Just Doing Business

It’s easy to forget sometimes that the Christian music business is just that. It’s business. It costs money to produce CDs. For those who are in demand to the extent that they perform full-time, they have to support themselves and their families.

For some time this has even extended to the area of worship music.  As The Blah Blah notes, we even have star worship leaders. Of course you can’t blame someone if they are so good at what they do in a genre that people want to listen to. Even as an Orthodox convert, I can’t help (or at least don’t help) being a bit jealous of the talents of Chris Tomlin or David Crowder. I used to crank out some worship tunes (and have a couple new tunes in the hopper), and some have been done in more than one church, but I’ve not found the consistency of creating a hook that demands mass publication. I also don’t have that smooth light clean tenor voice that turns a worship leader into a recording artist.

The worst of the Christian music business is when disputes over power, control and money spill into the public domain – especially when it results in resorting to the courts.  That’s what happened with The Imperials. There are now three groups trying to stay in business using that name.

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Larry Norman, RIP

Thanks to my friend Greg for letting me know that the Father Christian Rock passed from here to eternity in the wee hours of Sunday morning. He emailed me the link to a story on the Christianity Today website.

I was never a big fan of Larry. Nothing personal. As a performer, he didn’t appeal to me, particularly when I first discovered contemporary Christian music in the late ’70s. I liked other people doing some of his songs. In the very early days of performing – and while still a dispensational pre-millenialist (and that’s going back a long ways)  – like ever other Christian teen I used to play “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. Watching some of his performances on YouTube, I think I would enjoy him more now.

Nonetheless, I don’t underestimate the impact he had on a lot of artists to whom I made much more of an immediate connection, as well as his importance as a groundbreaking artist. Even a two-bit songwriter like me owes him a debt of gratitute.

Thanks, Larry.

I keep looking at this mirror
At the age around my eyes
Time is such an earnest laborer
Precision is its neighbor
Lay my body in the ground
But let my spirit touch the sky

– “I Hope I’ll See You In Heaven”

Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Larry, in a place of light, in place of green pasture, in a place of revival, whence all pain, sorrow and sighing have fled away.

Forever Young

The difference between adults and children is that children want to grow up and adults wish they didn’t have to.

I mentioned earlier in the week that I might have further reflection on Peter Pan. Kids love Peter Pan because of all the adventures. They want to fly and fight pirates. Adults just wish they could stay forever young.

I think that’s part of the reason I like to listen to Taylor Swift. Her music, with themes of innocent love and summers past, is nostalgic. It’s a false nostalgia, but sentimental nonetheless. I never had those idealised relationships or breakups – just wished I had. It’s not that I now wish that I had, but rather that I wished it back then. So maybe I’m nostalgic about how I wish I could have been nostalgic. And then there’s the whole wishing I could have been as talented and successful at that age, when I was starting to write music and wanted to be a professional musician but had none of the talent or connections. That’s a lot of layers, but it still gets to the same place.

So part of it is the desire to re-live what was and what could have been, or even what never could have been but would have been really great. But Peter Pan is also about avoiding the consequences of mortality. It’s not just that he stays a boy – he never dies.

Regardless of how old I get or how old I feel, I never think I’m old. It doesn’t seem like I’m 26 years away from my three score and ten. When I dream, I’m not a fat one-legged almost 44-year-old. No, somehow in my mind I’m still in my 20s. I’m grown, but just. Until I remember the truth, I still feel like I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. When I think of the truth, and think of how little I’ve done with the time I’ve been here, it’s just a little depressing

I think about death constantly, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to heaven, but I don’t want to die. With every season of the year that passes, I think about how I have one less to experience ever again. And it’s not like 70 years is a guarantee. Northern Illinois University yesterday is evidence of that. Four years ago, my own brother died at 34.

Sadly, nostalgia is ethereal and mortality unavoidable. The only Neverland is eternity. There is only one way to be forever young, and that is to (hopefully grow old and) die. My favourite Psalm is the antithesis of Peter Pan, perhaps because my desire for a life like the latter brings into clear focus my need for the former. Moses, as recorded in Psalm 90 (in the LXX it is Psalm 89) says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

The Divorce Racket

With the lull in the Britney Spears endless psychotic episode, Brits can turn their attention to these shores for the continuing saga of the divorce between Sir Paul and Lady McCartney. This is a case wherein the term “lady” is certainly a case of form over substance.

I’m not usually one for celebrity news or gossip. However as a lawyer I have been keeping an eye on this one for the precedents it may set. Heather is about to get £55 million for four years of putting up with a luxury lifestyle, though that may be part of the problem. Sir Paul is worth a little bit less than £1 billion but he doesn’t live like it. I mean, he doesn’t live like poor folks, but perhaps Heather was expecting to tap into it a bit more.

