Category Archives: Music

Postmortem on a good weekend

Taken all in all, it was a pretty nice weekend.

My major problem was with an earworm. I got intrigued by Coldplay’s song, “Viva La Vida,” as heard on the iPOD commercials. So I checked it out on YouTube, and found the lyrics. Religious references. Interesting.

So I dug deeper, and discovered (as I should have guessed from the beginning) that it’s an anti-Christian song (or at least anti- any form of religion that teaches damnation).

Apparently, in Chris Martin’s world, people who believe there’s a Hell think they rule the world. Believing in final Judgment is arrogant. Believing, on the other hand, that you’re your own supreme authority and will never have to answer to God, testifies to a becoming modesty.

(By the way, the line that says, “Now I sleep alone” is a lie. I know I’m unreasonably criticizing a perfectly good metaphor. I’m sure he doesn’t sweep streets either. But in my opinion any guy who’s married to Gwyneth Paltrow gets diminished tolerance for complaints about his sleeping arrangements.)

So I played the video for Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” a couple times to wash the earworm out. The apotheosis of Doo-wop, that song.

Robbinsdale held its annual Whiz Bang Days celebration this weekend, and in connection with my usual walk to the Chinese buffet for lunch, I also browsed through the merchant tables. I came away with some cheap DVDs and a touch of dehydration which (I suspect) caused the passing hip pain I endured Saturday night.

Sunday I was all better again, and that was good, because it was another Viking day. Norway Day at Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis. And yes, we did some fighting. I started poorly, but improved as the day wore on. Which goes to show that if I ever get called on to fight with real swords in a post-EMP* world, I’ll do fine as long as I can survive being killed in the first few fights. Continue reading Postmortem on a good weekend

Nature Bore

I’m not sure whether it makes it better or worse, to get an earworm without even hearing the song first. I got this week’s earworm from Mark Steyn’s Song of the Week: “Nature Boy.”

“Nature Boy” is a particularly aggravating earworm for me, because I find it kind of pretty. It’s the lyrics I despise. There’s a fair number of such songs on my proscribed list—“Imagine,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Green, Green Grass of Home.” I’m particularly handicapped by being a former lyricist. Because of that, I actually listen to lyrics (I think there are about six people in the country who share such a curse). This has caused me considerable suffering over my lifetime.

“Nature Boy,” according to Steyn (and I have to believe him, although it strains credulity) was written by a very odd duck named eden ahbez (no capital letters). He was, we are informed, a sort of 1940s proto-hippy, wandering around Los Angeles in a robe and sandals, with long hair and beard, living on fruits, vegetables and nuts. Somehow he managed to pass a grubby manuscript of the song to Nat King Cole’s manager, and by chance Nat actually looked at it and liked it. And so “Nature Boy” became a national hit in 1948.

There was a boy

A very strange enchanted boy

They say he wandered very far

Very far

Over land and sea…

A little shy and sad of eye

But very wise was he.

It’s very clear from eden ahbez’ bio that the “strange enchanted boy” he’s describing is himself. The guy wrote a song about himself, and how wise he was.

Steyn doesn’t go into great detail about ahbez’ belief system, but it seems to have been much the same kind of Buddhist/Hindu/New Age stew that we’ve grown so sadly familiar with in our own times. So it shouldn’t be surprising that such a man would write a song in praise of himself. Humility really isn’t an important virtue to people who believe that the ultimate truth is that they are God. Or god. Or goddess. Or part of god.

It’s just rare to see it stated so baldly.

And what is the wisdom that Nature Boy has condescended to share with us?

The greatest thing

You’ll ever learn

Is just to love and be loved in return.

Bold stuff, huh? Love is the answer. Love is all you need. What the world needs now is love, sweet love.

Not a fresh insight. I can think of Someone two thousand years before who said that the chief commandment was to love God, and the second was to love our neighbor as ourselves.

It puts me in mind of the 1960s comedian Jackie Vernon. Vernon was famous for doing his routines completely deadpan, and making most of his jokes about himself (he was an inspiration to me. No, let’s be honest—he was my role model). He had a routine (if I’m crediting the right comedian) about looking for the meaning of life. He told of hearing a rumor of a wise man who lived on top of a high mountain, who could tell him the Answer. So he saved his money, traveled far (over land and sea, I have no doubt), climbed the high mountain, and finally flopped down, exhausted, at the wise man’s feet.

