Exit 154. I don’t want to be the kind of guy that old country songs are about.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a very large and diverse music collection.  I haven’t taken the time to learn my way around streaming music services, for a variety of reasons, but that’s another discussion for another time.

Earlier this month, I made an overnight trip to visit some relatives I don’t see often, which resulted in me spending a lot of time in the car with my six thousand plus songs playing on shuffle, and this song came on.

(The song is “The Girl From Yesterday” by the Eagles, with the late Glenn Frey on vocals.  Apparently, this is one of their lesser known songs, and there is no official YouTube video, so if in the future someone is ever reading this, and the link doesn’t work anymore, let me know and I’ll try to fix it if I can.)

I started listening to classic rock radio (among other things) in my late teens, the early 1990s.  The Eagles, one of the most recognizable bands of the genre, broke up in 1980 after an argument between Glenn Frey and Don Henley.  After both of them had successful solo careers in the 80s, the Eagles got back together in 1994, toured, and released an album with four new songs (including this one) and some live songs from their tour.  I got that CD as a Christmas present my first Christmas home from college.

But for a while, this was my least favorite song on the album, and I would often skip it.  It took a while to grow on me, because it was too country for me.  The Eagles have always been known for blending rock and country music influences, but as I’ve written about before, I didn’t like country music until much later in my life, and this song is about as country as songs come.  The topic of the song is pretty stereotypical of country songs as well: a woman whose man left her, and she is never able to get over him or accept the fact that he is gone for good.  (This song did grow on me before the rest of the country genre as a whole did, but I don’t remember if there’s any big story to that.)

It was in 2005, during my travels across the USA and back, that I realized that country music isn’t so bad sometimes.  A friend who I visited during that time let me copy a bunch of her country CDs to my laptop, and one of them included this song, which also came up on shuffle earlier this month:

Lyrically, this is another pretty standard country song: a guy is determined to get over a woman who left him.  I hadn’t heard this song in a while, and one line caught my ear when I heard it this time:

I heard that old Jones song just the other day
About a man who took a broken heart to his grave
But I’ll be dammed if a memory’s gonna lay me down

As one would expect, old country music isn’t my area of expertise, since I mostly ignored it.  I didn’t know what Dierks was referring to the first time I heard this song in 2005.  But I have learned a little more about old country music since then, and I’m pretty sure the “old Jones song” refers to this:


(Again, not an official video, let me know if it ever stops working.  The song is “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by the late George Jones.)

I don’t want to be the kind of guy that old country songs are about.  (Of course, in the case of The Girl From Yesterday, the genders would be reversed.)  I’ve spent decades carrying around the burdens of memories of rejection and relationships that didn’t work out.  They’re not coming back.  They’re not going to change.  It does me no good to keep carrying around these memories.  I don’t know how to do this, but I have to figure it out.  Maybe it means doing new things and spending time with different people.  Maybe it means I’ve come to some bridges that it’s time to burn.  But I will do this.  I will move on with my life.

Exit 150. You’re not real and you can’t save me.

The title is a quote from the 2003 song “Everybody’s Fool,” by Evanescence.

Another song from this album was much more well-known than this one, and as I’ve written before, that other song led to a bonding experience between me and one of my students that year who really turned her grades around after that.  But now, after a couple years of listening to that album and a lot more years of hearing songs from it pop up when I have my music on shuffle, I think that Everybody’s Fool has definitely emerged as my favorite on the album… although I don’t know that it matters at this point.

Anyway, the video depicts the character that Amy is portraying filming commercials in a variety of costumes that look very little like her real self, alternating with her real self struggling to come to terms with these fake images that she is known for.  Amy wrote the song as a teenager, after her younger sister began following teen pop idol type singers who use their fake images to sell music.  I don’t claim to be an authority on the meaning of lyrics written by someone else, but in these lyrics, the character appears to be singing to her fake self in the second person.

I’ve been there.  I’ve tried to be something I’m not, I’ve been tempted to be someone I’m not, and it never leads to good in the long run.  But the lyrics also resonate with me on a more literal sense, as if I could sing them to someone else other than myself.  I could just as easily be saying this to all the so-called “friends” I’ve had over the years who aren’t at all the people I thought they were when I first met them, who are constantly trying to be someone they’re not.  Or I could be saying this to all the misconceptions I’ve had about what life should be like, all the pieces that were supposed to fall into place in the magical fantasy land that I was told I would be living in.

It never was and never will be.

You’re not real and you can’t save me.

Exit 130. An outside perspective.

A friend of mine who lived in California until about a year ago, and who has been known to call himself a music snob, recently made a Facebook post in which he said something like “Since nobody else is saying it, I will: Lynyrd Skynyrd was just okay.”  They’ve never been my absolute favorite, I only have a greatest hits album of theirs, but I still think they’re better than “just okay.”  I made some snarky comment, probably a little more rude than I should have been, about how nobody else is saying it because everyone else has good taste in music.

