Archive for July, 2008

Are Friends Electric?


Many of us can’t imagine or recall a time when we hadn’t adopted alias or pseudonyms in lower case letters with “dots” and “@” symbols.  The Internet and email has made it easier to keep in touch in our ever shrinking global village.

Last year we had to move out of our house for a couple of months whilst we progressed an extension.  We were without Internet access in the flat we stayed in during that period.  It was strange how cut off we felt.  There is only so much you can catch up on on your work PC over lunchtime or outwith office hours.  After a few weeks, though I found it strangely freeing.  The space to find a place where I wasn’t bombarded with junk mail, spam and unimportant messages.  I discovered how much time I wasted surfing the net and coveting things I didn’t need.  I decreed to be more disciplined with my use of the Internet when we moved back into our renovated home.  Eight months on and I’ve been not too bad, although this blog could be the undoing of all of that…

There has been a huge growth in on-line social networks in recent years.  So far I’ve resolutely abstained from Facebook, etc as I recognise how much time I would lose browsing through it.  High praise to my friend Colin McA who has recently declared that he is abandoning his accounts on all such sites in favour of investing more time properly with those important to him.

When Friends Reunited first appeared all those years ago, I found it quite fun to see where all those folks from school had ended up and how life had panned out.  I remembered places and people and pranks and stupid things we had done in our teenage years.  Things that still make me smile or cringe.  People I had forgotten, long lost memories.  There were two people I intentionally looked for there and neither had registered. 

A fortnight ago I was helping out at the Sunday Club at our church as the usual teachers got a well deserved break over the summer.  There was a guy visiting with his son who was a similar age to my daughter.  As I took the register, suddenly the 18 years since I had left school vanished and I realised I was looking straight into the eyes of one of those folks I had been searching for on Friends Reunited in the past.  We spent a really heart warming hour or so talking of some of the things that had happened over those years, the places life had taken us and where we had ended up.  We recalled our past and looked to our future.  At 16, sat together in art and french classes sharing an interest in music, we couldn’t have conceived ideas such as mortgages or fatherhood.  I guess we had dreams for the future, concerns about what we should do after school, who we should go out with, etc.  It was so encouraging just to trade tales with big smiles and happy hearts.

Equally I recognise there are all too many times I don’t invest the time I should in keeping in touch.  There are people who are more precious to me than they will ever know.  And for all my self-righteous dissing of Facebook, here I am hammering into my keyboard trusting that YOU are taking the time to read my sagely musings.  What a bundle of contradictions I am!  And, yet, even in the few short weeks this blog has been up and running I have discussed life, music, faith, hope and love with a bunch of folks – some of whom I know better than others – some of whom I ought to spend a lot more time discussing these things with. 

Mike, I owe you more than a three minute phone call about grunge music and Soundgarden – sorry, bro!  I miss you.  Craig A – Isn’t it funny to learn of how, despite growing up in different parts of the country, the same songs coloured our world view and shaped our beings in those formative years?  Rich, great to hear from you in Sydney – you will never know how important your friendship was to me when I first moved to Edinburgh – many fond memories.  Craig B, I owe so much to your mix tapes for influencing my taste in music and introducing me to more great bands than I could recount.

So who knows where these musings land in the blogosphere.  I hope you enjoy reading them.  I hope we keep journeying together.

 “So now I’m alone
Now I can think for myself
About little deals and issues
And things that I just don’t understand”

From “Are Friends Electric?” by Tubeway Army

Yes, that IS on my iPod.  No, the sampling of it in “Freak Like Me” by Sugababes isn’t.


More Than A Song

“I’ll bring you more than a song,

More than a song,

More than a song”.

From “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman

Okay, so where are all these ramblings about music and the amount of time I have seemingly wasted on it going?  One of the most profound things I have read in recent years was in a book my wife gave me about eighteen months ago.  I take no credit for the thought process, but it left me nothing less than awestruck and a little short of breath.

