That’s Gonna Leave A Mark!

September 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Ouch – that’s gonna leave a mark!

Have you ever said that? I said that to myself in the ER after I broke my nose at a Bible Study (that is a whole other story…) I also said it one time after my toddler son clocked me in the eye – I was fully expecting (and secretly hoping for) a shiner. It seems the best stories, the craziest adventures always leave a mark.

I am starting to realize that music should be no different…

Years ago, in college, I had a buddy in the dorm who really liked the songs I wrote. He was, in his own words, an atheist with agnostic tendencies and my songs were simple faith based expressions of whatever was going on in my life and head. As strange as that combination sounds when I  type it, he liked my songs. So much so, that he came to know the titles and ask me to sing them by name.

I graduated at the end of that year and moved to Texas to join a Christian rock band. We came back to my school the next fall and did a show. I saw my buddy in the audience and was glad to see him after, looking forward to hearing what he thought…

“Wow… what happened to you? Those songs were so… sunday school…”

Sunday school? I’d never heard that as an insult before… At the time I figured it was part of the tortured artist thing, people not getting you or what you stood for. But years later, with a lot more mileage under my belt, I realize it may well have been accurate.

Back when I didn’t know better… before input from band leaders or managers or industry types… before I cared about deals and airplay and sales… I just wrote songs. Simple expressions of whatever was going on in my life and head. Those songs were able to connect my faith to a guy with no faith. They left a mark.

I think the problem comes when I try to clean up songs… make them tidy… make them ‘churchified’ (whatever that means)… I am not talking about song craft, I am talking about copping out. Copping out when it comes to letting painful songs end painfully with no answers – copping out when it comes to songs of faith being hidden in ambiguous language for fear of rejection – copping out on songs of love and desire, as if those experiences weren’t deep enough to warrant their own songs – copping out on songs about a moment, whether joyful or sad, by trying to contrive a life lesson rather than just expressing the moment – copping out by not being song-honest with what is going on in my life and head, as broken and messy and amazing as it is…

As I type this, the Christopher Ames Band is prepping for a new record. And that means writing new songs – I don’t want to write ‘sunday school’ songs anymore… talking with Danny and JB, we agree… when people hear the new record, when they listen to these songs, we want them to say:

That’s gonna leave a mark…

Seeing is Knowing

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment

A few months back, my family was in Saratoga Springs, NY… a cool, kitschy town that is known for horse racing and has ties to James Bond. We were walking down the main drag in search of dinner when we came across a homeless couple.

At that point, that is all I saw – Homeless. Two of them.

As we walked closer, I just knew they were going to ask for money and I was wondering how to respond in front of my kids, how to get past them politely but quickly, how to appear so engrossed in a conversation that maybe they wouldn’t address me… thinking the things that I think most of us honestly think in that situation.

At that point, that is all I saw – I. Me. Mine.

Once we were within speaking distance he raised his voice, “You got any spare change?” No way to ignore him completely, so I looked at him and that is when I saw it… a guitar case. I don’t know why I responded this way, I had never done it before, but without skipping a beat I replied “Got a song?”

At that point, that is all I saw – a guitar.

So, he started to play. I am not sure what I expected, but this wasn’t it… he was good. His guitar, as beat up as it was, was in tune – his voice was strong and unwavering – he had rhythm, he had melody… he was really good. I gave him the $4 bucks I had and wished it was more, wished I knew a place where he could get a gig. He played his guitar with hands that were not homeless…

Then I looked at her. She didn’t look at me because she was looking at him. The whole time he played, she never looked away. Her head rocking back and forth in time to the music. She watched him with eyes that were not homeless…

And that is when I finally saw them, finally knew them – a musician and the woman who loves him.

Categories: Musings

Changing Reputation

Have you ever encountered the tension between the reputation of a group and the reputation of an individual?

Maybe you have been judged by teachers according to the reputation of your siblings who came before you in school. Or perhaps you have been lumped in with folks, whether or not your behavior matches theirs, simply because you are a ________ (fill in the blank with gender, school, clique, job, faith, etc.)

‘Romeo and Juliette’  fits this mold (for those of you who love classics) or ‘West Side Story’ (if you prefer musicals…)

I can remember several instances touring when upon a punctual arrival to load in my gear, the venue would comment that they were not used to musicians who showed up on time. The reputation of ‘Musicians’ clashing with the reputation of one specific musician.

The knee jerk reaction is to try and change the reputation of your group. I know, I have tried. But individually changing the reputation of a group is impossible. I know, I have failed.

There is a real possibility, however. You can change your own reputation.

For me, that means choosing and acting the way I believe a musician should act. I cannot change the reputation of musicians at large, but I can become known as the type of musician that I, specifically, am.

And that could go a long way towards improving the reputation of your group…

Categories: Musings Tags: , ,

Because Every Story Matters

February 27, 2015 Leave a comment

I was talking with a friend the other day and he was trying to remember a specific song. He said, “All I remember is that the song is about a girl…” That narrows it down to about 98% of all rock and roll, minus a few Beach Boys songs about cars… which are still probably about girls, anyway…

Please continue reading today’s post at Eastern Hills Staff Blog.

Can I Be Conceited For A Moment?

February 6, 2015 1 comment

I really don’t like conceited people. Or maybe more accurately – I don’t like it when people are conceited. Even if they have the goods to back it up, it is still a very unattractive quality. Because it bothers me so much, I have really worked to avoid it in my own life.  And, with the exception of some incidents in college that were quickly and summarily dealt with by good friends, I think I have mostly avoided it. Until today… I know this is totally conceited and full of self, but I have to say it (because it is true…):

I am way too pretty to be this old.

Before the laughter really kicks in, let me clarify… I have been on a Rich Mullins kick lately, having read his biography last Fall and then receiving the movie ‘Ragamuffin’ for Christmas… and it is one of the things he said that has spurred this blog…

“So go out and live real good and I promise you’ll get beat up real bad. But, in a little while after you’re dead, you’ll be rotted away anyway.”

I had heard this quote before without much effect but that is because I think I misunderstood it. I read the word ‘good’ and assumed that he meant if we ‘live real good’ in the sense of faith and Christ-likeness that we will be beat up real bad by enemies of faith. But now I am not sure that is what he meant…

Recently, I listened in on a conversation with a group of friends as they traded stories about scars and tattoos and piercings… a story or adventure behind every mark… some of the stories were grand, some were silly, some were tragic, some were plain stupid… but all were about life lived. And these lives lived had resulted in bodies marked.

To live real good… sometimes that involves choices about right and wrong – that kind of good… but oftentimes it’s you and some friends and they all decide to jump at an adventure – do you go or hang back? Do you risk the scar and gain the story? or do you hold back and stay pretty? stay safe?

I am way too pretty to be this old and I feel like it’s time for some scars, tattoo’s, and piercings of my own and the stories that come with them…

Categories: Musings

Go Ye Forth and Do Something… Normal?

February 4, 2015 1 comment

Anyone who knows me knows that I love heroes… whether super heroes from comic books, the unexpected heroes of fantasy novels, biblical heroes of faith, or the underdog heroes who surprise everyone (including themselves) when they step up… I love when ordinary people become extraordinary.

Please continue reading today’s post at Eastern Hills Staff Blog.

That’s How We Roll…

January 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Worship and prayer are funny things… the New Testament gives us some specific direction about intent and motivation, but less about method and mode. It strikes me as interesting how we humans get it reversed and try to enforce strict guidelines about practice and ignore to great extent the content.

Direction on the invisible and freedom on the visible…

Please continue reading today’s post at Eastern Hills Staff Blog.


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