Friday, June 26, 2015

It's the least we can do.

I hardly ever address politics or current events – the last time was maybe in 2011? But I want to talk* about the whole Charleston/Confederate flag thing, and since no one's here to stop me, here goes... 

I definitely think taking the Confederate flag down at the South Carolina state house and any other public property it adorns is a good and necessary action. I mean, it’s the least we can do. But… really, it is exactly that… the very LEAST thing we can do. I mean… it’s like putting a Ninja Turtles bandaid on a long, deep, infected abdominal wound with oozing innards spilling out of it. Or maybe it's like putting merthiolate on a debilitating psychosis. 

That is to say, the evil of racism is very old and soul deep. It’s one of the world systems that the “prince of this world” wields like a deadly weapon… waves like a flag, if you will. That said, we can certainly perform this simple, tiny symbolic gesture… just to show that we’re at least willing to say that racism is a still a brobdingnagian**, festering problem, and we’re willing to begin addressing it.

Because it has to just be a beginning. Because how much is taking down a flag actually going to do...? Although… maybe a good portion of the population will no longer feel mocked every time they pass by the government building of their own state.

Of course, I say it’s the beginning, so there ought to be more steps, right? I just don’t know what they are. Prayers. Lots of prayers. Jesus was the most un-racist cat who ever lived, so we really should be embodying that part of His gospel… 

How? Again, I haven’t really worked that out yet – I’m more of a why and what person than a how person. I bet there are plenty of people who could come up with much better ideas than I ever could. So let’s start thinking about it… Let me know what you come up with – I’m all ears.

If someone has already said this - and if it’s worth anything I’m sure they have – then sorry for the repeat sentiments.

**That's a real word! It means "giant."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bill Mallonee / Lands and Peoples, a review

Bill Mallonee
I’m supposed to write about this album, Lands and Peoples by Bill Mallonee, but I’ve got a lot of stuff swirling around in my head right now and I made the mistake of reading a couple of other reviews… which makes it kind of daunting… because I start to think, “That writer just said what I was going to say… and better than I can say it!”

Like the review that ran in No Depression where the guy pretty much rants that Bill Mallonee periodically offers his beloved axes and amps for sale just to stay afloat, when he should be basking in the glow of the world’s enjoyment and admiration. His tunes should be sung from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf stream waters because he can write the hell out of a song and has his guitar-pickin’ fingers on the pulse of REAL American music made for REAL American people in REAL America! (So it’s not an accident that I make reference to a Woody Guthrie lyric.)

Anyway, that reviewer laid down a true word. Of course he tells you right off the bat that he's biased, and so am I. I don’t mind telling you that that one of Bill Mallonee’s thousands of songs – Double Cure – is one of my most favorite songs in the songosphere. This is the link to the only version I can find on the world wide web, so it’ll have to do, but i’m telling you, this song is pure gold. The recorded version just … glistens. It’s got this great soaring guitar riff intro that echoes one of the sweeping lines from that hymn, All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name

But this isn’t about that song, as awesome as it is. Of course it’s about his latest release, as I mentioned, Lands and Peoples. It’s kind of like a songbook of stories about… yeah, lands and peoples. You know, America. It’s evocative… Mournful. Joyful. Wrenching. Shining. Hopeless. Hopeful. Self-effacing. Full of grace. Mallonee’s plaintive voice is all of those things too. 

Because of the record’s quiet beauty, it works well in the background, and it's got lyrical depth that makes it one of those oeuvres you can just lie on your bed and let it wash over you, sink into you… Like I used to do with R.E.M.’s records when they came out. It’s also not a coincidence that I bring up R.E.M., because 1. this record has a bit of that Byrds/R.E.M.-esque chiming guitar sound, and 2. Mallonee also played in an Athens, GA, band – Vigilantes of Love. 
Mr. M used to be in this Athens, GA band.

