Music to Write By! Eric Peters’s _Birds of Relocation_
Don’t hold your breath . . .
We’ve all heard that phrase many times. And we all know what it means: it’s a cynical retort to someone who thinks that something is going to happen.
But what if the words “don’t hold your life” followed? That’d put “don’t hold your breath” in an entirely different setting. “Don’t hold your breath” would then evoke thoughts of life, in its very essence: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Those two lines – “Don’t hold your breath/Don’t hold your life” – are Eric Peters’s Birds of Relocation in miniature, the whole of the work wrought small and swift that we might more readily take it in. For life is a great theme of Birds of Relocation, soup to nuts. All over this magnificent work we see Eric snatching dead things from Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones and, with given breath, breathing new life into them.
The chief means through which Eric does this are his careful wordsmithing and his glorious voice. In his excellent play-by-play review of Birds, S. D. Smith calls Eric a “songbird” – and ne’er a more spot-on word was spoken. Often with singer-songwriters, the deal is that we live with the singing for the sake of the songwriting. Not so with Eric. His voice – he’s a tenor with a nice falsetto, blessed with a good range and a pleasing timbre throughout – is cultivated, in the best sense. That is, you can tell Eric works on his voice, but in no sense is it manufactured; it has neither the pretentiousness of some operatic tenors nor the affectations of many pop singers. And his voice recorded is more than a pleasing palette of sounds. From its clarity and presence, I’d guess that Eric’s voice is simply the man himself, exhaling – and transfigured in the exhaling. It’s a broad-ranged instrument that captures wonderfully the nuances of image and mood in his lyrics – pensive, mournful, resolute, and exultant.
And speaking of those lyrics, Birds of Relocation is a box of gems. Here is a small sampling:
We’re selves of our former shadows.
Children hide themselves behind their hands, and peek through to be found once again.
We’re a couple of codependents, like the span over Pontchartrain.
Power is a monster with a charlatan smile.
Like a Caesar in Rome, sacked and alone, all dressed to the nines atop a plastic throne.
Repeal the thoughts that steal right now.
We’re a thousand-piece puzzle scattered into the wind.
But the measure of Eric’s lyric writing cannot fully be taken by noting his ability to utter pithy and evocative lines. He’s also really good at taking songs in unexpected directions, changing their courses on a dime – as the opening lines of “Don’t Hold Your Breath” attest. That skill appears again later in the same song, by the way he finishes a line that begins with the words “it’s been a long time . . .” Those words are generally the intellectual property of the wistful, who finish the thought with things like “since I drank champagne,” or “since I smelled honeysuckle blossoms,” or whatever. Eric’s finish, though, is quite different, and results in a line as startling as it is convicting:
It’s been a long time since I kept my word.
The best example, though, of Eric’s ability to take lyrical concepts in unexpected directions is the song “Voices.” That song is well-placed in the middle of Birds of Relocation, since, in my view, it is the hinge on which Birds turns. Birds begins with a declaration about a hard year past: “Ha ha! to the old year” – and ends with an utterly realistic, utterly exultant resolve to enjoy the skies, while looking for a sign of life on a flooded earth. But “Voices” is the hard working out of the “Ha ha! to the old year,” the Lenten training ground through which Eric arrives at the settled resolve of “Fighting for Life.” It’s about silencing the voices that accuse us, that destroy us with accusations of worthlessness. But in Eric’s lyric, this isn’t accomplished by mere silencing. It’s accomplished by a gently powerful double entendre on the song’s title:
Hear, o hear, the saints’ and angels’ voices.
Having said that much, is Birds of Relocation music to write by? Probably not. And that’s a compliment. Its words are too arresting simply to leave you alone when you write. But with its life-out-of-death, light-out-of-darkness movement, it’s fantastic to listen to before writing, especially if your story has a eucatastrophic trajectory.
In a nutshell, then:
Album: Birds of Relocation
Artist: Eric Peters
Year of release: 2012
Mood spectrum: Pensive-hopeful-exultant
Good for: Any number of things — in this connection, priming the pump before a writing session
Availability: Available for order or download here