Sunday, October 20, 2013

Montreat's Faith and Culture Project

A few more details on this week's Montreat College visit:
It's the 19th Annual Crossroads Faith and Culture Project, and it begins with a 10AM talk ("Weird Religious Background") on Monday morning in the Gaither Chapel. Monday evening at 7:30 is Sarah singing all by her lonesome, though I imagine I'll attempt harmonies on at least one tune ("We See Satan Fall Like Lightning," probably), in Gaither Fellowship Hall. Tuesday night in the same venue is me with more speechifying ("Don't Believe Everything That You Breathe"). And the 10AM on Wednesday, back in the chapel, sees Sarah and myself wrapping it all up to the best of our powers ("Insert Soul Here").
We'll be awfully pleased to see, converse with, and perhaps even touch friends old and new. Anyone within easy driving distance who doesn't make it to any of these is invited to enter into a brief season of alternating shame and loss. But seriously, why wouldn't you make the trek? What are up to with your one precious life? We are a beginning.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Our Song and Dance

I have a number of items to bring to your awareness. I take the liberty of including myself in the above photo seeing as I'm personally involved in one of them. For this, we thank Anne McCarthy, our very own Anton Corbijn. Except Better.
To begin, there's the matter of THIS EVENING. Sarah's performing (along with Sandra McCracken, Katy Bowser, Joy Ike, Steve Guthrie, Ruth Naomi Floyd, Bethany Brooks) at Belmont tonight to celebrate the release of It Was Good, a collection of essays on God and music-making authored by Ned Bustard and all kinds of people we hold near and dear. It's completely free, and the details are here.
I also invite you to explore the implications of the fact that Sarah and I are bringing our song and dance to the Asheville area next week. Two and a half days of goodness at Montreat College. No admission fee. We'd love to have you in on the conversation.
AND IN NOVEMBER, Sarah joins Ashley Cleveland, Sherry Cothran, and Cindy Morgan for what they're referring to as GIRL'S NIGHT OUT.
There are more us-related events on the horizon, but for now, I give you Sarah's two-part Image Journal interview. Here and here. We thank Angela Carlson for being awesome as usual.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Concerning Beaver Nelson

