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.

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