Dylan & Jack White Share the Stage

nullWish I was there for this.

The Shins

Saw the Shins at the Electric Factory. Great show!

Relient K's new cd

(review from Christianity Today)

Say Goodbye to Tower Records

I have mixed feelings towards the closing of Tower Records. It was a store that I would usually go in, found good music but couldn’t afford and so it’s hard for me to feel a lot of sympathy for them.

I did spend a lot of money though during their clearance sales – because they were actually good prices! Those of you who know, another company bought Tower, raised most of the prices, then started with 20%, 30% off sales eventually down to 80% off. As the discounts continued and the music became more obscure, I ended up buying many cd’s for about $5 just out of curiousity or after remembering a friend’s suggestion. I wouldn’t ever do that if it were still at its $18 regular price. (or even $15).

Since moving to where we are now in Northern Jersey, there is only one indy music store within 15-20 min. from me. I either buy online, or the opening week at Best Buy (bc. they usually sell them for $10). Maybe soon Best Buy won’t do that, and I won’t buy from them either.

You want to save the album and part of the music industry, lower the prices.

Read the Rolling Stone blurb and comments (which are a little more interesting) by clicking on title.

Hidden Under a Bushel Sufjan Stevens and the problem of Christian music

I read almost everything I come across about Sufjan Stevens.
The writer of this article, Delvyn Case says a couple interesting things and criticizes Sufjan’s style. Maybe he’s musically right, but still, Sufjan’s music is beautiful.

“…A Michigan native, Stevens was something of a musical prodigy. He attended Michigan’s prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy, where he honed his skills on the oboe. He attended Hope College in Michigan, formed a band, and started piecing together his slightly outsider compositions with a few other sympathetic souls. From obscurity, Stevens has taken the college rock world by storm. His 2005 CD, Illinois—which occupied the number-one slot on college music charts for weeks in the fall of 2005, and has since received wide acclaim—and its recent companion disc of outtakes, The Avalanche, are part of his staggeringly ambitious project for a state-by-state romp through America. Stevens has done two states so far, the first being Michigan. Each release will be devoted to a single state, intended as a sweeping travelogue, a character study, and a window into Stevens’ worldview.

Even a casual listen to Stevens’ work reveals his fascination with Christian themes—creation, fall, and redemption. Take for example these lines from one of the tracks on Illinois, “Casimir Pulaski Day,” a heart-rending exploration of theodicy (via the story of a friend’s death from bone cancer):

All the glory that the Lord has made
And the complications when I see His face
In the morning in the window
All the glory when He took our place
But He took my shoulders, and He shook my face
And He takes and He takes and He takes

Certainly an overtly Christian message is a bitter pill to swallow for the average indie rock fan, but in song after song Stevens is open about his faith. As critical acclaim has mounted, though, he’s become much more evasive when questioned about his faith. He routinely brushes aside the matter of his personal beliefs, strategically separating himself from the weird world of contemporary Christian music. He has a “knee-jerk reaction to that kind of [Christian] culture,” he quipped in one interview. “Maybe I’m a little more empathetic … because we have similar fundamental beliefs. But culturally and aesthetically, some of it is really embarrassing.”1 More bluntly, he has said, “I don’t make faith-themed music.”2

Stevens seems convinced that to own up to evangelicalism would amount to professional or artistic suicide, and he is probably right. Though Christian culture warriors are put off by his calculated ambiguity, fans and critics are captivated. The high praise he has garnered from The New York Times and Rolling Stone—let alone thousands of fans around the world—may be the direct result of Stevens’ willingness to grapple, in a suitably cryptic fashion, with issues of faith. Indeed, the secular music press now views the spiritual component of his work as an asset, best summed up by the Village Voice, which called him “the Next Flannery [O’Connor].”… (article linked to title)

A pic of Cate Blanchet playing a Dylan on Set

Only because it’s a Bob Dylan movie will a woman playing him probably still be cool.

going to see the Raconteurs

Sufjan Stevens: The Story Behind the Relunctant Indie Icon by Cameron Lawrence

This article is excerpted from a story in the latest issue of RELEVANT magazine. You can click here to subscribe and get the full version of this article in issue 22 of RELEVANT.

Relationships remain a core value in Sufjan Stevens’ work as an artist. The Michigan-bred singer/songwriter, who only five albums and six years into his career as a recording artist has achieved near-idol status in indie circles, makes community a priority in his career.