One of his other friends said that he is only saying this because he is not from the South.  He replied something about how sometimes you need an outside perspective on things.

And then I realized that he’s right.

Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville in the late 1960s.  I once heard someone say that Florida is the upside-down state, in that the farther north you go, it feels more and more like the South.  Jacksonville is about as far north as you can go in Florida, just a few miles from Georgia, and the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd has often been considered one of the major examples of the “Southern rock” genre, blending classic rock with blues and country influences.  My friend’s point was that Lynyrd Skynyrd is so iconic in Southern culture that many Southerners never think to question whether or not their music is actually good.

I’ve had a few outside perspectives in my life.  I started college the same year that a TV show called Friends premiered on NBC.  Friends was huge among my peers and classmates.  It was the show that everyone related to and aspired to, with their groups of people they hang out with at home and at the coffee shop, sharing each other’s lives and gossiping about their significant others.  But not me.  I tried to get into Friends, but I came from an outside perspective.  I didn’t have that kind of group of friends in real life; having friends in the first place was new to me in my late teens, and I still didn’t have much of a social life.  All six of the main characters of Friends reminded me of the kind of Cool Kids who bullied and rejected me all through childhood.  I don’t want to watch a show about them, unless it’s about them dying horribly painful deaths.  And I couldn’t even relate to the coffee shop thing, because from my perspective, coffee tastes like crap.  I always felt that my social life was stunted being a university student in the Friends era who did not drink coffee.

A couple years ago, I also remember having a conversation with an acquaintance in which I said that I don’t particularly like romantic comedies as a genre, although there are a small few that I’ve enjoyed.  (Like this one, even though it’s not real.)  She asked why, and I said because I can’t relate to romantic comedies.  She said something like, “Really?  I would think that love is something universal that everyone can relate to.”  Maybe everyone she knows, but from my outside perspective, love is something that only happens in movies and books and other people’s lives.  I’ve experienced all of the heartache associated with relationships with very little of the good times, and even the few good relationship moments I have experienced have not usually involved the awkwardly sweet giggling, long walks on the beach, or having sex with someone you just met a week ago that seem to characterize romantic comedies.

So maybe an outside perspective is necessary.  And a good thing, so that people who aren’t living breathing stereotypes don’t get forgotten.  And if my friend from the first paragraph is reading this, I’m sorry for insulting your taste in music.

Exit 119. What do these songs have in common?

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones (1980)

“Touch of Grey,” by the Grateful Dead (1987)

“Kokomo,” by the Beach Boys (1988)

“Cryin’,” Aerosmith (1993)

“It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” by Darius Rucker (2008)

“Get Back Up,” TobyMac (2010)

All of them were major hits.  Kokomo went to #1, the last of four Beach Boys songs to do so.  He Stopped Loving Her Today and It Won’t Be Like This For Long were both #1 on the country chart.  Touch of Grey, while only reaching #9, was the highest charting single in the Grateful Dead’s long career.  Cryin’, while not Aerosmith’s highest charting single, did reach #1 on the rock chart, and it seemed like it was on MTV all the time my last couple years of high school, during the era when they still played music videos for at least part of the day.  And Get Back Up, while not very well known in the mainstream, went to #1 on the Christian music chart, and it was around that time when I decided that TobyMac’s solo work wasn’t all bad like I found his early albums to be.

But there is something more significant that these songs, among others, all have in common.

They were all performed by band members and/or artists who were at the time in their 40s.

I have turned 40 since I wrote my last post.  In the months leading up to this, I was feeling a bit down about approaching 40.  Typically, fortysomethings aren’t seen as young anymore.  I have friends my age who have adult children already, and I’m nowhere close to having children.  I feel out of touch both with the people around me, who tend to be a lot younger, and with people my age, who tend to have very different lifestyles, of the sort considered to be more mature.  Sometimes I feel like life is passing me by, leaving me with nothing but regrets.

But it does not have to be this way.

I don’t have to listen to anyone telling me what I should be like at this age.  I have a lot of people who care about me; my friends at my birthday party this weekend reminded me of that through their actions, as did the students and coworkers at the school where I teach on my actual birthday.  I still have a lot of life left, and more adventures to come.  And, as demonstrated by all of the musicians above, I can still accomplish great things beyond 40.  (While researching this article, I discovered that guitarist Bob Weir was only 39 when Touch of Grey was released, but I don’t think that takes away from my point, and the other four band members were in their 40s.)

Here’s to a great upcoming year.

Exit 113. All I can say is that my life is pretty plain.

