Posts Tagged 'red house painters'

Japanese To English


Is it just me or do certain phrases in conversation lead us to make connections with songs?

Someone was describing a difficult situation to me this week.  During our conversation they said the relationship they were describing was like two people conversing where one is English and one is Japanese.  I think the gist of what they were trying to convey to me was that the individuals in the relationship could talk in the same language, but one of them was not speaking in their native tongue.  The phrase made me think of a song instantly.  I turned to the lyrics after our conversation and it made a lot of sense…

“I went as far as losing sleep.
I went as far as messing up my life.
Unloving still strikes me different.
A million miles away from home
And fifteen from a payphone.

Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.

You’re ten years older.
We translate Japanese to English
And English to Japanese.

It’s not that simple.
This dictionary
Never has a word
For the way I’m feeling.
And it’s not that plain for me
Of a different God and moral.
What if I
Laid my head down on your stomach?
Or put my mouth to your hand?
I cannot translate
Japanese to English
Or English to Japanese.

What I had to say is unsaid.
What I had to do is undone.
And if it was done,
I’m sure it would have killed our hour
In the sun.

Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Where we sat lonely on the sand.
Above the water, the awful grey.
Our current from Japan
Didn’t sweep away.”

From “Japanese To English” by Red House Painters.


Panic On

“Had a light one night in the dark.
It won’t show you too much of the future.
Let it go.
Let it fall behind.
I would never call on human nature.”

From “Panic On” by Madder Rose.


I love my iPod.  I love the way the shuffle function often catches me by surprise and transports me instantly back in time to a period when a particular song came to mean something.  Sign posts, stepping stones and mile stones.  Memories and emotions are re-awoken in seconds.

Sometimes my shuffle function seems to have a mind of its own as if willing me to rediscover an album that has been gathering dust on my shelf for far too long.  This week I listened to the wonderful “Panic On” album by Madder Rose in its entirety for the first time in several years.  I remember discovering it back in 1994 through airplay by John Peel and the odd track appearing on a steady stream of compilation tapes my friend Craig B would send me.  The album still sounds every bit as fantastic today.

Had the iPod existed back in ’94, I guess most played would have included:  Sugar; Pixies; Dinosaur Jr; Teenage Fanclub; Red House Painters; Smashing Pumpkins; The Breeders; The Tinglies; home recorded demos of Craig B’s; and Grant Lee Buffalo. 

I’ve attached a You Tube clip below of a song that still means a lot to me.  A monument or testament I can look back to and see I have happily journeyed with even if I couldn’t have seen much of the future back then.


“Do you remember our first subway ride?

Our first heavy metal haircuts?

Our last swim on the east coast?

And me with my ridiculous looking pierced nose?”

From “Michael” by Red House Painters

One of the recurring themes of this blog seem to be journeying through life.  Back in the latter stages of my student days I forged one of my closest friendships and one I’m saddened to have let too much distance creep into in recent years.  Mike was studying fine art when we met through church.  I have such fond memories of driving around in “The Acid Mobile” (a slightly clapped out Ford Escort van, the last three letters of the registration plate of which were LSD), staying up late in student flats lit by candlelight talking about life, death and the universe into the wee small hours.  Actually, probably talking about life, God, our girlfriends, hormones, self control, music and art when I come to think about it.  Seemingly carefree, long haired, days of acoustic guitars, grunge music and big smiles…Mike and I share such a great quality of conversation and it cheers and encourages me no end to talk with him.

He decided to use his final year at Art School to explore the themes of his spiritual journey.  He scribbled in journals and took his thoughts out with his paintbrushes.  

The above photo is of a piece we commissioned him to paint about 9 years ago.  It means so much to me.  It is the coastline at Cramond in Edinburgh where we lived at the time and in the years when I really discovered how much I missed being able to see water and be close to it.  It has lines resembling the Edinburgh coastal road and the motorway links between Aberdeen (where we met) and Edinburgh (where I now live).  It has song lyrics from tracks we listened to back in the day.  It has a quote from an Oswald Chambers book I bought him when I was his best man, six months before he was my best man.  It has notes from his Dad’s journals from when he was a Captain at sea.  It speaks to me in different ways on different days.

Fourteen years on and Mike is still walking and talking with God when he’s with his paintbrushes and charcoals and I love his work all the more for it.  If you happen to be in Aberdeen between now and 9th November 2008, then I’d encourage you to get along to see his current exhibition at Bridge View details and some images of which are linked here.

