Our Troubadours of the 21st Century

There is a small magnetic whiteboard on my refrigerator.  The white plastic apparatus, clinging by electromagnetic magic to the fingerprint smudged stainless steel veneer, catches my eye every time I turn on my lights in the morning.  The whiteboard has become a beacon, a challenge, and a reminder of things to think about I didn’t know I should consider.

Why?  Because my future son-in-law puts quotes on the board and leaves them there.  Sometimes I see him writing them.  Other times I’m surprised with a new message.  But they’re always powerful; they’re full of the angst and strength of young lovers and budding poets and young men and women discovering the world.  They remind me of the troubadours of the High Middle Ages.  And, they remind me that humans are passionate…that I should take care with the souls of those whom fate has placed in my family on Earth.

Oftentimes the quotes are from one of his favorite bands, La Dispute.  I remember getting a call late one evening after having already been asleep about forty-five minutes or so.  It was one of my children.  “Mom!  La Dispute needs a place to stay tonight and I thought maybe they could come to our house!? Is that okay?”  Perhaps you parents know the feeling of being awakened by a child who has no sense of the deep sleep you were enjoying, but then realizing you only have children once?  “Yes, that’s fine.  I guess.  How many ARE there?”  An hour later I woke for a moment to hear doors opening, directions being given for ‘how to get to the bathrooms, where the blankets were, etc.’

When I woke up the next morning, I walked into a living room covered with eleven young male bodies, fully clothed, sleeping soundly.  Their ages were approximately 20-28.  I looked at Mick and said, “You want to run to Braums and get milk and eggs?  We’re going to need more groceries in order to cook breakfast.”  I think we fed seventeen people that morning and they were out of the house within about an hour after we cleaned up the dishes, on their way to the next town.  I smiled when they began debating over whether or not they should stop at Pops on Route 66 to get more soda because it was ‘such a cool place.’  When I watched them leave that morning, I never really thought of them as troubadours.

But they are.  Later when I looked up their lyrics online I was surprised.  They were intense, poetic, warrior-like at times, occasionally political…full of life, zest and love.  I was glad I cooked them breakfast, and said a silent prayer for their safety.  These boys had a lot to sing about, and a lot more to write before they were done.

A troubadour was a male (there were also female “trobairitz”) composer and/or musician who was frequently commissioned to write about Love. Life.  Politics. Sadness. Happiness…etc.  Their lyrics were many times powerful or provocative.  I’ve included an example at the end of the post.  However, there has been “troubadour-like” figures throughout history.  Solomon wrote “The Song of Solomon” and many wieldy romantic and emotional passages (whether metaphors of God wooing his creation, or literal messages to a young lover or bride) can be found in the book:

O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes. My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

When I think about those with whom I interact on a daily basis, the first word that pops into my head is never ‘troubadour.’  In fact, here in the Midwest, and certainly in Red Dirt Country, there’s much to be said for a more reserved demeanor.  Passion and abandon is often associated with youth or with artists, but I think what I would like to propose in this post is that there just might be a little troubadour (or trobairitz) in all of us.  And, you might surprise yourself, or a person you love, with an expression of passion, poetry, music or other literary or artistic gesture this upcoming Valentine’s Day.  If you’re comfortable, fine.  But what if you become just a little uncomfortable, a little more passionate, and a little extra romantic with your wooing?  Who knows what might happen during this season of love?  I say…risk it.  After all, if you read my refrigerator today, then you would be questioned by that whiteboard…it’s wondering, “Don’t you want to know all the love you’ve got?”


For your guilty, artistic, musical and literary pleasures I’ve included a few examples of current and historical works by troubadours over history.  I hope you enjoy some of them as much as I did finding them for you.  I’ve tried to include examples all the way from LaDisupute, to George Straight, to Andy White ~ a Celtic who actually wrote a book entitled, “21st Century Troubadour.” Love….Kelly

Lyrics to “Said The King To The River” (By LaDispute) :

[excerpt only]

“And how we’ve trembled at the way that time’s
assembled little fires of desire in the tundra of our skin.
So, do yourself a little favor, savor every time you waver
for that shaking in my voice was only slyly feigned chagrin.
Tonight we ride.”

