Saturday, October 2, 2010

Andrew Peterson and his unSad music

I began listening to Andrew Peterson at a time of critical change in my life. I didn't know who he was at the time but I remember being moved by his "nothing to say" when it was played on KSBJ in the spring of 2001. I remember telling him how "worshipful" it was when I met him, because I didn't know the right words for it. But to me it was deeper than other worship songs. More grounded and real and human and humble. Anyways, that summer I served as an intern at a C&MA "Life" conference and was chosen to help him with whatever he needed. Our leader was pretty useless and told us to "pamper" our musicians, which left me with no idea of what we should really be doing. I remember his van pulling up and him coming out after what I think was a stressful ordeal of figuring out where to go and when and the only real help I could offer was to carry a guitar and tell him where some room was and get some water. I'm afraid I wasn't much help, but for me it was a cool chance to meet him and his family and Gabe and to share some meals with them and the kids. Seeing them sing together was so awesome, and it was a new musical experience for me because prior to this every band I had been into had a heavy emphasis on electric guitar. Since then I haven't stopped listening to his music, and it has even eclipsed the rest of my musical interests, which were at the time Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay, MercyMe, Third Day, etc... and before that I was really in to all kinds of 90's rock: STP, Silverchair, Offspring, Toadies, Nirvana, Metallica, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, etc...

Recently I have realized more fully why Andrew Peterson's music resonates so profoundly in my soul. I've always known that it had something to do with the honesty, humility, depth and earthiness, but it's more than that. It has to do with the need my heart has to confront sadness. Since I was a child (like many people) I have battled with a lack of happiness and hope. I remember some sad times, but more than that I remember times of fleeting happiness. By that I mean that I remember experiencing happiness and hope slipping away. It's possible that I suppressed some big sad things, like my parents fighting, but I clearly remember how life seemed broken in general. Like how I regretted not being a better friend to my brother and how my mom would come home from work to see the house trashed every day, and it was getting harder and harder to get good grades. Being poor and a bit of a dork didn't help either, at least as soon as I realized it wasn't socially commendable to be a dork. I remember being sad that my friends Eric and Johnny moved away. Then we moved to San Angelo, away from the only life and home I had ever known. It was like everything happy was coming untrue. I remember dwelling on some happier things from former happier times, like Legos pirate ships and fishing and drawing things like eagles and snakes and adventures and caves and bats but the happiness and hope was gone from those things and I was just trying to get it back. I lived with this sadness for years. When I look at childhood pictures I can see it in my young face.

By 2001 I was over being sad. I had never really been into it anyway. But I was done fighting with it; I thoroughly knew that life was sad and I was just doing what I could to do the best with the life I had. I was also getting to know Jesus in a real way for the first time. In the 2000s there were a few times when I realized that life just couldn't be happy in ways that I had always hoped for. That I would inevitably have less and less time for some people that I loved like cousins and friends, and that some relationships would become more and more distant, though I always hoped for the opposite. I think this is part of what is called Weltschmertz. I had been forced to acknowledge the sad realities of life, or at least some of them. Trying to pretend that they didn't exist was even sadder than living with them.

This is why Andrew's music moves me. When most of the music out there tries to pretend that our reality isn't sad, his music deals with sadness squarely, but kicks despair in the teeth. By expressing painful emotions in the lyrics and music (ex: lyrics from "the silence of God" and the piano in "Venus") he earns my trust which opens me up to hear what he has to say because he doesn't deny the sad reality in which we live. Reality may be hard, but I want to hear something real and true, not a happy lie. These parts of his music destroy the power of sadness, hopelessness and despair by owning it. They turn sadness into beauty just as Fin Button does with her fiddle in "The Fiddler's Gun". In another way, it's like how Neo destroys his enemy by going inside of him and obliterating him from within on the Matrix.

I'm not saying that Andrew Peterson is the author of unSadness; he is simply a sharp tool in the hand of God. It is the power of God that does this. It's the power that raised Jesus from the dead and that gives new life to our dead souls. After the world had struggled with sin and death for so long, and was found to be hopelessly helpless against its power, how did Jesus destroy it? By
becoming sin and death, but because He's God, he had power over it and he overcame it forever. But it was through death that the new life came. He didn't just make the reality of sin and death go away, he dealt with it and owned it and conquered it. This is how Andrew's music deals with sadness.

