Meaning something

Even though I grew up in the eighties, long after the advent of Psychedelia, Dylan, Abbey Road, etc., I think the expectation that pop songs had to mean something still hadn’t leached completely from the collective unconscious. I think it had been struck from the record, perhaps, but had yet to fade. It can take decades, centuries even, after the fact, for cultural beliefs to change, as David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions contends so well.

But listening to Slowmotions today, I wonder if the approximately two decades since Slanted & Enchanted haven’t taken a big bite out of that expectation. Is it gone? Are we completely comfortable with good sounding nonsense coming out of our earbuds?

suff jan

zena and i had the privilege of seeing sufjan stevens friday night on a little mini-tour he’s doing through the great lakes area and canada. as he put it during some between-song patter, “part of the reason i’m doing this tour is to try out some new songs,” which just made it all the better.

we heard four of ’em, to be exact — the neo-funky impossible soul, the poppy there’s too much love, the space-horror freakout age of adz, and a heavily reworked, epic, difficult all delighted people, which retained only the lyrics to the refrain (“all delighted people raise their hands”) from the original. majesty snowbird got an airing too, also slightly reworked (or re-arranged), making it clearer, less orchestral and slightly more accessible: in other words, better.

setlists from earlier in the tour indicated another new song, alien attack. i presume this was cut to make room for more songs from greetings from michigan: flint, the upper peninsula, detroit, and holland were all in evidence.

labelmates cryptacize opened with an antiseptic, emotionless, ultra-hip form of indie music, heavily indebted to 60’s french pop and the beach boys (they played an ironic cover of transcendental meditation and mentioned pointedly that they were from california). on one of their songs, cosmic sing-along, they sang a super-clear, a capella caesura: “sing along, sing along, sing along.” no one did. later in the concert, when sufjan played casimir pulaski day (about an ex-crush who died of cancer) you could feel the pathos in the room. his obvious emotional investment was so compelling, the room spontaneously joined him for the “da da da” melody that ends the song. cryptacize: fake cosmic singalong that wasn’t; sufjan: true cosmic singalong that was. it was amazing.

we wished we’d heard the transfiguration (which he’d been playing earlier on the tour), but it’s hard to complain with this guy. as zena said, “it was a dream.” as the culture declines, the lights — informed by the light — will seem even more brilliant. case in point.

medicated spending

yesterday, for various reasons, i was feeling pretty dismal. depressed, disconnected, dejected — i’d decided that nothing was figure-outable and i was worthless and life was pretty much uninteresting and uninterested. and my feelings were backing that conclusion up, cheering me on: “yeah, yeah, that’s right, isn’t it?” “luke, trust your feelings.” depression: it’s the new black.

feelings make harsh taskmasters. for one thing, they’re entirely internal, but they screen and filter all of your incoming perceptions. so although they have absolutely no bearing on the nature and make-up and temperament of the external world, you’re stuck perceiving the external world through them, and it can be hard to convince yourself, in the moment, that the external world isn’t exactly as you *feel* it is.

think about it, though: the world is what it is, regardless how you *feel* about it. so if you feel depressed, that doesn’t mean the world is any different than when you feel, say, ecstatic. and the logical conclusion is that you shouldn’t use your feelings to make determinations about objective things, like whether or not things are good or bad, or how valuable you are, etc.

anyway, my wife graciously took stock of my mood and suggested going out and spending some time alone with the bible, trying to force another screen for the world and counter my feelings. except the first coffeeshop was closed, and the second coffeeshop was packed to the gills and not the best place to get some solitude, and ultimately i found myself, dejected and desperate, at

the record store.

now, you know where i’m at with music. i’ve just recently started listening again, but carefully, and i haven’t bought an album in over a year, and i’m not sure i’m supposed to start now. plus we’re on a budget and i’d just told the kids we couldn’t get slurpees after church because we’re trying to watch what we spend, but i thought to myself, “maybe they’ll have that dead texan album, and maybe one more, that innocence mission album, and if they do i’ll just buy them and it’ll make me feel better.” i tried to rationalize it, like, “i’m listening to an old, pirated copy of the dead texan on itunes anyway, and if i buy it i’ll just be making an honest man of myself.” also, i’ve never seen the dead texan in the used bin before, ever, though i’ve looked, and so i didn’t expect to find it and that made my trip into the store harmless, right? i’d walk in, get disappointed, walk out and no one would get hurt.