“Oh, Lover, uncover. I know it’s warm beneath your sheets
and there is ice along the streets but listen—Lover, we will recover.
But we’ve no time to waste with meddling in affairs
we’ve locked so tightly in our dreams.
We are not clean, we are not pure, we can not rest until we’re sure.
So, rob your pretty little eyes of sleep’s disguise.
I’m at your bedside with a bucket full of lies.
So, clear your ears and listen—

Up, M’Lady–Pack your things, this place is not your home.

But I know what is.”

And to the glorious past:

You’ve opened my window but broken the glass.
And I beseech thee, ‘shed thy beauty.’
For as a child leaves the womb and learns the cold,
you have taught us perils in the present,
and you will bring us peril in our surely-soon-to-be. Unless…

The river’s not flooded this time.

Oh, Precious Distance,
Oh, Precious Pain,
You’ve given me a name. And
Etched it in the stones of the river bank.

Oh, Precious Distance,
Oh, Precious Pain,
You’ve given us a name. You’ve
Given us a name.

“Rise!” Said the King to the River,
“Never let up! No, bring us a flood and bring it hard!”
“Freeze!” Said the Wind to the Water,
“Never give in! No, build us a bridge!
And build it strong and angry.
Let it stills the King’s decree.
Oh, you must contemplate the current,
Boy, and command that coward cease.
The boy breathes for his love says, ‘I wait.’
His love says, ‘I wait.’
She’s shouting out, “I will come back. Yes, I will come back!
I will come—I have lived my life so uncomfortably. Darling, come for me.
Come for me.”

Rumi (1207-1273)

Mathnavi I.109:

Love is longing and longing, the pain of being parted;
No illness is rich enough for the distress of the heart,
A lover’s lament surpasses all other cries of pain.
Love is the royal threshold to God’s mystery.
The carnival of small affections and polite attachments
Which litter and consume our passing time
Is no match to Love which pulses behind this play.
It’s easy to talk endlessly about Love,
To live Love is to be seized by joy and bewilderment;
Love is not clear-minded, busy with images and argument.
Language is too precocious, too impudent, too sane
To stop the molten lava of Love which churns the blood,
This practicing energy burns the tongue to silence;
The knowing pen is disabled, servile paper
Shrivels in the fire of Love. Bald reason too is an ass
Explaining Love, deceived by spoilt lucidity.
Love is dangerous offering no consolation,
Only those who are ravaged by Love know Love,
The sun alone unveils the sun to those who have
The sense to receive the senseless and not turn away.
Cavernous shadows need the light to play but light
And light alone can lead you to the light alone.
Material shadows weigh down your vision with dross,
But the rising sun splits the ashen moon in empty half.
The outer sun is our daily miracle in timely
Birth and death, the inner sun
Dazzles the inner eye in a timeless space.
Our daily sun is but a working star in a galaxy of stars,
Our inner sun is One, the dancing nuance of eternal light.
You must be set alight by the inner sun,
You have to live your Love or else
You’ll only end in words.

(tr. R. Abdulla)

The Persian word for “sun” is “Shams,” which is also the name of Rumi’s beloved.

George Strait – thinking of his young troubadour days, and swearing he’ll be one ’till he dies:

Andy White, musician and author of “21st Century Troubadour” singing about the political situation of his Belfast upbringing:



17 thoughts on “Our Troubadours of the 21st Century”

  1. I am incredibly jealous; you had La Dispute lodged at your house for a night. Did you talk at all with Jordan, the lyricist?

    By the way, if you liked La Dispute’s lyrics, look up Pianos Become the Teeth songs, such as Houses We Die In and Jess and Charlie, both amazingly great songs with a lot of meaning to their lyrics. Maybe even show the band to your son (if he hasn’t heard of them), the bands are a lot alike, and actually are great friends with each other, as with Make Do And Mend and Touche Amore.

    Thanks for the article, made me smile that just about anyone can see the beauty in La Disputes lyrics!

