Life Behind Glass

by The Gossamer Thread

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about

All tracks written, performed, and home-recorded by Alex Strachota
Winter 2013-14

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This collection of songs is primarily about loss. Sometimes it’s a person, sometimes it’s a place, sometimes it’s even just an idea that was held dear. It’s a soundtrack for the deflation of a feeling of expansiveness, and soft music for curling up inside the cramped, airless display case of a museum. Not dance music, unfortunately. Next time.

A lot of these songs were birthed out of a feeling I’ve since learned is called “solastalgia”—or the sense of anguish and powerlessness at the loss of a place that one’s culture and self is wrapped up in. My partner Ellie and I made a very exciting move last year to a new place, to settle in and build a life together in the wooded hills of Lake Superior’s south shore, and so I feel that I’m struggling with the fact that the joy in “finding one’s place” is always wrapped up in a complex whole that involves someone else losing theirs. As we have the fortune to “make home”, millions of others are being forced from their homes, homelands, or ways of life. Some of this music is my direct processing of these feelings and trying to wrap my head around this dissonance.

Most of these songs are cheerless, though I’m personally not in a dark state-of-mind—I’m enthusiastic, positive, and genuinely excited about life nowadays—seriously! I think this past winter I’ve felt compelled to write about the sad stories I see moving in lives around me, maybe as a way to acknowledge the myriad pains that unite us, and empathize from a safe distance. Personal dramas that recur in my dreams are present here too, though I feel that they’re more like stories wired-in from the “collective unconscious” than scenes about me. It’s been extremely cathartic to process and get these heavy feelings out this winter through songs that are in very few ways directly about me.

While writing this music I kept being revisited—and somewhat haunted—by a mental image of a dead man from Mt. Vesuvius’s eruption in Pompeii. I learned about the cataclysmic eruption of 79 AD in high school, and the images of plaster casts of the dead have always stuck with me.

Interestingly, I’ve recently learned this spring that the historical event has been introduced to the masses by Hollywood and by a major pop music hit. There’s lots of fodder in the history to feed the American public’s obsession with apocalyptic/collapse narratives, and the fact that Roman culture is portrayed as opulent, decadent, and frivolous at the time period makes the disaster that much more “shocking.”

This winter, though, I was filled with the small stories of loss, not the grand drama of destruction that lights up the big screen—plus, I bet the movie was cringe-worthy! I kept imagining this dead man singing songs of love-loss, loss of his city and country, loss of his opportunity and future, trapped and preserved for all museum-goers to see—his life now behind glass, now a relic with whom people share a moment of silence.

He wasn’t silent for me, though; he kept singing from behind the glass. I felt like I was being gifted heavy, long-dormant emotions from this man, who after months of gentle haunting felt more like a brother than a 2000-year-old ghost. Many of the songs are his, songs of his losses, ruminations, claustrophobia, and paralysis, but I’ve sang and plucked them out in a style and lyrical context that I know.
Thanks for listening.
-Alex

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released May 28, 2014

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The Gossamer Thread Washburn, Wisconsin

musical experiments by Alex Strachota

"And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul."
-WW
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Track Name: pay dirt (oblivion)
now that I’ve told you off for the day
and made a bed for old bones to lay
those family portraits I gave away
now it’s all oblivion

you met someone and all I got was blue
a whitewash fence and a husband too
the things we’d do in the back room
now it’s all oblivion

now it’s my time to leave and shut the door
and if I see you on the street now, you’re just another stranger
I know that it’s looking like disaster
and the afterglow is fading fast
and your eyes keep looking toward the door
and it’s my oblivion

working the till as the sun goes down
and walking home under a cosmic frown
a tiny crack in the queen’s new crown
now it’s all oblivion

we all got livings to make pay dirt
like shoveling coal for the billing clerks
the mountains trembled at getting burnt
now it’s all oblivion

