Archives For Music

No doubt you’ve seen this ”share ten albums that had a big impact on you” going around social media. I received a nomination on Facebook from an old friend. Rather than spam my social media walls, I decided to post, and share the list here. This list isn’t definitive, but if I was to give a quick answer as to what were my top ten albums, these would feature heavy in that kind of a discussion.

So, here goes:

“Ten of my all time favourite albums. What really made an impact, and is still on my rotation list, even if only now and then. Post the cover, no need to explain, and nominate a person each day to do the same.” I nominate, guitarist, and talented illustrator extraordinaire, Mr. Frank Grau.

1. Guardian – ‘Miracle Mile’, 1993

2. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion I & II‘, 1991

3. Metallica – ‘Metallica (Black Album)‘, 1991

4. John Denver – ‘An Evening With John Denver (Live), 1975

5. Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip‘, 1993

6. Led Zepplin – ‘Led Zepplin IV‘, 1971

7. DC Talk, ‘Jesus Freak‘, 1995

8. Barry McGuire, ‘Lighten’ Up‘, 1975

9. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘The Definitive Simon & Garfunkel‘, 1992

10. Third Day – ‘Conspiracy No.5‘, 1997.

*Close winners for tenth place:

* Jon Bon Jovi – ‘Blaze of Glory (Young Guns II)‘, 1990

** Top Gun  – ‘Soundtrack‘, 1985 

*** Steve Joblansky – ‘Transformers’: The Score, 2007

**** Need to Breath – ‘Hard Love‘, 2016

***** Forrest Gump – ‘Forrest Gump Soundtrack’, (especially “Forrest Gump Suite” composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri)

Special mentions:

P.O.D – ‘Satellite‘, 2001

Paul Wilbur – ‘Jerusalem Arise!‘, 1999

Chuck Berry – ‘The Blues Collection’, 1993.


Thanks for the nomination.

It was fun thinking it through.

Twenty years ago Michael W. Smith released (what I regard to be) his best album. Before the release of Live the Life, if I’d have been asked about MWS, I would have fired back with mockery. I didn’t give him the credit that he deserved.

I never liked ‘Friends[i]’, and outside the song ’Breakdown[ii]’ I couldn’t have told you (off by heart) a whole lot about any of his albums prior to 1995.For me, his music was dated, far too “early 90’s Christian”, and too in line with mainstream C.C.M (Christian Contemporary Music).

In 1998 this all changed. ‘Live the Life’ entered the MWS discography. While retaining Smith’s reliance on keyboards, keys don’t feature in every song. Each song on ‘Live the life’ is unique.

The set list is carefully ordered. The artwork design is free from cliché colours and formatting. It’s sober, fresh, somewhat steam-punk inspired and is absent of the 1980’s pop gloss.

As a work of art and theology, ‘Live the Life’, gave MWS a seat at the table of the mid to late ‘90s Jesus music revival. Easily putting him in the same line-up as (post-Jesus Freak) D.C Talk, Third Day, Newsboys, and Jars of Clay.

Dealing with loss and tragedy permeates ‘Live the Life’. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ (T12) was written for friends who lost their new born child, Noah. The‘Song for Rich’ (T11) was an instrumental written in response to the tragic passing of Rich Mullins; and ‘In My Arms Again’ (T10) was written for the movie Titanic.

The remaining songs encourage faith in the midst of doubt, despair and brokenness. ‘Missing Person’ (T 1) and ‘Don’t Give Up’ (T6), speaks to the emptiness of routine; numbness in the face of the mundane. ‘Love me Good’ (T2), ‘Never Been Unloved’ (T4) and ‘I Know Your Name’ (T8) speak about fear, rejection and the danger of basing the truth of Christianity on feelings or achievements, instead of God’s love. ‘Matter of time’ (T9) celebrates the hope of reunion. ‘Let me Show you the Way’ (T7) and ‘Live the Life’ (T3) speak of inviting God into our decisions; that the Christian faith is to be lived, not left on a shelf – reminiscent of Swiss theologian, Karl Barth’s statement that ‘grace must be lived out, or it is not grace’[iii].

Live the Life’ was not a creative safe space, it was a sigh offered up as both prayer and witness. The album illustrates what it means to pray through existential cracks that appear in the armour of human pretence.