So for someone who has fought with sadness for too long and has had to meet it face to face, Andrew Peterson's work is just the right medicine to experience the victory of Jesus over it. To me this explains why his music makes some people sad, because though they have sadness, they try to deny it. They haven't honestly acknowledged the sad reality of life and are still trying to pretend hope into existence instead of finding it through the power of the God. This is why music that pretends is so popular and music that owns sadness in a right way is so often under-appreciated. Real joy (as opposed to untrue happiness sought through denial) is found through death and resurrection. Dying to the old reality and being born anew into a new one that can never be taken away because it is founded on the immovable life and power of Jesus.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ok, why am I attempting to start this blog? I can't keep up with my Myspaces, Facebook, Skype, many emails, and my websites, (can you believe I don't Tweet yet?) so why am I adding to the list? Most of those go completely ignored for months at a time. The purpose of this blog is to hopefully combine some of these things. My website, may get deleted soon, since it started out free and I have not been willing to pay a dime for it. Plus I shut down the cafe and haven't had much need for a website anyways, since only a handful of people have been actually using it. I'm hoping this blogspot thing can be used as a central place to share all my passions with people.

I've been thinking recently that I might qualify as a renaissance man - at least in training. I don't know of anyone else, except for my uncle Paul, who could be called that. A renaissance man is someone who is proficient in many areas and has a mastery of at least one skill. He is expected to be well educated in theology, language, music and various sciences and crafts. I'm not much of a scientist, or even much of a professional these days, but here are my current passions and skills.

I'm a family man first. My family priorities are as follows: I'm a child of God. and a brother to the rest of his children. I'm a husband to the most amazing woman in the world and a father to the most perfect kid you could ask for. Most people would completely reverse the order here, but I'm not most people.

As a child of God, and one who is thankful for it, you could say I'm into theology, though maybe not in the most stereotypical way. I have been to Bible College, and I do believe in the Bible, but I'm not into arguing theology. If the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it. Knowing what the Bible says is very important to me. Often, we trust what religious people tell us, and unfortunately people conform to the religiosocial cookiecutter mold common in modern day America (especially the Bible-belt!). Here's what I think it wrong with that mold: So many people focus on living a religiously acceptable life, and think that if they are good, they can be accepted into heaven. Those that realize that Christ has already paid their way feel like they need to pay him back, and sadly still live their lives under the burden of religious obligation. But I think that He redeemed us that we can live for Him in FREEDOM, that we would be freed from the heavy bondage of religion, that instead of being bound to religious law, we would be free to live out the Law of Love through his grace. The Law of Love means if you always do what is the most loving thing to God and people, you will do what is acceptable in His sight. You don't need to fulfill a list of do's and don'ts. This is real Christianity, though most people don't know it.

