week fiftysix: endless skyway

hey there, 

this week’s song is called “endless skyway” and it borrows from woody guthrie, najat abdul samad, and last friday’s executive order. 

the weekly songs project is not necessarily a political one, but for me the benefit of using this form is being able to write songs that are uniquely connected to the present moment. as a small step toward meeting the urgency of this present moment, i'm going to start pairing these songs with organizations whenever it's appropriate. this week, 20% of proceeds will go to the international rescue committee, which provides support to refugees and displaced people. more about their work here.

keep after it,
max

p.s. the video includes a quote from syrian poet najat abdul samad. read the full interview and a couple of her staggering poems here.

week fiftyfive: her sadness

dear patrons,

i’ve spent the past week writing couplets with this simple melody on repeat in my head, like my mind was stuck orbiting its own far off planet. i didn’t know what the song would be about until i started editing it and i didn’t know what the video would be until a low, full, wolf moon rose across the street the other night. it’s far from perfect but it feels true to a certain sort of moment between people. thank you for helping me make it.

goodnight,
max

p.s. i’ve been working on weekly songs volume 5 and i’m hoping to get it to you soon. in the meantime, did you know you can stream all the weekly songs on this playlist here?

her sadness

she cannot say for certain so she won’t say so at all
but i can see that she’s been hurting and i’m sure that it’s my fault
i’ve been shaky every morning and i run to stay the cold
and i need more adoration than anyone i know

i heard about her sadness
i heard about her fear

the river never freezes and the blood flow doesn’t sleep
i am typing like a hailstorm my boots still on my feet
and the furnace now is knocking spitting sulfur smelling dust
i don’t feel the tumors growing i don’t think anybody does

i heard about her sadness
i heard about her fear

there is fog along the window as we’re getting into bed
she rolls her body onto mine and looks me in the eye and says
i don’t mean this as a warning but i think that it’s the truth
if you’re lying to yourself you’re gonna be lying to me too
you’re gonna bang on every window and be burdened by the work
and when the money doesn’t come you’re gonna wonder what it’s worth
you’re gonna smile for your dinner you’re gonna bow and pass a hat
you’re gonna find somebody beautiful make her love you back

then sometimes you’ll turn your mind from what you want to where you are
and you’ll feel a revelator sink her teeth into your heart
you’ll be staring at a darkness somewhere deep inside the woods
when some rabid little creature comes out singing something good

i heard about her sadness
i heard about her fear
i said i’m never leaving
she said you’re never here

week fiftyfour: on the day of the dead

good evening - 

song 54 is about an illness during the days of halloween and día de los muertos. i took the time lapse this morning (that’s the mighty kennebec river through the window). i hope you like it.

yr songmaker,
max

p.s. a relevant poem

on the day of the dead

skulls painted
in a dozen shades of red
sit by a crucified jesus christ figure at the side of her bed

scotch with her meds
playing penny slots again
she says when i meet the lord i’ll be wearing this long black dress

then she says oh my
i don’t want to die
on the day of the dead

the sun’s going down
and the kids are all out
i pass a pirate and a princess and a devil on the way into town

the pharmacist
at the cvs
says boy i can’t believe your mama is the woman in the dress

i ask him why
he says you look so white
i pay and i leave and i know it’s gonna be a cold night

i help her into bed
she says sorry i’m a mess
and tomorrow i don’t know if i can wake up but i swear i’ll do my best

then she says oh my
i don’t want to die
on the day of the dead

week fiftythree: oil in the water pt. 2

good friday evening - 

a snowstorm stranded us in western new york and gave me some time to finish part 2 of the “oil in the water” story. hope you’re all safe and warm.

yr grateful songmaker,
max

p.s. thanks for all the replies with picks for the album! they’ve been illuminating and inspiring — i’m so glad these songs have meant something to someone besides me. at the risk of overdoing it, thanks again and again and again for carrying this project through 2016. happy new year.