Breaking the chains of super-spiritual and superficial, positive-optimism, Smith carried us along as he broke free from his CCM roots, reached through the fog of conformity, doubt and loss; past Christian culture, and entered into the gutsy, joy drenched glory of the redemptive light of Christ.

Few could legitimately argue that ‘Live the Life’ was not a watershed moment for Michael W. Smith. Most albums since 1998, share a similar gravitas, they show a breakaway artist, who, by the grace of God had his faith and art reinvent him. Smith hasn’t had to fade from the limelight quietly, lean on gimmicks or acquire cheap tunes to prove that he is what he’s always been: a talented musician with an authentic heart for Jesus Christ.

Without ‘Live the Life’, the same depth of presence, which is found in all the albums which descend from it, wouldn’t exist. ‘Live the Life’ testifies not just to Smith’s renewed commitment to Christ in the midst of darkness, but to the instructive love of God, free from the constrictive routine of empty ritual.

Live the Life’ is written for the broken, from the broken, to the broken. Twenty years on, I still cannot walk away from this album, without being challenged, or moved by it.

‘It is asked, whether anyone can be a servant of Christ, that has not been tried with so many evils, perils, and vexations? I answer, that all these things are not indispensably required, but where these things are seen, there is, undoubtedly, a greater and more illustrious testimony afforded. That man, therefore, who is signalised by so many marks of distinction, will not despise those who are less illustrious, and less thoroughly tried, nor will he on that account be elated with pride; but still, whenever there is occasion for it, will be prepared, after Paul’s example, to exult with a holy triumph, in opposition to pretenders, provided he has an eye to Christ, not to himself. For the main thing is – that we serve Christ with a pure conscience. All others things are, as it were, additional.’
(John Calvin)[iv]

de Vivre Selon Dieu.


References:

[i] I still don’t.

[ii] From his 1995 album, ‘I’ll Lead You Home’.

[iii] CD. 2/2 p.695

[iv] Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:25

I’ve found that one of the best times to listen to Mozart’s Requiem in D-minor is during a rainstorm. There’s no other accompaniment better suited to the epic melancholic composition, than that of heavy rain hitting the roof. Water spilling out over flooded gutters and raindrops bouncing off fences.

Sometime between now, up until the close of Lent, take a few minutes to listen through one of the most significant pieces of music ever written by human hands. Since a sigh turned towards heaven is translated into a prayer by the Holy Spirit, it’s possible that the heart prays through music. If the latter is indeed as true as the former, may it be so:

.

Rex tremendae majestatis,

Qui salvandos salvas gratis,

Salve me, fons pietatis.

.

Recommended performance of the complete Requiem in D-Minor, courtesy of Arsys Bourgogne, YouTube.

Link to the complete English translation of Requiem in D-Minor, courtesy of the Manly Warringah Choir.

Define Your Illusions_RL2015_GVLWe the broken are far too easily ignored. We the abused are far too easily used. We are sold hope and guided by hands quick to speak of solidarity. We fall for blurred distinctions and ignore the price.

We are sold an empty comfort from mouths  that speak words of sympathy, but are absent of any real connectivity. They may promise salvation and deliverance from the deep sadness and pain we want so much to rip or be ripped out of us, but they cannot deliver what they promise. Sadly, some choose to keep us dwelling on that pain and sadness, in order to squeeze a dollar or two out of it.

In a way that pain and sadness become commodities.

In the church and world, if among the broken we are picked out as ‘charismatic, gifted, beautiful or anointed’ we are seized upon and raised up by the collective and individual alike.

Either to promote a cause or financial gain. Paraded on stage, our testimony is “validated”, our pain and healing seemingly put to good use. However, when the doors close and the next ‘big’ thing is promoted we realise that our pain and healing was paraded  in order to hype up the masses or sell politics, an opinion, idea or distorted theology. Here the veil falls and we see that interest in the One who saves, saved and will save was pushed to the background as we were adorned with adoration, idolised and syphoned for hope.

The essence of our contact with world, relationship and institution is easily manipulated. We the broken, guarded and sensitive to those things which have hurt us so successfully, are ironically attracted by those things that will hurt us. Buying into the false promises that control us as they promise remedy.

Sometimes, therefore, the broken become the prey of the fortunate. Then, sometimes the affected are thrown away like chaff by the disaffected.