Those of you my age may recognize the title of this post, from the lyrics of the song “No Rain” by Blind Melon.  If that title doesn’t ring a bell, then perhaps I should refer to it as That Bee Song.

I don’t have this song in my collection currently.  But I’m going to add it soon.  But why the big deal? you are probably asking, especially if you know me in person.  You rediscover one-hit wonders from your teens and add them to your playlists all the time.  Why is this one a big enough deal to blog about?

Two reasons.  First of all, because my brain is mush from all the socializing I did over this recent holiday weekend, and I can’t think of anything else to write about.  But more importantly, because this marks a major turning point in my feelings toward this song.  I’m not rediscovering this song; I’ve never forgotten it, despite the fact that, for the greater part of the last two decades, I have refused to listen to it and immediately changed the station almost every time I hear it on the radio.

If not for one specific incident, this song wouldn’t be a big deal, and I very well may have forgotten it in the almost-quarter-century since it was released.  One time, back when I was young and confused, a guy I knew went to a Blind Melon concert with a girl I really liked and didn’t have the guts to ask out.  And this guy was a jerk.  She could definitely do better.

That’s it.  After that happened, I refused to listen to this song.  Nothing ever happened between that guy and that girl, as far as I know, but for many years after that I refused to listen to this song, because I was angry that he got to go out with her and I didn’t.  It sounds petty and ridiculous, but… no, there is no but here.  It is petty and ridiculous.

Approximately eleven years after this incident happened, I was making cookies with the radio on in the other room, and I heard No Rain come on.  I instinctively started to walk away from the cookies, toward the room with the radio, so I could change the station.  But then I realized something.  I realized I was being absolutely crazy.  There was absolutely no legitimate reason I should leave what I was doing and go change the station, getting the flour that was all over my hands all over everything else in the process, just because someone I liked went out with someone I didn’t like, once, over a decade earlier.  Not listening to No Rain had become so ingrained in my brain that this was the first time I really thought about why I didn’t like this song, and how it really didn’t matter at this point.

For a while, I still didn’t particularly like the song.  R. Shannon Hoon, the lead singer (who, sadly, died of a drug overdose a few years after recording this song, only a few weeks after surviving age 27), has a weird voice, and on those occasions when I would hear No Rain come on the radio (which usually happened in the car, when my hands weren’t full of flour) I would still change the channel.  But I’ve heard it twice in the last couple weeks, all the way through, and I got to thinking about how I still associate this song with something that happened more than half a lifetime ago that still has nothing to do with me and is insignificant in the long run.

And, even though I’m still not a big fan of Mr. Hoon’s voice, it really isn’t a bad song.  It’s exactly the kind of nostalgic one-hit wonder that I’ve been listening to a lot in the last few years, with the kind of beautifully sad lyrics that I can really relate to.  So, now, every time I hear this song, it will be a reminder that the world didn’t end for me on that day decades ago when I found out that my crush had a date with a douchebag.  I’ll probably ever completely forget about this, since that’s not how my brain works, but I don’t need to let the past weigh me down anymore.

Exit 67. Thinking out loud.

I suppose a lot of blog posts are thinking out loud, at least they would be if they were spoken instead of written, but in this case I’m referring to the song.  “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran is a major hit song released in late 2014.  If you haven’t heard it, find a radio station that plays contemporary pop hits, and leave it on for approximately 5-10 minutes, and they’ll probably play it.  Or if you went to a wedding in the last few months, it was probably the couple’s first dance.  If you still don’t know it, here you go.

My first thought hearing it was that it sounds pretty much the same as Let’s Get It On.  My second thought was that it’s kind of nice, for a sappy love song.  I don’t have the strong emotional reaction to sappy love songs, because I can’t relate, but this one is catchy, and sweet.  Then one day on the way to work a few months ago, the song came on the radio, and I suddenly heard it in a different way.  I was going to write about it, but I never did.

I recently attended a wedding reception where this song was the first dance, and the circumstances reminded me of the thing I never wrote about.  This couple, now in their mid-20s, had been friends since childhood, but they didn’t discover feelings for each other until just within the past couple years.  And under those circumstances, the line from the song that made me see it in a different way months ago hit me all over again:

“Right where we are.”

The song is all sappy I’ll-love-you-forever-even-when-we’re-old-geezers stuff, but then the end of the refrain says that “we found love right where we are.”  The “we” of the song didn’t have to go out searching, love was there all along.  My friend who got married has lived in four (I think) states over the seven years I’ve known her, but her husband is someone she knew when they were both growing up right here in Sacramento.

