- There must be a venue that is of appropriate size and location in which to present new material. CBGB was located in a cheap, rundown area, ignored by the yuppies and other commodifiers of culture. But it was also in New York City, where new cultural forms have a chance to be picked up and broadly disseminated. (Byrne overlooks this factor, which I consider essential.) It was small enough that an unknown band could sell it out, which had important implications both financial and psychological.
- The artists should be allowed to play their own material. Byrne credits the owners of CBGB with the counterintuitive decision to let unknown bands play their own material, which meant the club wasn't just one more place to hear crappy covers of Fleetwood Mac or Donnie and Marie, but rather a place where people went to be stretched, to discover, to participate.
- Performing musicians must get in for free on their off nights (and maybe get free beer too). CBGB was where people wanted to be, not just where they wanted to play. And by building cohesion and a family culture it allowed for generative cross-pollination and a (sometimes begrudging) mutual appreciation and support. Bands didn't pay to hear each other play, but they heard each other and came to understand and respect each other, and ultimately rely on each other.
- There must be a sense of alienation from the prevailing music scene. Alienation has great power over us; by itself it isn't generative, but when it has a place, crazy cool stuff can happen.
- Rent must be low--and it must stay low. Making a scene is costly--not solely in the financial sense, as CBGB clearly demonstrated. While major record labels were spending ridiculous amounts of money to pack arenas and establish the sound of the seventies, artists orbiting CBGB were cramming themselves into low-rent apartments so they could survive as they continued to practice their craft. CBGB artists sacrificed their comfort, their privacy, their financial security to do something different. In the process they reinvented pop music.
- Bands must be paid fairly. As Saint Paul once said, "Never muzzle an ox when it's treading out the grain." If that's too artsy fartsy for you, here's what he meant: "The worker deserves his wages." A scene is an ecosystem, and there has to be a common commitment to establish equilibrium and allow for the flourishing of the whole.
- Social transparency must be encouraged. The line between performer and consumer must be porous if the movement is to gain traction. There's no special ordination or dispensation for those who are making the music; the audience has an equally important part to play in making the scene.
- It must be possible to ignore the band when necessary. No scene survives if it is imposed on people. A scene is a social contract, a covenant of equal partners.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Monday, December 24, 2012
"To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living."Tonight, as visions of sugar plums dance in your head, I hope you also take notice of the divine margin in all attainments. And tomorrow I hope you wake up to wonder and, like Mary and the church after her, conceive the inconceivable surprise of living. Merry Christmas from Loud Time!
--Abraham Heschel, Quest for God
Friday, December 21, 2012
But if you could, do you think you wouldAnd finally, this benediction from the Finn Brothers. Go in peace. God help us all.
trade in all the pain and suffering?
Ah! But then you'd miss the beauty
of the light upon this earth
and the sweetness of the leaving Calling all angels . . .
Walk me through this world.
Don't leave me alone . . .
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
At times words can be a dangerous addition to music--they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about what the words say, literally, and nothing more. If done poorly, they can destroy the pleasant ambiguity that constitutes much of the reason we love music. That ambiguity allows listeners to psychologically tailor a song to suit their needs, sensibilities, and situations, but words can limit that, too. There are plenty of beautiful pieces of music that I can't listen to because they've been "ruined" by bad words--my own and others. In Beyonce's song "Irreplaceable," she rhymes "minute" with "minute," and I cringe every time I hear it (partly because by that point I'm singing along). On my own song "Astronaut," I wrap up with the line "feel like I'm an astronaut," which seems like the dumbest metaphor for alienation ever. Ugh.I can actually imagine David Byrne singing that Beyonce song, actually. In case you don't know it, it goes a little something like this:
To the left, to the left . . .Whereas Beyonce sounds strong and defiant, as is typical of her, David Byrne's version sounds much more plaintive in my head. Beyonce keeps her head up, but Byrne's head is decidedly down. I was surprised by how candidly Byrne throws Beyonce under the bus in this passage, but in his defense, he does sing along. Not to mention that rhyming a word with the same word is a pet peeve of mine as well. I once got so vocal about it that a friend wrote a poem to mock me for it. Each line ended with the word me, which was extraordinarily funny. The only line I remember, however, is this:
Everything you own in a box to the left . . .
Don't you ever for a minute get to thinking you're irreplaceable.
