The Union of Sinners and Saints bring Christian rock back

Earlier this month, veteran Christian rocker Billy Smiley, best known for his work in Whiteheart, wrote: “… I have a deep hope and a challenge to the young musicians out there. I want to encourage you to go where no one has gone yet. Don’t imitate, but create. Use historical influences (as we all have) to create what you are going through, with your questions and journeys, and write great songs the world will connect to.” With the release of the self-titled debut The Union of Sinners and Saints, Smiley’s new band with Petra lead singer John Schlitt, the challenge to young musicians now includes trying to keep up with the old guys.

As can be expected given its leadership, The Union of Sinners and Saints is well-honed muscular melodic rock, familiar without falling into formulaic shallowness. Schlitt’s well-preserved voice retains its grit while still hitting the high notes with ease, the band featuring accomplished veterans such as Jon Knox (Adam Again and Whiteheart) alongside more recent talent in the presence of Jason Fowler serving up a massive foundation for him to lay his voice atop. Covers of Whiteheart (“Independence Day”) and Petra (“Beyond Belief”) do the originals full justice, and the pure garage rock snarl of “Old Guys Rule” alongside the subdued progressive rock vibe of “Bittersweet” are standouts among a stack of solid originals by Smiley with major contributions by Schlitt and Peter Furler of Newsboys fame. The ballads never dip into saccharine and the rockers truly rock.

In the aforementioned article by Smiley, he lamented the demise of Christian artists being able to tell stories with their songs, instead seeing a multitude of look-alike sound-alike imitators of benign secular music genres churn out endless, repetitive to distraction worship tracks. Unlike most from previous generations who are content with playing curmudgeons online but offering no alternative, Smiley along with Schlitt and company have gone out and done something about it. The Union of Sinners and Saints is not solely a great old school Christian rock album. It is a great rock‘n’roll record period; the kind one often assumes no one makes anymore. To the tremendous benefit of all, The Union of Sinners and Saints have made one.

The Hyperdrive Kittens rock out the alley

On first, second, and even third glance Back To The Alley, San Francisco Bay Area rock‘n’roll band The Hyperdrive Kittens superb debut CD, seems like an odd choice to mention in conjunction with evangelical news. Once placed into proper context, the connection becomes obvious.

Yesterday, Billy Smiley, veteran Christian rocker best known for his work in Whiteheart and presently involved with The Union Of Sinners And Saints, wrote an article titled The Musings of an Artist and Producer in Today’s Music Culture, posting it on the band’s Facebook page. Quoting from same:

Two statements that I have read recently gave even more clarity to my own thoughts while John Schlitt (Petra) and I talked, wrestled, and worked on lyrics and music that we were writing for our new album The Union of Sinners and Saints. Our perspective from an additional twenty years of living, learning, and being away from the popular Christian culture that we were both part of and in in the 80s and 90s helped us write with a perspective of “What can I do in this season of my life that is meaningful,” “How can we use this platform to encourage others to do the same with their lives,” and “Where is this world heading into?”

I do not necessarily long for the golden years of the music industry (although I am so thankful to have grown up in the creative decades of the late 60s and 70s where music seemed to thrive on each artist wanting to be different from the next), but John and I both seem to have a passion to almost prove ourselves all over again, because we have to write and we have to sing. That is what we love to do!

One of the statements that triggered this response from me came from a fellow musician last month, Regie Hamm, who said:

“Christian music as the platform for an artist performing for an audience is pretty much a thing of the past. It has morphed into a forum for worship leaders. The new incarnation of ‘faith-based music’ is the white, acoustic guitar-playing singer/songwriter who has a good (but nondescript) voice. He is just dangerous enough looking to give him some street cred. And his music will be a very well constructed amalgam of all of the least sexual popular music of the day.

“In the end, it will still essentially be created with barriers and roadblocks and hindrances. And there’s the rub. Creativity requires freedom. Why did everyone from the Jonas Brothers to Katy Perry start out in Christian Music … but then leave? An artist can only paint the same painting – with implied instructions to only use the same seven colors – so many times.

“I love Jesus. But I would imagine even HE probably gets tired of having his name continually rhymed with ‘frees us.‘”

Also:

I listen to Christian music now and ask, “Where are the poets? Where are the questions? Where are the champions or thought? Where are the dreamers? Where have they gone? What are the mysteries around us that we still don’t understand and are willing to write about and question?” As Christians shouldn’t we be obsessed with humbly challenging the culture of today with the best music, art, and performance the world has ever seen? Why don’t we do that?

Enter The Hyperdrive Kittens. Three of its four members are openly Christians (since recording the CD in question the band has added a fifth member who is also Christian), coincidentally the same percentage of believers as in U2. Yet even with this, it is highly doubtful the band will be invited to play at your local Christian music festival. This is entirely to said festival’s loss.

