C.S. Lewis on the Right Way to Read Classics

You probably know C.S. Lewis for his imaginative Narnia fiction or perhaps for his non-fiction works on Christianity, but many are unaware of the groundbreaking and brilliant work he did within his scholarly field. Lewis was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford and the premier professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge, so his knowledge of greater literature itself was deep and profound. His students and colleagues were frequently amazed by his astonishing recall of minute detail in obscure works. He would play a game with you when you came to his office where he would have you pull down any book off his shelf and read a random passage out of it. He would tell you the work, author, and quote the surrounding context. Suffice it to say, the man knew his stuff.

CS-Lewis-on-the-Reading-of-Old-BooksBeing that Lewis had his ears to the ground with his students and was unusually fresh with his perspectives, his approaches to teaching literature would be a welcome and exciting change for many students weary of their dull college courses. Since many students just began their spring semesters, I think these thoughts of Lewis’s on understanding the classics would be pertinent at this time.

In his improperly titled A Preface to Paradise Lost, Lewis writes on multiple topics ranging from the genre of epic poetry to John Milton’s theology. In chapter IX, he tackles a method of reading classics that is still prevalent to this day (perhaps more so now I think) dubbed the method of “The Unchanging Human Heart.” Lewis describes it thus:

“According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial. Just as, if we stripped the armour off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honour, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate.”

Lewis continues to say the he held to this method for many years, but that he has since abandoned it. I’m sure most people have naturally utilized this method in their readings, self-centered as we humans are. We look for ourselves in what we see. I’ve been guilty of it for years. We look for signs of familiarity in a foreign land. Shouldn’t we be appreciating what is new and foreign to us if we are to not be shallow tourists?

If we only look for this Unchanging Heart in everything we read, there is also the problem of imbalance in our understanding of the work. Lewis opines: “Our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it, to make him use the loud pedal where he really used the soft, to force into false prominence what he took in his stride, and to slur over what he actually threw into bold relief.”

Worse still, Lewis also points out that under the Unchanging Heart method that what we cslewismay wish to think is a facet of the unchanging nature of humanity, is actually just something we fancy because we like it now in the “modern mood”! This is egregious beyond making the author into ourself, because we are then morphing them into our culture as well.

Lewis wraps up the thought in a passage worth quoting at length:

“Fortunately there is a better way. Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lace ; that is, with his honour, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries out of the Grand Cyrus. I had much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them. The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C. S. Lewis in Lucretius.
[..]      To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work ‘in the same spirit that its author writ’ and to avoid chimerical criticism. It is better to study the changes in which the being of the Human Heart largely consists than to amuse ourselves with fictions about its immutability. For the truth is that when you have stripped off what the human heart actually was in this or that culture, you are left with a miserable abstraction totally unlike the life really lived by any human being.”

With this far more balanced and informative view, we can better understand the actual meaning being presented in the work regardless of our modern approval of it. Lewis quotes scholar Denis Saurat as saying that one should “study what there is of lasting originality in Milton’s thought and especially to disentangle from theological rubbish the permanent and human interest.” This is beyond misguided, it is an influence of the darkness of this present age that desires to purge man of God and refuse to bother with the real meaning of texts that do not adhere to contemporary skepticism. Lewis points out that this is like saying that one should study Hamlet without the rubbish of revenge or Gothic architecture without spires. Without its most essential elements, these things do not exist. This should be widely recognized as insane critical methodology, and yet it persists.

Lewis says that “our plan must be very different – to plunge right into the ‘rubbish’, to see the world as if we believed it, and then, while we still hold that position in our imagination, to see what sort of a poem results.”

So the next time you pick up a book that wasn’t written in the last two hundred years (which Lewis recommended doing between every new book you read) approach it not with the desire to dig for nuggets of modernity or yourself. Listen to the author, and treat all his or her thoughts with the respect of attempting to truly understand them. You may find some things admirable, grotesque, beautiful, mistaken, complex, honorable, hopeful, and more.. but do please find them!

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Life in the Face of Mystery: An Interview with Todd Olsen (The Waiting, Oats)

Todd Olsen is a founding member of legendary Christian alternative rock band The Waiting, and also performs solo as Oats.

In a basic sense, how would you describe your faith?


Todd Olsen: I would say the sort of basic “orthodox” things that most Christians adhere to; the basic tenets. I don’t really go for division and all that. I did walk into a Presbyterian church at one point and I was looking at what they believed about the end times, Revelation and all that, their view was basically “we don’t know exactly what it means” which really spoke to me because I like when people are honest like that. I don’t know what’s going on with all that stuff. I don’t wanna be like some people that act like they know when they don’t- I keep it simple. I think it’s far more important to live the faith than to have a particular denominational stance.

You once said that “I think people can be brought closer to God if you simply tell them what the Lord is doing in your life.” Would you say this still holds true?

Absolutely, and I would take it even further at this point and say that is really how to speak to others in my opinion. I believe in living the faith. I play in a lot of bars, but I’m not doing the same things many others do because that’s me. I’m not getting drunk, chasing women, etc, and I don’t go around preaching why but everybody knows it. I used to not do so well with that, to confess, I used to be a real flirt. I would chase girls and disappear on them! I’d be kissing on them and saying “bye!” right after! It wasn’t good. But the Lord really worked on me, changing my heart and making me realize that i was hurting myself and others. I didn’t flirt or touch another woman (that wasn’t a loved one) for 11 years after that. Didn’t even talk to them because if you talk to someone long enough
that’s flirting too! So what I’m saying is that the Lord has really changed my heart and my desires. I just abhor stuff I used to be caught up in. It’s not that I just don’t want to do it, but seeing other people do things I used to do, chase women and all that, it makes me sick. I really hate it. And it’s not just women or anything, there’s always stuff people get into. Now I’m not trying to do a holier-than-thou thing and look down on people, we’re all messed up in different ways. Joe Christian no matter how good he looks has got problems, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working on him to get him ready for the afterlife. I’m glad to be able to gig a lot doing these cover shows at bars and all, but it’s just a negative environment a lot of the time. It’s not easy to do, but it makes me happy to play and offer a little hope by good conduct…when people ask why I don’t do the things they do I tell them.

You’ve expressed dissatisfaction with the focus placed on conversion stories, but how did you come to Christ?

