Category Archives: Music

Exit: The heart must sing | Music in the Evangelical church

This post is part of a meandering series about why I left Evangelicalism and the aftermath. You can find the first post here


You want to know a secret?

Although I eye-roll rather hard at pretty much all “Christian” media for its moralism and general cheesiness, sometimes when I’m in the car alone I’ll crank up the local praise & worship station and – if I actually recognize anything – sing along.

*gasp* I know right? lol


Music: Let the people sing

People who know me know that I’m really into music. I sing, I play the piano, I pretend to want to put in the work to learn to play the guitar, I listen to music from all genres all the time. But if you ask me what category of musician I am, I have to answer “church musician.” It’s been the heart and soul of my musical career.

Since I was a kid, one of my primary acts of service has been music for worship. As a little fundamentalist, I banged out (too loud) piano solos as offertories or “special music.” I started playing the piano for chapel singing in middle school and never really stopped. I learned to sing in school choirs and sang in church choirs from age 13 until my adult church stopped having choirs when I was in my 30s. (Casualty of the worship wars.)

For over 10 years I was a primary musician at my church, usually at the piano and – if it was the “contemporary worship service,” singing a strong alto line at the same time.  I can reconstruct nearly anything from a string of lyrics and a set of chords.

And this is perhaps the thing I miss most about leaving church.


Nobody sings like Christians

There’s something powerful about corporate worship, something no other sector of Western culture can even begin to approach.

Think about it: Aside from screaming lyrics at a live concert or singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the 7th inning stretch, when do Americans sing together?

I’ll wait.

The art of corporate singing is dead in our culture, aside from formal civic chorales. Our folk culture no longer prioritizes singing together a set of common songs that might unite us across our differences.  Well, aside from Happy Birthday or Auld Lang Syne.  Even then, people mumble and laugh nervously and get it over with (unless they’re New Years Eve drunk enough not to care).

I’m not saying music is irrelevant — clearly, the American music industry is huge and thriving. (Whether the current pop stuff is good is a totally different argument, but I’ll abstain.)

A lot of the “belt it out with a bunch of other people who know the same song” is gone from American life, and we’re the poorer for it. The people who come together to SING are, primarily, Christians.  And they do it weekly.

Granted, the hard Right within Christianity hates the modern worship music for replacing the complex beauty of hymn text with what they deem to be inferior, repetitive mush.  And the modern worship folks find a lot of hymn tunes to be pretty terrible and hard to sing using amplified instruments (which are almost a requirement in a large hall).  Honestly, I think both sides are right to an extent. And I enjoyed the way my PCA church blended old and new.

I’m afraid I’ll never experience anything like this again.


Did you know you can sing “Softly and Tenderly” to the tune of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”?    You can also sing “Angels We Have Heard On High” to “Yellow Submarine,” but it’s such an earworm that I’d never suggest it to anyone lest you hate me forever.


Leading worship: It’s a dance

What’s it like to lead worship rather than participating in it? I can speak only to my own experiences.

Significantly, there was a weight, a deep sense of responsibility about playing well because the music itself was an offering to God. Worship leaders are simultaneously proud of and protective of and touchy about their place in the pecking order of ministers.

Music ministers grab onto that passage in Chronicles where musicians are labeled as part of the priesthood. They cling to the passage in Psalms about singing a new song to the Lord; the Nehemiah passage about God rejoicing over us with singing; the Ephesians 5 verses the command believers to sing to one another.  Good musicians hate bad musicianship (for good reasons), so it’s natural to elevate the role of music in worship, and speak about it in weighty terms.

Looking back, I honor the earnestness of this and recognize the value of taking leadership seriously.  Yet I hesitate to laud the feelings of guilt and responsibility that seemed to drive many worship leaders into constantly doubting their own motives or quality of work. Christianity can be a very guilt-driven place. Who gets to be on stage? Who determines when the worship leaders are spiritual enough?