While on the road, he makes sure to bring his friends along, and if you’ve seen his ensemble, that’s no small few. “When I’m touring, I bring a lot of people with me, because it’s important for me to be surrounded by my friends and good people, and to create a social environment.”

By contrast, Stevens’ creative process is initially isolated from creative community. Typically, it’s not until he brings his material to the studio, which also is often a solitary experience, or when he prepares to tour that the creative process involves others. He describes writing songs as a sacred and unique experience, believing music exists somewhere in the supernatural realm—even before its incarnation in the physical realm of sound waves, frequencies and eardrums. The songwriter, then, somehow captures the song from the supernatural and reconfigures into music, which according to Stevens, is somewhat artificial. The song, he says, is a controlled musical environment.

Stevens exudes reverence for music and the craft of songwriting. “As I’m writing alone in my room, there’s a weird communion with the art form. Initially you’re throwing around chord progressions and experimenting with melody. You begin shaping, sort of accidentally, words out of sounds. That’s a pretty special, sacred, divine experience.”

Stevens explains that the act of songwriting, in some way, mimics the act of God creating the earth. “In Judeo-Christian theology, the world is created through words,” he says. “And that’s how I perceive what I’m doing musically. I’m just sort of mimicking, or modeling, that endeavor.”

In addition to being a formally trained oboist, Stevens plays most of the instruments on his records. When asked where creative community comes into the picture, and whether or not it’s a necessary element, he’s conflicted.

“Those are difficult things to reconcile, because I initially work in isolation and tend to write and record by myself,” he says. “That’s always been the case. The social dynamic of performing with other people, and recording with other people is really important, but it’s a bit of a challenge for me. I tend to be a workaholic and a micromanager, and a bit of an egomaniac in how I orchestrate everything. Even down to the drum parts I tend to micromanage every single nuance. Generally the musicians know they are being hired to perform according to my demands.”

While Stevens is widely accepted by people of all kinds, perhaps no one group has latched onto him more than indie-rock-minded Christians, and rightfully so. He’s among a handful of artists—the Danielson Famile, The Innocence Mission, Denison Witmer, Woven Hand and Half-handed Cloud, to name a few—that have sidestepped the Christian music industry while still using music to share or explain their Christian beliefs and backgrounds. He’s also among the few embraced by a community of journalists, musicians and fans who don’t share his faith and didn’t compromise his own faith to get there. Because of the unique position he holds, seemingly standing between two worlds, for some he’s a leader and an inspiration. And still there are others who misconstrue his identity and purpose or misinterpret his motives.

“I can’t honestly say how I’ve been misconstrued, because I can’t gauge the mind of the listener,” he says. “But I do know there’s a tendency to simplify and to categorize. I’ve been categorized as a particular kind of artist, a folk musician and a Christian. And these terms are used to possess and categorize and simplify what I’m doing. But they’re also out of my hands. I’m not concerned with how I’m received or how I’m misconstrued, because that’s really the work of the listener and his or her responsibility.”

While Stevens believes that people oversimplify or misinterpret what he’s saying, he understands that his lyrical honesty and vulnerability are the cause. And he’s not about to change that.

“I don’t ever want to be responsible for or engage with a particular subject in my music in a way that is dishonoring it,” he says. “And I can’t tell if I’ve done that or not. I still don’t know. I do know that I kind of walk that line, and I tend to disclose things about myself that are really important and personal. For me, it’s part of my conviction. It’s necessary for me to do that sometimes to achieve a kind of greater revelation and understanding of who I am and what I’m doing. It’s an instinct that, on some level, I want to share with people.”

Cameron Lawrence lives and writes in Atlanta, Ga.

Relevant Gives Background on Sufjan songs

From Relevant Magazine:

You’ve heard his weird naratives and obscure epics on tracks that make up his audio interpretations of historic events in eclectic locales. Here’s some background and historical perspective on some of the strangest songs by Sufjan Stevens.

“Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”

The first track on Illinois is about the supposed UFO sighted by Melvern Noll, the owner of a miniature golf course in Highland, Ill., in January 2000. Rumor has it that while Noll was manicuring the fine fairways of his course at 4 in the morning, he saw what appeared to be a two-story house hovering silently about 1,000 feet above the ground. “I kept my eyeballs on it; it was all lighted up and so low that someone could have waved at me out the window.”