Might that still happen to me someday?  What I learned about finding love from college Sunday schools doesn’t work in middle age, as I’ve said before.  Trying to make that work isn’t going to do me any favors, and neither is nostalgically wishing for that kind of relationship.  I have to work with what I have, right where I am.  Is there someone or something that I’ve been overlooking for years?  Or is there someone here who I haven’t met yet because I’m looking in the wrong place and trying to make square proverbial pegs fit into round holes?

(Oooh… ending on a question… that’s a new one for Highway Pi.  Crap, I ruined it, because now I’m not ending on a question anymore.  Or am I?)

Exit 63. God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs.

Last week, my church hosted a major week-long event for children. On Sunday morning, the usual worship team was joined by a group of children and preteens leading the congregation in two of the songs that they sang during last week’s children’s camps, with the young people leading the hand motions. That got me thinking about something. I spent four years (1997-2001) volunteering with the junior high youth group at the church I went to at that time. It was a lot of fun. It was good to relate important spiritual lessons to the world of young people, and to see them react to it and make positive changes in their lives. I enjoyed the games and activities we’d do with them, and I’ve stayed friends with a few of those kids, now in their late 20s and early 30s, over the years. But there is one thing I never particularly cared for when it came to youth ministry.

I hate doing hand motions to songs.

I don’t know why, but I have a theory. Hand motions are usually associated with music for children. Younger children like the hand motions because it gets them involved with the music. It’s fun to them, and it engages them in a way that the sound and lyrics alone may not. Older children like the hand motions because it reminds them of their childhood. It’s something fun they did as kids that they don’t do as often anymore by the time they start to hit puberty. But I was never involved in a church group as a kid, so I didn’t have that nostalgia for the hand motions of my childhood Sunday school class because there was no such class in my past. As an adult, I prefer to reflect quietly on the lyrics.

Different styles of worship can be a major point of contention between different churches and denominations. There are some whose worship imitates pop and rock music, there are others who sing everything a cappella because they believe that drums and guitars are from Satan. I’ve seen it sometimes up close, too. For example, I remember at Church I With The Problems hearing a talk about being obedient to God in worship. The (pastor, or worship leader, or whoever it was giving the talk, I forget) specifically mentioned a song that includes a line about “standing on holy ground,” and he said something to the effect that if you are not physically standing when you sing that line, then you are being disrespectful to God. The same goes for another song with the line “we lift our hands”; if you are not actually lifting your hands at that point, you’re not worshiping right. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. Come on, people… It’s just a line from a song. I believe that God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to mimic any physical movement described in the lyrics, if that helps you feel closer to God, then by all means, do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. But don’t assume that I don’t love God because I don’t. Sometimes I sit in quiet reverence because I’m tired, and my feet hurt, and standing would be less physically comfortable, which would distract me from the lyrics and keep me from feeling the presence of God.

Let’s think about this, folks… getting on my case for not standing or not doing the hand motions… where else have we heard about people who got worked up over someone not following their religion’s minor rules, while completely ignoring the condition of their hearts? Maybe the Pharisees of Jesus’ day? (See, for example, John 9) And didn’t Jesus reserve some of his harshest words for people like this? Fortunately, I haven’t had any incidents at my current church regarding me not standing when most others are, or not doing the hand motions with the children. Hopefully it’ll stay that way. So go ahead, encourage your children to do the hand motions, but don’t make a big deal of it if they don’t.

(By the way, to the worship pastor who said yesterday that all the cool people are doing the hand motions: If you’re reading this, I know you didn’t mean that seriously, and I wasn’t offended at all by it, and your daughters did a great job with the hand motions. Like I said, I haven’t had anyone give me a hard time at our church for this reason, and the things that I heard at Church I With The Problems weren’t directed at anyone personally either. I just wrote about this because it got me thinking yesterday.)

Exit 58. 1987 was the best year for music in my lifetime.

Ever since I was in my early 20s, when the technology to do so was new at the consumer level, I’ve made mix CDs and playlists of songs that have some common thread holding them together.  I suppose the technology itself wasn’t exactly new, since mix tapes existed for decades before mix CDs.  But my most prolific time of making mix CDs seemed to rise with the purchase of my first computer with a CD burner, in early 1999.  Some of my mix CDs are songs that were all popular during a certain time period, some of them have some lyrical theme in common related to things going on in my life at the time, some of them all fit a certain mood, and for some of them, the common thread is something much more nerdy and less related to the lyrics.  For this last group, I’m thinking specifically of a mix CD I made consisting only of songs in the key of E flat major.  But I’m getting sidetracked.

One mix CD I made in 2006, which fits into the first of the above categories, is titled “1987 Was The Best Year For Music In My Lifetime.”  This is a rather bold proclamation to be made from the title of a mix CD, but almost a decade later, I still believe this to be true.  I know I have some friends who disagree with me.  One of them in particular has challenged me on this point numerous times, with him arguing in favor of a different year, and I know that once I share this post on my Facebook, he’s going to read this and bring up his argument again.  Hi, Dave.  I never disagreed with you about the year that you say being a great year for music, but I’m going to stand by my choice of 1987.

