You normally make rock 'n' roll records. Why this special accoustic release?
Well, there are several reasons I decided to do this record. I wanted to do something different. I had written a good bit of material on the acoustic guitar and found myself doing it in concert, but not on records. I had people approach me after solo concerts and ask if there were some way I could assemble a collection of songs performed just on acoustic guitar, so I began thinking about it when VICTIMS OF THE AGE was nearing completion, and decided to record an acoustic album. And instead of using the band, I decided to just overdub all the parts myself and have it be a homemade album as well, aiming for an intimacy that is impossible to attain when working with a full production and band.
Do you think this will confuse those who follow your musical endeavors?
I don't think so. This is a special release, and I doubt if I'll ever do anything like it again. I may, but I doubt it. In fact, much of the material for my next album is already written, and I can tell you that it is definitely not going to be acoustic. This acoustic album serves as a pause for me, an interlude, a recess outside my usual routine both stylistically and lyrically.
The title - Eye of the Storm - is that representative of this recess?
Yes, in two ways. First of all, it represents the musical difference - a calm album in the midst of less calm ones. Acoustic set amidst the rock and roll. Eye of the storm. Secondly, it represents the lyrical difference. Content-wise, this one follows more of a positive note. There is a little more hope on this album, a little more of the assurance based on the love of God that, even though we live in a fallen world, there is hope, and the beauty of the original creation can be found by those who look. Whereas Victims of the Age was meant as an expose of the terror of living in a fallen universe, Eye of the Storm is meant to point out that there is an eye to the storm.
How do you think people will react to this album?
Since this album is stylistically more accessible than my normal work, I assume that there will be more Christian acceptance of it. That probably means more airplay of this album than of my rock and roll albums, and therefore more of a problem for me to help people have a perspective on what I do.
What do you mean?
Well, if this turns out to be a more popular album than my rock and roll albums, then people are going to have an inaccurate picture of me; that is, if they expect me to always reflect this mindset or stylistic template. I have had this problem in the past. One of my songs that was not representative of the general flavor of my work got heavy airplay. People only heard that one song, and then expected me to be just like their interpretation of the person behind that one song whenever I would appear somewhere. Before I play in a city now, I suggest that the sponsor listen to several of my albums and read my lyrics and album notes so that he will understand what I am trying to do with my music, rather than having him assume that since my song was played on the radio amidst a setting of "Jesus music" that I am a "Jesus music" person too, which by my definition I am not.
What are you then?
I prefer to see myself as a writer who is a Christian, and I prefer
to let my faith flavor my observations rather than dictate them. I prefer
for my pen to act as a nerve receptor and write about the world - the real
one - that exists outside Society's and Christian society's simplistic,
plastic, media-fed notions of what life is and what is important. I prefer
not to excommunicate myself from either the "secular" world or the church
in favor of attempting to write in a way that is communicative to both,
but calculated towards neither. Hopefully, my songs will make sense to any conscientious listener.
You have received good reviews from both worlds with Victims of the Age. I know Billboard Magazine reviewed the album in its rock section very favorably, and the Boston Globe picked it as album Hit of the Week in November of '82. Then CCM and Campus Life magazines picked the same album as one of the top Christian albums of the year. Do you expect responses from both sides of the fence for Eye of the Storm?
No, this album will be distributed only in Christian circles. It is
meant for those who probably wouldn't listen to my rock 'n roll albums,
but hopefully, as a result, some of them will want to hear my other work
as well. And I hope my rock n roll friends
will allow me this pause to catch my breath before cranking up the amps again.
Could you tell us about the recording process for Eye of the Storm? The liner notes say it is homemade.