The Hyperdrive Kittens are pure rock‘n’roll, equally at ease with roots rock, punk, and most every point in-between. Lyrically, the band takes a very Alice Cooper-like approach in that without demeaning, or in any fashion offending, the members faith skillfully plays characters and tells stories designed to entertain with a knowing wink. The chuckle-inducing easy relatability of “Roommate Hell” and a searing rendition of “Fever,” originally made popular by Peggy Lee, are immediate standouts. Repeated listens reveal a collection of seven songs, all but the aforementioned “Fever” and one other composed by guitarist Lee Nails with one co-write with lead singer Jenene Curtis, with no weak links.

Billy Smiley justifiably simultaneously wonders about and laments the shallowness of today’s Christian music scene. Thankfully, there is at least one band out there bucking the trend. The Hyperdrive Kittens would easily stand out in a pre-fabricated music landscape of autotune and virtual instruments layered atop drum machines regardless, but the fact that The Hyperdrive Kittens operate out of a love of Christ takes their music from great rock‘n’roll in and of itself to great rock‘n’roll that is vital to everyone searching for truth in art.

The CD is available at Amoeba Music in Berkeley, California and directly from the band through its Facebook page.

When It All Gets Too Real

End Sex Trafficking Now

I enjoy the great privilege of knowing Dawn Wisner Johnson, of Crumbächer fame for those of you who know your ’80s Christian rock, as a beloved friend. Dawn has a heart that cannot be measured, demonstrated over the years by how she has not only taken care of, but taken in, abandoned and abused kids as freely as animal lovers take in stray cats and dogs. It’s what she does.

Earlier today, she posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday, my family went to a funeral for a young woman who was killed as a result of her being a victim of human sex trafficking. Out of honor to the family of this victim (they are “family” to us), that is all the information I will give at this point.

When I found out this news a few months ago, I was devastated. For the past few years, I’ve been working with, helping, and supporting a non profit – Forgotten Children – headed by my good friend, Paula Daniels. I never thought that this would hit so close to home.

Friends, please take a moment to watch this interview with a victim that escaped. If you don’t have the time to do that, would you “like” this post? The more likes, the more people will see it.

I’m also very sad that when I post on Facebook about human trafficking I may get 5 “likes.” Yet, when I post about my vacations or family, 50 to 100 “likes”. How sad that is to me.

We have many working in this field to change laws and make sure that these traffickers and those “buying” the girls are caught. For that I am grateful. San Bernardino is a leader in this fight because of our district attorney Michael Ramos.

This funeral we attended yesterday was one of the hardest I’ve been to. The young daughter of this victim, wept and gave tribute to her mother. We all cried along with her. It’s time to make a change and get this horrible crime under control in our nation.

Not much more to say, is there.

Love In Action

Kerry Livgren, of the band Kansas and songs “Dust In The Wind” along with “Carry On Wayward Son” fame, recently penned a lengthy muse on Facebook:

Miracles. Everyone has heard of them, some of us have experienced them, perhaps even multiple times. I will enthusiastically confess that I am of the latter group.

The dictionary describes a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” For the less theologically inclined, “an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.”

Anyone would have to admit, the Parting of the Red Sea, or Christ feeding the Five Thousand are miraculous events. But how often do relatively minor miracles get overlooked, because they are not so dramatic? Are we embarrassed to mention them, or do we even notice them?

Sometimes we have to notice that a naturalistic explanation of an event is simply not going to work. The evidence is too overwhelming.

I will give you an example, (actually three), from my own life. Although there are many others I could tell you about, and they are MUCH more dramatic, I am going to relate these three because they could so easily be explained as “just peculiar occurrences.”

Guitars. Now what could possibly be miraculous about guitars? Well, I will tell you the tale of three “miraculous” guitars I have owned.

(this segment of the story appeared in the book “Between the Strings” by John August Schroeder)

“Miracle” Number 1: (1991) In 1970, while I was in the first Kansas band, we were touring the southwest. The dryness of the atmosphere around Albuquerque caused the neck of the Gibson SG I was playing to warp beyond playability. It got to be a really serious problem. When we got back home, the band bought me a new guitar—a brand new 1969 Les Paul Deluxe Gold Top.

I played that guitar for years, writing dozens, if not scores of songs on it. It was, in fact, the only guitar I played for many years. When Kansas landed their first major recording contract a little more cash began to fill the coffers, and I decided I needed a new guitar. So I traded in that Les Paul for, of all things, a Hagstrom Swede.

