"Humans May Safely Graze"
Release Date: December 2, 2014
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1. Scream Until The World Gets Right
3. Alive Again
4. I Must Want It This Way
5. The Pattern
7. The Anger Remains
8. Someone Else
10. Strange Game
I want something different in my life. And I want something worth the pain once in a while. But all I can buy is a week's worth of compliments. All I can get is a momentary boost. All I can gain is a false sense of confidence. Close as I get I'm still too far from you. I want to get you off every night. And I want to scream until the world gets right. But all I can buy is a ten minute fantasy. All I can get is the simulated truth. All I can have is your temporary stand-in and as close as I get I'm still too far from you. I hate that you're never gonna change your mind. And I want a love that I will never find. 'cause all I can buy is an artificial happiness. All I can get is some pre-processed truth. All I can have is the red light special and as close as I get I'm still so far from you.
I decided to open this album with the song that probably needs the least backstory to be fully understood. There are people in life that you can try over and over to get close to, but no matter how hard you try, you ultimately only feel like you've been able to achieve an approximation of closeness. And the older I get, the more this seems like the case. Perhaps the young are simply less guarded and more open to deep connections.
Your touch felt like forgiveness - so pure. Your eyes were made of purpose - so sure. You loved like a tornado. I couldn't hold my ground. But I wouldn't walk away this time. I'd plant my feet and stay. I wouldn't walk away this time. I'd definitely stay. You've buried all the details - too deep. I grasp at air for answers - you keep. Did my spurs spark the inferno? Did my wake tip you upside down? Well I wouldn't walk away this time. I'd plant my feet and stay. I wouldn't walk away this time. I'd definitely stay. Underneath your shell I saw what gave you hell. Silent through your screams. Now you're only in my dreams… But I wouldn't walk away this time. I'd plant my feet and stay. I wouldn't walk away this time. I'd definitely stay.
This song is actually about an old friend and ex-girlfriend named Cara Mia. Earlier this year, Cara took her own life. In the wake of that horrible event, I learned that she had been silently suffering from mental illness. I was never aware of that while she was alive. We had spoken a bit via Facebook shortly before her passing, and she always sounded happy in those conversations, but we hadn't remained in close contact. The chorus of this song is a reference to when we broke up many years ago. One day very early in 2001, on a dime, she just completely changed her opinion of me from love to hate, packed up her car with everything she owned, and drove to San Francisco (from Detroit). At the time, I was just hurt and angry and confused. But with the context I now have, it all seems quite different. It seems like it was a cry for my help. Especially when I remember that she called me from the road, about 1000 miles away, and said maybe she wanted to come back now… and I told her to just keep going. I think these events were clear signs that she was suffering neurologically. Her decisions were so sudden and so irrational. I saw them in the context of a normal break-up because I wasn't looking for anything else. I didn't know to do that. But if I had it to do over now, I would have definitely told her she could come back home. Not necessarily because I think we were meant to be a couple and we would have stayed together - we were not really an ideal match - but because I truly cared about her and I wish I had been there for her in that moment. I think she would have both loved and hated this song. Overall, this is the type of music she really liked and always wanted me to make more of - I even made a point of using a Juno emulator for one of the sounds because she just loved her Juno synthesizer so much. On the contrary, she really hated when sad lyrics were on top of uptempo dance songs. (Her go-to example of this was Beborn Beton's "Another World". She hated that song.) Still, it makes me smile to think about the harassment she would have given me about doing just that. Maybe she would have been okay with it because the true story is disguised as a standard break-up song. But maybe not. I enjoy thinking about it. Either way, I definitely miss her.
Hey. What's up? Do you remember me the way I see myself? Oh, no. I'm nothing like that now, but I was hoping you could remind me how I used to do it with you. With you. Could you remind me how I used to feel with you? With you. I want to feel alive again. I want to feel alive again with you. Wait. Hold on. If I could just catch up I might not feel so lost. I know I've lost my claim on you, but I was hoping you'd still remember how you used to slow down with me. With me. Do you remember how you used to feel with me? With me? I want to feel alive again. I want to feel alive again with you. Let me whisper in your ear. Watch my secret disappear. Things are different. We have changed. But I still carry such a flame. I remember every taste - how you'd tease me, how you'd play, in slow motion on the floor, drunk on midnight, aching for more. I want to feel alive again. I want to feel alive again with you.
Not too long ago I had the amazing pleasure of hosting a private high school reunion. All of my closest friends took a whole weekend to pause their lives, fly to Detroit from their various locations around the country, and just hang out again like we used to. It was an amazing experience, and the memory of who I was then - and how I looked at the world - just came rushing back all at once. After everyone went home and I had time to reflect, I realized that I truly felt more vibrant and more optimistic then. This song is about the desire to feel powerful and ready to attack the world like I used to, instead of the powerless feeling that I carry through too many of my days as an adult. Obviously I've put this theme in the more specific and familiar story of wanting to get back together with an old flame - something universal that everyone has thought about at some point. I feel that this worked very well because the root emotion is exactly the same.
