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*

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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.

3 Albums You Need to Hear: April 2016

Something I love to do that I don’t ever seem to know a good avenue for is to talk about whatever music I happen to be obsessing over at the moment. Seems I always have something that really knocks me out every month that ends up getting a whole lot of plays. I want to go tell the whole world about these records, but I never thought to say something about it on my blog, so here you go!

1. Doug Sahm and Band  (1973)– Doug Sahm  

Doug_Sahm_and_Band_1973This album has been blowing my mind for the past couple of weeks. Not just the album itself, but Doug Sahm himself has been really interesting to me. I mean, here’s a guy who played with Hank Williams Sr. (on his last show even!) before he was 12 years old. He looked rockabilly in the 50’s, and had an incredible garage band in the 60’s called the Sir Douglas Quintet (that the record company masqueraded as being British). Bob Dylan was a big fan, and so when Doug did his solo album ol’ Zimmy showed up and contributed some super fun vocals, and even a great tune called “Wallflower.” Dr. John and all sorts of other luminaries were present as well, creating what is undeniably a “smile when yah hear it” fun album that is so darn good that you can’t help but feel as good as it is. From the opening fiddles on “Is Anybody Going to San Antone?” you’ll be glued in. The album sounds like half of an insanely great country band’s album accidentally got sequenced with a killer blues band’s album. That just makes the whole thing that much more awesome. This album is a milestone in alt. country, roots rock, and Texas music. It was one of the earliest records to come out of the burgeoning Austin music scene, just a tad before Willie Nelson released Shotgun Willie. Later in his life, Doug went on to making tons more great music with I don’t even know how many bands. Look it up on Wikipedia, it’s ridiculous how many groups this dude played with. But the one I’m really enjoying now is the debut album of a supergroup he had called the Texas Tornadoes. That album is some great bouncy Tex-Mex music that has a song called “Hey Baby Que Paso.” If that ain’t enough to entice you I don’t even know.

Check out this tune, and you can find the album on Spotify!
Is Anybody Going to San Antone?

2. Song For Swingin’ Sellers (1959) – Peter Sellers 

swingin-298x300Despite whatever you might think from the title, this is not a swing music album by Peter Sellers. The swing song that kicks off the album isn’t even sung by Sellers! But what this album most definitely is is hilarious. Sellers was in top form here, from blasting news interviewers, critics, boring British radio programs, boring old gossipy British women, silly musicians, and so many things all in his distinctive use of dead-on accent impersonations and quiet disgust. The album has aged remarkably well, and Sellers is so charismatic. I ended up listening to this record after years of wanting to hear Seller’s LPs. The late great Sir George Martin produced the record, and it ended up greatly influencing Monty Python and The Beatles. Sellers even does a ridiculous cover of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” with sitars and other Indian instruments, six years before Sir George produced George Harrison playing sitar on Norwegian Wood. While you’re at it, find yourself a copy of Peter Sellers in Blake Edwards’ The Party. It’s a hilarious and experimental comedy film from 1968!
The album can be found on Spotify, or there is a sort of rough vinyl copy ripped onto Youtube.

3. Something New Under the Son (1977, released in 1981) – Larry Norman 

larrynormansomethingI’ve grown up with Larry Norman’s music all around me. My parents have always been mega-fans of the rebel poet, my father even interviewed him in the 1990’s. We own a good amount of his insanely large catalog on CD. I’ve always loved what is normally considered to be his masterpiece from 1972, Only Visiting This Planet. That album’s lyrics feel implanted in my head now after so many years of listening. I love it to death and it influences me so much. For some reason I got this crazy notion in my head over time that Only Visiting was really the only “great” Norman record. Maybe the other ones were pretty good, but not great. Boy, was I wrong. Sooooooooo wrong!!! It was like how all these publications make out Pet Sounds and SMiLE to be the only great Beach Boys albums.

Somehow all the different publications have missed that Larry Norman has so many insanely great records. The first thing I heard recently was So Long Ago the Garden. I thought, holy crap, how have I missed this album?  How many other albums am I missing? The answer? A heck of a lot.
The next thing that was put on was this one. Something New Under the Son. This album has become a life changer for me. I’ve always been a fan of some good hardcore blues music.
Turns out Larry cranked out a whole album of some killer blues music. I can’t even describe how cool this record is. John J. Thompson called it “one of the roughest, bluesiest, and best rock and roll albums of his career or the whole industry.” Couldn’t say it better myself. Imagine if The Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main St. got mixed with Dylan’s Bringing it All Back Home for one of the best bluesy stomper concept albums you’ve ever heard. And yes, it’s a concept album too. I won’t spoil the story for you.

