Visiting Arizona and Understanding The Maine
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Wide open space can be seen as frightfully empty or full of potential. Whether you find it daunting or exciting or both – there is something to be said about space and how much we perceive we have, especially when creating. What would you believe you can make when surrounded by vast plains of sand, canyons and caves ready to echo your every sound or amplify your voice, a blank canvas sky so wide open that it feels like you can reach out to touch it?
2:30am. O’Hare International Airport – Chicago. I am still wearing my gloves as I wait in a long TSA line thanks to the government shutdown. I feel guilty leaving on a Friday, I should be at work, I should be checking Slack, I should be – no, no, no I need this. I need to feel the sun on my skin again. I need to give myself a damn break. I don’t know how to stop or maybe just how to give myself permission to. I think this is why I cling to art and music that gives me that permission to just slow down, feel apart of something, feel at all. I fell asleep on the plane before I even got a chance to ask for this cute mini pretzels.
I had never been to the desert before visiting Phoenix, Arizona in January; escaping cold and frozen Chicago. The streets were lined with tall palm trees, the houses all colorful shades like they were painted with clay and berries. I was immediately enthralled by the sun soaked town and the contagious neon energy it gave off. I didn’t realize this trip would help me make sense of a record written by a band who called this sprawling landscape home.
The Maine have just released their 7th record, You Are Okay. The record was not yet released when I visited Arizona’s Urban Heart but I had listened to every podcast, watched every mini doc episode of The Process on Youtube, and read all the material I could. Despite all that knowledge, nothing really clicked until I walking through the Desert Botanical Garden in Papago Park. The red sandstone of massive buttes contrasts the blue sky mostly broken up giant saguaro cactus. All I found myself thinking about was “this was their playground”. What sort of imagination does that foster as kid? Do you start to believe you can also grow anywhere? My thoughts then brought me back to the last record, Lovely Little Lonely, so infused with the tremendous energy potential of the ocean. I always thought that record was so lullaby-dreamlike with a strong undertow of hope in both production and lyricism. Now I understand, this group has had an entirely different relationship with water than I did as someone who grew up on the east coast. Our experiences matter and I believe they affect how we create the art we make. That is why I am thankful for the chance to travel, especially to a place so much apart of the story of a band called The Maine.
Listening to the record while I think back on my experience in Arizona, I have already begun to find my favorite tracks. “Slip the Noose” opens the record like daybreak, giving you chilling moments before you warm up and hit the alarm and GO. “I was on the verge of breaking down /Then you came around”. After a few listens I start to hear it more as introspective; the part of you that has always been there fighting for yourself finally being able to win. Or if it is truly about someone coming into your life offering the clarity and support you needed – there is still this moment where you have to give yourself credit for using that.
Filled with juxtaposition, “My Best Habit” dances in making light of the darker subject: having your mental health affect those around you. There is a sort of pride to the song that I think only comes with having gone through difficult times and coming out forced to know exactly who you are. When you are that self-aware you almost can’t help but laugh at yourself and anyone that expects you to be different than who you know you are.
Thunder and lightning brighten up the sky and shake the ground in “Numb With You”. It is a love song full of electricity – a flash flood of emotions ready to sweep you away. I was fortunate enough to see this performed live at 8123 fest and now I am eager to have that experience again. It definitely will fill your car and ask you to roll your windows down but I hope you
get a chance to be immersed in it at a show. The Maine has managed to harness the same energy of bands like Third Eye Blind and Radiohead to create their own pop infused landscape.
There is a lot of love in this record all together. There is something about being able to receive love that sort of opens up this greater capacity to love others in return. It’s a love that has been over the honeymoon phase and back, has wept to Romeo and Juliet past reading it in middle school, and has felt every spectrum of emotion but still chose to love again despite the pain it can cause. There is poetic repetition and powerful prose packed into the second half of the record. “Heaven, We’re Already Here” moves at breakneck speed burning asphalt only to pull over and smell the roses on acoustic “Forevermore”.
Thankfully this intense encounter ends with some closure – over 9 minutes of it actually with “Flowers On The Grave”. It poses the question “So tell me, are you ok?” but then gives you time and space to actually sit and think about it. It’s a simple question but one we often forget to ask ourselves or each other. “You don’t plan life, you live it” offers a mantra before reassuring the listener “Everything is temporary.” As someone who has been to therapy and tries hard to practice mindfulness daily despite my struggle to stay present; I really believe the gentle moment this song grants us is important and well worth taking. It allows you this visual of honoring your past self which means admitting it is gone. What you do next is up to you but leave the flowers on the grave, and run don’t walk towards whatever is next and whoever you get to be now.
You Are Ok is an experience – I would actually dare to call it a soundtrack because it is so sensational you want to engross yourself in its significance. However, there is no plot or film to accompany this body of art and that is the beauty of it. It is ours. Yours, if you chose it to be. We live these magnificent, complicated, fast lives that are important and so worth sharing. It’s much bigger than a movie and it’s even bigger than ourselves. It’s as wide as the desert and intense as a thunderstorm mid drought. The album artwork of someone vulnerable and bare in an arid environment looking into a mirror is perhaps an illustration of encouragement to let your guard down, take up all the space you want, and really take a look at yourself and tell yourself you are ok. If not – you’re going to get there. Flowers grow in the desert. Woodpeckers find home behind prickly cacti. Where can you grow? Where will you find home?
Hannah Hines // @hannah_unlost
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