I’ve never been a person who pauses for a “good cry.” I’ve cried a little more since Ariella was born almost ten years ago, but in those years, I’ve only had a handful of cries. Quick aside: the first time I can remember crying after Ariella was born was watching a commercial during a Ravens game that featured a dad and his grown daughter. I don’t remember what it was for, but I remember wiping away tears and thinking, “What in the world is going on?!?”
I just don’t shed many tears, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get moved deeply. I often feel the welling of deep emotions that feel like they should lead to tears even though none come.
I think it is important to be moved deeply. I think we should strive to feel the heights and depths of our emotions. Sometimes that means being sad. Having a “good cry” or whatever that looks like for you will help you feel the heights of joy more acutely. I believe it will help you enjoy the high points more thoroughly.
When I feel a little down, I tend to medicate myself by watching funny YouTube clips and snippets from the Graham Norton show, but eventually, I get numb to them and they don’t make me laugh anymore. That’s when I know I need to let myself feel without interference even if it means feeling sad. Those are the times, I turn on certain playlists or albums, get my pen and notebook and experience thoroughly…
What you see and hear is only the final product. When a new church is planted, there are so many hands, ideas that go into it. When a new album is released, there are so many people bleeding, sweating and crying during its creation. You see Justin Timberlake, but there are lots of fingerprints on what you hear (and what you see if you’re really honest). You see Revolution with Josh preaching, but there are lots of fingerprints on what you are seeing. Justin Timberlake is brilliant and talented for sure. Josh is an amazing visionary leader, absolutely. But before their talents get to the “stage,” there are a lot of other people engaging their presentation.
My must-do is to maximize church planting by leading and bringing clarity (and strategy) to the leaders I serve. I may not be the front or tip top person, but I am still a leader, not a cog. When I don’t feel like an essential, unique piece of the machine, I don’t feel like I’ve tried hard enough. When I can’t see my fingerprints on the finished product, I know I haven’t done what I was designed to do.
This second-chair, behind-the-scenes, but no less hardcore leadership has always been fascinating to me. I think that is why I have always loved learning about producers of records. I lament that my kids won’t be able to sit in their bedrooms with the doors closed, music up loud enough for the whole house to hear, reading through the liner notes of their music. I did that, and like I said in my first playlist a month ago, I learned.
If I heard a record I liked, I would find what else the producer did. I consumed Rick Rubin. I consumed Bob Rock. I consumed Butch Vig. I consumed George Martin, Phil Spector, Timbaland, Dr. Dre, Aaron Sprinkle… You get the point. Producers’ fingerprints are all over the finished product. You can tell when bands change producers. Listen to Metallica’s …And Justice For All, Load, and Death Magnetic. Three producers, three radically different sounds.
The infrastructure of all good things extends below what you see on the surface. Knowing where you fit and leading in that place without jealousy or envy and with a spirit of cooperation and excitement for the product is a joy. I hope to continue to serve and lead like this for the rest of my life. I hope that I can do this in the church planting community forever and make beautiful “music” with a great team.
As Napster and digital music got more popular, I read less liner notes, so I haven’t been great in recent years following producers. One producer though, I followed inadvertently and only learned after the fact that it was his fingerprints on a ton of records I love (including my favorite all time: …And Out Come the Wolves by Rancid). Jerry Finn was behind so much music from the late 90s and early to mid 2000s that I absolutely love. His fingerprints are magical. I can hear him as a thin line connecting all these songs I love. I hope to have a fraction of his legacy and recognizability in my field.
Here is a Jerry Finn playlist (the link is from Amazon because one of the essential songs on this list isn’t available on Apple Music). I limited it to songs he has producing credits. There is no way I could narrow it down if I include every album he worked on. There are too many amazing records on that list.
First of all, get your mind out of the gutter, you sickos.
The music I like the most, regardless of the genre (see the last playlist) moves me. There is something, usually hard to put your finger on, that strikes a heartstring and vibrates a complementary frequency with my soul. I like to let those songs crash over me like a wave. Some of them gently lifting me, some undermining my footing and burying me in the sand inch by inch and some slamming me down, taking my feet out from under me and leaving me gasping for breath. And each experience is wonderful.
