Sunday, December 27, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
“Christmas An Irrational Season”, by the amazingly prolific singer/songwriter, Carolyn Arends, is a CD collection of Christmas tunes and the joyful object of my happy obsession lately.
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild
For if Mary had been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child
Thus begins the album with a poem by Madeline L’engle and music by Carolyn Arends, a prelude that lays the thesis every song builds on. Not just in this glorious album, but also in the four others with which I’m familiar, deep and weighty theological truths are the intellectual hook of every song. Like a finely faceted trinket she turns this way and that in the light; here a rainbow, there a laser beam, she examines the abstracts. This is signature to her songs, equal to her woodwind voice and gentle rock-and-roll rhythm. So often the lament rises from the pews, “I wish modern worship can be as meaty and theologically deep as the hymns of yore. Modern worship music is so trivial by comparison.” At last, in Carolyn Arends songs we finally have both.
This is no more apparent than in one of my current favorites, “Is Bethlehem Too Far Away”. This song has a kind of smokey, soft country feel to it. It evokes lonely cowboys on the range under a night sky. As an artist she tends to move fluidly between a folksy soft rock and country with blues and Dixieland jazz influences, a style she is very good at and comfortable in. At first this song appears to be a simple question about faith, succinctly put, beautifully painted, as in the refrain:
Can we find our way to the baby king?
Can we worship him now in the hay?
And can we believe he can change everything?
Or is Bethlehem to far away
But then she veers into a tight change up musically and theologically. She pulls back the scope of the question and masterfully touches upon God’s magnificent, irrational I might add, condescension towards man.
O little town of Bethlehem
How far it must have been
From heaven’s throne of glory
To your humble manger scene
But if God saw fit to travel there
Should not also we
She proves with this one song what a shining poet she is. And she proves it more over with every new song she writes. However, she is not just a great poet, but a really fantastic storyteller also. To me, she brings to mind McCartney in her ability to tell story through song. This skill she demonstrates well in, “Now in Flesh Appearing” and in, “My First Christmas”. The first song has to do with the true meaning of Christmas, the second with experiencing Christmas for the first time. In the case of the latter, this simple reflection has many layers. In the first song she sings of two separate people working two separate ministries. In the second she follows a woman through stages of her life; infancy, the day she’s born again in Christ, and the day she’s called home to eternity. In both songs she paints such a vivid picture that one almost looks for these people at church on Sunday, forgetting that they aren’t real friends. She uses simple words, and yet they manage to sink deep into the psyche. She employs her (not too) folksy side for these songs; Her guitar sound brings to mind Patty Griffin, her voice a bit of Carol King and, as in all her songs, they have a very intuitive build to the melody. Indeed, there aren’t too many songwriters who can match her grasp of melody, of how to stretch it over a song, to soar through its natural rise and fall. I think this is the thing that most astounds me about her: She has a fabulous grasp of language, an equally fabulous grasp of the ebb and flow of melody, also a fabulous, almost guttural, feel for how to build a song, and can use all these things to deftly express deep, theological truths. She’s just so suited for what she does. But, I digress.
“Come and See”, is another of my current favorites and the second track on the CD. I love how much fun she has with it. This song is about as “big worship” as she gets and is infused with a really cool “island” sound that makes you just want to tap your toes and boogie. It’s perfectly celebratory. To paraphrase Chesterton: The chief aim of order is to allow good things to run wild. And that’s what I sense in this song, a wild appreciation for God. She approaches profound truths not piously, but joyously.
Come and see, come and see…
He’s a new baby boy
Who’s the hope of us all…
It’s the great love of God
In the cry of a babe
It’s the paradox, the whole irrationality of it all, that strikes us as most true in these brilliant lyrics. In our heart, we know that salvation could not come any other way. And instead of exhorting us to pay obeisance, she entices us to dance! I love it.
If you long for original Christmas music, you can’t do better than this album. It’s a compilation of seven original tunes (all of them better than the last), three covers and then the prelude/postlude which she wrote the music for. If you aren’t familiar with Carolyn Arends, you’d be doing yourself a favor by getting to know her. If you are lucky enough to give this album a listen, then you’ll fully understand why I wish you all very irrational Christmas this year.
2009 All Rights Reserved
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Adam Lambert’s burlesque performance at the AMA’s will prove, I believe, much more unfortunate for him than it was for the poor saps who tuned in to watch him. Having the golden opportunity to establish himself as a world class artist destined to shape and define pop music and pop culture into the next generation – as I once believed he had the chops, vision and confidence to do - he instead chose to reduce his number down to the base standard of a float in a gay pride parade, complete with simulated sex acts, whips and men crawling around the stage on all fours being led around on dog leashes.
Here’s how he’s defended the two most ballyhooed of his onstage antics, the one where he engaged in a raunchy same-sex kiss and the one where he simulated fellatio with a male dancer for what seemed like an eternity: “Adrenaline is crazy and sometimes things just happen."