now it’s my time to leave and shut the door
and we’ll lie and say that we were never quite sure
I know, I know, that it’s looking like disaster
and the afterglow is fading fast
and your eyes keep looking toward the door
it’s my oblivion
Track Name: burning the wick
well, I’m burning the wick at both ends now
spilling out wax over hardwood floors
and here you come cradlin’ a bottle like a two-time drunk
blessed by the milk of the mother you love

you said “we gotta find a place to crash or we’re all gonna freeze”
we lost all our clothes to the washing machine
hitched ‘round the country just to meet some folks
who knew some people that they thought we’d know

but it feels like I don’t know anyone, anymore

I’ll tell ya, rabies can make you dream of rows of white teeth
and just a few suckers win that lottery
and these babies kick and scream and spit up on your shirt
but me I’ve lost my voice and can’t say where it hurts

we walked to the pawn just to see old friends
I said I’d wait outside while you went in
these cars were racing trash and dust down the block
people looking out their windows thinkin’ “what a loss”

but it feels like I don’t know anyone
and it’s strange but I don’t feel that loss

I made it west by spring and thought I might find you here
I asked all around and no one had seen you in years
last night I went back through all the places we’d been
and I knew it in my bones I’ll never see you again

and it feels like I don’t know what’s right
and I don’t know what I might find

and it feels like I don’t know what’s right anymore
and I don’t know what I might be headed for
but I do know that I miss you and that’s for sure
and I hope that your pains are washed away, wherever you are
Track Name: flock
how can I
keep my calendar full of lies
and ink spilled in passing
no, I want to see with new eyes
even the crooked lines

I called a number
that I found etched in a plate of glass
that looked like your writing
no, but you weren’t the one
that I’ve been looking for

oh, and the ghosts of all these scenes
are just your childhood friends
wearing their mothers’ old sheets
so let it go, let it drift out where the seaweed grows
and in the morning you’ll be fine

sometimes I
have a dream that I’m in a field
of lavender blooming
and I can barely see you
the sun’s always in my eyes

wake to frost
and an end to my foolish youth
I’m tired and tired of it
boy, look what we’ve become
everyone’s time will pass

oh, and the ghosts of all these dreams
are just your childhood friends
behind their mothers’ old sheets
so let it go, let it drift out in a paper boat
and in the morning you’ll be free to go
Track Name: red carnations
as the parade wound ‘round the block
stepped out of your house, and put my shoes on
waiting for the tears to come
waiting for the kids to wave

looking out over powderhorn park
found a stop sign to lock my bike up
the geese are quarrelling on the lake
the city lights are kerosene stars

walking out over st. anthony’s dam
holding your breath and holding my hand
there’s a wide field of red carnations
just lying in wait for us
and maybe we will get there someday
maybe we will get there someday

walking you home down bloomington ave.
your head in the clouds, my heart in your hands
some blankets spread out in the yards
some ribbons blown up in the chain link

went down to the gorge where used to sit out at night
the mighty mississippi, somber and quiet
waiting for the clouds to part
waiting for the birds to sing

the night fell on fast and I’m heading for home
sometimes I sleep on the couch so I don’t feel so alone
and waking up to the realization
that now I’ve spent more time with you in my dreams
than I ever spent with you in waking life
but I don’t regret a thing, the times just weren’t right
remember when our love had finally died
how we took all our broken parts and carried them outside
and laid our flowers down
and said our goodbyes
in a field by the roadside
Track Name: looking out of airplanes
looking out of airplanes I see what’s left
it’s like missing all the people I barely met
I know we’re just a fraction of what we’ve been
in places just a semblance of how they came
you lose the little things from this far away

I cried in the joy of what my heart has grown to hold
and I don’t even care, what passes for truth
and this heart doesn’t need to know
all the things a heart can hold

looking out of airplanes I see what’s left
makes me miss all the people I barely met
we’re more than the stories we tell ourselves
and the faces that we wear
I’m watching all the boundaries disappear

and if I claimed to entertain the simplest things
I’ve never seen
the recompense and the reward of being here and in between
it’s sweeter than the sweetest word you ever spoke or ever heard
and deep beneath the concrete…

