“And In My Hour of Darkness”

9 08 2017

“When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be.”

 

If you’re a Beatles fan, you recognize this classic.  What you may not know is the story behind the song.

In the late Sixties, Paul McCartney was going through a difficult season.  He had a dream.  In the dream he saw his deceased mother.  She said to him, “Let it be.”

His mother’s name is Mary.  Mary McCartney.

Those of us with a Catholic background probably thought he was speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But he wasn’t.  At least not consciously.  Paul was baptized a Roman Catholic so perhaps his upbringing was leaking through.  You’d have to ask him.

If nothing else there is a message in “Let It Be.”  One, especially if you’ve been graced with a good mother, is this: Listen to your mom.  Remember her encouragement and wise words.  Remember her self-sacrificing behavior.

 

Suggested Resources:

Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999 (Paul McCartney)

“Let It Be” (The Beatles)

 

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Switchfoot and Hope

31 07 2017

“Hope deserves an anthem and that’s why we sing.”

(Jon Foreman)

Kath and I attended a superb concert last night.  Switchfoot came to our town and played Meadowbrook Theatre, a venue at my alma mater, Oakland University, in suburban Detroit.

She was blown away.

So was I.

The band was superb.  Tight.  Didn’t miss a note.  Engaged from the opening “Hello Hurricane” to the final encore “Dare You to Move.”

I’m not a kid anymore.  That was four decades ago.  But I was a kid last night.

I first heard of Switchfoot, an alternative band from San Diego, about fourteen years ago.  Their album “The Beautiful Letdown” put them on the map in a big way.  Indeed, their performances of “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” from that breakout album at the concert’s end capped the night brilliantly.

Today, I listened to interviews with the band’s co-founder, front man Jon Foreman.  When asked what Switchfoot’s music is all about, Jon answered, “Hope deserves an anthem and that’s why we sing.”

Odd, I came into their music in a big way after I passed the half-century mark.  I’m fifty-three and rock and roll for me means Led Zeppelin.  And more Led Zeppelin.  (Factoid: Jon Foreman was a part of a Led Zeppelin tribute band in his teens.  Factoid no. 2: During the middle section of “Bull In a China Shop” last night, lead guitarist Drew Shirley launched into the solo from “Whole Lotta Love.”  It was spectacular.)

As I’ve gotten to know Switchfoot’s music, I’ve become very uncomfortable.  Hope is a theme.  So are themes like “live life fully, unafraid and without regrets” and “is this who you want to be?”

Ouch.  A little too near the heart and conscience

Check them out.  They’re raw and real, all flawed humanoids trying to figure life out.  It’s all spelled out in the music.

 

Recommended Resources:

“Where the Light Shines Through” (Switchfoot)

“Fading West” (Switchfoot)

“The Beautiful Letdown” (Switchfoot)

“Fading West” – Film (Switchfoot)

 

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(Written for homeless kids in San Diego)





35 Years Ago This Evening

29 07 2017

I remember July 29, 1982 like it was yesterday.  Thirty-five years ago, I stopped at a donut shop to visit a friend and picked up the Detroit Free Press.  I read of an airplane crash.  11 people dead.  And one of them, an iconoclast Christian musician named Keith Green.

Quickly, I grabbed the newspaper and went to the house of a friend.  It was probably about 9:30 at night.  And he was in bed.

“Keith Green is dead.  You have to see this.”  He was awake immediately.  We began reflecting on the profound impact this now deceased twenty-eight year old Christian musician had on us.

Keith Green was what we label as an acronym: WYSIWYG.  “What You See Is What You Get.”  He was intense to a fault.  A friend of mine, a recording engineer, met Keith once.  He said he was so intense he was scary.

Keith was a seeker.  And eventually he latched on to Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus became his guru.  And then his master.  He never looked back.

Keith was not easy to deal with.  He was impulsive, impetuous and his intensity–so says his longtime friend, Randy Stonehill– could often give you an Excedrin headache.  He was immature at times but dead earnest with what he knew was truth.

I was first exposed to Keith’s music as a young Christian disciple.  His in-your-face lyrics both challenged me and made me wither.  The same could be said for multiplied thousands of people who came under his influence.

Keith, thank you.  You have no idea the effect you have had on me for thirty-seven years.  Add to that multiplied millions of others.  May your tribe explode in growth.

Suggested Resources:

No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green (Melody Green & David Hazard)

“Your Love Broke Through:  The Keith Green Story”

 

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Bron-Yr-Aur and Creativity

10 07 2014

DCF 1.0I am a guitarist.  I took up this amazing instrument in the mid ‘70’s.  I saw a friend of mine play three songs—“Time In A Bottle”, “Dream On” and “Smoke On the Water”–the riff that launched thousands of guitarists in those days.  I freaked.  And fell in love.  The love affair continues thirty-eight years later.

