Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Ashamed... But Still Kind of Nervous

I interrupt the blog I WAS writing to insert this little piece of panic… Some of you know that my incoherent ramblings also make a monthly appearance in The Chapel Hill News… And I have one coming out tomorrow, which is, basically a slightly edited of this blog I wrote last Christmas.

We might have fallen though
one of the holes in the Bible Belt.
In case you don’t have time to click back and read it, it’s about how I don’t give a crap about commercial and secular interests “stealing” Christmas… Because I view it as God spilling out into the whole world instead…

Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have no qualms about sharing the good news of God's love with people… However, after turning in this particular column, and as the day of its publication approaches I have found myself growing more and more freaked out about having put it out there on display for the whole town to see.

In my version of God's feast, 
there's all manner of Southern food... 
and cake, of course.
I mean, I live in the South – the Bible belt, as it were, but this town I live in might have slipped through one of the holes in the belt. There are many, many faithful Christian people here, but there is also a university here, and so, a profound appreciation for diversity and political correctness. So, I guess my worry is that I have done something that could be interpreted as similar to running out in the street and yelling, “I love being white!”

Here's hoping Peter
Holsapple and Chris Stamey
aren't mad at me...
But I hope that I am not an imperialist oppressor, trying to suck people into what I feel is the only valid way of life. Although I kind of am... I’m not an imperialist oppressor… First of all, I have no power with which to oppress. Also I do feel that the cultures of others are to be appreciated and not stamped out. I also believe that people can certainly choose what god to worship and how to live their lives, within certain civil boundaries, of course.

However, I am trying to turn people on to the best way of life that I have yet found. The way I see it is… like God has prepared a huge, delicious banquet and I’m so excited about it that I’m handing out invitations to it to the starving people around me. They can always say no, right? I guess it’s up to them to determine whether or not they are starving and how best to satiate their hunger.

I do whole-heartedly
recommend their record.
Anyway, I’m just writing this because I’m super nervous about it. Another thing I am nervous about is that I mention some local musicians BY NAME who actually live in the area. Which, in retrospect, might have been dumb. But I did give one of their records a plug, so maybe they’ll forgive me…?!  Of course, I may be aiming kind of high to think that Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple would read anything I wrote…!

So… that’s all I’m putting on the table right now. I wrote some blatantly Christian stuff in a secular newspaper. And although I’m “not ashamed of the gospel,” as Paul said, I am kind of nervous about it. Maybe no one will say anything… but if they do, I guess I could remind them that the name of the column is “My View.”

Friday, November 23, 2012


Some of our features
are similar, but I
don't really look like
Christina Ricci.
I noticed on Facebook that a lot of people have had status updates that look sort of like this: “Thankful for my sisters today, and their continuous support to my mom.” Or “Day 5: I am thankful for my wife, who always has my back.” I guess I didn’t get the message, but it’s a thing people are doing – like when it was “Doppelganger Week,” and you were supposed to replace your profile pic with a pic of someone that looks like you. I used Christina Ricci... but even though we have similar, turned-up noses, pouty lips and buggy eyes, I don’t REALLY look like her. In my opinion, no one is quite as strange-looking as me. And I am not just saying that to elicit compliments or because I have low self esteem. I don’t mind how I look… I am just acknowledging that I don’t look quite like anyone else.

Sandra Bernhard... 
I wonder if that lettuce 
is scratching her gums?
Anyway… so this new thing is, if I guess correctly, people telling every day something they are thankful for. A worthy endeavor, to be sure… one I know I should be mindful of, even when it’s NOT Thanksgiving week. But if I am honest, I have to admit that I am more of a complainer than a thanker. I have recently been reading the book of Numbers, and let me tell you, it is full of people like me… grumblers, murmurers… I am reminded of hearing comedienne Sandra Bernhard on a talk show talking about people in Hollywood who were so spoiled and prissy they would say things like, “This bread is scratching my gums!” See, it’s funny because … well, you know why it’s funny. It’s like my mom, who complains at a restaurant, “These portions are too large!” (So what? Just don't eat it all!)