Those who bear the worst of this guilt are the souls who question their motives at every turn, blazing a hot light into every corner of their heart to find any hidden sin or dirt or ambition or pride. It’s hard to be a church musician in a milieu where acknowledging your talent is seen as sinful and thankless.  It’s even harder when you’ve been trained by the church to feel guilty if you ever do anything but “give God the glory.”

By raising worship to the level of preaching – and I’m not saying this is wrong; I think the exegesis may support it – we force worship leaders into the same toxic patterns that plague Evangelical pastors in general. We made so much of leaders. They had to be “special” (otherwise, why pay a pastor if anyone could do his job?). By definition this comes with a lot of pressure and expectations.

Should we be expecting worship leaders to earn a masters or D.Min. in worship ministry? Should musicians be church-grown instead? I’m honestly asking.  The church runs like a business more than anything else in America, and capitalist theories of management aren’t necessarily congruous with biblical norms.

worship music piano


How the music gets made

The responsibility of worship leading aside, (speaking now of myself) I was always running a series of parallel processes in my brain when I joined the worship band each week for rehearsal and then service. As an ensemble musician, you’re constantly listening for how your sound fits or clashes with the group. (Or you should be.) This ‘meta’ is what differentiates an outstanding worship band from a mediocre one. And at NCC, when we were all “on,” we were REALLY good.  I’m proud of that.

I’m afraid I’ll never find anything like this camaraderie again.

At any given moment on stage, I’d say 50% of my brain was occupied with the physical and mental work of producing the right notes at the right time in the right places. The other 50% was spit between paying attention to the group sound and paying attention to everything else about the experience: the congregation’s response (or lack of it), my own emotions, the joy or passion or beauty of the music itself.

Occasionally, everything just clicked and I floated out of my own body on the waves of sound, on the waves of emotion and joy and Jesus and feels and ….

Was this the Holy Spirit? Was this spiritual ecstasy? Does Lady Gaga feel the same way in the middle of a concert when suddenly every note is right in a way it wasn’t 10 minutes ago?  If I feel a shade of the same tingle when Coldplay’s “Something Like This” comes on the radio, does that mean God inhabits the joy of all music, or that the elusive moment of ecstasy I experienced on stage from time to time is merely an outcome of playing music live?

I don’t know. I just know that I really miss it. With my whole heart.


The CCM elephant

Look, I fully acknowledge that Christian music has a serious problem. Well, several.  For one, many of the CCM tunes are just shit. They really are.  Four chords, that’s it. Teach someone D A G Bm on a guitar and they can immediately play pretty much anything on the radio right now.   Simplest cadences in the world.  Too much of that in one service, and I’d have to bang my head on the piano lid till the pain gave me something to keep me interested.

Despite all that simplicity, many of the worship song melodies are nearly unsingable by the average person. The verse (so-called) wanders around using a few notes in a dull chant-like way, or leaps like a frightened rabbit around the scale. The songs always follow the same damn form: Intro / Verse 1 /  Chorus / Verse 2 / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Outro.  You hear it on the radio every day, in any pop music genre. I get it, the format works. But let’s be honest: at best, people might learn to sing the chorus. The verse is always a mumble-fest.

My guilty pleasure might be scanning our 3 CCM stations for tunes when I’m driving alone, but that doesn’t mean I find things I want to sing along with very often. When I had a 30 minute commute, I used to put in an earbud and play some of my favorites off my iPhone so I could sing along.

Christianity is keeping corporate singing alive, and at times they’re doing it with heart and soul and skill.  Depending on your personal music tastes, you can find something to sing with.  But there’s also a sea of mediocrity out there — of knock-off pop boy bands, of wanna-be Demi Levatos crooning while wearing more modest blouses to avoid alienating their audience, of 30-somethings trying desperately to be hip, of indie musicians squeezing so much earnest belief into their songs that it makes my teeth hurt.

