Monday, February 27, 2017

Thoughts on Silence

I did not get to see the movie Silence but just finished the audiobook. I now understand why many of the people who saw the movie felt a bit conflicted afterward. People are most often drawn to stories in which the conflicts of life are black and white and where the hero, though he may struggle, will prevail in the end. We have an unconscious expectation for every movie to end "and they lived happily ever after." In Silence the real conflict, the major battle, is internal, in the heart, the mind, the seat of faith and trust in the heart of a believer. How does faith remain in the face of great suffering? How can trust and doubt coexist in the same heart? Why does God seem so distant, so silent sometimes? These are the lines of the battle, the space in which religious idealism is tried by fire and famine.
A friend of mine asked me if I enjoyed the book. I replied that enjoy was the wrong term. It was not an enjoyable story but it struck me as more authentic than most, and I am glad to have encountered it. Silence left me with many conflicting thoughts and emotions about my own faith journey. I am thankful for stories like this that do not gloss over the hard questions of faith, God, meaning, and suffering. It is in the conveying of the questions and struggles that I, the reader and the listener, know that I am not alone in my own struggles, questions, and doubts, and that much of the struggle of faith isn't out there but rather in the internal geography of the heart and mind.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

How a Match in a Trash Can Led to Musical Inspiration

I am going to do a series of posts about musicians and albums that have inspired me over the years. To kick it off I want to look at musician who has influenced me in a big way over the years… John Scofield.  

I was fourteen years old and doing what fourteen year olds in Midland Texas did for fun, hanging out at Midland Park Mall. Oh, and I had a book of matches. And while walking around with my friends I was striking matches off the book in front of me onto the concrete and into the flower bushes. I didn’t mean anything by it, just goofing off. None of the matches stayed lit for more than a second after hitting the ground except that one that I threw in a trash can. I did not know it stayed lit until a security guard apprehended me and my friends. One thing led to another and I was required to go to teen court where I was sentenced to 6 hours of community service to pay for my crime of unintentional arson. Little did I know at the time but my community service would prove to be a pivotal moment in my musical inspiration.

I served my community service at a local community theater assisting the carpenter who was building sets. He introduced me to the music of John Scofield. I didn’t know much about jazz at the time but this stuff was pretty interesting even if I couldn’t quite appreciate it the way I do now. After serving my time I bought a cassette of Loud Jazz by John Scofield. Loud Jazz was so different from any of the music I was into at that time with lots of complex grooves and Scofield’s quirky melodic runs. 

Fast forward eleven years to 1998 and Scofield released what, to this day, is one of my favorite albums called A Go Go. A Go Go featured Scofield with back up band Medeski, Martin & Wood. A Go Go is a delectable blend of soul, funk and groove. I had never heard of Medeski, Martin & Wood but quickly became a fan. A Go Go is that rare album that is both out there and relatable at the same time. Every member of the band plays their part and has moments where they are shining. I never grow tired of this album. It has influenced me all around from bass grooves to keys, drums, and guitar.

Then in 2009 Scofield did it again with Piety Street, a Gospel Album which featured Scofield backed by Jon Cleary on keys, George Porter on Bass, and Ricky Fataar on drums. This album has become another one of my favorites. One of the highlights of this album for me is Jon Cleary who does lead vocals on many of the songs. Blues, Gospel, Jazz and Country have always seemed much more related than people assume and on this album elements of all three are woven together in a New Orleans gumbo (Piety Street, a Studio in New Orleans from which the album takes its name and where it was recorded). 

There are plenty of other Scofield albums which I enjoy but these three albums have been a special point of inspiration. I am grateful to Scofield for his willingness to push the envelope and to explore different genres. While so many jazz guys just pride themselves on playing outside the box, Scofield manages to play in an expansive way that never lacks in soul and emotional connection.  

I am thankful for that one match in a trash can at the mall that got me in trouble and introduced me to a life long musical influence.

Here are links to the albums mentioned in this blog:
Piety Street

Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to endorse the throwing of lit matches into public trashcans as good path for musical inspiration.