On Writing “Worse”

I’m going to go about this a little differently than I have in the past few years and start talking about it WAY in advance.  I’ve mentioned that I’m working on some new music, but I don’t really know where it’s going, etc, etc…  Well, I’ve made some directional decisions over the past week or two, so I’m going to start talking NOW, knowing that it’s not coming out until 2018.  But, yeah, as of now, the new album is officially in progress, as far as I’m concerned…

I’m taking my time with this one and I plan to finish it, shelve it, relisten to it a month later, and tweak it THEN, after I’ve had time away.  I’m approaching this one differently from all perspectives, and the key element for me on this project is TIME.  I keep rushing and regretting, so we’re taking this one slow.  (VERY earliest I’ll even be CLOSE to done will be November or December, but I’m thinking a February or March 2018 release seems right for this one.)  I think the only time rushing a release ever served me well was “Something to Look Forward To,” which has become one of my favorites in my catalogue…but lightning in a bottle and all that…

Anyway…  I’ve got a “track one.”  And I’ve got an album title.  Both of those are critical and mark the “start” for me.  And we’re there…  Now, I don’t know everything that’s going to be on it yet, but there are presently seven songs on the slate to at least demo, three of which are revived material from the dying days of The Social Gospel. (Respectively “Fighting Drunk,” “That Was Then,” and “What I’m Dying For” are under consideration–they might not all make the cut, but I want good studio versions of those at some point.  In particular, Dave and I did do “Fighting Drunk” on our Two Hangmen EP, so it might get the axe just based on that–we’ll see.)  The rest are new.  I’m thinking a total of 10 songs.  11 tops.  I want a nice short listen on this one.

I’ve floated the album title by a few people and gotten a range of responses; mostly positive.  I like it…  It’s one of those titles that can be taken a couple different ways.  It can either be seen as optimistic or pessimistic, and I think that’s going to be a good summary of where the lyrics seem to be heading on this record…  So the title is (at least as of now) going to be “It Could Be Worse.”  (I briefly considered releasing a follow-up record one week later titled “Worse,” but I don’t think I have the energy to commit to that long of a joke.)

I’m going to be going for “Americana meets Punk” with a Big Star acoustic tone.  I’m re-structuring my guitar pedal board right now to fit the project.  I see the main guitars being the 1973 Martin, the Rickenbacker 360 (electric), and the Rickenbacker 4003 (bass).  There might be a Strat or something that slips in on some solos, but I want to keep myself limited to just a few instruments to lock in a unified tone, even though I’m planning on going back and forth between punky yelling and sad ballads. I’ve demoed one song just to test some ideas for mic-placement on the acoustic and I liked what I got…so it’s time to start talking

…and I’m going to talk about this one a lot more than the others…promote it…get excited about it…  Hopefully that generates some interest.  But even if not, I’m a big fan of PROCESS.  I like seeing how things unfold for other musicians, so why not open the door on my own stuff?

So that’s where we are… I think this is going to be a good one.  I just hope you don’t get tired of it listening to me talk about it for up to a year!


Current Listening:

  • Aimee Mann – “Mental Illness” – I’m a huge Aimee Mann fan.  “Mental Illness” came out today and it’s already in my top 10 for the year.  (Probably top 5, but the year’s still young.)  It’s a really beautiful, sad, warm, quiet little record.  Really acoustic-based and rooted in dysfunction and sad stories.  I’ve taken to saying that Aimee’s music makes feeling screwed up feel a lot less lonely.  And that’s a gift.  This is a great album, and the broken among us need it in their collection…we’ve probably needed it for years.  Glad she gave it to us.

But Only If I KNEW I’d Succeed…

I’m sick, but SUPER awake, so I thought I’d share something I’ve had saved in a note for a while for a rainy day…

I don’t remember if I talked about it at the time, but several months back, I attended a church function that posed a question I couldn’t answer.  It was one of those fun, “imagination-land” questions that should’ve been a relatively easy answer, but I couldn’t come up with a good answer.  I’m probably butchering the exact wording, but it was to the effect of, “If you could do any ONE thing, and you knew God would give you the money or resources or whatever you need to accomplish it, what would that thing be?”

The answers around the room were a wide spectrum.  One kid said he’d shut down Trump Tower.  One woman said she’d set up a group to help underprivileged urban teens.  Another person said they’d finish their college education.  Another would write a book.  I passed on answering.  Because I couldn’t think of anything to share.  In part, I think it was an age and experience gap.  The person asking the question was approximately 25.  I’m 36.  A good, honest, real answer would’ve been, “…it’s cute that you’re still young enough to have the “what if?” dreams…but I’m creeping up on 40, my lights are on, and I’ve got extra cash to buy stupid crap.  I’m fine.”

I do think goals change like that over time.  You get hit with some realities…or at least you get to know yourself better and figure out who you are and where you’re content…  Or…  You just don’t want to give the real answer, because it’s too hard of a left turn…

Because the truth is, I’d build a pudding pool.

It’s exactly what you think it is.  A pool big and deep enough to swim laps in, filled with pudding instead of water, and you eat while you swim.  Banana pudding.  And the pool itself is made of Nilla Wafers.  I’d be happy there.  I’d even be happy if that were the last thing I ever did and I died there.  Because, let’s face it…that’s a single-use item.  And it’s a solo-use item.  Just think about your own body and hair and things…there’s no way you’d want company in that thing.  But then again, that might be a good litmus test for a relationship…if you’ve found the person you’d let into your pudding pool, you might’ve found THE ONE.  (That might’ve sounded more sexual than I intended, and I apologize.)