Often, one’s choice for the best music ever is related to nostalgia for one’s past, for a simpler time full of memories.  The interesting thing about my opinion on this matter is that 1987 really was not all that good of a year for me.  I was 10 years old for the majority of the year, turning 11 in late summer.  I finished fifth grade and started sixth.  This was the year that I was pulled out of mainstream public school, away from any chance to live something resembling a normal pre-teen life, and placed in an all-day special education class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities (I’ve explained this before).  I went from being teased and bullied constantly to being ashamed of who I was and embarrassed to talk about school.  Nostalgia is in play here to some extent, because even despite all that, life was simpler then, and childhood had its share of fun moments.  But the lack of consistently positive memories from that time period seems to suggest that the music stands on its own.  Let’s take a look at some memorable albums of the time.

  • “Bad,” Michael Jackson.  How does one follow “Thriller?”  It’s almost a lose-lose situation.  Thriller was so monumental for so many reasons that Michael Jackson was bound to face criticism no matter what came next for him.  The time between Thriller and Bad was also when revelations about his plastic surgery and bizarre personal life came to light.  I’ll admit that back then I wasn’t a fan.  I loved Thriller, I had Thriller on vinyl (well, it belonged to my dad, I think) in elementary school, and I played it often, but by the time Bad came around, I was a little sick of Michael Jackson.  The music eventually grew on me, though, and for me it has retained its timeless quality.
  • “The Joshua Tree,” U2.  Like “Bad,” I never owned this album until adulthood, but I knew many of the songs from MTV and radio.  U2 was already a household name by 1987, and this album was the finest example of the kind of music that got them to that point.  They would have one more great album a few years later (“Achtung Baby”) before getting really weird in the mid- to late 1990s, then a couple more decent albums in the early 2000s before getting really weird again.
  • “Hysteria,” Def Leppard.  One of the most familiar and memorable albums of the Hair Band era, with many hit singles.  I remember Dad having it on tape; I don’t remember if I ever listened to it all the way through.  Back then, many albums I would only listen to for the songs I knew, and I knew a lot of songs on this album, mostly from MTV.
  • And an honorable mention: “Slippery When Wet,” Bon Jovi.  This was actually released in August of 1986, but its song “Livin’ on a Prayer” went to #1 in early 1987 and is one of those songs that defined a generation, some would say.  We listened to this album on many childhood car trips, and it was one of my brother’s favorites in particular, at least the way Mom tells the story.

A number of older artists from the 1960s and 70s released new material in 1987, often for the first time in many years.  This sort of thing happens all the time, but it seemed to happen more often than usual in 1987.  Aerosmith released their “Permanent Vacation” album, the beginning of their second heyday that would last through the mid-90s.  The “Rumours”-era incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released one last album before parting ways.  The Grateful Dead released an album of songs they had been playing live through much of the 80s but had never recorded; one of these songs, “Touch of Grey,” would become their highest-charting hit ever, over two decades after the band’s formation.  George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” became the last #1 single by an ex-Beatle.  And, four years after their ugly breakup, two of the four members of Pink Floyd, with a third as a studio session musician who would later make a full return to the band, reunited to record the album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” including the beautiful hit single “Learning to Fly.”

Some bands with memorable careers had their breakthroughs in 1987.  A strange yet catchy band from Georgia known as R.E.M. had been around for a few years but first started to get mainstream attention with songs such as “The One I Love” and “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”  Guns ‘N Roses burst onto the Hair Band scene with their “Appetite for Destruction” album.  Whitesnake, a household name for almost a decade in the UK, had two very successful singles in the US: “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again”; the latter was actually a re-recording of a 1982 song of theirs that did not get much attention on this side of the Atlantic.

The year was also full of memorable songs from artists whose careers may not have been specifically associated with anything from 1987.  “Just Like Heaven,” by the Cure.  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” by Whitney Houston.  “La Isla Bonita,” by Madonna.  “Alone,” by Heart.  “Need You Tonight,” by INXS.  “Paper In Fire,” by John Mellencamp.  “Notorious,” by Duran Duran.  And 1987 was also full of a lot of memorable one- and two-hit wonders.  Rick Astley.  Crowded House.  Cutting Crew.  Icehouse.  And the list goes on.

I’ll just leave you with a YouTube playlist.  Join me in reliving the music of my preteens.  (The first 17 songs, up to Sweet Child O’ Mine, were the original mix CD I made in 2006.  I have added to it with songs that I did not have in my personal collection yet in 2006.  And a few of these were actually released in 1986 but reached their highest US chart position in 1987, as I’ve said before.)

