"I Know Something"

I may not know a lot about you, but I know something
I may not know a lot about you, but I know one thing (and that’s)
I’m alive.

“I’m Alive” by pop poppins

Some of my favorite lyrics and musical ideas come from local bands that no one has ever heard of. 

If you weren’t there, you missed it: in this case, Dallas, TX, in the early 1990s. 

I’ve always loved that line, and I was so grateful when the internet gave me the gift of being able to once again hear some of the music that we were soaking up, just out of college and being oh-so-serious about music. 

That line comes from a song called, “I’m Alive,” and the band was called “pop poppins” (inspired from Mary Poppins, no less). 

Beautiful, dreamy alternative (from when that word really mattered) music. 

But I use that line a lot. 

Seems like the older I get, the less I “know.” 

And I’m becoming okay with that. 

But it’s not like I don’t know ANYTHING. 

I do not have to know everything: about God, about life, about music, about creativity, about my wife or my children, or my friends.

I know SOMETHING. 

And that’s, well, SOMETHING. 

All I have to do is do something with the something that I know. 

And be content with all of the stuff I don’t know. 

Morning Pages, 3 Dec: When the Music is All Around

There are moments when the music is all around, when it surrounds me like a great blanket and I feel LOVE and there’s nothing between me and the universe and I’m not taking (nor faking) and there’s only notes BUT notes aren’t really notes they are BLOOMS and messages to and from the soul place. 

There are moments. 

There are moments when all the HURT and PAIN and DOUBT DISAPPEAR and I-am-making-a-difference to myself at least and that is usually enough and I can give and receive at the same time because they are actually both the same. 

I do not think of the shoes I’m wearing then, not do I remember why I picked the shirt to wear then I only CHOOSE without thought — is that a choice? — Maybe I only have to MOVE TOWARDS (not choose) the next note or chord, only because THAT’s the next note/chord to play. I need no reason, because THE MOMENT IS THE REASON. 

I don’t have an itchy soul then. I AM ERIC, and ERIC is music, because MUSIC is what is happening then. When music is not happening, then to be Eric will mean something else…

… making-eggs Eric

… reading-books Eric

… having-an-argument Eric

… praying Eric

… sleeping Eric

… being-lazy eric

ALL of those Erics are Eric, and they are all valid and LOVED.

It’s just that… music is… well, music is…

SSHHHHHHHHHHH. 

Poison

Poison.

It’s not what you think.

It’s way trickier than that.

It’s when you start doing the thing that you think is the thing, but what you’re actually doing is creating something that you think the thing is supposed to be, so that it can get the likes it’s supposed to get…

The retweets…

The shares…

When did creating become a commodity in my life?

It’s snuck in, that’s for sure.

I used to have a musical, songwriting friend, and we would have this argument all the time…

Him: “Let’s get together and play guitars on our back porch.”

Me: “Let’s book a gig.”

Him: “Let’s just write songs that no one has to hear.”

Me: “Let’s book a gig and share them.”

You see, I get this about me: I love the audience. I have been performing since I was 5, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and pretty used to it. With music it seemed like such a natural fit.

But then I started dabbling in writing, and wow they had these things called “Blogs” and you could publish to the world!

So I would write, and I would publish.

And I would write, and I would publish.

And I would write, and I would publish.

So much so, that writing began to equal publishing.

Writing = Publishing… ?

And sitting down to type always meant looking over my shoulder, or more accurately, “out there” to the world.

I’m not sure you can really write like that.

You’ll always pull back. Or nudge things this way or that way to make them more palatable, or more fantastic.

(Or, at least, I will always tend towards those behaviors.)

Click bait, anyone?

The book Writing Down the Bones is really all about this; creating a writing practice that gives you a safe space to get stuff out.

As Mick would say maybe, “empty some blood on the page…”

But I haven’t got that habit back in my life just yet. I’m still struggling. Turning the Wi-Fi off while I write is a beginning step, but it seems as if there’s another place to go that’s even more simple, more analog, more primal than this.

Don’t make me get out my pen and start writing! Hand cramps anyone?

But I know I need it. I need the place to be raw. To get at the essence of things. To mess up. To be a beautiful disaster.

