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  • Aarik Danielsen

Comfort Food

My head seems like a stone—my slowed heart right behind—in these interval days, winter shaking its remnants into spring. Five pieces of pop culture offered recent comfort; perhaps one (or more) will deliver on its promise, consoling and encircling you. 

Ruston Kelly, “Belly of the Beast” 

Choked tears return, lining my eyes, and I text my wife a clip and a message: This might be the most actually “Christian” song I’ve heard in who knows how long. 

Against blue-gray piano and a whirring Springsteen harmonica, Ruston Kelly manages to express the last four, five, maybe six years of my life in only three minutes, 48 seconds. He sings of the swallowing world and our meager medicines, of hidden angels and wishing life would end or hope would hurry. 

No recent line knows me better than “In the heart of the dark / In the shadow days, I have / Called out to Michael in a casual way / Said I was looking for manna in everything that I ate.” Listen here.

Matt Damon takes the Colbert Questionert 

Lately, I binge these eight-to-10-minute segments, Stephen Colbert assuring some household name his list of questions—and their subsequent answers—will leave them fully known.

Maybe I want to fully know someone. Maybe this is me easing my way, hands tracing the shadowed walls, through fears of being fully known. Matt Damon was the last man up, and his answer to the question “What do you think happens when we die?” stole one breath, then the next. 

“I think we go home.” 

For this eavesdropper—one who often prays “I just want to go home”—those five words are the world. Watch Damon and Colbert here

Waxahatchee, “Right Back to It” 

Katie Crutchfield’s new record excavates the poetry of everyday living. As someone inching toward 20 years of marriage, I somehow fumble words for how I feel, how she feels, how we feel. But Crutchfield effortlessly spills sentiment enough for my anxious, prodigal heart and for the quiet nylon guitar strings tethering us:

“I’ve been yours for so long ... I let my mind run wild / Don’t know why I do it / But you just settle in / Like a song with no end.” Watch Crutchfield and her band perform “Right Back to It” here.

The prints of Hasui Kawase

The Tokyo-born artist, working through the mid-20th century, created a sort of sacred majesty in thin, towering trees as resilient witnesses, silent but enveloping snows, and the moon as a benevolent, even omniscient, main character. I feel safe, feel like myself, gazing into his compositions. 

Maria Popova paid tribute to Kawase on her site The Marginalian, offering gorgeous observations like these:

“In landscape after landscape, the majestic silhouettes of the matsu (Japan’s iconic pine trees, symbols of fortitude and courage) and the sugi (the enormous old-growth cedars, symbols of power and longevity) reach into the nocturne toward the crescent and lean into the gloaming hour, backlit by the full Moon.”

Ramy Youssef’s “SNL” monologue

The comedian of Egyptian descent encountered—somewhat polar—attention for his calls to end violence in Palestine and free Israeli hostages during last week’s “Saturday Night Live.” But lean back to absorb the whole of Youssef’s comments and more resonates. 

Youssef, a devout Muslim, underlines the sacredness and absurdity of prayer—and of being the praying friend in your circle. Stacking pleas for world peace and a buddy’s dog is a beautiful and hilariously unmooring experience, he notes. 

“I’m out of ideas—all I have is prayers,” he said at one point and another breath left me. Today, right now as I write to you, all my ideas resemble prayers and all my prayers resemble ideas. 

Watch Youssef here; his comments on prayer begin around the 6-minute mark. 

Two recent places to read me: 

I’m beyond grateful to have two music-centered pieces in journals I love in these early months of 2024. At The Museum of Americana, I wrote about Andrew Bryant’s stellar record “Prodigal” and of the religious experiences he and I share. From the piece:

Both our younger selves stepped through consecrated evenings, questions hanging overhead like stars, our descendants as numerous as Abraham’s. Minutes before, we peered over instruments dedicated for worship, playing closing cadences, reading whispering lips. Elders passed messages of anointing, of when and where it settles. They talked about us. 

And for Major 7th Magazine, something short and dreamy about Tears for Fears and my favorite opening lyric ever. From the piece:

I wanted—I want!—to be with you alone, because when we have our wild words, our weather, we want for nothing else. Showers and sideways snows, woodwind breezes and all this invisible sun, fill up every space between us, bind us together.


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