Archive for September, 2008

Sometimes The Wheels

Today I bought a new notepad to scribble in.  There’s something nice about having a notepad.  A place to de-clutter my head.  A place to record my thoughts, prayers, hopes and fears.  I find it helpful to write things down and then to be able to revisit them years later and recognise how I really felt at a point in time.  It removes my rose-tinted spectacles at times.  Sometimes things seem clearer when written down.  I like to carry a notebook to jot things down in – observations, doodles, snapshots of everyday life.

I think it’s those sorts of things that I appreciate in books and films and music.  The attention to detail in the small and, seemingly, ordinary things of often uneventful days – even if those days and situations are far removed from my own.  It’s the ingredient that makes observational humour or stand up comedians so funny at times.  There’s something funny about a lot of sad things.  It’s the magnet that draws me to the signs of life I find in the stuff around me.

I discovered a new song this week.  It made me smile because I recognise so much of the world around me in its light-heartedness and its deeper truths.

Boy on the pavement, he’s looking the picture

He looks like the eighties.  Oh why did it happen to me?

Twice in a lifetime now.  Twice in a lifetime, Lord

Spent my teenage years tryna not look like

Somebody like him.  What can you do?

Shoulder-pads and belts.  Morten Harket in tights

Oh, I’m sorry – they’re jeans.  How dya get them on?

  Will they ever come off?  Will they ever come off?

 

Sometimes the wheels fall off

Sometimes you can’t get up

Sometimes I just sit and think and I don’t talk much

Sometimes the world moves fast

Sometimes you can’t keep up

Sometimes I just sit and think, but I don’t think much

From “Sometimes The Wheels” by Neil Halstead.

In Love With A View

“So I stood at the station

A plan and a pocket of poems

Heroically tragic, bearded and blind with obsession”

From “In Love With A View” by Mojave 3

Maybe it’s the wanderlust in the imagery.  Maybe it’s the fact that I have long found it easiest to view life as a journey.  Maybe it’s my yearning to keep pressing forward, to experience new things and to grow.  Maybe it’s all of those things and more that render the above lyrics some of my favourites to have been penned.  Something in me rises everytime I hear that breezy, alt.country, line delivered. 

Last night I was fortunate enough to catch Neil Halstead of Mojave 3 playing an acoustic show in King Tuts.  He was down to earth and engaging and we were treated to a rendition of “In Love With a View”.  It cheers my spirit to experience gigs by artists whose songs I have carried around in my music collection, heart and very being for years.

If You’re Feeling Sinister

“Hillary walked to her death because she couldn’t think of anything to say

Everybody thought that she was boring, so they never listened anyway

Nobody was really saying anything of interest, she fell asleep

She was into S & M and bible study’s not everyone’s cup of tea she would admit to me

Her cup of tea she would admit to no-one

Her cup of tea she would admit to me

Oh, but, her cup of tea she would admit to no-one”

From “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Belle And Sebastian

I have long loved the chirpy, childlike, music of Belle And Sebastian.  The funny little characters and stories that often fill the songs contain such depth and profundity on closer inspection.  I love the lines above. The name of this blog also comes from one of their songs which includes my favourite ever lyrics which I have explained here.

Bible study’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  It sounds so boring.  I use the phrase “small group” rather than “bible study” when describing the things I get involved with because studying the bible is only part of what that group of folks is about.  I talk about “reading my bible” or having a “quiet time” in that half hour or so I carve out after my morning run before the rest of the house awakens and the chaos of the usual routine ensues.

I recognise that spending time reading the bible, thinking and praying about it are some of the most important things I can do with my time and, yet, if I’m honest “bible study” sounds so dull.  I have discovered countless trite bible study materials that seem to have stretched simple points or made fairly tenuous links between a few verses and a bigger concept.  Thankfully, I have found other books and ideas that have really captivated me and pushed me to really grapple with verses in their context and to try to see how to work out what they should look like if applied to my life today.  I’ve certainly not got it all together, but I’m in a place where I am stimulated and pushed to address how the Bible speaks today and to get beyond theology or tradition and to try and rediscover truth that resonates.  I owe many folks in my small group for introducing me to authors and resources that I now cherish.

