:: Saturday, August 19, 2006 ::
Whisky's top life-changing tunes/albums
I asked WhiskyPrajer to chime in with his top 10 albums that changed his life. But, Whisky being Whisky, he made his own set of rules and offered the following list of both songs and albums, as well as a mini-essay about the role music has played in his own life over the years.

I hope you'll read every word of this entry.

1): Sunday School music – my earliest music. “Jesus Bids Us Shine”, “Be Careful Little Hands What You Do”, etc. I hated it because it was sing-songy and scolding at the same time, but I sang it anyway because I was the pastor’s oldest son (the whole birth-order theory fits me to a “T”).

2): You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. The first music that mirrored my life, particularly “Dear Pen-Pal (The Baseball Game)”.

3): Larry Norman, The Rock That Doesn’t Roll. Our youth pastor gave me a Word sampler record, and I honestly can’t remember who else was on it, because they faded into immediate obscurity in the wake of Johnny Norman's blues-lick intro – it was just that smokin’. Before this I never felt comfortable listening to rock in our house. It wasn’t explicitly verboten, but my parents didn’t listen to it, so neither did I. Larry was a “safe” entry point for dangerous music that eventually included Daniel Amos (who introduced literacy to CCM) and Resurrection Band (who were particularly influential on me because they didn’t just sing about Jesus, but also South Africa, the Military Industrial Complex, the Ghetto … i.e., just about everything pertinent to Jesus, and to my own developing sensibilities).

4): Talking Heads, "Swamp"; The Who, "Behind Blue Eyes"; Bruce Cockburn, "If I Had A Rocket Launcher." A lovely little triad, here, introduced to me in my single year of Bible School. All three of these songs put me in touch with my “shadow”, but Cockburn kept me the most honest, because there was no trace of pretense in that song, or any of the others on Stealing Fire. After listening to Cockburn I had to conclude there was no “Christian” or “non-Christian” music, just good and bad music. And 99.9 % of Christian Rock was bad.

After this, I don’t think my interest in music was particularly revolutionary. The zeitgeist blew me in all the expected musical directions – Dylan, The Doors, The Stones, The Clash, U2, Nirvana – as well as a few slightly off-the-beaten-track – T Bone Burnett, David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Bobby King & Terry Evans, John Hiatt, Los Lobos. My favorite album in my 20s was Lou Reed’s New York. In my mid-20s, I bought A Decade of Steely Dan, and totally immersed myself in their catalog. They remain my favorite band.

Also in my mid-20s: the course of love did not run smoothly for me and the woman I would marry. After two years of this-and-that, we decided to call it quits. The total absence of this beautiful creature was so traumatic for me that I could no longer listen to my old music: rock, folk-rock, punk, metal, CCM. Everything reminded me of her, and made me miserable. So I shlepped to the library and took out some jazz
CDs. For two years, jazz was just about all I could listen to – my life changed my music. Then she and I met over a beer, did some talking and decided to quit pissing around. “It’s all good” is a phrase that actually means something to me.

In my late-20s, I had a conversation with my brother. Life had taken us in different directions, and his theology and vocation were both very different from my own. We covered a bit of this, but also talked about AC/DC, the only band we both enjoyed. I had their double-live album at home, which I liked to play during work-outs. I offered to make a tape and send it to him. He said he’d like that, so I went ahead.

He entered a stretch of incredibly dark years shortly after that conversation. All kinds of rotten, unfair things happened to him, but one incident implicates me: the night he played my tape, he experienced a demonic visitation. He told me about this a couple of years after the fact. After that, a band I didn’t give much thought to but occasionally played while pumping iron suddenly became the only band I listened to and pretty much all I thought about, ever.

I still don’t understand why this tape of this band opened the portal for him, while others he was listening to at the time did not. AC/DC (stoopid band, stoopid lyrics, most excellent rock & roll) was the sole musical link between us, and that must have counted for something.

Anyway, at some point this year my obsession with this band began to seem unmerited, absurd and essentially selfish. I packed up all the AC/DC material I’d bought in the wake of my brother’s experience, and asked a friend to keep it for me. Of all the aspects I fear and loathe in Fundagelical Christianity, the “sacrifice all that you love on the altar before Christ” imperative ranks as Numero Uno. It’s right in line with the sort of Islamic piety that gets us enlightened Western Civ-types frothing at the mouth, and none of it is pretty. For the last 20 years I’ve thought what you love says something intimate about you and your Creator, making this business of “presenting sacrifices” quite moot. And, sure, I realize that telling a friend to store a small box of CDs and DVDs is probably more in line with Ananias and Sapphira than it is with a pimply teen tearfully singing “I Surrender All” while setting fire to his Slayer albums, but that’s as much of a concession as I care to make right now.

So where does all this leave me? Two years ago, my wife and I went to hear Steve Bell, Carolyn Arends and Bob Bennett at a nearby church. While we waited for the three to take the stage, I talked with the gent sitting next to me. He was here for Steve Bell, he said, then he asked me how I was introduced to Bell’s music. I told him a friend had sent me some CDs. His question seemed curious to me, so I asked it back.

The man was silent for a bit. Then he said, “Five years ago my son was killed. Steve Bell’s music healed me.”

I’m torn between thinking his experience is more than we ought to expect from music, and thinking that that is what we should expect from all our music. All I can say with any degree of certainty is that whatever the listener finally receives from music is, no matter how strange or even undesirable, a divine gift.

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:: Andrew 14:17 + ::

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