This could be because the voices of the experienced are disruptive. Disputing certainty, and intellectual anxiety about meaning and purpose. Disrupting those firmly held inside a web of ideological conformity.

Our continuing survival discomforts their faith in empirical impassabilities. It challenges the surety of presuppositions that imprison the impossible to ignorance and the absurd. It challenges their claim to power. Examples here include the historical, Martin Luther and The Reformation, or the fictitious Katniss Everdeen and her role in ‘The Hunger Games.’

Those with higher opinions based solely on higher education or their association with certain institutions may comment, but it is clear that most are selective and set only on pursuing a particular narrative – often the one that will keep them popular.

Faith uninformed by reason ends in delusion; superstition. Worse still is reason detached completely from the necessary dualism of faith and reason – scientism. As proven by the 20th Century, is the grounding of gross inhumanity.

An evolutionary ethic demands the strong must resource their strength from the weak until the weak are no longer useful. The “elite” have no problem assuming, then, that the broken are ruined beyond repair. That we cannot think for ourselves or see through the shattered lens that pales in comparison to their presumed-to-be superior, unscarred monocles.

So, we are sold illusions and sadly, we buy into them. We are even convinced enough to vote for them.

Niceties and platitudes of human tolerance end in hypocrisy. Resulting in acts of kindness being abandoned and the real importance being place solely on the appearance of giving it.

Additionally, the beauty of an orthodox theological understanding of Christian love is deconstructed, then subsumed into an “absolute ethic of niceness.[i]” God’s mercy is, thus, distorted without any acknowledgement let alone recognition of His right and freedom to act in just judgement. [ii]

With all the brokenness and abandonment around me at the time. Growing up as a teen in the 1990’s. I found it easy to fall into the trap of self-medication. Weekends spent young, drunk (and/or stoned); finding my identity in the closest people or things that I thought were identifying with me.

Looking back on that time, it wasn’t  because I was being drawn to those people or things because they identified with me, but because I leaned towards whatever I could identify, understand or nullify my pain with.

We hear packaged in phrases that ‘such and such, really identifies with their audience‘. Terms of endorsement often found in movie and music reviews alike.

The important distinction not to be missed here, though, is that artists don’t generally identify with their audience. Rather their audience (the customer) identifies with them. It’s not reciprocal, even if the understanding is mutual.

The truth is that those people and things only identified with my money and my blind, happy applause.

Case in point is the band Guns n’ Roses.

I remember reaching for everything I could find or learn about them, to be them. Even up to the point of copying almost every riff and niche Marshal Amp sound I could squeeze out of my $150 second-hand electric guitar, which had a cracked head and the embarrassing habit of going out of tune after each strum, pick or bend.

I was more than a fan. I was a disciple flirting with a generalised, but similar inner darkness that they seemed to be wrestling with. Questing for the transcendent; looking to ascend the hole of despair that my existence had boxed me into.

This was poetry with guts.

Emotion and truth screaming through mic, five string, bass and drum. In short: a form of worship. Throwing up; ’emotional vomit’ (as Lacey Sturm from ‘Flyleaf’ brilliantly described it); a numbness screaming out for feeling. This was a reach for rescue-through-revolt. A desire to be heard and acknowledged; a potential revolution powered by real-anger, angst, amp and an “appetite” for definition.

The reality is that the men of Gn’R didn’t identify with me. They couldn’t. They didn’t know me. Yet, there is no blame that I can justly attach to them. What I was being sold hung on a blurred distinction.*

I identified with them, their craft, skills and lyrical aptitude. I related to what people were selling through them and bought-into it every time. It wasn’t and couldn’t ever be reciprocated.

Any healthy personal connection where I felt cared for or understood was an illusion; an estrangement caused by a blurred distinction.

Although tempted, I wouldn’t simply relegate this as ‘idol worship‘ hoping to avoid over-analysing things, but as something more complex propagated by the absence of key relationships in my life.