Ironically, songwriting is still a bit like that for me. Somehow, I just instinctively know how to be more free in that space. Not sure why. It may be simply that it’s just more honest and true to who I am.

Anyway. Desperately seeking space.

Let’s get there.

The Profound Powerless of Mondo Cozmo’s “Shine”

I’m still a sucker for a heart on its sleeve…

(and a good hook…)

I stumbled across this song a few months ago, back in the spring. I was listening to some Spotify “New Music” playlist, and all of a sudden I heard familiar-but-new sounds: echoes of The Verve and other Brit Pop bands that I’ve always loved.

And then the lyrics started:

Stick with me Jesus through the coming storm,
I’ve come to you in search of something I have lost
Shine down a light on me and show a path
I promise you I will return if you take me back…

Did he just say, “Jesus”? Okay, now I’m really interested…

I confess: I’m not above getting pretty excited whenever I hear someone flirting with the powerful intersection of art and faith. I get even more pumped when I hear someone drop Jesus’ name with some kind of sincerity.

So now I’m definitely hooked.

But then the chorus took me back a bit:

Let ’em get high, let ’em get stoned,
Everything will be alright if you let it go…

Hmmmmm….

So now I’m not so sure.

But the verse lyrics! Still so sincere, so out there (and again with the Jesus!)

My friends are so alone and it breaks my heart
My friends don’t understand we are all lost
Shine down a light on them and show a path
I promise you they will return if you take ’em back

And finally, verse 3:

Come with me Mary through these modern lines
Stick with me Jesus til the end of time
Shine down a light on me and let me know
And take me in your arms and never let me go…

Seriously; what am I supposed to do with this?

When the record came out, I listened, and quickly got taken in. The whole thing really paid off the taste that was “Shine,” with more heart, and vulnerability and a lyrical/musical references and touchpoints that I could easily recognize and resonate with.

But, again… what is up with this tune?

Well, though I believe in lyrical mystery, and I affirm the rights of artists to hold their cards close to their chests, something hit me hard on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks back, and so I’m going offer up my interpretation of this tune.

I had preached that morning on “Powerlessness“, and what it meant to surrender our desire to control our environment and our lives.

And then I remembered that a huge part of our lives and our environment is people.

Spouses. Family. Children. Co-Workers.

Friends.

Spouses, family members, children, co-workers, friends, etc. who might choose to “get high”, or who might choose to do any number of things that we really wish they wouldn’t do.

And we are powerless to stop them. (Human beings have this sticky way of eluding our efforts to control them.)

When we are confronted with this ultimate test of our desire to control, we really have to choose:

Am I willing to be powerless over the people who are (a) supremely important to me and yet (b) may make choices (in fact, they usually DO make choices) that at the very least I may disagree with, and at most may be harmful?

It sounds impossible but there is a way out, and here’s the deal:

It’s not simple, but it’s easy. 

We can choose to (a) love them, and (b) cling to our faith.

One of the most powerful ideas I cling to is that *God is infinitely more invested in my friends/family/co-workers/church than I am. *

God loves them more than I ever could.

And that means that I can surrender them. I can be powerless over them…

… And “let it go.”

 

As usual: thanks for reading. I’d love it if you help me grow this space, so please help me by:

  • subscribe to it
  • share/forward it to someone who might need it
  • ask them to subscribe too!
  • comment, dialogue, as questions

 

Peace and blessings…

+eric

When I Grow Up

bible-1866564_960_720.jpg

In late 1988 (more from “The Vapor”) a folk singer named Michelle Shocked released a single called “When I Grow Up.” Since she was “home grown” (from Texas, where I was raised… mostly), we heard a lot of the song in Fort Worth. At the time, I thought it had a pretty solid groove, and a unique perspective, but at the same time a little quirky.

Here are the lyircs:

When I grow up I want to be an old woman
When I grow up I want to be an old woman
Oh, an old, an old, old woman

Then I think I’m gonna find myself an old man
Then I think I’m gonna marry myself that old man
An old, an old, an old, an old, a really old man

We’re gonna have a hundred and twenty babies
A hundred and five, ten, fifteen, twenty babies
Uh huh, that’s what I said a hundred and twenty babies

We’ll raise ’em on tiger’s milk and green bananas
Mangoes and coconuts and watermelon
We’re gonna give ’em that watermelon when they starts yellin’
Here’s what they’ll yell…

In the summer we’ll sit in a field and watch the sun melt
In the winter we’ll sit by a fire and watch the moon freeze
Me my old man and a hundred and twenty babies
Me my old man and a hundred and twenty babies
I said, me my old man and a hundred and twenty babies
Oh, when I grow up I want to be an old woman
When I grow up I want to be an oooooold…

Pretty cool.