It wasn’t long before I began to miss that Les Paul. It didn’t seem to matter what guitar I played; I always regretted getting rid of it. It’s something all guitarists seem to do sooner or later. Like most guitar players, I have a long list of instruments that I wish I had never gotten rid of. I don’t know why we do that, but we do.

Years went by, and guitars went by, and Kansas achieved its multi-platinum success, and still, I never forgot that Les Paul, even though at that time I could have had any guitar I wanted.

One day in 1991, my wife had gone to visit her parents. Well, I was home alone and it was a beautiful day, so I thought I’d get into my Piper Turbo Arrow and just fly around. We were living near Atlanta at the time, and I “got a wild hair” to fly off to the north west. As I continued, I got the crazy idea to fly on to Kansas and drop in on some of my old friends.

I landed in Topeka, rented a car, and drove down to “Steam Music,” the little music store where we used to hang out. As I walked in the door, a fellow I had known for years who worked there looked at me as though he had just seen a ghost. At that very moment, he was hanging a guitar up on the wall—my old Les Paul. Somebody had come in that day and traded it in.

He began to tell me the story of that guitar since it left my hands, where it had gone, who had owned it. It ended up being stolen in the southwest somewhere, and was recovered by the police. It somehow found its way back to Kansas, and when it came into the store, he immediately recognized it. And so had I.

I had played that thing so much that I literally sweated off the gold top finish. I eventually stripped it down to bare wood. And I knew that serial number; there was no question that this was my guitar. And seeing it again after all those years—and ruing the day I let it go—I told him, “Don’t even hang it up. Don’t even tell me what you want for it. Just sell it to me here and now.”

I put the guitar in my plane and flew back to Atlanta. I sent it up to Ken Hoover, who refretted it got it back into shape. But it’s not leaving again. I suppose it will go in my coffin when they bury me.

“Miracle” Number 2: (2015) I walked over to my ringing phone and picked it up. It was Bob Tolford, and friend from Atlanta. Bob would call periodically, and it was always good to hear from him.

“Hi Bob, what’s up?” He replied that he had just seen our documentary, “Miracles Out of Nowhere.” Then, he said something puzzling. “I was wondering – do you want your guitar back?” he said. Now I have many friends who are guitarists, but Bob was not one of them, so I got very curious about his question.

“You know,” he said, “the one you wrote Dust in the Wind on.”

The silence on my end of the phone spoke volumes. When I came to my senses, I said “What?? You mean you have had that guitar all these years?” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had always wondered what happened to that guitar. Not knowing what a huge hit “Dust” was going to be, I had sold the guitar. It was an Aria acoustic, a mid-price model, and I didn’t even remember who I had sold it to. Later, of course, I regretted that decision, and often found myself wondering where it was, and who had it.

“Are you serious, Bob?” Would you ship it to me? “I’ll do better than that Kerry,” he replied. “I’ll drive it up to you.” Never was Bob so welcome in our house! The legendary Dust in the Wind guitar had returned home.

“Miracle” Number 3: (2016) I drove down to the little Berryton Post Office in order to mail some CD’s that had been ordered, and to pick up my mail. The clerk handed me the day’s mail, among which was a letter to me from one Tony Camardo, from Chicago.

When I got home, I opened his letter and began reading. At first, I just thought it was a fan letter, until he began saying that he had been to one of our shows long ago in Chicago, and that he was the guy who had traded me an old SG for the Les Paul that I was playing at the time. Once again I got very curious.

I remember trading that guitar, but I had traded several guitars back and forth and my memory was not that clear. The memory of the guitar itself was crystal clear, however. It was (another) example of trades that I would later regret.

Just the week before, I had watched our documentary again on VH1-C. The scene that caught my attention was the second Don Kirshner show, where I was playing a Tobacco Sunburst Les Paul – the very guitar mentioned in Tony’s letter. Then, to my astonishment, he went on to ask me it I wanted it back! He was willing to trade it for another guitar.

So I agreed, thanked him profusely, and a week later I had another of my old guitars back!

So are these things miracles? Are they simply instances of exceeding kindness, or are they divine interventions? Perhaps they are just extraordinary circumstances. I have my suspicions, but alas I don’t know. You tell me…

The first guitar Livgren discusses – a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe – is a jumping off point for my own guitar tale.