Standing on my own two feet again
from 40,000 feet I’m all lives, all limbs
there’s more that I could say if you don’t mind
maybe it’s a waste of your time
standing on my own two feet again

and to these walls that divide us all
I raise my fist and love you all
the recompense and the reward of being here and in free-fall
it’s sweeter than the sweetest word you ever spoke or ever heard
deep beneath the concrete, lies the beach

I’m looking out of airplanes at what is left
Track Name: tephra
and there’s no need to be fearful
‘cause the cops here kill our criminals
who are we to be afraid?

oh my lips are dripping diamonds
on my back beneath the glass case
and I hope I meet your friend

I love you still
but I’m not coming out
there’s no coming out

and it’s uglier
when it’s uglier to see
it’s always harder to say goodnight

and the two made passing glances
but nothing will be said tonight
and I hope you will be true

and you’re wishing hard for daybreak
so the traffic drowns the heartache
and the sky is not ashamed

I am unacquainted with your friend
I am insincere, and likelier to say goodnight
Track Name: now i'm alone
now I’m alone
I’m a sack of bones
I’m seventeen
I hear my grandpa say, “kid, you got it in you”
a smile on his face

now I’m chopin
I’m the quietest man—you wouldn’t believe it
I hear the graveyard say:
“if you’re passing this way, why don’t you stay, and stay awhile?”

and if I’m a ghost
I’m fourier, I’m moses, I’m mirabeau
I’m a wide boulevard
I’m a ticket to god, I’m a whore
and if I’m your king, you’re my tiny plaything—but I’m bored
I hear the choir sing hymns that once meant something, I suppose
but now they don’t mean anything

now we’re alone
no one else is home, but we’re impotent
so now I’m benjamin
I’m a letter in the code, I’m unclean
I’m unclean
Track Name: porcelain (the modern dark ages)
boys break like porcelain
spilling their contents out
on the valley floor
letters in envelopes
tucked in a lover’s coat
and it said it all

boys will get way too high
to see their mothers’ eyes
tear up in the night
but what could I ever do for them?

boys crack like brittle junk
but nothing was built to last
in the modern dark ages
stewing with vague frustrations
saccades for a dozen distractions
and what was “now” is long past

boys will get so far gone
and the nights will tug tirelessly on
from all this fruitless searching
boys will get way too high
to see their mothers cry
and whisper prayers in the night
but what could I ever do,
what could I ever do,
what could I ever do for them?
Track Name: vitrine
solid gold and forced patina
and willing martyrs in the bedroom
and it’s just what you were fearing here
highways and channels open wide—channels open wide

now the writings on the wall
and it’s cried out in your bedroom
sold on to my better place
holding me to you—holding me to you

I’ve been a hollow lover
for the modest sum of years
I hate all these open doors
I hate them in my head
Track Name: party people
tell me how it feels
sure looks like it feels good
sell that paradigm
I can’t sit still
you get all you deserve
like the old emperors did
and whatever’s in your cup
well it’s about to spill

all you party people let out a shout
while all the starving people die in the dark
dance and make arrangements, here

no one called me out
for the fruit of the vine
and here the subway tunnels
are filling up with brine
I was in the streets
waving an angry sign
and the devils behind the desks
were taking a seat in my mind

and all the party people let out a shout
as all the starving people die in the dark
drink and cry it out, here

I am obsessed
I am direct
and my feet know where to go
I can’t forget

I am upset
I’ll be direct:
you have the eyes to see, but you won’t
so what good is that?

towel off, blank-faced
when tomorrow comes

late nights, awake again
will tomorrow come?

and all the party people let out a shout
as all the starving people die in the…
Track Name: the belly of the beast
down in the belly of the beast
are you one of us?
too afraid to trust your memories of where you came from

in mine I’m on a red rock island in the sunshine
watching fishing boats
and a girl I know
call to me from the water