Yeah, I’ve never felt that was the super important thing it’s made out to be. Sure, some people have some crazy good stories. Like a guy gets out of prison and the moment he goes to the bus stop there’s a guy with a tract that shares Christ with him and his life is never the same from there. That’s all fine and good, but Christianity is a journey and not just a beginning. I grew up in the church and surrounded by all that, so I never really was without Christianity in my life. But when we were younger we were just kind of wild and doing crazy things around the church we shouldn’t have done. It was when I was 20 that I prayed. I don’t see it as being that exciting, I still had a long way to go and I still do to this day. My trouble with women was after that, it’s not like I became a saint with one prayer. I had to work through things and God had to put me through things for me to grow spiritually. That’s the thing I think needs to be focused on more.

What led you to pursue the arts?

I was five years old and my dad said I had to learn an instrument, so we walked into a shop and I picked out a trumpet. I started to learn how to play it and it wasn’t long before I wanted to quit. I told my dad I was intending to quit and he said “You can quit… as soon as you learn how to play it!” (laughs). So that’s what I did, I stuck with it till I was in my 20s because that’s when I really felt I had “learned” it. I was ready to move on to guitar though because it afforded more opportunity for musical things I wanted to do like writing, playing chords, singing along, and all that.

Who were some of your primary artistic influences growing up?

Well like many the first experience I had was with The Beatles. My dad had these sealed vinyl LP’s of their greatest hits that he wanted to keep pristine so he could transfer them to reel to reel. I busted them out and played them anyway (laughs) so that was really the first thing I latched onto, and you can of course hear that melodic influence in The Waiting. I’ve always been a melody guy. I learned a lot of classical music on trumpet, and classical is all about melody. Rock is about the rhythm, so I liked things that combined those two things, pretty much what you would call power pop now is what I enjoyed. When I got older I started listening to stuff that was unique, I always liked things that sounded different. That’s still really important to me. I don’t like hearing bands aping other bands. When The Beatles played a song that sounded like The Beach Boys [Back in the U.S.S. R.] it sounded cool because it still sounded like them and that was more of a tribute to how good the Beach Boys’s sound was. But there has always been way too many bands that just completely steal another band’s identity. I’m not naming names but I’ve seen way too many acts doing that. That’s something I’m proud of with The Waiting. We had our influences but nobody sounded like us. And we had our critics, I’m thinking of one in particular (laughs), who said we were too bright and poppy and not “cool” enough as an alternative band, but we didn’t care because it’s what we liked. I’ve always been a naturally optimistic person and I don’t want people to think there isn’t a struggle. But there is always hope with God and that may be reflected in my musical preference toward the melodic.

You once said The Waiting was influenced by Keith Green. Since you grew up in the church, were there any Christian artists like him in that stage that meant something to you?

Yeah, my mom was someone who didn’t appreciate me listening to Jimi Hendrix records on my turntable, she didn’t like the idea of a 14 year old tripping out to that stuff.. So I had to find Christian music that wouldn’t upset her that I could actually enjoy. This was at the time that Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith hit it really big, and I listened to them.

When The Waiting began, did you begin by deliberately writing about religious topics?

We did because it was what would make our parents happiest, honestly. That’s not the most artistic way to start by any means, but that’s what happened. We began doing it from that place and as we grew the meaning behind what we were doing grew and became more real to us.

Why did The Waiting wear 1940’s era clothes during the Blue Belly Sky era?

bluebellyskyOur manager wanted us to have a “look” and I’ll admit, I was the one responsible for that idea (laughs). Is it embarrassing now? Nah- I thought it was cool and I still do!

How did being a believer affect your career as an artist?

It affected it greatly! It was always the struggle of us trying to write stuff we thought people wanted to hear so we could get bigger, things that we might not have been so terribly interested in ourselves. “Hands in the Air,” pretty much everyone’s favorite song that we did, was one where we just let go and did what we wanted to do without worrying what people wanted to hear. We worried too much what people thought of what we wanted to do. I don’t want to rag on the Christian audience, because they’re the people who have supported us, but they make it hard on you sometimes when you maybe just want to write a song about your girlfriend or something. You put that on a record and it’s “Hey, I thought you guys were supposed to be Christians!” Yeah, well that’s a part of my Christian life! So we felt kind of constrained by that. Also, the industry was of course just a mess to work with. It’s different now. There’s really no such thing as a Christian music industry for stuff that isn’t worship music anymore. If you’re a Christian making music you’re either worship or secular. Which you know, I’m not really too sad about. The Christian music industry was a noble experiment, but it just got too big for its britches too quickly. There were way too many bands out there that just outright took the identities of other bands to the point that you could draw clear lines between every Christian band and a secular band, which is just terrible. It was like Christians were making their own bad copies of secular music so you could enjoy the sound without the sin. Now if you’re a Christian wanting to make music you play worship music and that’s that. I don’t hate worship music but it just isn’t my style and doesn’t do much for me. The problem for me is that with some notable exceptions I feel it’s too repetitive and sounds too much the same. So it’s not something I’m into musically, but I’m glad the Christian world has found some family friendly fare. There’s just still the problem of there being no place for artists who are Christians to flourish in making music that doesn’t fit into that category.

What were some of the struggles you faced that tested your ability to continue?

Oh man, well, I’ve already gone over some. But really the main thing that really crushed me? The death of a dream. I can’t tell you how much it broke me in 2002 when I had to decide to take The Waiting off the road. This may not sound good, but my dream was just to have a really successful rock band. To play big shows and have great sales on our singles and records. We really fought hard for that. We had the dream start that every band hopes for. We got discovered at a festival, we took the stage and did our set, started walking down the steps and there was a PACK of record executives wanting to sign us to their labels immediately. Things seemed like they were going to go really well. We toured relentlessly, we made good records. But it was never really enough. It supported a bunch of single guys for a long time, but then people started getting married and having families. Suddenly what we were doing just didn’t cut it anymore. We all had to go separate ways and take jobs that could actually provide for us. It was just a huge blow that took me a long time to recover from. You pour so much of your life into this band. For about a decade we worked our asses off trying to make it big.. to achieve that dream. Then you hit the moment where you realize it’s just not going to happen. That was really painful. I made the decision that it just wasn’t in our best interest to be on the road anymore even though it was going to be hardest on me. I was single and I loved playing shows, but I recognized that I couldn’t be the one driving everyone into the ground. I had to cut it off when the time was right. I went on to do freelance producing work from there, which didn’t make me all that happy, but I learned how to record. I went through a time of great grief which led to the Oats album a tear and a sneer, which is really about the five stages of grief that I went through when my father died, who was so important in my life and in supporting us. Eventually Tom Hill invited me to play with his covers band, which brought me back to playing gigs. That reignited my love for playing and sparked the idea of having Oats shows. I had to fight through a period where I was really uncomfortable with being a frontman though. That was always my brother Brad’s place. toddolsenBrad is a great frontman, and he feeds off the energy of being in the spotlight like that. I do not at all! I’m introverted, and I was always happy not being the center of attention playing guitar with The Waiting. I had to learn how to sing lead and be a frontman, which was not easy at all for me. I was terrified every time I did it for years. I had played for tens of thousands of people with The Waiting no problem, but I would freak out singing lead for twenty people! It took me years to not be afraid anymore, and it was just like one day *snap* it wasn’t there anymore. No more fear at all! God just completely took it away and I’ve never been the same since. Now I’m confident, which is so important for being a frontman. And now the Oats band is rehearsing, and that’s been years in the making. I’m ready to do it now!