Well, since this is a special release, I wanted the music to feel different
from my regular work. So instead of getting the same group of musicians
together, I decided to just do the whole thing myself. I began by laying
down the drums. I took a Linn Drum
s computerized digital drum setup and programmed all the drums on it. It is a synchronous computer which has actual drums re-corded on digital chips inside - one drum to a chip. So I could play any drum I wanted in any pattern I wanted and the machine would remember it. It's quite a complex process; it took me a week to get all the drums just like I wanted them. Then I layed them onto the 24 track tape. Next I began layering in the guitars. My wife is not an engineer, but she would sit at the console while I played the guitars in the studio, although at times I could use the acoustic direct I have and run it straight into the console without using any microphones, and engineer myself, sitting in the control room and playing the parts. I did the bass in the same way. I really enjoy playing bass, and it was fun to get to experiment and play instruments I normally don't play. I especially enjoy playing slide, and I'm hoping to work in a concert rendition of the slide I played on "He Will Listen To You". Of course, there are a few electric guitars mixed in on the album here and there, when it helps the acoustic feel. I did a few of the songs with just voice and guitar to approximate a sparse feel that I'm quite fond of. So, basically, I just kept layering an instrument at a time until the project had been built. I had a few friends come over to add touches on different instruments as well. Tom Howard came over one day and we played around with a digital keyboard instrument called the Emulator. You can record any sound (we used mostly voice) onto a digital chip inside the instrument. It then takes that sound and assigns it to all the keys on the keyboard and you play the sound polyphonically. I love experimenting with technical inventions and used the Emulator quite a bit on Pat Terry's newest album, with Tom playing it again. Tom's full orchestra abilities on keyboards are amazing.
Could you talk about your increasing involvement as a producer? Do you enjoy producing your own projects more, or the others you've been doing?
Well, basically I enjoy them both. I produce and engineer my own albums simply because it helps me to be able to have that immediacy - not having to communicate to a producer and then an engineer. Of course I get under a lot of pressure that way by having to decide what I should do and then having to live up to my own expectations, which are rather high. So I often disappoint myself. Then too, I have to sit cramped in the control room with the guitar gouging my ribs as I reach for the auto-locator and other controls on the console. I prefer working that way even though some people might perceive it as masochistic. I get so emotionally involved in my own projects that it's nice to have a break from that, and the Pat Terry albums have been a lot of fun (Humanity Gangsters, Film at Eleven). I was able to channel all my energy into producing and engineering on those projects, and I'm especially fond of the newer one. I stayed up nights working out technicalities for particular sounds, and I love that kind of creative opportunity. I'm very proud of the direction in which Pat is heading and I think his new songs are admirable communicatory attempts.
The Marchstei sessions in Switzerland for Polydor have also been fun, and I am involved in their second album now. Engineering and producing as an American among Swiss folks is quite interesting, and I am thankful that we are able to communicate well in the studio so production ideas are clear and subjective musical flavors translate. This is largely due to the efforts of Jean-Daniel von Lerber. It is a challenge to produce someone when the lyrics are all in another language. I only speak enough Swiss-German to get by - I have nearly mastered the pronunciations of most of the major desserts.
Are you still playing solo concerts? I know you have been devoting large amounts of energy to band concerts in the past year.
Yes, it's rather schizophrenic at times doing both, but I enjoy both quite a bit. I've been doing an acoustic set in the middle of the band concerts too, and that's a nice break. Most of the material at the band concerts has been from Stop the Dominoes and Victims of the Age, whereas in the solo concerts I am able to do some of the older material as well as material from Eye of the Storm. For the band dates, I've been using a three piece band - just a drummer; bass player; and me. That eliminates unnecessary musical verbage and helps the songs carry out the raw feel that is present on the records.
Are you touring in Europe as much as youhad been?
After 4 months there last year; the '83 tour will be the first time I've been back. Of course that and the Marchstei album will keep us too busy to have time for much photography, and the like. I'm happy to say that Fingerprint, my album released in 1980 in Europe only is now available as an import in the U.S. by writing Fingerprint Communications.
Would you comment on some of the songs on Eye of the Storm?
Side one portrays the fallenness of the world and the pain which that produces, both on the sociological and individual level. But it also expresses the hope we do have that things will be made right, and indeed have been made right because of the work of Christ. Both "Castaway" and "Well-Worn Pages" have been recorded before, the former having been released on Appalachian Melody (Solid Rock Records, 1979), and the latter on Fingerprint (Palmfrond Records/KIR, Europe only, 1980). Both versions here are new, although they are so basic that the difference from the original versions is minimal. "Gimme Mine" is quite different from the original version on Fingerprint, as this time it feels more acoustic (more like Ry Cooder might do it instead of the wall of electric guitars).