Now, as I stare down a 49th year walking this planet, I’ve been thinking a bit about this song, and I hear it a little differently now. The lyric asks me questions now that I’m not sure I heard 30 odd years ago.

When I hear the song now I think about how being an “old woman” (or in my case, an old man) is so much more than an age:

Now I think about elders. 

More specifically, I wonder two things:

  1. Are people willing to seek out the wisdom of the elders?
  2. Where are all of our elders?

But here’s the deal: Question 1 is a bit out of my control, and frankly I’m just not that interested today in “complaining about the young generation”.

So, older people, I’m talking to US today.

Are we aspiring to be ELDERS? 

(For clarity, I’m not talking here about a position in a church. I’m using the term in a more global, traditional sense, of men and women who have…

… walked the paths of life

… probably fallen down once or twice (or 14 times)

… chosen to grow beyond their own egos and agendas

… (and consequently) have walked the road to die to themselves

… have begun the journey to separate from their earthly concerns and choose the peace that comes from detached loveing

… understand that life is more about what you can give than what you get…

THAT kind of “elder”.)

So, yeah, that’s what I’m wondering. The older I get, the more I look around me and wonder, “Where are the elders?”

I’ve been blessed to stumble across a handful here and there, but make no mistake, there are a lot of people out there who, even as the decades fall away behind them, are deciding not to grow up and be “an old woman/man.”

(And without going on another rant, our culture really doesn’t help much to discourage this resistance… Sometimes it seems that if you choose to remain immature and bound to your ego, and your agendas and small-self concerns well into your 60s, 70s or even 80s(!), then there’s an APP or a 24-hour news cycle or an echo chamber that will help you do that.)

But for me, the cost is too high. I think that I’m with Michelle on this one: “When I grow up I want to be an old man.”

The cost is just too high. I’d rather have the peace. I’d rather have the contentment. I’d rather have the patience. Maybe that would help someone younger; but that’s not up to me. What I can control is my availability to God and those closest to me.

God, make me an elder.

 

As usual… thanks for commenting and sharing …

 

 

Music From “The Vapor”

6211307788_4722af0ca3_b.jpg

Image via Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27613359@N03/6211307788

It’s always fun when streams in life start to bleed together.

My church has been journeying through the book of Ecclesiastes for a few weeks now, and one of the key concepts that emerges almost immediately in the book (indeed the first 2 verses) is the Hebrew word hevel. 

Most English Bibles translate the word as “meaningless” (the King James calls it “vanity”) but the Hebrew is more literally “vapor” or “breathe”. In this context, “The Teacher” of Ecclesiastes is not so much declaring that everything is “meaningless” in an absolute way, but that it is vapor: ephemeral, passing, impossible to control (if you want to see and hear of the implications of this idea, you can check out our Vimeo E3 Vimeo Feed or our E3 Church Podcast).

Lately, as I get close to my 50s (WHAT!?!?), I’ve been thinking of some of the music and bands of my 20s, when I was a young and growing musician, learning the basics of my craft and discipline. For a good decade plus, I absorbed everything I could in order to reach “the next level” of my musical development, and during that search I ran across a multitude of bands and artists and songwriters and guitar players who, for a relatively brief period of time, were considered masters of their craft (and therefore, worthy of my time and attention).

But guess what: they were vapor. 

Even more than than other areas of life, music and art can be truly passing, as tastes change and evolve (listening to almost any music produced in the 1980s can show how much entire sonic palettes can dominate briefly, only to sound almost ridiculous—thanks, cocaine—a mere 5 or 10 years later.

But nonetheless, there were a few bright spots in an often dark age of music. The vast majority of these bands never entered the public consciousness outside of their immediate context; put another way,

If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know. 

I got lucky: I was.

