The trees in the Himalayas, I imagine, are the same as mine. Perhaps they are of a different family, perhaps it is them with their hemlocks and me with my birches and walnuts and perhaps these trees bear different leaves. Perhaps they do it a different times than I’m accustomed to seeing out my smudged and pollen covered windows but in form they both cast the same shadow.
There are mountains in the Himalayas, too. I know they’re different from my mountains and peaks here in the Ozarks, but they are still just slabs of rock. They are composed of the same materials and they were forged the same way over millions of years, as the Earth grew up. In the Himalayas they have the same breezes as I, pushing hair off foreheads and perfecting already perfect hours in the sun. Exclusive of that, they are so very different and I know this, too. Their zephyrs send a small swash of cloth flittering in the air, a triangular bit that has been touched by a block of wood doused in ink, leaving traces of images that seek to call out compassion and strength and wisdom. My breezes send bath towels and long, flowing skirts temporarily adrift but nothing more.
Prayer flags, crafted earnestly and with a belief most of us will never understand or know, are left to weather the elements on peaks and branches, waiting for blessings to fade and thus, be set free into the ether to live with the multitude of other blessings so sincerely thought of. Up there in the air, they all merge together and become one big mass of hope, a perennial part of the universe ever-lasting, until the next crush of blessings are sought.
A prayer flag, not just the blessings of or on it, but the actual piece of light cloth you can hold in your hand, is replaced on those peaks and branches every year as it begins again. Those old wishes and sanguine expectations are let go as the humans making and hanging those prayer flags acknowledge that life moves on. What you wanted last year, you sometimes see, is not what you needed or what you want for yourself now. The act of adding crisp, vibrant new flags alongside those rows of faded and tattered ones accepts that and makes it all okay and reduces it simply to what it is: life, with all its ebbs and flows.
It is no surprise then, given the history and storied symbolism of these scraps of cloth, that Pickering Pick’s new album is called Prayer Flag. It’s just an album, yes, and one that looks the same as all those before it. Just as that speck is forever composed of the same colors and inks and is repeatedly hung in the same places, this is likewise. And on the other side, even though in looks they are near carbon copies, they are something different, both a prayer flag and an album. They look identical, just as before, at their core – pieces of woven cloth; pieces of shiny plastic – save a few different images, but it’s the combination of the two that makes them equals, despite the symbolism for either millions or just one.
It does not bewilder me that the same singer/songwriter responsible for Prayer Flag is able to so nonchalantly call up the imagery of Keats ‘Ode To A Grecian Urn’ in everyday conversations and I’m sure that this same man sees the parallels in that, considering what he’s singing for us now. “There’s nothing better on the other side / And I’m gonna stay by yours, at least until it feels right,” is not all that different from Keats borderline mad mutterings of “More happy love! More happy, happy love!”. Now, I’m sure it’s known all over this planet that I’m no scholar and I cannot say for certain what emotions he had to both embrace and let go of to conjure up the words of these songs but I can say that Keats was writing a song for a beloved that he never could catch and Pickering Pick seems to be doing the same. The two fit so well together.
Just as Pickering Pick is so gifted at calling up old poets, he is also skilled in the harsh and fucking wonderful rock prose of one Lester Bangs, at the very least as he was in his fictional, Hollywood-shined version, but in real life Bangs was pretty much the same as that character so there’s nothing wrong there. Bangs once said, “Nothing ever quite dies, it just comes back in a different form,” and years later one Bruce Springsteen expressed the same sentiment in ‘Atlantic City’, singing, “Well now, everything dies baby, that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” The point is, this has all been said before. Keats lost and lamented it, Bangs warned us about it. And Springsteen knew of it too though his version of loss included a bit of harmonica. Pickering Pick has not written an album full of emotions no one has ever experienced but that’s the glory of it. It’s universal and it’s something that no matter how hard we work to avoid it, it befalls us all. “There’s a time for the truth and a time for just letting it go,” are words that you should carry with you, because sooner or later, no matter who’s singing them, they’re gonna be your salve.
Just like a prayer flag are these words of dead poets, greasy rock writers, New Jersey’s Boss, and one of folk loving America’s favorite British expats with a guitar and a microphone. They’ve all put those utterances down, their own personal prayers and hopes on paper, and they’ve given it to us that will listen. I’d like to think they’ve done so so that we, those of us out here, don’t feel so alone in our loss, whenever it comes. I’ve spun this album non-stop over a two week period and upon first listens, it was almost painful. But that eased over time and now it feels like it’s part of me, sung especially about my own life, and that’s what makes this album resplendent.
This is not apple-polishing. As a music lover and someone who takes very seriously my ability to turn you, dear readers, on to something you might not otherwise hear, I’m more ethical than that. It might be said that the subject matter within Prayer Flag, at least as I see it, has glorious timing in regards to my own life so perhaps I’m not the most objective of listeners these days. I suppose it could be said that I’m nothing more than one of the women The Beatles sang about in ‘She Came Through The Bathroom Window”, one that gives credence to a man just because he’s holding a guitar but I deny that. I appreciate, in the greatest sense of the word, that which ties us all together: love. It is because of that I can see the similarities of the Himalayas trees and my own, despite the different things that are hung in each. It is because of the universal experience of love that I appreciate and revel in this album, despite the meaning behind it and however far that truth may be from what I’ve assigned to it. It is because of love that I’m so happy to share this album with you, with Pickering Pick’s blessings, because I hope that you can find in it what I have.
One of these days I imagine that you too will try to ford the river. I suggest packing a bag for that journey. Include a book of Keats best, a prayer flag if you’re so inclined, and this album. It will help you get to that other side.
Pickering Pick :: Stay By Yours [mp3]
Prayer Flag will be self-released February 28.