Monday, 15 December 2008

Playlist = Alternative Christmas Songs

To say I'm bored with the Christmas songs that you find on the radio at this time of year is an understatement (even 'Fairytale of New York' is failing to hit the spot). This year, along with the Cockburn track from my previous post, I've put together a mini-playlist of alternative songs to wile away the Advent nights.

Firstly, the excellent Fleet Foxes' 'White Winter Hymnal' (Fleet Foxes, 2008) is a worth a listen - see video below. I have no idea what it's about - although there are some fairly outlandish theories around on various sites. I pick this for the winter, snow theme and the great sound of the voices. It just somehow gives me that Christmassy - cold on the outside - warm on the inside feeling. The video is great, too.

Secondly, and yes it's Dylan again, 'Three Angels' (New Morning, 1970). My Dad put me on to this one. It is a funny song and I like the little story. Check out the words here.

Thirdly, Teenage Fanclub's 'Guiding Star' (Bandwagonesque, 1991) is a great track off a fabulous album. Yes, the lyrics aren't the best in the world, but if you're looking for something different for Christmas you might like to give it a go and join in the 'communal carol singing' here...

And finally, it appears that Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' is about to become a Christmas number one in the UK after it's been released by the X Factor winner! This song, great as it is, doesn't have that Christmas 'thing' about it - although the words 'Love is not a victory march, but a cold and broken hallelujah' could sum up the circumstances of Jesus' birth pretty well. But I've written about that already.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Bruce Cockburn>Cry of a Tiny Babe

Let me begin by clearly stating that I'm no expert on Bruce Cockburn. I've met real fans of his music who have all 27 (or whatever it is) albums and believe me in comparison I can't really call myself a fan. My brief flirtation with Cockburn's music began and ended with one album - Nothing But a Burning Light - which was given to me by one of my university band members back in the early 1990s. Our lead singer was a massive Cockburn fan and we covered what I think is the best track from that album - 'Mighty Trucks of Midnight'. My only other encounter with Cockburn came while watching children's TV with my son, who was a big fan of Franklin. When the theme song came on, I recognised the voice but took ages to place it. One day I watched the credits and yes it was written and performed by Cockburn (listen here).

Anyway, there's a song on Nothing but a Burning Light that is a pretty straightforward retelling of the Christmas story. In my endless quest for songs that shine a light on the Christmas season 'Cry of a Tiny Babe' is a worthy addition to the canon. What I really like about this track is that as well as moving away from the traditional images around the nativity story, Cockburn introduces a personal element into the drama as it unfolds. And the chorus is great:

'Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe'

For the last couple of Christmases it's struck me how important it is just to tell and retell the Christmas story. It's shocking the increasing number of people I come across who don't really know it. So, thanks to Cockburn I can remind myself again of it through his song - and importantly there's barely a cliche in sight.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Bob Dylan>Saved

I fear I've been duped. Actually I'm a little annoyed because I was stupid enough to listen to others without checking it out myself - I should have known better than that. The word 'out there' was that Saved - one of only 3 Dylan albums I don't have (others are Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove) - was a terrible album. I'd heard it wasn't worthy of the great man, it was far too full of evangelical zeal to bear listening to - simply it was as bad as Self Portrait and I already knew that was a disaster. So I never bothered with it. I even didn't consider any Saved track for my 'Dylanity'.

Well, let me tell you right now, having spent time with this album myself - this is a great album - it's better than New Morning, Street Legal, Planet Waves, Infidels, Nashville Skyline and Another Side without a shadow of a doubt. It's certainly as good as Desire, Oh Mercy and Slow Train. It's a fine piece of work and I know why it's so good - because it's great gospel.

For me, it's all about context with Dylan. The context for Saved is that Dylan is doing gospel and he does it like the genius he is - stunningly. It appears that most Dylan connoisseurs admit that his so called 'Christian phase' was a time when he was really on top of his game during live performances. YouTube clips like the one below would bear that out. This hit home again in the film 'I'm Not There' with 'Pressing On' proving to be a real high point.

So I ask myself why Saved has got such a bad reputation - why it's slandered and written off as a waste of time? I'd like to think it was more than narrow-mindedness on the part of so called 'liberal' atheists. That it actually had something to do with the songs! But now I've seen the light I'm just not sure what to think. Instead I'll slip Saved into the CD player and 'press on to the higher calling of my Lord.'

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Tom Waits>In the Neighbourhood

I first discovered the joy of Tom Waits amazingly scary voice about 10 years ago. A friend of mine used Gavin Bryars 'Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me yet' (featuring Waits) in a church service. After that I realised that it would be a complete travisty on my part if I were to ignore more music featuring a man who sang like that. It took me a few years to follow it up and I was re-acquainted with Waits after Bob Dylan played the magnificent 'On the Nickel' on his theme-time radio hour. Now that is a stunning song - just the earthiness of it and when his voice gets going it ties you up inside.

A year later I bought my first Waits' album - Swordfishtrombones (1983). The stand out track for me on this album apart from the blackly amusing 'Frank's Wild Years' is 'In the Neighbourhood'. As someone who hails from The Salvation Army the backing interested me because it wouldn't be out of place in a traditional worship meeting. Also, the trials and tribulations of the neighbourhood in the song sound like something that the SA would aspire to work in. Weirdly the next track and title track of the album actually mentions the Salvation Army - that's another one to add to my playlist. I don't know what it is about this song but the sadness of the neighbourhood and the brass sound produce a bleak yet strangely uplifting experience. It made me wonder whether we could introduce images from our neighbourhood into the songs we sing at church. It would certainly bring some reality to what is generally too heavenly for any earthly good. Perhaps I need to give it a go.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Bob Dylan>Red River Shore part 2

The Red River Shore post generated a little bit of interest amongst some Bobcats. Most intriguing perhaps was an email from 'Daddio' that I thought was worth a post of its own. Here it is:

'When I was talking to my son recently about 'Red River Shore', I didn't admit that it brought tears to my eyes - because I didn't want to look like too much of a Bobbyphile. Glad you young guys shed a tear too. The feeling of alienation and loss is unbearable. Has any song ever caught better the helpless, claustrophobic sense that the past is another country to which you can never really return to put things right - especially the poignant penultimate verse? RRS echoes Bob's great early song, 'Bob Dylan's Dream' in this respect, but is even greater. The words may no longer pour out of him like water out of a tap, as they did in the '60s, as he himself admits in a guarded 2004 interview, but I think his later, tortured, carefully crafted work is even more memorable.