I Must Want It This Way
I never thought that I'd sell out. I never dreamed that they'd buy in. I fought the devil with his handcuffs on, then I just let that bastard win. I've got countless excuses. I can explain it away. But when you boil it down, I must want it this way. I deal in gazes made of glass. I traffic smiles made of stone. I've built this hollow empire to the sky, and now I live here all alone. I can justify everything. I can excuse it away. But when you boil it down, I must want it this way. I know exactly what happened. I know just what went wrong. I know you're right here beside me and you've been there all along. If I just opened my eyes… If I just unchained my hands… If I just hoisted this anchor… If I just abandoned this plan... I can frame this in context. I can absolve any blame. But when you boil it down, I must want it this way.
The title almost tells the whole story here. This song is about feeling dissatisfaction as I reflect on my life as a whole, but acknowledging flatly that it is primarily a life of my own making. Of course, I don't hate everything about my life. I am lucky in many ways. And I certainly don't control everything that's happened in my life - I say plenty about that in other songs on this album like "The Pattern". But there are also many things that have absolutely been within my control and I did not take the kind of chances, or make the truly difficult choices, that would have likely lead me to a greater happiness. I battle constantly with my own laziness and tendency to just take the easier, safer road. And when you make safe choices, you will only ever get "safe" results.
My life won't matter: it's a planned disaster made of plaster - made to shatter. It's all strictly compromise. Shallow breathing, duck and weaving, constant needing, always heeding some unseen authority. This is something I'm now used to. I'm disgusting and beneath you. This is something I'm now used to. I'm disgusting and beneath you. Is that what you need to hear? How does it make you feel? Is that what you need to hear? How does it make you feel? I live the pattern: empty chatter, getting fatter. What's it matter when the days are all the same? I'm alive, though nothing's vital. Stuck in idle but I'm not suicidal 'cause I don't deserve to die. Don't look down here. I'm not worth it. Just keep taking 'cause you deserve it. Don't look down here. I'm not worth it. Just keep taking 'cause you deserve it. Is that what you need to hear? How does it make you feel? Is that what you need to hear? How does it make you feel? This is something I'm now used to. I'm disgusting and beneath you. Don't look down here. I'm not worth it. Just keep taking 'cause you deserve it. Is that what you need to hear? Does that make love appear? Is that what you need to hear? Does that take away your fear?
This song looks at things from the opposite view as "I Must Want It This Way". It is about being crushed by authority from the start - set up to fail with no actual chance of success. I feel this way often and, too often, it's completely true. I recently had a boss (at my day job) that viewed me this way, and ultimately fired me for no reason beyond his own arrogance. (This isn't just a bitter ex-employee talking. I was the most award-winning and well-liked producer at my agency. My work had very directly helped make this man become a success. He fired me for it. This was a straightforward case of someone just exerting power to feel powerful. He consistently displayed little-to-no regard for other human beings.)
This instrumental was started on a whim, but completed because my wife Sara completely fell in love with the 30 second demo. So, if you like this song, you have her to thank for its existence. And as for the title, I had stuck it on the song as a placeholder and I meant to replace it. I chose it as a placeholder because I thought the lead melody sound was a bit like something Vangelis would have used on the movie Blade Runner or one of his other soundtracks. But as things progressed and this song began to burst with emotion, I felt like it took on the meaning of the actual Voight-Kampff test: If you listen to this song and you don't have an emotional response to it, you're probably a replicant!
The Anger Remains
I have to strain to see you in this pouring rain. How long's it been? Too long, we agree, and then the test begins. I touch your hand, 'cause you're the one who understands, but you pull away. No time to talk… such a busy day… But these are questions only you can answer, and the answers are withheld without a cause. Still, your reasons can't address my anger, so the anger remains. You take a call. I stay close as you try to stall. The rain slows down. You finally hang up but you can't stick around. My voice sounds thin. I ask you for the truth again, but you... You dash away with the same old line about your hectic day. But these are questions only you can answer, and the answers are withheld without a cause. Still, your reasons can't address my anger, so the anger remains. Do I somehow deserve this? I don't know. Did I somehow create this? I don't know. Is there some way to fix this? I don't know. Should I stand and accept this? I don't know. But these are questions only you can answer, and the answers are withheld without a cause. Still, your reasons can't address my anger, so the anger remains.
This song is about the lack of information from our higher power, whoever/whatever that might be. All of the questions that I have about life - questions that I'm sure everyone has - will definitely go unanswered. I began to relate the way we live our lives without really knowing / understanding, to the way it feels when someone breaks up with you and you never really understand why they did it. So, while nearly everyone who encounters this song will surely hear it as a song about running into an ex on the street and pushing for some kind of understanding/clarity, the story in my mind that motivated the whole thing is actually that of bumping into "God" on the street and pushing her/him for some kind of understanding/clarity.