I owe a great deal of my early formation as a guitarist to Led Zeppelin in general and Jimmy Page in particular.  I learned a lot of the classic rock Zeppelin tunes in those days.  But I was especially drawn to their acoustic work.  It was just so interesting.  Rare chords.  Alternate tunings.  Mandolins.  J.R.R. Tolkien in the lyrics.  A world of wonder and colorful sounds.

A fair amount of Led Zeppelin’s creativity in those days emerged as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to the Welsh cottage pictured above.  Bron-Yr-Aur.  It was here that music was inspired and created that endures to the present day.  Pastoral. No electricity. They even named music after this quaint locale.

Where are your creative spaces?  A cottage?  Water?  Forests (my personal favorite)?  Urban life?

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Just Practice? There’s No “Just Practice”

9 07 2014

Just PracticeI read a story some time ago that, while sad, was not at all surprising.  Former NBA standout Allen Iverson has fallen on hard times.  He made millions but is now broke.  It is a tale oft-repeated about people in popular entertainment (and make no mistake, professional athletes are, in fact, entertainers).

I recall watching his now-famous press conference–video gone viral–after he’d been fined by his team for missing practice.  He repeated over and over again, “It’s just practice.”  In other words, “when I’m playing the game, I’ll be all there.”

Really?  Try selling that to Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, or Magic Johnson.

God alone knows how this capable man went from riches to rags.  His career spanned the period of the mid 1990′s to 2010.  It’s a sad story, one that could happen, I suppose, to any of us.

I’m going to be candid.  I can’t help but wonder if Iverson’s dismissive attitude towards practice didn’t play some part in things going south for him.  Again, God only knows.  But ideas and mentalities have consequences.  Blowing off practice or refusing to run out an infield fly ball in baseball (something we’d have gotten benched for in the 1970′s) says a lot about a person.

I get bored very easily.  As a guitarist and pianist, I’m not content playing the same things over and over again.  Stale food.  No thanks.  So I have to do things that keep me growing and sounding interesting.  I don’t want to bore my wife or anybody else with ears.

In recent years, I’ve been doing some different things that have helped me play and think differently on the guitar.  And I’ve been having a blast doing it as well.   So I thought I’d share the wealth.

Play in alternate tunings.  A few Autumns ago, I got totally inspired watching Jimmy Page demonstrate how he plays Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes) in the outstanding documentary It Might Get Loud.  Jimmy came up with this years ago while playing around in an alternate tuning: DADGAD.  Operative phrase: Playing around.  It’s profoundly simple and cool.  (I’ve been playing “Kashmir” a lot and my wife digs it.).  With alternate tunings, you get a lot of voicings not available in standard tuning.  If you’re into this, learn a song by artists who’ve used alternate tunings a lot—Crosby, Stills & Nash, Led Zeppelin, Phil Keaggy, Pierre Bensusan, The Rolling Stones.  Better yet, create your own.

Play musical theatre.  A good deal of Broadway music is very involved, sophisticated and colorful.  Usually written by brilliant composers on the piano.  As a guitarist, you will find this extremely challenging.  Here’s something fun—learn really complex chords at various positions all over the neck.  You’ll love the colors.  Pick a show you like (A Chorus Line, Wicked, West Side Story, etc.) and go from there.

Learn a song by one of your heroes.  Eric Johnson used to learn—and I mean really learn—a song a month by Jimi Hendrix.  Eric would take the song apart like a car engine and study it.  His own readings of Hendrix classics are quite good.  Years ago, I’d learn songs by sitting next to the record player and picking up the needle, over and over and over again, and repeating the song until I’d nailed it.  Digital technology makes this so much easier.  Whether your hero is Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Satriani or Tommy Emmanuel, find something you love and learn it cold.  You’ll find that eventually you’ll develop your own voice and style.  It’s what millions of guitarists have done for the past sixty years.  Join their ranks.

Practice.  Yes, proficiency on a musical instrument involves drudgery.  Faithfulness outside of the eye and applause of the crowd.  Your fidelity to practice will absolutely show when you hit the court.

Now go play.  And remember:

It’s not just practice.

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Dan Fogelberg: An Appreciation

3 07 2014

Dan Fogelberg - A Living LegacyI first wrote this the night Dan Fogelberg passed away. December 16, 2007. An artist, whose art still inspires.

_____________________

My writing on this blog is usually of a more hortatory nature.  These reflections are personal.  I am saddened this evening as I’ve just gotten word that Dan Fogelberg—an artist of rare and exquisite musical gifting—has passed away after a three year bout with prostate cancer.  Dan was 56 when he died this morning in Maine, his wife Jean at his side.

I am a musician—in fact, a musician long before I ever stepped into the ministry.  Dan Fogelberg’s music has molded me as a musician probably more than any other musician living or dead.  He played both the guitar and the piano beautifully.  He had a lilting voice and an artist’s soul.  He was discovered as an art student in Champaign IL playing in clubs.  Dan had a way with poetry and lyrics that remind us all just how powerful the spoken word is, especially when set to music.

