In the Garden of the Ashes

Let me take you back to 2008.

virginia, 2008

virginia, 2008

VIRGINIA 2008: It’s the summer and the midnight bugs of the south are buzzing, the counselors at our Young Writers camp are telling good ghost stories, and our eyes are red from being sleep deprived, but we’ll stay up all night tonight anyway. It’s a tradition. One called Dawn on the Lawn. The friends I made here, especially one in particular, seem to know me better than anyone else. And I’m not sure if I’ll ever see them again.

GOSHEN, NY 2009: It’s the summer and the midnight bugs of the northeast are buzzing. So is my phone. I keep getting annoyed looks from my high school friends because I’m interrupting our card game (where you never know what’s going to happen next but the possibilities are pretty limited) to check my text messages in this crowded, carpeted basement. It feels like something greater is out there and I believe I’ve found it in a state I know nearly nothing about: Colorado. Our relationship that started by falling in love on the phone just became official. I sent you a love song and video love-letter in the mail, a package that would strangely go on to alter the course of my life, and you finally replied. The chorus lyrics to the song I mailed go like this:
I hold my breath and I close my eyes, and I look to the west where they turn back the time for you. I know the dawn of a new day should rise, but I wish that new york would turn back its time for me.”
You leave me a voicemail in response which I later record and save. I eventually plan to make it into a hip hop song for my album Senioritis, and from the other side of the country I get the best suggestions: “name it after a Colorado landmark that feels as timeless as us, like Garden of the Gods or something.”

ALLENTOWN, PA 2009: It’s the fall, only one day after my birthday, and the early evening stage lights are buzzing. We are sound checking in a “real music venue” for the first time. Tonight I open for Asher Roth, and my friends traveled all the way here from Colorado to be in the front row. I promoted this concert by going into our high school at 6am and sticking flyers on every single locker in the school (no exaggeration) with a crew of loyal friends who constantly hold it down for me. Got called into the principal’s office for doing it, which is typical when I try to take over the school with my music, but it was worth it. Tonight feels magical and makes me want to reach for more. My outlook on the world is filled with color. Things are hopeful because you’re in the front row. The sound system is alive. The show goes so well and feels like the beginning of a very long dream. On the ride home, I fall asleep in your lap, as you sing along to the radio. My phone is still buzzing. And I listen to you try to hit the high notes.

GOSHEN, NY 2009: It’s New Years Eve and about a hundred $1 plastic horns are buzzing in a packed basement of friends counting down to midnight. You’re not a stranger anymore, you’re here on a night that’s symbolic of the future and the year to come and you will impact that. We laugh until our ribs hurt over small things, and over the next few days I take you through snowy little Goshen: the secret hideouts. suicide hill. our spot below the highway. my favorite abandoned buildings. good driveways for seeing the stars. we write 6-word autobiographies in my sanctuary, and ours reference each other. It’s cold and we’re freezing but my life is warm for the first time in a while. I get really good at saying goodbye, and until next time, as I watch you leave again from the parking lot of a small-planes airport. I’m confident you’ll come around again.

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO 2010: It’s the spring and it’s my first time in the great expansive western United States, so I’m buzzing. I’m buzzing from the whirlwind of the airports, buzzing from the excitement of flying on my own for the first time, and buzzing from the curiosity I have for all things Colorado: the houses are flat, the mountains are tall & wise, and the people seem to naturally open up like old friends. Your home feels like a home away from home for me. In a serendipitous trip, we visit the Garden of the Gods in person. People say the sandstone formations resemble kissing camels, but I don’t see it immediately as much as I just see us: stones that can last centuries, and something people will marvel at. I make our long-distance story into a narrative in my mind. We visit dorm rooms and go to college dances and take photos in sorority houses and eat mexican food for breakfast, and we build the chapters of this narrative day by day. I could live like this forever, and in my mind, I just might.

LAKE OKOBOJI, IA 2010: It’s now the summer again and my life revolves around the album I just released, Senioritis—in the local music scene, and for the first time, my future is buzzing. It’s a tough time to get away and meet your summer friends but it’s worth it. They are inviting, enviable, worldly, and we swing our legs off a crooked wooden dock together to recreate some movie scene cliches. It’s almost our last year as teenagers. They blast Atmosphere and know all the words, and I feel all of it. I learn how to be the captain of a small ship that should probably be sinking with me steering it, but we get some time alone together, and we stay afloat on this lake whose name I can’t pronounce. A little theme park with a ferris wheel lifts the two of us completely above teenagerhood on my final night in town, and we can see the entirety of the surrounding countryside along with our past and future feelings. We hit our peak altitude, and I make a wish while we’re up there. I feel like I’m witnessing the whole world rotate from that ferris wheel.

ITHACA, NY 2010: It’s my first semester at college and the midnight kids of Ithaca are buzzing, their faces flushed red with alcohol content as students hook up on bunk beds, entrepreneurs restructure the world with their heads in a fish bowl, and I meet true explorers who work towards finding themselves. Sprawling history and prestigious prospects of academia surround me, like ivy on the 150-year-old brick walls, but in actuality, I’ve got the chills and a serious case of homesickness. I feel truly alone for the first time after reading your letter that we need space and we need to become ourselves, and I don’t disagree. Instead, I think about coping and communicating in the only way I know how: put it in a song. My producer and best buddy Nico sends me a beat with the title “when we meet again,” and I know it’s time to revisit the song that brought us together in the first place. This time, we’re no longer Gods. We’re reduced down to something else, something that’s low enough to earth to feel the rain when it hits. The message is as bleak as the snow that’s starting to fall already in Ithaca but at least it’s honest. The song will eventually be on my EP Keep Your Friends Close. I write it all in one sitting, in a dorm room that hasn’t been cleaned in weeks, and I name it Garden of the Angels.

EAST VILLAGE, NYC 2019: It’s the autumn, my favorite time of year, and tomorrow is my birthday. The usual retrospective thoughts that come with birthdays are buzzing, but the construction outside of my window is making a lot more noise than just a buzz. As I listen to them banging metal (they must be building a new world out there), I let my mind wander through all of the places that the world we built had been: dorm rooms in boulder, sanctuary beds in circleville, music venues in allentown, secret swimming holes in virginia, vans in long island, lakes in iowa, and airports. So many airports. I feel good because the Garden of the Ashes video gives me an easy lens through which to reflect on my past: I stand here in the storm of the present moment, with no idea where I’m headed, and though things may have returned to black and white, I am no longer void of color. My memories will be vibrant all the same.

Hope you love the new video and the final chapter of my Garden song trilogy.
Dedicated to anybody who’s had the privilege of having their heart broken.
Listen on Spotify here. Support on youtube by leaving some love in the comments. And share any of my Garden songs with a friend who’ll relate. Linked above and all are on Spotify.


from my own city of rain,