But that was the hard thing for me. The death of the dream. Dreams can die hard, especially for me. I’m an extremely tenacious and persistent person, so that dying dream is all over the Oats record. The record is written about a relationship, but there’s a whole lot on the record behind that about other griefs.
It’s written that way because it was just kind of my introverted way of expressing other griefs that were too painful to address directly, one was my father’s passing and the other the death of that dream.
And now it’s kind of come full circle because getting the Oats thing going shows me how it’s not going to be the way it was and I don’t necessarily want it to be the way it was.
I don’t want to be full time on the road. I wouldn’t say no if there was a great need but in truth I’m kind of a home body. But going out to do Oats shows on weekend trips will be a lot of fun and it will be nice for fans of The Waiting because since there is only one Oats record we plan to round out the show with our versions of Waiting songs.

What are some Biblical verses, passages, or books that mean a great deal to you personally?

I always love Ecclesiastes, I just love that. I guess that’s the one most akin to the Oats experience (laughs). It’s just my personality. I like the Psalms too, things that are more uplifting or considered more uplifting. I like the overall, because The Bible really captures the overall experience of life. If you think you’re facing something that no one has ever faced, you haven’t read the whole thing because you’d see that’s just not true. The people in those stories faced a helluva lot more than any of us have. That is comforting to me, and those books are especially comforting to me. And I like Proverbs too because I aspire toward wisdom. It says a lot of good things that, taken at face value, will just make you happier. I’m just a rubber to the road, practical guy in that way. I don’t care about anyone’s theories and interpretations. It’s real simple for me to just take something like Proverbs at face value and not have to go through a ton of interpretation. Just “do this, and you will be wiser and happier.” It’s not necessarily that it will make you “happy,” but if you attain that wisdom and make decisions that are better for you – that goes toward making your life happier.

Something a lot of people are clamoring to hear more about is The Waiting’s new album Mysteriet that has been in the works for many years. You’ve said the album is about the “mystery and majesty of the Trinity.” What is your view of the Trinity?

I have no idea. That’s why it’s a mystery. I think that it’s probably put best the Irish way mysterietof talking about it, like a three leaf clover that has three leaves but is all one thing. That comes as close as anything because I don’t think it’s something that can be explained. I don’t expect to understand it while I’m here (laughs). In the next life I’m sure I will know fully, but I just take it on faith at this point.

You said that the topic is “literally the Mount Everest of Christian music”

Gosh, how presumptuous were we trying to do a record about the Trinity? (laughs) I liked the idea because it’s a concept album and we’re doing a few of the songs about the Father, a few about the Son, and a few about the Spirit, and a couple overall about all of them. But it’s all about God. So I like the idea, but dude, in practice it has been a nightmare. Because think about it, how do you put that into a record? How do you put God into music? What words do you write that are going to be fitting, suitable, that would be anywhere close to what has already been said? Or at least, able to be in the same room with the Scriptures, the same ballpark, planet? So that’s been a heck of a thing. But most of the songs have been written, so that was the hardest part. We’ve had some problems and troubles I won’t go into… just life stuff. The computer everything was on was disassembled for a long time and now it’s reassembled. It’s working and the files are still there. We’re in the process of getting those in a form where I can send those to Brad because the next step is for him to put his vocals down in a finished form. We already have vocals down but they need to be touched up and finished. From there it’ll be time for it to go to Ricky Rodriguez who’s the mix engineer, he’s also mixing the Oats record. He’s a guy in North Carolina, a buddy of mine. He has a place called Bomb House Studios with great music up there. So it’s one step at a time, but for a long time it was not in motion because we were kind of stuck on writing and even me. I was stuck on music, writing the right music. And Brad was stuck on writing the right words because it was such a hard thing to do. But I got a couple of things I like, and a couple of things I really like, so I’m very much looking forward to it. But it was inactive for a long time. Anyone can relate to that who has done any kind of writing.

In a 2001 interview you said that “The talk around the camp here is that our next record will be The Waiting’s Sgt. Pepper, which was a total left turn for The Beatles. Right now we’re reserving any nutty, crazy, out-there thing we want to do for the next record.”
Does this still apply to the musical direction of Mysteriet?

Ab-sol-ut-ely. There is nothing we have done that’s anything like this. Absolutely nothing. I’ll give you an example, we don’t go into any Rush territory per se but the first song on the album is in 5/4 time. We got a couple of mixed meter songs in there. We’re just kind of stretching. That’s what I was talking about when we were trying to write the music. We were trying to come up with something different we’ve never done. It’s a cool sound, kind of a hard sound more akin to what I did on the Oats record. That’s just where I’ve been lately, but it’s interesting technically from a musical point of view. It’s not just stuff with the same old 4/4 beat, we’re stretching. You could relate it, not in the ballpark genius-wise of Sgt. Pepper, but in that direction in the sense of it being just experimental. We’re just doing whatever we want to do. We have literally nothing to lose. Some people? They’re not going to like it, well fine. But some people are going to really love it, and think it’s our best work since “Hands in the Air.” And that has been our inspiration. Just that song. Not even a whole album! I took that song as the best thing we’ve ever done, which is what me and all the guys think, and I said “what did we do on this song?” What we did was just whatever we wanted. We didn’t think about the end, who was going to hear it, the radio. We just did what we were inspired to do by our creativity, our Creator, our God, and had no fear whatsoever. That’s the difference on this record. No $70,000 budget to worry about or paying a record company back to worry about. So it’s just what we think is good and that is what we did on Mysteriet.

Where did Mysteriet’s Norwegian name come from?

It’s a Norwegian word that means “The Mystery.” We chose the Norwegian word because that’s mine and Brad’s ancestry on my father’s side. My grandparents were from Norway.

You seem to be quite a reader, at one point saying you read two versions of Les Miserables!

Yes, I read two versions because I love that work. I just love Hugo’s style because it’s bombastic and he’s always asking a lot of questions. Victor Hugo is always like “How do you think he felt?? What could he do with all these feelings??” etc and I just love that. He’s just so over the top and it brought me into the story and made me feel what the character was feeling. But my favorite book by Hugo is Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).

