Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


June 3, 2016

This is a great little article that examines the results of a rather informal survey of the songs people play at their wedding receptions.  The author’s theory to explain the distribution of music by style and age – and which makes sense to me – is that the various generations present at a wedding – the couple, their parents and grandparents – each have at least a few songs that represent music popular in their late teens or early 20’s, with the remainder of the set list made up of current hits.  Music that is popular today and high on play lists today may fall off for some time, only to reappear in 20-30 years on play lists as the children of the couples getting married today start getting married.

What music did you have to have at your wedding?  What music was forbidden?  What sort of overlap do you see with the data in this article?  And yes, you certainly can justify including ABBA at your wedding reception.


Time Sink II

March 11, 2016

Sermon preparation almost demands interruption.  This time, instead of album cover locations, it’s a site dedicated to the premise that almost any movie could end with Dire Strait’s Walk of Life.  Now, I enjoyed this song  a great deal when it first came out, but it’s hardly what I’d call Dire Strait’s best song.  But I gotta admit it’s a humorous concept, and you may enjoy reliving the final two minutes or so of some of your favorite movies.  With a musical change.

Time Sink

March 10, 2016

If you’re looking for a way to waste some time, this little site is great.  The site owner spends time trying to locate famous film and album cover locations in New York City.  The selection is quite limited, but some of them are pretty interesting.  I particularly enjoyed his search for a Billy Joel album back-side photo (The Stranger) that was also a scene in the movie Leon: The Professional from a few years back.

Who Is Worshiped?

December 5, 2015

I became aware of Lindsey Stirling this week when I read about her lucrative YouTube success story.  I sampled one of her popular videos and certainly she has talent as well as some very gifted partners in video production.  So when someone on Facebook shared her playing “What Child Is This?” (one of my favorite Christmas hymns) I began watching it.

Immediately, I found myself distracted.  Her expressions in the video are appropriate to someone in the act of worship.  It’s clear that she is worshiping, but I wondered who she was worshiping.  If she is Christian, than her enthusiasm and joy are appropriate as worshipful responses to the baby in the song, the Son of God incarnate.  But if she’s not a Christian, then she’s basically glorying in her own performance, worshiping herself.

Thanks to the Wikipedia link above, I was able to confirm that she is a Mormon.  And while I don’t think that Mormon theology is Christian, it helps me to know that she very likely is worshiping the baby in the song rather than her own talents.  That makes all the difference to me as I watch/listen to her.


Defending Miley

August 16, 2015

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Miley Cyrus.  The famous former Disney star has blazed her own path in the few short years since aging out of Disney’s star-making machine.  The carefully cultivated girl-next-door image necessary for maximum marketing purposes has been replaced with a considerably non-family-friendly persona.

So it is more than tempting to dismiss Cyrus’ claims that her early fame messed her up mentally.  But – perhaps for the first and only time – I empathize with Cyrus, and suspect that her claims are closer to reality than even she suspects.  For a young child to be subjected to that sort of pressure to look and act a particular way – I can’t imagine what that must be like.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I sorta can.

Like most Americans I went through public school most of my life.  I walked the hallways of a junior high school and high school where there was enormous pressure to fit in, to find your niche and then to stay in it.  While there were some people who successfully remade themselves midstream, it was an exception rather than the rule. Often those changes were in rebellion to other roles, more of a rejection of being a jock or a preppie.  But regardless of how you got there,  roles were expected to be as clearly defined as cultural touchstones like The Breakfast Club showed them to be, even as it tried to deconstruct those roles.  Cyrus’ struggle is not unique, but is amplified and exaggerated by her very public presence.  I suspect she echoes the dissatisfaction and rage that some young people experience as they recognize how relentlessly they are bought and sold.  A whole new generation continues to discover for itself what it means to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

The tragedy is not the rebellion itself, nor even the marketing frenzy that tries to hammer us into roles that can be accessorized by consumer consumption.  These are hallmarks of being human.  We all seek identity and purpose and meaning.  We all struggle for a measure of autonomy as well as cohesion in a larger social setting, whether our immediate family or our larger culture.  We all have tendencies to exploit others and in turn to be exploited.

The tragedy lies in not having a better alternative than selling out on your own terms.  The tragedy lies in not having a better alternative than shock and awe in a way that demeans yourself and those who idolize you.  There is an alternative to having your identity pre-packaged for you by commercials or a television contract.  There is an alternative to self-destruction and embracing the extremes of the human condition in flight from commodification.