I need to walk away. I know I can not stay. I swear I'd love to play with someone else. Right here below the stairs. So fast a zipper tears. Conducting my affairs with someone else. Lord knows… Lord knows I want to. I feel my heart rate change. Instead of feeling strange, the beats move back in range of someone else. My egg shell cracks a bit. Ray shielding takes a hit. I feel the benefit of someone else. Break down. Lord knows I need to. I'll only take a sip. One little taste. It's just a minor shift, then back in place. Just under there, beneath the waxy glare, you'll scream and pull my hair as someone else. A fragile change of plan. I know you understand this shatterproof demand for someone else. Strip down. Lord knows you want to.
These lyrics started out being about the temptation to cheat. The idea was formulated during particularly difficult times in my marriage. Put broadly, when you feel like someone might leave you, you start to think about what you would do without them. Would you meet someone new? Who would that be? Maybe someone I already know? These thoughts literally never crossed my mind until I suddenly thought my marriage might end, but then they were on my mind a lot. Still, as things got better and my marriage hit the even-stronger-than-before status that it's at now, I began to morph the song a little bit so that, what starts off sounding like a song about cheating, hopefully ends up leaving the listener wondering if it's about roll play. Because maybe it is!
Sweetheart, please look at me. I want to see. Sometimes I'm lonely. Sometimes I'm lonely but I know the truth when it comes to you. Though you try and can not say it, your love has a way of coming through... through… through your eyes. Sweetheart, please reach for me. I want to feel. It hurts to love you - such pain to need you, but I know the truth when it comes to you. Though you may not always show it, your love has a way of coming through... through… through your touch. The words may never flow from you. I may never hold the proof. But I know what you mean to say. Your glances are the giveaway. Though you may not ever say it, your love has a way of coming through... through… through your eyes.
I sing this song directly to my daughter Zoe. Being the parent of an only child who has a severe neurological impairment is many things. But perhaps more than anything, it is isolating. I love my daughter so much - more than you could probably imagine - but she is simply unable to communicate. She can not speak. She can not use sign language. She does not have the capacity to learn a language. She can not nod for yes or no. She can not give a hug or a kiss. So I often feel rather lonely and cut off from her… and quite affection starved. That said, I also often feel like I am connected to her on another level - that I can see things in her "looks" and her subtle gestures that everyone else misses. So I conquer my sadness with faith in that bond, ultimately singing to her in the chorus: "though you try and can not say it, your love has a way of coming through."
You set your mind: pull back your doubts and thrust the spring to lock the trap. It sets you back. You start again. Increase your stride and race the doubters to the wall. And there you fall. Every move is wrong. Strange game. The only way to win is not to play. Strange game. Every turn in vain, but here you stay. You catch her eye: pull back your fear release the latch and say the words. They sound absurd. Alone again: login to scan for signs of life beyond the screen. They can't be seen. Every move is wrong. Strange game. The only way to win is not to play. Strange game. Just stop to end the pain, but you obey. Strange game. The only way to win is not to play. Strange game. You end where you begin, so here you'll stay.
This song is about the deck being stacked against you in life, and questioning the human impulse to try and try and try again, even though we have been placed in no-win situations. The chorus lyrics are indeed a nod to the classic 1980's Mathew Broderick / Ally Sheedy film "War Games". The famous line about Global Thermonuclear War by Joshua - the ahead-of-his-time artificially intelligent computer - is: "the only winning move is not to play." I adjusted the phrasing a bit, but the sentiment remains the same. Some things in life are just completely futile.
Violet, I want to love you. I would hold on to your every word. Oh, Violet. I know you're waiting, but our chance is fading. Please just hold on. You're dancing through my eyes all night. There is no better trick of light. You guide my days, though we have yet to meet. Framed by locks of auburn hair. Your universe without despair - where black and white will go to meet their end. Violet. Violet, my thoughts are treason. I've lost all reason. I need you here. Violet, I'll do my part. I'll break her heart to set you free. With every beat and every breath I wonder how I haven't found you, yet there is so much here in the way. A few more months, perhaps a year. A few more breakdowns, then we're clear. Your pixels will combine to shift the world. Violet. You're dancing through my eyes all night...
Violet is about my desire to have another child, despite my wife's opposition to it. It is an issue that haunts us both, because we both clearly understand the other's point of view. My wife points to the undeniable risks, but I point to the undeniable benefits. In fact, we even truly agree with each other's points, so it boils down to gut instinct… and there is where we differ quite distinctly. Deep in my soul, I feel like we are supposed to have another child. I feel like our family is somehow missing a crucial piece. Zoe wants for a sibling to help her develop. Sara and I want for a neuro-typical child to help us emotionally balance with the things Zoe may never be able to do. And our future child, well, they would be the luckiest one of all because we have so much more love to give. They would learn such compassion from their sister, such strength from us - as we have grown strong caring for Zoe. These are the type of thoughts that I can not clear from my mind. As a way to help myself cope, I wrote the lyrics to this song directly to our possible future daughter. I remembered a discussion with my wife from long ago where we agreed that, if we were ever to have two daughters, the second one might be named Violet. We both really like that name. And so I sing directly to Violet about holding on and having faith - maybe someday soon, somehow, we will meet her and we can be together.