I start by noting two facts. One, although I am approximately as far back in talent from Livgren as Justin Bieber is from The Beatles, I do have some small amount of musical ability in terms of playing and writing. So there’s that. Second, while the Gibson Les Paul is the second most popular electric guitar in the world, expertly wielded by such guitar deities as Jimmy Page and Slash, there have been multiple models of said guitar over the decades, some more popular than others. The Deluxe, despite its name, is pretty much at the bottom of every Les Paul aficionado’s list. This is due to it using smaller pickups than the Les Paul Standard model, thus giving it less output and a less meaty tone than the Standard and variations thereof. Adding to the Deluxe’s lack of desirability is during its primary years in production (1969 through 1980 or thereabouts) Gibson was owned by a company named Norlin. Despite its music industry origins, Norlin was acquired by an Ecuadorian adult beverage manufacturer that apparently freely dispensed its product to everyone involved in decision making, as the demonstrated knowledge of quality guitar making during its Norlin ownership period was as far removed from a single clue how to go about it as … well, refer the aforementioned Bieber-Beatles comparison. One piece body for best tonality and sustain? Forget it! Let’s do slightly upscale plywood! One piece neck? That’s crazy talk! We’ll glue three pieces together! (To be fair, there are several top-flight guitar makers who prefer multi-piece necks; however in this case it was for cheapness sake as opposed to a quality issue.) And to top if off – literally – we’ll make the headstock bigger, thus making it more likely to snap off if the guitar gets dropped or otherwise jostled! BRILLIANT! Long story short: in terms of desirability and collectibility the Les Paul Deluxe is none of the above.

Naturally it’s my favorite Les Paul model. I love its sound, somewhere in-between the cut and bite of a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster and the traditional humbucker pickup roar of most every other Les Paul. To me, it’s the perfect combination. So, despite its scorned state of being, the Les Paul Deluxe is dear to my heart.

I first owned one in my tenderheaded … er, tender teen years. It was used. (The guitar, not my head.) I had longed after it when it hung for months in my favorite music store, but the price tag was above my reach. Then someone bought it. Then a few month later it returned, definitely the worse for wear. The once pristine wine red finish was in a sorry state, with scratches and gouges a-plenty. Unfortunate, but it did serve one useful purpose: it brought the price down to where I could successfully beseech my parents for the guitar. Soon it was mine. As an added bonus, my Dad agreed to pay to have it refinished, so off it went, returning a couple of weeks later in a beautiful walnut.

Reference the aforementioned tenderheaded uniform of youth I wore. Eventually I traded my Les Paul for a Fender Stratocaster. Not that there is anything wrong with Stratocasters; they are awesome. Unfortunately, the one I acquired was anything but awesome. And someone quickly snapped up the Les Paul. I lamented my decision then, and I lament my decision today. (The Stratocaster has long since been sold.)

Fast forward thirty years. I had been surgically repaired and could once again play guitar; a tale for another time. Anyway, my regret over getting rid of the Les Paul still hung heavy. I had the money to buy one, sort of, and I wanted to rectify my previous error. So off to look for one at my preferred music store … whaddyamean they don’t make the Deluxe anymore? Swell. Okay, let’s look for a used one in good shape.

In the “too soon old, too late smart” department, I decided to scour eBay. Not that there’s anything wrong with buying most things off of the site, but when you are looking at something as personal as a guitar, especially a used one, you’re taking just a wee bit of a gamble. As in a ridiculously big one.

Nevertheless, I plowed ahead. Ah-HA! There were several listed, but one in particular caught my eye. Made in 1976. Natural finish. Professional setup (so the description said). Zillions of high quality photos of every inch of the guitar. Looked clean and sweet. Okay. Take a deep breath and click the Buy It Now button.

Then the guitar arrived.

Three things became rapidly apparent. One, the guitar was in remarkably good condition for having thirty plus years on it. There was some cosmetic damage here and there, but overall it was excellent. Two, the professional setup claim was a bit of a stretch; it immediately required readjustment of most everything adjustable, and there was a problem with the nut that had me slide a small piece of paper in-between one of the strings and its slot in order to keep the string from buzzing. Three, the previous owner or owners had played the guitar a ton. The frets were extremely worn. They also apparently never washed their hands before playing, as both sides of every single fret bore a thick cake of grime. Also, whether it was because of the incredible amount of playing needed to wear the frets down to where they were, or some other factor, the fretboard inlays – like the frets, all of them – had worked themselves out of the fingerboard to where the edges sat just above the wood, with grime caked against all edges. Swell. The guitar was still playable, and sounded wonderful, but it was an uncomfortable mess to play.

I did what I could: clean the fingerboard (which didn’t reset the inlays, alas), replace some broken or worn out plastic parts such as the toggle switch tip. An improvement for sure. Still, a far cry from satisfactory, especially considering the money I had shelled out. The end result was a seldom played guitar and me deciding what to do.

Finally, one day I had my Popeye moment. You know, that’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more? I grabbed the guitar and went to a well-recommended repair shop in San Francisco. Didn’t like the vibe there; for some strange reason being treated like an inconvenience doesn’t warm the cuckolds of my heart. That, and the fact it would be several months before they could even look at my guitar, made it a no-go. So I went to a different well-recommended repair shop where I wasn’t laughed out of the place the moment I opened my guitar’s case and pulled out my mangy mutt.