Sing a new song

To prove that I’m not just an ass, here’s a short list of recent worship songs I think nearly anyone can get behind. They’re good arrangements that sing well, tunes that anyone can learn to sing.

Look, the music  you listen to in the car or at your picnic probably isn’t the same music that’s going to work for a worship service. At NCC we built these songs out with a full band and gave them a lot of energy without being obnoxious. But they’re also good with a single piano or guitar. The tunes themselves are very singable and I can lift my voice and sing happily anytime I hear them.

If you’re hip and cool with the CCM charts, you’ll laugh at how old these are. But I believe most songs ned a few years under their belts before we’ll know for sure they can stick.

I hate that one’s hymnody is an outgrowth of one’s tribe. If you’re from a different tribe than me, chances are we’ll have only a very few songs in common: Amazing Grace, the doxology.  Maybe Heaven has huge singalongs and everyone somehow loves all the songs chosen. Or maybe in heaven, with sinless hearts, we will enjoy music as the simple offering that it is, instead of some deep theological / political statement about Big Important Things. We’ll simply love it for the beauty that it provides, a channel for worship.


If we can pray to God, we can sing to God

I don’t know how many Protestants realize that we owe much to John Calvin for making sure that hymnody stayed in the hands of the congregation. As debates raged about what God does or doesn’t permit in worship, church leaders in the nascent Protestant movement were taking a pretty hard line (at least in Calvin’s circles; Luther was waaaay more chill about some of these things) about not allowing anything into worship that God Himself hadn’t expressly commanded.

Calvin famously derived that the Scripture celebrates believers praying to God in their own words. To him, singing to God fell into the same category. Thus, if prayers were ok, congregational singing had to be ok too.  *whew*  I can’t even imagine how much I would’ve hated church if there had been no corporate singing.  I’m going to give Calvin a huge hug in heaven if I see him. I’m not sure how that works. Can I get a punch list or something?

Calvin even hired a guy to write some fantastic, fun, syncopated tunes for his psalter (hymn texts drawn from the psalms). He wasn’t so much into letting people sing just anything, mind you, but he wanted the psalms sung with joy and beauty.  If you think hymn tunes are boring, don’t blame Calvin or Luther (who happily took pop tunes for his poetry, having none of Calvin’s qualms about any of this).  Blame the English Protestants, who had to make sure no one was having any fun ever. Who ironed out all the great syncopation in the Geneva tunes? The English. *sigh*   Would you believe the “doxology” (tune: Old Hundreth) was originally gloriously bouncy and happy?  Yup.  All the way back to the 16th century…. until the English church got hold of it, stripped it down, and then shipped it to America with the Puritans or Pilgrims.

I’m simplifying here, so don’t come at me if you’re a hymnologist. But my Church Hymnody course in undergrad was one of the best in my program, and I’ve thanked Calvin ever since for helping me get through every church service ever.

church music women
Photo by FOTOGRAFIA .GES on Unsplash

Confession:  I just can’t do a church with poor music. I don’t mean “small church, zero talent, so Martha plays on Sundays and we’re thankful for her.”  You go, Martha. I don’t want to attend your church, honestly, but I appreciate your service.

No, I’m talking big churches with the means to do music well, but it’s boring. Or badly skilled. But mostly just….dull.  Trying too hard to be either hip or traditional.  *sighs*  That goes for the megachurch concert approach too. Dude. If I wanted someone to blast my ears with big power chords and soaring tunes, I’d follow U2 around for their world tours and throw in a few shows from every other famous band ever.

Maybe that’s unfair. I don’t know.

It’s my curse. I know it’s possible to do joyful, energetic, interesting worship services that invites everyone to sing, and I’ve got zero interest in doing church without it.

But honestly, one of the things that’s kept me from heading out on a scouting expedition to find a new church is that I can’t bring myself to mumble through a pile of songs I’ve never heard accompanied by a wailing guitar, an earnest 25-year-old on an acoustic, or a somber organ.

