Archive for the ‘music’ Category

I am concerned about the drummer at church. I’m not sure he’s getting any air.

A few years back, when the church first went to a semi-contemporary service on Sunday mornings, the drum kit was set up nonchalantly near the back of the stage. As far as I could tell, everything sounded fine.

Then, one Sunday, we walked into the auditorium to see the drummer behind a set of three Plexiglas walls. It looked a little like one of those old privacy screens people changed clothes behind in 1960s movies … but minus the privacy. I wondered what sort of international incident had occurred to bring orange-level security around this one man with sticks.

Church services proceeded without incident, with the drums sounding a bit muffled. This setup endured for a year or two.  I was never sure if the drummer was being protected from snipers, or it the congregation was being protected from hearing the drummer. And I suppose those sticks could have shattered during some crazed rendition of “I Can Only Imagine,” sending shards flying into the front row and causing untold splinters.

But apparently this was not nearly enough protection, or drum muffling, because now they’ve completely encased the drummer in Plexiglas – roof and all. He wears noise-blocking headphones, which is a good thing because it must be so loud inside that box that his teeth are coming loose. And I don’t even want to think about what it smells like in there.

Meanwhile, all I can think about when the band plays during church is the “Rock and Roll Creation” scene in “This is Spinal Tap” when Derek Smalls gets stuck inside the plastic pod and keeps playing bass while the roadies try to open it with a hammer and a blow torch.

I’ve since learned that this veritable Cone of Silence is supposedly about sound isolation. You don’t want drum noise bleeding into everyone else’s mics. But before the Plexiglas house I don’t remember this ever being a noticeable concern. I’m not convinced this whole thing wasn’t just about throwing a bone to the people who think drums are Satan’s noisemakers and, along with saxophones and ukuleles, never should be allowed in church.

So the next logical step, for the good of all involved, is moving the drummer completely offsite, to a secure location fortified by 12-inch-thick lead walls. The sound feed from the stage could be piped in, and he could play along without causing danger to anyone.

Also the church wouldn’t have to keep a blowtorch at the ready.



Posted: December 3, 2010 by Jim Killam in music
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A Friday extra. This made my day.

It’s on the same wavelength as this post from several weeks back about unexpected, wonderful gifts.

O Holy Moley

Posted: November 26, 2010 by Jim Killam in Idiot Friday, music, pop culture
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In honor of Black Friday, the mother of all Idiot Fridays, we present today our list of the 12 worst Christmas albums of all time. Feel free to suggest your own holiday atrocities as well.

Explicit content for your family gathering.

For yodeling enthusiasts.

The year without good taste.

Don't hassle the ho-ho-ho.

Extra Crispy Christmas.

We're not gonna buy it ...

A Teshtastic Christmas.

It defies description.

Carols sung by REAL kittens!

If Col. Sanders' album was too sophisticated for you ...

With any luck, that's thin ice he's walking on.

Before Peter's voice changed.

And, as your Black Friday doorbuster bonus selection …

I own this one. Villains include Rudolph the Red Nose Hitman and Sammy the South Side Santa.

This is absolutely dead-on …

Thanks to my friend Jeff for relaying this gem.

Tough week here. On the college campus where I work, a student who went missing 2 weeks ago is now feared dead. Authorities found burned human remains in a park near campus; they waited a week to tell the public because it took that long to determine that the remains were human. The case has been reclassified as a homicide investigation. And, with no suspect yet in custody, the campus is scared.

For whatever reasons, I’ve found myself on the scene during the aftermath of some horrific tragedies these past few years. Post-Katrina New Orleans and post-earthquake Haiti were of my own choosing, as I had an opportunity to do relief work. No such choosing with the 2008 NIU shootings and now a grisly homicide.

A common thread I’ve noticed in these situations is the heroic response of the church. Not “a” church. THE church. Denominational differences don’t amount to much. Neither do doctrinal debates about Calvinism or spiritual gifts or gender roles in the church.  And all of those “why” questions about why terrible things happen to good people can wait. Right now, the question is “how?” As in, how can we serve?

It’s in these times that WWJD – What would Jesus Do? – means something a lot deeper than a Christian marketing slogan. We can say, with complete confidence, that Jesus would comfort those within his reach. Not by handing them a pamphlet, but simply by crying with them. Quietly and inconspicuously serving them. Working alongside them. Sometimes, praying with them.

In short, for us as Christians, it means disappearing. Getting out of the way and letting hurting people see Jesus. Pretty simple.

I think this song says it well.

Dulled Ears

Posted: October 20, 2010 by Jim Killam in church culture, music, pop culture
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The Washington Post conducted an experiment in January 2007. Reporter Gene Weingarten sent world-renowned virtuoso Joshua Bell and his $3.5 million Stradivarius violin into the L’Enfant Plaza subway station in Washington, D.C., during the morning rush hour. For 45 minutes, as more than a thousand commuters passed by obliviously, Bell performed some of the world’s greatest classical music – Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chaconne,” Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and several others.

  A total of $32 in tips was tossed into the violin case. Only seven adults stopped, even briefly, to listen. But …

 “The behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent,” Weingarten wrote in the story which won that year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”

(Take a few minutes to read the story. It’s wonderful.)

 Only one person recognized Bell. The other six who stopped to listen only recognized that this was something special, something beautiful.

 I like to think I’d have stopped to listen to Joshua Bell, but I’m just not sure. The artist and the music would not have been instantly recognizable. Our culture is so noisy, so fast-paced and so full of cheap counterfeits, we often blow right past unfamiliar beauty.

