Beck Spills Some Musical Truth

“It’s never for the glory, it’s for the satisfaction of blowing up a gig. a lot of people are satisfied with a video. Those who aren’t satisfied with a video will buy the album, and then there’s a few who get the album who will go to the show. That’s where it’s human beings, and that’s what we live for. That’s where it gets sick. If it’s all on video or all on record everything is proper and everyone is minding their manners. We like to get in there and cause a commotion. That’s music; that’s the way it’s meant to be.” Beck.

I love this quote. It actually came off of a show called Sessions at West 54th that used to air back in the 90s. It featured really great bands and musicians  playing absolutely live and in the round. It was an intimate venue that allowed great artists to put killer abilities on display.

At some level I will always be a live musician. I used to be intimidated by the studio, but got over that fear (thanks to a lot of work with a metronome, amongst other things), but it still always comes down to the live event, the exchange of sweat and blood and volume and energy that happens when you’re just pouring it out on a stage, and people are soaking it up and nodding their heads up and down and moving with energy. It’s always great to just let the moment take you, to throw aside perfection in favor of the power of a moment.

That’s still where it’s at.

I’m All About That Bass (But Not Like THAT)…

There was a season of my life that I was fortunate enough to spend a fair amount of time in recording studios (and get paid—at least a little bit—for it). My typical method of recording songs was to build a track from the ground up: get the drums and bass happening, then add rhythm instruments, guitar solos and “ornamentation”, then end with vocals.

However, once I found myself working with an engineer who was also going to play bass in the session. We worked together to build the tracks, but at some point the tracks were practically complete—even the lead vocals…

… except for the bass.

When I asked him about it, he said, “I like to leave bass to the last; that way I can craft my bass line around what is still missing from the track.”

Personally, I suspected that it was only because he was a bass player, and he wanted more important of a role than what most bass players have (it’s a prejudice I have, I know).

However, I was reading something recently, and the writer was remarking how he liked bassists and bass lines, how the bass moves the song along and unifies it. 

I thought: “My oh my—how profoundly spiritual.”

The simple question is this: What moves your life along? What unifies it? 

Our spirituality should be more than just a vague set of beliefs or events that we go to. Our spiritual practices (and I suggest you get some if you don’t have any) should do the same thing a good bass line does: it should bring unity and understanding to your life, and it should propel it forward. 

So there’s this:

But better yet, there’s this: 

Architecture Teaching Theology (Lessons My Mother Taught Me)

In his excellent historical examination of church worship, Robert Webber points out how the architecture of Christian worship spaces changed as the theology of worship (particularly around the eucharist) changed.

To sum up a very long argument, Webber points out that when the Eucharist was highly participatory, churches tended to meet in informal, interactive spaces, at times almost in the round. As theology of the Eucharist became more and more “elevated,” and as the Eucharist became more and more sacred and separated, worship (and the interaction with the body and blood of Christ became more and more something “that the priests did,” while the congregation observed. Architecture responded accordingly, with higher and higher altars that were more and distinct and separate from the congregation. The areas for

Amiens cathedral floorplan

Amiens cathedral floorplan

priests/“holy people” and the “normal folks” became more and more delineated. Worship threatened to become something that the congregation watched, accept for the moment that the wafer went on the tongue and the wine hit the mouth.

Nowadays, we have stages and platforms, and our worship (at least in most evangelical contexts) is really limited to “song time.” However, most worship leaders of quality do their best to get people involved, and build in times of congregational singing (the singers don’t just sing at the congregation, they sing with them).

However, a friend of mine just recently started attending a mega-church. He’s a musician, and has begun volunteering in their music ministry (needless to say, the musicians are all excellent). One day, we were talking and he remarked that while the musicians were amazing, and the church placed a high value on ministry, nobody seemed to care too much whether anyone was actually participating in worship From his perspective, the band was there to be amazing and inspiring, but there was seldom (if ever?) a call for people to actually sing.

It makes me wonder if we are going through the same “drift” that our mother (The Catholic Church) went through between the early 300s into the medieval era. I wonder if we are becoming content with worship becoming a “spectator sport” as opposed to a participatory event. (NOTE: I understand that not everyone will always participate 100%; this is more about what we, as leaders, are content to accept as normative.)

