Saturday, September 17, 2011
Transcendence and Sound Manipulation (Why I Love Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors)
Ok. It's about to get real. My apologies to MercyMe and TobyMac
So, Christian Music* sucks. That's a common statement that I've heard a hundred times over. But, let me here expound on it. Here's why Christian Music sucks: there is no need for it. I've stated this before, but the whole model for the Christian music and the idea behind it; to create a Christian-specific genre of music and culture that Christians can identify with and spend money on, is unnecessary. The industry largely exists to mirror "non-Christian" music, and to help come alongside an alternate Christian culture/reality that serves to effectively perpetuate this "Christian bubble" that is supposed to keep us away from the dangers of independent thought and creative lifestyles. Many churches support this sub-culture, and there is a ready and willing industry that is anxious to capitalize on a ripe market of scared and wealthy white kids that are fighting to find something to identify with, or as an escape from the guilt and judgement that they don't know how to reconcile.
And, I get it. It's capitalism. There is a market to capitalize on, so there will always be someone trying to take advantage. And,
the "real" world is scary as hell sometimes. So, of course Christians would welcome a break from the death and sin that the world exists in, in the form of this alternate Christian culture. That's far easier and safer than stepping into the world.
But, here's the problem, as briefly as I am able (click here for a more detailed explanation); 1. we cut off our witness when we build walls around ourselves. 2. the "art" that is created within this Christian culture is largely less creative and beautiful than what the "non-Christian" world creates. The problem there is that we worship a God that is the God of creativity. What does it communicate to an unbelieving world if what His followers creates kind of sucks? The intent is understandable, but the actualization is pretty damaging. Christian culture is a shitty alternative to "non-Christian" culture. Everybody loses.
So, if you are still reading this after that long-winded complaining session (sorry if you are,) then you might have wondered why I've been putting "non-Christian" in quotes. Excellent question. First off, I'm friends with some beautiful people. Artists, musicians, songwriters and poets who are actively engaged in this experiment of life. Some of them love Jesus, a lot. Some of them create beautiful things from the depths of their souls that ring out into a broken and fallen world and shout truth in the face of the lies and death in which we often exist. Last night, I went to a show in beautiful Athens, GA, where everybody dresses the same and every other windshield has a parking ticket on it. The venue was noisy and full of college kids that didn't know what the hell they were doing there. The headliner of this show was one of those beautiful friends of mine named Drew Holcomb and his band, The Neighbors. In the crowd, the throng of female-heavy college kids that had heard of Drew one way or another seemed mostly drawn to the romance story that he and his wife Ellie have and often share during their performances. Drew and his band took the stage and got right to it. It was magical. There are two ways to communicate to people through music. The first is to get everyone to shut up and play softly and sing words that are true and beautiful so that people can hear the words and contemplate and empathize with them. This is hard when the room is full of people that aren't primarily interested in what you're saying (speaking from experience.) The second, and where Drew triumphantly adventured last night, is to make beautiful music, deliver it passionately, shout the words into the spot lights with sweat swirling down your forehead, and give yourself over completely to the swell of humanity inside you that is screaming to feel alive. Music is this beautiful transcendent thing that allows us to connect, at the deepest corners of our beings, to something that is greater than ourselves. And anyone that was in that crowd last night had only to look at the strain in Drew's face, the tears welling in his eyes, the sweat pouring from his forehead, and the passion emanating from his performance and feel that they are; after all the make-up and fashion conformity, the fake ids and the struggle to be heard; human. What is more Christian than that - creating, through passionate delivery and devotion, an environment where people that have no interest in Jesus can feel His hands holding their hearts at the base of their humanity? Gosh, there is nothing more beautiful than that. God smiled when Drew Holcomb throws his fists in the air and shouts, "Some day, boy, you're going to break those chains." I saw Jesus when Ellie's harmony came in, "somewhere out in the streets, there's a melody that speaks a hope for something bigger." He was present, and proclaimed and glorified by everyone of those broken and flailing college kids.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors get it. Music is a medium to connect our souls into a wonderful understanding of who we are and what this life is all about. Last night, they tapped into the infinite as we in the crowd swayed back and forth, lumps in our throats and united in our humanity.
That's Christian music. Christian Music is not safe and happy, it's not about how everything is alright and we just need to work to be better at existing inside a system where peace within ourselves comes from praying more and reading the bible and doing more. It's not labeled or under the funding of some Christian industry. Christian Music is artists playing shows in bars and concert halls, singing truth that lost souls desperate for something to connect with can feel and experience. The gospel is proclaimed when we allow our creativity and talent to be unhindered and unrestrained, when we give ourselves to others, whether we are stating the gospel explicitly or not. Because, He is in us, and He will have to come out as long as we're communicating truth. If I could have one wish for my music, it's that anyone who listened to it would feel human. It is as humans that Jesus loves us, fallen and broken and dying. Last night, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors made Jesus make more sense.
So, make your art. Share your art, and chase after something that is bigger than yourself. Thank you, Drew Holcomb, for walking through that and fighting for truth. It is only in Jesus that our wandering can find rest.
*I want to specify that worship music, intended in leading congregations and individuals in explicit worship of their creator is in a different category in my mind. that is much more of a noble and necessary endeavor than the CCM Radio music of which I'm speaking.