Just ONE of the 549 things
I "Like" on Facebook.
It’s easy to laugh at these prima donnas and not see how they are, actually, me. All day. Every day. If not out loud, then as a boring internal monologue. I am honestly very glad I am not Grace, the friend I spout off to on a regular basis. She’s a saint, I tell you. I’m surprised she hasn’t headed for the hills yet.

On the other hand, on Facebook, if you look at my timeline, you will see that I have officially “liked” 549 things. I am sure some would accuse me of being a “Like” button slut, but I don’t see it that way. I like to think that when I give the old FB thumbs up signal to something, I’m expressing gratitude for it. If you look at it this way, I am thankful for, among other things, comedian Eugene Mirman, Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, Pete Townshend, my friend Jason’s “Will It Baby” column on Jalopnik, and any businesses my friends have asked me to support with a “Like.” Because I am grateful for my friends… and their own support of my Sweet William Design page.

Let's hear it for the boys!
But have I given credit where credit is due? Not often enough, I am sure. But here goes: the credit belongs to God, and God alone. All that I am and have that is any good is strictly from and through Him. (“For from him and through him and to him are all things.” Romans 11) Sure, I work hard, but… only because He gives me the wherewithal to do it. And I am grateful.

Here’s some other stuff I’m grateful for:

1. My boys, Tom and Bill. A good man is, indeed, hard to find, and I am grateful that God saw fit to find me one. Then He grew another one in my belly, despite the abuse my body had previously endured. I love them both.

Chapel Hill Bible Church...
hanging true since 1972!
2. My extended family. My brothers and sisters and their families. No one gets me quite like they do. My in-law family, too, is a gift. The Sneeds and Moores both are a perfect blend of love, honor and silliness that is hard to beat. My mom, my aunts and uncles and cousins, too… love’em. Miss’em.

Our house... in the middle of our street.
3. My Friends. Did I mention that I have some great friends? My friend Grace is always, always there for me… our frequent (and FREE, I might add) babysitter, companion, partner in crime and in prayer… sister in Christ. Other friends I can’t see as often as I would wish to… some I see only on Facebook, or via infrequent emails… But I do love them and miss them like crazy. You know who you are, you beauties.

If you visit our house,
Bob will greet you.
4. My Church. I have been going to the same church since the late 80s – except for my Asheville year. It has grown and changed, and so have I. In fact, when I started going there, I weighed 80 pounds… and now I weigh … well… I weigh a bit more. Just enough, in fact. Anyway, I love every incarnation of this group of lovely folks who are intensely involved in helping one another get more intensely involved with the God of love and grace. Plus the music is awesome! Go Nat Stine!

4. Our house. Sure it’s a mess… but it’s OUR mess. I love the endless supply of entertainment, the squishy, comfy furniture, the folk art and framed concert posters, the cardboard stand-up of Bob Dylan that greets guests at the front door, but mostly the love and family and constant guffawing laughter that makes it our home.

5. My work. I love that I can work at home doing a job I love doing and am reasonably good at. Working at home is the shizzney. Best job EVER. Even in the best job sitches, I always wanted to go home. So, now that I am home AND working – it’s ideal, I tell you. Plus, my desk faces a huge window overlooking our verdant backyard… where I sometimes see deer! And my clients... they're fantastic. Love you guys!

6. I am thankful that I actually have a skill with which to earn a living, despite the fact that I spent more time that I should have watching MTV and drinking beer in college. Sure I worked hard to learn to wield a Mac, but every opportunity that has unfurled before me has been a gift from God.

Reading IS Fundamental!
7. Every good idea I have ever had. My job as a graphic designer – mostly for advertising and marketing – demands a constant stream of creativity that does not come naturally to me. That's why I know it's a gift.

8. My blog. I love it. I love sharing my crazy ideas and my Jesus with you, and I do hope you enjoy it… but I mainly just like writing it. This is also where the ideas that God gives me come in handy. I like saying things like “If a rock star plays a note and no one holds up a lighter, what does it all mean?”

