Noticed in November, Pt 7 :: “I Don’t Wanna”

Hear all the songs here.

So… I started playing guitar probably in 1982 or 1983; this means that I am, more or less, a musical child of the 80s. This means a couple of things: first, I definitely know how to play guitar solos. It was like essential musical knowledge for us. A lot of that changed literally after Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but before that, the notes and the fingers were a-flyin. 

Secondly, I’m influenced by the way music was played in the 80s. To make a long story very short, the 80s were a study of musical contrasts. On the one hand, some bands were very distant and style-conscious. Music could be very cold and precise. On the other hand, there were a handful of artists that rebelled against that detachment and chose to wear their hearts boldly on their sleeves. In a documentary on the making of U2’s The Joshua Tree, Brian Eno said that U2 recognized that “being cool was a sort of detachment from yourself,” and they decided to reject that. Their music is full of vulnerability and “grand-ness.”

But they weren’t alone.

There were other bands who leaned into this engagement. They decided to make music that was big and emotive. In ways it was very un-pretentious, and it lacked self-awareness. It just… was. People jumped around on stage; there was no shame in “being into” the music. Enthusiasm was welcomed.

The other two bands that most readily come to mind that made this kind of music were The Alarm (from Wales) and a band from America called The Call. (If you listen to The Call’s, “What Happened to You“, you can actually hear a young singer from Dublin who named himself Bono singing backup.)

Neither of these bands achieved anywhere close to the longevity of U2, but for those of us who were there, we realized that bands like these were touching something inside us that was innocent and excited to be alive.

Sometimes I wonder where music like that is now; it seems like bands—and music in general—exist in this calculated, “always on” zone where “being cool” is always necessary. At its extreme, it can feign humility and flirt with some kind of false embarrassment about being in a band, like enjoying art is some kind of crime.

The Call’s “I Don’t Wanna” is about as simple of a song as they come: it’s two chords, for crying out loud. Over a tribal drum beat, singer Michael Been sings tortured lines to someone or something. 

Truth be told, I don’t know the exact story behind the lyrics, but they are powerful to me, particularly these:

I ain’t here to tell you what you need
I ain’t gonna take a noble stand
I ain’t here to look you in the eye
Or beg for you to understand
I can only tell you what I’ve seen
I can only tell you how it felt
When my heart was crushed so bad inside
Till I felt the hatred slowly melt

I need this, have felt it once or twice, that moment when something presses down on you so heavily that all of a sudden the walls come down and you feel something break and release inside you.

It’s sort of what it means to be alive, I think.

Enjoy.

The video below is their first single, “The Walls Came Down”. (The studio track surprisingly featured Garth Hudson from The Band on keyboards, whom I wasn’t to discover for another decade.)

*Postscript: Singer Michael Been tragically passed away just a few years ago at the age of 60. However, his son was in one of my other favorite bands from the early 2000s: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He did some shows fronting the Call in a tribute to his father. Legit. 

 

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Noticed in November 3 :: Gimme Something Good

My ongoing effort to blog about music I’m listening to in November. You can check out my list on Spotify.

Generally, I don’t like to listen to loud music in the morning. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I actually like to “wake up slow” and start quiet. I don’t usually hit my stride, rock-wise, until about 10:30 or 11:00AM. Early morning drives are usually accompanied by Sigur Ros; maybe The National if I feel like pushing the boundaries.

But the way my week has been—and considering I had to drive an hour to class this week—I decided to bend those rules a bit.

Ryan Adams has long been an inspiration to me. His run of releases—11 between 2000 and 2014—is simply amazing. The man knows how to “to the work.” (In fact, it’s a fairly known fact that he and Stephen King, another guy who knows how to sit down and get to work, are fans of each other.)

I’d venture to say that not one of those records was a flop. Maybe there were some “B-” records, with some C- songs on them, but on the whole the whole catalogue is just solid. 

(BTW, this is no way mean to say that the man cannot turn a phrase; he’s an absolute master at it.)

When I was writing for Maida Vale, Adams was my bar: each year I’d set out to write somewhere between 25 and 30 songs, starting around 5:30 or 6 in the morning and taking advantage of every spare minute. When Maida Vale stopped playing in 2011 (?), I stopped listen to Ryan Adams; the association was too strong.

