The O'Nan Family Blog

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Famous People I've Met

Dominique Wilkins
Danny Manning
Reggie Miller
Charles Barkley
The Brazilian Soccer Team (at the airport in Campo Grande)
Eli Manning (we had biology lab together at Ole Miss)

Amy Tan
John Grisham
Billy Collins
Larry Brown
Nevada Barr
Roy Blount, Jr.
Mildred D. Taylor

David Byrne (from The Talking Heads)
Elvis Costello
Robert Randolph
Sean and Sarah Watkins, Chris Thile (Nickel Creek)
Marty Stuart and Connie Smith
Isaac Brock, Eric Judy, and Jeremiah Green (Modest Mouse)

Ethan Hawk
Morgan Freeman
Gerald McRainey (Major Dad)
Glen Close
Chris O'Donnell

Jerry Clower

Jaako Matajarvi (sang one of his works for him in Helskinki, Finland)

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Conformity of CCM - Part II

After reading my last blog entry, my friend Adrian offered his insightful comments and recommended that I read an article by John Jeremy Sullivan of GQ Magazine. The article is JJS's personal account of his experience at a CCM festival called Creation. From what I can tell JJS is not a believer, but his insight on the CCM culture is keen. Here is a portion of JJS had to say:

"The fact that I didn't think I heard a single interesting bar of music from the forty or so acts I caught or overheard at Creation shouldn't be read as a knock on the acts themselves, much less as contempt for the underlying notion of Christians playing rock. These were not Christian bands, you see; these were Christian-rock bands. The key to digging this scene lies in that one-syllable distinction. Christian rock is a genre that exists to edify and make money off of evangelical Christians. It's message music for listeners who know the message cold, and, what's more, it operates under a perceived responsibility—one the artists embrace—to "reach people." As such, it rewards both obviousness and maximum palatability (the artists would say clarity), which in turn means parasitism. Remember those perfume dispensers they used to have in pharmacies—"If you like Drakkar Noir, you'll love Sexy Musk"? Well, Christian rock works like that. Every successful crappy secular group has its Christian off-brand, and that's proper, because culturally speaking, it's supposed to serve as a stand-in for, not an alternative to or an improvement on, those very groups. In this it succeeds wonderfully. If you think it profoundly sucks, that's because your priorities are not its priorities; you want to hear something cool and new, it needs to play something proven to please...while praising Jesus Christ. That's Christian rock. A Christian band, on the other hand, is just a band that has more than one Christian in it. U2 is the exemplar, held aloft by believers and nonbelievers alike, but there have been others through the years, bands about which people would say, "Did you know those guys were Christians? I know—it's freaky. They're still good, though." The Call was like that; Lone Justice was like that. These days you hear it about indie acts like Pedro the Lion and Damien Jurado (or P.O.D. and Evanescence—de gustibus). In most cases, bands like these make a very, very careful effort not to be seen as playing "Christian rock." It's largely a matter of phrasing: Don't tell the interviewer you're born-again; say faith is a very important part of your life. And here, if I can drop the open-minded pretense real quick, is where the stickier problem of actually being any good comes in, because a question that must be asked is whether a hard-core Christian who turns 19 and finds he or she can write first-rate songs (someone like Damien Jurado) would ever have anything whatsoever to do with Christian rock. Talent tends to come hand in hand with a certain base level of subtlety. And believe it or not, the Christian-rock establishment sometimes expresses a kind of resigned approval of the way groups like U2 or Switchfoot (who played Creation while I was there and had a monster secular--radio hit at the time with "Meant to Live" but whose management wouldn't allow them to be photographed onstage) take quiet pains to distance themselves from any unambiguous Jesus-loving, recognizing that this is the surest way to connect with the world (you know that's how they refer to us, right? We're "of the world"). So it's possible—and indeed seems likely—that Christian rock is a musical genre, the only one I can think of, that has excellence-proofed itself."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Conformity of CCM

The other day, as I was surfing the net, I ran across something that made me really, really sad for the Christian music industry - a Contemporary Christian Music comparison chart. This webpage allows you to select genres of music (modern rock, rap, electronic, heavy, rap metal, pop rock, "Christian-y" mainstream, pop, urban, pop punk, worship, or random), view the "Christian" artists under these catagories, and then see what "secular" artist they apparently sound like. So, what you see are things like this:

Steven Curtis Chapman - compares to a mix of Cat Stevens and Toby Keith
Third Day - compares to Black Crowes or Rolling Stones
Avalon - compares to 21st Century ABBA
Delirious? - compares to a mix of U2 and Radiohead
Rebecca St. James - compares to Bjork and Garbage
and my personal favorite...
Mercy Me - compares to "If Steven Curtis Chapman sang for Vertical Horizon"

On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal, but I have several issues with the idea of having such a comparison chart:

1) The comparisons are not accurate, and the information presented in the chart is misleading. Therefore, all of the artists are misrepresented. For example, Rebecca St. James sound nothing like Bjork. In fact, I have never heard any other musician who sounds like Bjork. She has a unique sound and is extremely musically sophisticated. Therefore, it is not fair to compare a mediocre (dare I say poor?) recording artist to Bjork's work. It seems as if the "Christian" artists are attempting to "beef up" their appearance by comparing their very mediocre work to that of some amazingly talented musicians, such as Radiohead, U2, and Bjork.

2) The fact that the chart includes the genre "Christian-y" Mainstream speaks volumes. The website defines this genre as "secular bands whose lyrics reflect a Biblical worldview." Last time I checked, God is Lord of the whole earth and rules over every aspect of life on earth. He reigns over every musician and every song. Through common grace, His glory is reflected in the music of every musician or artists who exudes skill, talent, creativity, etc. I believe Christians should be highly involved in the arts for the purpose of reflecting God's glory - making music, writing poems, painting and sculpting, and participating in all types of creative acts. However, I don't believe that Christians produce Christian music, Christian poems, Christian paintings, etc. I don't believe that the only people capable of glorifying God through their art are Christians. In fact, ideally, I would like to see for the whole "Christian music/secular music" division to disappear.

3) Comparison charts like this suggest something that I fear is true of the Christian music industry. CCM artists are more concerned with trying to fit into the existing forms than in trying to create. For example, when ska music hit the Top 40 radio, the CCM industry introduced several ska bands. When punk found a resurgence at the popular music level, several "Christian" punk bands emerged. When these artists begin trying to conform to the forms that are popular in the secular world, they stop creating. And when Christians stop creating, they have stopped doing art in the way God intended. God is the Creator, and we are created in His image. Therefore, God recieves a special kind of glory when we too create. When we create, we are acting in God's image. When we submit to the forms presented by the world, we have stopped creating and have started conforming.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bluesy Moo-Moo

My mother, affectionately known as Moo-Moo, is the coolest. I went to my mailbox today and saw that I had a package from mom. As you all know, receiving packages - especially unexpected packages - is so much fun! I anxiously opened up the package, and what did I see but a calendar - and not just any calendar. It was a Mississippi Blues calendar, featuring the photography of Dick Waterman. I was thrilled for two reasons:

1) I don't have a calendar. I don't have a planner. I don't have any system of keeping up with
times and dates and events. I told my mother this last week, and I think she was somewhat
concerned - thus the calendar appearing in my mailbox.

2) I love Dick Waterman. He is an amazing photographer. He specializes in taking pictures of
musicians - especially blues musicians. And he is the only non-performer in the Blues Hall of
Fame. Dick lives in Oxford, Mississippi - my hometown. I've talked to him a few times
around town - at Uncle Buck's Record Shop, The Downtown Grill, the Double Decker Arts
Festival. He wouldn't remember talking to me, but I remember talking to him.

I plan on visiting Dick this spring. He always sells his photography at the Double Decker Arts Festival, and I always go by a look at all his pictures - even though I've seen them all before. I look and dream - dream that I could afford his photography, dream that I could take pictures like that, dream that I had been there when Dick was taking pictures of Howling Wolf, Chuck BerrySon House, Ray Charles, Mick Jagger, B. B. King, "Mississippi" John Hurt, Doc Watson, Maivs Staples, John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Loretta Lynn, Muddy Waters, Keith Richards, Robert Lockwood...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Star-Studded Campus

So what is going on at Southern Seminary? Thus far today, I have spotted C. J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, and D. A. Carson.

Not to mention, Alistair Beggs will be here in a few weeks.