One of the many delicious 
plates of food I've 
consumed recently.
9. I am thankful that I actually get some things done in spite of myself. I forget everything. My brain is full of half baked ideas, weird meanderings, fear and loathing, suspicions and paranoias, yet my family is fed and clothed and my work gets done each and every day without fail. I’ve got those things down to a (pseudo) science, anyway. The other stuff may or may not happen – for instance, Bill may or may not turn important signed papers in on time. I may or may not remember to call the plumber. I may or may not get certain housework done… But mostly, vital sh*t gets done, and it is not thanks to any strength or effort of my own.
Apparently Benjamin
Franklin did NOT say, 
"Beer is proof that 
God loves us and 
wants us to be 
happy." But it's still 
a good quote.

10. Art. This is a broad category that includes music (live and otherwise,) movies, plays, visual art, and most of all… books. I’m pretty sure this quote by Louisa May Alcott was a prophecy about me: “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” Books and art add so much dimension to my life, it would be quite hard to image my world without them. I love finding an author or series of books that keeps me awake at night… Like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, or Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.

11. Food. I love food. It’s so delicious. Beer is good too. I eat and drink as I please, and I don’t feel guilty. I’m happy in my skin. After my near-death experience with anorexia and my years of obsession with what I put in my mouth, and how much I moved my body, this is a beautiful freedom I never, ever thought I’d have. Yeah, I have cellulite and saddlebags. But I’d rather be free with cellulite and saddlebags than a thin slave.

“No kind of life is
fulfilling if your soul
hasn’t been redeemed.”
Bob Dylan DID
say THAT!
12. Similarly, as Bob Dylan said in his recent Rolling Stone interview, “No kind of life is fulfilling if your soul hasn’t been redeemed.” This is the crux of the matter... the real gift – the grace of God. When Jesus met the woman at the well, she wanted water, she wanted the love of a good man, she wanted people not to point and laugh at her… but you know what Jesus wanted to give her? Eternal life. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4)

That’s what I’m crazy thankful for. The eternal life in me,that is a gift from the Most High God. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently said, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2) Amen, and … Thank you, God!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Note, Pure and Easy: a Rock Opera about the Who

Elton John
In seventh grade, I discovered Elton John. He was my first concert – 1976 in Greensboro Coliseum. If I remember correctly, the tickets were $8.75. My friend Allison and I whooped and hollered our way through a magnificent set of piano pop… Well, I don’t actually know if it was a magnificent set – to a 13-year-old girl who has never been to a show before, it was pure excitement. I did not yet know that the best music is seen crammed right up to the stage at a tiny venue with the speakers right next to your ears and the performer’s sweat threatening to drench you…. 

My obsessive teenage love for all things Elton was an introduction to a much more meaty and interesting band – the Who… because it was around this time that EJ put on those ridiculous stilt-boots and portrayed the “Pinball Wizard” in Ken Russell’s crazy movie, Tommy. His version of that song was a huge hit, and my friends and I went to see the movie just to see him sing it. 
I have loved the Who
for so long.

Before this, though, my seventh-grade friend Mary Madison lent me her sister’s album of the Who’s Tommy, so I knew all the songs, knew the convoluted story, and became acquainted with Pete, Roger, John and Keith, whom I’ve loved ever since. Anyone who’s ever listened to classic rock radio (what they called “album rock” back in the day) – which is pretty much everyone – knows that these fellows will completely rock your socks off.

I love this album. Critic Robert 
Christgau absolutely did not.
I’ve followed them, albeit loosely, for years, always on board with Pete’s solo efforts – despite Robert Christgau’s unmitigated scorn for them. (Of one album, Christgau says, "it's pretentious at an unprecedented level of difficulty – you have to pay years of dues before you can twist such long words into such unlikely rhymes and images and marshal arrangements of such intricate meaninglessness.") But I love Pete's records. I feel his pain. His plaintive voice makes me weep. I’m not exactly on board with his love for guru Meher Baba, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write and sing a song, right? And it doesn’t mean I can’t take the words the way I want to… which as you know, is how I roll.