Are there any books or authors that have particularly influenced you?

hobbit.jpgOh gosh, I could go on forever. One of my favorite ever books was The Hobbit and I was really glad they made the movies because the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings were really great. I don’t know if that’s considered in our community to be popcorn fare but I don’t care I just like it you know? I just like the stories. I like how Tolkien creates a whole world. He made up a freaking language! We tried to make up a language on the road with The Waiting. My brother was the spearhead of this, we made up this language because he used to say all of these nonsense words and we started writing them down and tried making a whole language out of it.
But the point being that Tolkien created a whole immersive world and I think that’s wonderful and very human. If there’s anything that can separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom maybe it’s that we can invent an entire universe. It makes us a little like God in that way. That nature. I really love The Hobbit. I love Watership Down too, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one.

I’m very familiar with it!

I love it. I’ve never seen the movie, I’ve never been interested in seeing it really. I might be interested when somebody like Peter Jackson does it. At any rate I love that book and when I was on the road with The Waiting I would be reading up to seven books at a time! I would read philosophy, historical fiction, straight history, numerous topics. Soaking it all in. That’s something being on the road is great for. Plenty of time to read and soak up knowledge on the bus. But being home three days a month wasn’t great for me. You start thinking you’re going crazy! Anyway, those are a few I like. I love sci-fi too.

What is the most rewarding aspect of creating art that speaks to Christian truth?

The most rewarding aspect of creating art is the work. After the fact when people see the olsenguitarwork or hear it, pile money on you, pile adulation on you, give you attaboys. That’s all great, but for me the accomplishment is in the creation. When I get the idea. One example is when I was at Beaker’s house getting ready for a show, and we were making an arrangement we were working on of John Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane.” We were trying to come up with an arrangement for two guitars  and what we were going to do, because obviously we don’t have the big drum bit happening for the solo. I was working on it and there was a moment where it finally clicked and I was like “That’s it!” We rehearsed it in front of Beaker’s wife and she said the same thing.
It’s an arrangement like we would do with The Waiting, something that will entertain that people will go crazy for. Keeping showmanship in mind. It’s a creative moment. That’s what I’m going for. I’m lying in bed watching Murdock Mysteries on BBC on my laptop, everytime there’s a break I mute it and think of how we’re going to do this arrangement. It’s the same kind of thing we’d do for a Waiting show. We learned from Tom Jackson, who was one of the best entertainment consultants in the business. We learned how to do The Waiting thing a lot from him, and now he consults people like Taylor Swift. So that was me taking what I learned from him and working it out from The Waiting. Using those creative moments.
The payout for me these days is getting the right idea. How do we get from here to there? On The Waiting album. How do I represent the awe of the Trinity in sound?
Part of my inspiration for Mysteriet was the beginning of Genesis where it says that the Spirit of the Lord was hovering on the water. In my mind that’s the mystery right there. Realizing that’s where I wanted the vibe of Mysteriet to come from, that was the payout.
As a creative person I know God felt this way when He created the earth, in whatever way He did it, He had to have gotten a charge out of it. I get a huge charge out of the smallest things.
When I’m creating it makes me happy. Even just to be primed to be creative. Seven failed attempts makes me happier than not trying.
As far as the Christian aspect? It depends on your calling, but the thing I like is for my life to be all one. The thing I like about having Christian content is for it to come out of my work that is not on a Christian label or record. But the fact is that there’s a way it is a Christian record because I am a Christian. I can’t escape my point of view! I can’t write like I’m a hedonist or something. The way I’m going to write it is going to be from my point of view. Everything on the Oats record is consistent with my Christianity and my life. I like that better than some of the divisions I’ve seen through growing up in church. Divisions in people’s lives are not good or helpful. In short, I feel like you shouldn’t be a Christian on Sunday and something else at other times. And church shouldn’t be a gathering of people painting smiles on their pained faces, it should be all the ups and downs. It says somewhere in the Bible that you have to laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry [Romans 12:15]. Have some compassion on the other guy, he’s a human being! Be real in church and I don’t mean rude, I just mean honest. Not just painting a smile on something when it hurts, but saying it damn hurts! We are all called to be honest. It’s every bit a part of being a Christian and your failures mean as much as your successes, and I don’t mean to dwell on the negative. But if you’re hurting there’s nothing wrong with talking about it! That’s what those other people are there for! It’s not like they have never grieved, we all have. I feel it’s important to not have a compartmentalized life, to have it all of life be one. That’s integrity. The same guy everywhere I go- all one. That’s what I aspire to.

I would encourage all the believers out there to do likewise. Be who you are all the time. Let the chips fall from there. If someone doesn’t want to be my friend because I’m honest about problems, well goodbye sir! God will be proud if I’m the real deal, I think. Your opinion does not matter as much to me as what God thinks. So I have to go by that. I’m not trying to say “yay sin!” or anything like that, but I just think people should be honest about struggles as well as successes. I encourage everyone to just be a faithful reporter. Whatever your calling may be, be faithful in that!

I’m just trying to practice what I preach.

My Two Favorite Beatles Songs: Celebrating 50 Years of Sgt. Pepper

It was 50 years ago today…. Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. sgtpeppersessions

I couldn’t avoid it guys, had to say it.

Yes, the Citizen Kane of all rock albums was released exactly fifty years ago today. 01 June 1967. In honor of the great album’s milestone anniversary, there is a truly amazing remix of the album by Giles Martin that was just released, a documentary film airing on PBS tomorrow, and celebrations the world over for “Sgt. Pepper Day.”

The album has been examined, celebrated, critically lauded, listened to, written on, and debated about by thousands of people fifty years since it came out. Just how great is Sgt. Pepper? As objectively as possible in art, pretty phenomenally great. It’s a high mark of the entire enterprise of rock and pop music. If a few albums were placed in a capsule for aliens to hear, it would be there.

With that being said, it is my personal favorite album of all time. I’ve listened to it countless times, been thrilled with every listen, and read all those things about it and pored over every detail and word. It is a true tragedy to me that a camera wasn’t running to capture some of the studio performances. I try to transport my mind to that little room in 1967 where Paul chants some background vocals fifty times into the mike while Ringo plays chess and John asks Geoff Emerick and George Martin to do impossible sonic stunts.

So I would love to write a full appreciation of just how much this album has influenced me, how much it means to my life, how I think it is the most consummately perfect statement a rock album can achieve. The problem? Time. I would love to do a track by track dissection of it, maybe some other time. You can always go and read the literature about why this album is so culturally important, musically genius, full of great stories in every track, etc. I just want to talk a little about my two favorite Beatles songs that are on the album.