Whether or not Nick's right about RRS being a parable of Bob's relationship with God, the last verse certainly reveals Bob's belief that only Jesus can raise him from the living death in which he's entombed (and the girl?), and even his relationship with Jesus is in the irrecoverable past. This, of course, parallels the last verse of 'Not Dark Yet'.

I'm glad, though, that, as Bob himself said in that interview, he's made a contract with the 'commander-in-chief' of earth and heaven. Glad, too, that he's stated that, if he was in the corner in Time Out of Mind, he was coming out of the corner in Love and Theft and the corner's out of sight in Modern Times. Nick's right that there are hints in MT that Bob's relationship with God has been resurrected after all - because 'Someone there always cared' and 'Someone prayed for your soul' - there's always a reason why someone's life has been spared (Beyond the Horizon). Glad, again, that Bob's gospel era is being re-evaluated by the (white} critics and that they're talking about his 'almost supernatural' mastery of the Black Gospel genre.

I agree with Nick that Bob's mad. But even Bob recognises that in the title, Time Out of Mind! How else can you explain this majestic version of 'Born in Time' (TTS) being left off Oh Mercy, along with other great songs? Or why the stately driving version of 'Someday Baby' was rejected for the jaunty, unmemorable version on MT? Shot of Love, Oh Mercy and Infidels could have been so great, if the best songs had been included, and kept Bob at the forefront of music in the 'lost decade'.

As a contemporary of Dylan, I'm thankful to have sailed near the greatest modern bard for so long, and I have nothing but affection for him (in spite of that rip-off third disc).

Keep up the good blog, Nick, and 'God bless Bob' indeed! Daddio.'

For another great view of 'Red River Shore' take a look at Right Wing Bob's post. (Thanks to Scott Ralston for the 'heads up').

And finally, the better version of Red River Shore:

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Bob Dylan>Red River Shore

I've been feeling a reluctant blogger for the last month - however, Dylan's latest release Tell Tale Signs has forced me back to the keyboard. Almost everybody has received this album enthusiastically - seems like his Bobness can do little wrong at the moment. The only grumble is the extortionate price for the 3 disc set. I only got the double album edition, I simply can't afford £80 for an extra 12 songs, most of which I already own in a different version!

However, the previously unreleased 'Red River Shore' from the Time Out of Mind sessions (1997) is worth the £12 price alone. It's magnificent. How it didn't make it on to the original album I will never know. For a long time I've been sure that Dylan is mad - and this is just another reason to trust that theory. But the song - what a song! It brought tears to my eyes on the first listen.

I have a theory about this song - it's in some way a 'parable' about his faith - the girl is a symbol of his relationship with God. The writer of Song of Songs does this, too. And, for me this is why Jesus turns up in the last verse. This song was written at the same time as the equally brilliant 'Not Dark Yet', which suggests similiar sentiments. The struggling faith that Dylan expresses is a real one - a costly one not a cheap one. Just listen to the song and you'll see what I mean. This is certainly one to add to any DYLANitany. God bless ya Bob!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Divine Comedy>Absent Friends

One of my favourite bands of the last decade has to be The Divine Comedy. Standing somewhere in the line between The Smiths and Pulp, they are a band with their tongue firmly in their cheek. Well, when I say 'band' basically I mean the work of Neil Hannon - who is just a great songwriter. If you've never heard one of their songs, then think again because if you've seen the great comedy Father Ted and remember the theme tune - that was written by The Divine Comedy.

Not long ago in a small group meeting at our church we all shared a song that helped us to connect with God. It was my friend Nick who played this particular track: 'Absent Friends' (Absent Friends, 2004). I can't actually remember what he said it did for him - but for me the lyrics are clever, quirky and somehow moving. Each verse tells a real-life tale which evokes a cheerfulness that belies the tragedy lurking beneath. There's a feeling of loss about it - an acknowledgement that we miss those who've been and gone. Those who've made us happy amidst the cruelties that life also throws us. So listen to this song and lift a glass to absent friends and thank God for each of them.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Roy Orbison>It's Over

What's the greatest break-up song ever? Thing is, I'm looking for the best because today is a momentous day. At 3pm I kissed goodbye to the love of my life over the last few months - my dissertation! And as I passed it over to my tutor I could hear strains of Roy Orbison beginning in my head: 'your baby doesn't love you anymore.'

I'm no expert on break-up songs but I just cannot believe there is one better than this one by Roy Orbison (More of Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits, 1964). It's so good it's almost worth breaking up with someone just so you can send it to them as a kind of parting gift! There's just something amazing about that voice and the backing singers - it's heartbreaking.

So it's offical - me and my dissertation are no longer an item. Praise God!

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


Well, the challenge was laid down to include a French song following my holiday in Brittany and so here it is.

Now technically, this song isn't performed by a Frenchman, but by the Algerian and 'King of Rai' Cheb Khaled. However, Khaled is massive in France and the lyrics are in French, penned by a Frenchman and so I think it counts. Anyway I make the rules here!

'Aicha' (Sahra, 1997) is a simply fantastic song and credit must go to my friend Paul for introducing me to Khaled. According to wikipedia the song is about 'a man's lament that his love Aïcha does not notice him, even though he offers her everything, even his life. In the end, Aïcha answers he should keep his treasure, that she's worth more and does not want to live in a cage, even a solid gold one, but equal rights and respect which form true love.' Here are some of the lyrics:

Elle a dit, garde tes trésors :She said, keep your treasures
Moi, je vaux mieux que tout ça :I'm worth more than all that
Des barreaux sont des barreaux même en or :Cages remain cages even though made of gold
Je veux les mêmes droits que toi :I want the same rights as you
Et du respect pour chaque jour :And respect for each day
Moi je ne veux que de l'amour :I don't want anything but love

Now the context for this song is in response to the taboo of male/female romantic love in Algerian Islamic culture. So this is interesting and challenging stuff. Khaled was actually forced to move to Paris in 1986 because of threats from Islamic extremists.

Speaking out against injustice and pursuing your 'mission' despite the consequences according to the New Testament is simply part of the deal of being a Christian. Perhaps Khaled and Aicha have something to say to us about that...