That alternative comes in acknowledging our core identity as creatures, not accidents.  To recognize that we are loved not because of what we wear or say but simply because we are.  To recognize that just our bare existence speaks to a love that pre-existed us, that knew us and crafted us for something beyond being bought and sold.  The alternative comes in the increasingly radical assertion that not only am I not yours to be exploited, I am not even my own.  Seeking out a healthy identity in that context becomes truly possible.  Still not easy, perhaps, but possible.

So I empathize with Miley.  I applaud her for being willing to call the exploitation what it is.  It’s a reminder to parents that they are responsible for protecting their child and equipping them to protect themselves.  I can’t imagine how complicated that must be in the entertainment industry.  I hope Cyrus will find herself in an active role as a proponent and defender of other young people still in a marketing pipeline (whether Disney’s or another).  But she has at least reminded me that life and youth and celebrity are very complicated things individually and together.  I hope she can blaze a path suitable not just for herself, but for others to follow, and ultimately an identity bound up in the God who created her and sacrificed himself for her.

Live Aid

July 13, 2015

Hard to believe it has been 30 years since the first Live Aid.  I remember watching parts of this on TV in my room as a teenager, excited by the possibilities and confluences of music and art and charity.  Thirty years later, and I don’t know how much money was raised, or who it went to, or whether it made an actual difference in the lives of the ordinary people that were starving to death at the time.  I pray that some of the $150 million the article mentions did make a lasting impact, though the news over the past three decades doesn’t paint a promising picture.  Still poverty.  Still hunger.  Still a lack of infrastructure and development in many places.

We seemed on the brink of exciting things 30 years ago, just as 20 years earlier another generation had thought the same thing.  Now, I wonder how much capacity for excitement and wonder and hope there is in our country’s young people.  I wonder if something has captured their imagination the way mine was.  I hope so.  And I hope that it makes a real difference to real people in the world.

Marriage and Sex

January 29, 2014

Bet that title caught your attention?

Thanks to J.P. for sending me this essay referring to Sunday’s Grammy Awards and the performance of Mr. & Mrs. Carter – aka Jay Z and Beyonce.  The author’s premise is that the married couple gave a smoldering and powerful testimony to the sexiness of marriage.  The author writes from a Christian vantage point on the issue, arguing that Christians should be happy about the performance and the message that it sends about how sexy marriage can be, drawing comparisons with the song/performance and the Biblical Song of Solomon.  
But this isn’t how fans are going to hear or see this song.
Nothing in the song or the performance is specific to marriage.  It’s about passion all right, but our culture teaches that passion can be found anywhere you want, with anyone you want.     And when the passion is gone, move on.  Nothing in this song contradicts that.  The song could be sung or grooved to by anyone, in any situation.  It’s rather coincidental that the performers are married.  
Coincidental because smoldering and powerful songs about sensuality and sexuality have defined the careers of both these people, and not just after they were married.  While there are undoubtedly far more qualified people to analyze the collective works of Jay Z and Beyonce to see if there is a shift in their music, philosophy, or theology regarding sexuality, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that there isn’t any shift.  Therefore we shouldn’t read this song and performance as an ode to Biblical marriage.    
Christians are desperate to find affirmation of our beliefs and values in someone popular and hip.  It’s tempting to try and claim the reigning king and queen of hip and sexy for our own, but this is dangerous and myopic.  We need to be careful to identify momentary overlaps in expressions as just that and not necessarily anything more.  I wish Mr. & Mrs. Carter a life-long and happy marriage.  But let’s not try to appropriate them as spokespersons for Biblical marriage.  At least not until we have some evidence that this is actually what they profess.  

Ooops Don’t Do It Again

November 4, 2013

What could possibly go wrong with this?  

Sweet Baby James

September 14, 2013

Having discovered James Taylor through my parent’s album collections, one of my first musical acquisitions when I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club (which apparently is no more!)was the most recent James Taylor cassette, That’s Why I’m Here.  One of the oddest songs on that album was the enigmatic Mona.

It’s a little less enigmatic after reading this little article.  I think I’m happy, all in all, that the song is not metaphorical in any sense.

Why Grow Up?

June 20, 2013

Scanning the radio dials I have to pass through a couple of pop music stations to get to either a modern rock or classic rock station.  I find myself pausing on the pop stations from time to time out of curiosity.  The latest single by Avril Lavigne has been getting a fair amount of air play, a song called Here’s To Never Growing Up (beware, the video contains a couple of offensive words as well as teen antics including jumping in the pool with clothes on and destroying the inside of a school).  