I mean, the statement is kind of ludicrous to start. My two favorite Beatles songs? What are you thinking? How could I possibly choose such a thing? Strawberry Fields Forever may be one of my top three tracks they did, but some days I’m just madly in love with a scratchy early recording they did that is nowhere near such a pinnacle sonic production/songwriting masterpiece. Something like In Spite of all the Danger or Hello Little Girl.

Anyway, these are two tracks I always go back to and that speak a lot to me.

Doing the Best That I Can:

sgtpepper2Getting better all the time. Is there nothing so without doubt a Paul McCartney composition? Is there nothing so clearly a collaboration that benefited from John Lennon’s presence? Just one line by John gives the song a whole new flavour. Paul says it’s getting better all the time. John says it can’t get no worse. Beatle magic right there my friends. I’ll never forget being first aware of this song, even though I may have forgotten hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time.
I was still quite young, and to hear that tug of war within such an upbeat song’s psychology was incredible to me. The song was so jubilant and sounded like happiness got put on wax. It had a surprisingly dark side to it though. “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved. Man, I was mean but I’m changing my scene and I’m doing the best that I can.” That’s a bold line for anybody to put on a song, let alone the kings of the music world.

That’s part of what I love about Pepper. It’s got a lot of pomp and flair that is exhilarating to listen to; a visual feast in decibels. It’s not just showbiz though. That’s part of the theme of the album. The Beatles had been wearing masks for too long, and now they had donned the mask of another band as a sort of meta-joke, but it gave them the first complete freedom they ever had. John had never been shy opening up his heart to people even if they didn’t know it, but to hear Paul talking about abusive tendencies in a song that sounded like a sure-fire pop hit is just incredible in any era of music.

The song means a great deal to me because it sort of captures the dual personalities at play in my own heart. My general state is that of joy, optimism, and acknowledgement of past mistakes with a repentant intention to push forward into a better future. Also at play is the John side. The fear of knowing that you’re capable of ruining yourself. That you can frolic around in tulips and say things are getting better but you know you’re down as you can get. Not to insult John, but John’s voice is the devil in Getting Better. Yeah, you think things are alright but you know you’re trash and this is going nowhere.

The recording is just astonishing too. The background vocals, the tone on George’s guitar, Paul’s elastic Pepper-era bass playing, that weird keyboard sounding thing that closes the song out. It’s prime pop music production craft.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. It’s a mantra I would rather live by than a lot of people’s favorite Beatle slogan songs. In my mind, it is getting better all the time.

Hey, it can’t get no worse right?

Woke Up, Fell Out of Bed:

It’s been my consistent answer to the ever asked rubbish question “What’s your favorite johnpepperBeatles song?” “A Day in the Life” I always say. I know what you’re thinking. Pepper, Day in the Life. I’m way too predictable and sound like Rolling Stone magazine right? But I’m not kidding. It was my “favorite” Beatles song before I ever read Rolling Stones’ equally rubbish rankings. Why is it my favorite? Well first of all it’s obviously a grand experiment, and there’s nothing that excites me like a risky experiment that pays off better than you could have ever imagined. A Day In the Life didn’t seem to have a lot going for it, I bet. John had a song singing a newspaper and Paul had a song about his dull sounding day.  Neither one enough to stand on its own. Together? There’s an idea.

Much like Getting Better, the reason why I really love A Day In the Life is contained in the contrast that it provides. John begins singing in a voice that made the hairs on George Martin’s arm stand on end about some things he probably read in the Evening Standard or something (I forget which paper it really was, where’s my Steve Turner book??), and reports the lives and deaths of people as if he were a disenchanted witness of all the events himself. The stories range from tragic to what would be the equivalent to Buzzfeed headlines now. How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall??? You won’t believe the answer!!

This section sort of represents a greater whole of London, or life as a whole. The grand scheme of things through a floating newsreel camera. John drifts through it like none of it touches him, but happens all around him. He wishes he could turn everyone on to what he sees. Many took this as a drug reference, which it probably is in a way. But I think of it more as being turned on to a new way of viewing life.

An avant-garde orchestra bit leads to Paul’s section. The staccato piano suggests a busy morning while Paul’s alarm rings. He goes about his normal existence on his way to work and has an epiphany as he smokes and somebody speaks. He goes into a dream, and seems to fly away into the distance. This section is about the mundane side of life, and escaping it even as you partake in repetitious activities like smoking and hearing someone speak.

The song briefly flies back to John’s Albert Hall bit, before ending in the orchestral freak out and most famous ending chord in all of musical history. It’s the longest sustained sound on record. You can even hear the AC unit if you listen close enough because the mikes are turned up so loud!

So there you have it. The song that challenged a whole generation of music fans and pushed the art form into another dimension. There’s a lot of little things to appreciate about it too. Ringo’s drumming is perfect, John’s vocal is transcendental, the mix is flawless to my ears, the piano licks are spot on. My favorite little bit is Paul’s soaring wordless vocal that closes out his section. Many assumed that was John because it does sound like him, but it was definitely Paul (according to the man himself). John couldn’t have hit those notes either. It is the sound of drifting into one’s mind, looking inward. The sound that is in your mind as you hop the Trafalgar Square bus and look out the window at all the people rushing by in yet another day in the life.

I wish I could write so much more on this record. It brings unspeakable joy to my life and even thinking of it makes me happy. It was the perfect time, perfect place, and perfect band to make such a crowning achievement.

Cheers to Sgt. Pepper on its 50th birthday. It gets better all the time.

sgtpepperparty

*Massive E chord*

A Sad Face is Good for the Heart

It is better to go to a house of mourning 18817518_1768938016454910_1406252783_o
than to go to a house of feasting,
since that is the end of all mankind,
and the living should take it to heart.
Grief is better than laughter,
for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.
The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.
                                        – Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

I would be willing to bet that these words wouldn’t go over very well with virtually any audience at any point in time. Thousands of years of philosophy and religion has been spent on trying to solve the perennial “How can I achieve happiness?” question. How completely counter-intuitive and counter-cultural is it to say that funerals and grief is ultimately “better” than laughter and parties?

Death is the great equalizer of mankind. No matter what station in life you have or what legacy you may leave, you will end the same way as all eventually must. Death is the clock running down that is hung over you. Not only that, but there is no assurance of what time you have left. You may have 40 years or 40 minutes left.

The heart of every man knows this deep down, but the majority of people live the “teenage” life. The life that assumes there will always be a tomorrow. The life that believes you are invincible and that you must have plenty of time left before you get decrepit and ready to go. The fact is that you just don’t know if that’s the case or not. Every day is a day longer where you beat the insurmountable probability that you shouldn’t even be alive to enjoy it.

