A Safe Place

art by Bre McDaniel

This song is not linear in nature or in narrative and so has no one simple story behind it.  In some way it is all wrapped up in the poem “The Uses of Sorrow” by the late, great, Mary Oliver.

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

– M. Oliver

There is something beautiful and sacred about spaces of darkness, the private places that we all have that belong to us alone. Places where even our idea of God does not get it, where there is no idea of sin.  Places where we are able to, in the words of J.D. Salinger’s character Seymour Glass unlearn “the differences, the illusory differences, between boys and girls, animals and stones, day and night, heat and cold.”  Places where we escape the binary of good and bad and remember that there is a field “beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing” where Rumi and/or the beloved waits for us.  For me this is a place I try to go to in my spiritual pursuits, and it is the place I need to go when, as they say, ‘life happens’.  The joy of the birth of a child.  The grief of death.  The despair in the face of what I am complicit in doing to the world.  The lack of care for others I witness.  My own lack of care.
That place we have access to is one where we are free from the temptation to navigate by fear, the place where reconciliation is possible and we can begin the work of both being who we were created to be and interacting with the other in a way that is authentically free.

(. . . .)

The song ends with a repeated line. This line is what my father spoke to me in response to my question of whether he still had hope for life.  This was at a time in his life as he navigated the struggles of living with Lewy Body Dementia. I know now that I asked him this question at a time when he was actively losing his ability to not only speak, but to move on his own.  With a spark in his eye, and with all the determination he could muster— which he needed in order to physically annunciate the words, something difficult to do as his muscular system deteriorated—he looked me in the eye and with a tremor declared:

“Where there is life, there is hope!”

This is a sentiment I want to give to anyone and everyone who is out there listening.  Take it, hold it, cherish it—most of all, believe it.

*As a note (and in answer to my Mother-in-Law’s query about the line about mothers) regarding the references to “God” and “mother”.  These are not about any idea of true divinity or any particular mothers, but rather about the ideas of authority that we all carry that affect us with their gaze.  Perhaps these forces and ideas are helpful in our development to a certain extent, but there is a time when we all do best to launch, to go to our dark place, to mold and emerge into what and who we were created to be.

A safe place

Come along with me
Just don’t tell your mother
I’m hoping we can see
More and more of eachother

I know a place where no light gets in
We can hide from God there, we can hide from sin

If you navigate by fear
You always have an answer
But certainty deceives
and it grows like a cancer

I know a place where no light gets in
I go there to remember, I go to begin

I’ll keep dreaming … while I can
But why not dream while I have the chance?
Hope still sings I believe
Faith is all she asks of me

The city holds its breath
Waiting for the tremor
The weeds are growing high
Neighbors fear one another

I know a place where no light gets in
Where we can trust each other and rest as friends

It’s not how close you get
Its direction that matters
I’ll keep facing her
the rest of my winters
In that place where no light gets in
There’s a part of each of us that is safe within

I’ll keep dreaming … while I can
But why not dream while we have the chance?
Hope still sings I believe
Faith is all she asks of me

Don’t give up  There is a way
Where there is life there is hope
The body remembers what the mind forgets
Where there is life there is hope

Words and Music by Peter La Grand


You’ve Already Won

art by Bre McDaniel

You’ve already won

  This song is, for me, the most captivating song on the record. To my ears, it is the most raw sonically and lyrically. The song is a message, a letter, a missal of hope.

 The title and main message of the song—“you’ve already won”—is a message I want to give to everyone. In particular, to people who feel beat down, lost, lonely, wrung out; to those who feel like the best they do is not enough and that usually what they do isn’t even the best; to the hopeless and the desperate.

 When I wrote this song I had a particular person in mind (no, I won’t tell you who, and you can’t guess). However, after the song was recorded and the record was done, I had a strange experience in my relationship with this song. After a week of events that left me feeling rejected and down this song, instead of being me speaking to another, grew to also be a song of myself addressing myself. I hear the song now as a message to myself, a message to remember to continue to walk (or to crawl) and to live in the hope that I believe even when (especially when?) I don’t feel it. It is a message to the shadow side of me, the side that does not want to get out of bed, the part of me that thinks that there is no hope or use in trying because the game is rigged and nothing’s going to work out. It is a message to the part of me that is too tired to play the game. 

  It is a message from the deep part of me that believes, the part that has hope, the part that has seen a vision of the light and seeks to both carry and spread that flame. It is a message from the part of me that is too busy crying out “holy!” at everything I see to have a moment of despair.

I guess, in the end, I tried to write a song with a message that I wanted everyone to hear, and that includes me in the audience. 