Exit 50. There’s something in the water, but it isn’t Jesus.

The other day, I was in the car listening to the radio.  For you young kids, that’s this thing that old people use to hear music for free; it’s kind of like satellite radio, except it’s free.  Anyway, I was flipping around channels, and I heard this song on a Christian station.

Except then I realized it wasn’t that song.  It was this song.

I don’t have a problem in general with cover songs.  The problem I have here is that this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened.  A popular artist records and releases a song with a strong Christian influence in the lyrics, and it gets ignored by Christian media; then, just a few months later, a “Christian artist” covers the exact same song, it gets played heavily on Christian radio, and Christian music fans talk about how great it is.  The problem isn’t stealing; Ms. Underwood was properly credited on Point of Grace’s recording, and I’m sure the necessary royalties were paid.  The message being sent here is that the Christian music world is telling Carrie, “Hi, sorry, your song is great, but you’re a secular artist, and playing your song might send the wrong message because you have other songs that don’t glorify God.  So we’re going to have one of our more Godly people re-record the exact same song.”  Does this sound like nonsense to anyone else?  Has the body of Christ really gotten so crazy and so arrogant?  There’s something in the water, but it isn’t Jesus.

And this is not the first time this has happened.  Remember this one-hit wonder from 2004?

Somehow this is inappropriate for Christians, but again, the same song is just fine when covered by a “Christian artist.”

Same song, same music, same lyrics.  The only difference is who is singing it.  If we are judging whether or not music is “Christian” solely based on the past career of the artist, we’re completely missing the point and descending into dangerously closed-minded legalism.  This music is acceptable or not acceptable based on some arbitrary label that is depends on other things besides the content of the music.  That doesn’t make sense.

But I think all of this misses an even bigger point.  I’ve known people who have actually come out and said that Christians shouldn’t listen to secular music.  I feel sorry for those people, honestly.  They don’t have any music to express emotions like anger, sadness, and betrayal, which they all feel too.  I hate to say it, but part of the reason I don’t listen to Christian music as much as I used to is because it all started sounding the same eventually.  Can’t the Christian music industry do better?  These people who take pride in only listening to Christian music, instead of opening themselves up to the wide range of cultures and beliefs out there in the world, shut themselves in a Christian bubble and make rigid rules about what is and is not okay, then self-righteously spend their time talking down to other Christians who don’t agree with their rules.  Maybe they should spend their time on something else, like feeding the poor or telling those outside the church about the life-changing message of Jesus… you know, the things Jesus told them to do.

I used to be one of those people, to some extent.  After I became a Christian, I started listening to Christian music, and I didn’t buy any secular music for about three years.  I used to pride myself on listening to different music from people around me, although I didn’t seal myself off from secular music completely.  I still listened to secular radio, and my TV and movie watching habits didn’t really change.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing not to watch certain movies or listen to certain kinds of music.  After all, I have made a choice not to watch Fifty Shades of Grey or listen to Justin Bieber.   But it is not your place to say what someone else can and can’t listen to, especially when it is based on a semi-arbitrary label of what is “Christian” and what isn’t.  And that line can be fuzzy sometimes, as I’ve written about before here.  Can’t we just let music and art be music and art, and make decisions about individual works rather than grouping things into labels and genres?  I’ve often said that the best music defies labels and genres (to which a musician friend once replied that great music creates genres, but that’s another topic).

And one final thought: Those of you who know me in person know that I have this uncanny ability to hear randomly chosen songs at the most hilariously and ironically appropriate times.  Some time, maybe next week, I should make my entire post be stories of times when this kind of thing has happened.  Anyway, so here I am, sitting here, with my music on shuffle, typing an article about legalism in Christian music, and people’s opinions on what Christians should and shouldn’t be listening to, and what should come on?  A song that was condemned by the Catholic Church and other Christian groups, of course.  I’ll leave you with that.

Exit 9. Six songs that have shrunk off me.

In other words, today I will be sharing six songs that I used to like, or at worst feel neutral toward yet respect for their cultural value, yet I can’t listen to them anymore.  I’m calling this phenomenon “shrinking off me” because it’s the opposite of “growing on me.”  I can be very passionate about music and what specific events and people I associate with certain songs.  Sometimes I hear a song once, and I know it’s going to be one of my all time favorite songs.  Sometimes it takes a while for a song to grow on me; the first time I’ll hear it, it’s okay, but it takes a while for me to figure out that I love the song.  Either that, or I’ll see it in a different way after time passes.  And sometimes the opposite happens; sometimes I like a song, but then after time, for various reasons, I realize that I don’t like the song after all, or the meaning or association of the song changes in a way that makes me not want to listen to it anymore.

