27 March 2016

Music Day Part II - Up From The Dead

This gets harder every year. There are actually so few joyful 'He Arose!'-type songs. I have no problem finding stuff about Good Friday, but there is precious little about Easter Sunday (songwriters: take note).

But one of the few singers whose joy simply radiates through his voice is Dana Key, founding member, guitarist, and songwriter for DeGarmo & Key, one of the biggest Christian rock bands (second to Petra and later Stryper) of the '80s. To me this is the song from my childhood that I never actually knew in my childhood. I've just spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out how or why and I can't. I don't know... it just brings me back to that time. Like the Imperials' Holdin' On and Michael W. Smith's All You're Missin' Is A Heartache.

Title: Up From The Dead
Artist: Dana Key
Album: The Journey
Year: 1990
Label: ForeFront Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

I would love to hear this done with a piano, a string orchestra and a harmony vocal. At the risk of writing the most clichéd statement ever on this blog: the production in this recording is (wonderfully!) dated, but the message is timeless.

Up from the dead
The world has a Saviour
Up from the dead
With power to give...
Jesus lives!

He is risen indeed!

25 March 2016

Music Day, Part I - The Messiah

I've always liked the lyrical progression of this song; how the title line takes on three different tones.

Also, those of you who are sick of mushy-gushy Christian radio and mega-church worship-band crap will appreciate this one. Bloodgood was one of the lesser-known hair metal bands that rode Stryper's coattails but were much, much better at lyric-writing than their bumblebee-coloured counterparts (admit it -- Stryper could play a mean guitar and they had good harmonies, but as for lyrics... I'll just leave this here). They also had a bit of a theatrical bent -- I remember seeing a video on YouTube of the band performing this song on a full-on theatre set and the band members as characters in the story. It wasn't quite on the level of Alice Cooper's stage show, but the approach seemed similar (not that I'm an expert on Alice Cooper either). I'll see if I can find it again...

Anyway, before this post becomes a who's-who of rockers whose names I know but whose styles I'm rusty on, here's the song:

Title: The Messiah
Artist: Bloodgood
Album: Detonation
Year: 1987
iTunes here, YouTube here.

Also, I totally found the dramatised live version! It's even more awesome than I remembered. Watch it here.

The live video in particular brings out a little more of the political, earth-bound side of Jesus' death. See, at that time in history, the Jews/Israelites/Hebrews were under Roman rule and generally were not thrilled with this state of affairs. Centuries before, the Jewish prophets had told of a messiah, a king, that would come and save them. Now that the Jews had been exiled from Israel (the land promised to them by God), they assumed that this messiah would be a political one -- that he would free the Jews from Roman tyranny and establish himself as king above the Roman rulers.

Jesus, meanwhile, was born and at thirty He began teaching about God and the scriptures and performing miracles. This of course didn't sit very well with the religious leaders, as Jesus fast became more popular than they -- that and Jesus had some harsh criticism for said religious leaders, in addition to claiming to be the son of God. To claim to be the son of God was not only preposterous, it was anti-scriptural and punishable by death. The religious leaders quickly realised He was dangerous to them, but because of His fame among the common people, they didn't dare take action.

As far as the common people were concerned, everything was going great until they realised that this Jesus character didn't appear to be storming down the emperor's gates and liberating the Jews anytime soon. The religious leaders seized on this discontent and stirred the people into an angry frenzy. In a matter of days, Jesus went from widespread public acclaim to being arrested and winding up in front of a mob of angry Jews screaming for His crucifixion.

Here is where the video comes in.

The Jewish authorities didn't have the authority to sentence a person to death, so they sent Jesus to Pilate, of the Roman court (this is the character in the red robe - the singer). The Romans didn't really care about the Jews' religious dispute and Pilate sent Him to Herod -- who was in charge of the area where Jesus was from. Herod mocked Him a bit and then sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate agreed to punish Jesus and release Him, but this didn't satisfy the Jews' bloodlust. After multiple tries to dissuade the Jews from their wish to see Jesus dead, Pilate eventually gave up, washed his hands of the matter (literally) and said the people could do what they wanted with Jesus. So they crucified Him.

The thing was, the messiah was never meant to be a political one. The messiah God sent was supposed to atone for the sins of all the people in the world. This atonement required the blood of a perfectly innocent man, and this is who Jesus was. That crucifixion shed innocent blood, and because Jesus willingly allowed them to crucify Him though He certainly possessed the power to flatten every one of the perpetrators, God saw it as an acceptable sacrifice. And as proof that the sacrifice (that is, Jesus' death) was acceptable and complete, Jesus was raised from the dead and lives even now, at the right hand of God. Now -- even today -- all that is required for this atonement to be yours is to believe that Jesus shed His innocent blood to cover your sins, on your behalf. This is all that is required to save you from the wrath of God against the sinful nature that every human (myself included) is born with.

For a fuller version of the story, read here, here, and here.

21 March 2016


15 March 2016; 1.30am.

Is there a place for anger in an artist?

I guarantee I won't figure out the answer in one blog post, but I'm thinking it's something I should consider. I saw a thing on the Humans of New York Facebook page the other day, a quote from an artist, talking about how important humility is in an artist. And I absolutely agreed with him, but it made me aware of whether or not I'm very humble. I don't have to think about that long -- I'm probably one of the most prideful artists ever. (How much do I rail against modern dance and modern music because I think it sucks and I can do better?)

But where did this come from? I don't think I've ever been humble to begin with. There have always been things I hated in art and while I have always wanted to capture what I love about the world, I have nothing but contempt for the things that don't touch me. Is that just me? Or is this normal? Should it be so?