The music thing hits really close to home for me, and I’m going to be a recovering church musician for a long, long time.


Confessions of a recovering church musician

  • I stayed at my Evangelical church way longer than I “fit” there because I truly enjoyed the fellowship of my fellow musicians. We played well together. They were my band peeps, and I loved them for it. Genuinely.  I miss them right now, and writing this post makes me sad.  Giving my music to the church week after week helped keep me connected to the community of faith.
  • I’m also sad because, when the end came, it came because I wasn’t welcome back to their stage.  I don’t blame them, since I think by that point everyone could tell I wasn’t in that camp anymore. But it’s a painfully Evangelical thing to rob someone of a gift they love to give because the Evangelical no longer agrees with the gift-giver.
  • When I can’t handle the suffocating blanket of organized religion, I can sing to God. I can give Him my songs.  I can play for Him. I can play TO Him.
  • America really ought to get back into the corporate music thing. I guess we’re going to need something newer than Stephen Foster songs. Are the Beatles enough?
  • I haven’t touched a piano since July 2016, the last time I played for corporate worship at NCC. Not even to play for weddings. Like everything else in Evangelicalism, that too is tribal. When you’re out, you’re really and fully out.
  • I sense how this is deeply and personally tragic, like someone knocked me out and amputated a limb without asking first. But now that it’s gone, I cannot drum up any interest in going back to the grind of rehearsals and early Sunday mornings. I have zero desire to hire on as an underpaid musician at a church of any flavor.  And believe me, they are ALL underpaid.
  • If you’re in a church somewhere, and you’re reading this, and your church musician(s) are good at what they do, please make sure they get compensated somehow. Please. Give them a Christmas bonus. Argue for them to get a monthly stipend or a quarterly perk. Church musicians are hardworking people, and music is expensive.

This post is part of a meandering series about why I left Evangelicalism and the aftermath. You can find the first post here

Music Monday: A Time to Feel

Current Track: Underoath Album Cover

It’s been a week, no?

I just learned that a friend of a friend has passed away, a man with a brilliant mind in a broken body. I’d met him only a few times, but my friend could barely speak of the disease that had chewed through his friend’s life before the man had even reached 35.

There are no glib comments that can counteract the pain of death, of losing someone in their prime of life.

This is tender ground for many people, and well-meaning folks rush to make themselves feel better about grief and sorrow by pasting a platitude atop the pain:  “At least he didn’t suffer.” “Well, maybe he’s in a better place now.”

At these moments, in the silence, we must stare into this void and face the deepest questions of our existence. Religious or agnostic, brave or terrified, we humans cannot escape the truth that our lives are short and uncertain.

A time to die – and a time to feel

I love the “time” poem in Ecclesiastes 3, made so famous by the Byrds in one of the most earworm tunes of the 20th century.  There’s a time for everything under the sun. Figuring out what’s appropriate to when is an outgrowth of wisdom.  The Preacher goes on to say that God makes everything beautiful (or fitting, appropriate) in its time.

I appreciate Ecclesiastes more in middle age for its brutal honesty. The speaker brings up problem after problem of life: it’s unfair; rich people get all the perks by stomping on poor people; rich people still die and someone else gets all their hard-earned wealth (which bugged him, since he was pretty rich).  He wonders about the point of life, since we’re all just dead at the end. If this is how the whole thing turns out, what makes life better for me than for a baby who died stillborn? At least the baby didn’t have to deal with all the shit of this life.

Ecclesiastes is so bleak at times that most Christians are highly uncomfortable with the book. They act like God must’ve made an oversight by letting it into the canon. Surely it’s here just to show us how “worldly” people think, right?

Faith is no excuse for thoughtlessness or cowardice. This life throws questions at us that we cannot hope to answer. Why do good people die young? Why do evil men prosper? Why don’t some people give a shit that life is so bad for other people?