oil in the water pt. 2

did you meet somebody in some bar
break your promise in the backseat of her car
did you wake up certain you were dreaming
throw up everything you had that evening
running like a buffalo to slaughter
burning off the oil in the water

did you let a decade pass you by
sitting down around your nine to five
going into church every week
just to sing with someone who believes
did you see her outside of the mall
standing with a man long and tall
were you humming fare thee well my lover
burning off the oil in the water

did you have a baby girl in cleveland
stay with you in buffalo some weekends
painting wild whiskers on your cheeks
driving down to barcelona beach
diving from the dock the way you taught her
burning off the oil in the water

week fiftytwo: witnesses

good morning - 

this week’s song is called “witnesses” and the video is from the chilly room where i now do all my recording.

as promised, some news — week 52 means i’ve made it to a year’s worth of songs and i’m happy to announce that i’ll be using these 52 songs as demos to make a properly recorded album in 2017. a small, wonderful, barcelona label called son canciones will release the album in europe and i’ll tour over there next fall. i’m in the process of finding a label to release it here as well and i hope to update you all on that soon. 

also, a small, totally ignorable request — it’s been harder than i expected to choose which of these 52 songs to record for the album and it’d be helpful to have your input. if you'd like, you can listen to all the songs on this playlist and let me know your favorites in the comments or by email.

thank you! 

take care,
max

p.s. an unrelated poem

witnesses

we both saw the damage he was done
we both saw the damage he was done
when he came here broken
and you wrapped him in your love
we both saw the damage he could do and the damage he was done 

creatures now are burrowed in the yard
creatures now are burrowed in the yard
the winter sun is quick to go
and daily breaks your heart
creatures now are burrowed in the house in the walls and in the yard

honey i believe in who you are
honey i believe in who you are
when the house was freezing
and we slept out in the car
honey i believe in who you were who you’ll be and who you are

we both saw the damage he was done
we both saw the damage he was done
when he came here broken
and you wrapped him in your love
we both saw the damage he could do and the damage he was done 

week fiftyone: oil in the water pt. 1

hey patrons -

here’s the new song, which is the first in a series that’ll revolve around the major events of this one guy’s life. the video is from a windy, birdy fall day in portland.

next week is #52, which is a goal i’ve had in mind for a while — one year's worth of weekly songs (although it’s taken me almost two). i’ll have some good news to share along with next week’s song.

take care,
max

p.s. a saturday poem

oil in the water pt. 1

there’s rust and oil in the water
and i never wanted to be a father
but i’m going crazy with nothing time
and i’ve got room inside this house of mine

when the toast was done and the coffee brewed
i used to sit and read the news
and i’d get concerned then it passed me by
i’ve got room inside this house of mine

and all that i’m looking for now
is a song i can sing for a small and hopeful crowd
while the buffalo are running toward the slaughter
and there’s oil in the river water

it’s verse for verse and it’s pound for pound
and i scratch them out just to get them down
all these tiny notes all these fuzzy lines
i’ve got room inside this house of mine

and i wear your shirt when i want to cry
when the frozen pond looks just like the sky
and i wrote you more but nevermind
i’ve got room inside this house of mine

and all that i’m looking for now
is a song that i can sing to a small and hopeful crowd
while the buffalo are running toward the slaughter
and there’s oil in the river water

week fifty: tiny tracks pt. 1

dear patrons - 

i had a fever on november 8 and i spent most of the day and night sleeping. when sophie told me trump was going to win, i didn't really process it beyond a sort of distant dread. at the time i blamed my fogginess on the flu, but then i got well and still couldn’t wrap my head around it. this song isn't really about the election, but it felt to me like a turn toward some sort of reckoning — tiny tracks into a new landscape. i took the video at popham beach the other morning. i hope you like it.

take care,
max

p.s. week 50! whew. thanks for helping the project get this far. volume 5 of weekly songs will be headed your way in early 2017. 

