kiwis, fitzsimmons and albertine

I had the chance to see Brooke Fraser in concert a few nights ago. Brooke is a kiwi (a New Zealander) who I just started listening to about a year ago. She doesn’t tour a whole lot in the US, so I have been excited ever since I saw that she was coming to Minneapolis to play at one of my favorite venues, the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown. It was a great night of music, including a short set by my friend Elizabeth Hunnicutt followed by an incredible new and still unsigned artist named William Fitzsimmons, who nearly stole the show. I just couldn’t get enough of his music, and in the days since the show I have bought both of his albums on iTunes and he has quickly become one of my most listened to artists. If you like really chill/acoustic music you should definitely check out his myspace to give him a listen (his style is similar to, but not exactly like, Joshua Radin and Iron & Wine).

When Brooke first came on stage I was a bit surprised by her quirky personality – her NZ accent kept reminding me of Flight of the Conchords, a comedy/music duo also from New Zealand – but she also showed a very kind and serious side (which is what I expected, given that she is closely connected with Hillsong Church in Australia, where she has written and recorded some of today’s most well-known modern worship songs, like “Hosanna” and “Lead Me to the Cross”).

Before closing the night by playing her “favorite song,” Brooke told the incredible story of an experience she had a few years ago in Rwanda that inspired  the title track of her new album, “Albertine” (the song she was about to play), which is named after a young woman she met there. I had seen the video for this song on youtube and thought I understood a bit of the story behind it, but hearing the story from Brooke took it to a completely new level. Later that night, after getting home from the show, I was reading through the liner notes of Brooke’s CD (I bought it at the show) while listening to the album on my headphones and I ran across the story of Albertine again, this time as it had been written by Brooke. Albertine’s story is one that Brooke felt needed to be shared through her music, and I feel it needs to be shared here as well.

Here is the video for the song (much of which appears to have been filmed in Rwanda) and below that is Albertine’s story (in Brooke’s word, as found inside her album).

Albertine by Brooke Fraser

In 1994, the tiny Central-East African nation of Rwanda was devastated by genocide. Almost one million Rwandans were killed at the hands of their neighbors, friends and community leaders within the short space of 100 days…the catastrophic outcome of decades of tension and fighting between two ethnic groups – the Hutus and the Tutsis – a conflict that did not exist before Belgian colonists moved in during the first part of the 20th century and introduced an alien politician divide.

My first visit to Rwanda occurred in June 2005, eleven years on from the atrocities. I visited local authorities, churches, schools, official memorials and living ones: child-headed households and communities living with AIDS, facing life without adequate medical care or basics like clean water. I met a people who are humble, joyous, diligent and in deep pain.

One day before I was to fly out and onto Tanzania, my friend and guide Joel Nsengiyumva took me to a village school in a district called Kabuga. He wanted me to see that Rwanda had hope – and no better way to see it than in the next generation. The kids and I exchanged songs and dances, and as things wrapped up and we were about to leave, Joel asked if we could take a few minutes and meet with an orphan whose personal history he was familiar with.

Throughout the trip Joel had introduced me to people as a musician from the other side of the world who was going to go back to my people, tell them about the people of Rwanda and help. No pressure. That afternoon we walked across the schoolyard into an empty classroom, joined by a tall, beautiful girl wearing the school’s cobalt and navy garb, where Joel’s introduction was about to become a kind of commission.

Just before he shared her story with me, that of one person laying down their life for another, he uttered these words:

“You must go back to your people and you must write a song,
and I will tell you what the name of the song is going to be.”

He motioned toward the girl.

“This is Albertine.”

Albertine is alive today because of the selfless, sacrificial love of another. Funny thing is, so am I. And now I want to know what it’s like to love other people like that, so have decided to spend my whole life on the experiment.

Feel free to join me. We might just change the world.

Advertisements

Coldplay concert/tour postponed?