Music as a channel for what we cannot say

Look, I know this isn’t rocket surgery insight here: when I can’t put words to the badness or to the beauty or to the sadness or to the fear, I can feel it through music.  I can play it out with my fingers on the keys of a piano. I can click Play on the tracks below, close my eyes, and let the sounds wash over me.

There have often been times I could not even understand the emotions or name them. I just knew that I felt, and it was a place to begin.

I composed about 6 different posts for this blog over the course of last week’s media circus around the Kavanaugh hearings. I’m angry. I’m tired.

I need a place where my soul can rest and find respite before heading back into the mess.

After a while, it’s tempting to shut off the spigot. I mean, I’m writing this right now instead of doing the project I really need to work on, because I decided it was more important to mourn the loss of a person than to plow through my day as if nothing had happened. I made a conscious choice to feel instead of turning off that sense of loss for my friend who grieves.

There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to be born, and a time to die.  A time to feel.

Feel with me today

If you’d like to channel a few feelings with me today, whatever you’re feeling, here are a few of my favorites:

Chanticleer sings Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” with the US Naval Academy men’s glee chorus. You’ll have to crank the sound, but it’s worth it. I cried from the sheer beauty of this when I first heard it sung live by Chanticleer in performance at Clemson University:

Another from Chanticleer, but it’s easier to find this one on Apple Music or Spotify.  I adore about half of the tracks on Chanticleer’s album Wondrous Love (listen on Apple Music, Amazon). Put everything aside, find a pair of headphones, and listen to them sing the old Scots tune “Loch Lomond.”  Don’t miss the last 6 chords–I don’t care if the building is burning down around you.

The Fire Tonight album coverNext up is a track you’ll have to find on one of the streaming services – I’ll provide links below – because it’s not on YouTube. The band is composed of friends of mine, and I think this is possibly the best song they wrote. The entire album is fantastic (IMO) but this song in particular.

Le Cote Sombre, by The Fire Tonight.
Listen on Apple, Amazon, Bandcamp

And finally, a word about the track I led with for this post. For personal reasons, this song is deeply associated with grief over the loss of a young person.  Underoath is a hardcore band (read: yes, there’s some screaming) who used to matter about 15 years ago. (Sorry, Underoath, if you’re still out there.)  Their music isn’t amazing to me, but this song is burned into my emotional circuits for its lyrics and for the way it builds to a MOMENT of intense emotion. The singer continues with lyrics about faith and grace and mercy while the screamer yells JESUS I’M READY TO COME HOME (if this were a dubstep track, it would be the “drop” moment).  Truly, there are days when I’m just ready to come Home.

Oh sweet angel of mercy
With your grace like the morning
Wrap your loving arms around me
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey ungraceful I will teach you To forgive one another
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey unloving I will love you
And will love you

Jesus I’m ready to come home …

Unfaithful
Ungraceful
And unloving
I will love you

(Listen: Amazon or Apple Music)

 

Music Monday: Tunes for the week

Man, it’s been forever since I laid down a Music Monday post!  Must remedy immediately!

Music continues to hold a large space in my life, though it’s been diminished significantly over the past few years. Being away from a large body of students has cut off my access to the latest/newest bits of pop culture. I can skim media feeds but it’s not the same as being hooked into the stream directly. I do miss that.

Is it just me, or is pop radio TERRIBLE this year? I’m hardly in the car anymore, now that I work from home, but I’m counting it a blessing given the bland grey dull tunes that hit me anytime I turn on the radio. A friend of mine described the entire pop ecosystem right now as “f***n mumble rap* and I think she’s got a point.  (For the record, she listens to plenty of rap – the good stuff that never makes it to mainstream radio.)  The rock stations aren’t much better; I feel like I’ve heard the Standard White People Catalog of 70s Rock, 80s Hits, 90s Grunge and 00s Alt Rock way too many times now.

