The Native Genius of Desert Plants

by Tyler Lyle

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about

There’s a place I like to go hiking in Joshua Tree National Park called the 49 Palms Oasis Trail. If you live in Southern California and you’re looking for a day hike, I’d recommend it.. It’s off Route 62 and you have to take Canyon road south for nearly two miles, but there’s a secluded parking lot and a trailhead. I’ve come to this place in many different spirits. The first time I saw it on the map, I was intrigued because the word "oasis" is a magical word and exists next to the word "mirage" in my mind. It conjures up images of Bugs Bunny and air brush t-shirts from Panama City. After the first time I hiked it, I brought along Anna, hoping that she might appreciate it as much as I did. The last time I did this hike, I was a alone. I'd gone too many days without any good news. I was still sitting with the death of my friend. I’d lost a manager. I'd been passed over by too many label A&Rs in LA. I released an EP that I wasn't proud of. The lady at Guitar Center asked me if I wanted to apply for a part time position. That was the last straw, for whatever vain reason.
I went to Joshua Tree with a notebook, the essays of Montaigne and a tent. I desperately needed to hear something. I needed to know whether to keep pushing or to change course. I wanted affirmation that this was indeed my path, that I hadn’t absent-mindedly stumbled onto another one. I heard nothing in the silence of the first day. I drove the miles of the park looking for signs. There was a Joshua Tree that had been struck by lightening burst open into a circle on the ground. There was a long silent sunset. I knocked the bumper off my hatchback the next morning trying to go down a scenic road in the park that was posted as four wheel drive only. It wasn't until the third afternoon when I was on the 49 Palms trail that I found something that resembled an answer.
An oasis is an isolated area of vegetation surrounded by desert. At the 49 Palms Oasis there is an underground stream running between two mountains and there's a patch of palm trees above it. I counted- there are almost 60 fan palms surrounded by rocks and dirt in all directions (so eleven or so new ones since they named the place). On this particular hike, after spending the afternoon sitting on a boulder near the stream reading my book and watching the strange desert birds chase each other through the shrubs, I noticed a tree that looked like it had been set on fire. I walked closer to it, and saw fire damage on other trees near it as well. I started to despair. Who would set an oasis on fire? What is this arson trend involving trees I care about? I'd been reading about the arsonist in the Inyo National Forrest, and was worried that this might be a secret epidemic. My unfulfilled spiritual quest to the desert and my disillusionment with a society that is inexplicably setting fire to trees put me into despair. I decided to just go home and give up.
The silver lining came by way of another sort of oasis- cell service in the desert. When I walked back up the mountain on the way to my car, my phone buzzed with the text messages that had accumulated in the dead zone of the park. I'd kept my iPhone on to use as a camera, but I’d forgotten about it all day. With a nearly dead battery on the top of that mountain and the help of Google, I inquired about the arson at 49 Palms. After a bit of searching, I learned that there had been a fire there recently, but it was not arson. Fan palms catch fire all the time. Of course they do. They are desert plants after all. It turns out, fire is a beneficial and necessary part of a fan palm's growth. Fire clears the dead palms fronds, it causes seed production to explode. They have tubes throughout the trunk that transport water and nutrients which provide insulation for the trunk from the fire (as opposed most non-desert trees that have these vascular tissues in the bark). It also burns up smaller plants near it that would compete for resources with it. Fire is good for fan palms. It helps them live. Something so stupid and simple reminded me that there is a course- there is a reason. The reason is inborn. I sat on a rock and wept as the sun set over the desert.
The difference between revelation and realization is so slight, but it's at the center of everything. The magician vs. the musician. Bliss vs. Joy. The native genius of desert plants is that they are engineered to survive. Of course they are. These things are not accidents. With a tight lens all I could see was the tree killed by lightening, the tree killed by disappointment, the tree killed by time, the tree killed by fire. What I had missed was the view from the mountain. Plants survive in the desert against all odds on their wayward course onward. The point is not their lives, or our lives singularly. The point is Life- that One Big Love that we participate in even when we ignore it.
I wrote as fast as I could sitting on that rock at the top of the mountain before the sun set. A mantra was given again. Existence is perfect. The answer is life itself. According to the sloppy handwriting left on the pages of my Moleskin: “There is a point when ambition becomes unhelpful. It’s so much more important to be a good human, a dependable husband, a kind friend than it is to be a self involved, complicated artist driven by ghosts in the wind. There is no such thing as calling. You choose what you value. Go home. Pick the manager with the most experience, and see what happens. It’s time to get your songs ready.”
A couple months later, a vinyl recording of “Happy Woman Blues” by Lucinda Williams that I’d ordered arrived in the mail. It’s one of Anna’s favorite albums. She didn’t have a copy on vinyl though, so I was excited for her to get home from work so that I could surprise her. It was late June and we were getting married in September. We lived on a hill by the sea, in a tiny one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. She arrived home that night in tears. Her company was shutting down the LA office and for her to keep her job, we would have to move to New York City as soon as we got married. Our perfect life by the beach would be no more, replace by another unknown.
After the wedding, after the move, after the bookshelf was full and the vinyl records were put in their proper place and the trees had nearly given up their dead leaves, I met a producer named Sanford Livingston at a cafe called The General Greene in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I played Sanford some songs that I'd written on the west coast, and we booked a day in a studio with a full band. Time and inertia carried the rest along, just like it carries everything else, aimless, onward.
Some people are born near the stream. They have big leaves and never need much special care- so long as the stream doesn’t dry up or change course. Some people are more adaptable to changing climates- they know what it is to have dry seasons and know how to hold out until rain comes. Some live in the desert and can store one good spring rain within them that will keep them for years with the hidden reservoirs within them that we will never know about.
The subtext of this record is my time that I spent in Los Angeles. I was 25 when I moved in spring of 2011. I am 29 now. It represents three and a half years of struggle and joy. I moved on from a bad relationship. I lost some people close to me- some due to old age and illness, and some to depression. I also found a beautiful brown eyed soul from California with deep roots and high branches who agreed to be my wife. I found a voice that is mine. I found a story to tell. I found my answer to Nietzsche's question from The Gay Science as he proclaims that God is dead, “What water is there for us to clean ourselves?” I finally have some answers.
The project can be read as a dialectic, told from three different lenses, or as narrative from darkness to light. It can also be read as one single question- one that I ask in earnest and I ask expecting an answer: How do I survive in the desert?

