Music

The Naked Artist: Narcissism or Self-Giving Love?

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john / Shutterstock.com

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.

VIDEOS: Caroline Herring

Our CultureWatch lead story for the December 2012 issue of Sojourners, “Singing the Stories Untold,” by Silas House, provides an in-depth look at the brutally honest musical stylings of Caroline Herring. With simplicity and grace, Caroline sings about the stories of the South and the rich and complex journeys of its people. Her modern, yet folksy sound and lyrical storytelling arguably make her “the social justice singer-songwriter of her generation,” according to House.

Learn more about Caroline Herring and her music here. Check out the videos below featuring some of the songs profiled in House’s article.

“Paper Gown” A song about Susan Smith, the young mother who drowned her two children in 1994 and blamed it on a fictitious African-American man.

“Camilla” A song about Marion King, an African-American woman who was beaten unconscious by police officers in Camilla, Ga., in 1962 and subsequently suffered a miscarriage.

“Black Mountain Lullaby” A song about 3-year-old Jeremy Davidson, a boy who was crushed to death by a massive boulder that dislodged from a mountaintop removal site.

“Maiden Voyage” A song that recounts Caroline’s experience of traveling with her daughter to Washington, D.C., for President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

New and Noteworthy

OUTRUNNING DESPAIR
In the novel Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron, a young Tutsi runner in Rwanda dreams of competing in the Olympics even as political tensions erupt into unfathomable violence. A story that gives both horror and hope their due. Winner of the 2011 Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Algonquin

FINALLY, A “CHRISTMAS UNICORN”
Perpetually quirky indie artist Sufjan Stevens’ new 58-track, 5-EP Christmas collection Silver and Gold promises to offer “holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption.” Not your typical Christmas music, but who needs more of that anyway? Liner notes include essays by Stevens and Vito Aiuto of The Welcome Wagon. Asthmatic Kitty

ROYAL BEAUTY BRIGHT
The picture book Star of Wonder, written by Mary Lee Wile and illustrated by Sage Stossel, offers a charming retelling of the Nativity story. A companion website, www.starofwonderepiphany.com, includes crafts, activities, and music to include in family observations of Epiphany. Forward Movement

TASTE AND SEE
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, tastily delivers on its title. Includes historical and cultural essays to entertain foodies and Bible buffs alike, plus more than 50 recipes. Rowman & Littlefield

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Singing the Stories Untold

SINGER-SONGWRITER Caroline Herring was completely naked when she truly found God.

Straight out of college, she spent three months as a missionary in China. “I was so ill-equipped,” she says now, over tea just before a show in Knoxville, Tenn. “The program was respectable—we weren’t Bible smugglers, but obviously we had an agenda.”

One of her students—a woman who had journeyed seven hours to attend English classes Herring was teaching with her fellow missionaries—took a liking to her and asked if she would leave the comfort of her air-conditioned room (with a private toilet) to join her students at the dirty, crowded bath-house, outfitted with several spigots in the ceiling. Herring believes it was a way to welcome her into their fold.

“And I felt like I was a part of humanity for the first time in my life,” Herring says, her face suddenly luminous. “My preconceived notions about the Trinity just slipped away. It was too much to comprehend, but I knew that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst us because we were people together, being kind to one another.”

Herring, now 42, says the experience changed her life. She left China a different, humbled person, with whole new ideas about what God, religion, and service were.

“I knew for sure that I had a lot more to figure out about my own place in the world before I had the audacity to spread the word of Christ across the globe,” she says.

Several years later she wrote a haunting song called “China” that recounts the experience. “The father and the son left but the holy dove stayed / maybe clouds parted and the curtain was torn / but I was naked as the day / the day I was born,” the song goes. It appears on her 2010 EP, Silver Apples of the Moon.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

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.

Pages

Subscribe