wouldn’t you know it: they had both albums. $15, all told. and i’d promised myself, if they had them, i’d buy them. so i put it on the credit card and went out to the car and tried to read the psalms. and i read one or two, and looked at the two cds, and the cd inserts, and thought about how i’d tell zena i bought two albums, and what that said about my time and my state of mind. and i knew that record-store-shopping is classic coping behavior, for me, and here i am: depressed, and with two new cds that i can’t afford and don’t need and which are completely out of line with my whole spiritual milleau for the last year anyway. and i began to feel the prompting of the holy spirit to just: take them back. beg the store owner to let me return them. be done with this and be at peace again.

i did that. i told him i thought they’d give me peace, but then i had no peace, and anyway i bought them with money i don’t even have, and so if he could find it in his heart to take them back…? and this guy, he looked at me and said, “aha. medicated spending. yeah, i’ll take them back. if you want to practice what they call ‘fiscal responsibility,’ well, i guess i can dig that.” and i suppose it’s god’s grace that the owner of my local record store follows jesus, although he doesn’t make a big deal about it, except one time he let it slip in a conversation a few years ago. and small mercies go a long way toward slipping past the screen of your feelings. i didn’t feel better right away, but later i did.

anyway, that’s the story of yesterday. no moral, but pay attention. your feelings do not define reality.

that having been said…

here are the lyrics to ‘all creatures’ from the forthcoming josh garrels album, lost animals, which you can read while you listen to the preview track at josh’s site or myspace page:

all creatures of our god and king
lift up your voice and let us sing
o praise him, o praise him, alleluia

creation sent to me the centipede
to witness the complexity of 100 legs that were moving unexpectedly
ironically just as they were meant to be
they’re fearfully and wonderfully made

an organism praising, circadian rhythms
sun will rise and then the sun will set
and then the sun will rise again
so lift up your head, this is life
not a static object preserved and displayed
like a relic of the dead
you are not a fruitless tree with a rootless disease
growing in a bucket in a rich man’s home
next to the tv, tamed and alone
learning to lust for the things you don’t own
like an armchair warrior who’s been dethroned
declawed and fixed, fighting for your life
with unattended slit wrists

don’t let your name get intermingled with the number
cause it’s time to awaken from the devilish slumber
to freely follow the forerunner to the fatherland
and rally round the renaissance man
and the wisdom of his ways and all the work of his hands
catch come as catch can
concentrating on the good words of the son of man
the plan is to withstand
the demands of a confused oppressor
a wolf in sheep’s clothes with monotonous lectures
and questionable gestures, unequal measures,
cultural pressures and synthetic textures
forcefed instead of the most beautiful architecture
of our long lost forgotten origins
birds see fiber in the blood of my king (kin?)
and that old rock where we confessed our sins

o my god, fellow man, in this great land
they all cry out for full restoration
and this’ll take patience
and this’ll take the tribes and the tongues of all the nations
and all of creation groans in anticipation
waiting for the son of god to be manifest
i can feel it burning in my chest
the liberation for the oppressed

and it’s beautiful like the feet that bring good news
beautiful like this freedom tomb
beautiful like the power to choose to change
beautiful like the long awaited rain
beautiful like the healing pains
beautiful like the holy flames, coming down

all creatures of our god and king
lift up your voice and let us sing
o praise him, o praise him, alleluia

recent history

“i find this quite interesting. hundreds of tracks, dozens of djs, a number of clubs and events, in effect an entire subculture based on this one drum break; i mean, based on 6 seconds from 1969.”

take a few minutes (20, but it’s worth it) to unpack the world around a piece of your world that you didn’t even know was there. and, incidentally, get an excellent, well articulated primer on the thought behind the creative commons movement: the amen break. (via twirk ethic)