While I listen to music all the time, I’ve found there are specific places where different songs are more easily experienced as the crashing wave. Sometimes, it’s while I’m cooking dinner (Sinatra, Satchmo, etc.). Sometimes, it’s while I’m driving (Metallica, As Cities Burn, etc.). Sometimes, it’s while I’m running (Rancid, Bob Dylan, etc.). Sometimes, it’s in a dark room, on my back, eyes closed, arms spread wide.
All music should be tested against this method. It allows you to get inside the song; feel the raw emotion of the voice lost when contrasting against road noise; feel the scrape of dry, calloused fingers against vibrating guitar strings; feel the earthiness of the bass. I’m ready to turn the lights off, how about you?
While all music should be experienced this way, this playlist has songs on it that for some reason always make me want to turn the lights off, lay down and listen…really listen…and absorb.
“For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” Galatians 5:14 (The Message)
One of the first things I ask most people I’m just meeting is what kind of music they listen to. I have found that a slight majority of people are pretty indiscriminate in their music taste. In other words, they like what they like but can’t really articulate what it is they like. These are the kinds of people who mostly use music as a background feature. They aren’t the people like me who can turn all the lights off in a room, lie on the floor and listen to whole records.
There is another very small segment that answers, “I don’t really listen to music.” I don’t get that at all, so I’m not going to address it.
I am going to address another, very common answer to the “What kind of music do you listen to” question. That is, “I listen to everything…except country and rap.”
I think that is a dumb answer. First of all, you don’t listen to “everything.” How’s that zither music going? Don’t you love jamming out to Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. Second, it is close-minded. There are so many micro-genres within both country and rap. How do you really know you don’t like it? That’s like me saying I don’t like rock and roll because I don’t like Nickelback. Praise God, not all rock and roll sounds like Nickelback. Open your minds! I talk about this and more in a post from 2012 that you can read HERE.
Also, I recently read this fantastic article on of my college friends, Sylvan, posted on Facebook that was the real inspiration of this blog. I can’t express this sentiment as well as the article does, so please read it, too. Here are some thoughts from the article.
In regards to why listening to country is “so bad:” “Because it represents something that anyone looking to maintain or elevate their class status doesn’t want to associate themselves with. To admin you like country music is admitting you like something inherently and purely working class, which jeopardizes your status as middle class.”
“Country and hip hop are seen as extremes: one very conservative, religions and traditional, and the other vulgar and violent…These blanket statement topics are how the cultural majority is taught to interpret these genres. There’s no discussion that these are very rich groupings of music, with many vibrant sub-genres of their own.”
“Not being able to appreciate a song because you refuse to listen to it means you miss the subtleties, the humor, the craft and tradition of an entire genre. Do you really like everything, or do you just like everything you’re told to?”
That last line is a doozy! I try hard to find things in every genre that I love, like truly love. In a future post, I will talk about some of the ingredients that go into songs I love. In addition to Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, which I love, here is a playlist of country and rap songs that I love. Enjoy!
“What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
When I started really listening to music as a ten-year-old, I quickly became obsessed with not just the bands I loved but also with the bands they loved. After buying Nirvana’s Nevermind and reading interviews with Kurt Cobain, I consumed The Melvins, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Black Sabbath. After buying Metallica’s self-titled record and reading interviews, I consumed Judas Priest, Diamond Head, Iron Maiden, UFO.
It’s never been enough to love Eric Clapton. I compulsively have to consume Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Son House, Robert Johnson.
Today, I’m starting what I hope becomes a recurring short blog about one of the things I love most. These playlist articles are a celebration of what inspires me as a musician and a person.
This first list will be a true celebration of Solomon’s words above. I have a deep appreciation of cover songs where bands put their own spin on someone else’s work. To me it is such a show of respect when treated with truth, and it is exciting to hear how songs I love (or don’t) are interpreted and performed by other musicians.
This list could be 1000 songs long but I’m going to only share 10 I love, in no particular order.
I run a lot. I would like to run a lot more often. I love it. Most of my runs take place in the very early hours of the day, alone on the boardwalks and back streets of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach, MD.
I almost never run with anyone else. I think it is scary. I’m either worried that I’m not going to be able to keep up or I’m going to overwork the person I’m running with.