"He Will Listen to You" is done in kind of a Negro spiritual style. I played it just on slide guitar; and made the salvation army horns in the solo part with my mouth (cheap production, huh?). I have an aversion to writing material that resembles hymns too closely, but I did want to make an attempt at something like that without losing the cultural integrity of the genre. I wanted a song that is positively understandable to Christians, and yet that can be played in a club with a minimum of injuries from hurled objects. I also happen to believe that Christianity is more than a subjective train of experiences and prayer-like activities, and I think it is important to give that balance, as I have tried to do with the body of my work. For that reason, I hope "He Will Listen to You" does not get more attention than, say, "The Pain That Plagues Creation" or even "Faces in Cabs" (Victims of the Age). I'm afraid out of context it would be furthering the positive-experiences-only-orientedness of a reality-deficient Christian society. I want people to know that although this song contains an element of truth, it is not to be taken out of context and put in a radio slot along with all the other songs taken out of context (because only a certain small portion of the context fits the blueprints for what people want to hear; their having been brainwashed into thinking that only simplistic positive thoughts are on an equal plane with Christian theology). The love of God, or what it is to pray, is not as simple as it would seem if your only concept of it were based on this song or something else simplified like that. Unfortunately people have lost the ability to see past the simplistic caricatures that are serving as surrogates for a reality which is quite complex, so life is being robbed of its intricacy, its strangeness, and its harshness by a media-oriented society which seeks the shortest possible route to the hassle-free-est state of mind. That is not Christianity. So if somebody likes this song, I hope he will listen to my other songs and my other albums, too, and not judge my work by this one song.
How about "In the Gaze of the Spotlight's Eye"?
In order to be honest I'd have to admit that there are many things about being on the road that are difficult. But along with the problems comes much satisfaction, and I'm quite grateful to be doing what I'm doing; the people who support me are a source of deep thankfulness for me. l am just a person who writes about the world around him, and who is a Christian, simultaneously. If that is all people would expect of me, then my job would be a lot easier. But sometimes there are expectations, as I've discussed before. When you have to explain yourself to someone who finds a certain song you wrote not "Christian" enough for his tastes, it can be rather trying. (It is terribly unfair to be treated as "unspiritual" because of something like that, but it happens.) Christian society has been conditioned to expect certain cultural or sociological patterns to be repeated in the presence of other Christians, and these pat-terns often come from the culture at large rather than from the Bible. I hear so many silly things, and I long for the Church to wake up and gain an acumen for seeing through the veil of the stereotypical Christian sociological standards that shroud so many well-intentioned activities.
"These Plastic Halos" is a plea for that sort of honesty - putting tears back on the list of things to be considered okay for someone who is a Christian.
Could you define Christian cynicism? Is it just a matter of open eyes?
Well, Christian cynicism is not my term, but I'll take a stab at it.
I think there is a balance between being cynical and being gullible. I
think that before anyone makes a decision that is going to deeply affect
his life, he should know what he is doing.
I think there is much gullibility going on in the world, and in the Christian world as well. I think it is possible that decisions can be made hastily and without proper understanding. The nature of media-influenced society is that decisions are quick and shallow and information tends to be watered down to a point that it is simplified beyond its complexity. I think we have to be careful not to accept everything we hear whether it's from a television network commercial (or as Alfred Hitchcock so aptly said, "an adaptation of a Japanese non-drama by some Madison Avenue yes-man"), or whether it's from a Bible study teacher. I think a grain of cynicism helps undermine gullibility. If one delves more deeply into matters undergirding his belief, it can serve
to strengthen that belief. If Christianity is the truth, we should dig more deeply in matters relating to that truth, such as history, philosophy, archaeology, or dealing with the theory of evolution on a deeper level than is popular within Christian school systems. We shouldn't go around saying things that resemble greeting card slogans and expect the roots of our faith to go very deep. If we are basing our faith on our own feelings about God or our perceptions of the way things seem to be to us, and our message to the word becomes, ''Well, Jesus changed my life'', then I believe our Christianity is incomplete, and brought to the same level for caricatured media competition as every other existentialistic thrust. If our faith doesn't involve our mental processes as well as our hearts, then we aren't going to have anything to say to people because whatever we say will be disconnected from objectivity, and will be perceived as mere opinion. When I see the sort of atrophied, simplistic, absentmindedness that is being passed off as Christianity these days, of course I would encourage people to be cynical; cynical enough to see through the trends that occur even within the walls of the Church, to see them for what they are, and to reject them when they fall short of the truth, even though they may be popular and sound like "spiritual" ideas.