I’m not sure if this is BREAKING NEWS or just an inaccurate rumor, but I just spoke to a reliable source and learned that the Coldplay show on July 8th in St. Paul, Minnesota will be canceled/postponed (possibly rescheduled for sometime in the fall). This is all the information I have right now and I have not found any other sources confirming or denying this rumor. I don’t want to speculate about what this would mean for the band or the rest of their upcoming tour, but it should be noted that Coldplay performed on the MTV Movie Awards last night and everything seemed cool (they sounded good, Chris Martin was running around the stage and everyone in the band looked to be having a good time), so hopefully this is just a bad rumor or a scheduling issue that will get worked out soon. As someone with great tickets to the show in St. Paul, I’m hoping that my anonymous source is mistaken, but I have a bad feeling that their information might be correct. Coldplay’s tour is scheduled to begin in London on June 16th, which is the day before their new album Viva La Vida is released in the states.

Good news Coldplay fans!

Some of you may remember this post I wrote back in February about my regrets over not seeing Coldplay during my senior year of college, along with my hopes that the tour that accompanies the upcoming release of their new album (Viva la Vida, June 17th) will include a stop in Minneapolis. Well apparently Coldplay’s management reads anewdoxology; either that or they know I’m not the only Coldplay fan in the Twin Cities who would pay whatever they want to charge for tickets in order to see them live, because while I was driving around yesterday the new Coldplay single “Violet Hill” came on the radio (sidenote: this song was offered as a free download on coldplay.com last week and it was reportedly downloaded by over 600,000 people in the first 24 hours), after the song the DJ made a comment, no, make that a promise, that Coldplay would be coming to Minnesota this summer as part of their tour. How awesome is that? I was so pumped I sent a text to my friend Tim (the same one who invited me to come with him to the Coldplay concert during college), but because I was texting while driving (not recommended, and probably illegal) it ended up saying “Cokeplay is coming this summer!” Oh well, typos and unsafe driving aside, I’m pretty excited about this. I just hope that the tour schedule is released soon so I can make sure I’m in town for the show.

once

If you haven’t seen the Irish indie film Once yet, it’s definitely worth renting this weekend (or whenever). I saw it a few weeks ago and found it to be one of those movies where you’re not ready to talk much right afterward…so you just sit in the silence of your thoughts while the credits roll and the closing music plays quietly. I don’t want to ruin the movie because I think it’s probably better if you go into it without knowing much, but in case you need a small preview to help convince you to go rent it, here’s the video for the song “Falling Slowly” by the film’s co-stars Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová (the song that just won an Oscar for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture).

What struck me most about Once is how simple it is — I heard it only cost around $150,000 to make and they filmed it in 17 days using Handycams — yet, after the first few minutes you hardly notice that the production quality is comparable to a lot of videos on youtube because the characters and their stories (especially their music) are so intensely real. Shortly after watching the film I went on iTunes to download “Falling Slowly” and read a few comments people left about the soundtrack, including one by a user who goes by the name “nycsuarez” that I think speaks to the heart of why the film and it’s music have been resonating with so many people. It said:

There’s something that millions of dollars, the finest – most beautiful actors, the fanciest camera work and the experienced aural work of a top Hollywood composer/soundtrack supervisor can’t buy – and that’s emotion. And authenticity. And beauty. Virtually everything contained with the film “Once” and it’s accompanying soundtrack speak to all that filmmakers and Hollywood should aspire…every song both contributes to the plot of the film, to the structure of the story and the emotions felt by both characters and individuals lucky enough to experience this great cinematic achievement.

Comments like this address not only what worked well in the film emotion, authenticity, beauty — but they also make a fairly harsh criticism of most other Hollywood films. While thinking about nycsuarez’s comment, I realized they could have just as easily come from a person who has been going to churches for years and just finally found a specific church that approaches faith, life and worship with a realness that most other churches seem to be lacking (honesty, authenticity, they don’t take themselves too seriously, but they take God and faith very seriously). Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that Once gives a new perspective for us to see the church with, but the film definitely offers a new outlook on what is “needed” to make something meaningful, significant and/or real. It didn’t take millions of dollars and Hollywood’s best actors, producers and studios to make a film that has gained a lot of recognition and acclaim. Similarly, churches don’t need expensive sound systems, the best media tools, cool lighting effects or hip worship bands in order to usher people into the presence of God in meaningful ways. Sure, I think those things are cool and sometimes they can help enhance the worship experience, but all that is really needed are people who are open to God’s call and willing to serve the world and invite others to come together to experience the transforming hope, love and forgiveness that is found in Jesus Christ. What do you say Church? Let’s stop making it more difficult than it needs to be. Let’s allow films like Once to remind us how to be the people of God, gathered together as broken pieces and bound together by love. It’s time to become the Church, Christ’s beautiful bride. And as Stevie Wonder would sing, “Isn’t she lovely?”