Pete still does his windmills.
Anyway… so where I’m going with this is… I got to see the Who the other night! At Greensboro Coliseum, again, performing their “rock opera” Quadrophenia all the way through! Then they played the hell out of some of their bombastic classics while the crowd sang along. I found it completely thrilling. Of course a couple of the original musicians have gone to their reward, but the remaining two – Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey… well, they had my heart soaring and my brain racing… over thoughts like these:

1. I think I like them so much because… their music fully occupies my mind and my emotions. It creates longing as well as satisfaction, and my head is constantly trying to wrap itself around the lyrics and the mix of aggression and vulnerability that they create. Roger’s hearty voice is out to conquer you, while Pete’s thinner, but no less beautiful, voice is full of yearning.

The windmills are fun
until someone gets hurt...
2. What the hell does it all mean? The words, I mean… Some of it, I guess is fairly obvious – the youthful bluster of My Generation, the carefree joy of Going Mobile… Other songs are more obscure. Baba O’Reilly? Eminence Front? I mean, you get a rough idea of what they’re about, but it’s not something you can analyze word-for-word. My friend David has worked for a lot of quite famous rock bands and he told me once that when he would ask Pete Townshend what songs meant, Pete would say, “It means f*ck-all.” I’m guessing that means, “Don’t overanalyze it.” (How cool would it be to be able to go directly to the source when pondering the meanings of the songs you love? It would be a tiny whisper of what we’ll have in heaven when we get to know the secrets of God Himself!)

3. If I could ask Pete one question, I would ask him what the sea represents in his mythology. He uses that image so often. Pete says, “I am the sea,” and “The sea refuses no river,” and “Let me get back to the sea…” Is it love? God? Humanity? Death? Can someone please enlighten me?

Rog is still in fine form.
4. Because of their aggressive sound, I guess, the Who have primarily a male following. I’ve always wondered what it says about me that I love them so much. Is my femininity lacking somehow? I think, actually, it’s just that I love men. And I love and romanticize these intense men the same way I love the idea of rugged Highland warriors, or dangerous pirates.

Still spinning the mike...
5. If you aren’t familiar with Quadrophenia, it’s a rock opera about the violent rivalry between mods and rockers in 1960s England. It follows one particular Mod called Jimmy through his exploits – his work as a mailboy, his rocky relationship with his family, his nightlife spent dancing and flirting with other mods, a trip to Brighton where he survives a violent riot and a trip to night court with Sting... Tom and I watched the Quadrophenia movie last week, and I was struck by several things. First, while I understood his classic teen angst (I certainly had my share,) Jimmy was a flat-out a-hole. Second, I can’t help but think that he could have avoided a lot of his troubles if he had just stopped with the constant popping of “blues” (amphetamines) into his mouth. Third, this is SO not how I saw it when I first viewed the film in college. 

just like in the old days.
Quadrophenia is about a boy with four faces (apparently)… trying to find out who he is. In the film, Jimmy would occasionally look at his reflection in the four mirrors on his scooter… as if THAT’s where he might find himself…  “Look, I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya, or you might as well jump in the sea and drown.” 

Dr. Jimmy? Or Mr. Jim?
6. It was kind of odd seeing a bunch of old guys doing a musical about youth. But, as I’ve said before – these guys GAVE us their youth. Their youth is perfectly preserved in their songs… and THAT’S why they will never get old. Pete Townshend wrote “I hope I die before I get old.” And in my opinion, he can keep right on living, cos he’s not there yet.

7. Besides, it’s not like he’s in denial – Pete’s also written some great songs about aging… like Slit Skirts, a mournful, frustrated lament about middle-aged marriage and Who Are You, in which Pete confessed how out of his depth he felt when the punk movement came storming onto the scene.

