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July 19, 2009

Comments

Jay Kelly

A few things:

1. You're such a great writer. Really. This is wonderfully written. I get excited every time I see a post show up in Google Reader.

2. I tend to think Webb has just kinda given up on the group that will be pissed off by this song, and he's using that group's response (either real or perceived) to stir the emotions (and hopefully actions?) of Toms Christians.

I have no empirical basis for that position. Just a hunch.

3. HUGE Irony: While Webb's music is very much message-driven and critical of the church now, his songs on Caedmon's Call albums used to be the exact opposite. 'Somewhere North of Here,' 'Dance' and 'Mistake of My Life' were completely devoid of Christian language. They were just, well, normal songs.

Interesting shift.

josh

I get the criticism of Webb. ok. And you seem to be intelligent.

But the tone feels off - like an "I'm more cool than the 'fundies' or the 'Toms' and certainly Derek Webb" kind of post rather than a well written and thoughtful critical article.

I was hoping for the latter.

Greg

Since tone is something read into a piece--in the absence of explicit signs--I'd say you've said more about yourself than me. I never claim to be cool

greg

oops. post broke...

never claim to be cool because I think it's a phrase with little or no substance. It essentially means: I like this; you should too. Since Fonzie isn't around to help us sort it out anymore, I assume it's pointless to use the word.

As for the kids themselves, I really like the Toms Christians, for the most part. They are kinder, better integrated with the real world, concerned about things that matter, and usually not dickheads. I find them, on the whole, to be a refreshing alternative to the stultifying brand of Xianity practiced by their elders.

Leighton

Being gripped by decades-old social criticism of the church seems like a developmental stage in evangelicals who actually bother to grow up; they need to carry the banner for a while before they realize that it isn't going to be the alchemical transformation of the established institution that they're hoping for. That said, it does seem like a puzzling career move, but I don't pretend to have any idea what goes on in the music industry.

Josh Hayden

Greg,

I don't have any insider knowledge to Derek Webb or his mentality or claim to be an expert. But having followed him for a number of years, having grown up myself in some ways through his music, and having some friends who do know him well, helped friends host him for a house show when he broke off solo, along with having hosted him at my church for a concert for Blood: Water Mission when he was beginning to write more provocatively (think his album Mockingbird) for a whole different audience, i think that this album wasn't targeted to be heard mostly by the church/fundagelical crowd. perhaps a critique of them, but not necessarily for them to hear. years ago he made it clear that they were no longer the people he writes for. he may write about them, but not for them. quite similar in my opinion to david bazan (formerly pedro the lion).

i'm not sure if you heard or followed any of the 2-month process of this album being released, but there was certainly some controversy in terms of his label releasing the album and also an extremely creative process going on there. check out his website for more info. especially the video paradise is a parking lot.

he has become close friends and dedicated this album at the release to allan heinberg (currently a writer for grey's anatomy and marvel comics) who is also gay. in some interviews derek has mentioned that he and his wife sandra and children have vacationed with him and have been profoundly changed through their relationship and friendship with him.

i think the album, and that song particularly is also part of a bigger project, where he is creating a new website and organization which will be hosted on the site "giveashit.org" which will tackle issues better managing human waste and clean water.

i think musically, lyrically, and creatively, Derek is doing his best (which may or may not be good art to whomever is listening) to create art that is not aimed for the fundagelical listeners who made him first popular with caedmon's call.

i think Jay Kelly is on to some things above, especially in terms of the irony of derek's music/lyics. and i think your insights about message music is also helpful.

i guess i never tire of dylan talking about race, bigotry, frailty of life, and the complexity of war (not that webb is as good as dylan!). nor do i get tired of wendell berry railing against technology, the lack of sustainable food cultures, and the environment. but that says a lot about me, and my own personality. i need those folks in my life, to keep saying the message when i continually fail to live out their high ideals in my own life and in the world.

okay. didn't mean for this to be so long. i'm with Jay..i love seeing new posts and love when google reader lets me know that you posted. keep the great stuff coming!