Monday, 4 August 2008

Badly Drawn Boy>Camping Next to Water

Well, it's holiday time tomorrow. Two weeks in a tent in Northern France. And I've seen the weather forecast! We're going to be taking blankets, duvets, heaters, hot water bottles etc. So, Badly Drawn Boy's 'Camping Next to Water' seems an apt send-off song. It's from the fantastic album, Hour of the Bewilderbeast, (2000) well worth listening to if you missed it. The song sounds a little depressing but really it's only tongue in cheek. Happy holiday!

Here's the excellent 'The Shining' from the same album:

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Playlist = Where I Live

I'm always intrigued to find songs that have links to where I live. It's fun to see what connotations they give to the area that I love - the place I call home! I use an exclamation mark here because most songs about the East End of London are less than flattering. Anyway here are the few I've found, all bar the last one within a mile of our house...

1. The Rolling Stones - 'Play With Fire' (Out of our Heads, 1965). This is actually one of my favourite Stones songs - loved it long before I'd even heard of Stepney. The song is about a relationship with a privileged girl whose mother is condemned to 'gets her kicks in Stepney not in Knightsbridge anymore' since her father took her privileges away. I'm not sure what kind of 'kicks' were available here in the '60s but since it was the Kray brothers stamping ground back then I don't suppose they were particularly glamourous! Listen here...

2. The Libertines - 'Can't Stand Me Now' (The Libertines, 2004). It was quite amusing to discover when we moved to London that we lived in the same street as Pete Doherty, formerly of The Libertines. We only discovered it when there was a notice of his trial for possession of drugs in the local press and his street address was given. After that wild rumours would sweep the street from time to time - neighbours claiming they'd seen Kate Moss, his girlfriend at the time, going to his flat. Obviously we saw nothing and he's now moved house! Apparently he's an East-End boy, born and bred. My favourite song of his has to be 'Can't Stand You Now' - it's a fabulous song. The lyrics are very clever - a conversation between two people at the break-up of a relationship giving the two points of view. You have to listen to it to make sense of which voice is which. Listen here...

3. Pulp - 'Mile End' (Different Class Deluxe Edition, 2006). Of all the Brit-pop bands, for me Pulp are the only ones with any lasting credibility. Oasis seem horribly dated already but Pulp's music, perhaps because of its quirkiness, still stands up to the test of time. 'Mile End' is a song about the time when Jarvis Cocker and friends lived in the East End and his description of life there in the big tower blocks is less than appealing - but unfortunately still pretty true to life in the places I go to from time to time. 'Burdett Road' in the song is only 5 mins walk from ours! Listen here...

4. Traditional - 'Oranges and Lemons'. Have you ever considered the lines to the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clements etc...' If you've read Orwell's 1984 no doubt you have. Well it's a pretty grim ending! However, the bells of Stepney feature and they refer to the bells of the Church of St Dunstans right next to where we live.

5. Jools Holland - 'Brick Lane' (A-Z Geographer's Guide to the Piano, 1995). When I was at university a friend lent me a tape of some Jools Holland songs - it opened up with 'Brick Lane' named after the legendary street in East London laden with curry houses. The song, if I remember rightly (it's been a while since I heard it) has people from the street speaking above the boogie-woogie piano. Little did I know back then whilst in a different city I was destined to live just down the road from Brick Lane and able to enjoy a meal out there from time to time.

6. Dizzee Rascal - 'Brand New Day' (Boy in Da Corner, 2003) I'm not a great fan of hip-pop, garage, rap and all the other forms of such music. I can appreciate it as a genuine musical form written and performed with skill but just don't like listening to it in great quantities. Some of the 'boyz' who live around me tell me Dizzee Rascal, a local boy, doesn't sing hip-pop he does 'grime', a musical sub-genre he invented. I've listened to a few of his tracks and much of it reflects the world of his youth in the East End. And yes grime would be an applicable term. Listen to 'Brand New Day here' here, one of his softer tracks.

7. Talking Heads - 'This Must be the Place (Naive Melody)' (Speaking in Tongues, 1983) And so to finish - a song that sums up 'home' for me. As a teenager Talking Heads were my favourite band. I came across them when the film Stop Making Sense was shown on BBC2 and I was blown away by the performance of David Byrne and the ever increasing band that builds up piece by piece over the concert. One of their more lovely tracks is This Must be the Place (Naive Melody). Watch below. I'm not sure what it's all about but it conjures up the feeling of home - the place that you feel settled in, the place where you love to be. The song I think suggests home is in the arms of a person you love. Well, I love where I live, it's where I want to be, with the people who live with me and alongside me. Call me naive, I don't care!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Leonard Cohen>Hallelujah

For 6 months I have had one event in my diary that I've been waiting to come round - and last night it arrived! My Dad and I went to see Leonard Cohen. All the reviews of his current tour (the first for 15 years) suggested that it was going to be a great night - and we were not disappointed.

The band playing with him were impeccable and you might have expected his 73 year old voice to have detriorated but whilst it was low, it was still strong! The first half of the 3 hour concert contained some classic songs and whilst the quality was great it all felt just a little too perfect. When the second half began we were looking for something to give just a little more edge. The second half opened with the brilliant 'Tower of Song', then the classic 'Suzanne' - things were starting to hot up - then came the best performance of the night - 'Hallelujah' (Various Positions, 1984).

'Hallelujah' is probably Cohen's best known song. There have been a number of good cover versions - Jeff Buckley's I think the best - and Shrek brought it to a younger audience. Our children even sang it at their school concert last year. Last night, though, the song had a 5 minute ovation from 18,000 people when it came to a close. There was an intensity in the performance that simply wasn't matched for the rest of the night (although If it Be Your Will came closest).

The line that stuck out for me in the song (and Cohen has a number of different versions of the lyrics) was 'Love is not a victory march, it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.' What a great line that is - yesterday it sent shivers down my spine! And how much we Christians have to learn from it about the way of the cross...

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Bruce Springsteen>The River

I know it's The Boss again, but last night provided a good reason for including this song. In our family we like a whole range of music but I've taken it on myself ever since my children were born to make sure that they have ample opportunity to listen to quality music. It sounds snobbish but in my opinion it's just as important as making sure your kids read decent books or eat good food. Because of my particular musical tastes it wouldn't be unusual in our household to hear Henry (aged 6) singing Bob Dylan's 'Mr Tambourine Man' or The Beatles' 'Help'. In fact you can view the evidence here...