My original idea was to have the inlays reset flush with the fingerboard and leave it at that. Said idea flew out the window when the main repair guru took one look at the guitar and, after commenting he had never seen inlays working their way out of the fingerboard like that before, said, “You have got to get this guitar refretted. These things are gone.” I reluctantly agreed, choosing the slightly more expensive stainless steel frets over the usual nickel one in order to pretty much guarantee that no matter how much I played the guitar going forward the frets would outlive me. They also replaced the nut and gave everything else the once-over. And, during the initial meeting, carefully went over with me what kind of guitar player I was as far as style so they could select the right size and shape frets to best match my playing. I appreciated that.

About a month passed. Then the call came. Guitar is done; pick it up whenever. So I rushed over. The repairman discussed how, in order to fix the inlays, they had to very carefully remove them all, re-route the fingerboard spots for them, and glue them back in. A bit out of the ordinary, but the results were flawless. I picked up my guitar, played a few notes, and immediately realized this was the best guitar I had ever played. Ever. It was perfect. Took a while to get there, but it was perfect. I’ll always miss my first Les Paul Deluxe, but this one was a more than worthy replacement.

I’ve often wondered about the person or persons who owned the guitar before the Floridian online dealer I bought it from acquired it. The grimy fingerboard aside, they took very good care of it. They obviously loved it. And, they obviously loved playing it. So why did they let it go? A somewhat melancholy thought, given how the the likeliest answers are they were either no longer able to play, or were no longer here to play, this guitar which now resides with me.

And that’s the story of my guitar. Hardly miraculous how it came into my possession. Yet, there is a touch of the miraculous how this particular guitar came to be mine, and how once given the loving care it had been more or less given its entire existence it sprang to life as a truly fine instrument. Sometimes, the least desirable turns out to be the greatest prize. All it takes is skillfully, actively applied love in action. So it is with my guitar.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need to practice my playing.

Seventy Sevens “20 Years Gone” a superb compilation

As the traditional music industry’s business model transforms in the face of omnipresent streaming and decreasing physical product sales, one of this paradigm shift’s casualties is the greatest hits package. It had been a music industry staple that every year end would bring a large batch of compilation records perfect for gift-giving to the casual fan interested in only the hits instead of any given artist’s catalog work and diehard fan needing to have everything released by a favorite. Today, with artists’ product releases separated by years rather than months and fewer consumers owning anything on which to play a CD let alone an album, the greatest hits album has moved alongside aluminum Christmas trees as a relic from a bygone age. Happily, veteran Christian rockers The 77s have given their fans an early Christmas present in the form of Twenty Years Gone, a compilation of the band’s sublime highlights over the past two decades.

Drawing from the band’s catalog in its present trio format, Twenty Years Gone showcases the 77s dual strengths of dreamy, Beach Boys-infused pop and snarling, muscular blues. Ably abetted by Mark Harmon’s supple bass and Bruce Spencer’s subtle drums, songwriter/guitarist/lead vocalist Mike Roe proves time and again he is not a musical chameleon, but rather a multi-faceted master of multiple styles, his tunes always laced with inventive yet comfortable melodies and total six-string mastery. Whether reeling off original songs so well constructed they come across as almost effortless or digging into roots bluesy gospel tracks from the past, Roe and compatriots have created a body of work demonstrating beyond question they are a quintessential American band come not to party the town down but rather to lay bare its soul, pointing out the pain of failed relationships and the healing that comes solely through Christ.

In an era where popular music has become both far more present and increasingly irrelevant in terms of something designed to savor and save, it is utterly refreshing to have a fresh reminder of music as art; not the stuffy pretentious puffery of musicians believing they are too good for their audience, but rather music touching heart, mind, and soul. Roe sings with more than a touch of sardonic with on “The Late Greats” ‘you won’t hear it on the radio.’ Thankfully, with Twenty Years Gone The 77s enable us to hear it period. Which if not the best gift to receive this Christmas surely ranks up there.

The CD and download is available at Bandcamp.

Of Magic And Loss

What a mess this world is in
I wonder who began it
Don’t ask me
I’m only visiting this planet

— Larry Norman

The news cut through social media yesterday and today, the liberal Obama staffer husband of conservative new media darling Mary Katherine Ham killed while riding his bicycle. Sympathies to Ms. Ham, and to the couple’s young daughter, now left fatherless, plus the couple’s unborn child who will never know his or her father.

