If I could play the fiddle,
I’d play it every day.
Everyone’d be happy,
And our smiles always stay
If I could play the fiddle,
I’d play it every day.
Everyone’d be happy,
And our smiles always stay
As with the last post, I’m again posting a reading of a poem. I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s part self-criticism, part making crappy ideas work for me. It’s a reflection of frustration with being unable to come up with unoriginal thoughts and then kind of saying, well, if that’s all I’ve got to work with, let’s do this anyway.
As with the last post, I’m again posting a reading of a poem. I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s part self-criticism, part making crappy ideas work for me. It’s a reflection of frustration with being unable to come up with unoriginal
From the rising of the sun
To the setting of the same
I will fill my poem
With plethora of cliché
I’ll be preachy with my wording
Throw my beliefs in your face
When you’re bad, I feel better
Who needs tact or grace?
Or perhaps I’ll tell you about my motherland
And how I miss it so
But I’ve never actually been there
And really, I hate the snow.
I could tell about the tribulations
Of what it means to be a writer
While I live in privilege
And pain is one all-nighter
I could write of adolescent love
Convince you that it’s real
Teach you it’s a feeling
A heartbeat and sex appeal.
I could write some lines of politics
I’m sure that I’d be right
Thousands of years of man’s problems
I’ve solved them in one night.
I know it all sounds cynical
But I assure you it is not.
I want my words to make a difference
But clichés are all I’ve got
It’s funny how inspiration to write comes and goes. Like now: I have no real inspiration. I don’t even know what to write. I could write about love, and the lack thereof. I could write about coffee and my love thereof. I could write about music, perhaps even offer a review of some new album—though I usually do that while listening to the given album, and I’ve been without a portable music player for months now. It’s quite an experience. I haven’t been without portable music in years.
It seems that the world has its own soundtrack separate from what I hear from my sound isolating earphones—sounds of leaves rustling, of voices in every octave and key—some from people and some from what people have made, and some from what no person could ever craft. I wish I could say that it’s opened up a world of conversations with others that I had forgotten were possible, but that’s not quite true. But it is freeing in its own way. When you don’t have 30 gigabytes of music files you can take with you everywhere you go, you tune in to other things, maybe a radio station playing a new artist worth hearing (thanks for playing Cage the Elephant, WNRN—you stay classy), or maybe just your own thoughts. After all, it can be hard to process your own thoughts when you incessantly drown them out in waves of sound. What serves as inspiration so often can be its own hindrance to expression if applied too liberally. Maybe I haven’t been as intentional as I should be with this opportunity to hear the world’s soundtrack; it has some lovely melodies to be heard—melodies of baby squeals, banana peels, drum fills, and various other thrills.
Speaking of intentionality, I’ve found myself losing such in the last few weeks. Twice I’ve had complete strangers stop me while I was entering or exiting my truck and ask me for a ride to somewhere. Neither person was threatening, but it either time, it struck me as exceedingly odd. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a man about town until recently, but I’ve never been flagged down by a stranger for a ride before (unless it was a fellow college student on campus at Liberty). Both times, I thought to myself, I should let this be an opportunity to share Christ and be unashamed—after all, if they were unashamed enough to ask a stranger for a favor, couldn’t I be unashamed enough to share what I live for? I don’t know, and I won’t beat myself up too much, but I could have said so much more than “God bless” or “be blessed in the name of Jesus.” I have so much to learn; I’ve asked God for opportunities, and he’s given them, only for me to panic and ignore them.
By the way, for the 20 some people who read my writing without commenting…. you could try commenting—let me know what you like and dislike, what you agree and disagree with, what repulses you or resonates with you.
The Pearl Pt. 2 will hopefully be coming forth soon, but we’ll see. As for Muse(ings) 4, I guess i figured out what to write about.
It’s funny what music can do to you. It drove me from my favorite coffee shop tonight and to another across town. For at The Muse, I saw girl pants on guys, and brightly colored hair and t-shirts—I thought to myself, I love this scene so often, but not tonight. I had gone to relax and to read and to think, and perhaps even to write. After all, Muse(ings) II is quite due. I pondered my course of action in the parallel parking space for a few minutes. This is my place… why are other people whom I didn’t approve here. I do suppose I can’t in fact make the world work my way.