I wish I could say I knew more about that band, but I just don’t… although I became aware of that song Double Cure because it was on a compilation of V.O.L. songs that I bought through a Christian record club. (Remember record clubs? :-P) ’Cos Mallonee does love him some Jesus. Which is another thing I love about his stuff… that he loves Jesus. And it comes through, and not in a rusty hammer to the head way… but in a beautiful, sideways way that you can feel in your bones… that makes you feel like, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Even though his songs and his voice can be kinda sad… 

Because sadness can be sort of a doorway to actual Narnia, in a way – just like we learned from watching Inside Out. It’s the rare artist who can find and express the beauty in the sadness of ordinary life… grace amid the fallenness of this world. I guess it comes from being deeply familiar with these words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Not that it’s all beautiful sadness. Some of it’s just beautiful… like the song that says: “Ever since my eyes beheld your beauty and your grace, I’ll swing with everything that I’ve got.” And that there’s a baseball reference, if you're looking for Americana. There’s more where that came from, but like his Christianity, his American-ness isn’t forced nor are his songs in any way like those God-and-country songs that came out after 9/11. It's all just part of him. It reminds me of the time a pastor told me that my ministry was to be myself. Bill’s just being himself. And who “himself” is, among other things, is a beautiful soul, a dang good musician, and an evocative songwriter who deserves a lot more attention than he gets. 

You can (and should!) behold/purchase this stunning work of beauty and grace here:

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional rock critic, although I always wanted to be (thank you, internet!) You may find that my reviews are informed less by objective analysis than by feelings and personal interpretation... but don’t people often choose music based on such things?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

I spit out like a sewer hole, yet still receive Your kiss

If you keep up with me on Facebook you know that my 11-year-old son and I are huuuuuuuge fans of The Who. In fact, Bill recently drew this awesome pic of himself as an homage to the cover of the Who by Numbers album. Anyway, when we drive around town, just the two of us, we play every Who album we own on a systematic rotation for our in-car listening pleasure. 

And as I remarked earlier, hearing the songs repeatedly causes me to give them more than the passing thought I usually give to classic rock songs – the arrangements, the words and their possible meanings... these songs I've heard a thousand or more times... I may already even THINK I know what they mean, but... There's always some new flower of knowing that might bloom in this loamy brain of mine.

For instance, Pete’s hard rock rant, Who Are You... I’ve heard this song a GAZILLION times…  but I JUST realized that it’s a song that ANSWERS ITS OWN QUESTION!! Go ahead, click here and listen to it again… and listen to the WHOLE THING. In the first two verses, you’ll hear Roger Daltrey pretty much spitting out this tale of a night in the life of an angry, lost man….

I woke up in a Soho doorway
A policeman knew my name
He said "You can go sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away"

I staggered back to the underground
And the breeze blew back my hair
I remember throwin' punches around
And preachin' from my chair

followed by the completely singable chorus which asks the song’s primary question:

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Then our angry, lost man goes home and takes a moment to reflect…

I took the tube back out of town
Back to the Rollin' Pin
I felt a little like a dying clown
With a streak of Rin Tin Tin

I stretched back and I hiccupped
And looked back on my busy day
Eleven hours in the Tin Pan
God, there's got to be another way

and asks himself again: 

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

First of all, what a great description of a drunken, raging night! I should know – I’ve had one or two…(not lately of course!) I mean, can’t you just see lanky late-seventies Pete going through this ordeal in lurid, dimly-lit London locales. (SO MUCH ALLITERATION!!!) And knowing that these lines refer to a specific night in Pete Townsend’s life makes me feel like I have important esoteric knowledge. 

There’s a long blow-by-blow recount in Dave Marsh’s book, Before I Get Old; I’ll try to condense it here: So it’s the late seventies and punk rock is raging against the bloated excess of mainstream rock music machine and Pete and the boys are feeling the burn of it…  even though The Who may actually have invented punk rock with all their rebellion and instrument smashing, and telling the whole of the older generation to “f-f-f-fade away,” they took punk rock’s raging personally. 