p.p.s. a december song poem

tiny tracks pt. 1

ah ma we wake after so many hours
in a strange unknowable place
there’s good and there’s bad and there’s love and there’s power
but out here they all look the same

ah ma the dog cannot see in the night
so she doubts every change in the wind
you turned in your sleep and you made love to me
then we fell back to dreaming again

morning comes
up so slow
shining seas
golden shores
 
ah ma they’re waiting to wear us away
and we know it and we’re letting them in
i know their checks are a sure way to die
but i’ll do it if they ask me again

ah ma i said the tide’s coming in
if you asked me to leave now i would
they tell me love is a losing delusion
that i need you more than anyone should

morning comes
up so slow
shining seas
golden shores

ah ma i said i’m no good in their world
i am dying from distraction
i’ve seen the eyes of the internet girls
i am weary of their attraction

and i know this longing for what won’t be found
is a line from ten thousand songs
they tell me i can be somebody now
and i thank them but i know they’re wrong
 
cause right now the wind is howling blind
and you tell me it’s time to get out
the hush of the doorsweep the deep breath of night
we shatter the frost on the ground

and way out beyond the tall yellow grass
that cut tiny tracks in our arms
we see the first light distant and soft
and realize we’ve been in the dark

morning comes
up so slow
shining seas
golden shores

week fortynine: first snow

good afternoon - 

a month ago, sophie and i left portland and moved into an old, rambling house next to a river in midcoast maine. a lot has happened since then, both in our little world here and beyond, and while music has come easily to me in this house, i’ve struggled more than usual to find words to go with it. so it was a relief when this forward marching little melody came along, complete in itself, following on the heels of my family visiting and the first snowfall of the year. as always, thanks for helping me make it.

take care,
max

p.s. a leonard cohen poem

week fortyeight: song for paul

good afternoon - 

i wrote this song for the governor of maine. hope you like it.

take care,
max

p.s. hope is the thing with feathers

song for paul

“you’ve been in uniform? you shoot at the enemy. you try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of hispanic origin.”
- governor paul lepage

drone in a big sky
jeep on a land mine
if i gotta go to war
i wanna be the one to die

i know there’s a pile of bones
everywhere the lightning goes

hawk in the high weeds
land of the white greed
plant a little love in it
give it a heartbeat

i know there’s a pile of bones
everywhere the lightning goes

i wish i could call you my friend
i wish you could call me yours
i thought i would die for something
i don’t think that anymore

i got a governor
straight talk governor
up in the state of maine
i gotta say a few words

cucarachas
we’re the monsters
hiding in the governor’s closets
take the white folks
hold them hostage
or sell them drugs
there’s a lot of options
check your plumbing
i hope you’re watching
mud pours your porcelain faucets
no one's gonna save you paul
you’re drowning in your own subconscious

hawk in the high weeds
land of the white greed
plant a little love in it
give it a heartbeat

i know there’s a pile of bones
everywhere the lightning goes

i wish i could call you my friend
i wish you could call me yours
i thought i would die for something
i don’t think that anymore

week fortyseven: 9/28/16

hey - 

i’ve been home for a month straight, which is the longest stretch in over two years. i’ve settled into a routine and i’ve been spending the evenings with people i’ve missed. i’m very grateful for those things, but this time has also been a reminder that staying put has its own momentum. this new song, which is named after yesterday, is about that. i took the video walking around morse mountain in phippsburg, maine. i hope you like it.

take care,
max

p.s. along with the last volume of weekly songs, some patrons also received a donald hall book called life work, which i use as a guidebook / holy scripture for how to approach work. i can’t think of anything that goes better with this week’s song than that. i'd like to send each of you the whole book, but the first few pages will have to do for now - find them here.

(incidentally - life work was originally given to me by my friend ben cosgrove, whose life work currently has him on a research ship somewhere in the south china sea, writing songs about what he sees out of his porthole window - more about that here.) 