Last year our small group worked our way through the book of James.  We’d read a chapter at a time in our own time and just scribble down our thoughts and questions.  When the group met up we’d discuss what it had made us think about.  One week one of the members of the group set us some homework.  He asked us to go away and create something in response to the chapter we were reading and to bring it to the group the next time we met.  It was great because it really got me thinking about what the key thing within the chapter was for me and how that dove-tailed into what I had been learning over the past 12 months or so.  It took me back to my teenage years when I found more time to actually be creative, before the demands of everyday life took over to such an extent.

When we reassembled I think everyone felt a bit vulnerable and exposed showing what they had brought and explaining what had inspired it.  But everyone else was enthralled to see what God had been saying to individuals through the Bible and how they had interpreted and expressed that.  We had collages, painting, photography, powerpoint slide shows, poetry, the chapter translated into someone’s own words and we had home-cooking  – all to express what we had taken from it.  It was fresh and really sticks with me as a special evening over the past year.

I don’t know how or whether we could incorporate some of those ideas into “church” or “worship times”, although I have some ideas.  Would it put some people right off?  Would it draw others in or connect with them?  Would it change the most common misconceptions of church?

I actually think there’s something fairly profound in the missing link explained in further lyrics from the same Belle And Sebastian song (and please don’t misunderstand this as any comment on a particular denomination, but more so on the church in general),

“Hilary went to the Catholic Church because she wanted information

The Vicar, or whatever, took her to one side and gave her confirmation

Saint Theresa’s calling her, the church up on the hill is looking lovely

But it didn’t interest, the only things she wants to know is

How and why and when and where to go

How and why and when and where to follow

How and why and when and where to go

How and why and when and where to follow”

Shine On

“Little Jesus are you watching me?

I’m so young

Just eighteen”

From “Shine On” by The House Of Love

I had one of those coming of age moments this week.  I realised that as many years had now passed since I started student life as had lead up to that point.  Clearly there was a huge difference between the little baby born with funny toe nails in ’72 and the teenager who strolled the University Campus at 18 feeling all grown up and excited about what my future might hold.  How much have I grown up, developed and changed in the 18 years since then?

Psychologists note that the first five years of our lives are the ones that are most influential in terms of developing the character traits to help us find our way through our numbered days.  Yet, the five years I spent at Uni were probably the days that shaped me into the person I am today more than many others. 

Those were days where I experienced so much of God through the church I belonged to, the friends I had and a relatively uncluttered life which enabled me to find time to read my bible, muse and ponder – to really seek guidance on many big questions.  Those were the days when I met Keith, Kenny and Mike who became three of the four closest friends I have.  It was during that period that I played in a band I really believed in.  It was during those years that Craig B sent me countless compilation tapes that became my soundtrack and introduced me to many of the bands who still get heaviest rotation on my iPod or who influenced those that do.  It was in those days that I met the beautiful girl who would grow into the woman I would marry and have a daughter with.

Even at 36 I often play a game where I imagine a younger version of me waking inside my body in any given moment of an ordinary day.  What would they think as they looked out through my eyes? What would they make as they looked at my feet and down on the clothes I wear?  Would they recognise the face looking back in a reflection?  What would they piece together of my existence by scanning the pictures, books and things that adorn our home? Would they be proud of the person I have become? 

I find it a means of recognising that, whilst I often don’t feel that different from the long haired version of me who wandered the Uni campus really learning and soaking up life all those years ago, actually so many of the big questions I had then have been answered.  It makes me count my blessings afresh and leaves me with a thankful heart.

Everything In Its Right Place

“Everything

Everything

In its right place

In its right place

In its right place”

From “Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead

Do you ever get those moments when all seems well with the world and everything is in its right place?

Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve just been on holiday for 10 days, but our stay in Cornwall was filled with many such moments.  We were away with close friends who really “do life” with us.  The friendship began through meeting together maybe five or six years ago to do a bible study series based around the theme of lent and the film “Chocolat”.  Since then it has blossomed and each couple feels they are missing out on the others’ events if we don’t meet regularly to simply hang out and catch up (invariably over some food).

We’ve watched eachother become parents and now our children are at a stage where they get excited about being together and playing. 