credits

released June 2, 2015

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Tyler Lyle Brooklyn, New York

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Track Name: Ditchdigger
I choose my eyes wide open and my heart half broken every time
Over a gilded golden shackled reassuring sentimental lie
I've seen the rolling meadows and the cruelest ghettos in this town
I know the baker and the undertaker and the girl with stars on her gown

But the song that sounds the best to me is the chorus of the maple leaves
And the river bends into the sea its course is fixed and so are we

But I got sunshine, sunshine all over me
Brown eyes, blue skies are all I see

I do not care to offer any commentary on the world
I only sing for the pleasure and for a certain sentimental girl
And I did not come to establish any new world somewhere up in the clouds
I just want to make love in the morning work till evening and then watch the sun go down

Over this aimless and upward climb
The hidden hand guides the searching vine
And the river bends into the sea its course is fixed and so are we

But I got sunshine, sunshine all over me
Brown eyes, blue skies are all I see

And strangest fruit grows from the ledge
Oh my friends, my friends go near to the edge

But I got sunshine, sunshine all over me
Brown eyes, blue skies are all I see
Track Name: Eighteen
I wish I met you ten years ago
When I was eighteen
A tragic late bloomer with no sense of humor
dreaming of my gypsy queen

You would've found me on the couch
playing with my flip phone
at some house party off campus
waiting to walk home alone

