An Apparition Of The Departed


Painting by Haruko Maeda. Learn more about the artist at

The sun sets on your silhouette. I can’t believe that it’s you.

I saw the birds lift your spirit to the sky, and I thought that was it.

I thought you had departed.

But here you are among the trees, shrouded by their skeletal hands.

It’s hard to comprehend.

I wonder if you can hear these words. Can what remains of you forgive me?

If I ignite the trees tonight, can you go to the light and leave? Because I’m incapable of so much these days.

I’m incapable of finding a way to live.

I call this place home, because my heart is buried in its depths.

The roots of these trees wrap it tighter and tighter, but it won’t collapse.

It won’t quit.

It’s like a stone that drags me deeper and deeper, but there is no bottom.

What I couldn’t say to you then, I’ll say to you now.

The reason he left was because he loved someone else. I promised my silence.

I didn’t know there were demons whispering in your ear.

Maybe that knowledge wouldn’t have changed your mind. Maybe your pain was too deafening.

But I can’t help but feel like I failed to speak when I should have known you were hurting.

The snow came, and you withdrew into your room.

A door can be so foreboding if you don’t know what you’ll find on the other side.

When your seclusion ended and you flew to the river, I didn’t notice until morning.

The water washed away your dreams, but the winter preserved your body.

Now you are here, to glow and behold.

You stand so still, and you’re not speaking.

Tell me what you want me to do.

I can help you find your way.

Or is it something else you need?

Is it me?

Have you come for me?

With Your Arms Outstretched


“Engloutis No. 49” by Rafael Sottolichio. Find out more about the artist at

With your arms outstretched, you attempt to sing me to sleep.
I won’t listen. I can’t listen. Too many things to think.
But you don’t stop. You sing so believably. Like it could only be for me.
I haven’t slept with a soul as old as yours, as soft around the corners. But I know. I know what awaits.
Those sad spirits in my heart go right to my dreams. They call for me incessantly.
Please keep trying. I want you to try for me.
Do this, and I won’t ask for another thing.
I want to wake with you, within you. I want to know a different day.
Tell me when … Tell me when … It’s safe to fall.
Keep your arms outstretched, and I’ll trust you to catch me.
I may just be a shadow at first with this slow descent.
Sooner or later, I’ll end up with you. I want to believe I’ll end up with you.

(Want) I Hope You Do, Too


“Islands” by Brad Kunkle. Find out more about the artist at

It’s a little better.

It’s like the clouds have begun to clear.

I can see.

I can see you. And what you are. What we are.

It’s not just happenstance.

We worked for this.

When the foundations began to crumble, we held each other up. We put the bricks back in place.

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever built, this alchemy of you and me. I expect you’d say the same.

Between the laughing, the crying, the anger and the optimism, there is that something that science can’t explain.

But we know it’s ours. It’s as rare as our DNA.

I’ve said “love” and forgotten what it meant. I know you have, too.

Sometimes it’s just the easiest way to end a conversation.

But when we feel the weight of that word, it’s unlike anything.

It wraps itself around us and squeezes the breath from our lungs.

It’s in those moments that we know what we have is real.

So forgive me when I close my eyes and my heart goes to sleep.

Forgive me when I fail to remember these important things.

It all comes back when you’ve the patience to remind me.

Patience has always been your specialty.

I know what you’ve done, why you’ve brought me here.

And, yes, the clouds have begun to part and some light is showing through.

I’ve just had a hard time understanding everything lately. I can’t put it all together.

But I can listen. I will listen. I’ll try to understand.

With your help, I can be myself again. We can be us again.

We’ll put this dark patch behind us. Everything we’ve worked for will still stand.

That’s what I want. I hope you do, too.

What Songs Do You HATE? My 10 Worst Songs Of All Time

What songs do you HATE?

Music is such a personal matter. The same song can inspire completely different feelings from person to person.

I was reminded of this last week while listening to NPR’s insightful, hilarious “All Songs Considered” episode called “The Worst Songs of All Time?

It all started when a member of the “All Songs Considered” staff wrote a column called “Leave ‘We Built This City’ Alone!”

Here’s a bit of what Stephen Thompson had to say:

I’m not here to defend “We Built This City,” though I hardly think it’s the worst song of all time. Instead, I’m here to urge every music fan to dig deeper and interrogate his or her own definition of what makes a song terrible. I feel like we pile on “We Built This City” because it’s too feeble to fight back; because we as a community of music-lovers accept that it’s the worst song ever the way we accept that Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper or A Love Supreme or Blue orBlood on the Tracks is the best album ever. That is to say, we accept these opinions as truth because they’ve been accepted that way before most of us even got here.