Kid Rock’s gospel song

While wasting some time this morning watching TV (VH1 Top 20 Countdown) instead of studying (Systematic Theology), I didn’t expect to see this guy (Kid Rock) singing this song (“Amen”) — but there he was right in front of me on the screen, the former husband of Pamela Anderson singing about having “faith in human nature, our creator and our savior; I’m no saint, but I believe in what is right…c’mon now, amen.”

Click on “Read the rest of this entry” for the full lyrics to Kid Rock’s song “Amen.”

Continue reading

Music.

The invention and evolution of digital music has not only changed the way we listen to music, but it’s also effected the way we “obtain” music (buy, borrow, steal). At the root of everything involved are ethics and preferences. My first year of college happened to be the year Napster was started (1999). I have always loved music, but until that point in my life, I had to drive to the store and shell out 15 bucks or ask a friend to make me a tape of music they had already bought if I wanted new music. But now, with Napster, everything had changed. I could sit in my dorm room and by simply logging onto a computer program I was connected with other people around the country (maybe even the world) who were willing to share their music with me for free. It was an incredible new reality for me, and I took advantage like it was going to end the next day. I remember staying up until at least 4:00 am several nights that year because I kept thinking of songs I had always wanted (but never had the money to buy the entire album). All I had to do was type in the name of the artist and/or song and within a few minutes I could have the song downloaded onto my computer and a few days later, by giving a few dollars to a guy who lived in another dorm who had a CD burner (another technological breakthrough that I was in awe of), I could have those newly downloaded songs on a CD and listen to them wherever I went (which at that time was usually basketball road trips). I can remember being on the bus and having some of my teammates make a big deal out of it when I had TEN different burned CDs (they thought that was a lot). By the end of my first semester I think I had downloaded every song I could think of that I didn’t already have on a CD, which probably meant I had somewhere around 1,000 songs.

That same year, Napster became the center of debate in the music industry after several bands (most notably Metallica and Dr. Dre) filed legal complaints against the service for allowing users to download their songs without permission. Napster was definitely not legal, since users were literally stealing music (the artists and record companies were not getting a single penny while people were getting their music for free). The music peeps didn’t like this arrangement, but me and all my friends thought it was a pretty sweet deal (remember we were broke college students, the only thing better would have been a restaurant that delivered free pizza around the clock). Sometime during either my freshman or sophomore year, Napster reached an agreement that they would lock the doors to their music network on anyone who was pirating their songs. So, on a cloudy day in a dorm room on the campus of Luther College, I attempted to log on to Napster like I had so many times before, but rather than gaining access to a glorious buffet of free music, I was instead greeted by a message from Dr. Dre stating that because I had some of his music on my computer I would no longer be able to use Napster (ever!). This was not good news. The irony in this story is that I had just purchased tickets for a concert that coming summer in which Dr. Dre was one of the main acts (I think those tickets were around $60 each). Thanks, Dre…I can’t wait for your expensive concert!

Well, sometime between staying up all night downloading music, going to Dr. Dre concerts and wherever I’m at today, I began thinking about the ethics involved in my behavior as a music lover. Perhaps it has something to do with working in a church and going to seminary, or simply growing up and maturing (including some changes in my music preferences) – and I suppose having friends in the music industry and actually having money to buy music may have played roles as well – but today it’s pretty uncommon for me to get music in a way that is not legal. I’m not going to say it never happens, but it’s a much more rare occurrence than when I was 18. But even looking at this situation with the assumption that the ways most people get music today is legal; there are all sorts of other issues involved, including how individuals listen to music and their preferred methods of getting their favorite music from a CD, website or hard drive to their ears.