  A close friend recently wrote me to ask why, exactly, he had already won. My reply to him was simple: Because you are loved

 You are loved

You’ve already won

Another night of no rest
You carry despair in the lines of your face
Mornings come fast and deeply divided
I’m up at first light, you keep missing sunrise

How I long for you to heal
But it doesn’t matter what I feel

You’ve already won the battle is over     
What you’re fighting for you’ve had all along
There’s no way to win cause I’m on your side
What you’re fighting for has been yours all along

Are you lost in the dark?  Do you want to come out?
I keep on pounding but you never answer
I need you here, I need you free
I swear I’m not going to let you hide from me

How I long for you to heal
But it doesn’t matter what I feel

You have my word and I will stay as long as it takes for your night to end
You have my word and I will stay as long as it takes for your night to end
You have my word and I will stay as long as it takes for your night to end
You’ve already won the battle is over     
What you’re fighting for you’ve had all along
There’s no way to win cause I’m on your side
What you’re fighting for has been yours all along

Words and music by Peter La Grand

please let me know what you think!

Fog the Windows

art by Bre McDaniel

Fog the Windows
For a lot of my life I longed for the sort of partnership and companionship that I now have.  I am fortunate to have a life companion, a woman as mysterious to me as she is familiar, someone I sleep next to and live with, parent with, and go through all seasons of life with.  Together we are building something that is solid, supple, and always taking new shape.  As of this year we have been married for 11 years.  It is great, and it has been great.  It has also been hard, long, short, blissful, and grinding.  There is nothing like it and nothing I would rather be doing and no one I would want to share this life with.  

This song is about all of that.  

About love, about marriage.  About seasons of death and of life.  About unfathomable richness of traveling for seasons with another person.  About letting somethings die and discovering other things growing.  About the dance that relationship entails of intimacy, solitude, patience, demands, closeness and space.  About the need sometimes just to be held.  About the messages that culture pounds into you about ‘freedom’ and about the real freedom that seems to only come with chosen constraints.  About my own continuing awareness of the nature of true wealth and richness.  About my own tendency to forget all these lessons and fall for the simple and thin messages that I see or hear, and my good fortune to be with another who I can come back to and who takes me in.

I guess, I could just say that this is a love song to my wife.  

Fog the Windows

The old tree finally came down
The winter‘s been long and the winds were too strong
Now it’s spread all over the yard
But spring will make it a nurse log
New life will grow from it’s death shroud

life that will rise, rise all around

And though we are getting older
Our breath can still fog the car windows
On Friday night, on Friday night
but we can’t breathe together
if we don’t look at eachother
eye to eye, so look in my eyes

know this dance can only work if we hold loosely to eachothe
but tonight let’s come close and carry one another
for a while … let me hold you close

the movies would have me believe
the same as the songs and the magazines
that I should be free to do anything

but I am beginning to see
the shackles I chose are the keys
that fit the locks to all I need

still I fall for the tricks everytime
a glossy finish and some winning lines
are all it takes to render me blind
and then I come back to you
seeking forgiveness from you

once again, I’m sorry again

I know that I have wounded you, I know that you have suffered
I know that I got lost again in myself and in others
I know this dance can only work If I prove I can be trusted
so tonight please come close and let’s work on  what’s been busted
for awhile let me hold you close
for awhile let me hold you close
for awhile let me hold you close

words and music by Peter La Grand

Beggars and Limousines

art by Bre McDaniel

I moved to Vancouver in 2002 and was able to rent a room in a house of a few hundred dollars. The following year I rented half of a house for $400 (it was a small house, but still!). Writing from 2019 those times seem farther away than just 17 years. 

For the past 13 years, I have worked in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, a very interesting neighbourhood where it is difficult not to see the gap between rich and poor everywhere you look. 

I want to be clear that I am in no way proposing I have any answer to the issue of housing in Vancouver, or the multitude of issues that people in the downtown eastside are confronted with as they struggle to survive and thrive in life. I want to also highlight that I do not consider my own struggles to be on the same level of many of the people I serve and have served in my neighbourhood. 

However, I find it somehow useful to record a bit of my own experience and my perceptions from my time here in Vancouver. I consider Vancouver my home, met and got married here, and have three wonderful children who were born in this city. Yet while I feel belonging here (as much as I can belong on unceeded territory as a settler, which is a whole other ball of wax that I recognize) I am more certain that I will have to leave Vancouver than I will be able to afford to stay here. I sometimes relate to people that living in Vancouver it is not a question of if friends will move, but rather when. Every school picture and birthday party reveals empty spaces where close friends used to be, friends that have moved somewhere where they can afford to exist and escape the constant threat of eviction, renoviction, substandard housing, and never having enough space. There is something that connects the disparity of fortune in the downtown eastside and all the hopelessness that most people —singles, couples, and families—feel about sustainable existence in Vancouver. This song is my lament for all of this, my confession of my own hopelessness, and my expression of the seemingly impossible challenge of living in this city that I love, a problem that stays with me like a splinter.