Noll alerted the authorities not only in Highland but also the neighboring town of Lebanon, because it was headed their way. The unidentified flying object did take its show on the road through Lebanon, and eventually it passed over Shiloh, Dupo and Millstadt and was seen by at least four local policemen. Although Sufjan Stevens does not claim to have seen the UFO himself, it was reported in the days following the first sighting by more than 20 other people.

“The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You’re Gonna Have to Leave Now, or, ‘I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'”

This song, the first instrumental on Illinois and the winner for longest song title on the record, is named for the Black Hawk War fought in 1832 between the Fox and Sauk Indians and the United States Army in Illinois and the Michigan Territory. The war gets its name from the Sauk Indian Chief Black Hawk, who led the Native American band of rebels against the United States Army and local militias. He is also responsible for the last line of the song title, a direct quote.

The war was short-lived. The Army killed most of Black Hawk’s warriors and had captured Black Hawk within the month. Eventually, while imprisoned, Black Hawk was carted around the United States, ostensibly to show him the might of the empire and for him pass on that information to his Indian buddies. This scheme didn’t work; Black Hawk became an instant celebrity and continued to support the Native American fight for their lands and freedom until he died in 1838.

“Casimir Pulaski Day”

Casimir Pulaski Day is a regional holiday honoring Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born American Revolutionary War cavalry officer. Pulaski Day is celebrated the first Monday of March all over Illinois and Wisconsin. The holiday is celebrated most vigorously in areas with high Polish-American populations, but Casimir Pulaski is honored at different times throughout the year across America—mostly in very small celebrations that no one really goes to. But not in Illinois.

The kids get the day off school, and there are festivals, parades and much merriment to honor the fallen Polish-American hero. In recent years the holiday has become somewhat of a joke among many Illinoisans because of the relative anonymity of Pulaski. Many schools in Illinois have stopped observing the holiday. Some holiday experts even predict that this day may be heading toward the holiday graveyard. In other Casimir Pulaski-based music news, the Chicago-based 1980s noise rock band Big Black recorded a song titled “Kasimir J. Pulaski Day.”

“Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!”

This song, off Illinois, ranks among the greatest executions of the slant rhyme ever seen in modern lyricism. About the city of Decatur, Ill., the song, although ridiculous, is all based on fact.

“It’s really an exercise in rhyme schemes. It’s just fun and games. But I think a person from Decatur will acknowledge that all of these references are based on real events and circumstances that have happened in and around Decatur, throughout history. So ‘alligator’ rhymes with ‘Decatur,’ but there also was an alligator sighting in one of the rivers in Decatur. And ‘caterpillar’ refers to the manufacturers of Caterpillar construction equipment. And, you know, they’ve had sightings of kangaroos there. There was a flood, and it did exhume a graveyard where Confederate and Union soldiers were intermixed. So a lot of the rhymes sound silly, but they’re actually based on fact,” said Sufjan Stevens, proficient rhymer and proficient small-town historian.

“The Undivided Self (For Eppie and Popo)”

This song, which didn’t make the cut onto Illinois but can be found on The Avalanche, refers to Esther Pauline Friedman Laderer and Pauline Esther Friedman Phillips. They are more commonly known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby, the competing syndicated advice columnist/sister duo. They were at times rivals, best friends, writers, bitter enemies and identical twin sisters. As children they were given the nicknames Eppie (Esther aka Ann Landers) and Popo (Pauline aka Abigail Van Buren aka Dear Abby) presumably so their parents (who named them the same thing) could remember who was who.

Early in their lives they were very close and even went so far as to have a joint wedding ceremony. But later on, competing for syndication and the hearts, minds and trust of Americans yearning for advice, the relationship grew cold. However, they made it past their disagreement to unite to raise awareness about razor blades hidden in candied apples on Halloween, joining forces to terrify children and parents for decades to come. In more positive news, they reconciled before Eppie’s death in 2002.

“The Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dararius and His Squadron of Benevolent Butterflies”

This track, also off the Avalanche album is a reference to a 15,143-page story written by Henry Darger, a janitor from Chicago. Darger, prone to the same style of lengthy naming as Sufjan Stevens, called his book The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.

The story was illustrated by Darger, who traced most of his human figures from magazine scraps that he collected during his time as a janitor. Right before Henry Darger died, this book, as well as two other manuscripts, were found in his room by his landlord.