The book is entitled “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven But Nobody Wants To Die (or The Eschatology of Bluegrass)”.  It was written by an incredibly gifted and creative guy called David Crowder and I cannot recommend his two books highly enough. (See What Have I Been Reading? above)

As I read the book, I realised I’d rarely really had reason to mourn.  Since reading it I’ve written more “with sympathy” cards than ever before and been to a couple of funerals.  One of the funerals was in connection with a tragedy which broke the hearts of our church community (and much of the city in which I live) to the very core and I wonder if we will ever be quite the same.

The one thing that really impacted me was the following.  The author was deeply affected when a woman in his church contracted cancer.  He decided to explore the issues of death and the soul and began penning songs and trying to create some kind of concept album around these themes.  A far cry from the subject matter that usually sells to the “praise and worship” buying populous.  He suffered some sort of creative block and doubted his ability or even the merit in progressing the project further.  During that time, his pastor and the woman who was now in remission from cancer, but whom had been the original inspiration to the project, really encouraged him to press on with it. 

The woman died.  The pastor also died in really sudden and unexpected circumstances.  The author discovered that he needed the songs that these two individuals had inspired and encouraged him to write in order to help him through the aftermath of the loss.

He got to thinking.  He discovered the Hallel.  It consists of 6 Psalms that are recited at the Jewish Passover celebration.  A group of songs really with recitations like “His love endures forever”.  So on the night of the last supper, he reckons we can assume with a fair amount of safety that Jesus recited the Hallel with his disciples.  The last night they were together – the night before the crucifixion. 

So, if we believe that scripture is inspired by God, that it is God breathed, and if we believe that Jesus is divine, that He is God incarnate, then would it be unreasonable to wonder whether God breathed out a song that He knew He would later need in His human form? 

Did God know that something as simple as a piece of art could help shape the reality He saw with His human eyes and heart?  That in a moment of such weight and enormity it could make all the difference?  Is Christ so human and vulnerable that He could need a song as much as I do sometimes?

You Were Right

“And songs are never quite the answer
Just a soundtrack to a life
That is over all too soon
Helps to turn the days to night
While I was wrong and you were right”

From “You Were Right” by Badly Drawn Boy 


As you’ll have gathered, I’ve probably spent far too much of my life getting over-enthusiastic about bands, songs and gigs. 

We were heading up North a couple of months ago and we broke the journey at a restaurant in Dundee.  I was musing upon our recent pub quiz championship (see post entitled “The State That I Am In” from 9th July) whilst waiting on my wife and daughter to return from the toilets.  As my mind was wandering, “You Were Right” by Badly Drawn Boy came on.  That song is catchy, humourous and telling.  It lists some of the great losses from the music scene – Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Jeff Buckley and Kurt Cobain. 

The verse above brought a smile to my face.  Here I was sat in Dundee, close to the place where my fascination for music had begun, wondering what good all of my investment of time and money and energy was actually worth?  Could I have filled my head with something more worthwhile?

My mind wandered to another song from my teenage years, “God Part II” from U2’s “Rattle and Hum”.  Whilst that album disappointed me upon its release back in ’88, this song still resonates with me.  It was written in response to John Lennon’s “God” which also listed a plethora of things which had affected the singer.  (I actually think Larry Norman had written a song called “God Part II” first, but after the success of “Rattle and Hum” he re-named his song “God Part III”).

Bono seemed to have reached the conclusion earlier in life than I had.  Rock ‘n’ Roll couldn’t really change the world – it simply spins in revolutions –  it spirals and it turns.  Had I invested so much on something so temporal, that merely reflected “popular culture”?  A chasing after the wind? 

Bono did, however, seem to recognise that something bigger could still change the world – love. 

I still really like this song, but I think from 1988 onwards U2 and I went our separate ways for a few years as I discovered a whole bunch of fresh music and voices at the fringes which still had something to say.