Beggars and Limousines

Beggars and limosines
Junkies and beauty queens
Hitting the streets on a Friday night
All looking for the same thing

This city eats its young
So, sister, turn and run
The divide it has become
Too deep for anyone

I’d like to say there is a hope
I wish there was a way
But each day here feels like one closer to moving away

Two jobs and school at night
no end or relief in sight
I forgot to invest what I never had
And toil is the price of that life

Beggars and Limousines, words and music by Peter La Grand

The Cross and Crow

Art by Bre McDaniel

For a long while, I have had the image of a cross and crow in my mind. It first came from walking down Campbell Street in East Vancouver and seeing a crow perched on top of the cross that adorns the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church. This image stayed with me and rose again a few years ago as I was preparing to enter into the task of songwriting again. As I set out to write the songs for this album I felt drawn to the image as a metaphor for a place of tension that I often inhabit, the tension between the grit of the world and the ascendant of the spiritual. While my theological mind rejects this sort of sacred/secular split (it is all holy! every square inch is claimed!) it is a tension that I feel in my day to day. This is a tension that I am pulled into deeper when I read the gospels and I as I continue to attempt to navigate my life in a fully conscious way taking seriously the life, words, and ongoing influence of Jesus the Christ, the man and also the mystical Messiah. This song speaks of my own journey. It speaks to the fact that I both know what I am oriented to and am completely lost. It speaks to the prayer that returns to me at times, praying that the Christ would lead me, confessing how lost I get when I navigate on my own. It also speaks to how much I love this world, the grit of it, and of the deep hope I hold for the world while also of the way I feel complicit in the forces that seem intent on the destruction of this world. 

The cross and the crow

You lead the way
I’ll follow quick behind
Right on your neck
I’m ready to abscond
The cross and crow
together in the sky
The lost and found
They need eachothers touch

You lead the way
I give up all control
I lost the path
Markers long ago
The cross and crow
together keep me here
hope for the world
the fear that I’m killing it

You lead the way
I’ll close my eyes and trust
I think You know
That I have said too much
The cross and crow
They burn into my arms
I’m marked for life
lost if you lead me wrong

You lead the way
I’ll follow quick behind
Right on your neck
I’m ready to abscond

Words and Music by Peter La Grand

I’m releasing an album

Here are some words I read out on the album release on saturday night.

I’m releasing an album. Perhaps you, like me, have a voice in your head questioning why I should do this. Or perhaps it is just me, but since we’re here, let me tell you about this voice because it is an important part of the release of this album. This voice of mine has a few names. Steven Pressfield calls it the resistance. Some give it other names, some friendly, some mean. I call it the voice of Peter—because it is me. This voice tells me a lot about music, mostly some variation on the theme of 

“It is ridiculous for you to write, let alone record and produce music. Do you really think that the world needs some more songs from a 40-year-old white guy with a scratchy voice, ham-fisted lyrics, and slightly above average musicianship?”

There is, of course, no good answer to this question. Like the classic no-win question: 

“have you quit your no-good cheating ways?”

You are damned by admission no matter what answer you give.

But here’s the thing. 

Though this voice is part of me, 

is a voice I have to interact with every day,

 and is a voice that makes sense….

….it is not the only voice!

There are other voices—voices of people like Ani Difranco, Seth Godin, Steven Pressfield, and Michelle Obama.

Voices like those of the poets we are hearing from tonight.

There are the voices of friends from far and near who tell me they want to hear what I have to say. 

There is my own voice when I speak to others, which I hear saying to them:

“We need you and we need your voice desperately. We won’t make it without everyone’s voice—including yours!”

Finally, there is a still small voice whispering through the scriptures and holy books, the poets, the life of Jesus, the people in my neighbourhood, and my children, 

incessantly insisting that the particular that is me matters, that I am a beloved in whom the CREATOR is well pleased.

This chorus of voices is much nicer than my inner critic and makes for a better world. 

Then the choice of whether to create and use my voice becomes a choice of whether to choose life or to choose death. All my life so far there has been something in me that chooses death and long for death. 

Much, if not all, of the good in my life, has come from kicking at this voice and instead choosing life and hope, and clinging to this choice with everything I have as if my life depends on it. 

And, of course, my life does depend on it.

So does yours.

And my life depends on your voice.

And so on and so forth. 

As papa Wendell Berry says, there is no global action, only local action that, if done by enough, can serve to save the world. Or, like my professor, Chris Overvorde insisted to a group of us talking about racial reconciliation 

“This will only happen when every one of us and every person loves their neighbour as themselves.”

So, while the voice in me still wonders aloud “who needs this? What do you think you are doing? Stop!” The part of me that hopes, that is awake to poetry, insists that all voices are important, and my own voice is included in that. 

I am counted in their number. 

I can’t imagine how my voice will help, 

but my job is not to figure that out but to speak.

To you who are listening, I hope this small batch of songs and this small batch of words brings you hope and perhaps a moment of peace amidst the fullness of your life. I would love to hear from you your own voice, and if these songs and words resonate with you. 

As papa Wendell also says

Practice resurrection 


14 september 2019

What a night!

Thank you to all who came to last night’s release. It was a beautiful night, rich in words and people. Thank you especially to all who helped me with the night: Jordan Klassen, Ben Appenheimer, Bre McDaniel, Kurt Armstrong, Lance Odegard, Mike Deboer, Rebecca Deboer, Celine Chuang, Kristen La Grand, Andrew Ledger, Frank Schimunek, Jodi Spargur, and everyone I forgot! Thank you especially to Brad Buhr for getting the photos above! Music now available on the usual online places like itunes and spotify. Please add me to your playlists, stream round the clock, etc.!