Loathing--such loathing!--for me and my clothing.That, my friends, is a great little lyric. I daresay that my friend was engaged in emergent storytelling twenty years before David Byrne wrote a book about it.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Friday, December 14, 2012
- "O Holy Night," by Tracy Chapman. A song that's far too often overblown (see this for an example) is made especially poignant and pensive by a reliable folkie.
- "We're Following the Wrong Star," by Billy Bragg and Ben Sollee. I can never seem to get enough of Billy Bragg, and the fact that he even has a Christmas song fills me with Christmas cheer.
- "Gabriel's Message," by Sting. Sting recorded this song for the Very Special Christmas project years ago; the version on his more recent holiday album isn't as good, but it's still good.
- "St. Stephen's Day Murders," by Elvis Costello with the Chieftains. Leave it to Elvis to sing about murder for a holiday album.
- "Angels We Have Heard on High," by Crystal Lewis. This contemporary Christian musician turned jazzy for her Christmas album, and this one is the best tracks among a number of greats. "Slow down, fellas," she jokes during the band's jam. "What's your hurry?"
- "God's Own Son," by Nicole C. Mullen. I want to write a Christmas play just so I can choreograph this song. Funky tuba--what else needs to be said?
- "I Saw Three Ships," by Bruce Cockburn. I've actually only ever heard this once, and I've never found it since. But it's awesome.
- "Go Tell It on the Mountain," by Margaret Becker and Jennifer Knapp. I've always liked these two singers, and here they sound defiant and strong, singing a song that often sounds campy and quaint.
- "I Don't Need No Santa Clause," by Fiction Family. Another great pairing--Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek--this is snappy and jangly.
- "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," by Paul Simon. This isn't on a Christmas album, but it's incredibly catchy. Samples from a gospel preacher just add to the fun.
- Shawn Colvin, Holiday Songs and Lullabies. I'd listen to this all year round if it didn't make me self-conscious. Best tracks are "Love Came Down at Christmas" and "Little Road to Bethlehem."
- Jars of Clay, Christmas Songs. I like Jars a lot; we've seen them in concert several times. They interpret songs in really interesting ways. Best tracks are "Winter Skin," "Wonderful Christmastime" and "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
- The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Boogie Woogie Christmas. Seriously, who's cooler than Brian Setzer? Best tracks are "Blue Christmas," "Sleigh Ride," "The Nutcracker Suite" and "The Amens."
- The Blind Boys of Alabama, Go Tell It on the Mountain. The singing group collaborates with an eclectic bunch of singers. Best tracks are "Last Month of the Year," ""Born in Bethlehem" (with Mavis Staples) and "I Pray on Christmas" (with Solomon Burke).
- Oh Starling! Joy. This is probably hard to find, since it was produced as a fundraiser a couple of years ago for Scum of the Earth Church in Denver. But it's cool. Look for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
- Bing Crosby, The Voice of Christmas. C'mon. It's Bing. "Mele Kalikimaka" is wildly entertaining, and "Adeste Fideles" is old-school brilliant.
- The Fab Four, A Fab Four Christmas. Christmas songs arranged to sound like Beatles songs. "Away in a Manger" sounds just like "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." This will probably eventually get old, but it hasn't yet.
- Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas. Every year for five years, Sufjan and friends put out an EP of Christmas-themed music. Then they boxed it. I lost volume 2 somewhere along the way, which is bitterly disappointing, since it includes "Once in Royal David's City." But "We're Goin' to the Country" and "Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming" are great, as is everything else.
- She & Him, A Very She & Him Christmas. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward run Christmas hits through their ethereal 50s pop-chanteuse filter for some great tracks. Best singles are "Little St. Nick." and their gender-bending "Baby It's Cold Outside."
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
"It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)," by R.E.M. An obvious choice. I performed this once, and my audience was wildly impressed with me.
"The Afterlife," by Paul Simon. This is on his most recent album. Pretty dang catchy.
"Airline to Heaven," by Wilco (with Billy Bragg). I play this track off of Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2 as I drive away from every funeral.
"All That You Have Is Your Soul," by Tracy Chapman. Possibly my favorite of her songs--possibly the last thing I ever want to hear.
"All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands," by Sufjan Stevens. Winsome and melancholy--not a bad way to put a world to bed.
"Bad," by U2. Why not, really?
"Break It Down Again," by Tears For Fears. "Fast off to heaven, just like Moses on a motorbike."
"Bring On the Night," by the Police. "Time to kiss yesterday goodbye."
"Consider Me Gone," by Sting. A little jazz won't prevent an apocalypse, but it'll make it a little more snappy.