So, since the digital world now makes it easier for us to “grasp the vapor” a bit, I wanted to offer you all just a few sounds from the past—mostly from the 80s and 90s—that you probably wouldn’t know about (but maybe you should).

And now, the introductions:

Hothouse Flowers

For sometime in the late 80s, U2 had a record label. This was one of their first signings. Hothouse Flowers were some strange blend of folk, soul, along with some unmistakably Irish leanings. This is the sound of my freshman year in college (at least until the cassette wore out).

The Call

Immediately, two thoughts enter my mind regarding The Call: the first is the unfortunate …. of …. (WORSHIP SONG>>>>) FLATTENING …. The second is that it must say something about the quality of your music when a young singer from a pretty popular band agrees to sing backup on one of your singles (this is long before “collaborations” became synonymous with “new ways to make more dollars”). In this case, a young Bono from this upstart band called U2 can be heard singing backup on “What’s Happened to You.” What’s more “The Walls Came Down” features Garth Hudson (from The Band) on keys.

The BoDeans

Three things you’d have to know: First, they opened some dates for U2 on The Joshua Tree tour. I saw them on the first of the first of a two night stand in Fort Worth, Texas (On the second night BB King opened the show; that night included the filming of the live footage of “When Love Comes to Town” for Rattle and Hum… it’s all about the stories.)

Second, almost more than any other of these acts, The BoDeans (really just two dudes from Wisconsin whose surname is not “BoDean”) suffered from some of the more unfortunate sonic choices of the era: gated snares, gratituitous reverse reverb, and an overall emphasis on the crystalline high end (again: thanks, cocaine!) at the expense of the guttural visceral mid-range.

Third, in my opinion, this is where some of the more proximate roots of “Americana” can be found: in the late 80s and 90s, various midwestern bands were discovering the beauty of stripped-down production (at least, when their record companies let them have a voice), harmonies, and the beauty of songwriting. In just a few short years, a little band from southern Illinois called Uncle Tupelo would take up the mantle, releasing a few records, and even more importantly eventually breaking up, forcing Jeff Tweedy to start Wilco and Jay Farrar to start Son Volt.

The Jayhawks

I first read about this Minneapolis band in University of Texas at Arlington school newspaper, when they rolled through the Dallas/Fort Worth, circa 1992/93. This band was similar to the BoDeans (sans the phony last names) with one huge difference: Rick Rubin produced their debut record. In other words, gone were the awful sounding drums and studio tricks, and in their place was the raw and very natural recording sound that Rubin would bring to everyone from The Beastie Boys to Johnny Cash. This was a game-changing record that showed a lot of us how music was going to sound in the very near future. They sung amazing harmonies with each other, and just made honest, heartfelt music.

Around 2001 or 2002, I was listening to a Fresh Air interview with the band, and Teri Gross referred to the band’s 2000 release Smile as “the best record of the year.” It’s just full of one concise, pointed, economical song after another.

Ricki Lee Jones

This is some vapor music from a slightly earlier time (her first record came out in 1979), but I still think that Ricki Lee Jones’ 1981 record Pirates may be the best singer-songwriter record that practically no one under 40 has ever heard. Jones was cinematic and dramatic, but the thing that really hooks me about this (and her first record as well) is the studio band. This is the way music sounds to my ears: real, and immediate, like you sense the guys in the room together. It is organic and coiling, and her voice is weaving in and around the rhythm section, and the moment on “We Belong Together” when what you thought was 6/8 was really a deep swing… I mean…

It still catches my breath 30 years later.

 

No, you can’t hold the vapor… but boy if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, there are some real special moments that come our way.

If you want to actually hear this stuff, the “Vapor” Playlist can be found at: https://open.spotify.com/user/1219088576/playlist/0dVi7R8lqmEXSIBuxuqRWE

 

Song Stories: “Thank You”

So a few weeks ago I released a record (or whatever they’re called nowadays) called After All(,) This

It was really nothing more than a little exercise in musical creativity and exploration, and it was deeply satisfying to me. What’s more, some of you actually paid money for it, and that was a great blessing to me as well.

One of the songs on that release is actually a cover of a song from the early 1990s by a guy named Dennis Jernigan. On the surface, it may have been an odd choice, but there’s a story and a connection to that song.

