Tarot Time: Blues Traveler’s Decisions of the Sky

I figured, what with Thanksgiving and all, that maybe I should take it easy this week. In addition, I only just now got my internet back after a three day outage. So what could I do? I haven’t yet left the safe waters of “concept album” to talk about albums that are “just” collections of songs. Well, maybe I did with Abbey Road, but I feel like by that time the Beatles were one step away from making concept albums anyway. So guess what? I remembered that time Blues Traveler released a miniature album for free on their website!

Let’s take the Wayback Machine all the way back to 2001. I was scared to death. I’d graduated high school and college was about to start. I didn’t yet have my driver’s license and the last time I saw any of my friends from high school we were sitting around in a field, laughing at my “Bob Dylan on the harmonica” impression. I didn’t know, yet, that I would continue to see many of my friends, some up to this day (hi Opie!). I also didn’t know that way scarier things would happen to me after starting college… like finishing college. And the day before I had to go off to school, I happened to visit Blues Traveler’s website and I saw that they were giving away music!

It’s possible this will seem weird to you. It was weird to me because I was peculiarly stuck between eras. See, Napster existed already. But my internet wasn’t good enough to take advantage of it. So I couldn’t get see a band’s move to give away music as a reaction of some sort to the post-Napster world. Basically, I was still living a mostly analog life in a world that was reacting to its own new-found status as digital. To make that point: they had actually released the entire thing, and their latest full-length album had come out too. I had no idea!

Well, anyway. I was just excited. I downloaded everything they had (on a 56.6.k connection, mind you) and packed away my new laptop to head to school. And the final track was the final track on their album. So when I found it in the CD store in Morehead that most definitely doesn’t exist any more, down on the edge of town near 60, I was elated. (I bought the two Phish albums I own there, too. I don’t particularly get misty-eyed about CD stores, but I wish that one was still there.)

There are five whole songs in this album, so it’s really my fault the post isn’t done already. But this one was really memorable in my personal life. If you’re just here for the music, then I have good news: here it is!

As always, my procedure works this way: I’ll write my first impressions of the piece. When you see the tarot card, that means I’ve flipped it over. I actually don’t know what’s coming during these posts until I am midway through them.

12 Swords

Yeah. Hell yeah. “Apprentice turned sorcerer, I.” Yes, this album is a sweet-ass fantasy concept album. You are welcome.

The story seems to be about a young magician in an army of some sort, missing his lover. The lyrics miss a heartfelt love song, nearly-cliched stargazing imagery, and magical language that blends everything together. I feel as though the three different aspects rescue each of the others, but maybe you feel it’s a little too heavy-handed? I dunno, man. It blew me away, back then, and it still makes me feel the same now.

I just have to use the Waite-Smith deck. It’s a classic, but I have another reason: I bought this deck the same year this album came out, in the little bookstore across from the comic shop. The comic shop was actually the side business of a stationery store, and has since gone out of business. The bookstore moved, and focuses on coffee now, really.

Wheel of Fortune

the_wheel_of_fortune

The vicissitudes of fortune certainly do play with the speaker. He longs for what he had and lost; he acts without will, since he is commanded; he also, though, has finally become a sorcerer, a power in the world. The wheel acts to remind us that everything changes. The card surrounds the wheel with depictions of the four apostles who wrote the gospels (medieval iconography, don’t blame me). The stars and moon also “wheel” above the speaker as he speaks. He implies that love is the thing that keeps the wheel in motion but does not change — its axle. That’s a common refrain for Blues Traveler that love is a kind of metaphysical power. So we see where we’re going with the magical imagery: an exploration of love. We’ll “wish away till morning” with the speaker.

Also, keep in mind that Straight on Till Morning was the title of the band’s previous album. So that’s a thing.

The Sun and the Storm

Jaunty, carefree, and, uh, the Beatles?

I’m really fond of the peculiar way this song layers in Beatles lyrics. Thinking too hard about the setting, I think of the idea that the Beatles are the “past masters” that this apprentice has learned about, in the way they probably really are for so many bands. Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” is basically about old rock “gods,” so why not this song too? Note the band’s use of their own songs in the background as well, specifically “Hook,” the song about faking emotions.

The peculiar thing, perhaps, is how light and carefree the singer sounds here, after missing his lover so badly in the previous song. Well, John Popper has a tendency to write songs about the aloofness we all adopt to avoid emotional pain, so that could be happening here. Also, since the song and the album are both about the skies, things change. The singer’s heart is “the sun and the storm…” Emotions come and go. That makes the previous song a night-time lament, while this is the cheerful daytime tune that carries the dreamer through the day and back to nighttime again. Remember how “Hook” is hidden in here and it’s the song about faking emotions? Yeah.

I still live that life, and I lived it full force back then, with nothing to occupy my time but classes.

3 of Pentacles

3_of_pentacles

Is it weird to get this card for this song? Not really. It’s the artisan practicing their craft. The sorcerer is traveling with the army, practicing his trade, enjoying the strength of his own convictions.

A very wise man I know said, once, that when we get nostalgic about times and places, we don’t want things to be the way they were. We want to feel the way we felt then. The craftsperson in the card isn’t yet in that realm of nostalgia. They are totally present here, now, working on their art and watching it grow, piece by piece, in front of them.

The song is that happening, audibly. All the layers of song come together, piece by piece, to make something, in the way we all synthesize our favorite songs or books or tv shows to make the thing we want to make. And when we do that enough, our love emerges from the new thing we’ve made — our spirit and our “earthly” selves merge.

~

We’re stopping here! I know, only two songs in? Well, there are only three songs left, and we’re already past the 1200 word mark. Look for more on Friday, after Thanksgiving passes us by. If you celebrate that holiday, have fun! If you don’t, enjoy your quiet time, wondering why all your other friends online are complaining about their families or how much turkey is left… See you Friday with the thrilling conclusion to Decisions of the Sky!

One thought on “Tarot Time: Blues Traveler’s Decisions of the Sky

  1. Pingback: Tarot Time: Blues Traveler’s Decisions of the Sky 2 – Better Living through Symbolism

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