You would’ve offered me a pot brownie
When I imagine it now
and we would’ve talked all night
danced till sunrise
and I would’ve kissed your mouth- without a doubt

It would’ve saved me so much time
Knowing it was always you
on that far end of forever
That I’ve been singing to

Forever is not enough
I want a whole life through to love you
I wish I had junior year to disappear in your brown eyes
My first song
It should've been your song
My first high
It should've been your arms
A life to love you
I want a whole life through to love you
I want a whole life long to love you more

I wish I met you at five years old through a crack in the fence
back when when clouds were angles
and your hair was in tangles
and the world was its own sacrament

Those halcyon flashes
through the hour glass sand
Now I only see in pictures
when I once could've held your hand

I couldn't saved you from your parents fighting
I could've joined you in the closet hiding
You could've saved me from the prejudice
and those goddamned fundamentalists


In the time that I have left
I won't waste the rest of these years
I want twin Roman candles shooting
I want twin liter beers

Forever is not enough I want a whole life through to love you
we coulda had swim team and spring steen and blue skies

Forever is not enough
I want a whole life through to love you
I wish I had junior year to disappear in your brown eyes
My first song
It should've been your song
My first time
It should've been your arms
A life to love you
I want a whole life through to love you
I want a whole life long to love you more

And if we come back here, let's find each other first
Track Name: Lost & Found
When you find your love you'll find your song
Even though you've been digging through the break of dawn
You've been pushing when the push is gone
You think it makes you strong

Oh, but nobody knows where it goes
When it goes

Love takes some time to bloom
When it's right it'll find you
When it's right it'll find you
Like sunlight breaking through
When it's right it'll come to you
When it's right it'll find you

When there's nothing left to mediate
You take your coat and you close the gate
And you grow your hair and branches long
And you lose your days in the LA sun

Oh, but nobody knows where it goes
When it goes

Love takes some time to bloom
When it's right it'll find you
When it's right it'll find you
Like sunlight breaking through
When it's right it'll come to you
When it's right it'll find you

We are mostly wasted time
Half asleep and half divine
Waiting for the faintest light
Waiting for these wounds to heal

No we're never as lost or as found as we think we are
No we're never as lost or as found as we think we are

Love takes some time to bloom
When it's right it'll find you
When it's right it'll find you
Like sunlight breaking through
When it's right it'll come to you
When it's right it'll find you
Track Name: Hollywood Forever
The sunset sky
he's leaving your home town behind
The pine trees fade
Tiny cars on their way

They're almost there
Almost where?

What do you call the fear of being forgotten
What if no one remembers your name?
What if we are just the food for the cotton
The roots of the garden one day

Does it frighten or free us
to think the world doesn't need us
at all?

The valley is wide
You can see the lights from the sky
The silent shimmering earth
Another young fool takes his turn

And arrives at LAX
With a kick drum in his chest

What do you call the fear of being forgotten?
What if no one remembers your name?
What if we are just the food for the cotton
The roots of the garden one day

Does it frighten or free us
to think the world doesn't need us?

And out memoirs
And our cave our
Our walk of fame star
Our trophy wall
Everybody's walking away
and nobody knows what to say
Except to make it clear
By God I was here

Hollywood knows
Where the stars really go
and it's not where you think
But the parking is free
I'm not being clever when I say
Hollywood forever

What do you call the fear of being forgotten
What if no one remembers our name?
What if we are just the food for the cotton
The roots of the garden one day
But we'll honk our horn
And forget that we were born naked
Track Name: Don't Want To Struggle
I have to struggle with the office calls
And pretend that money's gonna break my fall
I have to struggle on the 405
And I have to struggle not to lose my mind sometimes

But I
Don't want to struggle with you

I just want to lay my head down
On your bed
And see your face
When I've got nothing left
Oh love love love, just take my love
This life is hard enough