So I’ve leaned into Apple Music to discover new sounds and review some old ones.  Nothing here is particularly “new,” just new to me – and recommended.

For today’s Music Monday:   3 albums and 1 Apple Music playlist that should be in your feed for this week. Listen happy, friends!

Andra Day: Cheers to the Fall

So many things to love about this album. Day’s voice reminds me of the greatest Motown enhanced by everything ’90s R&B has to offer. The tracks move through a soundscape reminiscent of the ’60s, walking through your ears like a woman in a sleek dress in a Bond movie – the Sean Connery series, or the first Daniel Craig one.  Take track #2, “Only Love.”  I hear crisp martinis and red lipstick in these grooves, and it’s hard to have a bad day when Andra Day is laying down the soundtrack.  Get it on Amazon or listen on Apple Music.

London Grammar: Truth is a Beautiful Thing

The lead single off this album, “Rooting for You,” has gotten airplay in various places. It’s lush and mournful, dreamy and beautiful. Play this whole album as background to a dinner outside on your patio under the evening twilight, or sit outside yourself tonight and sip a frosty beverage as the sun goes down.  Get it on Amazon or Apple Music 

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer

 I’m in love with this album. It’s spicy and saucy and a little….dirty. lol   Every track sizzles with slick beats and sultry vocals. If you have time, treat yourself to watching the 45-minute “Emotion Picture” version of the album: a sci-fi story about assimilation vs love. I can’t list a particular favorite track because I’d have to list the entire album. Not an exaggeration.   Dirty Computer on Amazon. Or on Apple Music

PLAYLIST: The Rocket 100 (curated by Elton John) – Apple Music

This will cure my pop radio blues! Only Elton John could put together a playlist of music so varied and interesting yet so ….pop. I’m a rock girl most of the time, but sometimes I want the lighter, happy tunes that pop should provide. The summer of 2018 hasn’t dished out many singles that I’ve loved, but I can always turn on Sir Elton’s playlist and instantly improve my day!  Skip anything you don’t enjoy — there’s over SIX hours of music here if you listen to the whole thing!  In fact, I wish every retail establishment would throw out their tired background music and replace it with this.

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/elton-johns-playlist/pl.9192e00c1da741719f7b4816d164031e?app=music&at=1000lNKc

Bonus Track: North Carolina hardcore band Hopesfall broke up like a decade ago, but they’re back with a single and now a whole album (via Apple or Amazon)!  It’s solid, and I’m glad to see them back!  Why do I care? Apparently the music we grow up with sticks with us.

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/album/arbiter/1370595882?app=music&at=1000lNKc

Concert Review: Evanescence with Lindsey Stirling

Evanescence with Lindsey Stirling
Heritage Memorial Park Ampitheatre
Simpsonville, SC
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Lindsey Stirling in Concert//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Quick thoughts about this show:

Opener:  Cello Gram
A dude with a cello and a dude playing one of those wooden box percussion drum things.  Cool.  Fun.   And their stuff is on Apple Music and Amazon, so go look them up.

Main: Evanescence reminded me of how much I enjoyed their first album and why. I’ve had some of those songs running through my head ever since we left the show, but not in a bad, annoying way.  Amy Lee’s vocals are great as ever.

The real draw for this show, to me, was seeing everything played live with a full orchestra (featuring local musicians, conducted by someone on the tour).  There’s a richness to the orchestral sound that no amplified electronica can match.

The newest album releases Lee to redraft some of her old material in new ways and to add a few more songs to the pile. Yes, it’s all basically the same sound, but it was lovely.

Top songs for me:  My Immortal, Lithium   Latest album on Amazon // Apple Music

Headliner: Lindsey Stirling was a tour de force, exploding onto the stage with dancers and sets and 3 layers of costumes. Have you watched her on YouTube? Then you know what we saw. It was fun and light and beautiful.