Via the joys of Laity Lodge, I've had the deep pleasure of coming to know Beaver Nelson in recent years. When we first got to talking, it was as if a few close friends had taken the time to compile a few of our rarer enthusiasms (Evelyn Underhill and Walt Simonson's Beta Ray Bill, for instance) just to see what we would do when confronted with someone with whom we shared one weird delight after another. After a quick succession of "Me too" clicks involving Townes Van Zandt, John Byrne, and Cormac McCarthy, I realized I'd met someone who'd probably enjoy Todd Greene's envisioning of the chorus to Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" inexplicably and suddenly sung to the tune of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road." Beaver laughed hard and took a moment to describe what he imagined Earle might do to me if I ever attempted such a thing in his presence.
This was all before I heard him sing and began to take in his complete works, a very present help in my hand-in-face days of bringing my dissertation to relative completion. The songs are all lyrical shots at hoped-for-coherence, somehow simultaneously disarmingly funny and self-deprecatingly moving. They let the air in unexpectedly. You don't see it coming.
After years of telephone conversations on the subjects of Steve Ditko, Elvis Costello, Magneto, and the self-understanding of Jesus, we've finally arranged an evening, THIS SUNDAY, when Beaver will bring his song and dance to our backyard. I invite any and everyone in range to come around. Consider bringing a little food or beverage you'd be willing to share along, maybe a lawn-chair or a blanket, and perhaps a little something to put into a tip jar. But if the thought of any such items serves to dissuade, wipe it from your mind. We've got you covered.
Reach me by e-mail OR hit me on the book of faces for details.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Sarah's kind of going for it again. Not that she ever stopped. When I think about the pace with which she writes and sings and how it's only rarely accompanied by anything in the way of a signal flare, I recall a time when Prince, several albums back, decided to do a press conference. Someone asked him if his latest effort was a comeback album. "Comeback from what?" he offered back with a tired smile. It's not his problem that a few million folk haven't checked back in since Sign o' the Times. Who wants to live like that? Next question.
Sarah isn't listening to her own life if she isn't writing songs. It's how she pays attention to herself and others. I labor over sentences and it takes me a sometimes embarrassingly long time. She disappears into an oversized closet and emerges with something completely remarkable an hour or two later. Sometimes she's already recorded it.
This has been our life together all along with the significant change being the recorded part. Many a kind heart will ask her if she's still making music. "Yes!" my mind screams as I remind myself that I wasn't the one who was asked the question. Her responses vary. She'll mention Bulb, but not everyone is shrewd or curious enough to ask for the elaboration that would take them into that magical, soul-enriching world. She'd likely share a song--I mean sing it--right there on the spot if someone was to ask her to and she knew they really wanted to sit still for it, but very few people seem to do that these days. How's this supposed to work for someone who generally resides to the side of the star-maker machinery behind the popular songs?
Enter JT Daly. I met him at the Trash Humpers premiere at the Belcourt through our mutual friend Chris York. He started hanging around our domicile, introducing us to music, coming to softball games, eating pizza, and building Legos. "What does Sarah need?" he got to thinking. And Wendell Berry-like, communally-minded fellow that he is, he began to assemble microphones and speakers and other hardware from friends who weren't, for the time being, using certain forms of recording equipment to cobble together what we've elected to call Twin Pop Studio. It's sitting there right now. Minus speakers at the moment.
So now we have songs, many songs, and they're beginning to surface. The opening salvo is The Trying Mark which comes to you via a couple of very kind collaborators. The first is Aaron Roche by whose music we've been amazed and nurtured since we first heard him do an Innocence Mission cover in the artists' space at DPC many moons ago (Sarah: "!Blur My Eyes really does soothe the savage beast in me."). He's in Brooklyn being awesome now, but he made time to mix the album and provide additional instrumentation and vocals. And there's also the matter of Matt Odmark. Sarah opened for the league of extraordinary gentlemen that is the Jars of Clay operation, Matt's decades-long gig, way back in the 20th century, and something came full circle when Matt offered his powers of mastering to The Trying Mark. We're intensely pleased with how it all turned out. And relatedly, I'll mention too that the above image is the work of Beth Gilmore with whom Sarah is conspiring together on something or other on many a weekday. This and many more can be viewed and procured over here.
Even as I busy myself writing about it, tweeting, playing it for students, or foisting mix CD's and playlists upon people, I still don't know the best way to urge the goodness upon people. I wouldn't remove a song or change the order, but if you were tell me you're only willing to sit quietly long enough to take in one song on the album (That would be kind of mean, by the way), I would refer you to "When Things Fall Apart" and trust that you might now feel compelled to take in the whole thing. And if you wanted to drop in a little something to maintain the current of the Get Fresh Flow...I think that'd be appropriate.
That's about it. Sarah has a few specific words concerning the project's origins as well. Do please tell us what you think and talk it up as you see fit. Despite the risk of saturating the market, Sarah's playing a few shows in the weeks to come, and there's more music on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Owl's Hill Y'all

Let it be known that Nashville has, within its environs, a space called Owl's Hill Nature Sanctuary and that, alongside guided excursions, crafts, quilt raffles, and drawing workshops, there's a series of Saturday fundraisers called MUSIC IN THE MEADOW. This week features Sarah with Julie Lee, Sandra McCracken, and Corrie Covell. Lyrical wits and bearers of sacred intuition, all. How might you yourselves enter into this blessed situation? Looky here and scroll down a little. I know what I'm doing on Saturday night.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Same Witness, The Same Stand-up

There are certain givens within this living tradition—light in the struggle against darkness, good against evil, truth against falsehood, nonviolence against violence, conscience against the state, life against death. One sees them define life, knows their truth, connects them with similar manifestations in self and society, takes them into one’s chemistry, lives them to liberate oneself and others…Within this living tradition one knows that Amos, Hosea, Jonah and Christ have meaning today—indeed live in those who give them meaning. One says yes! to them: the same witness, the same stand-up, the same resistance is necessary today against personal and State evil. 
Philip Berrigan, Widen the Prison Gates

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Achtung Babies

This one's for anyone within driving distance of Lexington. Tonight, Sarah performs with one of the essential inspirations of our lives, one Reva Williams, at what is alleged to be the greatest bar in the history of time. As is always the case, Sarah has new songs, and it will be a very rich time. I don't know how to publish someone else's instagram images, but I end with a shot of her preparing for a radio appearance. The girl is out and about. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Believing Radiohead