We may not be riding the Clockwork Orange subway to see bands in Glasgow anymore, we may not still be sporting our long hair, you may not be out paddling surfboards with me in the East coast swell and I never had my nose pierced although plenty of our friends did. – Nonetheless, Michael Peter Samson – this post’s for you, bro’.

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.



I See A Darkness

“And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And did you know how much I love you
is a hope that somehow you, you
can save me from this darkness.”

From “I See A Darkness” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Continuing the thread from my previous post, I have been thinking of the symbolism of marriage vows as a reflection of our journey of faith.  I recognise that writing on this topic may risk alienating those who aren’t married but long to be, those who have experienced bad or broken marriages or those who view marriage as outdated.  Hopefully, this isn’t just some trite musing from a smug, happily-married, thirty-something, so please stick with me…

A few short months after making our own marriage vows, life came off the rails.  We’d been going out for five years before we tied the knot and there was no pre-cursor or warning of the illness that would befall upon my wife.  She has written about it briefly and honestly on her own blog here.

That chapter was probably the lowest point in my life and I wasn’t the one suffering ill health.  I was young, trying to provide for my wife and I, trying to get good at my job, commuting daily to and from Glasgow, working for a really difficult boss (who incidentally is the only Christian I have ever worked under).  The post-viral fatigue got worse and my wife had to quit her job and just rest.  There was a period of about 18 months when life just felt precariously balanced and constantly teetering – as if it could crash around us at any second. 

Life involved leaving the flat at 6.30 or so in the morning with my wife asleep and not knowing what I was returning to – whether or not she’d made it out of bed, whether she’s blacked out and fallen down the stairs again.  From a meagre combined income, we ended up on an even more meagre single salary and that brought its own strains.  I couldn’t understand why this was happening and I was angry at God and felt mislead, confused, impatient, weary and exhausted.

I discovered that I could relate to the lyrics from some of my favourite songs more than I had ever wanted to. 

“I’m checking your pulse ’cause you’re so quiet
I’m kissing you but you don’t feel it
Why do you do this to me?
Showing me all that I’m good for
Is to watch you sleep as lifeless as an angel”

From “Why Won’t You Stay?” by American Music Club


“So much that I can say to you
with affection that I burn inside.
You’re aching from the distance
avoiding strain that’s running still alive.
If only i could heal you in the sprinkling of the ocean side
but then you’d know how much I really love you”

From “Drop” by Red House Painters

It’s funny how God brings people into your life at different times.  I’d not played my drums regularly since leaving home and I missed that lots.  I was asked to stand in on drums at a combined church youth event called Powerpoint in Edinburgh one Friday night.  That led to a regular monthly slot and it was great just to be able to play my heart out on my drums, to get some release and to not hold back and to be somehow praising God in amongst it all.  Prior to that playing drums in any worship context had always felt so second rate to playing in the band I used to play with. 

The church we still go to was very different in those days.  My wife and I really struggled with the style of music at our own church, although we felt we were meant to be there.  Powerpoint, whilst being an event aimed at churched teenagers, was a breath of fresh air for me. 

The guy who lead the Powerpont praise band, Andy, can only have been about 18 or 19 back then, but he had a wise head on young shoulders.  He would regularly provide me with mix tapes of worship songs so that I could learn the drum parts.  Those tapes became a lifeline on those dreary journeys back and forth on the M8.  As I practiced the drum fills on my steering wheel, my mind was taken off my own situation and my eyes and heart refocused and lifted upwards.

During that time I discovered probably my favourite “praise and worship” (for want of a better moniker) album – Kevin Prosch’s “Reckless Mercy”.  It sounds so unlike most of the stuff filling the racks of CDs in typical Christian bookstores.  It is just the sound of someone broken and dependent on God.  When I hear the sobs in the line , “Hear our cry for help, O Lord.  Do not hide your face from us.  We are in need” – it reminds me so much of those days enveloped in darkness.  When I hear the joy of the piano bashing on “All I Need” from that album it feeds my soul even still.

Thankfully we came out the other side of that experience.  I still don’t cope at all well when the slightest signs of post viral syndrome return.  It’s something that I think will always haunt me, but I don’t have those recurring dreams anymore when I was just at the end of my tether and tired of life.

I guess it is human nature to seek an answer as to why certain things happen in our lives.  I can’t say that I have ever found an answer as to why my wife and I still have this thorn in our side that presses back in from time to time.  Even as I write this post, I suppose I realise that had I not hit those low points I may not have found a dependency on God in that broken and hurting place when all the props are gone.  I doubt whether I would have discovered such a connection to some of the music I love nor found such a desire to help lead people into an appreciation of the character of God through music, whether that be through leading music times at our church or through exploring things on this blog. 