“God, Part II” by U2

Don’t believe the devil
I don’t believe his book
But the truth is not the same
Without the lies he made up

Don’t believe in excess
Success is to give
Don’t believe in riches
But you should see where I live
I…I believe in love

Don’t believe in forced entry
Don’t believe in rape
But every time she passes by
Wild thoughts escape
I don’t believe in death row
Skid row or the gangs
Don’t believe in the Uzi
It just went off in my hand
I…I believe in love

Don’t believe in cocaine
Got a speed-ball in my head
I could cut and crack you open
Do you hear what I said
Don’t believe them when they tell me
There ain’t no cure
The rich stay healthy
The sick stay poor
I…I believe in love

Don’t believe in Goldman
His type like a curse
Instant karma’s going to get him
If I don’t get him first
Don’t believe that rock ‘n’ roll
Can really change the world
As it spins in revolution
It spirals and turns
I…I believe in love

Don’t believe in the 60’s
The golden age of pop
You glorify the past
When the future dries up
Heard a singer on the radio late last night
He says he’s gonna kick the darkness
’til it bleeds daylight
I…I believe in love

I feel like I’m falling
Like I’m spinning on a wheel
It always stops beside of me
With a presence I can feel
I…I believe in love

Oh, yeah, but don’t they say, “God is love”?

Songs In The Key Of Life (Part 2)

If my life right now were a song or a promotional video in the key of life, what would it look like and how would it sound?

  • Softly spoken
  • Introspective
  • Conveying the tension that all is not right in the world
  • Childlike in faith, but not childish
  • Abandoned
  • Surrendered

Something like this, maybe…

Do you recognise me?

Songs In the Key Of Life

“Songs In The Key Of Life”.  What a great name for an album.  Well done Stevie Wonder.

It strikes me that songs in the key of life would sound very different at various stages of our own lives.  Simply put your iPod or mp3 player on “shuffle” function and you’ll probably hear a whole range of musical styles and sentiments.  Music that meant something to you or connected with you on some level at a certain point in time.  Tunes which bring back memories of people and places.

If your life right now was a song or a promotional video in the key of life, what would it sound like and how would it look?

Say My Name

“Say my name, say my name, say my name”

From “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child

One of my best friends often breaks into this song when my three year old daughter calls his name.

Names are funny things.  Bands can have great or rubbish names.  “The Innocence Mission”, “Godspeed You! Black Emperor”, “Half Man, Half Biscuit”, “That Petrol Emotion” and “Red House Painters” have always sounded like great band names to me.  “The Band” just seems kind of lazy.  A band called “Free Beer” are probably likely to generate a curious crowd at any pub gig.

We all adopt names by means of adjectives to describe who we are or who people have told us we are at various points throughout the years.  We wear labels physically and metaphorically.  We want identity, but where do we find it?  Where do we find worth?  We talk about “finding ourselves” and yet we can feel free when we lose ourselves in something or to something.

We have a small-group that meets in our house fortnightly.  A previous generation may have called it a “bible study”.  I don’t really see it that way.  We meet, we eat, we talk about what is going on.  We read books and essays and blogs.  We watch films and listen to music and share ideas.  We try to equate that with reading the Bible and what is being presented at church.  We go off on tangents and often are still chatting, snacking, laughing and sharing ideas until close to midnight or after.  Over the past two years the people that have met in our home have become really important to me.  Our house feels like theirs.  The group operates as a collective and I think we all feel protective of it.  We have become good friends.  We have found it easy to establish trust, to be open and frank and vulnerable.  I really can’t imagine life without that group of very ordinary, and yet exceptional, individuals in my life.

This week we were discussing what our names meant.  I never knew there was a “man warrior” or a “battle hawk of the beloved happy field” sat around our table.  It struck me that each of our parents probably spent considerable time thinking about what name to give us, just in the same way that my wife and I probably spent hours over a period of six months discussing possible names for the baby that was growing inside her.  Those of you who know the writer behind this blog, know that I am generally known by a nickname which is an amalgam of my first and middle names.  It resulted from the minister making a mistake during our wedding vows and it has stuck ever since and I love it.  A wedding and a Christening rolled into one, if you like.

At small group this week, we discussed a story in Genesis 32 where Jacob was journeying across the ford of Jabbok.  He passed his wives, servants and possessions across the stream ahead of him and was left alone.  Then a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that it was wrenched. 

Then the man said, “let me go, for it is daybreak.” 

Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 

The man asked him, “What is your name?” 

