It's not always organic. Sometimes something external pushes you into reflection.
I got an email Wednesday ostensibly about a Christmas song. This time of year, I get lots of emails like that. And its already been noted in other quarters that there have been more such emails this year than in years past. I'm all in favor of these emails. I'm obviously not going to catch everything so, if you want to be sure I hear your song, there's nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, I don't have time to respond to them all. But I do listen to all the songs (well, once in a while I forget). And even if you get no reply and nothing turns up on the blog, that doesn't mean I didn't like the song.
Anyway, I got an email Wednesday. The song in question was "Cat Christmas". OK, you know me and cats. Lets check it out.
Volary is the performance name of Samantha Lien. She was born in Australia and moved to San Francisco in 2001. As much as she loved music, it occurred to her that "Nobody else ever seemed to want to say quite the things that I did". You know the old saw about wanting things done right? Samantha learned the guitar and began writing and playing. She received recognition and praise from Billboard magazine and MTV. In 2009, she began working on her debut album.
The album, which would be called "Out of Shadows", was nearing completion when Samantha was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgeries and "aggressive" treatment followed. But she finished the album--released to critical praise and glowing reviews. In remission, she played the material out and won a local Battle of the Bands competition. Feeling hopeful about the future once again, Samantha began writing for a second album. Her lyrics and music were light and playful (I imagine "Cat Christmas" was written during this time).
In 2012, it was discovered that the cancer had returned and metastasized. She was still determined to finish a second album. And, now, her writing reflected her struggle and uncertainty. The cancer won the fight and Samantha died on November 1, 2013.
The album lay unfinished. Samantha's husband, Alex Kushner, could not let it stay that way. He contacted the producer of Samantha's first album, Laura Dean. They enlisted Minna Choi (and her Magik*Magik Orchestra). Together, and with help from lots of others--both in the studio and via Kickstarter--"The Light" was completed from what were mostly unfinished demos and bare sketches. It was released last month, which was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on CD, collectors grade vinyl (180g), and digitally (all available on Bandcamp).
The word "Volary" is an obscure word with two distinct meanings. It can be a flight or a flock of birds or it can be the cage you keep them in. Think about that for a second. Volary can mean one of two things that are distinctly opposite. It can mean, in essence, freedom or captivity. I think the choice is yours. And I think that might have been at least part of Samantha's point.
When you do your holiday reflection this year, whenever that is, I want you to be truly thankful for whatever you have in your life. If the only good news in your life is that you woke up today, be truly thankful for that. If you have friends and family to share the holidays with, then you're on top of the food chain. Celebrate that. Celebrate yourself (if you don't celebrate yourself, why would anyone else). Celebrate the bad things in your life, too. Because you're here. You got through it or are getting through it, whatever "it" is, and those trials made you who you are right now. It's a cliche because it's true, but be aware that every day is a miracle. Don't let it slip through your fingers. Today is the only thing that any of us ever have. Fight for it.
Today, I am truly thankful for "The Light" from Samantha Lien (aka Volary) and for the email that led me there. It helped me to remember what's important and how much I have to be thankful for.