9/28/16

you wake up with lines on your cheeks
leave another anxious dream
you pull the blanket up off the floor
lying back to sleep a little more

she leaves you when the morning comes
she needs you when the work is done

on sunday she asks you to walk
through pitch pine and glacial walls
she’s in the water ankle deep
singing for the sleeping geese

she leaves you when the morning comes
she needs you when the work is done

you’re sitting at your desk in the attic
bleary eyed and weary of your habits
sometimes you see past the screen
sometimes you don’t see a thing

she leaves you when the morning comes
she needs you when the work is done

this life you know is nothingness
this life you know is all there is

on sunday she takes you to the beach
cold water shakes her to her knees
she says this is like a dream
you understand she means everything

she leaves you when the morning comes
she needs you when the work is done

this life you know is nothingness
this life you know is all there is

week fortyfive: fire on i-295

good morning - 

i started writing this song several weeks ago, after driving past a fiery, heart-wrenching accident on i-295. i wanted to write about the moments that make us stop our own momentum long enough to love somebody.

as always, thanks for helping me make it.

yr songmaker,
max

p.s. volume 4 is up! you can download the digital album & lyric book at the secret patron download page. everyone expecting physical copies should have received them by now (please let me know if you didn’t or if there’s an issue with yours - homemade cds sometimes don’t burn right…). thanks again to linernotes & seasons for making the special album jackets. and thanks to all of you for being so patient.

p.p.s. here’s a poem i included with the physical copies

fire on i-295

i found her crying in her car
in a symphony of violins and classical guitars
i could hardly hear the sirens
for the static and the sound on the radio

fire on i-295
she looks out her window
and she tells me she’ll be fine
i ask her if it’s okay if i stay
until the ambulance arrives

i think i could love somebody now
i think i could love somebody now
while a tractor trailer burns

we were driving
we were moving
now we’re sitting on the side of the highway
somewhere in the state of maine

she looks at her reflection in the mirror
she says her sister lives about a mile north of here
and when she saw the wreckage
she thought of her nephew in his carseat

i think i could love somebody now
i think i could love somebody now
while a tractor trailer burns

we were driving
we were moving
now we’re sitting on the side of the highway
somewhere in the state of maine

all the time we had
all the time we lost

we were driving
we were moving
now we’re sitting on the side of the highway
somewhere in the state of maine

we’re sitting quiet in her car
in the symphony of violins and classical guitars
we can hardly hear the sirens
for the static and the sound on the radio

week fortyfour: funeral guests

good morning - 

a couple weeks ago, on the thousand-mile drive to and from wisconsin, i listened to a book on tape called a little life, laughing and yelling and weeping my way down the trans-canada highway. it was unlike anything i’ve read. i wrote this week’s song mostly as a way to spend more time with one of the characters from that novel. the story diverges, but the essence of the narrator is a tribute. and the video is from my porch. hope you like it.

yr songmaker,
max

p.s. i read somewhere that hanya yanagihara, author of a little life, cited this arresting photography exhibit as an inspiration 

p.p.s. volume 4 will be on its way so very soon

funeral guests 

early may
new york city
he called as he was getting in his car
he said i’m on my way
i’m gonna pick up birdseed
i keep hearing sparrows in the yard
in the dogwood
in the morning
i asked him not to tell everyone else
alright he said
but they all like you
so much more than you like yourself

when he died
his mother called
to talk to me about his funeral guests
she said she wanted
to get to know me
to understand what i was to him

i said i don’t know myself
but i think he did

holy father
save your sermon
i can’t sit through any more of this
just burn his body
just burn his body
i don’t care what his mother says      

i don’t know myself
but i think he did
and i don’t love myself
but i think he did

week fortythree: all the grain is gold

good morning -

the new song is called “all the grain is gold” and sophie shot the video out in stonington last week, while i sat in the car. here she is:

yr songmaker,
max

p.s. thanks for your patience on volume four. it’s mostly ready to go but i’m still working on a few details. i’ll be touring for the next couple weeks (shows in burlington, wisconsin, chicago, & buffalo) and i’ll get them out to you as soon as i’m back home. 