But I’m straying into the gossip. What isn’t gossip is that divorce is a lucrative racket. Susan Sangster is getting her fourth divorce. She’s amasses a fortune from her previous marriages and was looking to improve on it after just 14 months. She had hoped to get her pre-nup invalidated, but when she found out that wasn’t going to happen, she decided to cut her losses and run. Probably into the arms of husband number five.

Writing in today’s Daily Mail, Amanda Platell has an insightful commentary on the injustice of modern divorce. It is something that may be a developing phenomenon here, but old hat in the States. Even though I never had a case involving particularly rich clients, the injustice climbs right down the socio-economic ladder. It is one of the reasons I’m glad I don’t practise anymore.

Divorce is the only no-fault breach of contract. In any other cases, if one party wanted to just dissolve the arrangement against the wishes of the other, the breaching party would be responsible to the non-breaching party. In divorce, the breaching party can walk out of the contract without cause and take the other to the cleaners. Hopefully the courts won’t let Heather Mills do this.

Now if we could only get rid of no-fault divorce.

Busking

One thing London has to offer is a variety of buskers. Just about every Tube station has one. Some have more.

The legality of it all is quite confusing.  There was a blind man playing an accordion just down from a sign saying buskers would be fined £200. Clearly he didn’t see the sign. At another station there was a painted (or carefully tiled) semi-circle area on the floor which seemed to be created for busking. I favour the latter approach, as busking really is a London institution. Do people really complain?

The quality ranges from almost professional to atonally bizarre. At one station a hip-hopper with a wireless mike started singing about the kids making up lyrics as we walked by and followed us for a short distance. Then there was the man with no legs who played one note on a pipe of some kind. He just tooted the one note at random intervals.

Disability did seem to be a recurring theme. I suppose that when opportunity or academic inclination hasn’t offset physical handicap, begging is a reasonable recourse. And buskers are actually putting some effort into their work – or in the case of the tooting double amp, at least making a noise to get noticed.

And there are those who seem to be making a lifestyle choice. Two or three times a day, you come across the really talented. These are the ones that should be playing in a band somewhere. Maybe they do in the evenings.

The most memorable busker I have ever heard – in fact, the only one I can remember from more than three days ago – was a Afro-Caribbean man playing classical music on a steel drum at the bottom of an escalator. It was in 1992. I don’t remember the Tube station.  He was playing Für Elise by Beethoven.

(Very) Long (and Rambling) Road Out Of Eden

I intended to get it just after it came out, but it wasn’t until last weekend that I picked up a copy of Long Road Out Of Eden, the new album from the Eagles. I’ve liked the Eagles’ music for a long time, though despite my age I really didn’t discover them until after they broke up.

It is a good album, quite listenable, even if some of Don Henley’s politicising does get tiresome, especially on the title cut about the conflict in Iraq, which exceeds ten minutes in length. Other songs seem to ramble on a bit as well. The sole Joe Walsh contribution, “Last Good Time In Town,” runs seven minutes. I didn’t think I would ever say this about an Eagles album, but even after waiting 28 years for new material, it is too long.

That may be one reason that I haven’t beeen listening to it over and over, like I usually would with a new album. Instead, even after less than a week, I find myself just as likely to listen to Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood. Maybe even more likely.

The other thing is that it is missing Don Felder. Henley and Frey have always been in the spotlight more and I suppose that’s why they decided that when the Eagles re-formed in 1994 they should get the lion’s shares of the money. I suppose Tim Schmidt and Joe Walsh were okay with this, but Felder – who had been with the band since 1974 – didn’t like that the historic arrangement of equal shares was going out the window. In 2001, Henley and Frey fired him and he responded with a lawsuit. It was settled for an undiscolsed amount in May last year. His book has just been released in the UK, though it was pulled by the publisher in the States. I think it is going to be my next musician autobiography.

Wonderful Tonight

I just finished Eric Clapton’s autobiography.

I thought it was quite good. While it chronicled his relationships with family, various girlfriends, and lots of musicians, the overriding theme focuses on his recovery from drug and especially alcohol addiction. He attributes his experience of finally getting dry to prayer, though he is not sure who God is.

He comes across as a very down-to-earth person and not full of himself. It is very self-deprecating. He did wait 62 years to write about himself, as opposed to a lot of celebrities who write autobiographies in their 20s and 30s.

For some reason I was drawn to want to read the book, so my father-in-law got it for me for Christmas. It is only the second musician bio I’ve read (Mick Fleetwood’s was the other and I had never owned a Fleetwood Mac album when I bought it) – I’m normally not big on celebrity lives of any kind.

I never been a huge Clapton fan, though I’ve enjoyed his music since I discovered it in the wake of the Unplugged album. This came at a transitional time in my own songwriting, just as I was starting my band. The music of my song “Won’t Somebody Dance With Me?” influenced by songs like the live (slowed down) version of “Wonderful Tonight”. No doubt there are other strands of his influence in my songs from that period.