“Tell me the meaning of life,” he gasped.

“Life,” said the wise man, “is deep well.”

“What?” Jackie replied. “I spend all my money, come all this way, climb this mountain, wear myself out, and all you tell me is that life is a deep well?”

“You mean life isn’t a deep well?” asked the wise man.

That’s how I see Nature Boy philosophy.

Christ talked about love too. But He didn’t just tell us to love each other and everything would be all right.

He understood that none of us can love anyone enough to fix his/her heart, and that no love we can receive from each other can fix what’s so desperately wrong with our own hearts.

Instead of just gassing about love, He went into battle against evil, laid down His life, and conquered Death itself.

He even did Nature Boy one better, by having two natures.

Beautiful Music Now and Upcoming

My church hosted a great Michael Card concert last Saturday. His music is nothing like the song Lars described yesterday. He even sang my favorite song of his, one he said he wrote “at a professor” who argued for a more rational faith than Card was comfortable with. Card has always favored mystery and paradox, so when his professor argued for a list of concepts which one could assent to and thereby adopt Christian faith, Card bristled. So he wrote a song about Jesus and his clash with our understanding, called “God’s Own Fool,” which has the chorus

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise

He played the fool and He opened our eyes

When we in our weakness believed we were strong

He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God’s own fool

For only the foolish can tell-

Believe the unbelievable

And come be a fool as well

YouTube has a video of it. I sang this song during a Sunday service a few years ago because it tied so well to the sermon. I think the Holy Spirit used it, but now that I say that, I can’t point to anything for evidence of that–perhaps, that’s not a proper perspective.

I wanted to pass on something Card mentioned during the concert. He is working with several others on The By/For Project, an effort to encourage Christian musicians to write music for the whole church for use in worship services free of restrictions. The site says, “Worship is a gift freely given. By/For projects are licensed under Creative Commons, so churches can freely use the art in worship and other artists can adapt and extend it. Removing profit motives can enrich both art and worship.”

The site also wants to remove the natural boundaries between Christians. “By/For believes the local church can strengthen and support fellow worshippers down the street, across town, and over oceans” by using the Internet to distribute recorded music, scores, and lyrics. There’s also a visual art angle on this too, which should bend some perspectives a bit.

Bach on a cold day

Actually it’s not all that cold. About 20° F today. I’ve seen it a whole lot worse than this.

What’s got the whole state (nay, the whole region) bloodhound-faced today is the knowledge that tomorrow will be colder, and the day after that colder still, and on and on through the end of the week. I haven’t looked at the forecast past Sunday. I suspect the Monday one will say, “Supercooled through the afternoon; heat death of the universe after sunset.”

Yet we survive. We persevere. That’s what makes us better than you.

Here’s an article
by Uwe Siemon-Netto, from Paul McCain’s blog Cyberbrethren, about the odd (though welcome) phenomenon of Asians converting to Christianity through the music of J. S. Bach.

I would have never expected this. I’ve always seen music as essentially non-propositional, unsuited to changing people’s minds, except by means of the lyrics.

But Bach’s music has no lyrics. It’s just very fine, intricate music on which the composer has written (at the end of every piece), “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God alone be the glory). And the testimony of an artistic job so brilliantly done seems to have an evangelistic appeal.

I suppose I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am. It actually harmonizes well with some things I’ve been thinking for a while. I’m just always surprised to be right… or anything in the neighborhood of right.

Back in the misty years of the 1970s, when I was touring with the Christian musical group for which I was lyricist, a guy came to talk to us after a concert. He said he was a follower of Francis Schaeffer, and I thought, “Great. We’ll be friends.” But he wasn’t interested in being friends.

His reading of Schaeffer had convinced him that the gospel was about reason—reason and nothing else. In evangelism, no appeal should be made to anything but the “law of non-contradiction.” Because our songs appealed to feelings as well as reason, he informed us that we were heretics and tools of the devil. I suppose he’d hoped for syllogisms in song.

I hadn’t thought the whole thing out at that point (still haven’t, for that matter), but I think I argued that, although reason is important and much neglected, it’s not the only thing.

As the years have passed, I’ve grown more convinced I was correct. Schaeffer concentrated on reason in his books because that’s the element that’s being most neglected in theology and apologetics today. But if you read those books and pay attention to more than just creating bullet points, you’ll see that he talks about the importance of love and relationships and beauty, too. His book The Mark of a Christian was not about logic, but about love.