Life on Earth is an endless parade of magic and loss, the joys of life and love running parallel with the sorrow of goodbyes. It focuses, or at least ought to focus, our attention on what matters: faith, family, friends. Far too often, priorities are skewed in favor of the temporary and temporal. We rant about that which, or who, offends us; we rave on behalf of that which, or who, floats our boat. We argue the meaningless, then are immersed in utter astonishment when the unfortunate fellowship pays a visit.

A side note. I am mindful of Ms. Ham’s lengthy and deep connection with Salem Media; she is a former writer for Townhall and current writer for HotAir along with being a frequent guest on Hugh Hewitt’s show. I am equally mindful that Salem practices complete separation between its political and religious divisions. Here’s the deal.

Salem has a bunch of Christian-only websites and radio stations/programs. Okay, fine.

Salem has a bunch of politics-only websites and radio stations/programs. Um, okay.

Now, the assorted political pundits who talk and/or write for Salem will claim the mantle of Christian at the drop of a hat. Well, except for Allahpundit at HotAir with his whiny-ass atheism and Dennis Prager & Michael Medved’s Judaism. But they’re conservatives, so nothing else matters. Right, Salem?

Now, ask any of the Salem politicos to so much as breathe a word about Christ, or especially to support those serving Christ, on their show and/or website. “What? WHAT?!! We can’t do that. It might turn people off who follow us for our politics! We’ll talk about Jesus over here … maybe. Now go sit in your corner and quit bothering us.” I have personal experience with this, having received nothing but silence or cheap shot insults back when I tried to reach Hugh Hewitt and his radio show producer Duane Patterson about perhaps coming on the show to discuss my book. Of course Hewitt can promote his religious tomes all he wishes. Also worth noting is the time a couple of years back when Daniel Amos leader and Christian music giant Terry Scott Taylor was in a very bad place financially. Patterson was informed of this. He was begged to have Hewitt say something about it on air on behalf of the fundraising campaign mounted by Taylor’s friends and fans. Did he? No. Hypocritical? You betcha.

But don’t say so out loud. At least not on social media. Point this out and you’re a malcontent. A troublemaker. You don’t understand. You can’t mix religion and politics! Well, we can … but we don’t.

Of course not.

Well, how important are your politics now, Hugh Hewitt and Duane Patterson? How much comfort will Donald Trump not knowing the names of Islamic terror groups leaders bring to a young widow? What assurance of faith and life eternal will come from hosting a Presidential debate, Salem Media? To the point, how do you justify building a platform, then failing to use same to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

You will see and hear much weeping on Salem websites and radio shows over Ms. Ham’s loss. Which is proper. But once the moment has passed, it will be business as usual.

Which is everyone’s loss.

(This was originally published on Da Tech Guy Blog.)

Wonderous Stories

Life has a peculiar way of focusing priorities; the one and done playoff loss (again) half a world away of one of your two favorite football teams and your other favorite football team sucking rotten ostrich eggs in the season opener sitting next to the pile of work laundry demanding attention and the text message from a coworker hunkered down in an emergency shelter, waiting to see if a vicious wildfire has spared her losing her home. It is not looking good in that regard. Meanwhile, another coworker and her family are celebrating the daughter’s third birthday at Disneyland.

It is in moments such as these that music, God’s language, becomes ever more vital. We need the release, the reminder of the divine, the voice that celebrates and diverts attention and comforts and whispers it will be all right. We need the words of that song to provide focus and healing, saying what needs to be said yet we can never say. Be it sacred or secular, the divine voice speaks to all with ears to hear, reminding us that there will be a tomorrow and we should never fail to love today. Music is not an escape from reality. It is a portal to what is real.

Some days, you need to hear the wonderous stories.

(This was originally published at Da Tech Guy Blog.)

Hopeless, Etc.

I’m hopeless
Hopeless and tired
Will you give me the sign I’m looking for?
I am mired with the earnest and sight-inspired
Hopeless

A Kickstarter campaign is currently underway; successfully reaching its initial goal in a few days. Objective? Remaster, and for the first time release on vinyl as well as a remastered CD, the 1992 album Dig by Christian alternative rock band Adam Again.

Adam Again was Gene Andrusco’s brainchild. In the days of his youth, Andrusco was an actor, playing Darrin Stephens on Bewitched among other roles. As an adult, Andrusco chose to go by the name Gene Eugene and focused his artistic side on music, be it as an artist (in addition to Adam Again he was also a founding member of The Lost Dogs), producer, or for a time record label owner. He died in 2000 at age 38 from a brain aneurysm.

One of Andrusco’s brothers in musical arms described him as a genius artist and amateur human being. Take from that what you will. Despite his stubborn addiction to being the aforementioned human, Andrusco was universally loved by those he worked alongside no matter how exasperating he could be, which from all reports was substantial. He was far more adept at musical and lyrical expression than personal, hardly a unique trait among artists throughout the centuries.

