I don’t know what it is, but as I get older, sleep doesn’t seem to be as easy as it used to be. Last night, I was really tired, but when i went to bed, I just couldn’t fall asleep. That happens once in awhile and it’s incredibly frustrating.
Last friday, two of my friends, Jess and Kendra and I loaded into Kendra’s cool Santa Fe and drove to St. Louis. My biggest reason for going was to get to hang out with my sister a little bit, but the whole idea for going came from Jessica wanting to go see this band, Over the Rhine. I’d heard of OTR and listened to their music a little bit, but I can’t say I was a big fan. However, I thought it would be fun to go see my sister, C, and check out this group.
The show as at this REALLy cool club called the Duck Room which is in the basement of a bar/grill. We were lucky in that we got into the concert, got seats and a table and were able to eat our dinner while waiting for the show to start.
OTR were really great. They’re a married couple that write together and he plays predominantly piano and she plays some acoustic. They also had a lead player, drummer, and another girl who sang some bgvs. Their music is pretty mellow, very folky and a little jazzy at times. But mostly, I’d describe it as piano-based folk.
What struck me the most and what has been itching in my brain since seeing them boils down to 2 things: 1) How did they get themselves and their charming, thoughtful, spiritual music heard by this group of people in St. Louis who obviously love it? 2)How do they get away with being so open and honest about the obvious emphasis they put on their christian faith they hold onto?
The first question has to do with marketing, luck, providence and a whole slew of things that I ponder all the time and still can’t figure out, so for the time being, I’m not going to let that leak out of my brain onto this blog. However, the 2nd question could be pertinent here.
Unfortunately, their ability to be honest with their faith with their audience, of which I am sure was made up of some Christians and some not, frankly made me a little jealous. It makes me wonder how much they have had to deal with their own “SWs”.
I know that nobody wants to talk about him and some who read here will be disappointed that I’m bringing him up. It’s obvious from SW’s own blog and the most recent comments he’s left here (that I deleted as fast as I could) that he really has no care with being helpful or constructive and that trying to deal with him directly just feeds his cravings for attention and controversy. Because of this, I will try not to respond to SW’s previous or future statements in hopes that the lack of attention will simply keep him away. However, SW’s rants toward and about me bring into focus personal struggle for me that I still can’t figure out how to resolve.
I’ve never been concerned with the thought that SW just doesn’t like me. Believe me, I’ve known plenty of people who don’t like me and don’t like my music. That comes with the territory. I’m used to it.
But, I think at the bottom of his problems with me is the belief that as an artist, I’m just not being Christian enough for him to see any validity in what I’m trying to do with my music. More than anything, as an artist, I want to be understood, and this judgement that I sense shows SW’s lack in understanding. And my dealing with him has been because I want him (and any number of others who might have the same types of questions/concerns) to understand, even if he may not agree. (I will add that in this particular medium, I don’t believe that SW specifically, is capable of understanding. That’s why it’s not worth trying to get him to understand him while he continues to feel it necessary to maintain the charade of his anonymity.)
It is interesting that in my experiences of sharing my songs and music the most honestly and transperantly, it is usually the non-christians that have responded with most enthusiasm and support even of music expressing a belief system that that they may not share. If/when dissenting voices are heard, they have invariably come from the “christian” likes of SW. And I’m still not sure how to deal with this.
Disclaimer: Words cannot express the awareness and gratitude I feel for the support of the majority of the people that happen to read this blog. I know that you “get it” and I’m so glad you’re my friends and I don’t want to make light of the emotional support you’ve sent my way. Unfortunately, the attitudes by the likes of SW “stick in my craw” and I’m still trying to figure out how to get people like him to “get it” like you all. Thanks for putting up with my struggle.
July 3, 2005 at 2:36 am
I love your music Shack. For as long as I am alive, I will forever “get it.” Keep it up, man!
July 3, 2005 at 5:35 pm
just a note: “latter days” by over the rhine is as humanly beautiful a song as i’ve ever heard.
closer to the topic at hand, of course i agree there are lots of factors involved in success (i.e. getting heard) as an artist, primarily the quality of the art. (there are different realms of quality. beauty isn’t the only way a song can be a “good” song. some artists contribute to their success by producing catchy, fun, pop music, messages people want to hear, “high production values”, sex appeal.)
otr is basically an indie band. the appeal of indie bands tends to be more personal, certainly for otr. they’re pretty fan friendly. years ago they had a free song of the month on their website (before lots of bands even had websites at all).
but also the music itself is very personal. yeah, they use poetic metaphors like bill mallonee, but it’s more first-person (not that his writing isn’t great, and honest and powerful, but it seems more separate from him). no affected personas like other bands (however much resemblance there may be to real people, and however uncoincidental that resemblance); this is them. it feels like the reason the lyrics are vague is because of real pain, real pathos. so the metaphors feel natural and the emotion feels genuine it’s poignant. it’s human. it’s beautiful.
one thing about all this is that somehow it’s easier to seem sincere when you share bad things than good. i guess maybe partly because people in general tend to have negative attitudes: you never fake a bad mood, only a good one. but probably it’s more that when it comes to sharing more intimate things, it the negatives that are harder to confess. anyway, otr speaks a bit about joy, but mostly about darker experiences tempered with hope.
anyway, the gist is that most people are pretty reserved in how they express personal things, especially in public venues. otr puts themselves out there more than most, and i think that’s the main way they stand out.
and i think that relates indirectly to the real point here. yeah they get heard by a relatively large number of people on both sides of the fence. and granted i haven’t seen them live and don’t know what kind of show they put on. but i’m not sure how much spiritual influence you can really have on people simply through music. i mean, words are very important and can be powerful, obviously. but most of the time it takes it personal interaction, personal observation and experience. maybe song lyrics more often plant mental seeds if anything. maybe there’s some spectrum of trade-off between how overt the spirituality in the message is and how many non-christians will listen, but maybe the point is moot.
i think the influence that we have on people is mostly in interaction (relationships) and example. and shack, the effect your music has on those relationships might be in leading to initial contacts and gaining you some respect through the quality of your music. it probably does that regardless of any spiritual content, but based more on the emotional honesty and intensity you convey (which may depend on how reserved your are vs. how much you genuinely put put yourself out there), i.e how powerfully your songs communicate and emote, i.e how good they are.
i guess if that’s true it would correspond with the experience you described, at least with non-christians.
as for the difference you’ve witnessed, perhaps it’s not really a difference in attitude or approach. there are some people who might or might not potentially care about the quality of your art, but out of those, some of the christian ones might feel that your message or method somehow betrays the church, and they may speak up about it, whereas the nonchristians will be less likely even to perceive such a thing, and even if they do it wouldn’t bother them, because they aren’t being betrayed, and thus they won’t speak of it. and of the christians who feel you’ve betrayed what they stand for, some of them might have appreciated your art more if they hadn’t gotten distracted.