How should Christians react to the secular thought-forms, and their manifestations in society?
With perhaps more love than we have thus far. I think sometimes that means not reacting too strongly to a world which is espousing a non-Christian, non-theistic point of view. We shouldn't be surprised, because that is the direction thought-forms have gone for years, in the last couple hundred years in particular, with little input by Christians, who have preferred to remain sequestered away, safely behind the walls of the church. VICTIMS OF THE AGE explores that problem. And I don't mean we're not getting out there and preaching to people when I speak of this segregation. I mean we're not giving input into the thought-making processes of academia, politica, etcetera. How are we going to help anybody if every time a shoddily conceived and morally questionable program comes on television we say, "Horrors, that is ungodly programming - we must write in to the station and protest such debauchery)" Surely we should care, and there are times when enough is enough in these matters, but a more-than-symptomatic answer to these problems can only be found in a Christian constituency with creative influence in the thought and decision making processes behind the form and content of the very television production mindset and programming pool itself. That's what I mean by interaction and communication-not just preaching and dogmatism. Surely our faith will have better and probably more evangelistically-inclined results on society when such a course of action is favored over the present preach and run techniques. I have been a skeptic, and I know what it is like to be slapped in the face by Christians in the name of God without their ever communicating to me, much less understanding me. I also know through my experience at L'Abri that the converse is possible, and am thankful for that fact.
Does secular society have any wrong stereotypes for Christian behavior?
I tell people I meet who aren't Christians that Christians can be jerks
too, so if it is at all possible, please forgive us and allow us that,
and know that we are human, and are just trying to project our concern
in the only ways we know, even though those ways are often pitifully insufficient.
When as a skeptic I had bad experiences during encounters with Christians
when I really wanted to know the truth and they fled from my questioning,
it hurt me. But I couldn't say, "Well, I am not going to believe
Christianity is the truth because of these people", because I realized that Christians can have any number of faults, and insensitivity is one of them. I realize that the existence of God doesn't hinge on how someone treats me, although if people who claim to be God's children keep on treating you badly, you do begin to wonder. If someone is a Christian he can make mistakes. He can spout an opinion and claim that it is God's opinion, when it is not. "Everybody Loves a Holy War" on my last album addresses that syndrome. Opinions can be put forth, regardless of the truth, but truth can be put forth regardless of opinions. The hard thing is telling which is which.
Does the Bibles answer all questions for seekers?
No, I don't think so. I believe the Bible answers basic questions in
type and genre, but usually not in specifics. For example, if somebody
has a problem believing miracles are possible or if someone believes that
the existence of miracles is contrary to
reason, then to just refer such a person to the Bible would be somewhat irrelevant to the question at hand, because the Bible assumes that miracles do occur (that the universe is an open system of cause and effect into which Divine will can intervene). Most academic disciplines today assume the universe is a closed system of cause and effect, and therefore miracles are excluded by definition. So when someone has a question along these lines, the discussion he needs is more one of metaphysical philosophy and whether it is irrational to presuppose an open system as the basis for one's explanations of why things are, and what things are. To give a person a Bible in that situation and not tackle his question at its own level is probably the wrong thing to do.
If you had 30 seconds to sum up life as a Christian, "the secret to life" if you will, what would you say?
Boy. A guy asked me this question in an interview about two weeks ago and if I ever get the transcription from him, maybe I'll send it to you. It took us about fifteen minutes to explain what I meant. I don't think I can say anything in thirty seconds that will do justice to the depth of that question. I really don't - it's so complex.