I didn’t have anything better to write about for this week, and one of the songs on this list came on this morning, so I thought I’d share.  And there’s nothing special about six, nor is this an exhaustive list, nor is the list in any particular order.  I just figured five is a nice round number, so I’d think of the first five such songs with interesting stories behind why they shrank off me, and write about those.  I thought of a sixth before I actually sat down and took the time to write this.  These are just my opinions and my experiences; I suspect many of my friends will disagree.  If you like these songs, that’s fine.  Good for you.  I’m not going to judge you for it.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these songs; I’ll even link to them in case some of you reading don’t know all the songs.  I just can’t listen to them anymore.

Since Independence Day here in the USA is coming up in less than a week, I’ll start with…

1.  Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA” (1984)

Any of you who are making playlists for July 4 celebrations, please do yourself a favor and leave this song off of it.  At least listen to the lyrics first before you decide… the rest of the lyrics, not just the part that goes “I was born in the USA.”  The song is not a celebration of the USA; it’s about a Vietnam veteran struggling to make his way and find meaning in his postwar life and lamenting what his country has become.  Brutally honest, but not exactly what we’re celebrating on July 4.  This is not a patriotic song in that sense.

This song reached its height in popularity during Ronald Reagan’s campaign for reelection.  Reagan began quoting the song (only the chorus, of course) in campaign rallies and holding up Springsteen as an example of the hardworking conservative American values that he sought to associate with his candidacy.  Someone on Reagan’s staff didn’t do their homework, or else they’d know the well-documented fact that Springsteen was a liberal Democrat who had been known to criticize Reagan and conservatism in comments made between songs at live performances, not to mention in song lyrics themselves.  And I’m so tired of this song still being misunderstood 30 years later that I just choose not to listen to it.

Speaking of comments made between songs at live performances…

2.  Pearl Jam, “Black” (1991)

This was a difficult song to stop listening to, honestly, because I’m still going to say it’s a beautiful song, in a dark way.  It’s so sad and full of anguish, just like me sometimes.  The reason I’m not listening to this anymore has nothing to do with the song or the lyrics itself; it’s more of a personal vendetta against Eddie Vedder.  (I could have just as easily included Alive or Even Flow or any other Pearl Jam song on this list, I don’t listen to any of them anymore after this, but I chose Black because it’s my favorite of theirs.)

First, some background information that seems totally unrelated but isn’t: In 2008, the owner of the Seattle Supersonics basketball team (Eddie is from Seattle and Pearl Jam started in Seattle, remember) gave up after many failed attempts to get a new arena built in Seattle and moved the team out of state.  They are now the Oklahoma City Thunder.  In 2013, the owners of the Sacramento Kings (my home team) reached a deal to sell to a wealthy San Francisco businessman with Seattle roots who intended to move the team to Seattle.  The owners never publicly announced that they were considering selling the team, and they made little if no attempt to find new owners who wanted to keep the team here.  Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a retired NBA player, used his connections to get an ownership group together willing to match the offer, keep the team in Sacramento, and build a new arena here, which ultimately led to the NBA owners voting 22-8 against moving the team to Seattle.  As soon as that vote was in, the owners started talking to the group wanting to keep them here, and they sold relatively soon after.

Meanwhile, a group materialized getting petitions signed that would require a public vote for any sports facilities built partially or completely with public money.  The rich guy who tried to move the Kings to Seattle secretly and illegally donated a buttload of money to this group.  Some jerks just don’t know when to quit.  After he was caught, he made a token hollow celebrity apology, but the group still used the signatures that his money funded.  The petition was thrown out by the courts because the group didn’t follow proper procedures.  I could write a whole lot more on these issues and my stand on them, but I’m straying from the point here, the point being why I don’t like Eddie Vedder right now.

At a concert in Oklahoma City, Eddie was saying something about their city stealing his team, then went on to say that “the people that really f***ed us over is Sacramento.  F*** Sacramento.  When you think about it, if you’ve ever been to Sacramento, they’re already kind of f***ed.”  You want to talk about my home that way?  Fine.  I don’t need you.  Don’t take it out on me that you’re just angry that you had one great song 23 years ago and haven’t done crap with your life since.  I’m sorry your city is full of people who can’t get a plan together to keep their team, who have to resort to dirty politics when they don’t get their way.

By the way, If any of you are like me, you’re going to want to get really technical here and remind me that I don’t actually live in Sacramento.  I don’t think such things really go through the minds of those who give pissed-off profanity-laced rants before crowds of thousands.  “F*** Sacramento.  But the suburbs aren’t so bad, and neither are the pockets of unincorporated neighborhoods that the city never annexed.”  Yeah, I don’t think Eddie sees it that way.  And I could just as easily go on with what I really think about Seattle, but I’m not going to stoop to that level.  I’ll just go enjoy walking outside without a raincoat instead.