I listened to Evanescence – I have hardly any photos — but I shot dozens of pictures during Stirling’s set.  I didn’t have a telephoto lens good enough to grab any really great shots, but the colors were so lovely.

Lindsey Stirling on Apple Music // on Amazon

The crowd featured teenagers, Millennials, and lots of GenX folks, especially women and married couples. I had to wonder if the men were there because their wives dragged them or because this goth rock music appeals to them too and they weren’t ashamed to admit it. 😉

A lovely evening under the stars, once the setting sun tempered the August heat.  Our friends nabbed a great spot to the right of center in the GA area, just behind the separating wall for the seating area. Will definitely sit there again.

 

 

 

 

Music Monday: Rap is art

Some of you will hate this video, but you should watch it anyway.

I do need to point out that hip hop and rap usually contain references to violence and strong language. I’m not condoning the content of the lyrics. But the artistry of the words — that’s impossible to deny, especially when it’s presented this clearly.

I’ve said for a long time that if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be hanging out with street artists and rappers, because they handle language the way Shakespeare did, with an incredible understanding of the beats in the syllables and their effect on the ear. (And let’s be honest—Shakespeare’s content is pretty bawdy in places. I don’t think these albums would make him blush.)

Seriously, tho. Watch this. 

 

Music Monday: Beyonce made more than Lemonade

They say true love’s the greatest weapon
To win the war caused by pain, pain
But every diamond has imperfections
But my love’s too pure to watch it chip away
Oh nothing real can be threatened
True love breathes salvation back into me
With every tear came redemption
And my torturer became a remedy

~”All Night Long,” Lemonade, Beyonce

I didn’t expect to be absolutely floored by Beyonce’s album Lemonade…. but I was.

More precisely, by the film, which was the first way I encountered the music. You’ll have to search the dark underbelly of the internet to find a free stream; legitimately, sign up for a free 1-month trial of Tidal and make sure you cancel in time.

beyonce_Lemonade_1024_1024

Beyonce created an album I’ll be listening to for years. Why?

Because ultimately this album isn’t about infidelity. It’s about forgiveness. Restoration.

I don’t really care so much about the swirling cloud of questions – did Jay-Z cheat on Bey? is this a breakup album? is it just a story? – because nobody has those answers. Story truth is sometimes more real than the actual truth, to reference Tim O’Brien, and in this case, the arc of anger and betrayal in the album melts into a sober-faced reconciliation.

Along the way, Beyonce explores what it means to be a black woman in the USA. I’m not a black woman, so I watched and learned. The mothers of slain black boys hold photos of their sons. The lyrics take us sometimes into the workaday life of a woman trying to hold everything together, or a little girl scarred by the hardness of her father.

How can I watch Lemonade? Did Jay Z cheat on Beyoncé? Who is ‘Becky with the good hair’? Are Jay Z and Beyoncé even married? It’s not too late to catch up

Source: Beyoncé’s Lemonade album explained, from beginner to ‘Beyhive’ | Music | The Guardian

Musically, the album is interesting, fostered by collaborations with a huge variety of artists (ranging as far as Jack White) and plenty of cool samples (including Led Zeppelin’s “The Levee’s Gonna Break”). It would help if you’re a fan of hip hop, or at least capable of appreciation.

But even if you aren’t, find a way to donate an hour toward the film. It’s rough at parts, cutting at parts, raw most of the time, but also honest and beautiful and worth your time.

Music Mondays: hxc blue

I dunno what the rest of y’all will think of this post. Here we go…..

I don’t know why it feels juvenile to admit that sometimes I just want music to be melancholy.  Songs that would emit shades of grey rather than shimmering color; songs that taste sour with a bitter tang.  I’m not often in a “bad mood,” though I move through seasons of irritability and dissatisfaction.

But surely we all have those days when nothing quite fits, when the wrongness of the world rubs up against the brokenness inside my heart, and I’m drawn toward introspection and a dark acknowledgement that we live as broken people in a broken world.