Solomon was King of Israel after his father David. Solomon famously was the wisest and richest king in world history, and he pursued pleasure more heedlessly than anyone else could. Solomon is really history’s ultimate hedonist and libertine. “Caligula would have blushed.” In Ecclesiastes 2 he details his journey of pleasure pursuing.  He tries everything under the sun. He increased his achievements by building magnificent buildings, he had so many slaves that he didn’t have to do any of the work, he had more gold and silver than any other single human in history, he had so many concubines that he couldn’t get around to them all if he tried. He had all the praise, wealth, sex, and ease of life that your typical human ever craves. “All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse any pleasure..”
Solomon had everything that humans think would make them happy. What did all these earthly delights bring him?

“When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11

So there you have it. The man most likely to be ensured happiness by worldly standards couldn’t reach happiness that way.

If doing things that makes us happy can’t bring us happiness, what can make us happy? 

Solomon’s answer to this question is as radical as it gets. Instead of seeking happiness in things that make you happy, you should consistently consider things that bring sorrow.

Why would this ultimately lead to true happiness? Because it leads us closer to God.

Solomon points out in 5:20 that the things that we find pleasure in are all gifts of God, especially when you consider these things make it harder for us to consider the days of our life. Pleasure or happiness as we understand it is actually the great barrier in the way of us wanting God more. That makes it all the more graceful and incredible that God gives us as much to delight in as He does.

Going back to the first quoted passage, Solomon says that “when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.” When you obtain more understanding of God by considering the full scope of life, it brings a more grateful and balanced view that ends in the greater joy of knowing God better. Wisdom is understanding that it is God who is completely in control, not you. Wisdom is letting go of the feeling that all the things you may be passionate about are important, and that what matters to God is the relationship between Him and you.

It may take a lot of sad times and days for us to learn this wisdom in our deepest hearts, but a sad face won’t be sad forever. In 8:1, Solomon says that “A man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed.” It is wisdom, the understanding that the things of God are what is not futile, that leads to a change.

If you’re in a time of sadness, do not despair! This is the time that God can speak to you and impart a new perspective of wisdom that may bring gladness to your heart. A sad face is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a time and season for everything under heaven, and the Lord works in everyone in His own time. The good news is that there is great reason to find joy in knowing that you are loved beyond all understanding, and that Christ died so that you could be made guiltless before Him and adopted into His family. This should not be forgotten.

Enjoy what God has given you to enjoy in this life, but do it with the understanding that it is a gift that should not be taken for granted or thought of as guaranteed.

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.” –  G. K. Chesterton

 

Thanks to one of my favorite bands, The Choir, for inspiring this post.
“A sad face is good for the heart
Maybe just now, I don’t understand
A sad face is good for the heart of a man
A sad face is good for the heart
It’s alright, you don’t have to smile”
The Choir – Sad Face

 

Is a Promise Actually Self-Deception?

Last night I watched Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane again as I’m wont to do, this timeCitizen-Kane-Declaration-of-Principles.jpg showing it to my youngest sister for the first time. Every time I see the film again I notice things about it that I hadn’t caught completely before. The thing that really stuck out to me this time was the running motif in the plot of promises. Near the beginning of the film, there’s a scene where Charles Kane, Jedediah Leland (his closest friend), and Mr. Bernstein (a close associate) are discussing the first newspaper they’re unleashing on New York the next day. Kane keeps refining what he wants on the front page, and ultimately decides to change it one last time. This time, he’s going to feature a “Declaration of Principles” that will outline his promises to the people of New York. Leland doesn’t trust Kane to actually keep these promises, so he asks to keep the original copy of the Declaration because he has a hunch it may “turn out to be something pretty important.”

His hunch is right, as Kane’s principles go off the deep end (to say the least) throughout the film. He abuses his power as a news tycoon to encourage wars and promote his own activities and interests, in comparison to his earnest and ambitious start where he boldly fought for truth. Mr. Bernstein warned Kane that “You don’t want to make any promises you don’t want to keep” as Kane simply retorted that “These will be kept.”

Kane continues to make promises that he breaks, and forsakes making any further ones (as he does in his gubernatorial campaign). He breaks his marriage vows to Emily by committing adultery with Susan Alexander. He breaks his promise to be honest to the people in his papers. His inability to keep his promises becomes a running joke with his friends. Kane’s word eventually means nothing, as Leland had already suspected would be the case.

Promises are a tricky business. People love to make them all the time, to the point that it becomes casual and expected. Have you ever heard two lovers talking to each other? It’s not long before they start making promises. I’ll always love you…. I’ll never leave you, etc.
Parents make promises to their children to appease them that they know they can’t really keep. In Jon Favreau’s Chef the main character promises his son that he’ll take him to New Orleans next month, but one can easily tell he has no intention to do so.
People make promises to their friends (or people they don’t like), that they know deep down somewhere, even with the best of intentions, are most likely to ever happen.

Soren Kierkegaard said that “A no does not hide anything, but a yes very easily becomes an illusion, a self-deception, which of all difficulties is perhaps the most difficult to overcome.” No may be difficult, but it is true and does not obscure your real intentions or abilities. I love how Kierkegaard says that yes can so easily slip into a self deception or illusion. Saying yes to someone and disappointing them is rude and can have devastating effect based on the context, but above all saying yes begins as a self deception. You’re tricking yourself, contradicting what you know you’re capable of and what your truest principles are. You think you can hold the promise this time, but you know deep down it’s not going to happen.

We see all around us that one of the central deceptions humankind regularly employs is to make a promise. We see promises now as nonbinding statements of intention that can be reneged if we change our feelings on the matter, or if the timing just doesn’t seem right, or if it’s just to much of a hassle for us. God on the other hand, takes promises with the utmost seriousness. He always keeps His promises. “He who promised is faithful” according to the author of Hebrews (10:23). The Bible proclaims God’s faithfulness in superlative terms. “Your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 36:5); “your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps 119:90); “great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:23).

“How does God’s faithfulness show itself? By his unfailing fulfillment of his promises. He is a covenant-keeping God; he never fails those who trust his word.”
– J.I. Packer, Knowing God

God does not make promise like we do. We fail to keep our word, as God never fails to keep his. We constantly deceive, while God never deceives.

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
– Numbers 23:19

We think of some sins as being lesser than others, not as bad. As long as you’re not killing someone or sleeping with someone’s wife or doing drugs or something you’re just fine.
That’s not how God views it at all though.
As Jesus preached on the mount, he told the crowd to “let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matt 5:37).
Saying yes or no and not really meaning it is deception, and what does the enemy do best? Deceive. Deceiving others and yourself is partaking in the nature of the evil one.