But I started again when he released his latest, and I haven’t been disappointed. He has a way of making music that I’m convinced I’ve heard before, but really haven’t. Someone once told me that the best music is like that: it simultaneously sounds like classic rock and yet utterly new at the same time. It’s simple, and just solid, and consistent.

I’ve been moved by a couple of his songs—”Dear Chicago” maybe, and “Friends” probably the most—but mostly what Adams does for me is inspire as an artist/creative person to sit down and write. Not care too much about “innovating” or making something radically new. Just get it out the door… 

… And for where I’m at in my life right now, this is healing. Music is still very much my craft, my release, and when I get to make something, to create it, it touches something deep inside me that is still pure and youthful and innocent. It is relatively untouched by all the egoism and self-laden burdens that plague so much of my life.

 

Noticed in November 1 :: The Healing Day

Every artist is a cannibal / every poet is a thief

All kill their inspiration / and sing about the grief (Bono, “The Fly”)

Like all great artists, I have decided to rip off an idea. My sister, who is better than me at just about everything (especially encouragement) wrote every day in October about music that moved her. I, on the other hand, grew increasingly silent in this space. This is for some highly personal reasons that I am working through, but I also still feel drawn to write. Just this afternoon, while sitting in a class on theology, I decided to do what she did (even though I’m starting way late).

So for the next period of time—not sure yet—I’m going to write about songs that are impacting me. Again, I won’t say much, but this recent season has been a rather intense one in my life, so there’s a lot going on.

Also: get ready, because my tastes certainly run the gamut.

You can hear the songs here.

The first song on the list is “The Healing Day” by Bill Fay.

By nature I am a melancholy person. Most of the time it’s not really that big of a deal (except for the fact that I’m called “Eeyore” at work). However, every so often—maybe once ever 18 months or so—the bottom drops out, and I enter a pretty big skid.

Depression.

I went through a pretty big one—at least 24-30 months—when we first moved to Tallahassee, but I had not really drunk from that bitter cup since then.

Until October.

Maybe it was just seasonal; maybe it was something I did or didn’t do (truth is, it was/is probably a result of a combination), but “The Black”, as I sometimes call it, hit me forcefully in October. There were plenty of days that I limped through (with varying degrees of success), and the struggle was fierce for a lot of it.

(It’s still hovering, by the way.)

Monday, November 3 was a particularly difficult day. I was in Orlando for a class, and for a variety of reasons I was just in a tailspin.

“Despair” is not a word I use lightly, but in this case, well, it fit.

One of my mentors once told me once, “You need to know when to deal gently with yourself.” 

As I drove around northeast Orlando for lunch, this phrase popped into my head, and I found this tune on my phone and pushed play.

Bill Fay is an English singer/songwriter. Though he did most of his work in the 60s and 70s, he released a record—Life is Peoplebillfay2in 2012. I remember hearing the title track and instantly thinking, “Wow, this guy really influenced Jeff Tweedy.” The music is simple and gentle; the word “pastoral” comes easily to mind. I really don’t know a ton about Bill Fay other than these two songs, but they are a good soundtrack when I am trying to “deal gently with myself,” when I am trying to forgive myself and live without shame (which for me is a struggle).

A good friend of mine said recently that he wants to listen to music/art “that will wreck him.”

Sometimes I don’t want music to wreck me; I do a find job of that on my own. Sometimes I want music to help put me back together again, or at the very least just remind me that I’m “okay” even when I am in pieces.

“Healing Day” is not going to be musically revelatory to anyone; it’s pretty simplistic. However, it’s like a great big gentle hug from a good friend or family member when I need it most.

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New Song: “She’s Life”

a3969957569_2So in a rather unexpected flurry of creativity a few weeks ago, I wrote and recorded a new tune. It’s called “She’s Life”, and you can find it here (along with some of my earlier stuff).

I know that paying for music is really so, like, 1994, but I’d appreciate whatever you feel you could spare. (It’s only one song, I know).

There’s a lot of worse things you could do with $1, after all.