I hope you can say something after all. You are visible and have a voice that people will listen to.
Maybe so, but I think for somebody to expect a voice to concisely tell
him in 30 seconds everything he needs to know to live his life, what he
should think and do, is a very sad way to live. If that is how someone
depends on getting truth, then I truly feel sorry for him. People do seem
to need something simple to cling on to, but to try and encapsulate truth
in that way robs us of our responsibility to think out and work out the
truth. How can you spoon-feed implications that it takes a lifetime to
understand? That is the nature of media, and I feel, one of their
biggest flaws, especially when it comes to communicating substance about
complex biological, psychological, theological truth.
I know you have talked about this in the past, but I'll risk asking again. Is Christian music now being, or ever going to be, accepted in the popular marketplace?
There are very few artists who are able to speak in Biblical terms and
still write good poetry and find acceptance for their art. I don't want
to name names. I think that Christian music (or Jesus music or whatever
you want to call it) has been so ingrown
for so long that the standard for poetic depth has been given an extension into boundaries that the "secular" world will not accept as containing excellence of literary value. The jargon, the phrases, the idioms, even the thought don't really communicate
cross-culturally to those of differing ideological backgrounds, regardless of the content. And the tone is at times of such an insulting nature that I don't blame my friends who are not Christians for not listening to, or even ridiculing, some of it base
d on its purported value as creative art. I don't listen to "Jesus Music" myself.
If we would be the real human beings that we are and use the artforms
seriously as artforms, never insulting the intelligence and never negating
artistic standards in order to propagandize, then I think it is quite possible
to convey content about Christianity. It has been done many times in past
periods of history. If the truth is told, people will still listen. But
until the Christian community is willing to have its purported artists
give up some of their dogmatism, and some of the expected patterns; or
until some Christian artists are willing to be rejected by other Christians,
and lose bookings when those other Christians decide the artists are not
"spiritual" enough for their tastes (or because they are writing poetry
that is really poetry you have to think about instead of a blatant slap
in the face from the inside of a greeting card), then nothing will change.
Until we give up some of the sob-cultural differences, and raise our aesthetic
standards, we're not going to be able to say much to another field that
does have some extremely talented artists in participation, mixed in with
the trash that is there too.
Thanks so much for your letter. I appreciated your honesty and your willingness to write about your doubts and questions. I think there are a lot of others who feel the way you do, but who are afraid to admit it, because the Church often wrongly perceives questions as threats. When people are threatened, they can get defensive, and if they think it is a holy war they are fighting, and they see you as part of the opposition, things can get pretty nasty Try to be patient with them.
You asked me to elaborate on the comment I made in concert about the Church seeming to embrace some of the thoughts of Plato. Plato thought that matter was inherently evil, and that implies that to be human is to be evil, whereas the Bible teaches that to be sinful is to be sinful, and that that is not intrinsically connected with being made in human form. There were some people in the first century known as gnostics who adhered to the teachings of Plato. When Christianity was mixed with gnosticism, however; a heresy resulted which shook the first century church (primarily concerning the resurrection of Christ, for the gnostics denied its existence or importance).
But the heresy touched other realms also, leading to a partial separation of the concepts of spirituality and humanness, the two being mutually exclusive under Plato's presuppositions, regardless of the fact that the Bible teaches the simultaneous co-existence of the same. God made us with bones and flesh and minds and emotions, and it is not those things which stand between us and God. Our sinfulness is not an intrinsic part of being human, but is a disobedience which affects our humanness nonetheless. It is in no way inherent in our construction; we fell, we didn't explode from some saboteur's bomb planted during our construction.
In the gnostic heresy, purity consisted only in the "spiritual" realm, and had nothing to do with the physical realm. Thought forms paralleling this are present within the church today. The church reacts against "secular humanism" and in so doing often reacts against humanness. But the two things are not the same at all, and we need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath-water. We must stand against humanism, but defend humanness.
I'll turn now to the implications of the gnostic thought-form:
1 - The concepts of life and death take on reductionist-style flavors.
