Why The Medium Matters

Some have scratched their heads at the recent vinyl record resurgence. Why would all these “kids” want to spend $20-30 for a record when they can just get it free or cheap online? Isn’t it the same music? Add to this a rediscovery of cassette tapes as a cheap, effective way to release music. Yes, people are buying cassettes again. Even VHS has some diehard fans. Millions of DVDs and CDs are still being made and purchased. Essentially taking digital files and putting them in a box and upping the price. Why not just download the files? There isn’t a real difference in terms of the viewing experience. Why bother with buying the “thing”? Aren’t we trying to de-clutter and get rid of all our stuff?

Here’s the thing, the medium matters. The medium can change the experience, it can make something more “real”. Sure, sometimes the medium is a nostalgic one, it can take you back–listening to cassettes on your Walkman while lying in bed as a teenager. But it isn’t just a nostalgic experience. It is a visceral one. It deepens and expands the experience. I know from years of experience that listening to a vinyl record is altogether a different experience from streaming digital files. Sure, if you blindfolded me I might not be able to tell the difference half the time but that misses the point. My eyes aren’t closed when I listen to a record, I am looking at the jacket or browsing other records to find what’s next. Listening to a record is a tactile, sensory experience. There is no separating the two.

Physical objects can act as bridges, companions and bookmarks. They can bridge our past and present, they can connect our senses, they can bring together people, they travel with us. An effective object demands presence and focus. It whispers in our ears “take care of me and I’ll take care of you.” It is a constant companion as we navigate all the changes in our lives. The object externalizes and bookmarks our journey. Our brains are wired for recognition and struggle with recall. Every object we own has the power to trigger memories that might disappear otherwise. 

Humans have always been fascinated by the flickering of a fire or the song of a bird. We spent millennium finding ways to capture and reproduce those experiences. It wasn’t just to play the experience on repeat but to own it, to touch and feel it. The power of a vinyl record is as much the visual of seeing the sound in those grooves and marveling at how the tiniest diamond in the world could so wonderfully bring a sound back to life! The magic of  “motion pictures” wasn’t just on the screen, it was the film we could hold in our hand, looking at the individual frames, marveling at how they could somehow turn back into motion. We weren’t just looking to capture sound and vision to reproduce it. We had to hold and touch it. We needed to feel it. The medium matters, almost as much as the content it holds. 

In Defense of "Christian" Rock

Sufjan Steven’s new album “Carrie & Lowell” has sparked a good deal of discussion about whether it qualifies as “Christian" Rock.  In some of these essays there is an assumption that any music being categorized as such would be tarnished. 

Meanwhile over in Hip Hop land we have the new Kendrick Lemar record “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Lamar has been pretty outspoken about his Christianity. 

Both records catalog an artist struggling with belief. Both albums have profanity. Both albums are great. But just because the artists profess to be Christian does that make their music “Christian" Rock or Hip Hop? 

Let’s face it, contemporary "Christian" music has a bad rep for a good reason. It’s kinda amazing how bad most of it is. Listening to modern Christian radio is torturous, at least for me (not that I try it that often these days). It’s like every artist took the sound of an existing secular artist, made it worse then added something about Jesus. It just doesn’t work. 

But it didn’t used to be this way. Christian Rock used to be a lot weirder and better than it is now. Since I grew up listening to Christian (or Xian) Rock, I thought I might put the spotlight on a few of the better artists from the 70s and 80s. Back then Christian Rock was often as interesting as its secular counterpart. Here are some artists to check out. 

Larry Norman
Larry was the granddaddy of Xian Rock. His 1972 album “Only Visiting The Planet” remains one of my favorite records. He was something of the “Dylan” of Xian Rock, until Dylan took that position for a few years at the end of the 70s. He jumps from symphonic ballads to hard rockers like this track below. “6 O’Clock News”. 

Daniel Amos
Possibly the weirdest Xian Rock band ever. An Southern California band that started in the mid-70s doing concept country rock (seriously, check out Shotgun Angel) and then turning into a great new wave then synth pop then rock band. Led by the talented Terry Scott Taylor, Daniel Amos (or DA as they are known) put out an amazing 4 album “Alarma!” series in the early 1980s. Each album was distinct from the other but tied together something of a Pilgrim’s Progress narrative. I still return to these albums regularly. Particularly the third one, Vox Humana, which had this track "William Blake" below. I sometimes find their records filled under the “A” section at record stores. I try to help and move them to “D”. There is no-one in the band named Daniel Amos. 

The 77s (or Seventy Sevens)
The 77s were another California band and probably my favorite Xian Rock band all around. Their lead singer Mike Roe has one of the most versatile voices I’ve heard- he reminds me of Elvis a little in terms of stylistic range (don’t let that scare you away). The musicianship and songwriting is all very strong as well. At one point they were signed to Island and put out a great self-titled record in the late 80s. Unfortunately for them, Island had a hit on their hands with U2 and neglected promoting the record. It’s a shame since it still stands up as a great album. This song is from that album.

Want more? Sure thing! I put together a Spotify playlist "Gimme Christian Rock" with some more songs by these artists and other notable Xian Rock artists from the 70s and 80s. If you have any you'd recommend I check out, post a comment and let me know! Thanks, Jeb

ps- curious to know my thoughts on Christianity and all that stuff? Read my post-  
"(re)Building My Religion"

My 2015 Wish List

I've been making a wish list of stuff that would be awesome to have happen in 2015, mostly Indianapolis related. This is an experiment, putting ideas out there to see what happens. Anyway, here are 5 things from my list. What’s on your list for 2015? What would you love to see happen?

Space for Musical Family Tree- MFT is now a 501c3 and needs a space to take its mission (to spread Indiana music) to the next level. We feel strongly that this starts with having a space- to host shows, recording/mixing, after-school programs, a store, meetings, tech for musicians to use, etc. We are currently looking at spaces in the Fountain Square area. We need a larger space with some separate spaces internally (ideally) and some help with funding as well.

20th Anniversary Re-issue of Sardina's "Presents" album- Sardina remains my favorite band to come from Indiana and their 1995 album "Presents" is one of the lost gems of the 90s (local or otherwise). It would be great to see some kind of re-issue for this album with outtakes, etc. I know the band would get behind it.

Cultural/Community Center in Broad Ripple- this is one of the missing ingredients in Broad Ripple and very needed at this time. The library isn't it, the Art Center isn't it (too far from "downtown" Broad Ripple). It's been great to see the BRVA open a retail location on Guilford. I'd love to see a larger community center that brings the community together, holds events, etc.

Co-working Space Downtown- despite the strong technology presence downtown we don't have a good co-working resource. The Hinge is great but in Fletcher Place. The Platform isn't really a co-working space, at least yet. A larger co-working environment (club structure like Speak Easy or Launch Fishers or just traditional day/week/month structure) is very much needed downtown.

Sake Brew House- this is a little out there but I strongly believe in the potential of a Sake brew house here in Indy. We are flooded with micro-brews, and that is awesome. But for those of us that avoid wheat/gluten (since Sake is gluten free, made from rice) along with the fact that people are just getting burned out on beer leads us to Sake. I love Sake and it is a very versatile drink. I went to a Sake brew house in Minneapolis (Moto-i) and it was awesome. They had 5-6 different Sakes on tap, served Asian inspired food and had a great info graphic about how Sake is made on a chalkboard. I think this would work in Indy. 

So what's on your list?