When I’m running with someone more fit than I am, I always keep up, even when I can’t, right up until the point of throwing up. It is pretty amazing how far your body will go beyond what you think it will. When I’m running with someone not as fit as I am, I am really worried about how they doing and I ask (maybe too much). I’m sure some of them, sucking for life giving air, have wanted to tell me to shut my face. At the same time, I focus on my own form because the motions are slowed down. Am I clinching my right shoulder again? Is my left foot landing square or am I running on the outside of it again? Am I wasting energy anywhere?
Last October, I went for a run with my friend and sometimes-teacher, Jody Giles. If you don’t know Jody (you should), he’s way more fit than I am. When he suggested we go for a run along the Pacific Coast of Dana Point, I wanted so badly to decline. He was going to kill me, not on purpose but because I’m stubborn. But, we ran. We found ourselves midway through the run stopping to walk down the beach and admire the beauty of God’s creation. Then we ran hard back to his car. It was a hard run for me, but it felt good to stand beside my friend and admire something amazing and then go on to be pushed by him.
Since February, I’ve periodically taken Ariella on short runs with me. We run a whole lot slower and less distance, but it works out to be about the same amount of time out of the house as some of my average runs. I help her think about her breathing, her stride and the beauty of nature around us. I also get a chance to review my own strides and listen to the little whispers of my muscles and joints. Plus, I spend time with someone I love spending time with.
And what of this doing stuff with someone else helps in other areas. There are a lot of things I do alone that I am or have been afraid to do with others: play music, be a manager, be a pastor, be a parent (seriously, I’m afraid of how Becky or other parents may see me), study…the list could go on for a long time. In almost every instance when I think about it hard enough, I realize that each time I have been invited by a Jody or invited an Ariella into it, I’ve grown and I hope they have, too.
I’m not saying not to do things alone. I love running alone more than I have the vocabulary to describe. Maybe I’m just suggesting that we sometimes do those things with others, and we don’t let fear keep us alone.
What are you afraid someone might invite you to do with them? What are you afraid to invite someone else to do with you?
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the upper lobby of the Marriott in Kansas City with Stadia’s marketing and events team. We’d been meeting for several hours the night before and that morning preparing for the future, evaluating the past and figuring out ways to be better. We had just returned from lunch and weren’t quite ready yet to dive back into work talk. Plus, my boss, the inimitable Tom Jones (not the singer) stopped by to have a chat with us and encourage my team (and me).
My colleague Phyllis proposed we all answer a question she uses whenever she is conducting a job interview. The New York Times is printing a full-page advertisement for you, but it can only have three words on it. What three words would you want on the advertisement to describe you so that the Times’ readers would know what kind of person you are.
Everyone in the circle had to answer, including Tom. It was awesome. It really gave a killer picture of how each of us saw ourselves and perhaps more importantly how we want to be seen by others. I’ll let you ask Tom, Phyllis, Janie and Abby about their three words on your own, but I’ll share mine here.
Hospitable: I feel like I am and I want to be known as the person at the party that is having fun but more importantly making sure everyone is having fun; even that new guy your other buddy just met and randomly invited. I want to be the person that makes sure everyone who has something to say at a meeting, small group, whatever, has the opportunity to say it. I want to make sure everyone is engaged. Sometimes that means making the comfortable, but in some situations, it means making them uncomfortable.
Driven: I think if you know me, this one is evident. I feel like I am and I want to be known as someone who theorizes, perseveres and accomplishes.
Agile: I want to be known for my ability to change course when I need to. When I worked for Siemens, I was on a small, very agile team in a humungous, not very agile organization. It was awesome. When I had to be in Malvern or Princeton and endure the corporate bureaucracy, I felt like I was drowning. I champion not falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy and am ready to move in order to accomplis
h the things I’m driven toward through my work, my ministry or my own ideas.
Flip the script and the three words I would not want to be known as are Disloyal, Unprincipled and Boring.
I strongly encourage you to go through this exercise with your friends, family and coworkers. Knowing how others want to be seen helps you see them that way, and when you see them the way they want to be seen, you develop a new found respect and/or love for them. You also are more equipped to help them, lead them, love them, be led by them, be in relationship with them.