Song Assassins, 2008

The following are my "song assassins" of 2008. I don't claim that these are great songs.

Most of them are not even new.

What these do represent are tunes that just "killed" me. They made me stop what I was doing, and just listen. They made me go find the CD in my collection and play it, repeatedly, for a few days straight. They inspired me, spurred me on to (ideally) better art.

They made me believe.

As the 2008 went on, I jotted these down as they revealed themselves. Here they are:

February - Always in Love (Wilco)
February - For All the Right Reasons (Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music)
March - Stolen Car (Bruce Springsteen, The River)
April - Midnight Man (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!)
April - In the Morning (Norah Jones)
May - Dixie Chicken (Little Feat, Dixie Chicken)
June - La Cienega Just Smiled (Ryan Adams, Gold)
July - Mercy (Duffy, Rockferry)
August - The Sun Also Sets (Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger)
August - The Step and The Walk (The Duke Spirit)
October - Two Silver Trees (Calexico, Carried to Dust)

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A great paragraph...

From this book

"Later... I start to dream about all the people in the world who live bad lives -- all the drug dealers and arms manufacturers and corrupt politicians, and all the cynical bastards everywhere -- getting touched by GoodNews and changing... The dream scares me. Because I need these people -- they serve as my compass. Due south there are saints and nurses and teachers in inner-city schools; due north there are managing directors of tobacco companies and angry local newspaper columnists. Please don't take my due north away, because then I will be adrift, lost in a land where the things I have done and the things I haven't done really mean something."

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What's Happened to Wonder?

I can tell you...

Wonder has been mistaken for glam, for ever-increasing budgets and light shows.

The wonder of the smallness of life has been subsumed with the 50 inch plasmas, hyper-reality, and multi-tasking screen culture.

The wonder of peace and silence; the pregnant God-reality of a moment has been washed away by overly triumphant, ticketed celebrations and a parade of charades.

... I think that's what happened to wonder.

We killed it.

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Going Back to Babylon

100 miles from Babylon, i felt the tremble of the earth
my shoulders began to shudder, and my cough started to get worse

the earth had lost its center, i heard the voices in my head
but everything sounded different, and nothing made any sense

la la la la la la hey

we raised our bricks and mortar, built a superhighway to the sky
said, “to hell with the infidels”, turned our backs and waved goodbye

turned up the music on our stereos, feasted in the middle of the storm
thought we’d stay so happy and contented, i’m not so sure anymore

Take me back … goin back to babylon

hang all of the martyrs, hang all of the dead
hang the one’s who misunderstood and chose to sleep in instead

hang the poor and stinking, the sick and the blind
break me off a turkey leg, and pass me that bottle of wine …

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Adventures in incredulity, v1.0

A few months back, a leader in our faith community got up and made this cool announcement about how iTunes had lent its support to one of our CDs and we had made the charts there.

A few days later, he received an e-mail from someone who had attended the church that day, expressing their “disappointment” that he was endorsing a band that was not explicitly Christian.

Come again?

This is nothing new, believe me. I’ve heard rumors of it, but being on the direct end of it is something differently entirely. You want to scream, shake their shoulders, sit down with them, reason, but in the end all you can do is silently shake your head and keep on doing what you’re doing.

Frankly, it also hurt. I don’t quite know when faith became something you lived out and struggled with only on Sunday mornings, but it’s obviously shifted. I don’t know what this person expected to find when they listened to Maida Vale’s music: “Jesus is a friend of mine?” (either you know, or you don’t)

Somehow the expression of full-humanity, of longing and fulfillment, of love and rejection, of sin and redemption failed to connect with her. If we have to turn our backs on being fully human in order to be a Christian band, then perhaps we don’t want to be a Christian band.

Maybe we weren’t ever a “Christian band”.

But maybe if struggle, transcendence, fun, desire, and doubt can be part of faith, then, well, we’ll let you put two and two together.

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Fading Man (poem)

The city is desperate, fueled
By the filial dreams
Of a thousand youths.

Such audacity --

But what emerges,
Churns in the belly
Of the fading man



Outside, autumn begins its cool whispers of peace and decay. Inside, Emmylou Harris rises gently above the quiet murmur of the shop. She echoes a sound from fifty years ago, splices of it mixed into the interludes of the music. The music is achy with longing; white soul for those who acknowledge neither concept.

The acoustic guitars thump and sing, fat and gray in the company of angelic harmonies and archetypal melodies. We all know this music. It is written in the celtic, anglo-saxon souls of Caucasians. We have strayed and betrayed ourselves, attempting to leverage ourselves into the gladiatorial arenas of hip-hop and "modern" music, but we need to face it.

We are mountain people. Even the most mixed breed of us is stuck with the pipes and the drums from the highlands, pounding wild and distant in our hearts. The grouse and heather cling to our thighs as we run, as we flail to flee our past.

Emmylou, and artists like her bring those pasts back to confront our empty, unanchored eyes. We have drifted, for we have forgotten who we are, and when you can’t remember who you are, it’s even more difficult to latch on to who you’d like to be. It recedes in the distance, fleeing your reaching, outstretched hand.

Emmylou touches the soul in our stomachs. She reminds of us the essentials of life, that we—like her songs—are uncategorized, brilliant as a flower, and luminous in our mortality. We cultivate beautiful deaths so that our stories can be told in their aching, seductive beauty.

She has soul. She has country. She has modern rock and roll. She has gospel. It is not “country” music, it is human music. She is a psalmist.

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