I feel the wind blow over my face
as I walk across the sand to join her
and I let the ocean’s body enfold me
and my joy is timeless

but drowning out her sweet voice
rattling at my loose bones
I wake up to a fistfight
and sirens and alarms
jarring at my senses
I close my eyelids hard
and try to go back

down in the belly of the beast
you know what they say
that in such a place “hell is other people”
well I don’t trust just any existential sound bite
and for me I know hell’s a dreamless sleep
or a church without a window
and in the evening the people pray
and a few have their guilt swept away
others leave feeling just as empty
and I’ve never understood it

it’s warm inside the belly of the beast
and the lights are low
and there are microphones where you can tell your story
so I talk about my island in the sunshine
I guess I talk awhile
a few politely smile
and they say they like my story

and then it hits me
and I’m overcome
the words are stuck down deep in my throat
and I hear the seabirds calling me home
now I know what I must do

I’ll break out of here tomorrow
even if it kills me
even if I’m lost forever
I’ve got to find my way
and break these velvet chains
I close my eyelids hard
and try to get some rest

I can see a red rock island in the distance
and I’m calling out to the fishing boats
but my voice is like a whisper
Track Name: a simple thing
it’s a simple thing
but it keeps me up all night
all my bones are aching for a cure
that never comes

walked the railroad tracks,
and see you’re walking too
the night is black as bitumen and we’re the village fools

so come and talk to me, show me the things you’ve seen

so come and talk to me,
show me the things you’ve seen
and if the world is shattered by this pulse, we’ll build a time machine

and if I beg please, will you scrub me clean,
we’ll get hypnotized
and call it off

it’s a simple thing
but it keeps me up all night
all my bones are aching for a cure
that never comes

birds build your nests in me
to keep the fledglings warm
‘cause there’s a plague that’s standing at the door
of our happy home
oh, the things we loved!
oh, the things you lose!
oh, the things we loved!
when there’s nothing to stop us from an accidental self-immolation
it’s the things that we regret that will burn in the bellies of our kids
when they find out
the little pains that we offset start to coalesce and jump the fence
in a quietude out of line with its catastrophic consequence

It’s the things that we regret
that will burn in the bellies of our kids
when they find out
Track Name: mother of pearl
I’ve a got a lot of things packed in a little case
mother of pearl is wrapped up in your embrace

and even if I can’t quite explain it
you nod and say you do
mother of pearl, it’s getting late

I’ve got a lot of things out in the universe
mother of pearl keeps them from getting worse

and even if I don’t understand it
I can rely on you
mother of pearl, I’m losing faith

I don’t understand…

I had a few things that I can’t replace
now mother of pearl drags her orbit through empty space

and even if I can’t calculate it
I know now that I am through
and mother of pearl’s got a lot to do
mother of pearl…
Track Name: don't you forget
don’t you forget all the people you loved
the ones who you let in your heart for a little while
in the dark
their voices are still ringing out

and if every touch leaves a print
these indelible marks
will have written histories
heaven help the first-timers tonight
and even if the flames expire, don’t let them forget

don’t you forget all the people you’ve loved
don’t you forget all the ones who have touched you deep
love is the only real meaning in life
you helped me come alive, and I won’t forget it

don’t you forget all the people you loved
don’t you forget all the shoulders you cried on
when you were young,
‘cause time will fly and god knows you’ll be busy
but someone’s trembling alone
someone waiting by the phone
for a voice like yours
heaven help the lonely souls
now you can be that ray of hope
don’t you forget!

don’t you forget all the people you’ve loved
don’t you forget all the ones who’ve made you who you are
love is the gift I’ve been given for years
I want to be here for you, I want to be here now

don’t you forget all the people you loved
the ones who know all of the places you’ve come and gone
and you’ve left this house a thousand times like this
but something’s different this time
there’s a pang in your heart
and a feeling you can’t quite put a word to
heaven help us as they go
help us say goodbye with no regrets, and don’t let us forget!

don’t you forget all the people you’ve loved
don’t you forget all the people who’ve gone before
love is a place we all go when we die
so I’ll see you again
and I’ll meet you there