Well, last night was a real highlight for me. I was putting Penny, aged 5, to bed and as I was kissing her goodnight she asked if I could sing her a goodnight song. 'Ok - which one do you want?' I asked. She replied, 'Baa Baa Black Sheep I think... actually, no can I have 'The River'?' And so there I was, with a smirk on my face, singing Springsteen's 'The River' (The River, 1980) to her and imagine my surprise when she joined in. I was aware she knew the song but I didn't realise she knew the words, too. And she did know them - almost every one - and she sung them with gusto! And at that moment there couldn't have been a prouder father.

On reflection it struck me that our Father up there is probably just as chuffed when we 'sing' the songs he likes. I don't mean the predictable, repetitive ones from a songbook but the songs we 'sing' with our lives that just bring a smirk to his face.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Bruce Springsteen>The Ghost of Tom Joad

Since I seem to be on a run of 'dark' songs I thought I'd make it a trilogy. Also, rj has been in touch and I've taken a look at his great blog: 'Love Comes To Town' and he seems like a big Springsteen fan. Finally they were giving away a book of the 'greatest lyricists' in the newspaper this week - Springsteen was one of the featured artists and it reminded of just how good a song-writer he is. All in all, it's time for one of my all time favourite songs: 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' (The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995)

Now there are lots of great things about this track. Firstly, I like the stripped down sound and the way his voice starts off so quietly. You're forced to hit the volume button and then by the time the chorus kicks in it's pretty loud but by then you don't care because you're just being carried away by it. The harmonica is also good and it's pretty easy to play, I tried it recently! (and I'm no musician). The lyrics though are what really makes this an intersting song.

You don't need to be a literary buff to know that Tom Joad features in Steinbeck's brilliant novel about the Great Depression 'The Grapes of Wrath'. I devoured this novel as an 18 year old in about 2 days but can't remember that much detail now! And here we have Springsteen talking about the ghost of the depression still haunting the world today. Poverty, unemployment, homelessness, violence - it's all there in this song and it's all there in the 'new world order'. There's a strong sense of false hope offered by the Church in both the novel and the song (also the video linked below). Despite this Tom Joad is a kind of 'Christlike' figure in the song - he can be found in the struggle, in the pain and in the injustice. Here we have echoes of Matthew 25 - for me the institution of the sacrament of service. And so when we participate in the struggle we'll find Jesus already there. Read the passage, and listen to the song here - Springsteen's got it spot on.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Bonnie "Prince" Billy>I See a Darkness

I heard a song yesterday that simply blew me away. It just came out of the blue. I was doing the domestic chores - clearing away the dishes, washing up - and for once I decided to put some music on in the background instead of Euro 2008 football. At first I thought about putting on Coldplay's latest album that I recently bought, but was so disapointed with the first listen that I've not put it on again since. So I hit the random play button! And then the song just started, by the second line I was gripped and by the end, I'm not afraid to admit it, I was in tears.

'I See a Darkness' is written by Will Oldham - AKA Bonnie "Prince" Billy. I'd never heard of him before yesterday, but the version I heard was Johnny Cash's (with Oldham doing backing vocals) on his American III album that I've had tucked away in my collection for a while but not really got around to listening to properly. And the entire song was sublime - voice, guitar, piano, lyrics. I've downloaded Oldham's original version since and it's just as good (I See a Darkness, 1999).

My interpretation of the song (and the lyrics do seem pretty straightforward) is that it's a guy talking to his best mate and admitting that his inner life is dark. And his hope is that his friend will help to 'save' him from the darkness within. It struck me that this one of the roles of church. That our brothers and sisters in Christ can in some way journey with us and help us to confront our inner 'demons' and sin. But of course the honesty of admitting our failings before someone else is a prerequisite. Generally we don't do that very well!

You've just got to hear this song - here it is.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Suzanne Vega>Tired of Sleeping

There are songs that have a certain feeling to them that capture a particular mood or sentiment perfectly. It's almost as though you don't even need to hear the lyrics to know what the song is about. For me, this song by Suzanne Vega is a case in point. 'Tired of Sleeping' (Days of Open Hand, 1990) is a brilliant song - there's no two ways about it. Brilliant because everything just comes together magnificently - backing, lyrics and vocals - in a way that gives the song a real edge and a deep, dark mood.

What Vega creates with this song is slightly sinister. She relates it to 'dream images' - certain things that came to her in dreams. And it's interesting to me because there is something supernatural about dreams. Most of us have had dreams about something that's gone on to take place or dreams that seem to have a lucidity to them that we don't have in waking life. Biblically speaking dreams seem to be a major way in which God communicates with people.

About the line in the song: 'The kids are playing in pennies / They're up to their knees in money / In the dirt of the churchyard steps' Vega says:
'That's an image I saw in a dream. For a long time when I sang that song, I would feel like crying. It took about a year to be able to sing it and not want to cry... I think the line in the dream was "the children are begging for God." And there's a double meaning to that. One is that they're begging for money for God. Like alms for the church. And I'm not Catholic or Christian. I don't go to church. So I don't understand why I would have that dream. But on the other hand "the children are begging for God" is asking for salvation.'

So does God really speak to us in dreams? And what is it about sleep that somehow seems to bridge the earthly and heavenly dimension? Somehow this song seems to do that, too - it's a strange song, a spiritual song but an unsettling one, too.

Friday, 30 May 2008

The Sunday Service: DYLitANy (Week 1)

A highlight of my life over the last couple of weeks has to be my entry into the 'Never Ending Pool' (sad I know). This is a Bob Dylan related game - where particpants choose 12 songs from the master's back catalogue and get points if he deems to play them on the latest leg of his tour. I'm not doing so well at the moment but there's plenty of time for a comeback. Anyway, checking out my score every morning before breakfast I'm reminded of the incredible discography Dylan has. And so it's time for my first 'DYLitANy' in true 'U2charist' style.

Why DYLitANy? As well as being the only 'service' type pun I could come up with, the term litany is sometimes related to long and 'wordy' statements - something Bob Dylan can be accused of in his songs - although in my opinion only in a good way, as he rarely wastes any words!

Processional: Ring them Bells (Oh Mercy, 1989) Listen here...

Praise and worship:
Beyond the Horizon (Modern Times, 2006) Listen here...
I Believe in You (Slow Train Coming, 1979) Listen here...
I Shall be Released (Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits vol. 2, 1971)Listen here...

All age spot (optional): Man Gave Names to all the Animals (Slow Train Coming, 1979) Listen here...