What I have learnt through all of this is that my identity must rest in and under Jesus Christ, not any man, woman or ideology. He is the one in whom God chooses not only to identify with us, but to free us, in order to be for us and with us. So that we can be free for Him; free from, in order to be for, each other**:

‘…when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]. And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but sons [and daughters], and if so, then an heir through God.’
– (Galatians, 4:3-7; see also Romans 8:15)


References:

[i] Elshtain, J. 1993 Just War Against Terror

[ii] (see Karl Barth C.D II:1 ‘Dues non est in genere’: God is not a species that can be categorised by us, outside that which and who He has chosen to reveal Himself to us).

*So that I am not misinterpreted, “Gunners” as-they-were, still are, in my opinion, musical giants. Lyrically, rhythmically and melodically they hit on truths with criticisms of society that no one else dared to speak in and from that kind of arena.

** Karl Barth, paraphrased. 

 

 

Come Alive‘ by the Foo Fighters is over ten years old, yet it remains an example of Christ alive in contemporary culture.

“…Nothing more to give I can finally live
Come alive
Your life into me I can finally breathe
Come alive
I lay there in the dark
Open my eyes

You saved me the day that you came alive.”

(Foo Fighters, 2007)

‘Come Alive’ was part of the 2007, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace album.

Viewed through the eyes of a child, teenager, husband or wife the words could easily reflect the sentiment of gratitude for an abusive/self-abusive person who has changed and is in the process of recovery.

The repetitive  “come alive” is about the solemn gratitude that comes from an awakening. Within it is the mixture of a cautious relief, recognition and acknowledgement that when “good turns to bad”, “good can come from bad”. Accompanying this theme of thankfulness is the apparent rescue, and the author’s proclamation that rescue from the abyss is possible.

This isn’t an optimist speaking about a positivism detached from reality. ‘Come Alive’ is a proclamation and an invitation. Sentences like, “you saved me the day you came alive” could be taken to be a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection as the point of our conversion – our being saved;the reconciliation with God made possible by the free decision of God to dwell among us, showing us our freedom to reject or accept that state of reconciliation.

The message speaks of promise for the broken, from the broken, to the broken.The message speaks to the recovering and those still stuck in a cycle of abuse, reminding them that Inhaled Grace Ignites.

The song starts with clear lines of remorse, empathy and remembrance.

“Seems like only yesterday
Life belonged to runaways
Nothing here to see,
No looking back

Every sound monotone
Every color monocrome
Life begin to fade into the black
Such a simple animal
Steralized with alcohol I could hardly feel me anymore

Desperate, meaningless
All filled up with emptiness
Felt like everything was said and done I lay there in the dark,
I close my eyes…”

From a theological  perspective, the voice of proclamation and victory (one I would confidently say is empowered by the Holy Spirit) is to be heard moving out from behind the pain, and the silent groans which rest in what the author is reflecting on.

This is Jesus Christ alive in contemporary culture.

Within the song there is an active, raw acknowledgement of grace, and the gratitude given within it is a recognition of an awakening, a personal apocalypse, now very real, and very present to the author.

Dave Grohl confirms as much, stating that ‘Come Alive’ is ‘about reawakening after becoming a father. Anyone who’s a father understands how the world becomes a different place when your child is born. I just feel and see everything differently now.’ (Fooarchive)

Although the song is in the end about fatherhood.The overall weight, tone and presence of the song, even with its lack of a clear object, is worship.

It’s the intensity of these kinds of songs, which are created outside the ”Contemporary Christian Music Machine”, that make statements like the made by Kevin Davis, all the more intriguing:

“art and artists are vital for teaching us how to live. And, therefore, art is part of the gospel, whether or not the artist is fully aware.”  (Kevin Davis, ‘The Grace of Holly Williams‘) 

Jesus is Victor.

‘How precious is your steadfast love O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Oh continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.’  (Psalm 36:7-11, ESV)

 

 


(Updated from a post originally published on 5th May 2014)

Mahalia

September 22, 2017 — Leave a comment

No one does His Eye is On The Sparrow, as well as M.J.

For me, it’s the octave dip. The overall chilled dynamic and the presence heard in her voice, as heart meets sigh, song becomes prayer, and another broken heart is lifted to an awareness of God’s embrace.

It’s said that when Martin Luther King Jnr. was overly troubled, he’d ring Mahalia and ask for her to intercede through song. I can see why.

Afternoons deserve a little Mahalia.


