Arthur Alligood: Portage, Vol. 1

 

My first introduction to Arthur Alligood’s work was his stripped-down acoustic album The Shadow Can’t Have Me. The honesty in his lyrics struck me, and I looked forward to his new project with anticipation. Portage, Vol. 1: At the Edge of the World offers more of his lyrical depth with a new musical approach, setting aside the acoustic guitar as the primary instrument and instead moving the songs through a forest of synths, piano sounds, and drum beats.

The EP kicks off with a dreamy soundscape on “Foolishness of Man.” It calls forth the moodiness of quieter Springsteen songs in a way that prepares the heart for lament but simultaneously comforts with a familiar tone. The use of the title as a refrain ending each verse emphasizes the plaintive lament about our culture’s tendency toward judgmental attitudes and actions. The Portage project name comes from the ending lyrics, “I stand here on the shoreline / I will take the portage path / ‘Cause only love will end this hatred: the foolishness of man.”

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From Dust To

The Lord God, our Word, pressed round wild David,
Brought to bloom within the cathedral of Mary.

He is Spring reigniting—the glory of impossible
YES, a sapped ointment cooling the leprosy of NO.

He is instructor and extractor of self,
Plumb-line Thought and lush-dipped Feel.

Selah—my blood and marrow under chatty inked skin
Draw no distinctions, as no formal presence

Contains my name on His breath—sung
Beyond and before my family’s embodiment.

To live is Now and Then—Silent and Blistering,
Water in mooned cycles melting mountains.

You and me—Exhaled into dust each one—
So content claiming Genesis in the wind.

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On Starting from Scratch

I spent a lot of time when I was younger wishing that I could do certain things. My older brother is an artist who works primarily with metal via blacksmithing. My dad is a lifelong commercial carpenter who, in my mind, can build just about anything. To see them create things with their hands was, and is, incredibly inspiring. The idea of creating something, anything, whether practical or artistic, has been deeply imbedded in me from birth.

What was also imbued in me from birth was a wonderful sense of self-defeatism.

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Charging the Congregation

I sat in the passenger seat of my friends’ car as Indiana beamed under a rare mild July day outside. Cornfields sped by and washed into an impressionist blur. Stephen was driving, and Rachel sat behind me. The Greatest Showman played in the background for the kids.

“When you’re careless with other people, you bring ruin upon yourself,” said an actress.

The adult dialogue up front felt similar. We talked about divorce among our friends. In my short marriage thus far—thirteen years—being close to divorced young people has been not only an emerging theme, but a cup of great frustration. I wrote a song about the relative pain of it years ago; it’s emotionally nauseating merely to hover near the situation. Looking in, I can’t imagine the soul-wounds sustained on the inside of the upheaval. Once you’re so close to a person—intimately, emotionally, dependently—there’s no way to completely extricate that person from your heart. Divorced people know this, and the rest of us can guess. My most pressing complaint during our Indiana drive was different, however, because I remember my cousin’s wedding.

My uncle was officiating, and he took the opportunity to lay out the reason for an old tradition.

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The WordPlayers Present: Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë’s masterwork Jane Eyre is something most of us read in grade school. We remember the gilded Victorian prose laid over absolute reams of paper. We remember, perhaps, vaguely liking parts of it—the curious figure flitting about Thornfield Hall, the fire, the mystique of the rolling moors—but having rather a difficult time with the pacing and the oppressive atmosphere. I may have to revisit the novel, though. Firstly, of course, I’m older. Secondly, I spent a delightful afternoon viewing the WordPlayers’ rendition of Paul Gordon’s and John Caird’s musical stage adaptation, playing this coming weekend at the Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville.

The cast gives life to the characters in such a way that I wish they had been there for me in high school Senior English. After leading last year’s Little Women to great effect, Casey Maxwell returns now to play the steadfast, stoic Brontë heroine with evocative depth. Coke Morgan’s Mr. Rochester is the perfect cynic, giving you just enough reason to dislike him even while drawing on your sympathies.

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Self Love: A New Gospel

It has occurred to me that in a lost culture that largely doesn’t know where else to place its faith, self-love campaigns, inspirational memes, and the self-empowerment movements have become our new gospel.

I wake up in the morning and scroll through my Facebook and Instagram feeds, which are littered with political commentary and hatefulness in a culture that claims to love. I suppose to reverse the effects of all this negativity, inspirational memes like these are created to spread positive vibes and cozy thoughts. I understand where these inspirational thoughts are coming from. And I would much prefer to see this positivity on my news feed than all the hateful and destructive things going on in the world. Understanding who you are and how to interact with life is important. But from a spiritual standpoint, in these inspirational memes, sneaks an underlying falsehood that is oh-so-well disguised. These inspirational ideas that our culture is coming up with are being cultivated from a ground that is human powered and self-focused. A ground that does not recognize the joy of God as a savior or a place to find solutions.

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In Praise of Climbing Mountains

“So there I was,” halfway up a frozen headwall, skis slung over my shoulder, praying the 40 mph winds don’t throw me off balance enough to send me sliding into the heap of jagged boulders far below and over the precipice. My partner was below me somewhere, I hoped, trudging up the same slope toward the small ledge that promised a modicum of shelter. The snow washed past my headlamp, rendering any sight of him impossible, and the wind quickly engulfed my calls. We were all alone, together, working toward a goal that could certainly get the better of us.

“Why climb?” That question has been asked of everyone who goes vertical more than once. George Mallory famously responded, “Because it’s there…”; a seemingly flippant reply from a man who would eventually end his climbing days forever on the side of Mt. Everest. In reality, that was the only response he could muster for those who had no experience of what he did. Why take the risk? Why choose misery over comfort? Why push yourself to such limits when it could end so badly? Because, once you’ve been there, you’re fundamentally changed.

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