What Good am I? (Oh Mercy, 1989) Listen here...
Not Dark Yet (Time Out of Mind, 1997) Listen here...

Offertory: Only a Hobo (Bootleg series vol. 1-3, 1991) Listen here...

Chimes of Freedom (Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964) Listen here...
Death is not the End (Down in the Groove, 1988) Listen here...

A Hard Rain Gonna Fall (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963) Listen here...

Recessional: Lay Down Your Weary Tune (Biograph, 1985) Listen here...

Benediction: Forever Young (Planet Waves, 1974) Listen here...

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Sunday service: CAVEspers

Perhaps you've heard about 'U2charists'? In case not the 'U2charist' is a church service that uses church liturgy interspersed with U2 songs instead of traditional church music. Firstly, a quick word on this. I get the concept - somewhat in line with this blog - and I do like U2. However, in my mind it's cheating slightly! Using U2 is pretty much like using church music or at least Delirious? and the dozens of Christian bands that mimick the U2 sound. What I want is something a little bit more 'edgy'. So here's my first offering: CAVEspers...

Why CAVEspers? Well, there is definitely something of the night about Nick Cave, and it just seems appropriate that Vespers, the evening prayer service, belongs to him (although I'm very aware that the format below doesn't follow a Vespers format, necessarily). So here are some songs by Nick Cave that I would use in a CAVEspers service...

Opening hymn: Get Ready for love (Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, 2004) Listen here...

Praise and Worship:
Hallelujah (No More Shall We Part, 2001) Listen here...
Carry Me (Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, 2004)
I Let Love in (Let Love in, 1994) Listen here...

Foi Na Cruz (The Good Son, 1990) Listen here... Translation here.
People Ain't No Good (The Boatman's Call, 1997) Listen here...

Bible Reading: There is a Kingdom (The Boatman's Call, 1997)

We Call Upon the Author (Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, 2008) Listen here...
God is in the House (No More Shall We Part, 2001) Listen here...

Response: The Mercy Seat (Tender Prey, 1988) Listen here...

Recessional: Bring it On (Nocturama, 2003) Listen here...

And finally, here's a quote from the man himself about Sunday services: "When I go to church, I have to take so much of it as metaphor, and I find it very irritating. The sermons are often pathetic and untrue, based on terrible misinterpretations of the Bible. But I like the order and the ritual of a church service. It gives me an elevated feeling about the mundane. I’m more aware of things... I haven’t had any great epiphanies. I just feel it’s my duty to educate myself about the concept of God."

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Nick Cave>We Call Upon the Author

On Friday I went to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They gave a simply magnificent performance and were so loud that even two days later my ears are still ringing. Cave might be 50 but I don't think I've seen such an animated lead singer - the drink and drugs don't seem to have taken too much toll on him.

The centrepiece to the gig was the song 'We Call Upon the author' from the Bad Seeds' recent album (Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, 2008). Clearly this is an important song in the ever increasing and impressive Cave discography - it also takes centre-stage on the album. Cave introduced the song by saying, 'This next song alone will be worth the entrance fee. Are you ready?' Then the band pulled out the best performance of the night - intense, frenzied and simply brilliant - actually worth every penny of The £27.50 ticket.

The song itself is challenging - musically - and certainly lyrically (see lyrics here). Now I've reflected long on hard on what this song represents for me. Firstly, the lyrics of the song ask serious questions about God. On Friday Cave literally screamed out the line - 'We call upon the author to explain!' Then he launched into this verse:
'Oh rampant discrimination, mass poverty, third world debt, infectious disease
Global inequality and deepening socio-economic divisions
Well, it does in your brain
And we call upon the author to explain'

Now this is where I want to make my point! You just don't get words like this in a church service - but I think we should. The Psalms are just full of questions for God - often angry questions from alienated voices. I would argue that it is an essential part of the worship experience to pose such questions - it actually affirms us as God's children, granted freewill to ask real questions of our Father. And this is why the songs we sing in church - ancient and modern - just do not cut it for me. That's why I have to listen people like Nick Cave. They simply provide a worship experience that I don't get in so called 'sacred' music. When I go to church I want some honest, down-to-earth collective 'worship' - that does not mean just telling God how great He is, it means opening our lives before him and admitting that sometimes we just don't get Him or what is happening in the world He created. On Friday during this song, Nick Cave took me to that place and I'm sure The Author was fine with that.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

The Rolling Stones>Sympathy for the Devil

I love The Rolling Stones for the stuff they did in the '60s and very early '70s. Unlike Bob Dylan, for example, they just haven't been able to mark every passing decade with some classic material. They're legends of course as the recent Scorsese movie, 'Shine a Light', no doubt proves but for me the '60s and early '70s is when they peaked.

The infamous 'Sympathy for the Devil' appeared on the excellent album Beggars Banquet (1968). It caused a furore at the time when The Stones became associated with Satan worship because of this and other dark allusions in their songs. The Stones, not particularly known for their lyrics, really excelled in this one. Events throughout history starting with the crucifixion are named one after the other as 'Lucifer' narrates his role in some of the world's worst attrocities. The samba-style musical backing is brilliant and Keith Richards' guitar solo could just be my favourite of all time. Jagger's vocal performance is also striking.

So what of the Devil? Well, Jagger and Richards have claimed this is more about the 'dark side of mankind' than about a Satan figure - a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of scenario. Of course it's true that much of the hell we find on earth is created by humankind itself. However, in 2002 Richards became more explicit: "Sympathy is quite an uplifting song. It's just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He's there all the time. I've had very close contact with Lucifer - I've met him several times. Evil - people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn't rear its ugly head. Sympathy for the Devil is just as appropriate now, with 9/11. There it is again, big time. When that song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first sort of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everybody gets sucked into that. And as America has found out to its dismay, you can't hide. You might as well accept the fact that evil is there and deal with it any way you can. Sympathy for the Devil is a song that says, Don't forget him. If you confront him, then he's out of a job."

Preach it Keith - Make of that what you will...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Josh Ritter>Thin Blue Flame

I've only just discovered Josh Ritter and I'm very glad to have found him. Not least because you can legally download a few of his tracks on his website - and I don't mean just the ones not worth listening to. I became interested in his music after reading an article describing him as a 'new Bob Dylan' - probably not a title Ritter would choose for himself and even though I can see why parallels are drawn (American, folk, guitar, poetic lyrics), whilst Ritter is good he's not that good.

