11 days left in 2017, 11 tracks on my 2017 CD, "A Message in the Mess." Follow this free, song-a-day mini-podcast countdown. CD available on itunes, spotify and this site.
I love useful things that happen to be beautiful … almost as an afterthought. Among my collection: A metal rosary, the crucifix smoothed like a tumbled stone by a constant tide of a stranger’s prayers. An old general electric fan. A goose-neck desk lamp from the 20s. A huge desk with 1976 Farm Income tax returns accidentally glued to the insides of its drawers like makeshift shelf liners. I find used things are less precious and more satisfying … like the Velveteen Rabbit all in the process of becoming real.
Little kids love the things they love hard. And they can become infatuated with mundane objects. Every stick a magic wand. Every Styrofoam kernel-filled package a snow day. Every seashell, a treasure. And aren’t they? – I mean: a free object you found, get to keep, get to do play with how you want, and won’t get in trouble if you break? There are adults who would LOVE to be able to find that kind of joy again. That kind of power. But we grow up and we lose it … except with one thing: bubble wrap.
There was actually a published study conducted in the 90s about why we love bubble wrap so much. Psychology professor Kathleen M. Dillon provided historic supports for the anti-stress properties of futzing with stuff. In ancient Greece and modern Asia, folks carried smooth stones, called “fingering pieces” or “worry beads,” for their calming effects. That well-loved rosary is another such device. Test subjects who got to pop two sheets of Bubble Wrap felt instant gratification, and reported higher levels of calmness and alertness than the group denied this addictive, small-scale destruction. A compulsive physical pleasure. A release not unlike sex. Because science.
***verse 2 **
I think my ideal kind of love is one with the innocence of childhood and the pleasure of adulthood. I want to do it in pillow forts. I want to remember how to be as excited about the toy as the cardboard box that it came in. I want to see with the wonder of childhood all the quirky beauty and possibility in another person – and be myself seen – as the spaceship/treehouse/time machine that plain cardboard box me was truly meant to be.
But the world grows up, and misuses us. People stop being able to see us, lose interest in their old toys and throw us away. I’d written plenty of break-up songs, but very few love songs, and I wanted to try my hand at one where I thought I could say something unique about a pretty overworked subject. “Cast Off” is my 3-vignette folk song again, just like “Lunatic Yell” in the last podcast episode. Those first two verses came quickly: cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. Each gave me an opportunity to link childhood and adulthood.
I needed a third verse, and more examples of reclaimed things. I looked around my apartment: my old Return of the Jedi sleeping bag I cut up around the slumber party soda stains and up-cycled into a new pillowcase. Little woodworking projects. I thought of the tractor tire playground where I used to go to summer camp and the soup cans turned lanterns I buy every year from a vendor at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Soup cans! That’s it. The way kids play telephone! What better third verse linking childhood, adulthood, love and relationships than one about communication.
We had fun with this one in the studio. Almost every object I listed got its second life as an instrument: Soup cans. Wood pallets. Cardboard. And yes, bubble wrap. Producer Joel Ackerson tried to talk to me into a hidden track of nothing but bubble wrap percussion just to prove he had actually popped the stuff. In rhythm! Talk about committing to the song!
“Cast Off” wasn’t about anyone in particular (sorry to burst your bubble wrap), but I was aspiring to the song, like with a lot of the songs I wrote for “A Message in the Mess.” I hadn’t found that love, yet, but I was figuring out what I wanted. Finding a way to be playful about love again. Not long after the first beloved blanky goes missing or the second or third major heartbreak, we get more protective about our stuff and we take fewer chances on anything that seems a little scratch-and-dent.
But we are all scratch-and-dent, and someone should find us and bring us back to life repurposed as something imaginative and fun. This song is all about rediscovering play. Playing with the meaning of words, like what it means to “cast off” … maybe you’re discarded, or maybe you’re setting out on some incredible new journey, with the right crew.