Saturday, September 19, 2009

The FAQs Continued

Based off some of the feedback I've gotten over the past few years, I'm answering some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about this site. Part One, "Why Looking Through the Windshield," can be found here. And read on below for Part Two...



If you really stop to think about it, you can somewhat trace the ways in which you’ve grown and matured throughout your life by looking at your musical history.

As a child, it was the repetition of sounds and words, the limited tonality and scale that gave comfort to us and made the songs we knew as kids have some of their appeal. Kids’ songs are all almost sung in a major key, with thirds and fifths making up the majority of the variation in the pitch. The sing-sing (ha) manner in which the music and lyrics matched up and told a story made them easy and fun.

We next began to start singing along with our parents in the car, as the drove us to wherever we were headed. We started listening to their music, and – as kids tend to be enraptured and captivated at times by what mom n’ dad have to say – their artists and their songs became our songs. Really – who at the age of nine would get drawn to “Brown-Eyed Girl” on their own? We sang along with what we were given on the radio/CD player, and we began to feel a little more grown up because we weren’t just listening to “baby” music any longer.

Soon, just as with other aspects in life, the things our social peers (friends) enjoy begin to bleed over into our everyday. Soon, what is cool with the gang begins to supplant the “old” of what mom and dad in terms of fashion, and eventually our musical tastes. Think about the times in school when you were introduced to music that maybe – just maybe – your parents hated and thought sounded like a cat in a blender.

Now think about that first album, that first song, that took everything you knew about music, every way in which you enjoyed music, and turned your world entirely upside down.

Elvis. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Michael Jackson. U2.

the choir.

Many of us can remember that one, galvanizing moment as the needle hit the vinyl, and in retrospect, it was almost as if that hiss of static on the turntable was the world taking a deep breath before it plunged into a heretofore unknown and mysterious paradise of sound…

For me, it was my junior year of high school. 1988. And my moment came in the form of a cassette tape with a cover that looked like it was a cross between a finger painting and a bad photo, from a band that apparently didn’t believe in the rules surrounding grammatical capitalization and had a thing for Australia.

But first a little bit of back-story.

As one of “those” kids who grew up in a traditional church setting, I always thought of heaven and God as being a little bit…dull. Back in the Paleozoic Era of church music (pre-Passion/David Crowder), all that we knew of music that was “pleasing to God” came in the form of centuries-old hymns. Now, it wasn’t that the hymns themselves were unappealing or even uninspiring; it was that the manner in which they wee sung had absolutely no enthusiasm or drive behind them. It was like listening to – or worse, being in – an elementary school musical, singing “Farmer in the Dell” for the 4000th time, having rehearsed all the fun and enjoyment out of the sing that we had initially felt while singing and doing the hand motions.

At church, we sang the songs our parents sang, never really understanding the weight of the words were offering up to God.

Then came the beast that was Christian radio. Well, rather, the AM radio station. And, watch out: not only did they play Gospel music, but they got a little wild and crazy by going all “out there” with some of the artists they played on occasion. This was when the comparatively-non-traditional artists like Evie, Twila Paris, Sandi Patti and Larnelle Harris would hit the airwaves. They were a little too…upbeat and contemporary for Sunday morning (and Sunday night, but maybe once a month on Wednesday night), but their music was still considered “good, Christian music” all the same. I mean, just count the number of times they said Jesus’ name in any of their songs.

Now, unknown at this time to the church body at large, the “Jesus Music” movement of the 1970’s was slowly taking root throughout the country. Artists like Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, the Second Chapter of Acts – they were laying the foundation for the explosion of performers who were to come after them (very John the Baptist of them – which given their literal and metaphorical long-haired and wild natures compared to the mainstream church culture they were coming out of…). The “Christian music” scene and church youth groups of the mid to late 1980’s would soon see a massive proliferation of albums and artists that would forever alter the way that music could be viewed by some believers. Meltdown at Madame Tussaud’s and I Want to Be a Clone by Steve Taylor. Russ Taff’s Medals. Unguarded by Amy Grant. Michael W. Smith’s The Big Picture. Streetlight by DeGarmo and Key. Back to the Street by Petra.
And here’s where my shift in music began to occur: from the rote-performed hymns to Steve Green to the next stage. From what I knew as a child…to enjoying what my parents liked…to finding my own song. This is also where we story now catches up to real time.

Chase the Kangaroo by the choir hit me between the ears like nothing before. This wasn’t just music: it was artistry. The lyrics didn’t follow a pattern I was familiar with at all. The music was almost ethereal. And these guys were on the record label that was, at the time, the label to be signed to: Myrrh Records.

Without my knowing it at the time it was happening, I was seeing for the first time that I had held God in a music box for years. That I could, if I wanted to, listen to music that sounded like it was meant and spoke to me, and not designed for someone else. That this was what it sounded like to be in love with not only what you were singing, but also what you were singing about.

And if I’m totally honest, it probably helped a little bit that it did sound like so much noise to my parents. It’s the burden and blessing of the teenage years.

To me, Chase the Kangaroo was, and still remains, about pursuing your passions. About finding freedom. About being willing to think. About being free to express both sorrow and joy. These were themes and ideas that were sorely lacking in the songs music I’d spent years learning that were – again – pleasing to God. And for the first time, I felt like God wanted to hear what these guys were singing about instead of raising another Ebenezer.

Over two decades after the first time I heard the title track, I still find myself singing the song at the top of my lungs (alone, and in my car) whenever I play it.

Because this song reminds me to let the shovel go deep.

To let my heart be true.

To chase the kangaroo.

1 comment:

Emily T. Thomas said...

Hmmmm I pretty much listen to talk radio/ news.....explains a lot.