I first gravitated toward Dan’s music with the Phoenix album, which gave us a number of memorable moments, among them “Longer” and “Face The Fire,” Dan’s powerful rebuke of our dependence upon nuclear power in the aftermath of the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, PA. Dan was never shy about weighing in on political matters with his gifts.  He was adamant–as am I–that there are better ways to go about settling our international differences than by killing one another.

But it was when I first heard Dan’s moving tribute to his father—Lawrence Peter Fogelberg—that I became a fan for life.  “Leader Of The Band” has been for me the most powerful piece of non-religious music that I have ever known.  His father was a jazz musician and orchestra conductor (teaching band in high school).  His mother was trained in opera.  Dan paid tribute to his parents by thanking his father for his gift of music and his mother for her gift of words.  What they passed on to their son has enriched me for nearly 30 years.  The Innocent Age, the album that gave us “Leader Of The Band” was a double album when released in 1981.  It is called a “song cycle” and is a masterpiece.  Fans of the writings of Thomas Wolfe (Of Time And The River) will be very much at home with the material on The Innocent Age.  And so will many others.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about Dan when he was young and moderately successful.  He was living in a house on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon, outside LA.  He rented a grand piano at his home.  His photographer and friend Henry Diltz remembers one day hearing some of the most incredibly beautiful music he’d ever encountered floating through the canyon, all night long until dawn.  He asked his girlfriend, “Who is this guy?”  Dan had been at it, with discipline and beauty, all night long.  That was Dan.  Vintage Dan.

I was privileged to see Dan in concert once—in June,1985, Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, MI.  The temperature that evening was in the 40 – 50 degree range.  Dan came out in that cold, drizzling evening—Pine Knob is an outdoor venue—and played for over two solid hours, first solo and then with the Chris Hillman Band.  He’d just released High Country Snows, an intelligent foray into bluegrass, which he loved.  It was an outstanding show, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The world is a little colder, a little lonelier, a little less friendly this evening.  I leave you with the lyrics to “Leader Of The Band.”  Dan, you will be sorely missed by this middle-aged troubadour.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

Leader Of The Band
An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay
A quiet man of music denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline—a thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand

(Chorus)
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
My brothers’ lives were different for they heard another call
One went to Chicago and the other to St Paul
And I’m in Colorado when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chose and have come to know so well
I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.
(Chorus)
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band

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Why “New” Is Important For You

1 01 2014

The Importance of NewHave you ever longed for those kinds of experiences that, essentially, seem to make time stand still?  We remember events from our childhood with savor that had the quality of lasting forever…suspending the tick of the clock.  We wish we could stay there.  Forever.

Novelty is important in our lives.  Routine, predictable outcomes, familiar actions all give us a feeling of safety, of stability.  For a good deal of our daily living, this is a good thing.

But there are caveats….

Boredom, the ubiquitous condition that afflicts so much of us in the modern, affluent West is born of a good deal of such routine.  Predictable and “safe” behavior choices.  Following and reproducing the known and reliable.  There is a cost.

Neophobia is the fear of new things.  To try new things, new foods, new relationships, new projects, immediately places us outside our comfort zones.  This presents us with choices.

Do I want more of the same thing that I’ve experienced year in and out?  Am I excited about the prospect of twenty-five or fifty more years of “the same ‘ole same ‘ole?”

Here’s the challenge:  Spice things up.  Throw a monkey wrench into your daily routine.  Step outside into the chill of the unknown (you’ll find you’ll adapt to the temp and it ain’t so bad after all).

Wanting to embody the stuff to which I enjoin my readers, here’s a couple of my own:

  • I’m a musician.  There are a lot of well-known artists whose music I’m unaware of.  My loved ones (daughters, wife, son-in-law) have fantastic tastes.  Soooo….I have set up a listening program to daily expose myself to new and classic artists in popular music and jazz to widen my palette.  Fleet Foxes, Thelonious Monk, Ellis Marsalis, Gungor, and The Pogues are all on my radar this month. Even put the program in a spreadsheet to track my progress.  (Yep, I’m an IT nerd, but it works for me.)
  • Try new and healthy food and drink choices.  My wife and I have planned in detail, more than ever, to eat closer to the earth (fruits, vegetables, oil, nuts, fish, lean meats, red wines, etc.) to give our palettes new treats as well as health benefits.
  • Enter new communal circles to increase your relationships.  Theatre societies.  Book clubs (maybe I should form one?).  Local and regional political bodies.  Exercise accountabilities.  All are fraught with enormous possibilities for enriching your lives.

So, what are your plans to shake things up and make time stand still with the sheer pleasure and endorphin release of new experiences?

Currently spinning: The Birth of the Cool (Miles Davis)

Currently reading: Poke the Box (Seth Godin)

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