p.p.s. a poem i came across in an ithaca bookstore a few days ago, by jonah winter - 

all the grain is gold

send my mama roses
tell my honey don’t quit
put my body in cedar now
comb my hair slick it down 

lay me where the grass grows
higher than the gravestones
lay me down in the cool shade
where the cows graze on the warm days

cause i’ve seen the silo
and all the grain is gold

i’ve been a leaf raker
a singer and a bedmaker
money’s fake power’s worse
fill the day with love and work

i’ve seen the red sun
setting over everyone
burning up a field of rye
like a missile a meteorite

and i’ve seen the silo
and all the grain is gold

cause i woke up in the night
with a fearful heart and a pain in my side
the doctor said okay all right let’s go
i want you to know it’s fine
i want you to know i don’t measure in time
i want you to know that all the grain is gold

so send my mama roses
tell my honey don’t quit
put my body in cedar wood
comb my hair make it look good

dress me in a white shirt
bless me with a kind word
lay me down in the cool shade
where the cows graze on the warm days

cause i’ve seen the silo
and all the grain is gold

week fortytwo: gone pt.3

good late sunday evening - 

i had a lot of fun writing this song, mostly dancing around singing nonsense words until the story came along. it ended up being loosely connected to a song i wrote last year and a song from about six years ago. i hope you like it. 

yrs in music,
max

p.s. i stole that sign off from joe pug, who just started a podcast where he has longform interviews with other songwriters, called the working songwriter. it's pretty great so far. 

gone pt.3

she said i’ll take you to the coast
lake erie buffalo
we can watch the fireworks
keep each other laughing through it all

all the whistle in the reeds
all the thunder crack heat
her and i in the dark
everybody else the enemy

and they were coming on
singing their old songs

it’s a dangerous town
it’s a barn burning down
we were always dressing up
hunting for a way to get out

and they were coming on
singing their old songs

but we were gone
through the high beams
on their crime scenes
all her and me
hollering up to god
what you got we don’t want
through the ragweed
forever staggering
writing our songs
hallelujah
crack of dawn
morning came
we were gone

all raining in toronto
gray water in the throttle
left the car to cary ann
caught a ride with cattle to chicago 

never got where we were going
or maybe did and didn’t notice
sparks on a line of hay
shining all the way to the explosion

and they were coming on
singing their old songs

and we were gone
sneaking on the bus
sun just coming up
geese of canada
cliff edge
road swung
river winding
we were gone
through the ragweed
forever staggering
writing our songs
hallelujah
waking up
morning on a high cold dawn
dew frozen on the lawn
we were working on
throat dry
crackle eyed
four claw track of dogs
her and i
hearts wide
high tide coming on

though the high beams
on their crime scenes
all her and me
hollering up to god
what you got we don’t want
through the ragweed
falling gladly
writing our songs
hallelujah
crack of dawn
morning came
we were gone

week fortyone: aunt zo

hey patron family - 

writing songs is how i respond to what’s happening in the world and right now it feels like there’s a lot to respond to. i must’ve written a hundred verses for this song, and yet it ended up being so very simple. i hope you like it.

yr songmaker,
max

p.s. for a while i wanted to be a speechwriter. then i worked on a few campaigns and i realized it wasn’t for me. i still love a good speech though — here’s a perfect one and here’s a poem about it. black lives matter.

aunt zo

you tell your aunt zo you’re feeling low
while she's cooking pastelillos on the stove
you talk about politicians michigans missouris orlandos 

she says she’s gonna love you to the moon
to baghdad then back to baton rouge
she says there’s no stopping that just like there’s no stopping bad news 

if you’re scared you still got a ways to go
if you don’t care then you don’t know

she lays the pastelillos out to dry
drops pigeon peas and bullion into rice
she says you were just five or six when your uncle passed from this life

she takes you to the corner of the room
where she keeps her late husband’s old tools
she says all these are yours to keep now go out and find something to do

if you’re scared you still got a ways to go
if you don’t care then you don’t know

week forty: coyote pass

hey patrons,

this week’s song is called ‘coyote pass’ and the video was shot in western maine back in february. thanks for helping me make it.

and it’s week 40! that means there will be a new volume of weekly songs & lyrics available for all of you to download, as well as a sweet run of physical copies made by linernotes & seasons for those of you who signed up for that. i’m headed out to festivals for the next couple weeks (harmonium! westmoreland! great blue heron! arootsakoostik!) and it takes me an embarrassingly long time to draw all those pictures for the lyric book, so look for volume 4 in your mail/inboxes toward the end of july.