Learn how to control your yes and no. Whether it’s meeting up to grab some coffee sometime or taking someone in marriage, stand behind your yes. If you’re going to say it make every effort to make sure you will actually go through with it. If it’s no, tell the other person with the compassion Christ told others when he had to say no (Mk 5:19). Remember to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

It is not our role or place to try to please everyone and destroy our word and soul in the process.

A false promise can be a self-deception, but it will always be an attack on what is good and true. Solomon says in Proverbs that “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (12:22).

“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.” – Zechariah 8:16

Hung Up On A Dream: Remembering The Forgotten Optimism of 1967

The world was a different place in 1967.
The social revolution had been building swiftly for the past three or four years after a cycle of flowergirlturbulence rocked the culture of the western world in an unprecedented way.
The JFK assassination, Vietnam, swinging London, rock music, drugs, free love, all of these elements were pieces of an enormous board of influences that were shifting everything anyone had known for decades. You most likely know this already because you either lived it or read about it in school sometime.

What is often forgotten however, is one of the key ingredients that made the 60’s such a distinctive and exciting time: the overwhelming prevalence of optimism.

Last November, I had the privilege of seeing one of the most powerful temporary museum exhibits I’ve ever seen. It was called “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was an exhilarating experience that I’m truly disappointed was only temporary. What was so unique about the exhibit was not only how brilliantly it was designed, but how incredibly relevant the late 60’s was made to the modern era. It felt like the 60’s was alive and breathing, that it hadn’t receded in the past, but that its vision was so advanced that we were only now catching up with it.

hapshash
Hapshash and the Coloured Coat

The exhibit focused strongly on the music, as one would expect considering the time is considered one of the greatest eras in musical history. Music was not the only field being revolutionized in the late 60’s though. Forward-thinking fashion designed by prominent designers like Mary Quant and Nigel Weymouth were displayed. Psychedelic graphic art like that made by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat was featured along with photographs by swinging epoch-capturing photographers like David Bailey and Terence Donovan.  Everything down to the design of furniture, telephones, magazines, cans, and other basic utilitarian things were being engineered with a whole new enthusiasm. You could smell the coming of a new world all around. On the radio, on television, in the clothes, in the stores, even in the chairs you sat on.

The sudden popularity of LSD had an enormous influence on this new freedom of design and childlike hope for a new world. Within about a three-year span, nearly all of the influential rock musicians of the time had taken trips. Many of them described their trips in terms that made it sound as if they had discovered the key to solving the underlying problems of disharmony in humanity. Steve Turner called LSD the “Damascus Road tablet,” turning hard-nosed materialist rock stars into starry-eyed mystics.

God isn’t in a pill, but LSD explained the mystery of life. It was a religious experience.” – Paul McCartney 

To again quote Turner, “LSD was the perfect religious experience for the consumer-boom 1960’s. It could be bought, it was fun, it required no sacrifice, you made up your own commandments, and it was in color.”
LSD was seen by many rockers as being the key to a new world. The recognition that we are all God coupled with the loss of ego would ultimately destroy alienation and conflict. This idea was taken so seriously at the time that there were suggestions made to spike the water systems of major cities with hallucinogens to spread the message.

Timothy Leary, high priest of acid in 1967, encouraged the view that LSD could allow humanity to make an evolutionary leap to a near-perfect state. The drug was seen as a cleansing agent. It could break down all the junk loaded on your mind by society and modern civilization and bring you back to the innocence of childhood. Being childlike was incredibly hip. Festival goers would blow bubbles and frolic about in painted bodies. Brian Wilson was writing a song utilizing the Wordsworth line that the “child is the father to the man.”

What was the great message that LSD brought which revealed the “answer” to the mystery of beatles-all-you-need-is-lovelife? Love was the answer. Masters and Houston reported one of the effects of LSD was that “this idea emerges… that a universal or brotherly love is possible and constitutes man’s best if not only hope.” Paul McCartney heartily concurred. In 1967 he claimed, “The need today is for people to come to their senses and my point is that LSD can help them. We all know what we would like to see in the world today–peace. We want to be able to get on with each other. I believe the drug could heal the world…. I now believe the answer to everything is love.”

“Love became the buzzword of 1967 rock ‘n’ roll culture. It gave rise to a huge wave of optimism. The Beatles sang, ‘With our love, we could change the world,’ and millions of young people, for a few months, truly believed they were right.”
                                                                                  – Steve Turner

The_Trip
The Trip (1967) A cult classic Roger Corman film that depicts Peter Fonda going on a nightmare LSD trip.

A few months was right. The LSD religion craze came crashing down almost as soon as it started. The idea was destined to be short-lived in reality. Once you saw the possibilities, where would you go from there? A LSD “religious experience” offered no ground to stand upon whatsoever. There was no guiding light, no worship, and no discipline. The central question was “now what?”
To make matters worse, LSD ended up not just being less than what experimenters looked for. It ended up destroying people’s lives and minds. Stories spread of “acid casualties,” people who had gone on trips and whose minds had never returned. There were also some who, truly believing all to be one, saw no harm in jumping out of an upstairs window. Many experienced “bad trips.” Nightmares that made the user feel terror, fear, and loss of control. The Beatles themselves soon abandoned the drug. Lennon called Timothy Leary’s book “stupid” and blamed the drug for harming his confidence. George Harrison had a bad experience with San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hippies. Thinking the city was going to be a utopian paradise of love and friendliness, he instead found a ghetto of “dirty people” and addicts. Harrison was quickly telling the press that “LSD isn’t a real answer. It doesn’t give you anything.”

“I was experimenting with LSD. I had done some trips and it was terrible. I’d wake up having nightmares…I had ‘Peace’ written on my wall and I went around giving the peace sign, but I didn’t experience peace in my life. I didn’t know what peace really meant; it was just a cliché.” – Phil Keaggy (Glass Harp)

Allen Y. Cohen, one of the original disciples of Timothy Leary, became disenchanted as well. He explained,
“The use of psychedelic chemicals did not lead to a social utopia. Our attempts failed not because of the quality of the people but because these results do not accrue from chemical-induced experiences. You can’t carry over even the most profound experiences you have. You can feel very loving under LSD, but can you exert that love to someone who previously you didn’t like? The long-range answer is no.”

Thus the dream for a new world of peace, love, innocence, and oneness under LSD was recognized to be a sham. If LSD couldn’t make you love your enemies, then it ultimately could change nothing. Rock stars sought more grounded answers in eastern religions and transcendental meditation, but this was quickly dismissed as well. John Lennon claimed that “The dream is over…. We’ve got to get down to so-called reality.” This summed up the closing of the 60’s; the closing of hope for a different, better world.

