IVP - Strangely Dim - Make New Music and Keep the Old . . .

July 18, 2007

Make New Music and Keep the Old . . .

For my birthday this year I got a bunch of new music from an eclectic bunch of musicians: from Arcade Fire to Crowded House, from Andrew Bird to Paul McCartney. Being a music snob, I set out immediately to pick apart and pass judgment on these albums. But right around the same time, my hard drive here at the office crashed, and I lost all the music I've been storing on my office computer. (Don't tell my boss.) I wrote about that experience over at my other blog, Loud Time, but the gist of it was that my music snobbery now had a higher purpose: I had to decide again what music merits sharing with my coworkers.

My reputation is at stake, of course: we are known increasingly by our iPods. Politicians will even hire consultants to load the most poll-responsive music onto their portable listening devices and then leak the playlists, hoping in the process to win, for example, the Nickelback vote. Then they steel themselves for the inevitable aesthetic backlash: "Let me make this perfectly clear: I did not have musical relations with that band . . . Nickelback."

So I consider passing judgment on musicians an act of self-preservation. But the mix of artists I'm currently judging is giving me trouble.

On the one hand you have Andrew Bird, a consummate songcrafter with a great experimental vision, both lyrically and musically. Armchair Apocrypha is a deeper, more somber collection than I've become accustomed to in my limited exposure to his music. Next to him on the shelf is Arcade Fire, who have convinced me that they're the next U2, the next anthemically brilliant band to galvanize the energies of their generation--they will be, I think, what ColdPlay expected to be. Their Neon Bible wears their influences in its arrangements, and I already have a short list of songs from the album that will never leave my head.

But then I come to Paul McCartney and Crowded House. I've long been convinced that Sir Paul and CH lead singer Neil Finn are two of the greatest pop songwriters who have ever graced the airwaves. Paul too often doesn't get his due; his clever and nuanced lyrics have coupled with brilliant melodies and chord structures for decades now, but he lacked the visceral edge of John Lennon and so is regularly dismissed as the vacuous Beatle. Neil Finn, on the flip side, is a victim of his own success: his breakout "Don't Dream It's Over" was too good too soon, and so two decades before his beautiful "Gentle Hum" was even written, consumers decided he'd sung all he had to sing.

That being said, both McCartney's new solo album and Finn's revived Crowded House are playing to type on their new records: each has a signature style that reflects the worldview of professional musicians and songwriters who long ago left behind the notion that their music would change the world (in the case of Paul, it did) and now content themselves to write songs that they find personally meaningful and enjoyable. Their creative instincts are such that what they enjoy and resonate with translates well to a broader audience, and so despite the absence of grand innovations that are present with Arcade Fire and Andrew Bird, the music of Crowded House and Paul McCartney is still worth hearing, still worth sharing.

Books are more like music than we often give them credit for. Well-crafted books, like well-crafted music, marry the present to the progression of history, so that books that were new in 1967, if they were crafted well and with the right vision, still speak in 2007. InterVarsity Press publishes a lot of authors whose writing careers stretch across the decades precisely because they wrote of things that were resonant in their day and which still ring true today.

But time marches on and brings with it the rise of new generations--and with them new dilemmas and expectations. These new times demand new thoughts, which require new thinkers. The best of those new thinkers not only familiarize themselves with the progression of thought that predates them, but they recognize their debt to their forebears. Without the Beatles, there would be no U2, and consequently no Arcade Fire. Without Paul McCartney, there would be no Neil Finn, and consequently no Andrew Bird.

So as a reader I celebrate the news that important voices such as Lew Smedes and Robert Webber have become InterVarsity Press authors even after their death. But I also keep an ear open for the new voices--people such as Don Everts, Brian Sanders and Rick James--who continue to offer us a new resonance.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at July 18, 2007 8:06 AM Bookmark and Share


This from the Onion came too late to include in the post, but it's delicious:


I also got word today that I'll soon have access to the musical archives of the great Illinois Wesleyan garage band Lizards from Afar, for whom I played a wee bit of saxomophone. Jealous?

Comment by: Dave at July 18, 2007 1:45 PM

And today--again, too late for the post but too good to pass up--Lynne Baab, author of Fasting and Sabbath Keeping and a brand-new LifeGuide(TM)Bible study on the Sabbath, not to mention recent transplant to New Zealand, sent me local press about the revival of Crowded House, who call New Zealand home. My life is good.

Comment by: Dave at July 20, 2007 8:48 AM

"Even the dancers' faces are heavily pixilated, though their booties are not."

Isn't this how it should be?

As far as Crowded House...anything that keeps the lead singer from releasing any more bad solo albums is a good thing...

Comment by: Bob at July 24, 2007 8:20 PM

Tisk, tisk, Bob. Note to all: The comments posted on Strangely Dim reflect the opinions of their authors only; the contributors to Strangely Dim and its sponsors do not necessarily endorse the views conveyed in the comments.

And let me say that while Neil Finn's "One All" solo album and his latest collaboration with his brother were pretty hit and miss, I listen to his "Try Whistling This" on every road trip I take, and "Gentle Hum" is the best. song. ever.

Comment by: Dave at July 25, 2007 8:14 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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