So I hope you enjoy it, and share it with friends and family.

Here’s the really crazy part: there will probably be another new tune in 3 weeks or so.

Peace, and enjoy.

https://ericcase.bandcamp.com/track/shes-life

Five (and a half) Resources to Boost Your Creativity (especially you, pastor)

Creativity Resources

Creativity Resources

If you know me at all, you’d know that I think more creativity in any field is a good thing, especially ministry. Creativity unlocks new approaches and new ideas, as well as improves existing ones. It’s almost an issue of stewardship, since it involves (I believe) reaching the full potential of our resources.

Seth Godin writes in Linchpin that we should approach our daily work like it’s a treasure: “It’s our one and only chance to do something productive today… A days’ work is your chance to do art, to create a gift, to do something that matters.”

Now, Seth Godin didn’t write any of the Gospels in my Bible, but there is some wisdom in this. Any vocation can benefit from additional vision and creativity, including ministry, whether in discipleship conversations, preaching, or even arranging our schedule.

Here are a few resources that can jump-start your creative journey.

  1. Sometimes we get bogged down with solving the same problems with the same solutions (which isn’t really solving them at all, is it?). Thinkertoys, by Michael Michalko, is a collection of creative brain exercises to help you examine problems and opportunities from radically different perspectives. The exercises will seem odd and counter-intuitive, but they bear much fruit over the long run.
  2. Are you bringing your best energy to the most important part of your day? Manage Your Day-to-Day is a collection of short essays and articles from business and thought leaders (including Seth). It’s a very hands-on, “tactical” book that can help you reevaluate how you are spending your time. The chapters are short enough to read in 10 minutes, and they include summer pages and key takeaways. This book is really, really critical to putting all of the theory into action.
  3. I think everyone should have a collection of poetry nearby. This may be a little out there, but poetry engages a different part of our brain than prose, and in order to bring all of our resources to bear on our challenges, we should be willing to stretch our creative muscles (i.e., our brains) a little. I picked up an anthology of works by Rumi, who is a widely respected Persian poet and mystic from the 13th century. I read 3 or 4 poems a week, always out loud (the way poetry is meant to be read), just treasuring the way the words are strung together. (Note: you don’t have to understand poetry it to benefit from it.)
  4. These two works are combined into one resource: PresentationZen and The Naked Presenter, both by Garr Reynolds, are invaluable works on public speaking or “presenting” (read: “Preaching”). The quality of our message—whatever that message is—is repeatedly compromised by our inabilities to clearly and effectively communicate it. What’s more, our tendency is to add more— more slides, more images, more bells and whistles (animations? ugh)—when a better approach would be to take away. Clear the deck, so to speak. Provide space. Clarity. Reynolds ruthlessly shows how to arrange thoughts and information in ways that shout by whispering.
  1. Lastly, I present the lowly Moleskine sketch book. Early on when I began preaching, I instinctively began using sketches (as opposed to
    Moleskine // Jonah Sketch

    Moleskine // Jonah Sketch

    outlines) to develop my thoughts. As Mind Mapping has shown, our brain doesn’t work linearly, it works through “webs”, and to the degree that we try to visualize our problems with an outline or some other “linear” display, we are actually working against our minds. My sketchbook allows me to work with the brain’s natural tendencies, rather than against them. The next time you are trying to map a project or construct a talk, try sketching the ideas first, rather than outlining them. (Obviously, a nice white board works well too.)

These are just a few tools and tricks that help me approach my work from a more creative space. If you have any others, feel free to share them here.

 

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Sometimes I Just Get Tired

In some way, I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Books, along with music, were my constant companions when I was growing up, and regular trips to the library are some of my earliest and fondest memories. It seemed as natural as the progression of days that I would someday write a book of my own, though I wasn’t exactly sure when.

Hint #1: I’m working on a book (actually two) right now.

Hint #2: Writing a book is really hard. 

On my way to writing more prose, I learned to become a songwriter. I’d written songs off and on in my twenties and early thirties, but in 2006 I decided to really throw myself into my craft, and managed to churn out somewhere around 30 or 40 in a few years. It could’ve been more, but I did the best I could.