But…  That doesn’t really help anybody.  I don’t think God would go out of His way to let me have that.  Seems like the kind of thing I’d have to fund myself.

I really don’t know if the church-discussion would’ve gone anywhere else if I’d shared that.

The WORST Theology I’ve Ever Needed

Last week, a couple of my friends went through something awful.  And it’s something that doesn’t stop just because it’s been a week…or a year…or whatever…  I’m not going to name any names, out of respect to the family, but the husband is one of my oldest friends, the wife is a friend I got to know through having the honor of performing their marriage ceremony…and her son/his step-son took his own life last week.  He was 24.

I met the young man a number of times.  (By the way, I’m at the age where 24 now sounds as young as it is…)  He was, of course, in the wedding.  I had the opportunity to meet him a few times afterward too. The few times we talked, we talked about heavy metal.  Metal fans are a strange brotherhood, and when you find someone else who speaks the language it’s kind of like finding another unicorn to talk to.  Through his step-dad, I got to hear the success stories of him graduating and how much he excelled at things like science, etc…and I got to hear the pissy-complaints that come with being a parent, that I’m sure my friend is haunted by this week, but that paint no less an accurate picture of who the young man was.  The less-pleasant pictures just mark the development, as it were…

It’s been a sad week.  It was a sad funeral.  As one fellow mourner remarked to me, “We weren’t made for times like this.”  He hit the nail on the head.  I found those words more fitting than anything the preacher had to say.  So often, the theology offered at those services is full of holes.  Proof-texted stuff quoting a verse, skipping one in the middle, and quoting the one after it; conveniently skipping the part that didn’t fit…  Quotes from only the poetic or prophetic books that may or may not be literal, that may or may not be talking about anything at all to do with salvation.  I don’t envy any preacher the job–it’s a hard one and you play whatever cards you have.  Which motivated me to share the following…I feel like it’s time I share the cards in my hand.

One of the best pieces of advice I received in ministry and have relayed to others is also one of the saddest pieces of advice I can imagine…  “You’re going to need to develop a theology of suicide.”  As regular readers of the blog will know, I’ve got some experience in dealing with this kind of loss.  It’s been a useful theology to have in my back pocket.  When someone dies this way, the same set of questions always seems to pop up, and any believer worth their salt better have at least a couple answers if they’re asked, in my opinion…  Now…  I know we’re not all going to agree on this.  And that’s okay…  I hope you find ways to speak to people in mourning that are comforting, even if they’re not the same words I’d use…  But here’s my theology of suicide.  I consider it the most useful theology I’ve got to offer, but also the WORST I’ve ever had to consider.

To start with, I’m not going to be quoting scripture here.  Quotes are useless.  When you’re looking in the eyes of a mom who lost her son/daughter, you need to use your OWN words.  They’re not asking you what the Bible says.  They’re asking what YOU say.  Your words need to be your own–Biblically based, but not quoted by rote.  One of the experiences I’ll never quite be able to get over (and it’s happened more than once) is having a mom look in my eyes and ask if I think someone who commits suicide can go to Heaven.  You damn well BETTER be ready to say something, and you better not have to turn any pages in a book they may or may not believe in.

Here’s what I’ve said.  Here’s what I believe.

It isn’t for me to judge anybody.  I’m not the one who decides who goes to Heaven.  But, I know this…  I believe in a God who is perfect, who does nothing wrong, who does not misjudge…and more than that, I believe in a God who FORGIVES.  I believe in a God who saw people with whom He could not keep company and who decided to break His own rules and forgive us so we could be together.  I believe in a God whose grace is unfair, but unfair to the benefit of the sinner; even to His own detriment.  I believe in a God who so desperately wanted to be with us that he died for it.  In fact–please put some space between yourself, the computer screen, and the lightening–over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that when I think about what Christ did…  I believe in a God who committed suicide.

And all He asks is that we call out to Him.

I’m sure Billy Graham or somebody like that would shit a brick to hear someone put it that way…but that’s where I am as a believer.  Now, I don’t think God WANTS us to kill ourselves.  But I think he understands how hard it can be to live when everything feels out of place.  I think He wants to help us THROUGH that…but I don’t think His grace stops working just because we did something awful.  In fact, I depend on that.  I do awful things all the time.  I did awful things TODAY.  And God offers me grace and forgives me.  I don’t think I can think about the horrible things I’ve done, say that the blood of Christ covers them, and then deny that same, healing blood from someone who needs it more than I do.

But, nevertheless…  Bringing it back to Earth…

Don’t stop fighting.  God might forgive you, but you’re causing permanent pain and damage to the people who care about you.  And maybe for some people, that’s the goal…I don’t know…  But as a person who’s lost count of how many people he’s know who’ve died by their own hand, I can say that I’d be a whole lot less fucked up if they’d just talked to somebody and worked it out.  I’d be less hurt, I’d be less angry, and I’d be less haunted.  I’m not going to get over missing some of those people.  (The anniversary of my cousin’s death is just around the corner on April 1, by the way.)  Even if you’re theologically okay…speaking as a human, what you’d put everybody else through with your actions is NOT okay with me.

As Churchill said, “If you’re going through Hell…keep going.”  And if you’re mourning, I hope and pray that your mourning will turn to dancing when you’re reunited with your loved one on the other side, by the blood of Christ.

I don’t know if this helps anybody or not…but I needed to write it, and it’s my damn blog.