Norman was so many things. A brilliant songwriter, a true visionary, a game changer, a true rock n’ roller, an outlaw, surrealistic, and a man of incredible faith. His music and story is so inspiring, and this rediscovery of his music has been an incredible blessing to me. So crank this album up and leave the past behind!

There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks!!

Garrett’s Q&A: Shouldn’t God’s Power Defy Logic?

Question:
 Hello Garrett,
I have yet again been faced by the logic of proving that omnipotence can exist without being caught up in the typical paradox of “Can God create a rock that even He can’t lift?” and I have posed the Aquinas response which is that it is logically absurd for an omnipotent being to create something even He can’t lift. However, I feel that the question still arises: Why can’t an omnipotent being, by virtue of his omnipotence, defy his own logic? Even if that logic is in His nature, shouldn’t an omnipotent being be able to defy His own nature? I am having a hard time seeing how the Aquinas argument can maintain itself from the sheer implication of what omnipotence means. If I can’t prove omnipotence exists,then it is hard for me to go out and argue against those who argue that such omnipotence is impossible. It’s a pressing question for me.

Thanks,
Del
USA

Garrett Cash’s response: 

sobighecantliftit
It’s not too big for me to lift!


Great question, Del.
Typically, the question that you pose is easily answerable by the Aquinas response which you provide. This is satisfying for me, but it’s certainly worth asking: “Is it possible for something to be so powerful that it can operate outside of logic?”
The short answer to this is no. Another way you could create the dilemma is by asking if God could create a married bachelor. Or create a square circle. All of these things are logically absurd. The same could be asked even of blasphemous things. Could God create another God and fall down and worship it? Could God commit adultery? These things are all impossible for God because they contradict His very nature.

To return to logical absurdities. I think what is going on here is a misunderstanding of omnipotence. Being all powerful does not and should not mean you possess the ability to circumvent logic. Logical impossibilities are typically exempted from omnipotence. I think Dr. William Lane Craig makes a great point when he said this:
“Something that is logically impossible isn’t really a thing at all, when you think about it. It is not as though there is some “thing” that God can’t do. Those are just contradictory combinations of words, and there is no such thing as a round square or a stone too heavy for God to lift.”

This is a great point. He goes on to say in this discussion that omnipotence should not be thought of a power that allows one to commit logically impossible actions. Instead, he says, omnipotence should be defined as the ability to actualize any state of affairs which is logically possible for anyone in that state of affairs to bring about. He gives some examples which are worth quoting at length.

“How does this apply to some of these paradoxes of omnipotence? No one can actualize a state of affairs which consists of an all-powerful being’s inability to lift a stone. That is impossible. No one can actualize the state of affairs of an omnipotent being’s being incapable of lifting a stone. So that would mean that omnipotence would not require God to be able to create a stone too heavy for him to lift. That would not fall within the scope of omnipotence. No one can actualize the state of affairs of a morally perfect being’s sinning. It is logically impossible for a morally perfect being to sin. So no one can actualize the state of affairs of a morally perfect being’s committing a sin. So that would not fall within the scope of omnipotence.”

Dr. Craig also points out that Rene Descartes actually took the radical view that all laws are arbitrary, and that God could have made any laws that he wanted. This is view is a serious slippery slope into some hefty absurdities, and it makes all definitions pointless. If God can change a triangle, for instance, then it isn’t a triangle anymore. This view is certainly to be avoided.

What Dr. Craig doesn’t say as clearly that I would point out, is that God Himself is logic! So these examples where God is doing something contrary to His own morally perfect nature is just as illogical as His creating paradoxical objects. You mention that logic is “in His nature,” as if it is an additional attribute He happens to have but is capable of casting of when He needs to. This is not the case. Logic itself is simply a piece of God that we’re aware of, since God is Logic itself.

To return to the main point and conclude, it seems like your biggest hang up is that the definition of omnipotence should include the ability to overcome logic. As Dr. Craig argues, I think that this is a misunderstanding of how omnipotence works. Omnipotence is the ability to actualize any possible state of affairs which is logically possible for anyone in that state of affairs to bring about. Under this much more sensible definition, these paradoxical issues pose no threat to the all powerful nature of the Creator.

Thanks for the question Del!
You can read more at the link below, which gives Dr. Craig’s full version of his argument, along with a superb Q&A and a beautiful practical application of the doctrine of God’s omnipotence to our lives.

Love and mercy in Christ,
Garrett

Dr. Craig’s full version of the argument:  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s3-17#ixzz41zq4b8dw