I do think the aforementioned best-albums-of-all-time rank among the best albums of all time, just as I think “We Built This City” is kind of a lousy song — albeit too over-the-top silly to truly despise at this point. But I encourage people to interrogate their musical tastes and biases and feelings a little bit more aggressively. It’s easy to say, “The best album of all time is [an indisputably classic record].” But what’s your favorite album? What records do you love in your bones? What records do you turn to when you need to feel better, to feel centered, to feel human, to feel alive? Those aren’t decided by consensus; they’re personal and often based on who, what and where we were when we heard them.

The same process is useful when we analyze what each of us views as the worst music of all time. If everyone says, “Duh, ‘We Built This City’ is the most appalling song ever,” then the discussion is over, and we’ve stopped exploring what makes music obnoxious or offensive or unoriginal or otherwise bothersome to us. We haven’t just short-circuited a fun debate at parties; we’ve also skipped out on an important discussion of what makes us recoil and why.

“We Built This City” is bad, and I hate the fact that it’s now in my head.

But it’s not among my personal list of the worst songs of all time.

Nor are any number of songs by Michael Bolton, Chicago, Richard Marx, Creed and Nickelback. I just wanted to put them all on notice. 🙂

Taking Thompson’s lead, I’ll do my best to give some explanation of why I find these songs so terrible. The reasons are admittedly not always deep. Sometimes, you just have a gut reaction to a song, and it sticks.

Between Tom Petty’s voice and the chorus, “I’m learning to fly/But I ain’t got wings/Coming down/Is the hardest thing,” the song drives me insane. It sounds so dead on arrival, as if the soul was sucked out of it before it was even recorded.

I could really fill up a good portion of this list with songs from the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. I can’t even recall anymore whether I’ve ever seen the movie in its entirety, but listening to the radio in the 80s, it was impossible to escape its soundtrack. “She’s Like the Wind” and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” both made me want to spontaneously combust, but for whatever reason “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen is the worst. Maybe it’s because I still hear it on occasion, while the other two have mostly faded into the ether. It’s also the hardest to get out of your head. The chorus has that earworm quality that can destroy a man. “With these hungry eyes/One look at you and I can’t disguise/I’ve got hungry eyes/I feel the magic between you and I …” I wish those hungry eyes would eat Carmen’s mouth and stop this song.

I don’t care for The Eagles, but Don Henley’s solo material takes my distaste to another level. It’s really hard for me to pick just one of his songs for this list. I mean, there’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance,” “The End of Innocence” and “Dirty Laundry” in his discography. But the song I had to listen to most was “The Boys of Summer.” The synth line mixed with the guitar noodling, which then leads to Henley’s voice, makes for a toxic mixture when it enters my brain. I just want summer to be over so these boys will go away.

I liked Genesis. I really did. “Invisible Touch” got a lot of play in my house. The “Land of Confusion” video fascinated me to no end. But then they released this abomination in 1991. It’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to forgive Phil Collins for “I Can’t Dance.” He’s made some great music in his career, but this one song almost eclipsed it all for me. It was always on the radio, and it was so bad. “I can’t dance, I can’t talk/Only thing about me is the way I walk/I can’t dance, I can’t sing/I’m just standing here selling everything.” What is he talking about???

I realize The Beach Boys are often credited with making one of the best albums of all time with “Pet Sounds.” But in the 80s they released a little song called “Kokomo.” It’s a place I never want to go, because I would not be able to shake this song. This tune makes me think of many things I don’t care to think about in my spare time: mindless sunbathing, Jimmy Buffet fans and old people copulating. No thank you.

I don’t think this song’s inclusion needs any explanation. It was a “Titanic” song that I could not avoid.

This song was released in my junior high years as my social calendar was beginning to heat up with all kinds of dances. Bryan Adams was a staple. In fact, I remember nights when “Everything I Do” was just put on repeat so as to not interrupt the slow dancing everyone wanted to do. While some young ladies were generous enough to dance with me, I still hated this song. It was corny to begin with, but it takes on a whole new level of absurdity when you’ve heard it a couple hundred times through no effort of your own.

It’s not just that I find this song embraces a sort of soulless patriotism. It’s that it always becomes popular during times when its jingoistic qualities are most pronounced, such as after 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I know this song has a profound impact on some people, but I find it cloying and unlistenable.

So this is where some readers will really begin to question why they read this blog at all. But it’s true — I don’t like “Sweet Caroline.” I’ve never cared for Neil Diamond. But this song has taken on a somewhat unparalleled status where you not only have to listen to it, but you’re also supposed to take part in a group sing-a-long if it is played. Of course, this just makes me dislike it more. Now, I’m not only on the outside for not liking the song, but the isolation is made worse by the fact that I cannot genuinely participate in the communal displays of affection for it. Yes, pity poor me. I’m the boy who never fell in love with “Sweet Caroline.”