I have friends who vow they will never buy an actual CD again; they prefer to buy individual songs or full albums on iTunes. There are certainly advantages to this method of purchasing music. For example, all I need to do is look at all the shoe boxes full of CDs under my bed to realize that I could free up a lot of storage space if I had only bought those albums from iTunes or some other digital music store. Call me old school, but I still love buying CDs. I can’t imagine missing out on one of the greatest joys in my life; the new music experience. I love struggling to take off the clear wrapping around a new CD, fighting to remove that sticker label that runs across the top so I can open the case; and the pop-noise the disc makes the first time you take it off the little round prongs that keep it in its place, I love that sound. I love the smell of a new CD almost as much as I love the smell of the new shoes that came in those boxes where I now keep all my old CDs (but seriously, nothing compares to the smell of new shoes). I love looking at the photography and design of the entire packaging of a CD. When I first started buying CDs in middle school, I remember getting excited by all the new ways record companies printed graphics (and even pictures) onto the actual disc; and when they started making the entire case clear – meaning there was a hidden image to discover behind the CD – I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever. I love flipping through the album’s liner notes – and I still don’t understand why it’s so hard to get them out of the case the first time, but then gets easier every time after.

I have an iPod, so the first thing I usually do with a new CD is import it into iTunes and start listening to it on my computer, but it’s uncommon that I get through the first song before reading the artists’ Thank Yous (as well as the lyrics, but I always read the Thank Yous first). When it comes down to it, I think that’s actually one of the main reasons why I still buy CDs. Sure, it makes sense from a “just in case” perspective to own the CDs — just in case my hard drive should crash and I lost all my music that wasn’t backed up somewhere — and I realize that when you download full albums on iTunes you usually get a pdf of the CD liner notes (what iTunes calls the “Digital Booklet”), but it’s just not the same as holding the real thing in my hands and reading the song lyrics and Thank Yous. There’s something deep and meaningful that happens to me in that moment. Maybe I’m the only one who experiences this (and feels a need to re-experience this when it comes to getting new music), I’m not sure, but the only thing that makes new music more meaningful to me is when I get a CD after seeing that band or artist in concert. I love the feeling that I know a bit about the people behind the music, like they’ve let me into their life or world (or their reality of life in the world), even if it was just for an hour with a few hundred/thousand other people (depending on the size of the concert); but music is a deep and personal thing to me, and nothing is as intimate as being in the same room as people when they’re creating music that puts the thoughts, feelings and emotions of my life into melodies and lyrics. Augustine, the philosopher and theologian from the 4th and 5th century is quoted as having said that “He who sings prays twice,” and although I’m not quite sure what this means, it is clear to me that to many people, music (whether singing or listening) is a sacred thing. No two people have exactly the same taste in music, but regardless of the person, great music always connects with the soul of the listener; so whether it’s worship music, rock, folk, hip hop, country, classical or experimental, one of the greatest joys I’ve experience in life is getting to know the hearts of the people who make the music that connects with my soul. That’s why I love going to concerts. And that’s also why I will continue buying CDs as long as they still make them (and I wouldn’t be surprised if music went “digital only” during my lifetime).

Last night I went to a concert. It wasn’t a great show, but even a bad concert is (usually) better than no concert. I went with a friend and he had an extra copy of one of the artist’s albums, so I ended up seeing live music and taking new music home with me (one of my favorite combos). Since I got home late I didn’t open the CD until this morning, but as I was reading the Thank You notes – after following all the wonderful steps I described above – I found myself reading something I had never read before. Everything seemed pretty normal, as he followed the standard industry format – “Thanks to… God, Jesus, family, friends and anyone else who helped me make this album and become who I am today” – followed by the list of websites where people can “visit him.” But this is where my new music experience was changed forever…

After listing his website and myspace page, he wrote the following: “let me just give you my cell phone number… 555-123-4567! I’d love to hear you from! (And no, this is not a joke!)”