The story centers around the Vivian Girls, the Princesses of the Christian Kingdom Abbiennia on a large planet around which the earth orbits as a moon. They are fighting the Glandelinians, an evil people that torture and kill children. If you are still following this, then you should look into Darger’s book and art, which posthumously have become a big part of the Outsider Art Movement.

“Saul Bellow”

This track was cut from Illinois but eventually found its way on The Avalanche. It’s about, you guessed it, Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize-winning novelist and prominent Illinoisan. Bellow grew up in the ghetto of Chicago and used the city as a backdrop for many of his 18 novels.The Adventures of Augie March and Seize the Day are two of his most significant.

On his reasons for leaving him off the first album, Stevens said, “I read The Adventures of Augie March, and I was planning to use him as a muse, but I felt like his artistry and vision were so complete and so profound, and his style so kind of cumbersome and glib and very self-conscious—far more sophisticated than Carl Sandburg. I felt like I couldn’t really use Bellow as a resource for a song …”

An interview with Dan Haseltine

Like so many, I’ve liked Jars of Clay from the beginning.
This week they release their new album Good Monsters
. Looking forward to it.

Liked is an interview with lead singer Dan Haseltine.

“The press kit for Good Monsters includes a quote from you that the album “was born out of many experiences and conversations between addicts, failures, lovers, loners, believers, and beggars.” Do all of those words describe Jars of Clay?

Haseltine: Uh, sure! (Laughter) They definitely describe myself. But it’s enlightening when you sit down with somebody who isn’t full-on into this mode of self-protection, and they’re willing to give you a picture of their heart, because it reveals so much more of my own heart. I see it in someone else and I go, “Oh wow, I deal with that too!”

and one of my favorite parts of the interview
“Let’s talk about one new song, “Oh My God.” Where’d the idea come from?

Haseltine: Matt [Odmark, Jars guitaris] came to the band with this idea to use the phrase “Oh my God” in a song. It means so many different things and it’s used in so many different contexts, but in the end, it means that at some point in every person’s life, they have to confront whether or not God is real.

In the song, you express some of your own doubts. The press kit says that as a guy who grew up in church, you never felt like you had permission to ask whether God is real. What has happened in your life to cause you to ask that question now?

Haseltine: It’s strange. The things that make me doubt God at times are really kind of mundane things. Like McDonald’s.

Huh? Not AIDS in Africa or human suffering, but McDonald’s?

Haseltine: No, it’s not the suffering. It’s the stuff that makes me go, “So this is the way the story played out. That God would have some guy named Ray Kroc start a hamburger restaurant called McDonald’s.” It’s the way our world is structured, this idea of capitalism and the lottery, that make me go, “Is this all of man, or is this God?” Those things play a weird role in the story of mankind of working out his salvation and his place in the world. And those are the kind of things that cause me to kind of have these little crisis moments.

But it’s the big things too. We just spent some time in Rwanda, and real violence makes me ask those questions too—the all-out violence of man to man. We visited this church in Rwanda where they’d set up a memorial to what happened in the genocide in ’94, where 800,000 people were killed in less than a hundred days. Five thousand people died in this one church, and they’d left the bodies there; now it’s just bones.

Gary Haugen from International Justice Mission was with us. He was the head of the UN investigation into the genocide, and he had actually visited this church in ’94 and had to go through the bodies and do the forensics of the situation. He was describing the way people would get up in the morning, and they’d kill, kill, kill, then stop, have lunch, go back, kill some more, and then have dinner. Very systematic. It began as these quick killings, and then it turned into something more primitive as the restraints came further off. It began to be torture and humiliation and mutilation. It takes a long time to kill 5,000 people in a church. Think about being in there with your family as these murders get closer and closer, and to hear the screams.

I’m sure those people weren’t praying, “God, please help me have a better car, or please increase my land.” It was, “God, please stop the hand of our aggressor,” and it didn’t happen. That prayer wasn’t answered for anybody in that church. And this wasn’t the military doing this violence; it was their neighbors. That kind of stuff really sent me into a spiral: “What is going on? How does this fit in?” It does two things. It causes a bit of a crisis of faith, and at the same time, it also makes me realize there has to be a God, because my own sense of justice does not have a context for this. Only God’s greater story of redemption can fit something like this into it, for 800,000 people to die, you know? God promises that there is redemption, so where is it? You know, it’s a lot of those kind of questions. And those are all wrapped up in that song.”