I have always been into music. I think I was actually a bit of a late-bloomer when it came to developing my own taste for music. My parents listened to stuff like Stevie Wonder and Simon and Garfunkel, which i still enjoy, and the first thing i remember getting on my own was a Depeche Mode tape "Enjoy the Silence Maxi-single", and I liked stuff from Huey Lewis and the News and Journey and especially Paul Simon's Graceland. But when I was in junior high, my brother and i got into Orchistra. He played stand up bass and I played Cello. After that I started a band with some friends. It was pretty lame. I was the drummer. I got a drum kit for $400. It was a rip off looking back, because it was a cheap, literally no-name set from Japan that was pretty old, and only included a kick, small low-tom, one tom-tom, a cheap wood snare, and a cheap paiste hi-hat set. I was having trouble doing real beats with 4 limbs, and the other guys were getting nowhere. I learned some songs on their instruments, and found it easier than the drums so I bought the guitarist's guitar and amp after a few months and eventually got a bass and an acoustic guitar. I started playing stuff like Silverchair, The Offspring, Greenday, Rancid, Bush, Counting Crows, STP, Atticus Finch, The Toadies, Weezer, most stuff on the Crow soundtrack, even some White Zombie. Then I started playing in church. When I first started playing in youthgroup, I was playing electric. I hadn't played much without distortion yet, but I adjusted and actually learned some real chords. (outside of powerchords, I could only play real chords in the key of G before this) I was thinking, "maybe we could learn some music that really sounds good like the Offspring, and put in Christian lyrics instead. Thankfully that never happened. I really got into worship music. I realized I could use music for God instead of fun and trying to be cool. I got into Audio Adrenaline and eventually Jars of Clay and MercyMe and other stuff like Third Day and Newsboys. Audio Adrenaline what THE band of my formative early Christian years though. I think because they knew grace and had joy and weren't stuffy and religious feeling. It was a little bit lame compared to real rock, but still much better than anything else I could find that was Christian. And they got to me personally. I felt like I understood them as a band, and somewhat as people. Their song, Good Life, came to define where I felt like my life was heading and I had so much joy in it. I knew my life should serve an eternal purpose, and I dreamed of being some kind of musical missionary like the guys of Audio Adrenaline. Anyways, eventually I started getting into more serious stuff like Jars of Clay. I was already into their pop album, but they started doing wierd stuff. With accordions and banjos and mandolins and lots of contemplative acoustic stuff. That really influenced the direction of my musical taste. They started doing stuff with lots of 1970's blues/rock electric guitar too. That was very influential. They're probably the reason I still play electric guitar today. The 90's rock electric guitar stuff became empty feeling after a few years. But the blues, that really stuck with me. I don't know much jazz method, but you don't need it much for blues or blues rock. I'd say that's where I'm still at with guitar, maybe somewhere between there and U2. I could still do all the distorted rock stuff if I wanted, but I'd rather let the tube amp sing, or play acoustic. Anyways, in church through the years (and I've done it more than half my life) I've gone from instrument to instrument, however I could best serve. I played drums for several years, probably more than any other instrument, but they're all pretty close. I wasn't very comfortable singing much until I got married. Don't know why. I don't sing to Michele much at all. But i have always sung loud in the car. I was in choir for a year, and hated it. I think I'm a pretty good singer though, at least Michele thinks so. I can play a couple of songs on mandolin and ukulele, mostly stuff I just made up. Oh yeah, i just remembered I played the recorder in elementary! In college, I studied a little bit of musical theory, electronic music and some audio-engineering courses. Much of that was second nature and seemed very easy because I had dealt with the sound board a lot in church, and I'm pretty natural with that kind of gear anyway. The hardest thing was the piano class and the live performance class. Keys were hard for me to get used to. since then I've forgotten whatever scales I learned, and can only play one real song on the piano. Last but definitely not least for music is Andrew Peterson. I think I can commit to naming him my favorite musician for the rest of my life. His music has had more influence on me than almost anything. I guess my the Bible and my wife are the only 2 things. I could go on about music forever, so I'll let other stuff like Jazz and my cousin Scott wait for later.

Food is so important to me. When I was a kid I liked to consume large amounts of skittles and nerds. This is not what I'm talking about. Since the end of my teen years, I've been gradually becoming a cook. I think my culinary career began when I microwaved an egg when I was 5. I opened it, scrambled the contents in a bowl and microwaved it until it looked done and put cheese on it (i have a very vivid memory of this for some reason). I started making easy stuff like hot sandwiches and spaghetti and fried eggs and ham, but very early, like age 13, I got into coffee. I got a $25 espresso machine and soon learned to roast from my uncle Paul and have been doing it more and more ever since. I worked as a Barista and Coffee Roaster at a few different places and even started my own company.
To me, food fits within a kind of Christian Aestheticism. Beauty was given to us by God, and we aught to appreciate it and enjoy it to his glory and pleasure. When I give something to my son, I know I want him to enjoy it as much as possible, not being greedy or selfish with it, but enjoying it and being thankful that his dad cares for him and gives him good things. Get it? This goes for not just enjoying things, but creating things too. To me, creating things of value, especially things you can put in your mouth, is like a form of worship. God made us creative, and we ought to highly value that. There's a huge difference between gobbling stuff greedily like a dog and engaging your mind when you enjoy something, assessing it's complexity of flavor and maybe thinking of ways to improve it. To me, flavor is as complex as language. It's actually much harder to speak the language of food, because it's not so easily organized by rules.

I would get into how I love to make other things, like customizing speaker cabinets and amps and instruments and how I enjoy digital design and recording music on the computer, and how have studied and speak German, all compelling evidence of me being a Renaissance Man in training, but it's nearly 2, so I'm going to bed. nighty night.