I have to struggle with the IRS
And the voice of my father inside my chest
And I have to struggle to keep my pace
With at world that's always running away

But hey
Don't want to struggle with you

I just want to lay my head down
On your bed
And see your face
When I've got nothing left
Oh love love love, just take my love
This life is hard enough

I've been so low
Just let me get close
No more doors slammed
Just red wine and soft hands
I've had hard times
I want blue skies

And I
Don't want to struggle with you
Track Name: Winter Is For Kierkegaard
Winter is for Kierkegaard and mapping out those shining stars
and over coats to Pont Des Artes and reaching through the vast expanse of sky
oh holy night

You always ask the how and why, I always answer "pourquois pas"
we are young and we are free and all the world rests at our feet, and why
well why not?

I’m not sorry about the weather
It’s cold it’s calm and it’s clear
We’ll sit inside and we’ll talk about whatever
Till the sky falls down around us

I take my coffee with my cream and all the world is as it seems
and home is not too far away but it is for another day ahead
I think

and the solid world melts into air, and permanence becomes a prayer
an echo rising from the deep, to wake the hearts of those who sleep alone
we've miles to go

I’m not sorry about the weather
It’s cold it’s calm and it’s clear
We’ll drink some wine and we’ll talk about whatever
Till the sky falls down around us

I've seen the world in black and white, and I've seen the fire and the light
in violence and calm respite, and fumbling through I decide that I
know nothing

But winter is for Kierkegaard, and reaching, reaching through the dark
and holding onto that honest heart with every bit of life you have and it's all
it's alright 

I’m not sorry about the weather
It’s cold it’s calm and it’s clear
We’ll sit inside and we’ll talk about whatever
Till the sky falls down around us
Track Name: Lucky Ones
You could've said goodbye to me
While you were packing up your limousine
I would've wrote you a song to sing 
With tears in my eyes

And what did you take away
From your years upon this stage
All the souls you helped saved or the tears in your eyes

They say some folks make it and some folks fake it and some just break your heart
I’ve been lost in the lowlands drunk with the house band brother i’ve been torn apart
They say we are the lucky ones
Then this is my lucky song

Step up step up you would be dancers
Are you seeking answers tonight
Well I’m not here to guide you
Just to remind you how to move your feet in time
While the lucky ones, the lucky ones cry 


How deep did you have to cut
To forget the rest of us
Down past the fear and pain and love
And pride and doubt

But brother where do I go now
To fight the demons out
When you're just a song I'm singing out
To a weekend crowd

They say some folks make it and some folks fake it and some just break your heart
I’ve been lost in the lowlands drunk with the house band brother i’ve been torn apart
They say we are the lucky ones
Then this is my lucky song

Step up step up you would be dancers
Are you seeking answers tonight
Well I’m not here to guide you
Just to remind you how to move your feet in time
While the lucky ones, the lucky ones cry 

They say some folks make it and some folks fake it and some just break your heart
Some folks fight it
Some folks hide it and some don't say goodbye
The lucky ones, the lucky ones cry
Track Name: One Beating Heart
The thrill of being five years old
When he thinks about one thing he thinks about one thing
It's like his heart could just explode
I know that burning, I know that yearning too

The wisdom feeling of 24
When he thinks about one thing, he thinks about her
Now he’s not so self assured
I know that world view
I’ve seen that girl too

I remember the stars growing up in Georgia
They don't shine as bright tonight in California
I've walked a thousand miles, and I've been a thousand people
In this life- in this holy light

And the only thing I'll ever know is
Life is bigger than we are
And it's mending and breaking and it's radiating
We are one beating heart, we are one, we are one
We are one beating heart

The wisdom of my dad the carpenter
When he thinks about one thing
He thinks about all things
Like time and symmetry and form
I’ll build my own house on my father’s old house

A thousand voices in this tide
Some are yours and some are mine
Won't you wade with me in the water
I hear my grandfather I hear my granddaughter

I remember the stars growing up in Georgia
They don't shine as bright tonight in California
I've walked a thousand miles, and I've been a thousand people
In this life- in this holy light

And the only thing I'll ever know is
Life is bigger than we are
And it's mending and breaking and it's radiating
We are one beating heart, we are one, we are one
We are one beating heart

The wisdom of a falling star
We're all just stage hands
In a play that
We could never understand
I've seen the sunset
I have no regrets
Track Name: Against The Dark
AGAINST THE DARK
(David Hodges, Tyler Lyle, Ryan O’Neal)

years running out of me
a promise i could never keep
nearsighted covenants
the soaring hope of innocence

this beating in my chest
feels infinite to me

but even stars will pass away
but not before they paint their flames
across the canvas outer space
our love will leave a mark
against the dark

can i hold on to you
forever spring always in bloom
i curse the fading sun
erasing our elysium

these heartbeats we have left
feel infinite to me
Track Name: Somebody's Someone
Dracula saw her from across the room
He got his cane and walked up to her
Said “you and me we can make believe the world is just beginning”

The wicked witch said watch your back
You don't wanna die from a heart attack
He said “if i go down, Mrs. Brown you're going down with me”

She said “you look like this boy i used to know”
Who wore his socks up high
And took me to the picture show
They say when you know, you know
And this is not my first rodeo

Everybody wants to be
Somebody's someone
Somebody's someone
But when you're dancing next to me
You know that you got one
You're somebody's someone

The cake was stale and punch was bad
But the jello brains weren't the worst he'd had
It was quite the scene, that halloween in the Morris Hall Cafeteria

The Wolfman waltzed with the orderly
And rose the ghost didn't need a sheet
And heaven came down on the festive crowd in the Morris Hall Cafeteria

She said “you look like this boy i used to know”
Who wore his socks up high
And took me to the picture show
They say when you know, you know
And this is not my first rodeo

Everybody wants to be
Somebody's someone
Somebody's someone
But when you're dancing next to me
You know that you got one
You're somebody's someone

Dracula he kissed her neck
And said “we've had some good years, Bess”
He saw surprise in her eyes like maybe she remembered
She squeezed his hand a little more
Ss he led her off the floor
They shared the light the final night they ever danced together

She said “you look like this boy i used to know”
Who wore his socks up high
And took me to the picture show
They say when you know, you know
And this is not my first rodeo

Everybody wants to be
Somebody's someone
Somebody's someone
But when you're dancing next to me
You know that you got one
You're somebody's someone
Track Name: Young Men
Young men
They don't take what they've been given
Young men
They write songs about young women
They just want to live forever
They just want to live forever
Amen
In a song, when they're gone amen

And girls
You know I hear that they buy potions
Girls
They buy creams and lotions
They just want to live forever
They just want to live forever
Amen
Like a daisy never fades amen

Young brides
They live on through their children
Architects
They live on through their buildings
Presidents get statues of themselves
Novelists get their books on dusty shelves

But Old men
They are never in a hurry
Old men
Their faces free from worry
They don't care to live forever
They don't care to live forever
Amen
Just to greet the end like a friend amen

The Stone
It returns to the ground
There are no ghosts
No promises of sacred sounds
Every statue disintegrates
And ever word fades from every page

Young Men
We don't take what we've been given
Young Men
We do write songs about young women
We all just want to live forever and we are sorry we will never
Track Name: Feel Free
If you’re worried that your heart’s been broken
If it takes a little time to open
Feel free
Feel free with me

You always tell me about your fear of falling
Oh, but darlin’ if you hear the calling
Feel free
Feel free with me

And when you’re ready to jump
Just let go
I’ll be waiting darling, don’t you know?

And when you’re so convinced that you’re sinking
Maybe baby you’re just overthinking?

If you’re worried that your heart’s been broken
If it takes a little time to open
Feel free
Feel free with me