8. Even though he wrote Who Are You and his character Jimmy struggles with his identity, it looked to me at the show Friday night that Pete seemed to have the happy confidence of a man who knows EXACTLY who he is at this point. He’s Pete Townshend, dammit! 

Out of his brain on a train on a train
wooo he's out of his brain!
9. I was pleased to be able to tell my brother Andy that Roger is still flashing that million-dollar chest of his. And although Rog is 67, it still looks fine – all tan and smooth and gleaming. When Andy was a little kid I was hanging out with him once and we started drawing pictures out of this beat-up copy of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. We drew Roger’s chest as it’s own character… It had a grin at the bottom. It made us laugh so hard… and what I wouldn’t give for those sketches now…

10. At a certain point I started to worry that someone on stage might blow a gasket or something, but then I thought… I don’t know about the other guys, but Roger is probably in better shape than anyone in the room!
The photo of Roger and
his chest  that Andy
and I drew from.

11. Pete still does the windmill guitar-playing thing with and Roger still twirls the mike. Yes, it’s a cliché, but wouldn’t we all be just a little disappointed if they didn’t?

12. The two departed members of the band were sorely missed, bless their souls. Back in the day, John Entwistle played bass like... like no otherDuring one of the songs, they dropped everything but the drums and played a film of Entwistle doing a smashing bass solo. Of course, the crowd roared. During the rest of the show, their stand-in bass player didn't even try to recreate the complex thumpings of The Ox's bass lines... they might have been able to do it, had they hired TWO stand-ins. 

John Entwistle –
the loudest
"quiet one" ever.
And the force of nature that was Keith Moon... What a drummer; what a character. I don't know whether to be proud or frightened that my eight-year-old son Bill LOVES watching old YouTube videos of him playing and smashing drum kits. They paid tribute to Keith by showing a film of him singing Bellboy, when the time came for that song - his earthy, off-key singing and goofy personality on full display.

RIP Keith Moon
13. Stadiums are not great venues for seeing/hearing music. I guess if you get to sit right up front, it would be great... but at today's prices, I won't be doing that. One way performers get around that these days is gratuitous use of video screenage. This show had not only the obligatory zoom-in's on the musicians, but also other screens depicting psychedelic images, old footage of the Who, clips from Quadrophenia the movie, and newsreels of real Mods, the sixties, and, well.. some of the big things that have happened since: the Vietnam War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Glasnost, the Occupy movement, the Free Pussy Riot debacle... Woo! We're multimedia! Was their assertion that they are part of history sort of grandiose? Well, yeah. Or it would be if it weren't a bit true, right? They're part of OUR history as frustrated teens, yearning adults, regretful middle-agers, anyway. And I am not sure they were saying, "We are part of history"... more "We've been here the whole time."

If a rock star
plays a note
and no one holds
up a lighter...
14. After they played Quadrophenia from the first note to the last, the boys played some of their hits... AOR staples like Won’t Get Fooled Again, Baba O’Reilly and Behind Blue Eyes. Everyone in the room – except maybe my cynical husband – was riveted on that stage, singing along with every word... (Again, humorous and ironic hearing 20,000 old people yelling, “Only teenage wasteland ... WE’RE ALL WASTED!”) I couldn’t help being reminded of Bob Dylan’s most recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, in which he mentions that the personal nature of his own songs makes it sort of creepy when people sing along during shows. "I'm not playing campfire meetings," he says.

Here's hoping Pete's joy is complete!
Somehow, though, I don’t think the Who mind. After all, it’s one of Pete’s pet theories that music isn’t complete without the listener. It’s something I wrote about here ... (As an aside, it reminds me of when Jesus said this to his friends: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”) If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a rock star plays a note and no one holds up a lighter... does it mean anything?

In any case, if you listen to his music you can deduce that Pete Townshend has seen his share of suffering... It may be a small consolation, but I hope that we – the Greensboro crowd – in our response, made Pete’s joy complete. I know mine was.