Let’s not kid ourselves that life is easy as soon as we commit ourselves to God.  That has not always been my experience and I doubt whether it has really been yours.  I don’t believe that is what Jesus taught.  After all, the example he provides led to a cross.  We are commanded to pick up our own cross and I wonder how often we ask what that means for us personally?  How often do we moan and gripe about the circumstances we find ourselves in?  Maybe we need to be honest with ourselves and honest with God in the good times every bit as much as in the tough times.  Maybe we need to tell ourselves again and again that He is faithful even when we can’t make sense of where we find ourselves.  In that light, doesn’t the story of the Exodus and the wandering in the desert for those seemingly barren years seem all the more poignant and allegorical?

Silly Love Songs

“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs.

I look around and I see, it isn’t so…”

From “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings

Given that I sometimes leads times of music at our church gathering, Duncan lent me a really thought provoking book last year called “Exiles – Living Missionally In A Post-Christian Culture” by Michael Frost.  I’ve included a link here.  In particular, he helpfully directed me to chapter called “The Songs of Revolution – Jesus Ain’t My Boyfriend”.  It really got me thinking about the words we sing in church without really thinking what they mean.  I’ll quote the book as follows:

“At a conventional church service recently all my worst fears about the romantic nature of contemporary worship were realised.  On the screen appeared the following lyrics, which most people around me sang with furrowed brows, closed eyes, and meaningful looks of intensity on their faces.

“The simplest of all love songs

I want to bring to you,

So I’ll let my words be few –

Jesus, I am so in love with you”.

I balked.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell Jesus that I am in love with him.  In fact, I had such a sense of revulsion that I had to think long and hard about why this was disturbing me so much.  Maybe the lyric isn’t meant to be taken too seriously (I can be guilty about thinking too much about these things), but it occurred to me that I’m not only not in love with Jesus, I’m not actually “in love” with anyone in my life at the moment.  I’m not in love with my children.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never “fallen in love” with any of my children.  I have loved them with an intensity of love that I never knew I was capable of.  I have loved them more than life itself since each of them was born.  I have never at any moment in their lives questioned my unconditional, unreserved love for them.  But “fall in love” with them? No.  Never.

I love my mother dearly, but I haven’t “fallen in love” with her.  There are many people in my life that I love very much, but I’m not “in love” with them either.  I wouldn’t even say that I’m “in love” with my wife, Carolyn, whom I have loved deeply and faithfully for more than half my life.  I was once in love with her.  Actually, I was head over heels in love with her, but I discovered that it’s a fleeting and unreliable set of emotions.  I’m not suggesting that being in love with someone isn’t deliciously exciting, even exhilarating.  It’s a marvelous feeling, but it never lasts.  It might be the kind of emotional elation that throws members of the opposite sex together, but it doesn’t carry the kind of emotional provisions that can sustain that relationship.  Real loving is something much richer, deeper, more robust, more powerful than anything experienced when we are “in love” with someone.  In fact, Scott Peck says that in any relationship, real loving can begin only when the feelings of being in love dissipate.  Once those fabulously carefree romantic feelings ebb away after a time, then a couple is forced to confront the much more genuinely loving choice to remain faithful and true.

So, what does it mean to sing to Jesus that we are in love with him?  Is it that we have intense and exhilarating feelings of attraction toward him?  That our legs go to jelly and our stomach churns whenever he walks into the room?  I have no doubt that when we first encounter Jesus and his savage grace, there are intense feelings of spiritual pleasure, even bliss.  This certainly was my experience.  I also have no doubt that in our life-long journey with Jesus there will be times of spiritual communion of similar intensity.  Sometimes during corporate worship or personal times of reflection and prayer, I feel deep gratitude and a wonderful attraction to the person of Jesus.  But I have never felt myself falling in love with him”.

Interesting and thought provoking stuff. It helps me see how marriage and the commitment that goes with that to stay the course “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part” is a symbol of our commitment to Christ.  After all, the church is the bride of Christ, is it not?  It makes me realise afresh, how blessed I am to have the wonderful wife I do.  Life has been far from plain sailing at times in the 10 and a half years we have been married, but I still love her hugely and, yes, it is a very different set of emotions from those heady days when we first started going out in 1992.  Does that diminish how I feel now?  Not in the slightest.  That said I think I would still describe myself as very much in love with her, although I know exactly what Michael Frost is getting at.

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