The Naked Artist: Narcissism or Self-Giving Love?

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john /

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john /

How is it possible that the creative life can feel simultaneously self-giving and narcissistic? On the one hand, the artist, or musician, or writer has a gift that not everyone has. And because paintings and songs and books give other people great joy – and might even change their lives — those gifts must be shared. But that means the artist herself must be shared, and that’s the problem.

For the artist, self-expression is unavoidable – it is part of the job description. As a songwriter, my raw material is the world as I observe it. That’s all I’ve got. The most realistic painter or sculptor still has to rely on his own vision. Even as a journalist, I have to draw upon my five senses, my own mind and my own experiences. Even as I tell someone else’s story, it is in part my story. I can’t tell your story without filtering it through my story; it’s how we make sense of new information. I’m only human, after all.

CULTURE WATCH: Yeasayer — Musical Mad Scientists

There are some artists whose work leaves you walking away thinking, “How in the world did they do that?” The Yeasayer performance at the 9:30 Club in D.C. on Nov. 15 was one such performance. 

The psychedelic electro pop group hailing from Brooklyn pumped out a wholesome set of favorites from its older releases as well as songs from its recent — and divisive — album Fragrant World, all to the backdrop of what looked like a chunk of the Epcot ball from Disney World.

But the elaborate — and frequently trippy — back drop and light show seamlessly augmented the synth-laden songs, morphed electric guitar, and catchy hooks. It was truly and audiovisual experience. Had their performance included some neon gummy worms or something, it would have engaged nearly every sense.

CULTURE WATCH: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: A Different Kind of Hip Hop

It’s not unusual to hear someone rapping about clothes — and how expensive theirs are — on the radio these days. Consider Jay Z and Kanye West’s collaboration “Otis,” where Jay Z belts, “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth / I'm 'bout to call the paparazzi on myself.”

And if you don’t hear about their diamond studded jewelry and designer clothes, some rappers aren’t shy about showing them off in music videos.

But Seattle-based hip hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who recently hit number one on the iTunes album charts and stopped by D.C.’s 9:30 club on Nov. 13, chose a different approach to the whole clothing concept and, for the most part, hip hop in general.

ICYMI: Andrew Bird's 'Hands of Glory'

Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

'Hands of Glory' sees the indie star engage with stripped down blues and country tunes. Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

If you were overwhelmed by all that election business, you might have forgotten that October just happened, and with it came a new release from one of my personal favorite musicians, Andrew Bird.

Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s latest record and companion to March’s Break it Yourself, is the product of a pair of recording sessions prompted by an immense response to Bird’s “old-time” sets on recent tours.

Reinterpreting songs from Break It Yourself and featuring covers of classic country tunes, these “old-time” performances find Bird and his full band playing to a single microphone with an entirely acoustic setup.

Drawing inspiration from these sets, Hands of Glory features two brand new original tracks, a new interpretation of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and covers of Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer and others.

The results are fantastic.

Steve Taylor on Leaving Music for Film, Returning to Music, the Election and Other Scary Things

Steve Taylor, film director and rock hero, visits our (mine and Jordan Green's) Homebrewed Christianity podcast to talk about the disappointing theater run of his film, Blue Like Jazz, what made him leave music for film, and to announce his return to music through a new album he’s been working on.

So, yeah, that’s a big deal. And yeah, we’re pretty much breaking the story.

In the Echo Chamber, we talk about the election, Superstorm Sandy, scary movie commercials, and, you know, a bunch of other stuff. Finally, we discuss some common Christian cliches.

Listen ... inside the blog.

New and Noteworthy

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron / Silver and Gold by Sufjan Stevens / Star of Wonder by Mary Lee Wile / The Food and Feasts of Jesus: Inside the World of First-Century Fare, with Menus and Recipes by Douglas E. Neel and Joel A. Pugh

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

Freelance Whales Treat Washington, D.C.

Photo by Andy Sheppard/Redferns

Kevin Read, Chuck Criss, Judah Dadone, Jacob Hyman and Nicole Mourelatos of Freelance Whales. Photo by Andy Sheppard/Redferns

Freelance Whales’ performance on Wednesday was a bit like my experience with Hurricane Sandy: One minute was jubilation at the prospect of no work for two days, and the next minute was a mellowed out restlessness, presumably from staying inside for too long.

That is definitely not to say that the performance was by any means terrible or disengaging. Rather, it simply means that the group from Queens meandered through most of their current catalogue, which consisted of the poppy, upbeat Weathervanes and the recently released, mellow, ambient Diluvia.

For popular catchy songs like “Generator ^ First Floor,” “Hannah,” or “Ghosting,” the crowd was quick to nod their heads, raise their hands, and sing along.