Anyhoo, one night after a long day of business meetings – one of which involved the transfer of a sizable check, Pete goes into a pub and is none too sober when he spots a couple of actual Sex Pistols. He then rants and raves at them about the state of rock and roll – the stuff that’s bothering him about the whole life he’s living.

Actual Sex Pistols
But these guys, they love Pete and the Who and they tell him so. But he’s not having it. He knows he embodies a lot of what they think is wrong with the music business. Then he leaves and falls asleep slumped down in a doorway until a policeman wakes him up BY NAME and sends him home to his wife (aka - The Rollin’ Pin). 

So in the these verses he’s basically questioning the his own identity: “WHO ARE YOU??” he asks himself. “Everyone thinks I’m awesome, but aren’t I just a hack? Here’s the check to prove it!” and “The policeman knows my name, but do I know my own self?”

These are the familiar verses, but it’s the third verse that has just now sunk in. I was thinking how nice it sounded. I posted the lines on Facebook, because I love using song lyrics as status updates. Makes me feel all poetic, you know – without having to actually write anything. Anyway, it goes like this:

I know there's a place you walked
Where love falls from the trees
My heart is like a broken cup
I only feel right on my knees

I spit out like a sewer hole
Yet still receive your kiss
How can I measure up to anyone now
After such a love as this?

This is so lovely I made it a meme! PLUS
the background is actually Myrtle Beach!
And this cool guy I knew in college, Artie Sparrow (That’s his real name! Isn’t it lovely?), left this comment: Fun fact: that lyric is about Myrtle Beach.” Of course it is. At first I thought Artie was joking because… well, you know… Myrtle Beach? The Redneck Riviera? But then I remembered that there is a Meher Baba center at Myrtle Beach, and Pete Townshend loves him some Meher Baba, and his bio Who I Am explains that this refers to a visit there.*

MB is his GURU... although I’m not sure what that means. I honestly can’t say I would equate Meher Baba with the Divine – but Pete does. So… when Pete says, “There’s got to be another way,” in verse 2, and then moves on to the beautiful, meaningful ponder that is verse 3 – that what he means, it is the love of the Divine that defines us – not whether we’ve invented punk rock, whether we’re are-nows or has-beens… (Jew or Greek, man or woman, slave or free…**) Who are you? Who am I? Who is GOD? Who does God say I am? If we ask these last two questions, we will know the answers to the first two questions.

It’s just like when Pete says in the gorgeous song Bargain – “I sit lookin’ ‘round, I look at my face in the mirror.*** I know I’m worth nothing without you. And like one and one don’t make two, one and one make one. And I’m lookin’ for that free ride to me - I’m looking for You!” (creative capitalization mine!)

Dang it! Fries are delicious!
And Pete wrote this one several years before he struggled with these issues in Who Are You. Which goes to show, that we KNOW things to be true, but that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with opposing FEELINGS. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you this. Like when you KNOW that finishing off your kid’s fries after you’ve had your own just might not be the best thing for you, but you really have to struggle with the truth of it because dang it FRIES ARE DELICIOUS!! Heck, even St. Paul struggled with the difference between knowing and feeling! Check out Romans 8:21-25!

Of course matters of identity are a bit more serious than consuming mass quantities of fries… But we see from the letters of Paul that his recipients need to be repeatedly reminded of the fundamental sweetness and glory of the gospel – that is, that God loves people so much He sent his own Son to save them.**** And that’s WHO WE ARE. People God loves and deems worth saving.

*I can talk more about this if you really want to know, but this post is already so long…!!

** Galations 3:28

***When we come to this line from Bargain in the car Bill and I both gaze wistfully into the rear view mirror. It cracks us up every time. If you want to read more of my crazy reflections about this song, you can read this post.

****John 3:16, of course!