However, his cracking song, 'Thin Blue Flame' (The Animal Years, 2006 and legally downloaded here) would grace any Dylan album. The lyrics are great - written as if a vision or dream. The protaganist takes a look at heaven and concepts of judgement found in religion. He concludes that the kind of heaven he's interested in, isn't the traditional one in the sky but the one on earth - the people, the land and the world around him. Ahhhh - and of course this is the very discovery Christians are suddenly awakening to. Tom Wright is busy educating evangelicals in the idea of a heavenly and earthly union - the breaking in of God's reign. Josh Ritter seems to have got there somehow, too.

'I wondered what it was I¹d been looking for up above
Heaven is so big there ain¹t no need to look up
So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air
Only a full house gonna have a prayer'

Friday, 4 April 2008

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova>Falling Slowly

Thanks to my brother and sister in law, I was aware of how good this song was before it won an Oscar this year. They brought the DVD of the movie 'Once' with them for the Christmas holidays, and we watched it one evening in our lounge after the children had gone to bed. It's a touching film that reminded me a little of the brilliant 'Before Sunrise' and 'Lost in Translation'. Although I really liked this song when I heard it I did wonder how well it would stand up as a track on it's own without the movie. Well, in retrospect I think pretty well is the answer.

The lyrics seem to sum up the plot of the film, but if you take them out of that context they can have a different kind of meaning. During her Oscar speech (which was delayed after she had been cut off by the music before the commercial break - watch it here) Marketa Irglova said of the song: 'And this song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.' A film with a tiny budget can win an award at the world's most prestigious film awards - the humble sometimes surprise the mighty! And as the song says:
'Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You've made it now'

There is hope there for even the weakest and most insignificant of us who can point our 'sinking boats' in the direction of the One from whom all hope derives. Listen to the song and watch the movie, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Playlist = The Salvation Army

As a part of the rather idiosyncratic movement known as The Salvation Army, I'm always interested to note songs with references (however oblique) to the organisation. Thus I have compiled a playlist featuring songs that have some connection with The Salvation Army. It's quite surprising to see the variety of artists I've discovered over time. (And by some of the greatest names ever!)

1. The Beatles -'Strawberry Fields Forever' (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967). It is a pretty well known fact that 'Strawberry Field' is the name of a Salvation Army children's home in Liverpool, near the childhood home of John Lennon. Apparently, Lennon and his friends would play in the grounds and attend the annual summer fete. The song itself is lyrically surreal but nonetheless rather beautiful. And certainly there is a feeling of nostalgia for the places where the ex-Beatle grew up. And in my experience producing nostalgia in people is something The Salvation Army excels at! Cups of tea, bands, Victorian Christmas scenes - these are all triggers for people of a certain age.

2. White Stripes - 'Seven Nation Army' (Elephant, 2003) The White Stripes are a pretty unlikely band to have a song linked with The Salvation Army, but it's true! This song (you know the one with the very distinctive riff) actually won a Grammy award for Best Rock Song in 2004. The song is named such because it was what Jack White used to call 'The Salvation Army' as a child and he just liked the sound of it. Apparently he lived near a Salvation Army Charity Shop. Simple.

3. Leonard Cohen - 'Suzanne' (The Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1967). This a great song (indeed worthy to be called a classic) and highlights Cohen's poetic gift. In the final verse these words appear:

'Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters'

And so our reference - but actually I'm more interested to decipher the references to Jesus, well worth a look (and listen).

4. Nick Cave - 'The Mercy Seat' (Tender Prey, 1988) - see my previous post on this brilliant song.

5. Bob Dylan - 'Rainy Day Women #12&35' (Blonde on Blonde, 1966) No surprises for seeing a Dylan song in my playlist, but what's the link between a song that says 'everybody must get stoned' and the SA? Well, apparently Dylan was after a 'ramshackled sound' and suggested hiring the local Salvation Army band to play on the recording! Not being a fan of brass music I'm delighted to have discovered this fact, particularly when so many Salvationists take band music so seriously. In the end Dylan and friends did it themselves (whilst alledgedly high on grass), but you can hear the link with an SA band alright on the track. As ever with Dylan, no-one really knows what the song is about or what kind of 'getting stoned' Dylan means. You'll have to make your own mind up.

6. Eminem - '8 Mile' (8 Mile, 2002). Not knowing much Eminem I've left this until last. The few songs I do know I like - this one included. The Salvation Army charity shop features again - with the lines:

'I'm feelin a little skeptical who I hang out with
I look like a bum, yo my clothes ain't about shit
At the Salvation Army tryin to salvage an outfit
And it's cold, tryin to travel this road'

Not quite as poetic as Leonard Cohen perhaps, but effective nonetheless.

And so that's my playlist - perhaps you know other songs I can add, feel free to let me know. And from all of this three things must be noted: charity shops obviously evoke a lyrical muse so if you have one near you, go and enjoy it; secondly, 1966-68 was a obviously a bumper period for Salvation Army related songs, perhaps a hang-over from the Joy Strings (but that's another story); and thirdly, I wonder if any other religious organisations could boast such an illustrious playlist?!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Leonard Cohen>If it be your will

Some songs for Holy week....

It's interesting how much attention Judas gets in songs. U2 have an interesting take on the last supper and Garden of Gethsemane in the song, 'Until the end of the World' (Achtung Baby, 1991) - well worth a listen. Bob Dylan also asks a good question about Judas and betrayal in 'With God on our side' (The Times they are A-changin', 1964) and explores the theme further in 'What was it you wanted?' (Oh Mercy, 1989).

However, my song for the coming couple of days is the brilliant 'If it be your will' (Various Positions, 1985) by Leonard Cohen. This really is a powerful song that somehow marries together Jesus' words in the garden and the events the following day:
'If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will'

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Nick Cave&Kylie>Death is not the end

I must admit the inclusion of this song in my Lent playlist is a slightly underhand way of sneaking a Bob Dylan song in through the back door. However, from the perspective of standing on the brink of Holy Week, I can think of few songs that lyrically hit the mark like this one.

