Tonight, on Thursday, November 13th, 2014, the sun will set at 4:54pm. This, you may agree, is fucking early.
It’s also getting cold. It’s snowing as I write this.
Winter is coming and with it, hibernation. In the summer, Torontonians are out every weekend: going to festivals, ferrying to the island, drinking in the park… but when November hits, we begin to cocoon. To say “no” to more invitations, to be more content heading straight home to our couches and our blankets and our computers and our Netflix. And while hibernation can be a welcome rest and escape after a summer of adventure, there’s something about the idleness after a season of distractions, about the darkness and the cold can start to breed an anxiety.
I can already feel the fatigue and anxiety that accompanies my winter blues (aka seasonal affective disorder) creeping in. But there’s something about Chad VanGaalen’s “Peace On The Rise” from his 2011 album Diaper Island that manages to stave off those feelings, at least for four and-a-half minutes at a time.
The song begins with VanGaalen’s distant “We can sit around this fire, let our spirits ride on out.” You’re immediately somewhere warmer, and in company. Whether it’s around a campfire in the summer, or around a fireplace in a dark living room, wrapped in a blanket with someone close to you. Watching a fire is hypnotic and sublime, it’s bigger than you, it’s eternal, it’s untouchable and ethereal. It’s also undeniably human. Aside from keeping you warm, gathering around a fire can be a communally transcendent experience. You’re free of your daily, small, earthly worries.
“Slip into the same old dream every night.” This lyric means two things to me at once. One side effect of my anxiety is anxious dreams. Dreams about work, relationships, death, whatever. So there’s that. But for some reason I also find this lyric comforting. There’s something lazy about it. Something soothing about the idea of, at the end of the day, you go back home. To the “same old dream every night.” Whether it’s your warm bed, the person you love, even a book you’re reading. There’s a constant. Something to hold onto. And those things transcend the seasons. “Remember how we’d sleep so still, trees were singing love songs, drowning in the maze of a summer.” As the fire you’re gathered around is the same fire whether the weather is hot or cold, whether the nights are short and mad or long and languid… so is this dream. The dream, the fire: the PEACE rises like smoke from these constants.
At the 2:18 mark, the lyrics pause. You are invited to lose yourself in dense, deep instrumentals. Strings and low woodwinds that roll over you like a blanket of thick smoke for nearly an entire minute. It’s meditative. It feels otherworldly. It’s when the “spirits ride on out” and you can see their shadows and shapes in the rising cloud and feel safe and protected by them, whatever they are.
Then, VanGaalen’s guitar and voice reappear through that smoke and bring you back to reality, before letting you ease back into the dream at the end.
I guess what I’m saying is: if you’re feeling anxious and you don’t have time to meditate and focus and find your inner peace – try listening to this song a few times. It works pretty well.
(Sidenote: Chad VanGaalen also happens to be an incredibly talented visual artist. He animated the video for this song, and you can see more of his art on his TWITTER or a quick google search.)