In the ancient Near East your name was identity.  Your name told people who you were.  Could the question the man asked actually be read, “Who are you?” 

Three small words that we spend so much of our time grappling to find the answer to.

We all have pasts, families and places we have come from, things we’ve done, mistakes we’ve made.  What we have done and where we have been has shaped us into who we are today.  We need to accept and embrace our story, our history.  We don’t have to be proud of it, but we have to claim it as ours.

I wrestle daily.  I would rather journey forward with a limp like Jacob than walk somewhere comfortably in blind faith. 

This is part of the state that I am in. 

And, no, Destiny’s Child are not on my iPod.

Ride With Me

“That pencil smell

Reminds me of school.

The clock on your wall

I can no longer fool“.

From “Ride With Me” by The Lemonheads

Sunlight flooded through the school windows illuminating the chalk dusk in the air.  A place where life now seems to have been so free of cares or worries and yet a place where, even at a tender age, our personalities, traits and potential are defined.  I remember raucous boys banging school desks with their pens, pencils and rulers trying to emulate the burundi drums of “Kings of the Wild Frontier” by Adam and The Ants.

Daft as it may sound that was the door that opened into a whole new world for me.  The pantomime of images and sounds associated with pop music, videos and culture.  Growing up in a small Scottish town I was fascinated by the images I saw on record sleeves.  I became fanatical about Adam and The Ants.  I guess the sound created by their two drummers actually made me want to start to play the drums.  Their songs and images of Indian warriors, highwaymen, princes and knights ushered in the sort of world that any self respecting 9 year old boy wishes to dwell in.  Beyond that, at a deeper level, I soaked up the creativity and self-expression.  Adam Ant was often ridiculed for not smoking or drinking.  Maybe he inspired my admiration of straight edge before Ian MacKaye and others had actually created it?

It’s hard to truly have a sense of place at aged 9, but I could see that all was not well in the world or even in our country.  Record sleeves portrayed menacing youths staring out from black and white photos with graffiti walls in the background.  The Specials, The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers sounded angry about something. There were fly posters and slogans daubed about Thatcher, band names, IRA, UDF and a whole bunch of things I didn’t understand.  The TV broadcast scenes of riots in Brixton.  There was danger and discontent in places that seemed a world away from where I was growing up.

On Saturday shopping trips with my parents to Dundee I was mesmerised by the punks and they way they expressed themselves through their clothes and hair.  My parents always allowed me some time to browse through the record sections of John Menzies or Woolworths.  I was unsettled by some of the images from heavy metal records such as AC/DCs “Highway to Hell” or the posters of Gene Simmons or Eddie from Iron Maiden.  After all I was growing up in a traditional, church going, family. 

Yet in the ’80s, the world seemed futuristic at times.  New sounds were being created by synthesisers that were captivating and otherworldly.  So many bands or artists looked adronogeous.  It was a strange time.

In those years prior to reaching adolescence, the babysitters that Mum and Dad seemed to invite round all got to talking with me about music.  Often they brought records along or got me interested in discovering new sounds or bands.  I guess these were mainly fifth or sixth formers who considered themselves “too cool for school” and were wanting to make that transition to the big bad world.  Music was a way of expressing identity or opening oneself to new ideas.  These times introduced my ears to everything from Echo & The Bunnymen, Big Country, U2, Simple Minds, Prince, Then Jerico and The Cocteau Twins.

This was just the start of a journey of discovery – a musical landscape filled with groups that made raw, emotional music that actually had something to say.      

The rest of the lyrics to “Ride With Me” by The Lemonheads are below and I’ve included a video clip that you can watch and listen to by clicking on the image.

“Time to get in my car.
Been so dull, tired and tight.
Time to trust these old tyres.
Time to not say goodnight.

Jesus rides with me.
His will is plain to feel.
Come on, you can be.
Got yourself to steal.

He’s everywhere,
sends me straight across the plane.
He’s in your hair,
he’ll forgive me my pain.

You’re my girl, don’t you show it.
To know you know is to know it.
When you can’t trust yourself,
baby, trust someone else”.





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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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