    1. Hi, Nick – well, I think we tried to speak with all of them at least a bit before they left. But, when parents who are cooking breakfast talk it’s mostly about, “Vegan? Vegetarian? Carnivore? Okay – here’s the eggs, this bagel doesn’t have milk in it…(smile)” I will tell you that we noticed they are special young men who appreciate hanging out and connecting with people. That observation was all I needed. “Good folks,” I thought. I’m glad I made you smile, and guess what – you made me smile back.

    2. Hi, Nick… future son-in-law here.

      Yeah, Rachel (my fiance) and myself spent quite a bit of time with all of them really; though we did spend a good while in the driveway discussing music and why it just seems to sound better on wax with Jordan and Chad. Vass, Kevin and Brad are all super sweet guys as well. They are some of the most genuine, honest people I’ve ever met in my life.

      Also, yes… I love Pianos Become the Teeth, Touche, Defeater, & Make Do And Mend. My band actually has played with MDAM and they as well are amazingly sweet people.

      Check out Balance and Composure if you’ve never heard of them. I have a feeling you’ll dig it.

  2. La Dispute is my favorite band for their way of writing and performing their passions and thoughts.
    This is why “if my heart just stops, keep me alive for a minute” is tattooed on my arm with imagery inspired from the song “why it scares me”
    The song became a defining arrangement of music and words for a very difficult period in my life.

    Thank you for your article about just how creatively impressive they are.

    1. Dear KimberXcore – I loved your note because it made me think that the lines you chose for your tattoo, which are on my refrigerator, which I used to end my essay with…must be in other places around the world as where. I wonder where they are? Wouldn’t that be interesting to find out? Take care, and glad you got that that period in your life. Here’s to the promising periods ahead of you…

  3. I think there are many rap artists that represent as urban troubadours today. Marshall Mathers (Eminem) is a great poet, IMO. Look past his hard urban edge, and you can see a soul struggling to make something of himself and his life. The Dixie Chicks wear the mantle of the trobairitz well, demonstrating that they are unafraid to speak truth to power, even as it costs them millions of dollars.

    Great article, RDK! You really got me to thinking with this one. And La Dispute? They remind me of 3-Oh-3.

    1. Nanc – you’re completely right on about rap artists acting as our urban troubadours. If I made you think, you helped me think too! Wow – so many strong, passionate voices!

    2. Loved the writing of the piece by Kelly.

      But in response to Nanc, I would very much like to know how La Dispute reminds you of 3Oh!3?
      What is the correlation between:
      “Shush girl, shut your lips/ do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips”
      “I think you saw me confronting my fear, it went up with the bottle and went down with the beer and/i think you ought to stay away from here/there are ghosts in the walls and they crawl in your head through your ears”

      1. Guys, guys, no argument here–La Dispute is way deeper than 3Oh3 lyrically. I was saying that the *sound* reminded me of 3Oh3.

        (Off to Zuneland, to listen to some more La Dispute)

    3. I have no idea how you think La Dispute resembles 3oh3. I’ve hung out with most of the guys from LD a couple times and they are all truly invested in the music and words they express on stage and in recordings. Groups like 3Oh3 are in music for the profit and to get laid.

  4. Well said, RDK. If it makes my heart listen, my mouth sing, my eyes tear, my brain “THINK”…..if I remember those words and long to listen again, that for me makes a troubadour. Yep, there are many to come….

  5. I’m disappointed by the sounds made by today’s “musicians”. So-called “cowboys” from the big cities or little towns think that they must murder the song with codified nose twangs that never existed in the days of the true cowboys. Further, there is a belief that if one puts on a cowboy hat, one is automatically a cowboy. No, the cowboys are long gone, and these alleged “singers” are just wanna-bees. Some of the last cowboy singers were the “Sons of the Pioneers” — and they didn’t inject fake twangs in their songs. Bring back the real cowboy singing, and not this ear-grating nasal honking . Troubadors? Such as Burl Ives? Not in the same neighborhood. Modern day troubadors would be such as these great folk song artists:

    1. Woody – loved your comment! We’ve featured the Sons of the Pioneers on our Facebook page, and Burl Ives…yeah! But I would also propose that each generation defines their own troubadours as well. Thanks for your passionate thesis…I believe there might just be a little troubadour hiding in your heart as well! Have a good one…Red Dirt Kelly

Comments are closed.