Further down the thought trail I realised most of my art -- indeed, most of my life -- comes from a place of anger. Sometimes it's resentment, sometimes it's jealousy, sometimes it's frustration, but it all fits under the same heading. I always had an interest in writing, but I started writing in earnest in the depths of my self-pity after being told by the church youth group that I was unloveable. So I sat in my room and composed stories, mostly about a lonely, rejected main character who either commits suicide (causing everyone who met her to finally realise what jerks they were), or goes off to college somewhere -- effectively falling off the face of the earth -- and climbs the ranks of society or show business and then runs into her detractors by chance years down the road when she's in a higher social class than they. It was my only way of being vindicated -- in my own handwriting, in reams of looseleaf that no-one has ever seen. Later this started to spawn novels with a more diverse plot range, but it started with my rage against all those who claimed to be reflecting the God of love but spread only hate and favouritism against me.

On a different track: I first realised I wanted to make dances when I was about eight years old. I even made a few false starts in my mid teens. But what finally got a dance finished was this: when I finally grew brave enough to even mention to my mother that this was what I wanted, she took it well -- to my face. But that night, after we were all in bed... I went upstairs to get a drink or something and I heard her talking to my dad about me.

"She wants to be some big-shot choreographer now. I don't know where she gets this stuff from. She'll never do it. She doesn't want it bad enough."

I was incensed. This was my life's dream. For years she had been begging me to talk to her, to tell her what was going on in my mind about something, anything. And I finally decided to trust her with this, my deepest and most precious thought (at the time)... and she calls me stupid?

I don't want it bad enough, huh? We'll see about that.

I made a vow that night. I would finish the next dance I started. And if I couldn't finish it, that would be a sign to me that choreography was not what I was meant to do and I would accept that she was right.

I had spent my entire life being a failure. A nobody. Someone who would be better off dead. I'd already written half a dozen novels by that point in my life, but apparently that didn't matter and I was still a failure. With my vow in mind, I started work on Sing Your Freedom not long after that. I finished it.

And I said nothing about it. I finished several more dances. I'm not sure at what point she realised I was finishing them. But by that time I was beyond telling her about my accomplishments. They were worthless anyway. These were for me now. When they went through my stuff after I died -- whenever that would be -- they would find out what a great artist was in their midst. And then they would be sorry for treating me like that.

Delusional? Almost certainly. But I was blind with rage. I was no longer creating to enrich people's lives. I was creating to prove -- if only in my daydreams -- that I was not as worthless as I felt everyone was making me out to be. And in a final twist of pride, I didn't even talk about my work or my accomplishments outside of this blog and occasionally Facebook. The very people I thought I had gone into art for were not privy to the work that I was theoretically doing for them. My gift -- if I even had one to speak of -- was being used for me only, for my own edification and satisfaction. I told myself 'they'll never love you no matter how great your work is so why bother trying?' So I focused on proving to myself that I was great. And thus I started creating art in a complete and total vacuum.

08 March 2016

Power To The Young

Have you ever noticed that in all those Buzzfeed articles and other assorted Facebook-clogging 'news services' posts, they always emphasize it when someone is young?

'Amazing Six-Year-Old Sings Adele Better Than Adele.'

'Worldwide Ocean Cleanup Project Headed Up By Twenty-One-Year Old.'

'This Kid's Eminem Cover Is The Most Inspiring Thing Ever.'

Why? Why are you only good at something if you're young, if you're a prodigy?

This has been eating away at me for some time now.

See, the thing is: I'm not that old. I'm still in my early twenties. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I have another sixty or so years to go on this planet. So why do I already feel so much like a has-been that I actually have flashes of suicidal thoughts? What in the world would possess an intelligent and fairly skilled college-educated twentysomething with a close family and a good group of friends to even have the passing thought of suicide?

I feel irrelevant. Like I'm too old to be of any use to anybody anymore. I don't want my name on Buzzfeed or any of those other crappy 'news' sites (then there would definitely be some suicidal thoughts going on), but I want to be needed. I want to be able to touch people's lives. But I'm already too old. I expected to feel this way when I'm in my sixties, not my twenties. I literally just got out of school and already I'm useless. I haven't even had a chance to prove myself yet. I have nothing to grow into. My life is already over and I never got the chance to live.

Please... stop perpetuating this culture of 'only the young can be good at anything' and 'only the young are worth our time.' The young haven't had time to develop and perfect their craft and/or skills. The old have been toiling for years and know exactly how to get the results they want -- but they've already been silenced. We as a culture don't give them that chance. They have one shot of shallow brilliance at age seven and then we cast them aside before they get the chance to really grow into their promise. Look at... yes, I'm bringing him into this... Terry Scott Taylor. This man has been a professional songwriter for forty years. That's twice as long as I've even been alive. And while, yes, his early output with Daniel Amos (Horrendous Disc¡Alarma! Chronicles) was pretty freaking good (unlike most people's early output), you listen to later albums such as Dig Here Said The Angel (2013), the Swirling Eddies' The Midget, The Speck, And The Molecule (2007), or even MotorCycle (1993), and you can't help but notice a rich maturity pervading the entire project -- in the choice of words, in the choice of topic, in the approach to the arrangements, the musicianship, the vocal development, the crafting of the mood... everything.

Are we really so embroiled in hipster culture that we all want to be the first to discover the next Mozart and therefore are trying to promote younger and younger people in an attempt to say 'I knew of them first'? What does it do to the kids whose skill you're exploiting before it's ripe? What does it do to the older and truly accomplished who are consistently ignored? What does it do to normal twentysomethings like me who already feel like there's nothing left for us to give and so we might as well just give up everything?

Everybody loses.

And maybe this is why art is, in general, in such a deplorable state. There's no maturity, only tricks and explosions. And when art suffers, so does society.

Everybody loses.