Make a paper airplane out of it and toss it off the Golden Gate Bridge. Slip it between the pages of an old Southern Baptist hymnal, or into the yellow pages of a phone booth phone book if such a thing still exists. Maybe a writer will find it, God help her.