I enjoy listening to the Beach Boys, and when I was younger I thought that their song Wouldn’t It Be Nice (beware, this video also contains disturbing images of young people wearing their clothes in the pool) was romantic.  It talked about in a specific way the benefits that come with growing up, becoming an adult.  That song came to mind in juxtaposition to Lavigne’s song.  Of course Lavigne isn’t the first or last person to opine about the joy of youth and to insist that today’s crop of youth can somehow evade the changes that time and alleged maturity bring.  But the two songs do juxtapose the goals we set for our youth, and therefore the way that youth see themselves and their futures.
The Beach Boys sing about looking forward to getting older.  Getting older opens doors for them that are closed presently.  How often do you hear that these days?  At least publicly?  How often are people talking about the benefits of getting older or even, egads, the joys of married life?  Lavigne’s song is insulted by the notion that you will – let alone should – get older, but more importantly by the suggestion that growing older can give you anything better than what you have right now as a young person.  This has become the mantra of our culture.  
And perhaps it should be.   Why shouldn’t Lavigne insist that we need never grow up?  What does growing up promise youth these days?
Kids can have all the fun right now, sanctioned culturally if not legally.  Drink and do drugs – just be careful about it.  Have sex all you want – just be careful about it.  What is there to look forward to for young people today?  What will they get when they get older that they can’t have now?  More education (and student loan debt)?  Employment in a job or field that they are statistically unlikely to stay with?  For a company that feels free to downsize them out of their jobs at any point, or to revoke the promises made to them about benefits and health care and pensions whenever the numbers don’t add up?  
Youth has all of  the benefits of being an adult and none of the responsibilities.  All of the perks and none of the work.  Adulthood confers nothing more than work and bills and doldrums.  While this may not be an accurate portrayal, there aren’t many people who are willing or able to mount any sort of advocacy around adulthood.  
Hmmm.  Maybe there’s something to this whole youth thing after all.
But of course, there’s a lot of irony as well.  One of the most mocked subcultures today is hipsters, people obsessed with obsession, generally in terms of fashion.  The idea of attempting to be something that one really isn’t – in part because of age – is one that gets regularly ridiculed.  
When I watched the music video for Lavigne’s song, it struck me that she is aware of this irony, perhaps bitterly so.  She had huge, unprecedented success at the tender age of 17.  Her early work was channeling the angst and issues of youth.  
But that was 11 years ago.  She’s nearing 30.  She’s married.  Her life has changed.  She’s grown up.  Throughout most of the video she seems to be just going through the motions of rebellion.  She sings about it, but never participates in it.  She calls out through a megaphone but never picks up a bottle herself.  Youth rages in front of her and behind her and she is always alone, outside of it.  Beyond it.  
But her popularity is still in attempting to fit into the mold of her younger self – literally wearing the same thing she did in those videos 11 years ago.  It would be nice to see some of these musical child prodigies able to transition their music into topics and issues and concerns that appeal to more than just the 14-25 market demographic.  Maybe that’s not possible, commercially, though.  Maybe mega-artists are doomed to constantly be hipsters writing about issues they no longer have to deal with themselves.  Maybe there’s nothing to be done than write another song about Smokin’ in the Boys Room (and this is a Motley Crue video – proceed with appropriate caution) and wait for the royalties and tour revenue to come in.  
Maybe that’s what Lavigne is poking at in this video, if not the song itself.  But regardless, on the airwaves it’s just a catchy melody with a rebellious streak.  It will appeal to the demographic that fills the video – high schoolers – but not to anyone fortunate or unfortunate enough to have passed beyond whatever the magic cutoff age is, where you can no longer truly be considered young or a youth, regardless of what songs you like to sing or what your glasses look like.  
At a certain age, no matter your commitment and dedication to remaining forever young and never growing up, you become a poser.  Everyone else knows it, and the saddest situation is when the poser is the only one who doesn’t know they don’t fit, they don’t belong.  Maybe we wouldn’t feel the need to pose if we could articulate more clearly, and just as loudly, that there are benefits to being adult, and that some of those benefits ought to be off-limits to those still in the throes of youth precisely because they are the least able to see themselves older.  Maybe there needs to be more incentive and encouragement.    
Are you glad that you’ve grown up?  What are the benefits that age (or maturity – the two are not always mutually inclusive!) have brought you that you would encourage the young people in your life to hold out for?