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16 February 2005

The Soundtrack of My Life

Bad Christian has thrown down the gauntlet. He has a poignant post on his blog about the musical soundtrack of his life. Then he went and invited other people to do the same. Streak did. Now it’s my turn.

I’ve been listening to music all my life. I grew up in church after all. Hymns come with the territory. More important, though, is the way in which music winds its way through the map of my life. Music has always been in the background, making the journey all the more emotive and interesting. But it’s also been a main character.

Junior high and high school were standard stuff. I started with hip-hop, moved to top 40 and ended up at CCM. Like a lot of youth group kids, I decided that the best way to show my Christian witness was to give up “secular” music for “Christian” music. For a while I had the best of both worlds. If you can call any CCM best. But finally I got rid of all my “secular” CDs and started listening to DC Talk, Third Day, Jars of Clay and anything else that was “Christian.”

During my transition from high school to college, I started getting frustrated with Christianity. Well, not so much Christianity. But the church. I questioned all the assumptions I had, all the lies I had been taught growing up. It was around that time that I discovered a 60s/70s musician named Larry Norman. He shook my world. Over a musical tapestry of rock, folk, gospel and blues, Norman encouraged me to rethink this thing.

Norman was, and still is, loaded with contradictions. He openly criticized the CCM world. But, as one of the first Christians to lace rock music with lyrics about Jesus, he’s pretty much responsible for the genre. Yet the genre wanted nothing to do with him. In his songs, Norman openly denounced the war in Vietnam, the space program and racism. He sang about environmental issues and sexually transmitted diseases. And Jesus, too. His lyrics were clever and his music was actually, you know, good. In the 90s, he was still at it, leveling charges at the Pope for sitting on immense wealth, the Aryans for making Jesus white and the first Bush administration for invading Iraq for oil. The guy is still doing his thing today. He’s in poor health, but he’s a tremendous influence.

The other band that has radically changed my life is an independent band from Seattle called Pedro the Lion. I discovered them in college. Actually, at least back then, “them” was mostly a guy named David Bazan. Today T.W. Walsh is a permanent fixture, too. Anyway, Bazan’s stuff initially attracted me due to its sheer honesty. The music was simple and the vocals mumblish. But this was a guy crooning lines like “Then there’s your girlfriend/ She opens her legs and gives you life meaning/ Is that what you love her for?” and “Could someone please tell me the story of sinners ransomed from the fall?/ I still have never seen You and some days I don't love You at all.” Dissatisfied with himself, Christianity and the state of the arts, Bazan’s lyrical prowess and humble delivery hit me hard. Today Bazan’s songs are populated with cheating husbands, murderous wives, faithless priests and lonely alcoholics. Sad, beautiful and depressing as hell, this is what music should sound like.

Those are the two biggest musical influences on my life thus far. There are so many others. I love the abrasive hip-hop poetry of Sage Francis, the exploratory brooding of The Accident Experiment and the revolutionary mentality of Paris. I love the playful creativity of L.A. Symphony, the Sunday School on speed quirkiness of Half-Handed Cloud and the hallucinogenic soundscapes of Starflyer 59.

What about you? Who rocks your world?

Comments on "The Soundtrack of My Life"


Blogger jpe said ... (2/17/2005 12:26:00 PM) : 

I once drove 2.5 hours from nyc to the absolute boonies of PA to see SF59 play. When we got to the place, it turned out to be a christian youth center (they played next to a ping-pong table).

Funny you mention Pedro the Lion, cuz I actually talked a little about Unwed Sailor ovah hyah.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (2/17/2005 06:32:00 PM) : 

Hey jpe. Yeah, I saw your post earlier today. Also funny is that PTL wrote words to the Six Parts Seven song "A Blueprint of Something Never Finished" for the Lost Notes From Forgotten Songs album. Guess that brings us full circle.


Anonymous zalm said ... (2/19/2005 12:21:00 AM) : 

funny. i've known about larry norman for years. i've read interviews and reviews. and i don't think i've heard a thing he's done. seems i'm a little lazy. i'll have to check out his site. any favorite tracks i should hit first?

as for pedro, i've listened to a few tracks, but never really fell for them. but i'm willing to give them another shot. if you had to pick 5 tracks to use to reintroduce me to bazan's stuff, what would you pick? it looks like most of their stuff is on the itunes store.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (2/20/2005 06:18:00 PM) : 

Hey zalm. Hmmm. Well, for Bazan, first I'd head here. There you can stream all the songs off the latest Pedro the Lion album for free. Of the songs at that site, my favorites are The Poison, A Simple Plan, I Do, The Fleecing and Transcontinental. Beyond that, if I was spending 5 bucks at iTunes, I'd purchase Secret of the Easy Yoke, June 18, 1976, Options, Of Up and Coming Monarchs and Magazine. My favorite overall PTL album is Control.

Larry Norman is a little tougher. There are several soundclips at his website. It's a pretty good representation in terms of variety, as Larry has tackled a lot of different sounds and genres in his time. But in my opinion he has much better songs than these. Of the soundclip songs, definitely check out The Great American Novel, Down to the Water, Dark Passage, Be Careful What You Sign, Righteous Rocker and Feed the Poor. That said, I would download the filesharing program Shareaza. You can find full songs there and, of course, buy an album if you like what you hear. Songs to look for: God Part III, I've Got To Learn To Live Without You, Step into the Madness, Turn, Peacepollutionrevolution, Reader's Digest, Watch What You're Doing, Nightmare #71, Christmastime, If the Bombs Fall and Fly Fly Fly.

I'd also be happy to burn you a CD or rip you some songs (if you use an instant messenger program). Happy listening.


Anonymous zalm said ... (2/21/2005 03:10:00 AM) : 

wowsers! that there's some mighty thorough recommendating, my friend. thanks.

it'll take me a while to get through all that and give it a chance to sink in, but i'll give it a try and let you know what i think.


Blogger Streak said ... (2/21/2005 12:32:00 PM) : 

There was a period in the early 80s when I listened to Larry Norman and a few others that struck me as interesting. One band, I think it was called "Fireworks" or something like that, had a great sound and I don't know what ever happened to them. Saw Petra a few times before I really got bored with them.


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