I have another place I do enjoy, as much for the richness of the building as the coffee, and that is The White Hart. History oozes from the walls of this 1800’s downtown Lynchburg building. ‘twas not always a coffee shop, but must have always longed to be a riverhead of many a man’s thoughts. I read my novel and music begins to play… I left The Muse because of the music… I want to drown in words tonight, not in notes. A rhythm sets in. No, a cacophony. This is awful. I love folk, but they have no cohesion, everything is grating. A voice begins, with clarity and strength—a woman’s voice swimming against the current of a musical river. The voice itself changes the course of the current and the music begins to gel. I appreciate it. The dragon in my book is angered, but villains lie slain.
I’ve written something already on this day, and I know it has been read by the most important of readers. The response is withheld as yet, but my arrows have not yet scared the target into running away.
My mind sings along, we’ve got to come together right now, over me…. Stop hey, what’s that sound… don’t you want somebody to love. I love it. Americana renditions of classics. Perhaps my story will be a modern retelling of classic love stories. Is this a Shakespearean comedy or a tragedy? The tragedy would be to never know.
(The above is part of a series of posts inspired by times at my favorite coffee shop… in this one however, I have cheated a bit… it was written with Muse inspiration but from my bedroom.)
Recently the Newsboys announced that Michael Tait would be taking over as their new lead singer. For those who have followed Christian music and all of its strange quirks, the pairing is something could only be contrived in dream sleep—whether it is a dream come true or a nightmare depends on your perspective. Michael Tait made a name for himself as a member of the multi-platinum rap-turned-rock-turned-pop DC Talk with his great voice and Lenny Kravitz-esque styling. The Newsboys made a name for themselves by, well…making sounds that Christian teenagers like to hear—not to discredit their contributions though, as they were one of the more creative Christian bands in the 1990s.
Both bands were lauded for doing what most other Christian bands couldn’t—be both unique and talented (not overly so, but more than the scene was accustomed to). Both bands went through some intriguing changes—Peter Furler took over as lead singer of the Newsboys in 1998 with the appropriately titled Step Up to the Microphone (he had been the drummer and primary songwriter). Furler was probably always considered the leader of the band; now, he was also the frontman. Additionally, Furler was the only original member of the band by that point, though Phil Joel, Jody Davis, and Jeff Frankenstein settled into permanent spots with Duncan Phillips taking over behind the drums for Furler. By 2002, Newsboys peeked creatively with Thrive. Subsequently, they jumped onto the praise and worship bandwagon that made Christian radio even more unlistenable with Adoration in 2003. Of course, this gave them the best sales of their career, but we all know that doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Arguably the most talented members of Newsboys, Phil Joel and Jody Davis left the band to pursue solo interests. But Newsboys was a cash cow not yet ready to meet demise.
DC talk on the other hand has had their history so well documented, it’s hardly worth mentioning here, but in summary, it can be said that the solo albums revealed that most of creative talent was tied to Toby Mckeehan’s pop sensibilities and Kevin Max’s unorthodox approach. Tait was responsible for bringing a nice voice and not much else.
Sadly, a great voice doesn’t take away from the ubiquitous blandness found in both Tait’s solo work and more recent Newsboys work. In an interview with Tait, the Newsboys, and several peer artists like Third Day, the new pairing of Tait with Newsboys has been likened unto a combination of Burger King and McDonalds—a super burger. An incredibly greasy burger that will clog your arteries and make you want to die, perhaps.
No friends, this is not the joining of two goods to form a greater one. This is the joining of two has-beens trying to survive in a collapsing market. This is the clinging to an audience that still exists but is too naïve to understand that this is neither the Newsboys nor the DC Talk of the 1990s. What should be done here? The Newsboys need to call it a career. On the other hand, this is an infinitively better career move for Tait—songwriting duties will still belong to Furler—and once again he will only have to provide a decent voice. I wince as I watch this pairing though; it’s just not right to fleece the flock like this. Newsboys should not have DC Talk songs in their setlist and Michael Tait should not be fronting an Australian band that has no original members left.
Years ago, matters of faith permeated the arts. The greatest artists often professed to be Christians and that was okay with society—certainly not all artists were believers, but would the arts be what they are today without the contributions of Michelangelo, Beethoven, Mozart, John Milton, etc.?