Now, along the way the internet happened and, as writers like Seth Godin pointed out, everything changed: the world, as far as creators went, was on its way to becoming truly flat, and we could publish to anyone anywhere (as long as you could managed to get heard over the noise).

I started a blog somewhere in 2009 or so, and launched thisisericcase.com in 2013.

In other words, I was doing the same thing as about 60 million other people.

No big.

I read all the people—Seth, Michael Hyatt, and others—who gave the proper advice on “how to blog/write/self-publish/etc, and I’ve dabbled here and there with their suggestions. Overall it’s been pretty cool to see people read my words, and occasionally have them seem to mean something to people.

But lately…

Lately, I’m just tired.

I did a Strengths Assessment in 2013, when I discovered that though I have a high drive to collect information, my drive to create things—Tweets, blogs, books, songs, etc.—is not so high.

My nature works against my aspirations.

It’s hard work.

A dear, dear friend of mine told me the other day, “The truth is, I haven’t read your blog lately, because you’ve been a bit boring; I miss the times when you used to make me cry.”

They are right (this post isn’t about them; it’s about me). I’ve been a bit off. Writing doesn’t feel like the release and exercise in self-expression that it should be.

I guess I’m better at producing quantity, but it feels like more of a chore now.

This space is supposed to be about “Faith, Creativity, and Collaborative Leadership”. Lately, it seems that whatever is happening to me faith-wise is too subtle to name and describe (or that it’s simply to “small” and boring to relate). Creatively, I feel a little bit lost, as I’m in an “in between”. It seems that I’m slowly leaving music behind, but there’s really not anything else yet. There are sporadic sermons and Sunday creative endeavors, but not nearly enough to be engaging, and the books and blog posts… well, we’ve been through that haven’t we?

As far as leadership goes… hmmmmm… I feel less like a “leader” than ever. Someone once said that if you call yourself a leader but no one is following you, you’re just going for a walk.

What if you don’t even feel like you’re walking? What if you feel like you’re just crawling? Do leaders crawl? 

I can name dozens and dozens of men and women who are infinitely better leaders than I am, and mostly I’m left treading water to try and just “get things done” and see one or two people occasionally take steps to following Jesus more closely.

So what’s the point? Nothing really. It may be just an effort to write my “word quota” for the day/week.

I suppose I’ll get up tomorrow and write again.

 

My First Lesson in Creative Sermon Prep

I am an unapologetic geek when it comes to certain things. For instance, when I got called for jury duty, I spent half the day marveling at the privilege of participating in “trial by peers”, and thinking about how unique this experience was to the rest of the world.

I know, it’s that bad.

Well, I got picked, and we heard our (short,civil) trial and began our deliberation.

(As an introvert, this is where it got awkward for me: putting me in a room full of people I don’t really know and then asking me to work and speak with them for hours on end… ugh.)

There was an older gentleman there, and during a break he started talking about how he’d worked in newspapers (remember those), and how he was a news junky. Then he asked us a question:

“Do you guys know how to find out what’s really going on in the United States?”

Let’s face it, we knew that we were not supposed to say “Yes.” So we all shook our heads.

He said, “You find out what’s going on in the United States by reading the news from Europe. Want to know how to find out what’s going on in Europe?”

“Sure.”

“You read the Russian news.”

He then lead us all around the world: Russia, Asia, etc. (I can’t remember the entire sequence, but you get the point.)

The point he was trying to make was that only when you got a little objectivity could you really see what was going on in a country. The best way to find out about a “thing” is not necessarily to read about the thing from people who know it best, but to read about it from people who aren’t really as connected to it. 

I think it’s a little like that with sermon prep.

I know there’s lots of websites out there that help with sermon prep, but I think a little more objectivity is required.

So to think about teaching the Bible, I go to “Europe”: which (for me) means

I collect and distill ideas and stories into Evernote, and then tag them and store them until they are needed.

Since I feel like the gospel touches all of life, it’s not always a huge chore to connect our inability to walk in a straight line to discipleship, or Nine Inch Nail’s record The Downward Spiral to the story of Samson.

Or, I suppose, to connect jury duty to sermon prep.