In 1995, my wife and I moved from Texas to Chicago, Illinois to begin what was the first of many little “adventures” that we’ve undergone. At that time, I was an electric guitarist in my mid-20s, with some miles behind me as a fairly focused musician from Texas. I played on 6th Street in Austin, in Deep Elllum in Dallas, and a few other places in the Lone Star State. What’s more, I was imbued with the notion that electric guitarists from Texas were a breed apart: our legacy included Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Johnson, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top (not to mention Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson).

I took this legacy seriously, and that combined with a strange gumbo of Duane Allman, the Edge, David Gilmour and even a little 1980s hair metal all produced an attitude that was all about making a statement and making an impact on whatever was going on around me musically.

(Occasionally I even had the chops to pull it off LOL.)

Though I’d grown up in the church, I’d done my share of wandering (and wondering), and by the time we made this move to Illinois, I’d already hit my first of a few (unfortunately it took more than one) “rock bottoms” in my life, and I was beginning to re-explore my faith. I grew up in a strictly “hymns” church, but during this time Shana and I started to encounter something called “Worship Music”, which was (supposedly) Jesus music set in “contemporary” arrangements.

The lyrics were spot on, obviously, and they touched the part of my life that longed for a deep, passionate connection to something or someONE higher.

However, the music was another story.

It was supposed to be “contemporary,” but I often sat wondering, “Contemporary for whom?”

Though the lyrics reached me, the recordings did not: the compressed, chorused, polite guitar sounds left me feeling empty.

When we arrived at Willow Creek Community Church, through an amazing set of circumstances and beautifully serendipitous conversations, I ended up volunteering with the music team there. All of a sudden, I’d gone from clubs in Texas—and an occasional church gig to 75 people—to playing before 5,000 at a pop, 10,000-15,000 total on a weekend. What’s more, the musicians there were mostly killer. Just amazing drummers (always my favorite) and bass players and keyboardists and singers, etc., etc.

(And they were filled with this amazing, joyous, celebratory love and passion as well.) 

And other guitar players too…

But not so many like me.

(NOTE: Sitting here, I know now how damaging it can be to my soul for me to ponder ways in which I am different from other people, but at the time, this seemed pretty real to me…)

  • They were established family men and women … Shana and I had been married for a few years, but were still a few years away from being able to have children (another story for another time).
  • They wore dockers and polo shirts … I had jeans and thrift store t-shirts (or that amazing relic of the 1990s: the gas station work shirt).
  • They played the aforementioned chorused and compressed Stratocasters through multi-effect units … I played a Les Paul through a handful of pedals attached by velcro to a piece of plywood.

In addition, I brought this southern, Allman Brothers approach to what they were doing…

And, sometimes, it just really seemed to work.

What was also fun and helpful was that I really didn’t know any of these records that they were covering. Instead, I played with instinct and improvisation. I listened to what they were doing in rehearsal, and then just started playing “what made sense”.

… And, for their part, they tolerated it.

(NOTE: Musicians and guitarists, if you want to do this, please… well… please be good. This approach is decidedly NOT recommended unless you’ve spent upwards of 4-5 hours a day of “deliberate practice on Wikipedia” for about 7-8 years.)

Anyway, “Thank You” was one of those early songs. I loved it’s simplicity; at its core was something essential and elemental to faith, and what’s more there was a soulfulness that I was able to find underneath the somewhat safe (and overly “white”) production. I remember being on that stage at Willow, tuned to “Drop D” and just hammering that low D against a wailing high slide. I remembered digging down deep, SOUL LEVEL DEEP and trying as hard as a human being could try to MAKE THE NOTES I PLAYED = THE EMOTIONS I FELT.

Looking back, it might have worked. It might have been a disaster. Truth is, it was probably somewhere in between.

There are other songs, and maybe they are for other times.

But that’s why I covered “Thank You.”

(OH: And it’s ALSO because… I’m thankful.)

For all that You’ve done I will thank You
For all that You’re going to do
For all that You’ve promised, and all that You are
Is all that has carried me through
Jesus, I thank You

And I thank You, thank You, Lord
And I thank You, thank You, Lord
Thank You for loving and setting me free
Thank You for giving Your life just for me
How I thank You, Jesus I thank You
Gratefully thank You
Thank You.

– “Thank You” by Dennis Jernigan (c) PraiseCharts