3.  Bill Batstone and Andy Crouch, “To Every Generation” (1996, but see note)

I’m not sure exactly to whom to credit this song.  The above link is performed by the band at Intervarsity’s Urbana 1996 conference, which is where I learned the song.  After Urbana, it quickly spread to evangelical church worship services and local chapters of Intervarsity and other college and youth ministries.  In my research for this article, though, it appears that this song, as I knew it in the ’90s, is actually the chorus of an earlier song (by Batstone) combined with a new verse (by Crouch).  Batstone’s original had different verses.

Anyway, back on topic… before any of you accuse me of blasphemy for including a Christian worship song on this list, hear me out.  One reason I don’t like this song anymore is because of how it was so overplayed, and so repetitive.  The lyrics are very true and uplifting, but I just got sick of singing the same thing over and over again every week.  Worship, and Christianity in general, shouldn’t be about repeating the same things over and over again.  That’s how one’s beliefs and faith degenerate from something meaningful from the heart into a mindless, meaningless ritual.  There is another reason, though.  The Church With The Problems, which I have mentioned in previous posts, took its name from a line from this song, and for a while I associated this song with that church.  I wanted to get away from that and not think of them, to put that behind me.  That was a while ago, I’m over all that, but I’m still sick of this song from it being so overplayed.

4.  Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “Zoot Suit Riot” (1997)

Yeah, you know this song, the song with which most people on the outside associated the resurgent popularity of swing dancing in the late ’90s.  Back then, I was in college, and some of my friends, the same ones with whom I sang “To Every Generation” again and again and again and again at church, got really into swing dancing.  I wanted nothing to do with it; I thought they were crazy and obsessed.  A few months later, in June of 1998, I got invited to go swing dancing by some cute girls, and that was all it took.  I went off and on for a year and a half, quit because most of my friends didn’t go anymore and the crowd was kind of cliquish and unfriendly, started again in 2007, and have been going ever since.  And this was the song that they played every week that got everyone excited, because it was the swing song that you actually could hear on the radio.

The reason I don’t like this song anymore is a combination of the Born in the USA effect and the hipster effect.  No one seems to know what the song was about (specifically the mistreatment of Mexican-Americans by American military personnel, and the military personnel’s wives/girlfriends cheating on them with said Mexicans).  It’s dirty and inappropriate… it’s not the cute dancing song that some thought it was (and not to mention the band’s name being pretty inappropriate as well).  And, it was, to quote the stereotypical hipster, too mainstream.  This is the song that people who knew nothing about swing dancing associated with swing dancing.  There were so many better songs out there to dance to.

Despite the fact that I refuse to dance to Zoot Suit Riot, however, I’m perfectly open to dancing to this song:

Interestingly enough, I never knew this until I started writing this article, but the lead singer of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies is named Steve Perry.  He is no relation to the other Steve Perry, who was the lead singer of…

5.  Journey, “Faithfully” (1983)

I spent the later months of 2011 in a long distance relationship.  One time, I was spending a three day weekend visiting her.  It was an eight hour drive, and when I left, I shared this song on my Facebook.  One of my friends, who knew where I was going for the weekend and why I shared that song, said it made him cry.

We broke up on New Year’s Eve 2011-12, and it was not exactly a good breakup, by which I mean I never saw her again, and our only communication after that was a text the next day regarding giving some stuff back that I had borrowed.  So why can I still not listen to this song?  There are plenty of other things that remind me of her even more directly that I didn’t cut out of my life when we broke up.  Maybe because this one is actually about a long distance relationship (in a way).  Maybe because of my friend’s reaction.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just weird.  I still love Journey, they still have plenty of great songs, but I just can’t listen to this one.

6.  John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)

Wait a minute.  “Imagine?”  How can anyone not like that song?  Isn’t it about peace and love and unity and all that good stuff?  And Mr. Lennon died tragically at a fairly young age!  What kind of heartless jerk are you that you don’t like that song?

Unity, yeah, great, but no, “Imagine” is not about peace and love.  It’s about atheism and communism.  Again, listen to the lyrics.  I do not believe that atheism and communism are the ways to achieve unity.  We didn’t win the Cold War just so a new generation can rediscover this song and use it as a touchy-feely rallying cry after every national tragedy.  Seriously, though, I’m not saying America is perfect, but I would much rather live here than in a communist dictatorship with “no possessions” and “no religion” to turn to for hope and meaning.

Will I never listen to these songs again?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  I can think of several examples of songs I didn’t like for over a decade, then suddenly something happened to change the way I saw them.  Maybe that will be another post.