I’m helpless
Helpless and silent
Can you return my voice?
You left me mute and defiant
But I can’t get my hands untied
I’m helpless

It is well worth noting how uncomfortably parallel the world in which Dig was released, namely the contemporary Christian music world of the early 1990s, and today’s conservative new media world align. At the time Dig first saw the light of day, contemporary Christian music (CCM for short) was populated by a few heavy hitter record labels and artist managers who dictated which artists and musical genres would receive the lion’s share of promotion, with all others left to fend for themselves via word of mouth among a handful of rabid enthusiasts. This is why at a time when alternative rock and grunge ruled the mainstream music world both in attention drawn and records/concert tickets sold, the handful of Christian artists working in this field were privately praised but publicly ignored by CCM’s business side in favor of übersoft praise schmaltz or syrupy Top 40 pseudo dance pop. Adam Again, along with other bands and artists – Daniel Amos, The Choir, 77s, Undercover, Altar Boys, Steve Taylor, Veil of Ashes – who should have been heralded were instead literally and figuratively shoved to the back of the bus, left to fend for themselves. Substitute Salem Media and National Review for record labels and artist managers, and Trump Derangement Syndrome for the music promoted during that time … you get the picture.

I’m useless
Useless without you
It’s my fault
I am withered, I am weak
And about to find out why I’m so into
Being useless

Gene Eugene was a spiritual descendant of Solomon who wearily described all as vanity; of the Psalmists who cried out:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

His was a faith and life of reality, one in which you reached out to people where they were, not where you demanded they be. It is a lesson sadly lost on all fronts in today’s world, especially the one founded on citizen journalism but now choked with the very elitism it once set out to destroy.

(This was originally published at Da Tech Guy Blog.)

We All Know

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’

Luke 7:31-32

Referring back to the last post, Trump Derangement Syndrome rampages on, barely checked by the presently rampaging horrors of newspeople murdered on live television, the ongoing massacres by ISIS, and the looming threat of the Iran nuclear surrender. It is one thing to state that Trump is not the answer; hurling incessant insults at those who support him and clogging social media’s arteries with three hundred and eighty-five variations a day of “TRUMP IS A POOPYHEAD AND SO ARE HIS MINIONS!” seemingly never gets old for those who choose blithe ignorance or endless excuses for Congress’ either caving or being inactive in regard to most every major issue conservatives hold dear – the economy, national debt, illegal immigration, governmental invasion of privacy and violation of rights motivated by political opposition, defunding Planned Parenthood, the aforementioned ISIS and Iran nuclear surrender, etc.

It would be productive if Trump bashers were one-tenth of one percent as proactive in detailing solutions to problems as they are, well, bashing. There is no problem with detailing why Trump is a less than ideal candidate, or should not hold the highest office in the land. Make your case; agree to disagree if need be. That said, at some point in the process it becomes necessary to state what, and who, you are for if your words are to carry any weight. Opposition alone is not a strategy any more than hope and change is a policy platform. What do you suggest in lieu of Trump? What do you propose to handle a Congress ostensibly in conservative hands yet routinely either giving in to Obama’s demands or proposing the exact opposite of what they promised in order to ensure conservative support? If we, the unwashed uneducated ill-informed banana slug brained masses own Trump, does the GOP Smart Set own Mitch McConnell and John Boehner?

Where is the shared humanity in the GOP’s desperate effort to purge itself of all things and people Tea Party? Where is the common bond, other than trampled underfoot, between those who wish to be conservative new media leaders and the people they openly deride and despise for having the temerity to support one not approved by the echo chamber’s high rollers? Instead, we see insults, cheap shots, and cries of “if you support Trump unfriend me right now!” Really now.

It is impossible to see the present kerfuffle without flashing back four years to when the conservative new media high rollers mercilessly derided and taunted Sarah Palin supporters when she decided against running. The opposition was pointed and personal against her and her posse. It was also utterly ineffective in accomplishing anything except revealing how many CNMers had zero problem showing their ass in public when it came time to throwing a poorly disguised temper tantrum over how Palin’s popularity revealed their complete impotence in moving public opinion. Now we are seeing the same phenomenon in Trump rolling from strength to strength even as the voices crying against him grow ever more shrill.

The time has come to give this a rest. Conservative new media is in great peril of becoming contemporary political Pharisees. No, I am not comparing Trump to Jesus. I am comparing the reaction to him with the Pharisees’ reaction to Christ when He called them out for demanding of others strict adherence to the letter of the law, namely Mosaic Law, while themselves lapping up adulation and praise for outwardly being living puritanical lights yet inwardly consumed with pride and greed. If there is no respect for others, no acknowledgment of that which binds us together, how can there be leadership when the ones who purport to lead openly despise those they wish to lead?