'Death is not the end' (Murder Ballads, 1996) also brings together a kind of supergroup - Bob Dylan song, reworked by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with guest performances by Kylie Minogue, P J Harvey and Shane MacGowan (of The Pogues). Not a bad line up, then. But really it's all about the words - my favourite section being the middle eight:
'For the tree of life is growing
Where the spirit never dies
And the bright light of salvation
Up in dark and empty skies'

And how this song resonates with all the events leading up to the crucifixtion of Jesus is remarkable. Everything looks so bleak and yet, 'Death is not the End' - a timely reminder for those of us who this week may have been forced to consider death a little more than usual.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Coldplay>The Scientist

And so we're into week 5 of Lent already. This song brings back a lot of memories from when I first heard it, after buying it on the day A Rush of Blood to the Head (2001) was released. We were new parents, getting no sleep and struggling with how to look after this baby that had invaded our lives. We both commented on the chorus of the song at the time, and that before we had children people told us it wasn't easy in those early days, but blimey we didn't expect it to be as hard as it was!

The other thought I had then about this song is in the verse that says:
'I was just guessing
At numbers and figures
Pulling your puzzles apart
Questions of science
Science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart'

I remember relating this to my understanding of God. I've spent so much time thinking about Him, trying to puzzle Him out, analysing and dissecting everything I know or can read about Him. And yet, above it all it's my heart that somehow seems to know best. And yes it's also true - being a follower of Jesus is not easy. In fact it's bloody hard, just as Jesus promised it would be! Fortunately, we can always go back to the start.

PS I like the video, too - although it's a bit grim! And why does he just leave his girlfriend lying there...?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Moby>Why Does My Heart Feel so Bad?

Next up on my Lent playlist is a song by Moby. It's a song from Play which was a really successful album and one I enjoyed when I bought it on recommendation from friends shortly after release in 1999. Strangely, I don't feel the same way about it now - I don't really feel much inclination to listen to it at all. However, the one track that I never seem to tire of is 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?' It's musically very moving and the lyrics are very simple:

Why does my heart
Feel so bad?
Why does my soul
Feel so bad?
These open doors

I'm not sure what is intended by that last line but it reminds me of a quote I keep seeing around that is something like: 'blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light.' And so with this song I get a similar idea, like that of 'the dark night of the soul.' Actually a heart and soul that 'feels bad' is one that is an open door. The heart that is secure in itself, confident and forever buoyed up, is not on a journey because it's already arrived. That is perhaps something to get worried about because laziness, complacency and staleness creep in. And so this Lent I'm OK with saying that my heart does feel bad, that my soul does feel bad, but they are open for change, open for life and open for God.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Velvet Underground>I'm Set Free

The Velvet Underground are one of those bands that have a very distinctive sound - even if you've never heard the song before you know it's them almost immediately. Personally I prefer their more mellow songs (although they do some cracking upbeat ones, too) and the album The Velvet Underground (1969) has plenty of them - 'Pale Blue Eyes', 'Jesus' and 'I'm Set Free'.

'I'm Set Free' is a very good song. It's probably about drugs as are so many of The Velvet's songs ('Heroin' in my opinion is the best song about drugs ever written). However, like 'Jesus' there is plenty of spirituality about this song. Who for example is the 'prince of stories'? And there's biblical imagery throughout.

So why did it make my Lent playlist? Well, traditionally Lent is associated with the rigours of fasting and discipline. These things whilst associated with keeping particular rules are endured to bring freedom for the soul. In my own experience freedom rarely comes without a cost. And if we can only perservere through the pain barrier there is a prize worth it all at the end.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Having been tagged by my brother-in-law and most avid reader, I felt it my duty to keep it going so in the true style of Arvo Part I'll 'festina lente'. (Find out more about tagging on his blog: Views From a Coffehouse).

The rules of the tag are:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other people.

Well the nearest book, sitting on the desk right next to me is '1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die' - now you know where the material for this blog comes from! Page 123 has no writing on it all, but a photo in true 1967 hippy style of The Jimi Hendrix Experience pictured with two topless ladies. It's linked with a review of Jimi's incredible debut album, Are You Experienced? In fact as I look down the track listing there are so many great tracks there: 'Foxy Lady', 'Red House', 'Love or Confusion', 'Fire'. Anyway from the fifth sentence onwards:

'All are slices of rock history that are underminished in their power to excite and transport. The frenetic 'Manic Depression' elevates the depths of despair, as does 'I Don't Live today', both presaging Jimi's comet-like trajectory. Extended tour de force 'Third Stone from the sun' features distorted vocals and pyschedelic jangling.'

And if you want more you're just going to have to get the album yourself but it is a classic and was added to my collection when as a 15 year old I rifled through my Dad's LPs. A taster below...

Now who on earth am I gonna tag?

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Arvo Part>Festina Lente

For week 2 of the Lent playlist, I've chosen Arvo Part's 'Festina Lente' (Miserere, 1990). This is a Songs for the Journey first because I'm going highbrow with a 'Classical' piece (although a misnomer of course because it's not classical but modern, but you know what I mean).

I bought my first Part CD about 15 years ago, under the influence of my wife who was heavily into Gorecki and Taverner at the time. 'Festina Lente' is a sort of add on track to the 'Miserere' but actually was the stand out piece on the CD for me. It's quite confusing but 'festina lente' doesn't actually have anything to do with the festival of Lent although you could be forgiven for thinking so. In fact it is Latin for 'make haste slowly', which is a Roman proverb. But then again, in other ways it does have a lot to do with Lent.

If Lent is a season to ponder and reflect on God and our place in the world then doing something slowly is of course apt. However, simply retreating from the harsh realities of the world for 6 weeks is not an option for most of us. Whether we like or not, people and work demand us to do stuff. And so perhaps this is a rightful motto for Lent 2008 - do stuff, but do it with patience, with humility, with reflection and with measured intent. And all the better if this beautiful piece of music is the soundtrack to such activity.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008


This is the first song on my Lent playlist. If there was ever a song made for Lent this seems to be it. Could just be the song Jesus' Abba sang over him during the 40 days in the desert. It's almost as though God had to put Jesus through the test to see what he was made of. Take a look at the full lyrics and you'll see how it fits with the Biblical account. Perhaps God was even 'scared' about the outcome as presumably the temptations were as real as anything any human faces, Jesus' divinity counted for nothing...

Here are some comments from YouTube on this song:
'Fantastic, life affirming song. Who hasn't ever closed their eyes and prayed for a better tomorrow? Real lyrics for real people.'

'omg i love this song it got my parents through som hard times when work went well crap and its got me through some times when i've felt like dying i love it :D:D:D'

'You know what is the best about them. The fact that almost all their songs speak straight right into every one of our souls. Their songs helped me to see myself, to realize who i am, to pursue happiness and meaning of my life.'