 Our ears have been dulled. A street saxophonist playing “The Simpsons” theme in the parking garage below Chicago’s O’Hare Airport gets about the same notice and shrug as Joshua Bell playing Bach in a DC subway station. And the Simpsons guy makes more money at it.

 In “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” C.S. Lewis compared sensory deafness to the confection Turkish Delight offered to Edmund by the White Witch. The more we eat, the more we lose our taste for the finer delicacies.

 “At first Edmund tried to remember that it was rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat…”

 “She knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, to go on eating it till they killed themselves.”

 In the Post story, Weingarten also noticed the number of passers-by who never even heard Joshua Bell playing because they had their own, private concerts blaring from their iPod earbuds. No doubt, a lot of that music was pretty good. But it wasn’t shared.

 “For many of us,” he wrote, “the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.”

 It’s interesting that those sage observations come from a newspaper writer. As a journalist, I’ve had a front-row seat to an incredibly fast, steep decline in the newspaper business. We believe it’s happening for a reason similar to why most people ignored Joshua Bell in the subway station, and why the church has become increasingly unnoticed by American culture. It’s not that Americans have differing, irreconcilable worldviews. It’s that so many Americans lack any worldview at all.

 Our high rate of divorce, cheap Internet, hyper-materialism and 24-hour infotainment noise have converged to create a generation (society?) of nihilists: people who believe the outside world has no meaning and is, in fact, too painful to pay attention to. Cell phones and Web-based media provide a suitable substitute to the pain and confusion of the unfiltered world. They’ve become the new reality of choice for an alarming number of Americans. 

Robert Putnam’s important 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” was researched and written before the mobile-device explosion. But even then, Putnam pointed out that America had become far less connected than in decades past – more individualistic, less community-minded. People are less likely to form a worldview because, well, we aren’t viewing the world. Just our little corner of it. 

 I once observed two female college students approach each other from different directions on a sidewalk. Both were talking on their cell phones. They glanced up and recognized each other. They smiled and hugged – never saying a word to each other and all the while never interrupting their phone conversations. Then each did a little wave to the other and continued on their separate ways.

Cell phones and their offspring, smart phones, have stolen much of the community from college campuses and our culture in general. If community is what occupies the space between people, then we here in America and in the American church have lost a lot of community in favor of … well, nothing. We’re a bunch of individuals, simply co-existing in separate, noisy realities.

One evening at church a couple of years ago, our pastor interrupted his message for a “moment of Sabbath.” One minute of silence, with no one milling about or talking. Cell phones turned off. He timed it on his watch. Some people fidgeted nervously. Some looked around every few seconds. Some prayed. Some just stared straight ahead, either deep in thought or fighting sleep.

 By the end, many had become comfortable with the unfamiliar silence – almost like it was a delicacy we’d forgotten all about while stuffing ourselves with Turkish Delight. Suddenly we could identify with those children who wanted to stop and listen to Joshua Bell but were hurried along by their parents. And all it took was to turn down the noise so we could hear the beautiful music playing underneath. The moment ended too soon.

 Weingarten observed in his Post story:

“If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?”

Joy from the Rooftops

Posted: October 18, 2010 by Jim Killam in music, pop culture
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On January 30, 1969, the Beatles went to the rooftop of their Apple Corps studio building in London and began to play.  A crowd of incredulous business people gathered and quickly grew, even though they couldn’t see the band five stories above them. In the film shot that day, people smile and point to the roof when they realize what’s going on. Others climb nearby fire escapes to get themselves a vantage point. This, after all, was the first concert since 1966 by the biggest band in the world.

Others walk resolutely along their way, never looking up or acknowledging what’s going on. Some are ticked off. One businessman interviewed on the film says: “This type of music is all right in its place. It’s quite enjoyable. But I think it’s a bit of an imposition to absolutely disrupt all the business in this area.”

That guy probably went about his business, resenting the interruption. Almost 42 years later, it’s a safe bet that no one remembers what business he conducted that day. But the whole world remembers that concert, how the London police busted it up when the band might have played much longer … and that it turned out to be the Beatles’ last public performance.

U2’s March 1987 video of “Where the Streets Have No Name” was a carefully orchestrated event, but delivers the message even louder. The band played several takes of the powerful song atop a liquor store in downtown Los Angeles. The most memorable shots are of the exuberant crowd, including one guy who climbs a lightpost for a better view. Those shots alternate with shots of police officers trying to shut down the event, which they eventually do.

Both the Beatles’ unannounced performance and the U2 video shoot were beautifully chaotic. Take a few minutes to watch the videos. They brought business and traffic to a screeching halt, and brought absolute joy to most of those who happened to be in those neighborhoods on those days. Unexpected, wonderful gifts. Meanwhile, the police and the “city fathers” could only obsess about the interruptions to the daily routine and on how to stop them.

Impromptu and graceful joy, or a desire to shut it down before something gets out of hand? Beauty and creativity, or Fortress? With which side would most Americans place the church? With which side would I place myself?

 Jesus was a joyful disruption, and sometimes an imposition, whom the Pharisees tried to shut down and who didn’t worry about veering from the routine. In “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey wrote:

 “Jesus did not mechanically follow a list of ‘Things I Gotta Do Today,’ and I doubt he would have appreciated our modern emphasis on punctuality and precise scheduling. He attended wedding feasts that lasted for days. He let himself get distracted by any ‘nobody’ he came across, whether a hemorrhaging woman who shyly touched his robe or a blind beggar who made a nuisance of himself. Two of his most impressive miracles (the raising of Lazarus and of Jairus’ daughter) took place because he arrived too late to heal the sick person.”

Thursday: Pearls Before Breakfast