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[Poem] “Secluded Vibrance”

2017 February 2
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by Mike Vial

“Secluded Vibrance”

West Virginia’s forsaken coke
ovens, a painter’s acid palette,
reddened the rocks of Douglas Falls.
Listen to the water whisper a story
waiting in secluded vibrancy.

That green pool of tears knows
the taste of our progress better
than we do, as those falls crash
stained rock, again and again,
a spectacular, grotesque end.


February 1-2, 2017

Photo credits: Adam and Christine of, used with permission.

Photo credits: Adam and Christine of, used with permission.

  • Congress votes to end rule stopping coal mining debris from being dumped in streams
  • More about Douglas Falls:
  • A hiking map through Black Canyon Trails: here
  • The phrase “secluded vibrance” comes from photographer Matthew Kocin’s photo here.

Fred Korematsu Day – Tiny Desk Contest

2017 January 30
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by Mike Vial

January 30 is Fred Korematsu Day.

We recognize his protest of the Japanese Internment Camps as an American citizen, and his work in social justice throughout his life.

My Tiny Desk Contest submission is a song for him, “California Cries (May 30, 1942 – San Leandro).”

You can read lyrics here on Genius.

More about Korematsu here:

Annotated Lyrics: A World That’s Bigger

2017 January 22
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by Mike Vial

For those who like the stories of the songs, I annotated the lyrics to A World That’s Bigger on Genius.

In an interview last week, music journalist Annie Reuters asked me about the literary allusions and motifs hiding within the lyrics of new record. (Former students probably just shuddered as they remembered Dialectical Journals for my class.)

Here’s a cheat sheet:

“You can spot the vinyl addicts…”

2017 January 18
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by Mike Vial
Any time I read a Nick Hornby novel, I wish I could borrow my friend David Stanley‘s brain for a week. Then, I could understand the full beauty of Fever Pitch! I know my limitations. My brain only gets music, not soccer, so I am left to read High Fidelity, for a third–or is it fourth?–time.
But how can you not love this, even the fourth time:
“You can spot the vinyl addicts because after a while they get fed up with the rack they are flicking through, march over to a completely different section of the shop, pull a sleeve out from the middle somewhere, and come over to the counter; this is because they have been making a list of possible purchases in their head (“If I don’t find anything in the next five minutes, that blues compilation I saw half an hour ago will have to do”), and suddenly sicken themselves with the amount of time they have wasted looking for something they don’t really want. I know that feeling well (these are my people, and I understand them better than I understand anybody in the world): it is a prickly, clammy panicky sensation, and you go out of the shop reeling” (Hornsby 96).
Isn’t that lovely?

(For the record,
1.) I don’t buy vinyl, but I do own above average headphones, so I think I can still relate.

2.) I’ve read Fever Pitch once, but I don’t know if it counts. I bought the novel and Dave saw it in my classroom, and I pretended I had finished it to sound cool; but then I actually did read it, but I skipped a lot of the soccer scenes, and I watched the movie, instead. It was about a girl, right?)

The story of “Those Shoes”: Giving in to the Song

2017 January 17
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by Mike Vial

I enjoy road testing songs before going into the studio. Performing a new song adds an incredible boast of energy to a set, like a shot of espresso. Also, if the song can withstand the road, it can hold up in the studio.

But one song from A World That’s Bigger wasn’t played live before I recorded it. “Those Shoes” was unheard, excluding a few songwriters in my songwriting group.

I wrote it in 2014 after Nat and I lost our first pregnancy. I didn’t return to it for two years.

Then in 2016, we lost another pregnancy close to the second trimester, totally taken by surprise; and the healing process drew me back to the song. I finished the outro one quiet, winter afternoon when I had the house to myself.
WorldCabinTeaBy May of 2016, I had the full map of the record planned out. The other nine songs were embedded in in my bones from constant practice and gigging, but “Those Shoes” was still a stranger in the house.

My fingers weren’t confident with the simple finger-picking pattern. My voice wasn’t sure how to approach the microphone. I felt unprepared to try to record this song.

But I knew it needed to be on the record.

Mike Gentry and I were deep into day two of recording at the cabin, when I approached a few takes of “Those Shoes.” It didn’t going well. Just like I was powerless to the experience, I felt powerless to getting the song on tape… WorldCabinPhotocloeup

Plus, I was recording this entire record live. If I made a mistake, I had to do it again; and again; and again. Playing “Those Shoes” over and over left me emotionally exhausted. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this.” Gentry said, ‘Let’s take a break.”

We made some tea, and he offered advice: “Try backing off. Sing it really lightly.”

I sat back down on the chair, and practically whispered the first lines:

“We’ve had a rough stretch/ our tired arms are powerless…”

WorldCabinPhotowindowGentry was right. The song needed a light intention. I didn’t need to be aggressive on the guitar, or push my voice…I had to give into the experience.

We did three or four more takes, and got the one that ended up on the record.

Ginny’s going to be a big sister in June. I wish I could go back in time to 2014 and tell myself it was going to be OK. We are filling those shoes.

* * * * *

“Those Shoes”

We’ve had a rough stretch
Our tired arms are powerless
To what comes next
To what comes next

We lost a heartbeat
A secret kept between our feet
I was stepping back
I was stepping back

This pain won’t last
This pain won’t last
I know…

I’m tired, yet I can’t sleep
My mind has more than I can keep
To myself
To myself

I know there’s more that I could do
To sooth your pain and comfort you
I’m reaching out
I’m reaching out

This pain won’t last
This pain won’t last
I know…

And if we share our fears in twos
Could we have filled those shoes?

And if we share our fears in twos
Could we have filled those shoes?

We’ve had a rough stretch