A lot of people mock hardcore and emo music for being immature, overly dramatic, and too dark. Those criticisms are warranted. But when I am looking for a playlist for a less than perfect day, I end up here, with a mix of music from several genres but mostly hardcore.

So here. If your day is crappy, and you need to commiserate instead of pretending to be happy, here are songs to make you un-merry:

“Sowing Season,” Brand New
This is my go-to song for when I feel like nothing I’m doing is making a difference. Yeah, anyone who works with people knows what that feels like.  Sometimes this mood drives me to write poetry, but it’s easier just to pop in this album, The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, and let my thoughts follow their words.

Is it in you now,
To watch the things you gave your life to broken?
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools. (lyrics)

(if you’d prefer to watch a great LineRider video while listening, here ya go)

“How to save a life,” The Fray
I don’t consider The Fray to be hxc or emo at all, but this song fits this list, at least for me. I don’t know how to save a life, but I’m wired to “care”: a paradox which often leaves me melancholic and disappointed that I can pour love into someone else but it doesn’t mean they’re going to care or get better.  “Where did I go wrong / I lost a friend / Somewhere along in the bitterness / And I would have stayed up with you all night / Had I known how to save a life.” (Wiki)

And as a close runner up, I really appreciate their song “You Found Me,” which is a pretty honest look at the problem of evil as we encounter it in our daily lives. (Wiki)

anything by From Autumn to Ashes
I mean, the band’s entire catalogue is downright depressing. Some great guitar work. Check out The Fiction We Live or Too Bad You’re Beautiful for several greatly depressing songs.
Also, the guitar opening on “Sugar Wolf” remains one of my all-time favs. Oh, and their drummer sings while he plays as a second vocalist. WHAT?!

“The Leaving Song,” AFI
One of the first “emo” bands I ever encountered, AFI is a granddaddy in the genre. This entire album (Sing the Sorrow) remains in my top playlist. I often listen to it en toto when doing design work, because the tunes are familiar and therefore comforting, despite the fact that the lead vocalists is kind of whiny (if we’re being honest) and this is a slightly embarrassing music selection to admit to my adult reading audience. lol

“In the End,” Linkin Park
I sometimes find their songs like this one or “Breaking the Habit” to help me let off steam when I don’t want “chill” music. Old Linkin Park is da bomb for exploring a crappy day in a crappy week in a crappy month. “In the end / It doesn’t even matter.” Yeah, some days are like that.

“War all the time,” Thursday
War sucks, whether it’s the real thing or a metaphor for the battles we face. This world is a messed up place, and this song captures that (for me). And Thursday is a good example of hardcore without much screaming.  Musically, I like the drum + bass lines in this song, and the simple but effective guitar work. And it’s a good example of musical responses to 9/11 that aren’t country music.

“9 Crimes,” Damien Rice
And now for a genre entirely different….I mostly just like the song itself, apart from the lyrics…. But for our purposes here, it’s not cheery and the slow quiet melody seems to sap energy rather than giving it.  Love lost makes for good melancholy. And disembodied heads are weird, so this video pushes all the right buttons…. lol

“Hurt,” Johnny Cash
I think Cash’s cover of Trent Reznor’s song (written originally for a Nine Inch Nails album) is stunning. When I first saw it as a music video, I literally stopped and stared at the screen. The piano pounds its way through my soul in the second and final choruses, while my emotions feel the weight of the lines: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel.”  “You can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt.” I see it as an honest statement of failure more than of intent, but I think we twisted humans swirl them both together as we batter our way through relationships.

This video got a lot more attention since it was released not long after Cash lost his wife, and I’ve always associated the imagery of the video with the deep sadness he must have felt. “Everyone I know goes away in the end.” He died a few months after this was filmed.

 

Most of us aren’t too open about our melancholy days. I’d love to hear about where you turn for musical commiseration.  Comment with song recommendations if you’d like. 🙂