Orson Scott Card once said that, "Music isn't just a pleasure, a transient satisfaction. It's a need, a deep hunger; and when the music is right, it's joy. Love. A foretaste of heaven. A comfort in grief."
In many ways, those songs that truly resonate within our souls, both in the past and present, are not only the fullest and deepest expressions of ourselves but also subtle clues to figuring out how we feel about life.
That's why I've always felt that songwriting is an art form unlike any other.
Mark Mulcahy is a great songwriter.
Despite having paid his dues for years, Mark is practically unknown outside of the indie rock scene. Adored by music critics and fellow musicians, he's never achieved even a modicum of the commercial attention he deserves. I first discovered him eight years ago after reading Nick Hornby's book "Songbook," a collection of thirty-one personal essays about life each based on a single song. One of the essays was about Mark's song "Hey Self-Defeater" (from the album Fathering.)
I've always felt that Mark wrote the kind of music you listen to when you're sitting around a campfire with close friends or smoking cigarettes on a NYC fire escape or driving alone in the middle of the night to see a girl whom you love. His lyrics are hauntingly beautiful and he has the rare ability to tell stories through his music. There are flashes of his music that simultaneously remind me of Radiohead, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Westerberg, Pearl Jam, the Smiths and R.E.M. How many artists can we say that about?
Anyway, a tribute album entitled "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy" is due to be released in September. It will feature contributions from such artists as Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Juliana Hatfield, Liz Phair, the National, Ben Kweller and many others. It's one of the more impressive and inspiring compilations put together solely for a single purpose.
Sadly, that purpose is devastatingly heartbreaking.
Almost exactly one year ago, Mark's wife Melissa tragically and unexpectedly passed away from cancer, leaving him alone to raise his three-year old twin daughters. Forced to choose between his music and his family, he chose his family and decided to put an end to his music career. Despite his need and love of being an artist, there was simply no way he could afford to be a musician anymore. He was in dire financial straits and needed to be at home for his daughters. Fatherhood was too important for him to make any compromises.
When learning about Mark's decision to give up music, the many artists he inspired circled the wagons and decided to release "Ciao My Shining Star" on their own. They've spent the past year writing and producing their own personal and heartfelt versions of Mark's songs, the sole purpose being to raise money for a great friend, man, musician, husband and father.
The outpouring of love and support was incredible. The music it produced is even more so.
The first few songs were released this week. Here are two of my favorites. Both are truly beautiful in their own way and hit you like great songs should---in the gut.
The National's cover of "Ashamed Of The Story I Told."
Thom Yorke's cover of "All For The Best."
I've never asked any of you for much but do me a favor. Listen to the songs, buy the album, and when you get home tonight, hug your loved ones extra tight.
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