The utopian vision of the counterculture had good intentions, so where did it go wrong? The hope had permeated all things. It was a time filled with magic. New-comer counterculture films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were getting recognized by Hollywood as having a massive impact, ushering in an era called the “New Hollywood.” Pop music reached artistic heights it had never before achieved. There was an excitement for all that was new and different and better that replaced the stale consumer-driven world that had been long dominant since the end of WWII. It seemed that the world could really continuously involve into a greater place.

It is clear with hindsight that the means of 1967 which were thought to be world-changing ended up being a dream that didn’t reflect reality. War continued because not everyone would take LSD, and even those who did had mixed experiences and disillusion. Drugs, free sex, rock music, Eastern religion, marches, etc. all didn’t have the long-term effect that was hoped for. Despite this, the 60’s has had an undeniable mark on the world at large. We are living in a post-60’s society. Things that were still out of the ordinary at that time have passed into the mainstream. Everything from experimental pop music to conservation efforts and vegetarian eating are products of movements that found their start in the 60’s. While the societal goals envisioned at this time were out of reach, having such lofty visions led to a great deal of change despite the loss of the ultimate “dream” of peace and universal love.

I want to close with a song that I feel like encapsulates the year of 1967 as a whole, and indeed the dream of the 60’s itself.

In 1967, The Zombies went into Abbey Road Studios and recorded an album that is nowodesseyandoracle considered one of the greatest of all time, Odessey and Oracle. The album would mostly not see the light of day until “Time of the Season” became a radio hit two years too late in 1969, but now the album is considered to be a masterpiece. One of the songs on the album is a psychedelic swirl that writer Rod Argent says wasn’t even influenced by drugs, since he had never been interested in them. The song captured the spirit of the times with great poetry in music and words.
You can listen to the song here:  The Zombies – Hung Up On a Dream

Check out these lyrics:

Well I remember yesterday
Just drifting slowly through a crowded street
With neon darkness shimmering through the haze
A sea of faces rippling in the heat

And from that nameless changing crowd
A sweet vibration seemed to fill the air
I stood astounded, staring hard
At men with flowers resting in their hair

A sweet confusion filled my mind
Until I woke up only finding
Everything was just a dream
A dream unusual of its kind
That gave me peace and blew my mind
And now I’m hung up on a dream

They spoke with soft persuading words
About a living creed of gentle love
And turned me on to sounds unheard
And showed me strangest clouded sights above

Which gently touched my aching mind
And soothed the wonderings of my troubled brain
Sometimes I think I’ll never find
Such purity and peace of mind again

“‘Hung Up on a Dream’ is one of my favorite Rod Argent songs. It was written at the time of the Summer of Love. We had great hopes that the movement would develop into something more. It was a time when it was possible to envision that the power of universal love might be extended to all. It wasn’t. It didn’t. It crashed in a fog of drugs and exploitation. Maybe it will happen one day”
 – Chris White (Zombies)

The dream of 1967 may have crashed, but that doesn’t mean hope still can’t be alive fifty years later in 2017. The dream that hope can lead to great change that betters all humanity. Perhaps there is a love that is grounded in truth, that leads one to loving even your enemies, that gives a real answer. A love that leads to you thirsting to really change, to always push towards the new, the better, all in childlike joy.

That’s a love and hope and peace to look for.

Thanks to Steve Turner, whose fantastic book Hungry For Heaven: Rock ‘N’ Roll & the Search for Redemption provided the bulk of information for this piece. For more on these issues of spiritual issues in musical movements I can’t recommend that book enough.

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Wisdom of Bueller

buellerIt’s been 30 years since Ferris Bueller took the day off. The film is one of my favorites of all time, and Ferris and Cameron are both some of my favorite characters in all of fiction. They’re sort of two sides of a coin, and both are highly relatable to me. They’re both really flawed in a lot of ways. Ferris especially has a lot going against him. He lies constantly, pulls off truly heinous stunts (all of which are sort of enviable for their successful panache), hacks the school computer system to doctor his records, and generally does all sorts of things that are technically idiotic. Cameron on the other hand is just pathetic. The guy would rather lay in bed complaining about being “sick” than actually getting out and doing anything. Did you ever notice that both Ferris and Cameron pretend to be sick for different reasons? One so that he can have fun, and the other so that he can’t, respectively?

 

Anyway, I think there is a lot of good to be said about these characters as well. Ferris is a true inspiration to me in ways, because he knows how to have a load of fun without being mean spirited about it, or with the use of any drug. While in some ways he flagrantly rejects responsibility, he actually seems to be a fairly responsible person at heart. He insists on taking the blame for the destruction of the Ferrari (which Cameron maturely refuses), and emphasizes his intention of marrying Sloane. Ferris’s wisdom in the bigger picture is something to aspire to. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong, and what ultimately matters.

The famous line from the film that sums up its message is spoken by Ferris: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I think this is erroneously taken by some to mean that you should live every day like Bueller’s day off, partying it up and doing things that push boundaries. I think this is mistaken. Even Bueller doesn’t live that way every day, and part of the reason he takes that day off is to enjoy himself a bit before his life changes, and it becomes more difficult to do something like that. I think what Bueller is actually saying is that you should enjoy what’s around you wherever you are in life. Instead of being a mopey Cameron who lazes days away in self-pity, you should take advantage of all the wonders around you while you can. I think the message of the film is actually not too far away from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, in which (spoiler alert) a dead woman looks on people who are alive and laments how little they treasure the many extraordinarily beautiful things they are able to do and see. When she asks if anyone truly values the life they live, the response is “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some.”

Maybe Bueller is a saint or a poet. Or maybe he’s just an ordinary fellow who is able to recognize the extraordinary in life when he sees it. The most foolish sort of people can’t see what pleasure can be found in simply attending a baseball game, going to an art museum, eating at a French restaurant, or driving a beautiful car. They take these things for granted, and would rather complain of the most menial discomfort rather than savor the fantastic. Cameron tells Ferris before the parade scene that he hasn’t seen anything good all day. Actually, most of the things they had done up until that point would not be on the short list of fun things to do for a lot of people. It’s the way that Ferris sees things differently that allows him to have a ball whether he’s studying great art or watching the Cubs. In a world of people that only think getting slammed, looking for the next lay, or taking a vacation is the only way to get out and “have some fun,” Bueller challenges us all by having a legendarily fun day doing what is perceived as the mundane.

Finding the fantastic in the mundane? Perhaps Bueller is a saint of sorts after all.