As a Christian who was brought up singing hymns and 'worship songs' in church I wish I could say the same thing about those songs, but honestly I can't. 1 or 2, sure, but mostly, no.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Playlist = Lent

There are 40 days in the Christian season of Lent or roughly six weeks and so here are 6 top tunes (one a week) to help reflect during a period set aside for fasting, self-examination and prayer. I picked these 'songs' because they somehow resonated with the main themes of Lent, or at least looked like they might. I plan to post some thoughts each week on my own reflections and these tracks....

Week 1: James - Tomorrow
Week 2: Arvo Part - Festina Lente
Week 3: The Velvet Underground - I'm Set Free
Week 4: Moby - Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?
Week 5: Coldplay - the Scientist
Week 6: Nick Cave/Kylie Minogue - Death is Not the End

Friday, 1 February 2008

Otis Redding>I've Been Loving You Too Long

Consider this quote from Nick Hornby: 'I try not to belive in God, of course, but sometimes things happen in music, in songs, that bring me up short, make me do a double take... I just mean that at certain spine-shivering musical moments - and you will have your own inevitably - it becomes difficult to remain a literalist. (I have no such difficulty when I hear religious music, by the way, no matter how beautiful. They're cheating, those composers: they're inviting Him in, egging Him on, and surely he wouldn't fall for that?)' (31 Songs, 2003)

I know what he means - there are just some moments in certain songs that connect with the divine. The lyrics become irrelevant, the people creating the music simply names and it's as though time slows down to a virtual stop for a moment and it's just you, the music and God. I can think of a number of songs that do this (or have done this at different moments in my life) for me. Strangely, now I'm thinking about it - it's often been songs with titles about death - 'Bill is Dead' (Extricate, 1990) by The Fall, 'Psycho Killer' (Stop Making Sense, 1984) by Talking Heads, 'A Murder of One' (August and Everything After, 1993) by The Counting Crows. I'm sure it's just co-incidence!

However, there's one that gets me everytime and it's in 'I've Been Loving you too Long' (Dock of the Bay, 1968) by Otis Redding. There's just something about his voice at 22secs (album version) that leads to the numinous. Perhaps it has something to do with the circumstances of first hearing this song - it came a time when love was in the air. Who knows - probably not even Otis Redding and he's with God now!

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Bob Dylan>Ballad of a Thin man

Ok, so it's Bob again - but I'm the one who makes the rules here - and he's the only one who can bring the kind of catharsis I need right now. There's something I just have to get off my chest and although I nearly went with 'Idiot Wind' I decided to opt for something a little more cerebral - thus 'Ballad of a Thin Man' (1965, Highway 61 Revisited).

In Scorsese's No Direction Home, you get amazing footage of the violent reaction to Dylan when he goes electric (see clip below) - the boos and jeers at his gigs, the constant probing and inane questions from the press and ultimately the questioning of his motives for simply doing what he does best - which is write and sing songs. Dylan's response is magnificent as he just raises the bar time and again despite the animosity. He ploughs on relentlessly and eventually everyone caught up.

The truth is, his critics in '65 just don't get 'it' - they don't understand what he's singing about, the changing world that he represents and thus the chorus: 'Something is happening here but you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones.' And yet during this period his records sold faster than ever, his concerts sold out. Why? Because they knew the world was changing and they needed to be part of it - but they couldn't reconcile it with where they were at.

And so for me, this is the point we are at with church and mission today. Something is happening - David Bosch calls it a paradigm shift. Something new is happening - and so many people with influence don't 'get it'. Something new is happening - and for whatever reason I am a part of it - and I refuse to be dragged down by the 'booing' from the sidelines, the questioning of my motives for what I do and the criticisms of the Mr Jones' out there. I'm simply going to take a leaf out of Bob's book - I gonna turn the volume up and continue exactly where I'm heading. And I know when I need it, I always have a live version of a Ballad of a Thin Man to put in the stereo and give me catharsis!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Bob Dylan: I'm Not There

I'm going to break with my own self-imposed convention and make a post about a movie rather than a song. It is however, a movie named after a song, so that's enough for me. In my opinion I'm Not There is a great film. Admittedly I'm a huge fan of Dylan (increasingly so as I get older) and I know a bit about his 'story' but what gets me about this film, is that it doesn't really matter what happens with the plot, the sheer magnificence and breadth and depth of the songs carry it along, relentlessly. When I got lost or confused with Billy the Kid, I just closed my eyes and listened!

After reading reviews I was expecting the movie to be too bizarre to really 'enjoy'. Perhaps it was that expectation that made the film so enjoyable in the end when I did kind of 'get it'. And everyone was right about how brilliant Cate Blanchett was -it will be a travesty if she doesn't get an Oscar for her performance.

The film's idea that Dylan's many personas elevate him to some kind of 'spiritual' or transcendant place above us mere humans certainly has some truth. There is defintely some 'god-like' quality about him or prophet at the very least. It's just impossible to pin him down or work him out. This is the very rediscovery many Christians are making about God himself. Just when you think you have him in your grasp you realise he's 'not there' at all - he's moved on somewhere else and it's time to follow. Don't get me wrong about Dylan - he's certainly not God - but then again when I hear the music I reckon he's closer than the rest of us!

Saturday, 5 January 2008


I've been avoiding Coldplay since this blog began. Like U2, I felt a bit snobbish towards them - it all seemed too obvious when it comes to songs with a spiritual edge. Still, I love both Coldplay and U2 and enjoy listening to pretty much everything they've written (although X&Y (2005) is ultimately very disappointing compared with the first two albums).

The first time I heard Coldplay was on Virgin Radio whilst driving around South Wales on work duty. As soon as 'Yellow' finished I couldn't wait to find out who wrote it. Within a day of hearing it I bought the album Parachutes (2000). The whole album is pretty good, but 'Yellow' is simply a masterly track. It just sounds like a worship song to me - in parts the lyrics work as song from God to Man, and conversely, it works the other way, too.

Not long after the song had become a hit, I travelled to Frankfurt to a huge gathering of Christians. A speaker there, who was talking about the song, suggested that the colour 'yellow' in the Old Testament represented 'faith'. I've never been able to find any scholarly support for this theory, but it sounds like a good effort. Either way, the song never fails to make me think of Jesus, his sacrifice and the loving Father who sent him.