Really, Adam? Really? You have this problem with adrenaline often? Kinda’ like The Hulk, but instead of going all green and raging you go all rainbow and oversexed? What was that then, a performance or some anguished cry for help? Because, spontaneous public outbursts of simulated sex is decidedly not normal and you may be qualified for government assistance. We expect adults to be in total command of their sexual urges and not to demonstrate their foibles to the world at the slightest provocation. To do otherwise is indecent and there are laws against it. If this is true, you are a danger to society. Certainly, at the very least, our children need to be protected from you.
But this is where I get really flamed. Of course! it’s not true. We’d have to be dumb as a lump of mud to believe that. And just because Adam takes us for imbeciles doesn’t mean we have to play along for his entertainment. If it were true, what Adam did on that stage that night would constitute hard-core sexual harassment on his subordinates. Let me tell you something, I was a dancer way back when. And if a lead had deviated from the choreography, without my knowledge or consent, and had taken my head in both his hands shoving it deep into his groin while gyrating his hips like a stud in heat, especially during a performance when I would have been helpless to object, I would have felt deeply humiliated and violated. Indeed, every professional watching or participating would have immediately realized the serious, criminal nature of the offense that had just been committed on me. I would be suing him in my mind while it happened. I would be counting my money from the lawsuit on the way back to the dressing room. ABC, Dick Clarke Productions, and Lambert’s manager would have a diamond necklace, Mercedes, and a fat checking account waiting for me at the flop I shared with four or five other struggling dancers before I got home in an effort to assuage the trauma of the event. If it were true Adam Lambert’s career would be in grave danger. And the very last thing – and by “last” I mean, “wouldn’t happen in a zillion years” – his handlers would allow him to do would be to go on the record admitting those acts were essentially entirely unilateral in nature.
So my question is: Where’s the lawsuits? Are we to believe that his band mates were much obliged for the experience? What? They felt loved and honored by his generous sex gifts to them? “Doing sex to”, as SNL recently put it, your band mates during a performance is bizarre and deviant behavior. If this is Adam’s normal he needs to pull back the black velvet curtains on the group orgy room he’s living in and venture out into the bright sunlight for some fresh air.
But, of course, this foray into soft porn was a calculated strategy to drum up the maximum amount of cheap publicity he could the week before his CD hits the stands and the “spontaneous” story is a ruse to inoculate ABC and Dick Clarke Productions from the short and feckless arm of the FCC. As for Adam, it’s clear that he plans to run behind his twelve-inch platforms and scream, “homophobe” at anyone who objects. And so far it seems to be working.
I say seems, because in my opinion, this has already begun his undoing. It’s sad that Adam chose the path he did. Yes, he’s the most talked about performer today, but only in the same way that Kate Gosselin was the most talked about personality yesterday. They are both empty and eager for exploitation. And that’s where the rub comes in. One can’t claim artistic altruism while prostituting himself for the scandal gristmill. (Oh, and by that analogy take it to mean that I’m calling ABC and Dick Clarke out for being his pimps.)
Adam can claim that he believes in artistic expression but that’s not what occurred on that stage that night. He was given the golden opportunity to reach deep into his tool bag and slay us. We were waiting for it. We thought he just might be that kind of artist. We were hoping to see something that would reach us, linger with us, make us love him. Instead of picking a fantastic song to present to the world on his debut performance as a single artist, he picks a middling to annoying song, something that can hardly be distinguished from the noise of an already crowded, increasingly – by orders of magnitude- irrelevant industry. Instead of moving us with a revelatory interpretation he lambasted us with a performance that was, ironically, a tragic satire of all the worst of homosexual stereotypes. Instead of singing he screeched. His nerves were distinctly audible in his shaky voice. He was pitchy dawg. On top of all that, fell hard and magnificently. He did a stop, drop and roll fire drill in the middle of the song. It was rank amateur night. Here’s a hint, Adam. If you’re going to go to the trouble of putting on a million dollar production: dazzle me. Or, at the very least, don’t trip.
I went into that performance liking Adam as a performer and as a person. What kind of dupe am I, right? I came out of that performance believing him to be a sexual deviant and a cad. He’s a cad because he betrayed the people who brought him to national prominence and soiled the aesthetic of American Idol. American mothers and their teenage children did not vote this man to the next round in order to eventually see what he might look like having sex on stage. This is a man who was given a tremendous gift and owes something to the people who gave it to him. Also, someone needs to tell that spoiled brat that coming in number two on a game show doesn’t entitle one to redefine what’s appropriate material for public airwaves. Those airwaves belong to us all. And he used them like a toy for his own personal monetary gain at the expense of our children's innocence, our nation's culture and our right to safe public entertainment. What a jerk.
His CD debuts next week. We’ll see how he does. My guess is his fans aren’t going to be nearly as grateful for Adam doing sex to them as his band mates seemed to be.
2009 All Rights Reserved