Neither remains significant compared to the plane of the hypothetical spirit,
and the Bible certainly does not teach this, although it has crept into
the church unnoticed. You may hear
; "Don't bother crying about your brother's death. To be in heaven is much better than to live on earth, so envy him." This is Platonic thought. The Biblical response would be, "Cry and grieve that death has taken your brother. Cry that it exists, that it
has broken unwelcome into God's creation. But know that God cries too, and hang on, if you can, to the hope He has revealed to us that He has defeated death ultimately." (This is the thrust of Eye of the Storm.)
2 - Sociological perspective under gnosticism becomes clouded, the positive
and the negative aspects of existence losing their polarity in a negation
of all human experience, in deference to the afterlife. Our dignity as
created beings is taken from us by
such a view, and though it is not often slated in direct form, it is implied and is the logical conclusion of the formative steps of thought borrowed from the school of Plato. Human laughter and human tears are both thought of as inferior to some spiritual pattern for motor response. You might hear; "Don't pay any attention to your hard times - just think about God and you'll forget about them." One reason I wrote Faces in Cabs, indeed, one of the major points of the Victims of the Age album was to reaffirm the reality and value of human life and death, the wonderfulness of the creation of life on earth, and the horribleness of the staining of that wonder by the Fall, and the art of comprehending them simultaneously.
3 - Under gnostic presuppositions the next part of us to go is rationality,
the validity of the human reasoning process, which is often confused within
Christian circles with rationalism. There is a big difference. If
reason is not valid and important as
an aspect of our created-ness, we may as well forget all thought, including thought about spiritual things, for they flow from the same well. To deny reason is to deny part of the image of God in us, part of that which separates us from animals both physically and soteriologically. It is part of our duty as Christians to apply our reason to our environment for our own comprehension of it, as well as for our godly influence upon it. Nevertheless, I have heard Christian teachers urge young people to "pay no attention to what is logical. God is not bound by logic. Whatever your human reaction is to a situation, do the opposite." And "philosophical discussions are to be avoided, because they involve rational thought." I have heard this taught and it scares me. We must stand against rationalism, but defend rationality
4 - If the progression continues, the value of all things stemming from
humanness eventually goes out the window, and there is no longer a basis
for any sense of aesthetics. Platonic thought would here rob man of his
creativity and even the appreciation of the same, a significant portion
of the image of God. This is seen fairly clearly in some instances, the
value of creative endeavors sometimes being denounced as unspiritual or
prideful manifestations of "self" by the church. Warped, prideful misuse
of creativity is indeed a familiar phenomenon. But does the existence of
murder cause life to be less real? Does the existence of adultery
nullify the fact that marriage is meant as something wonderful? There
is surely an obvious lack of concerted effort at
upholding the created validity of aesthetics within the church. (Of course, aesthetic values have declined to a great extent in the culture-at-large in this century as well.)
Under Plato, a table cannot be admired at face value. Only the perfect concept of hypothetical (spiritual) tableness can be appreciated, and all physical embodiments of the concept are deemed imperfect, inferior; and even illusory in deference to the reality of the concept. When couched in the terminology of the Christian subculture, this thought may find its way into teaching in a form like, "A song is not to be appreciated. Only that which it expresses (the goodness of God, for example) can be appreciated as having value and justifying the existence of the song. The melody and the poetry are irrelevant and insignificant." This is a low view of creativity and a low view of the Creation. How sad that the beauty God has created as well as latent beauty expressible through human hands and voices cannot be appreciated. How sad to wish a bird would preach rather than sing.
5 - Finally, our actions as humans go out the gnostic window. If humanness is unimportant, human actions become unimportant. In Christian circles this may translate to the negation of a gospel that has implications of a social nature. Surely this goes against the teachings of Jesus, and is obviously a symptom that something is wrong in thought-patterns, but this is the logical conclusion of thought-forms based on platitudes for inherent evilness in matter. We need to help keep this kind of thought from infiltrating the church, as was done in the first century by concerned Christian human beings.
Thanks again, Bill, for the dialogue. I hope things will go well for you as you struggle with the trappings of our culture. Be grateful with me that God did create us as actual individual people, and not as wispy spiritual entities left to haunt some ghost of a planet. Take care.