The symbols on my arms are from ancient Germanic cultures that represent different elements of early polytheistic pagan religion. The chosen icons represent myself as well as each of my grandfathers, their lineage and their families.
On my left, is the symbol for Jumis (“yo͞o - mis”), the Baltic Pagan God who personified the harvest. Houston, my mother’s father, tended a large garden, which helped their growing family survive the difficult times both before and after the Great Depression.
The rune-like depiction of Jumis is intended to stylistically symbolize the “Catching of Jumis” ritual that occurs after the fall equinox (around the time of my conception). In hopes of capturing the spirit of Jumis to help keep the land fertile, a small collection of uncut grain—preferably double-eared—is left in the field. Tied in a bundle, the tops are pulled and weighted down with stones or soil in hopes of returning fertility back to the ground; continuing the cycle of prosperous life.
Jumis not only means twin in Latvian, but the glyph of stylized crossed corn or grain stalks is also reminiscent of “twin,” in Sanskrit—a perfect astrological association for a Gemini, like myself, born just before the summer solstice. In the common form, the symbol for Jumis stands for prosperity, good fortune, duality, rebirth and renewed strength. However, the glyph is derived from two crossing Laguz (“lä - go͞oz”) runes, from the Elder Futhark. In addition to the properties of Jumis, Laguz is associated with flow, life energy, organic growth, imagination and fantasy.
On my right arm, I placed the symbol of Gungnir (“go͞on - gə - ni(ə)r”). Also known as the Runletter Gar, Gungnir symbolizes the legendary spear of Odin; a magical weapon forged by Dvalin and the Sons of Ivaldi. The spear was a gift to Odin from Loki, in reparation for cutting the golden hair of Thor’s wife, the goddess Sif.
Similar to the properties of Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer, Gungnir is described as never missing its mark, always returning to Odin’s hand and having the ability to pierce cleanly through its target, never stopping during its thrust.
A symbol of strength and accuracy, Gungnir is also comprised of runes from the Elder Futhark with their own meanings. The X-like character Gebo (“gā - bō”), was the symbol for Gift. It represented self-sacrifice, generosity and balance in all matters of relation and exchange, including contracts, personal relationships and partnerships. The diamond-shaped Ingwaz (“iNG - wäz”), was used in reference to the Earth God. This symbol stood for internal growth, common sense and family love. It was often used as a symbol of relief, a time without anxiety, when all loose strings are tied and you are free to move in a new direction.
These combined associations related most closely to my paternal grandfather, William. Hardened during the times of war, he worked in Army hospitals to help heal those wounded by explosions and fire. He is a strong and unwaveringly disciplined man, who has always had a great respect and love for his family.
In addition to honoring my family, I chose these symbols to represent myself as a person and an artist. They were even designated to a specific arm, in regards to playing guitar. Jumis was placed on my left arm, in hopes of channeling his spirit into the hand that control the growing melody, while Odin’s Gungnir, with its precision and power, control the rhythm in my right.
To be honest, I don’t know that I really have a preference. When I look back at all the different things I’ve written—songs, poems, stories—the short answer is probably Heartbreak.
I believe for most, Heartbreak is easier. Heartbroken people are just giant teakettles; full of this immediate, raw and burning emotion that boils to the top, searching for a way out. It’s just lucky that I managed to stumble upon music as my outlet. We’ve all seen the negative side of that pressure building up: Friends that detonate, bursting with sadness and ill will, or the others that hold on to their spite, discharging it in hot, bitter bursts.
Everyone needs that release. Whether you explode, let it bleed like an air brake or cry into your beer bottle, it’s in our nature to try and share that pain—even with inanimate objects. We all reach out in an effort to find compassion, hoping to find others that share in our sadness, those that can relate and understand. We need that community that can empathize and help with our healing process, so we can maintain the hope for emotional solidarity.
The magnetic pull of sadness in story telling, and especially within a song, can be absolutely intoxicating. Listen to songs like “A Change Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke or “Jolene,” from Ray LaMontagne, Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Brick,” by Ben Folds, or Damien Rice’s “9 Crimes.” They all have that strange endearing quality in their music and lyrics that draw you in. You can share in those feelings and identify with the stories. It makes you want to listen, want to help, want to be there for them.
Love is different. It’s special. It’s private. It’s yours. People have a propensity to keep Love and hold on to it—they tend to it, cultivate it, care for it, and pray that it never leaves.
And I’m not talking about your love of animals, your love for your cereal box collection, or how you love Asian food. Though, if you feel so inclined as to write a song about your shrimp and squid lo mein, knock yourself out. I’m speaking to the intimate moments, the confidential parts of your life that are shared with your partner (or partners, I don’t judge); the baby-talk, dirty-talk, the kinky stuff or even the sweet simple day-to-day moments.
It’s the personal part of Love that so many find intriguing. Look at all the weird reality shows out there, now. Everyone has their own definition of what Love is, and how they define the way you should act and what you should be doing or saying. And as long as everyone involved is happy, who’s to say any bit of it is wrong? Take a listen to Zappa, or Primus, or hell, try Arcane Grail’s “Sacred Gift of Love.” Definitely not your every-day love song.
For me? It was never intentional, but Love always seemed to end up like an animated, romantic comedy. Full of clumsy mishaps, silly interactions and lots of belly-laughs. I wake up some days believing I may stumble upon a talking dog, a sock-darning mouse, or a rabbit dating a hot ginger starlet (Roger was the man).
Maybe that’s why I don’t write too many straight-up Love songs. Unless I’m writing for Disney or Pixar, I’m just not so sure it would make a number one hit…
Do you like comics?
Have you ever been in your favorite comic store and thought, “…this would reach another level of awesome if I could only buy the new Erik Hartley album, too…”? Well, if you’re in the Boston or Providence area, your request for awesomesauce has been granted!
Thanks to Newbury Comics, you can now purchase my album, Roll Out of Bed at these wonderful locations:
Newbury Street, Boston, MA
Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
And the best part? I have reduced the price of the album to $5.99! That’s the lowest available price of any other retailer!
Do you prefer to buy your music at iTunes, or your albums and MP3s at Amazon?
In addition, after selecting on a specific album, you can also get quick pop-up information from Amazon by simply hovering over the button!