We have enjoyed so many honest and, mostly, edifying discussions over the years.  We’ve said grace before meals and really meant it, savouring eachothers’ company and the food and wine that so often accompanies our putting the world to rights.  We know the ins and outs of the reality of one anothers’ daily existences – the joys, the passions, the frustrations and hurts.  Text messages, emails and random acts of kindness carry each family through our journey. 

It is a truly beautiful thing to behold…even when the dirty dishes are piled high and the kids have raked havoc with toys strewn everywhere.

Take Me Out

“That sound coming from those holes.

A voice that soars

and takes my wounds with it”

From “Take Me Out” by Red House Painters

 

One of my all-time favourite singer songwriters is Mark Kozelek.  He’s the only artist I’ve travelled all the way to London for to see play live.  Actually, I’ve done that twice when he played with Red House Painters. 

 

He is graced with the most beautiful male singing voice I know.  After seeing him play a solo gig in Glasgow last Halloween, my friend, Craig B, commented, “It wouldn’t matter if he just sang his way through the phone directory – I’d still turn up”.

 

I had the joy of seeing Mark Kozelek again in Glasgow on Monday night playing under his latest band moniker, Sun Kil Moon.  The line up was essentially Red House Painters minus Anthony Koutsos on drums with Eric Pollard of The Retribution Gospel Choir (another band that I’m listening to a lot at present given that the other two members are Alan Sparhawk and Matt Livingstone from Low) on the drums instead.  They played a captivating two hour set including songs from throughout Mark’s career. 

 

It was one of those rare gigs where you can tell that everyone is there because the really love the music and the songs actually hold meaning for them.  There was hushed silence as we soaked up every word, anticipated each detuned minor chord and inhaled the emotion that seeped through the holes in the speakers of the PA system. 

 

It’s a long time since I’ve been in a small dingy venue where everyone’s t-shirts are moist with the heat despite the crowd standing perfectly still.  My long suffering gig-going buddy, Keith and I were duly rewarded with one of the best gigs I’ve seen in a long time and we enjoyed great conversation in the car journey there and back.

 

I’ve mused in the past about the fact that we read the Psalms as a book without recognising they were originally songs.  I’ve commented on the content of the words we sing in church and the lyrics we hold onto outside of church.  Interestingly I picked up a book on Monday night called “Nights of Passed Over”.  It’s a collection of Mark Kozelek’s lyrics and he notes some of the inspiration to his song writing in the preface.  The following quote on the back cover caught my attention;

 

 “The agony of our lives is that we cannot understand our experience while we live it.  Mark Kozelek provides the antidote to that agony, with a lyrical take on life that says even at its simplest and dullest, our lives are truly profound.  His words paint a picture of both the bleakest and the most beautiful moments of the human condition.  He can turn the most mundane events into vivid coming-of-age stories and the simple thoughts of a narrator into the words of a sage” – Kaki King.

 

Now, those are the sorts of songs I will chose to own.  That is the sort of creativity I yearn to discover more of to help me know what it sounds and feels like to be alive even in my darkest moments.

 

Much of this blog is inspired by music and books.  I was a late developer in forming an appreciation of the latter.  One of the first novels to really resonate with me was Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity“.  It tells the story of a guy called Rob who owns a record store and is trying to make sense of why all his relationships with the opposite sex failed.  That brief description probably doesn’t sell it, but it’s a tragic, insightful and witty read and the author clearly understands the way music feels to many of us.  On first reading it back in ’96, the following excerpt really struck me;

 

“Some of my favourite songs: “Only Love Can Break your Heart” by Neil Young; “Last Night I Dreamed That Somebody Loved Me” by the Smiths; “Call Me” by Aretha Franklin”; “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” by anybody.  And then there’s “Love Hurts” and “When Love Breaks Down” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” and “The Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness” and “She’s Gone” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” and…some of these songs I have listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen or nineteen or twenty-one.  How can that not leave you bruised somewhere?  How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong?  What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable?  Or was I miserable because I listened to the music?  Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?

 

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over.  Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.  The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”

 

Do I feel miserable and melancholy right now?  No.  Did I feel all mopey listening to Mark Kozelek’s songs on Monday night?  No – I actually took great pleasure from the experience.  Do these songs resonate with some of my own experiences of the human condition?  More so than you could ever know.

 

 

Sweetly Broken

Much of what I have tried to convey in my blog over the past month or so can be summarised in the short video clip below.  Just click the arrow to watch it.


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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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