Worship need not be opposed to excellence. We can (and should) strive to be the best musicians we can be (both on Sundays and on Monday-Saturday); however, our goal, our target should not be only excellence, relevance, or sacredness. It should be participation. We are not worship performers; we are participants with the congregation.

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.


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. 


Noticed in November, Pt 8 :: “Don’t Wanna See You”

Though I’m collecting a list of songs I notice in November (hear them on Spotify), I’d like to submit a very special song today.

I’ve released a few singles lately, and this is the newest. It’s called “Don’t Wanna See You.”

You can get it—along with other tracks—on my Bandcamp site. Pay what you like, or just listen.

Another one coming in a few weeks.



Noticed in November, 6 :: “Queen of California”

Here’s the latest; hear the rest here.

For a long time, I had a … “tension” with John Mayer. The guy could play guitar; I mean really play. The guy could write songs; I mean really write songs. 

In a word, I was probably jealous. As someone said once, I felt like Mayer was a version of me, only better.

However, there was something else. Though I had tremendous respect for him as a player and writer, there was something about him that just seemed to rub me the wrong way. He had a certain wry wit about his success, and at times he said all the right things about art and music and humility and respect and all that… but frankly, I just didn’t by it. I opened the door slightly on 2006’s Continuum, largely because I felt like it was slightly more stripped down and more “open and honest” (fuzzy words, I know, but they are the ones who really fit).

Then something happened. First, Mayer fell from grace due to a few really mis-handled interviews (warning: that interview is not very pleasant to read) and very public romantic disasters. These really just seemed to confirm everything I discerned about him.

But then, something else happened. Basically he lost his voice for about two years.

Two years. 

I told everyone I knew that I thought he was done.

But I was wrong.

In 2012, Mayer released Born and Raised, which sounded like some kind of love child between George Harrison, Neil Young’s Harvest, and a whole lot of 70s California rock.

(This is a good thing.)

What’s more, his writing had changed—at least to my ears—a lot. 

He could still turn a phrase without much effort at all, but now there was something else present in his songs…

I call it humility. 

Admittedly, I was going through some pretty tough times during 2012-2013, so I could have just been  hearing what I wanted to, but I heard depths of honesty and humility (again that word: there’s just not a good substitute for it) that, to my ears, weren’t there before. That record—in particular Shadow Days and Born and Raised—became lifelines and inspiration of sorts for me during that time:

I’m a good man, with a good heart
Had a tough time, got a rough start
But I finally learned to let it go
Now I’m here, and I’m right now
And I’m open, knowing somehow
My shadow days are over now, my shadow days are over now…


Then all at once it gets hard to take
It gets hard to fake what I won’t be
Cuz one of these days I’ll be born and raised
And it’s such a waste to grow up lonely…

Those words. Wow. They were my life.

“Queen of California” starts the record off, and it definitely sets the tone for the rest of the release: sonically it’s like a big pleasant pillow of restraint and warmth. Great tones. Lyrically, I hear wonder and gratitude.

I need more of that.

Noticed in November 5 :: Going to the Church

Here’s the latest in my series about music I’m noticing in November.

I have no idea how I discovered the Red Devils. I think I’d read some obscure article about a hard-core blues band in LA that Mick Jagger was watching at some club. At any rate, I bought this CD when it came out, and I’m glad I did because they only made one, a live one that is so raw and joyous. It is certainly one of my top 3-4 blues CDs. It’s sweaty  and smoky.

Here’s what this track tells me:

  1. There’s a difference between going to “church” and going to “church-AH”. I’m not sure what it is, but I know it’s real. In fact, I have been to both, but I’m not always sure how to make the “-AH” happen. Maybe someone should create a conference that teaches churches how to “add the -AH.” Someone get on that. Credit me when it’s done.
  2. You don’t ever need to change chords in a song.
  3. (Guitarists) You don’t ever need effects pedals.
  4. Simple music can be powerful.

I just love this stuff. It’s so stripped and, well, honest. You just don’t hear much music like this anymore. These guys tore it up, and did it about as close to the bone as you could.

There are actually YouTube videos of these guys, but make sure you check out the CD track. They really captured some mojo on that one.