We have far too much in common to let our opinion of Trump irrevocably divide us. On this truth we must act.

(This was originally published at Da Tech Guy Blog.)

Of Baal And Bailiwicks

Well hello there, DaTechGuy devotees! I’m Jerry Wilson, sporadic blogger at Goldfish and Clowns, far more frequent host of Cephas Hour on BlackLight Radio, author of God’s Not Dead (And Neither Are We), and all-around nice guy. Or something like that.

First, my thanks to Peter for allowing me to start posting here on occasion. I promise I’ll pay for all legal fees incurred stemming from any of my assorted scribbles in case I stray into the realm of, oh, naming names and the like.

Second, what I’ll be writing about: sometimes politics, sometimes culture, sometimes faith based on my slightly oddball perspective of being a traditional Catholic/Jesus People-era evangelical hybrid, and sometimes Christian rock’n’roll (or rock’n’roll period, at least that portion now labeled classic rock) which is my bailiwick. Or all four at once. But enough preamble; on to the topic at hand.

In my introduction I neglected mentioning that with the exception of a brief stint in Indiana I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all my life. To be a conservative out here is a challenge, given how one faces a daily onslaught of propaganda masquerading as local news that would make MSNBC cry liberal bias. Nevertheless I persevere, fellowshipping with my fellow conservatives who are not unlike the seven thousand God revealed to Elijah He had reserved for Himself who had not bowed the knee to Baal. In a similar manner, at the present time out here there is a remnant chosen by grace that has a clue about how things actually operate, this as opposed to how they are evangelized by the worshipers of self and/or social engineers holding local political office, elected to same or no.

Given this perspective, and given how I’ve made more than a few laps around the sun aboard this dusty orb, I find the current Trump phenomenon far more amusing than alarming. I’m not referring to Trump himself; he is exactly what and who he is. Therefore, consider him as you will. Rather, it is the depth of Trump Derangement Syndrome permeating the conservative side of social media that has me chuckling, albeit with increasing grimness as the attacks on him and any who support him grown more personal and vicious with each passing day, if not hour.

According to the more vocal of his detractors, Trump is a charlatan; a political shape-shifter transforming himself with the changing winds. His followers are mindless simpleton drones, closet if not full-blown racists immediately assaulting any who raise the least question about him with aisles of vile bile. To be fair, there are more than a few Trump aficionados viewing anyone who so much as breathes a word not in his highest praise as a charging RINO masquerading as a lion, to whom they feel compelled to respond in the manner of a Minnesota dentist.

This level of hysteria when we are months away from the Iowa caucus does not bode well for the coming election. As we saw in 2008 and 2012, neither the “nominate a true conservative or I’m staying home until you do” or “go to the middle; it’s the only way to win” mindset wins elections. Neither does having a fine fabulous furry freakout this far out. Or at all.

We do not have to settle this right now. Times change; unforeseen events happen, people rise and fall. All remains as it always was: in God’s hands. This does not absolve us of working toward positive change and/or rebuking evil, but it does give cause to slow down and take the long view, rejecting the tyranny of the urgent and understanding we do indeed now see through a glass darkly. I have some hardcore progressive friends who in the early 2000s were convinced, absolutely convinced, that at any moment John Ashcroft would personally round them all up and march them to an interment camp under the guise of safeguarding America. I have some solid conservative friends who were convinced, absolutely convinced, that Obama would cancel the 2012 election via martial law brought on by the antics of Occupy Wall Street anarchists working on his behalf. As you doubtless noticed, neither of these events transpired.

Certainly these are troubled times: a miserable economy with the media daily lying through its teeth about same, unspeakable horrors being carried out by ISIS to which the present administration responds with a mixture of silence and victim-blaming, Iran going nuclear, Russia unfettered and effectively unopposed, China flexing its military muscle even as its economy stumbles toward a collapse that will bring down much of if not all of the world’s with it, massive corruption and lawlessness throughout all branches of the federal government. However, God remains in control. Therefore, be at peace.

In this world we will have troubles. As the poet says:

There’s not a holy man who doesn’t know grief well
Or thinks the road to heaven doesn’t pass through hell
They’ve cried “Let me out”
They’ve heard “No, not yet”
They know before He danced Jesus wept

Stay calm. Abandon the venom. What will happen will happen, and your eighty-fifth foaming at the mouth yea or nay Trump tweet of the day will not change this. Treat each other as you yourself with to be treated. Be the better. Always, be the better.

(This post was first published at Da Tech Guy Blog.)