greg

Josh, that's an incredibly thoughtful and helpful response. I appreciate it. I would like you to clarify one thing. If Webb is writing and singing for a different audience, which is to say he's given up on the vanguard traditionalists, why use the provocative line in his music? It's as if he can't give up his role as gadfly or as social provocateur (Leighton's point, I believe) to a group he knows he can't reach and who aren't interested in his music. Again, I think this represents his most technically solid production to date; I just think it's a shame it got muddled in the message. Perhaps he could have talked about the relationships and his transformation in the first person. I'd probably have more praise and less criticism for that. Thanks for reading and for your kind words.

cheek

Greg, I'd be interested in your response to offering Dylan, late Beatles, U2, or even Springsteen as counter-examples to your thesis regarding message music. Granted, folk singers typically don't achieve great market saturation, but all of these acts are huge sellers (of both recordings and concerts) who also devote a significant chunk of their cannons to message music.

greg

Cheek,

I don't know anyone who gives a shit about late Beatles. It's all about the mid-60's. Once you get to the guru influences, the music goes to shit. Dylan is a different story, but he's only popular as a symbol. I know damn few folks who actually listen to him. I don't own a single piece of his music. I suspect he's more respected than listened to. (Just a hunch, but I'd be interested to hear how many folks actually have them on their ipod.) U2? Well, it's certain they have some message music, but it's intermittent. If they meant some of their stuff to be message music, it was too obscure. Sunday Bloody Sunday and a few others (Streets Have No Name, Still Haven't Found, etc.) are interspersed with fun, upbeat rock that has no message, but you are largely correct about them. They seem to be an exception, except that most folks like the music, not the message. That changed two CD's ago, I freely admit, but Bono is already wearing thin in terms of his campaigns. There is a very short tolerable half-life to rockstar spokespersons. Springsteen? Please. Still singing about the blue collar experience while he makes millions. Something he admits.

Plano Michael

Greg,

You and Derek have both been guides for me on my journey out of fundamentalism. You were both timely, challenging and right on pace with where I was and what I needed to hear. You were more accessible to me than he was, you returned my email full of questions. This was back in 2007, Mockingbird was recently released, and you were still reluctantly accepting the "Christian" title.

Don't you think that this song is a case of him being willing to wade back in to the vestige of influence he might have in the fundy cest pool? He will always have some draw there because of his willingness to identify with Christianity at large. He is willing to wear the black eye (if i am getting the imagery he is using in the video) where you reject the black eye because it's not even your face anymore.

So, it's not the song you'd write, or - not the lyric you would waste on something that is as good otherwise.
Are you looking for a more generic lyric, so the song won't be ruined by the people who will argue over it?

It wouldn't be Webb without that lyric, don't you think?

cheek

I think you're probably right about Dylan. I do have him on my iPod, but I also have Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, and John Prine. That probably puts me pretty far from the mainstream in terms of willingness to listen to vast amounts of overtly political music. While I agree that the shelf-life of a rockstar's preacher phase is limited, I think people (in general) will put up with any message at all in the music if it possesses any of three things: 1. an inescapable rhythm; 2. a killer hook; or 3. a story they can connect to. Mainstream Christian music fails to garner wide support, as you say, because it is message-driven, but I think that is true only because it makes the message paramount to the extent of ignoring the music even when it happens not to suck.

greg

Cheek, having Pete Yorn on your iPod puts you outside the mainstream. Pete Seeger makes you a bona fide pothead. And I think you're right about the ingredients, but the people who care about those ingredients don't listen to music for its revelatory aspect. Alas.