Reading this incredibly thorough Thom Yorke interview got me thinking about the way particular thinkers and artists came together for me in the late nineties and early aughts. There was a season in which I'd buy and read anything associated with Radical Orthodoxy with the same fervor I'd once reserved for folks like John Byrne and Alan Moore. As is often the case now, I found it difficult to grasp an awful lot of it, but I'd dutifully mark and transcribe whatever struck me as interesting in the hope that it might prove helpful later on. I don't know that anyone who's read Everyday Apocalypse loved it enough to scour the footnotes and journey over toward John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory, but I doubt I'd have ever thought to argue that there isn't a secular molecule in the universe if he hadn't given me "Once, there was no 'secular.'" Within a few days of the September 11th attacks, it was announced that our government's military response would be called Operation Infinite Justice at about the same time I'd underlined the phrase "nontotalizing metanarrative" in Milbank's volume. I e-mailed him to remark that we could do with more of such ways of viewing the world in our radioactive days, and he e-mailed back with one word: "Exactly." This was all the affirmation a young high school English teacher required. Throw in William Cavanaugh's Torture and Eucharist ("The distinction between politics and religion was not discovered but invented") and I had a way of talking about pretty much everything.
What these concerns have to do with Radiohead (or James Joyce or Ursula Le Guin or David Lynch) has been a driving question in everything I've written since, and this morning's Guardian interview almost felt like a checklist. Yorke: 
We are still the generation who went into an illegal war...The commodification of human relationships through social networks. Amazing!.. Music that repeats what you know in ever-decreasing derivation, that's unchallenging and unstimulating, deadens our minds, our imagination and our ability to see beyond the hell we find ourselves in. My problem with bankers or, rather, the banking system is, that it's the ultimate expression of "Fuck you, buddy". There is no communal human consciousness, no will to co-operation, we are all slaves to the market. It's as if it has always been thus. It hasn't...
These bankers have made personal fortunes by stealing, exploiting and destroying our assets, our workforce, our resources and our planet. All protected, assisted and now bailed out by our governments using our money. High priests to a false god that they've done very nicely out of, thank you very much.
Which brings me to D. Stephen Long. I'd do my darnedest to appropriate the insights of Richard King and Jeremy Carrette's Selling Spirituality and David Loy's Buddhist economics before realizing I'd gleaned similar wisdom via his Divine Economy earlier this century. Long turned me on to Michael Budde who observed how that which passes (or is advertised) as Christian "often has as much to do with the life and message of Jesus as a GM Pontiac has with real Native Americans--nothing except a claimed, mostly imaginary, continuity of name." And Long himself gave me gems like this: "The market as salvific institution is and must be heretical." There's so much more to say, but I'm up against deadline as Longs appears among us tomorrow (see above). If you're unsure as to how to get to Neely, e-mail me and I'll meet you somewhere near Belmont beforehand. This is all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Are You Nashville?

"What are you Nashville?" I whispered to myself while driving Sarah to a performance.
"You always say that when we drive by the Whiskey Kitchen," she remarked.
And this is completely true. It's where 12th Avenue approaches Broadway. We're out of "the Gulch" and approaching Virago and an abandoned McDonalds that says "Closed for Remodeling" and isn't. My proprietary feelings for Nashville kick in right about then. What's going on here, place that formed and forms me? How are we feeling? Are we at the end of our tether?
My Nashville is often a kind of alternative universe in which all my genius friends are incredibly famous. Communal touchstones. Local visionaries through whom I'm able to see the world. A couple of them had a "big label" moment in the late 20th century as the Evinrudes. Think Philip K. Dick and Eudora Welty and songs like "Jimmy's On Crack (And I Don't Care)". They're Brian Reed and Sherry Cothran. They've kept right on thriving at every turn to the delight of anyone nearby. They've both in bands with Sarah. And THIS FRIDAY NIGHT,they're going for it again with Evinrudes tunes aplenty alongside a few of their own songs, Brian within the entity called Rosy Gears ("Scarface the Pitbull," "Demon from Hell," "Lily White") and Sherry eponymously.
What's more, there's the matter of Bulb (J. Todd Greene, Tony Doling, Randall Lancaster, Jake Larson, Sarah, and Brian) who haven't opened for the Evinrudes in over thirteen years and who just recently finished what I believe to be their twenty-third album. It seems to me (and I imagine there are at least eleven people who would agree) that if Nashville has a William Blake, Bulb is it. One might prepare a little by considering this. An EP featuring the latest goodness produced and mixed by the endlessly inventive conjurer and wordsmith Chris Leonard will be on offer.
AND we have a young fellow I occasionally spy at Bongo Java re-reading Lost in the Cosmos. After a years-long hiatus from Bulb-related phenomena, the alluring, enigmatic, hypnotist collector Max Perkins is scheduled to reappear.
It's a 12th and Porter situation past the sad McDonalds on the other side of Broadway. Doors open at 8PM. Tell the people. Nashville happens.