Filtering by Tag: Music

50 Shows: Making Moments

I have played many shows for reasons both selfish and noble—usually a mix. But increasingly I see my work as a creator as about crafting a moment. A few years ago I sat at a coffee shop and listened to a fantastic singer/songwriter fill the room with a presence—little did I know he would later become a musical mentor. But I was so inspired at the time that I stole an empty coffee bag from the shop to jot down some thoughts. With his careful words, his adept guitar playing, and his experienced voice he had given me a surprise.

I keep an eye out for moments like that so I can slow down and take them in as well as pay attention to what makes them so special. I have become a student of creating moments and these are a few things I have learned.

1) It takes considerable skill. Crafting special moments for others is about paying attention to what is happening and either reacting to or joining in with it. The better you are, the more quickly and flawlessly you can change course.

2) It takes awareness not only of what is going on, but why it is happening. The best moments come when people see through me and let me know it. Be a student of people and what makes them tick. Our culture is quick to assume motivation and slow to listen.  At first ssume you are bad at it by nature—even if you think you are pretty great at it.

3) It takes courage. I once heard Jerry Seinfeld comment that something like 10% of his shows are a flop. Even the best can let you down, if you are depending on them to create a perfect moment every time. The goal is not to get it right always but to always try so that you can sometimes nail it. High chance of failure means you need to not get hung up on the flops.

4) It has nothing to do with any specific artistic medium. A party for a friend, giving a guitar lesson, an office meeting, a concert—they are all opportunities to create something special if you are willing to take the risk.

5) You won't get much glory. You might get a thank you, or even paid, but in the audience's memory you will be a part of the moment but likely not central to it. Even if the moment you crafted becomes a huge prt of their life from that moment on, they probably won't even remember your name or even that you were responsible for creating the moment. Actually you might not ever even know.

6) Lightning rarely strikes twice. Every situation is unique and much of the magic flows from the particular quirks and flaws of a given situation. So stop looking for formulas. 

Songs That Stick

There are two types of songs that stick. Type 1: The chorus to REO Speedwagon's "Keep on Lovin You," for example, is just obnoxious. (Every time I hear it I picture a Double Whopper slowly rotating on my TV screen.) And yet, after covering it this weekend at a show, along with other 70s, 80s, and 90s top 40 picks, it refuses to exit my synapses.

Type 2: John Mellencamp's "Longest Days," which I also covered this weekend.

Nothin lasts forever Your best efforts don't always pay Sometimes you get sick and you don't get better Life is short, even it's longest days.

I was running short on time and needed more covers. It was the second song that came up on my White Stripes Pandora station. And it's a gem. Released in 2008, It's a song that took Mellencamp an entire lifetime to write, though I'm sure only a couple hours to translate it to sound waves. Had T-Swift penned and strummed the song, this would be a post making fun of her.

So you pretend not to notice, When everything has changed, The way you looked and the friends you once had So you keep on acting the same.

How many times have I seen that one played out? Would you like a second mortgage to go with your new sports car Mr. Almost40?

My notions of what made a good song used to be about whether or not it was "Christian" which meant it had the specific subject of God, (unless you wanted to write about a girl, then you could reference Jesus in the bridge).

Sigh.

Not that there weren't (or aren't) good lyricists and musicians who also try to follow Jesus (Derek Webb, Rich Mullins, Andrew Osenga, Johnny Cash, Michael Gungor, Reese Roper,  et. al.) But there was a time when "secular" (Which I'm guessing is so popular a term because it sounds like something you can make more evil by saying it like a snake would, sssecular). But I don't look for the divide anymore, I look for true songs, or even for truth re-expressed in a stanza or a verse or a word. I look for songs that actually say something, anything that I can embrace or fight with. For goodness sake just give give me something that punches me in the face.

There is enough music in the world parroting toothless words both "holy" and profane. But I dig on, knowing I have to move mountains of dirt to get to an ounce of gold, for those songs that stick for the right reasons.

Week of Music '13: Aging Wine

Forgive the narcissism, but I'm recording my own album at the end of January. I'm convinced that there isn't much value in pointing out a weakness unless you're willing to stick around and help bolster the deficiency. So today and Thursday I'll be offering up some of my own lyrics for consideration and criticism. Aging Wine:

I know that the Journey's long And your heart is bleeding. I know you don't have song, though your hearts still beating.