Today’s society tends to criticize artists known for expressing any form of [Christian] faith in their medium—song or canvas. It’s almost understandable within the music realm since exclusively Christian music labels regularly release less-than-stellar quality music. In fact, I have even come to find contemporary Christian music stations almost intolerable. However, Top 40 secular music doesn’t always offer much more quality; Paper Planes? I Kissed a Girl? Soldier Boy? No thanks.
Enter Jars of Clay. This band launched to platinum-level stardom in 1995 with their self-titled album that featured an incredible track listing. Many Christians still hold that album as one of their favorite albums of all time; yet, Jars of Clay’s fame in the mainstream industry has faded through the years. Their music hasn’t gotten worse; if anything, they’ve maintained music credibility in their 15 years more than almost any other artist can claim. They’ve never been satisfied to re-release the exact same album. It’s 2009, and Jars of Clay has nothing to prove to Christian industry, but they have something to prove to themselves.
They have experimented in folk, grunge, blues, retro-pop, and straightforward rock & roll, but have always been uniquely Jars. The Long Fall Back to Earth is no mere exercise in fleecing old fans to maintain an income. With this album, Jars of Clay has released their most cohesive, dynamic album of their career—which is extraordinarily impressive given that the band has consisted of the same 4 members since their formation in college.
Don’t be mistaken. This is not a Jars of Clay greatest hits album. It doesn’t sound quite like anything Jars has ever made, and yet it encapsulates their integrity, their drive to create the best art they possibly can, Christian or not. This album has a thematic flow, lyrical honesty, and musical drive. This band has not copied anyone else—comparisons to U2 are understandable but only in the way that Bach compares to Beethoven or Salvador Dali compares to Pablo Picasso. That is to say, they might share a handful of elements with their peers, but they are very much their own artists.
High praise, yes, but this is a masterpiece. The album opens with a brooding, dense, intro leading into the chilling “Weapons” which calls the listener to stop fighting the imagined evil of the person in front of them. The theme of reconciling relationships recurs throughout. Most of the songs are poetic and genuine while still maintaining openness to interpretation—are they talking about their wife, their best friend, God, their own son? All of the above. This isn’t mere ambiguity to gain records sales, though; I think Jars would make the music they make if no one would buy it.
The Long Fall is an exercise in pop genius. It’s hard to identify specific highlights without giving a song by song review, but truly, songs like “Heaven,” with its electro-pop leanings and lyrical brilliance that recall the writings of Augustine or C.S. Lewis, the intimate wordplay of “Closer” [“I want your kite strings tangled in my trees, all wrapped up…I’ll be the comets that are falling from the sky you light up”], the pleading “Safe to Land,” give the listener something to digest for years to come. At risk of my credibility among my album reviewing counterparts , I must mention that I’ve read a few reviews that criticize the song “Boys (Lesson One).” Boys is one of the most touching, inspired father-to-son song I have ever heard. If only every boy could experience the unconditional love so present in this song.
The album is a hearty and satisfying 59 minutes. It’s very difficult for an artist to offer so much at once and maintain a consistency throughout. Perhaps “Boys” would best be placed in another spot on the album; perhaps there could be a more definitive closer. But frankly, to leave any song off the album would be a disservice. Each songs stands alone strong, but as a rope gains strength by weaving strands, so does The Long Fall.
So that’s it. Jars has not followed the standard musical career path. They began honest, yet popular. They continue honestly despite less mainstream exposure. It’s the listeners’ loss though, if they don’t give it a chance. Jars is not just the best “Christian band,” they are one of the finest music acts this generation has ever been graced with.
5/5, 10/10, A+…. I don’t care what rating system you like. It’s a must have.
Dearest, your shadow has more beauty
Than the form of all the others I know
And your form contains beauty untold
Your spirit harmonizes with your form
Your soul harmonizes with your spirit
Strum the strings of the instrument
Your shadow reaches 2,000 miles
And music fills the air in between you and me
Can I hear your voice?
Can I see your face?
Your shadow is better than all else I know
But I want to want to know better than your shadow
I want to know you
(c) 2009, Joshua Murray
P.S: This is four in a row for you, if your counting. I said I’d write a song for you, but you can have as many as you like 🙂 you know who you are.