Seriously, this is actually what he wrote; and yes, I changed his phone number because I’m fairly certain the number he listed is his real cell number (although I don’t really know why I’m protecting his personal information since he already shared it with everyone). Honestly, I’m still not sure what to think about this. It’s certainly gutsy, especially in a world where privacy is such a big deal. I have no way of knowing how many people have actually picked up the phone to tell the guy “Hey man, I was just listening to your CD and I wanted to say whats up,” but it’s probably safe to assume that at least a few people have done it. (It doesn’t add a whole lot to the story to give the name of the artist, so I’ll only say that he’s a young male Christian singer, and while he’s no Justin Timberlake, I’m sure JT would never give his phone numbers inside a CD.) I’m intrigued by this invitation for interaction between an artist and his fans, and I’m considering calling him to ask a few questions about his innovative move, just to see if he’s happy with his decision (to find out what kind of response it’s created). If nothing else, it would give me an opportunity to find out if the number he gave is for real.

I never really know what I’m going to write about on anewdoxology until I sit down in front of my computer and start typing. I usually have a general idea because something has inspired me or got me thinking about something I want to explore deeper, but I never write something just to write something. I have to feel led to write before I start writing, and believe it or not, there have been several things I’ve spent hours working on that never made it online (and one recently that I put up for a few hours and then decided to take down). Writing is therapeutic for me and it helps me better understand how I see and think about things in the world. So this morning, I opened a new CD and went about a very normal thing in my life (with no intention of writing about it). I was struck by the openness of an artist to not only share his faith with others through the music he’s created, but also to share part of himself with his fans by giving them his phone number. There’s a lot of trust shown in this action, but if you really think about it, why are we so scared to trust other people with personal things about ourselves? I don’t just love music because of how it sounds, but because of how it makes me feel and the many wonderful ways it leads me to think and ask questions about the most basic and profound aspects of what it means to be a human in this world. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way…

Why do you love music? What specifically about music stirs your soul and leads you to thoughts and questions that drill to the core of what it means to be alive?

coldplay

I’ve been to a lot of incredible concerts in my lifetime so far, some that I’m still proud to tell people about (like Garth Brooks, Chicago, Jay-Z, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, just to name a few), and others that I’m now a little bit embarrassed to admit that I attended (so I won’t list any of them here). Concerts can get pretty expensive, but rarely have I let the high cost of a ticket keep me from seeing one of my favorite bands or artists put on a great show. Yet one of my biggest regrets in life so far was not going to a Coldplay concert with one of my roommates during our senior year of college (the video above for “Clocks” is from that tour). In my defense, I wasn’t a huge Coldplay fan back then (I am now), but that shouldn’t have mattered. Sure, I was a college student at the time, so driving to Minneapolis from Iowa on a weeknight (a “school night”) and paying $50 for a concert probably wouldn’t have been a great financial or academic decision, but I should have realized that a band like Coldplay was guaranteed to put on a “that was the best concert I’ve ever been to in my life” type of show. In fact, that’s exactly what my roommate said about the show when he got back from that concert, and five years later, he still says the same thing about that show. I suppose it’s possible that his memory of the show has improved with time, but during that same time period, my regrets about not going have only increased. I wish I had gone to the Coldplay concert at the Target Center in 2003…

I’m not someone who likes to live in regret, I suppose no one does; I just don’t see the point of it — especially as a person of faith who believes in the forgiving power of God’s grace — but if there’s anything we can take from our past mistakes it is wisdom that will help us not repeat them. So today I have a short list of bands and artists who I will do whatever I can to see in concert if I get the chance, regardless of ticket cost or other factors; the list includes Coldplay, U2, Michael Jackson and possibly John Mayer and Kanye West (I would definitely love to see those last two in concert, but I’m just not sure if they’ve achieved “short list” status yet).

Coldplay’s new studio album is rumored to be set for a May ’08 release and according to a post on the band’s website earlier this fall, it’s going to be “the album people will remember them by.” Hopefully the tour for this album will include a stop in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Who is on your short list that you wouldn’t miss seeing in concert for any reason???