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Listening in on Joshua Kadison

Updated on October 22, 2013

Rediscovering a Songwriter

I knew "Jessie" and "Beautiful in my Eyes" in college, but I didn't know Joshua Kadison. It's been only a couple years since I found one of his CDs on clearance at Half Price Books and took it home for a listen. The songs washed over me, I read every word on the album cover... and then I had an urge to know what had become of this meteoric star who wrote lyrics that were both wistful and real.

Joshua Kadison was still out there, Wikipedia assured me, and he had continued to put out music over the years. At that time --2008 -- Kadison was giving away several albums free on his website. (He had first offered one album free, asking people to donate the money they would have paid to disaster victims. Then he decided he wanted to make all the music he owned the rights to available for free download... for a year or two, at least.)

Listening to the 2005/2006 Venice Beach Sessions, I was struck by how Joshua Kadison's singing had improved. In the years since he left the orchestra behind, he seemed to have grown more comfortable with using his own voice as a musical instrument. Set against a backdrop of just his own piano playing, his vocals have soared. Set against a backdrop of... well, so many things, I think his life has, too. Some meteors continue to burn brightly, even when they move out of the path of our eyes.

Autobiographical Songs

From Joshua Kadison

The song, "Mama's Arms", from Painted Desert Serenade, is largely autobiographical. Joshua Kadison lost his mother when he was fifteen. He was, as he recounts, an angry, confused teenager, but he took steps to find his path in life.

Kadison left home when he was still in his teens. During his early career, he went traveling across the country with a piano strapped to his truck. The song, "Child of These Roads" is a thank you to the people who listened to him and embraced him during his long stint as a troubador/ traveling piano player.

Kadison didn't seek out fame, but it found him. Painted Desert Serenade was a highly acclaimed album, with two international hits: "Jessie" and "Beautiful in my Eyes" as well as a more minor hit, "Picture Postcards From L.A.". A subsequent album was a commercial flop, forcing Kadison to record the next few albums on his own. At that point, he returned to the ballads that first catapulted him to fame.

Video: My Father's Son - From Troubador in a Timequake

This is Joshua Kadison's tribute to his father, also featured on his official MySpace page. Kadison asked his fans to recommend a favorite song from the album, and the winner was this, the story of a dad who "never got that fleet of fancy cars" and whose wife "left him for the distant stars" -- but "never did like to show (his) battle scars".

A Bit of Inspiration

Some of Joshua Kadison's songs hark back to his Christian roots, while others show the influence of Eastern philosophies. The songs are eclectic, but very frequently idealisitic -- a particularly whimsical brand of idealism, where carousel horses run free and only the "crazy lady" knows their secret.

The Venice Beach Sessions is by no means a children's album, but I did feel quite comfortable giving it to my niece who, at four, had asked her mother for her old CD player. An album highlight: In "The Bubble Man" track, Kadison speaks of strolling around Venice Beach on a disillusioned Sunday morning and of hearing the bubble man sing, "I'm gonna love this word the best I can, and leave the rest in grace's hands." A recurrent theme, across this and other albums, is that of the 'unlikely hero'.

On a more comic note, the hit "Jessie" mentions a cat named Moses, while a later song features a cat named Job, whose elderly owner passes his days conversing with him about the meaning of life.

The Venice Beach Sessions

Wild Angel

Over the Sad Songs

The Bubble Man

Carousel Horses

One Song

Illuminated Soul

Do You Know How Beautiful You Are?

Love Will Rule the World

Born to Shine


Rise Again


Video: Rise Again

The Venice Beach Sessions tracks have a homespun look, graced with Joshua Kadison's artwork and handwriting. In "Rise Again" he assures a friend that love is gonna rise again. "You know you can feel what I'm saying is real," he declares - and it's hard to listen to the vocals on this one, and doubt that.

The Return, and Disappearance, of the Dragonfly

In 2008, Joshua Kadison released a new album, Return of the Dragonfy, and gave a tour of Germany. He also put up a revamped website. Shortly after putting up the site, Kadison declared that he was retiring from pop music, as he did not want to turn into an "old pirate" who was only in it for the money.

He has since devoted his time to study of the bansuri, a woodwind instrument. He writes, "With the bansuri, I'm exploring tones between the ones I was taught were right to play. In Indian music they have what they call 'micro-tones'- in other words, the notes in between the cracks of the keys on the piano. I'm witnessing whole universes in those spaces."

The Dragonfly Tracks


The Golden Cage

Let It Break Your Heart


The Madman's Lullabye

Return of the Dragonfly

Video: Butterflies

There was a certain sensitivity evident in even the first album. It was impossible to tell, from those first yearning songs whether this was a human who was going to rise or fall under the weight of it. Joshua Kadison declares that love -- gained and lost -- makes us all butterflies: "Between the will to fly and the ground, you may lose."

This live performance, from the 2008 Germany tour, is also featured on Joshua Kadison's MySpace page. Kadison is also known for doing 'sing-along songs' at his concerts.

Catch Up on Joshua Kadison... - Online

This project sent me to MySpace, among another places, seeking information and music. (It appears that Joshua Kadison's most influential MySpace friend is Barack Obama.)

(Note: The 'golden music notation' photo that opens this lens is not actually Joshua Kadison's -- but you can find a lot of other photos, in those same golden tones, on the official website.)

Video: Job

This is among Joshua Kadison's earlier self-produced recordings. I believe the musical performance here is a little rougher -- not quite the solo vocal performance you find on the later "Venice Beach Sessions" -- but there is some great musical storytelling nonetheless.

I like the story of the old man in the boarding house who, fearful of disappearing, concludes to his cat that everyone does leave a trace "even if it's just a smile on a stranger's face".

Video: Beautiful in My Eyes

"Beautiful in my Eyes" is one of the most popular wedding songs. Is it any wonder?

"The passing years will show that you will always grow ever more beautiful in my eyes."

Painted Desert Serenade

This isn't exactly "where it all began" but it is the album that catapulted Joshua Kadison to fame: Jessie, Beautiful in My Eyes, Georgia Rain, Picture Postcards From L.A., Mama's Arms...

Video: Wild Angel

With thanks to the 'squid angels' who have visited this lens, here's one of Joshua Kadison's 'angel songs': "Wild Angel".

Give a holler.

Been listening?

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    • JenOfChicago LM profile image

      JenOfChicago LM 7 years ago

      Nice tribute to this musician! Blessed

    • Holley Web profile image

      Holley Web 7 years ago

      What a gorgeous voice! Just a lovely lens all around and thank you for the introduction :)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This is so well done and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Joshua Kadison. Blessed

    • LotusMalas profile image

      LotusMalas 8 years ago

      I loved the album Painted Desert Serenade, but I didn't know much about the rest of his career. I learned a lot!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I wasn't familiar with Joshua Kadison until your lens. He has a wonderful voice and I like his music. Thanks for the introduction.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 8 years ago from United States

      He is totally awesome and so is this lens! Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 8 years ago

      Nicely done! I have not heard of him until now. Blessed by an angel!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 8 years ago

      Thanks for introducing me to Joshua Kadison!