If you asked any one of my friends to name a song that I cannot stand, they would all respond with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” When that piano intro starts playing, I shrink into the shadows. I know what’s about to happen. I’m going to hear that icky, full-thoated voice. And then everyone is going to hop on the midnight train and go crazy. I’ve disliked the song for as long as I can remember, but since it was revived by “The Sopranos,” it follows me everywhere. “Don’t Stop Believin'” is like the body I tried to bury, but the spirit of that city boy from south Detroit keeps haunting me. Just when I think I’ve put it to rest forever, the song appears again to torment my soul. As with “Sweet Caroline,” the fact that “Don’t Stop Believin'” is so beloved by so many just makes my distaste stronger and more isolating. It is not the obscure songs that you never really have to hear that you HATE. It’s the songs that you cannot escape that make you want to fill your ears with cement. That is “Don’t Stop Believin'” for me …

Yankton At The 2014 Grammys: Mike Merkwan Edited ‘Best Music Video’ Nominee

You may not have realized this, but Yankton was represented at the 2014 Grammys.

I have to admit, I didn’t even learn of Mike Merkwan’s involvement with the “Best Music Video”-nominated “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities until the week following the music industry’s biggest celebration.

When I reached Mike and asked him about his work as editor on the video, he was very gracious about answering questions.

The story ran in today’s Press & Dakotan:

Yankton native Mike Merkwan knows how to jam — whether it’s with the bass guitar or in the editing room.

However, it’s his work in the latter area that recently was recognized with a Grammy nomination for “Best Music Video.”

Now living in Los Angeles, the 31-year-old was the editor for the music video “Safe and Sound” by the indie pop duo Capital Cities.

“As the editor, it is my job to take a concept from the director and create a story through video,” he told the Press & Dakotan via email. “There is clearly much more to it, but to be quite simple, that is what I do 90 percent of the time. I work in a dark room with a director and about three to five clients creating the story. The editor is the secret creative collaborator — the guy behind the curtain.

“I guess the reason I enjoy editing so much is quite simple: I’ve always loved music, and editing is all about rhythm. I play bass, so the creative process is very similar. Finding the chord structure for the chorus is like finding the perfect clip order and pacing for the action sequence.”

The “Safe and Sound” video was directed by Grady Hall and features Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant of Capital Cities dancing through various eras at the Los Angeles Theatre. It seamlessly mixes dance footage shot at the theatre with archival footage of dancers.

“Safe and Sound” won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Visual Effects in 2013. However, it lost out on a 2014 Grammy to the David Fincher-directed “Suit & Tie” video for Justin Timberlake.

Read the rest of the story here.

So let’s get to the important part. You want to see the video.

Here it is:

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the video is also available:

You can see more of Mike’s work at his website found here.

I was excited to see that Mike had worked with Capital Cities, because I’ve been listening to them for the last year.

My favorite song is called “Farrah Fawcett Hair.” It’s good sh** — as the song will make clear.

Make sure to watch Capital Cities’ entertaining live take on the song:

You say you’re an open book.

Red Dress (Michael J. Austin)

“Red Dress” by Michael J. Austin.

You say you’re an open book.

But I’ve never read you before.

I’m enticed by the cover, wrapped in red and displaying a smile, for sure.

With anticipation, I sit down to read you.

Over dinner. Over drinks. Over a long ride home.

And you never fail to engage me, to make me laugh.

I can’t help but lose myself in the story.

It’s honest. It’s warm. It’s about the struggle to understand.

In some ways, I know it well. That struggle afflicts us all.

But the obstacles feel more distant in your company — easier to forget.

So I keep turning the pages. I want to know more.

What makes your story resonate with me? Where is it going?

I hope I’m allowed to keep reading, to unravel this mystery.

The journey seems to bring out the best in me.

I’d like to think it also brings out the best in you.

It feels like I’ve seen it glowing in your eyes, your smile and the warmth of your voice.

Yes, keep writing the pages. Make every word count.

And if you like, I can offer some help.

It’s the least I can do.

Your story gives me strength to push the sky away, to see new opportunity.

That is a powerful gift.

That is all in you — an open book, a tale anew.

You Were Today


“Rise and Fall” by Gordon Mitchell.

You were today.

Your eyes were the sunrise.

Your lips were a cat tiptoeing across the sheets.

Your cheeks were breakfast.


This is what you mean to me.

You are the gravity that pulls me together.

You are the consciousness that keeps me breathing.


You were today.

Your arms were flowers reaching for light.

Your voice was a song that kept me humming.

Your hair was the sunset.


This is what you mean to me.

You are how I measure time.

You are the complement to my every action.


You were today.

You are now.

You will be tomorrow.

You are everything.