happy first days of summer.

yr grateful songmaker,

max

p.s. a coyote poem

coyote pass

where have you been
my heart my home my bones my oldest friend

i went to the coyote passing
the wind raging and crying and laughing
my lungs were trees the air came through
i thought i could live there and die there too
but where were you

where did you go
my friend my love my trust my favorite home

i went where the trees were creaking
the dirt floor was warm and bleeding
the wire fence was tight and true
it caught my skin when i went through
so where were you

i went where the sumac stood
fern soft in the gun crack woods
yellow eyes of the north coyote
she was standing still and she was thin and alone
i saw the hunter i saw him shoot
i saw her fall and she saw me too
now where were you
where were you
where were you

week thirtynine: another traveling salesman

good afternoon,

i wrote this song on the side of the road near ballymahon, ireland and filmed the video on the drive afterward. it's not a song i share lightly, or without fear of narcissism or self-pity, but it does feel true to a certain kind of feeling on a certain kind of day. as always, thanks for helping me make it.

yr songmaker,
max

another traveling salesman 

“it ain’t hard to second guess yourself when you’re dressing up a wound.”
- michael trent
“the only thing you can ever control is intention.”
- jon stewart

don’t you know what you’re doing here now
don’t you know what you’re doing here now
the road ahead is serpentine
the sky above is spitting rain
don’t you know what you’re doing here now

you’re 3000 miles from your home
you’re 3000 miles from your home
you left a good love
so can’t you even say for what
you’re 3000 miles from your home

and you don’t mind the driving
you see the passing fields
you like going way out in your thoughts
but every night you feel it
that hungry sort of sadness
like there’s some essential thing you haven’t got
you thought you’d be a kind man by now
but you’re not

there’s a boy at the rest stop smoking
there’s a boy at the rest stop smoking
you say you don’t have any cash
then you feel bad so you go back
he rolls his eyes and takes what you give him

don’t you know what you’re doing here now
don’t you know what you’re doing here now
and if they all believed in you
would that make what you’re saying true
don’t you know what you’re doing here now

you don’t mind the moving
but you miss her all the time
you pretend to be a traveler but you’re not
and every night you feel it
that quiet hungry sadness
like a crucial act of kindness you forgot
and you say you’re getting better all the time

you don’t mind the driving
but you’re going round in circles
and you can’t see as clearly as you thought
and every night you feel it
that hungry sort of sadness
like there’s some essential thing you never got
you thought that you’d be satisfied by now
but you’re not

you get home in the dead of the night
you get home in the dead of the night
you shut the door and get in bed
she lies her head against your chest
you’re home in the dead of the night

week thirtyeight: you looked so alone to me

hey patron family - 

one of the best parts of touring these past couple months was getting to see so many of you out there. thanks for coming to the shows and for helping this project along. i'm back home in maine and i hope to make these 'weekly' songs live up to their name again. this simple one showed up in a beautiful apartment in barcelona, where the marble floors and 12-foot ceilings made each note feel huge and important. hope you like it.

yr songmaker,

max

p.s. as i drove all over ireland, this was the only album i had with me. i kept forgetting to find more things to listen to and then at some point decided i didn't need anything else. it's been a long time since i listened to the same album so many times over and, in that tiny car on those narrow, damp roads, these songs became a pivotal part of my world.

you looked so alone to me

you looked so alone to me
you looked so alone to me
everyone was talking laughing
doing all the things that always happen
but you looked so alone to me

i got all this time and nothing to say
i got all this time and nothing to say
i think we might like each other
but i sit and drink then i pour another
i got all this time and i’ve got nothing to say

except you look so alone to me
and i like your william steig tattoo
you know i met him once at a barbecue
or actually you know what i think that was a dream

everybody’s going back home
everybody’s going back home
we don’t stay out late like we used to
chasing each other by the light of the moon
no everybody’s going back home

you and i happen to walk out together
you and i happen to walk out together
i said hey did you have fun
you said you wish you’d brought someone
then you got in your car and i got in mine

bah