Michael, as I've said to a certain pastor friend of mine on many occasions, there is no good reason to wander back into the fundie cesspool. It drags you down; it makes you a target; those folks are already "saved"; those folks are mean; those folks are "right(eous)". I'd like to give Webb the benefit of the doubt, but beginning with Mockingbird, it was obvious that he hated the church and couldn't come to grips with being an ex-member of it. I don't say that as condemnation; I hate it too, and find almost nothing worthwhile in the exercise of it. You're certainly right about the black eye, but I think the black eye is the church's and not Webb's. I've not noticed in his music any particular sense of humanity--only a cold righteousness. I could, of course, be wrong about that. I've not been a fan, and my exposure to his music post-Caedmon's is sparse. What I've heard, I detest. I'm not looking for any kind of lyric except good songwriting. Webb surely has the talent; he proved that in Caedmon's, but he wastes himself of jeremiads as a solo artist. No one gives a shit about jeremiads except people who already agree with you. If it wouldn't be Webb without the lyric, he has no room for growth. That would be sad.

greg

That's "on jeremiads". I should proof this shit.

luke

first time reader. very interesting take on the new record. i'm a long-time (like REALLY long-time) derek fan and also a songwriter. i've been having this same discussion with some musician friends lately. you mention that no one gives a shit about jeremiads except for people who already agree with you. you may be on to something with that. i've loved every record derek's released (the new one, honestly being my favorite to date), not simply because i agree with the things he says...but because he writes about things i'm already sort of wrestling with in my own escape from fundamentalism...and his style of writing helps me to sort of make sense of my own thoughts. yes, i agree with 99% of what he says...but it's more than that. it's that I can sort of clear up some of the jumbled mess of thoughts in my own head, by hearing how simply he states things.

some people say good songwriting is saying what you want to say with as few words as possible. in that light, derek does a good job of stating in simple form some thoughts that seem very complex to those of us who are maybe a few steps behind him in our own theological journey.

also, as a sidenote...as a songwriter, i find myself writing very similarly to derek...i don't think that's necessarily because of his influence though. i think it's simply a means of thinking through some of these ideas, and making sense of them in the only way we know how. maybe that has something to do with his writing style? i don't know. just a thought.

regardless, great thoughts! very enjoyable read. will keep my eye out for more.

Cara Zoch

I bought the new record without listening to any tracks before I did. I was very disappointed. I don't like his new techno, synthesized and over computerized "music." Mockingbird was my favorite. I should've known with Ringing Bell that he would continue in the direction of music made by machines instead of instruments. I'm also disappointed in how he's handled the whole thing...like he's a victim being attacked for speaking the truth. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and enjoys being the center of controversy. But whatever, it was only $7.

Josh Hayden

Hey Greg,

let me say first off, my ipod is loaded with dylan, my church office is lined with pictures and posters of the man. i am a huge fan. maybe that helps to give some perspective on where i am coming from?

honestly, i think that derek used the line because that is how he normally talks.if you follow him on twitter or have a conversation, its not that he cusses non-stop or anything like that, but he talks like that normally. i honestly think that he still talks about where he came from and how he got to where he is now, because it would be inauthentic for him to ignore his past, but i think the line and songs like it, are more like getting to listen in on a conversation that he is having with a whole new group of folks, who are wondering why do fundagelicals act the way they do?

i do have to say, that i think derek is aware that he got to where he is and got his start because of the fundagelicals. so he knows they are listening too. but i don't think that he aims to speak to them. if they choose to keep listening in, that's fine, but he's not trying to babysit them, or enter into conversations that he believes are unnecessary with them.

in one tweet response to someone who criticized him for talking about drinking a beer he said quite plainly, "i'm not your pastor." he has been adamant in some interviews that he doesn't see this music thing as ministry. he may see his career as an artist as a vocation, but not ministry. he's really strong on that front.

he has also in some interviews referenced the campolo quote you mentioned as well. i can remember listening to that talk when i was younger with my dad...good stuff. anyway. just my two cents, but i think that there is some support for derek being a member of a whole other group of folks and not caring if the fundagelicals are riled up or not. is he intentional with his words, for sure. is he just saying it to piss them off...i don't think he has a vested interest in the conversation or converting them in my opinion.

sorry again for the long response. hopefully it answers your question Greg.

zacworkun

"art at its best, does the job of show as opposed to tell"

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