This is entirely consistent with essential Christian theology. We believe in the Incarnation. “The Word became flesh.” (John 1:14) It’s as heretical to neglect the soft, subjective side of our lives as to neglect the rigorous, rational side.

Which is why the Lord can even call souls to Himself through music.

Hey! Maybe He could use novels too!

I Will Put Back to Sea

I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift,

Though heavy, oft with drenching spray, and torn with many a rift;

If hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use,

I’ll seek the seas at His behest, and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries my vain regretful tears,

Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years;

If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be;

Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget Thy love and how that love was shown,

Lift high the blood red flag above; it bears Thy Name alone.

Great Pilot of my onward way, Thou wilt not let me drift;

I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.

These words are by Jess­ie Ad­ams in 1906.

The concert was too short, and so was the hair

The Sissel concert on PBS last night was great. It was filmed in the picturesque Norwegian town of Røros in wintertime, the music itself performed in a historic church there. Very classy and reverent, I thought. And, needless to say, The Greatest Voice in the World soared through the pure, arctic air, delivering beauty like an angelic UPS truck. Or something.

My only unhappiness concerned Sissel’s hair. As is so often the case.

I care about women’s hair. It has something to do with an experience I had once, which it would be lugubrious to recount now (I suspect I’ve already told the story in this space, or on the old site, anyway). But I’ve always had strong opinions on women’s hair.

If you look at pictures of Sissel in the early stages of her career, you’ll see a lovely young girl with long, thick, honey-colored hair. That’s how she looked when I first became a fan, and that’s the image I imprinted on.

But it all changed around the time of the Winter Olympics in Norway in 1994. There she appeared, suddenly, and to the great shock of most, at the opening ceremonies with short, dark hair. Her hairstyle has changed constantly in the years since, but has generally been more or less that sort of thing.

Since her marriage broke up she seems to have grown it out a little, but for the concert she appeared in some kind of avant-garde coiffure that looked both oily and swirly. It was not becoming, in the eyes of this obsessive fan.

Why do women do this? I don’t know a lot about women, it goes without saying, but I’m pretty sure they tend to be more insecure about how they look than men are. That being true, why do they consistently put themselves in the hands of hairdressers of ambiguous gender, and trust them when they say, “Oh, darling, we’ll just streak your hair with purple, and lacquer it, and make it stand out straight from the left side of your skull so you look like a character from Anime! You’ll look divine!”

Any man can easily tell you what we want in a woman’s hair. Like most things about men, it’s very simple: “Long. Grow it as long as you can. Never cut it. Split ends? What are those? Dry, fly-away hair? Who cares?”

Show me a woman who wears her hair extremely long, and I’ll show you a woman who understands men deeply.

Of course a woman who wears her hair extremely short probably understands men deeply too.

Which sort is wiser, I’m not qualified to say.

Jared Singing “How Great Thou Art”

Jared Wilson talks about a thrilling hymn.

The scandalous beauty of the crucified king, the awful glory of the sacrificed Lord: this is the watershed moment of all of history, and it ought to be the watershed moment of your history. It is Jesus’ offering of himself to the torturous, murderous death on the cross that connects us to the potential of beholding him in his resurrected, exalted glory. . . .

Christ killed is Christ conquering; Christ raised is Christ in conquest.

That is amazing. Only a wild God could tell a story so fantastic.


Church Music

Point out the weaknesses in some, maybe most, praise music sung in churches today and what happens? A long rant-fest.

“‘Lord to give you up I’d be a fool’ almost literally gag-making”

“the lyrics of praise music is meaningless pop gestures”

“As the character in the Simpsons said, you can turn praise music into a love song merely by changing ‘Jesus’ to ‘Baby.'”

“Most “praise music” stinks. Use the Psalter or use the psalms of David in meter.”

“I remember the whole ‘rock music is evil’ debate. The same debate happens every time a new music genre enters the Christian space”

The Stirring Voice of Paul Potts

Have you seen this video of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts? A Bristol, England, native walks on stage, feeling nervous, and does not impress the judges by claiming a desire to sing opera. Oh, but when he sings! He went to the semi-finals to sing “A Time To Say Goodbye,” and returned to his first song in the finals, “Nessun Dorma.” Now he has a £1m record deal with Simon Cowell’s label and plans to sing with Katherine Jenkins at a Wales event.