Related reading:

A Voice Like This: Mahalia Jackson

On page 291, of his 2013 book, Hollywood and Hitler, Thomas Doherty makes a small, but note worthy statement about the song “God Bless America.”  Written by Irving Berlin from an earlier tune called “Yip!, Yak!, Yaphank!” , “God Bless America”  was to become an unofficial second national anthem.

 ‘as the wave of antisemetic violence [during what was penned by journalists as Krystallnacht], in [Nazi Germany], was subsiding, the singer Kate Smith had long planned to dedicate her variety show program to the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, a solemn look back at the last war as the world stood on the brink of another. Smith asked Irving for a patriotic theme suitable for the occasion’[i]

Whilst it is right to describe “God Bless America” as a patriotic song, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it also fits well within the rubric of protest songs.

Cast in the light of his original intent, Berlin’s song is an anthem for peace. It rallies people of all races, around the banner of peace.

God Bless America” is perhaps also the most significant musical push-back against the onslaught of mid-20th century Nazism, to come out of America during that pre-WW2 era.

Post-1939, into, America’s 1942 involvement in the war; first in the Pacific, then in the North African, and European theatres, this prayer for peace, while still holding its integrity, extended its meaning towards a prayer for freedom.To call on God’s blessing is to call on His grace and victory.

And if prayer is, as Karl Barth asserted:

 ‘…the beginning of an uprising, [a revolt] against the disorder of the world’[ii]

Then “God Bless America” is a protest. It is an effective protest that draws people’s attention towards the great Other. Towards the God, who, in His Covenant with Israel, and it’s fulfilment in Jesus Christ, sets out to present Himself as the revolution against the disorder, that is set in play by false lords, false claims to authority, and all human versions of “ordering” the world, which takes place under those false claims, in total allegiance to those false lords*.

Irving’s lyrics join up with the voice of the Confessing Churches, who, in the 1934, Barmen declaration, led by Karl Barth, declared that any proposition that suggests, or asserts that salvation could come through Hitler, or any human, outside of or abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is false, and is therefore is to be utterly rejected. This is because:

‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying […] The one Word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’[iii]

There are no ways to God, there is only one way from God to us. Founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ. No man, woman, leader, idea or natural organism can lay claim to this revelation that lays claim to all of humanity, without usurping God. It’s not something that can be moulded, crafted and raised in the name of human triumphalism.

Irving Berlin’s song declares that before nations and governments, there is no other Lord, but God.

As problematic as ambiguity and nationalism[iv] that is attached to the song, can be; at its inception, “God Bless America” was conceived as an anthem for peace. It was written at a time when the majority of Americans understood God as the one who makes Himself known in history, as testified to in the Judeo-Christian Bible.

What “God Bless America” became was both a prayer and protest. It focuses, unites, humbles, and in combined song, rouses a challenge against all those who actively seek to do the opposite.

God Bless America” is a song of defiance in the face of an adverse and overwhelming enemy. As a prayer, it becomes the anthem for revolt. Not just against an oppressor from without, but also from within; against the sinful nature of the flesh that exists within each of us, to which God has answered, not by the way of man’s religion, and feeble attempts to save himself, by way of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

In “God Bless America” both the Sh’ma Yisrael and The Lord’s Prayer are heard. If we lean in close enough, we’ll hear Irving, Kate, Barth, Roosevelt and the many others, who, in fox holes, camps and gas chambers, ‘prayed both'[v], we may hear them “whisper their legacy”[vi] to American and non-American alike. I should point out that I’m not an American, but that doesn’t mean I’m exempt from joining in and singing the same kind of prayer and following the same kind of protest. For:

‘Even the “devils believe and tremble,” and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans’ prayers than of their swords’
(Abigail Adams, 1775, Letters #55)


References:

[i]  Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939, Columbia University Press, p.291

[ii]  Barth, K. CD Fragments IV:4

[iii]  Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A. pp.23 & 37

[iv] For more on this see Sheryl Kaskowitz’s article ‘How “God Bless America” became a conservative anthem’

[v] Victor Frankl: we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.’ Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press. p. 134.

[vi] Robin Williams, 1989. The Dead Poets Society.

*According to an unverified source, the Klu Klux Klan, only with Pro-American Nazi’s are said to have boycotted the song. The only source I could find, so far, which mentions this, is parade.com:  6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Song ‘God Bless America’ 

Original image credit: Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash