East / West

by Dao Strom

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I was living in a little house surrounded by trees, on the side of a hill above the Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska, when I first began writing songs, in 2008, about Vietnam. Maybe it was the long winter nights, or maybe it was the three-decades or so worth of incubation time my own thoughts and emotions had already had about my origins, that made the first song, “Origin Tale,” emerge as a 9-minute lyric-heavy experience, with no repeated choruses, challenging all sensible concepts of song structure I’d thus far known. Up until that point, I’d been writing fairly traditional “folk” songs (I thought), but these new songs seemed to be asking for more space, more atmosphere. It would take the next 5-7 years of exploring, experimenting, recording, collaborating, learning and growing, releasing some songs and putting others aside, before the whole project finally cohered: two sets of songs, roaming two “geographies” both mythic and real: East, West. Within that time, I moved from Alaska to Oregon, with detours back to Texas where I’d lived before Alaska. In Portland, Oregon, I found my way to Dylan Magierek at Type Foundry Studio, who played an integral part in helping me get these songs into the light. One of the most valuable things any music collaborator has ever done for me: he lent me a good quality microphone and encouraged me to explore recording vocals on my own at home. I found a new voice—the voice these songs needed—in that part of the process, and a little more confidence in my own musical vision. The last song I wrote for the album was “On an Open Field,” an instrumental guitar piece I added vocal sound bites to (snatched from a 1966 broadcast of Pete Seeger on Rainbow Quest talking with a legendary Vietnamese folk singer of that era, Pham Duy). For me, the time spent wrestling with these songs, and with the material in the memoir that accompanies the album, is testament to the untellability—ultimately—of whatever it means to try to write about “Vietnam”— which is on one hand just the name of a place, but also carries many other connotations and repercussions. I am just one more voice in the mix, struggling to express something about a history I know only via memory, absence, and aftermath.


EAST/WEST is an album that accompanies a book, WE WERE MEANT TO BE A GENTLE PEOPLE. A memoir in text + image + song.

In this experimental memoir, author/musician Dao Strom navigates the space between shores, mother and father, two cultures.

More about the book at: paperdollworks.com/project

Artist website: theseaandthemother.com



released September 22, 2015

all songs by dao strom
except 'hell's gate' by dao strom and darwin smith
and 'sometimes I feel like a motherless child' (traditional)

Dao Strom - vocals, harmonies, acoustic and electric guitars, piano, keys, bells
Nial Nutter - electric guitar on tracks 1, 3, 5, 8, 10; vocals on track 8
Amanda Lawrence - viola, violin on tracks 4, 5
Zane Carter Cook - drums on track 3, 10
William Joersz - bass on tracks 10, 11
Lincoln Meeker - drums on track 11
Dylan Magierek - cymbals on track 11
Hershel Yatovitz - electric guitar, synth strings, ambience, initial recording on track 11
Darwin Smith - percussion, bass, initial recording on track 9
Celia Straub, Cassandra Winney - choral voices on track 5

songs recorded at Type Foundry Studio by Dylan Magierek and at home by Dao Strom
mixing: Dylan Magierek / Mix Foundry Studio
mastering: Timothy Stollenwerk / Stereophonic Mastering

This project was funded in part by a Project Grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC.org) and an Individual Arts Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission (oregonartscommission.org).



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The Sea and The Mother Portland, Oregon

my given name is tiêu-dao....
i was born in Viet Nam, in the wake of a war.
i am the daughter of writers,
i am also the daughter of a political prisoner. but i followed my mother -
i am one of the children divided
between mother & father / mountains & sea / between
i am part of the middle world; a hybrid; a troubadour.

these are my notes from the southern world.
... more

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Track Name: Cataclysm
I don’t know if I can fake it anymore / I’ve lied long enough for you / & if you think you know me / just because you’ve read the words / I wrote / well, here’s another song for you

Is every word is a cataclysm / & does it hurt to say / what fills your heart / with lonely rhythm / in the aftermath of Rebirth ?

I wanted to be your vessel / I wanted to fill your need / but the past is an unwieldy burden / & I fell out of line again

‘cuz every word was a cataclysm / & does it hurt to say / what fills your heart / with lonely rhythm / in the aftermath of Decay ?

If I dress it up in ribbons / if I groom and make it glisten / will that make it easier for you / will you finally stop & listen

to every word that's a cataclysm / & how it hurts to say / what fills
your heart / with lonely rhythm / in the aftermath of the Shame
Track Name: Au Co's Tears (for the Rain)
All my life I have been waiting / for the rain / to come and sate me / for I am just / a child of the dust / you ate / that enslaved you / Forgive us thus / our unbound lust / that holds you in our brethren / for we knew not / what your wings would cost / the day we sought / to cut them
Track Name: Ode to Mother(land)
Didn’t you once believe in art?
Didn’t you once have a beating heart?
when you told me the story
about a poet and her friends
who went to see a king
but he wouldn’t let them in
except for her fine eyes

She told him of the troubles
throughout their country
She told him of her worries
for all their people
She told him this in rhyme
and in the rhythms of her song
She told him this in rhyme
and with the poetry of her tongue
& that’s when he began to see

(( ))

Mother you once watched
a monk light himself on fire
in 1963 when you thought fire might
say more than a gun
or all the bombs
over Viet Nam
but his ashes contradicted him
he was burning himself for peace
It was that kind of world

So you took me away
to an ivory tower
In the hills where gold lay
I grew into a princess
and I never learned to speak
in my rightful language
I only learned to choke
on all the beautiful English
That burns my throat today

(( ))

Didn’t you once believe in art?
Didn’t you promise to fight with your words?
Well, fight with words we did
stumbling over our own tongues
Mother, you were the child
that I failed to love
And I’m sorry if I did

‘Cause now you praise the warfare and
the flags of our follies
& I am just an innocent
who knows nothing of History
I only know the stories
about the old poets who once
you dreamed of following
bringing the world to reason

As I still dream today
Track Name: Lullaby*
Night after night
the bombs fall
sweeping girl
stops her broom (to listen)
to the gods
falling apart
& heaven throwing our prayers
back at us
Does a mother wake feeling
the walls shake
& when she hears her child cry
she says I will sing you a lullaby
But this was not the song I had in mind
this lullaby of the artillery fire
this lullaby of the artillery fire

((we were meant to be a gentle people))
((& you ask what is the greater evil?))
Track Name: Origin Tale
Mountain mother / mourning all her rivers / that flow with the blood / of soldiers / the children who remain / pick up the pieces / they plant the seeds

Dragon father / you always were so restless / so you took half of the children / and you led them south to the seashore / where you taught them freedom

Mother she is crying / but her tears fall as drops of ink / so Mother she cries / a newspaper / and her sorrow is only documentary

newsreels tell me / what to feel / because I don’t know / what is real / t.v. communicates our rage / but a death count is all / that speaks our sadness

Sister searches high & low / for her Brother she once knew / in the north / and Brother he writes / long letters home / “is a flag not but a piece of cloth?”

tell me / what you saw that night / when the bomb’s fire mingled / with the starlight / thought I was witnessing the end / of my Time / but then I learned
that the guilty / survive // we survive

((we will suffer no more))
((we will not carry your war))
Track Name: <Break the Silence>
< —break the silence— >

<tell them what went wrong
at the breaking of our

new dawn>

<we once were kin
breathed of the same skin —

<oh my sisters have they forgotten me ?>

<i was the Torus
you were the Ram’s nest>
<we kissed

& the whole thing shuddered to

<i took your wing
you caught my tailspin

but still I fell>

<Mother you tempted me said you cannot change your destiny—

oh but surely by now I have proven you wrong>

<Break the silence, Tell them what was
the real Reason that we Left>
Track Name: Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
sometimes i feel like a motherless child
sometimes i feel like i'm almost done
but such a long way from home
Track Name: Hell's Gate
These hills of gold are all I have to offer you / my men, my men / & gold you may find here / & toil you will, my dears / but richer will be / the ones who vanish their greed / to find within the trees / the secrets my daughters keep / & the ages do bleed / & their patient eyes weep

long have they scratched my skin / and teased my bones / they dressed in / feathers and skins / they marked the stones / they climbed quiet as mice / to heights humans don't belong / to heights humans don't belong

& then came Fraser's men and the lady / whose search would never end / for the men lost at sea / to the dark northern degrees

My veins they named a portal to hell / my blood was turbulent / & for the canyons walls they scaled / I claimed the souls of some of them

& on my belly they did lay / a powder soft and grey / they set this afire / with a kiss / with a kiss, with a kiss / & the hole this love did create / grew into a cave / that the men could climb deep inside / to extract the substance I hide

these hills of gold are all I have / to offer you / my men, my men / & gold you may find here / & toil you will my dears / but only a few will know / the damage they hold
Track Name: Motherbear
I watched the dust settle / then I ran for the trees / in the dark cave motherbear embraced me / it wasn’t easy to shed what I believed / but I did

I don’t believe in a Christ that I can see / weren’t u the one who said / if you meet me kill me on the spot? / if you don’t you will fall for trickery / & they did

You were the torrent in the forest / I was the ice that carved / the language (of love) / in the rock bed of the valley where we met / but what about the aftermath? / the placement of the wedding mat / the grief & heaving / as the earth lay bleeding (what was lost) / to build a new earth / doesn’t mean we have to shoot first

will u murder me?
will u murder me?
will u murder me, will you?... etc.

((ice was the language that we spoke))
Track Name: Two Rivers
Two rivers meet where the water is warm
Two rivers meet where the water is warm
Blackberries stain my childish hands
Blackberries stain my childish hands

it must’ve been the Fall in Washington
Mother says it was in Washington
where we saw two rivers cross
one from the valley
one from up on the rocks
one streamed cold, one streamed hot
in a blackberry forest I saw
the two rivers join into one

Father killed a snake with his bare hands
Father killed a snake with his bare hands
Blackberries on my tongue under the sun
Blackberries on my tongue under the sun

it must’ve been the sun on the hill in Montana
the grass under my hands & my mother & my father
I remember when, I remember when
the blackberries stained my hands
& the water that I washed in then
was Cold on one hand was Hot on the other
was Cold on one hand was Hot on the other
you were angry, you were angry
but the memory is only blackberries
my father the fire, my mother the earth
my father the water, my mother the earth
my father the shadow, my mother the earth

((if I could sing this to the boy in Washington he might understand better the mountain))