I understand. I stood where you stand. And I still say.

It's so good be with you. It's so good to see you.

I know that your still afraid, That my scars are fading. Please my friend don't be afraid, The wine of my blood is aging.

If there's been a thread that I've seen through my own writing it is this: The world we live in is a chaotic and frightful place offset by the glimmer of a locomotive headlight at the end of a long tunnel. That often comes off as more bleak than hopeful, partially because we've bought into all sorts of blind optimism, but mostly I think because we don't want to admit we are afraid and doubtful as we are. But for me, the keener my awareness of the chaos of being human, the brighter that hope seems, and in the middle of doubt I've found that hope holds up as I lean hard on it.

May He guide you through the wilderness. And protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.

Week of Music '13: What a Lonely Astronaut Taught Me About Marriage

I first heard about Andrew Osenga from a friend and fellow writer in Kentucky. After spending a week in the wet blanket summer of eastern Kentucky with 30 or so teenagers in desperate need of a shower, she handed me a fistful of CDs to check out. As is usually the case, I was skeptical of her enthusiasm toward this Osenga character and his fictional counterpart Leonard the Lonely Astronaut. I don't tend to trust other's opinions of my taste, particularly when it comes to all things spiritual, especially when it comes to music of the Christian variety. While most of the lesser recommendations didn't hit home, I listened to the Osenga album 5 times on the 6 hour drive home, then three more times that week.

Leonard the Lonely Astronaut is a concept album about the fictional Leonard, whose wife dies in the process of their divorce. In a bout of frustration and pain, he accepts a job as an astronaut. His mission is to travel to the opposite end of the universe at the speed of light, which means, according to the laws of relativity, that by the time he returns he will have barely aged, while anyone with any memory of his failed marriage, or himself, will be long dead and gone. On his space ship, he records the album. To help set the mood for the album, Osenga and some friends went so far as to sew up a space suit for Osenga to wear, as well as construct a spaceship like room in Nashville to record in.

You might be surprised to hear that this album about loss and failure could be so inspirational, but its words quickly became a catalyst driving me to hold my own wife just a little closer at night. As Osenga described the fictional breakup of Leonard's once vibrant matrimony, I see my own failures, the simultaneous intimacy and mileage between a couple. As Osenga asks through Leonard, "Why do lovers fall apart. When they want so badly to be one heart." There has been more than one instance where the brutal honesty of Leonards confession gave me the courage to reach a hundred miles across our bed and over an argument to pull us back together.

Osenga speaks about the loneliness of marriage, the frustration when our ideals die, even the pain and ongoing love after a marriage ends. While I can't attest to the latter, on Wednesday you'll be hearing from a friend who listened to this album three years after his own marriage ended. By his estimation, Osenga knows what he's talking about; if Osenga hasn't gone through a failed marriage himself, he is close with people who have.

While I found the musical approach of the album to be bold and diverse child of an adept guitarist (he has played at various times for Derek Webb, Jars of Clay, and others), the strength of the album is it's lyrical content. My favorite line would have to be from the song "First Born Son" where Leonard bemoans his training of self reliance:

"We prayed each night to the risen God For our loved ones health and safety Then we locked the doors and windows shut So there was no danger, and we were not free"

The chorus shouts a line damning to our North American sentiments with the twist of an idiom: "God help the man, who helps himself; he needs no other devil." It becomes obvious that Osenga used no idle words. I've gone through this album with my cliche radar and a fine tooth come. It's not often that you can say that nearly every word in an album would be sorely missed if removed. Props Andrew.

I've heard a lot of marriage sermons in my lifetime, mostly warnings against pornography and infidelity, none of which I can bring to mind though I'm sure I can recreate their premise. But Osenga's sermon will stick with me for a lifetime in the way that only music can. It gives me both a drive to be a better husband and a greater compassion for those who mourn that they can't be one anymore. Whereas most 'Christian' songs regarding some sort of one off anthem about a singular and severely limited aspect of marriage, Leonard the Lonely Astronaut is a lonely exploration that shines light on some very dark places, letting us know that we aren't alone in our dysfunction.