"Could Be a Lot Worse," by the Vigilantes of Love. All things considered, it probably could be.
"Dance Me to the End of Love," by Leonard Cohen. Or you could just listen to only Leonard Cohen.
"Dirt to Mud," by Paul Westerberg. This song ends mid-thought, which is probably how everything ends, come to think of it.
"Dog Days Are Over," by Florence + the Machine. I like it because it's accurate.
"Don't Dream It's Over," by Crowded House. I might pick the live one for this, because if it's over, it'd be nice if we all went out singing together.
"...Dust," by Elvis Costello. Nihilistic, atheistic. Given the circumstance, appropriatistic.
"The End," by the Beatles. Everyone wants the last word, but the Beatles might actually get it with this song.
"Final Hour," by Lauryn Hill. "Keep your eyes on the final hour." Not bad advice, actually.
"Glad Tidings," by Van Morrison. If you want a happy ending for the end of the world, this will make you smile as you fade away.
"Gone," by Ben Folds. If the end of the world were a break-up, this would make for a good break-up song.
"In My Life," by the Beatles. If the world is ending, everyone should look back at least once.
"Last One Standing," by Neil Finn. "Show what you're made of; surprise us both."
"Let It Be," by the Beatles. In the end, this one will beat out "Hey Jude" as the closer.
"Love This Life," by Crowded House. "Don't wait till the next one comes."
"The Luckiest," by Ben Folds. Hold someone close and tell them you're glad they existed.
"My Year in Review," by Bill Mallonee. Pensive, which I expect to be at the end of the end.
"O Come O Come Emmanuel," by the Civil Wars. It is Advent, after all.
"Out of Time," by Sam Phillips. A little dated, but hey, aren't we all?
"Redemption Song," by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Won't you sing with me?
"Sigh No More," by Mumford & Sons. Not a bad way of reframing an apocalypse.
"Sing Their Souls Back Home," by Billy Bragg. I want Billy Bragg in my last mix ever. You can't stop me.
"That I Would Be Good," by Alanis Morissette. One last prayer before we hit the road.
"True Love Will Find You in the End," by Mates of State. So say we all.
"Wanderlust," by Paul McCartney. "O, where did I go wrong, my love?"
"Wild Mountain Thyme," by Lucy Wainwright Roche. "Will you go, laddie? Go, and we'll all go together."
"I'm Gonna DJ (at the End of the World)," by R.E.M. These guys know how to jam when everything comes crashing down. This might be the first song of the rest of my life.
OK, that's my list. What's yours?
Friday, December 07, 2012
She's also one of the good writers. I've enjoyed her books, recommending many to friends and endorsing at least one of them. And now she has a new book coming, with an accompanying seven-session DVD Bible study.
Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God releases Christmas Day. I haven't read it yet, but Margaret has shared some key cuts from it, some of which are below. As is typical of Margaret's books, Wonderstruck is warm and personal, an invitation for you to "toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life." She tells me that readers of Wonderstruck have been observed to suffer the following side-effects:
-An inability to stop smiling -An uncontainable desire to pray -A loss of interest in judging others -A quiet, unshakable confidence in God -A renewed ability to see the wonders of God all around
Those are all good things, things that wouldn't kill me, for one--only make me stronger.
Anyway, here are a couple of bits from the book, which I'm sure will read like a breeze. And if you're in a small group, I suspect you'll like the video guide as well; Margaret is infinitely charming and enthusiastic, and that comes across both live and on screen. So if you're looking for a new read in the new year, or some excuse to never stop smiling, tack this one on to your Christmas wish list.
“The wondrous calling of God on our lives is to become conduits of a holy replenishment. As children of God, we’re meant to live on high alert, watching for the possibility of divine restoration in the lives of those around us. We’re called to look where no signs of life are found, where others dismiss its possibility. And we’re invited to speak life—words of encouragement, hope, and peace that embody the goodness of God—whenever possible.”
"Breathing life begins with the simplest of actions. See someone. Really see. As you reach out and interact, offer your full attention to whoever is in front of you. Listen to someone. Really listen. Give someone the gift of your presence—your fully present, undivided attention. Pray for someone. Really pray. Though it may feel awkward in the moment, ask if you can offer a prayer, and bless the person with kindness. Give to someone. Really give of yourself. Find an unexpected way to help someone whose needs remain unmet. Radiate the generosity of Christ."
For more information on Wonderstruck, visit Margaret's website.