Bienvenidos, y'all. This is an article in 5 parts, starting with the obligatory rebuke of musical idolatry, winding around some Venezuelan proletarian rap, the possibility that Jesus wouldn't be interested in turning the band's merch table into an altar, and a short celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Stupid Old Heart, before finally arriving at an explanation of how recording is....
1. A Rebuke of Musical Idolatry
“Open rebuke is better than secret love.”
After decades of explaining myself to artistic legalists who think music is somehow more righteous (or unrighteous) than any of the other trades, you'd think I'd have long-since given up on God. Since I don't idolize my material, and don't see how singing and writing songs is any different from any other trade, it hasn't been difficult to disregard these people. Whether they are "religious" or secular. And indeed, if I shared the idolatry of the brethren in particular, who seem to think that what I do is inherently a religious act of worship, I probably would have walked away from God, long ago.
The idolatry in Western culture is so ingrained that people genuinely don't see that by elevating the trade of making music to an inherent act of worship, they are committing hardcore idolatry, whether the object of this unwitting worship name-drops Jesus Christ or not. Which most fake, quasi-Christian sound product does.
No other trade is subjected to this form of worship. You don't see Christian jocks holding out for that Christian NFL or NBA team to give them a call, and abandoning their trade entirely if they don't get hired (yes, hired) by those non-existent teams. You don't hear other Christians telling them that by playing for the NBA or going to the Olympics they aren't glorifying God, or that they should stop practicing their trade because they aren't glorifying God every time they make a touchdown or hit a home run. I've never seen it.
This is because Christian athletes are generally allowed to be free individuals by their Christian brethren. Tim Tebow is celebrated for being an individual Christian in a trade that, like most, has nothing to do with any kind of religious or spiritual practices or beliefs. His brethren allow him to express his faith individually in a secular field. Which... all fields are.
Football, finance, strawberry, it doesn't matter. Planting strawberries is no more an act of worship than throwing a touchdown pass, or trading currencies, urgencies, and abstract insecurities on Forex.
It's just a job.
And yet, I am considered some kind of deviant heathen if I do anything but name-drop Jesus Christ in a trade that, like sports, cooking, farming, car repair, and pretty much everything else except being a missionary or preacher (which in their truest form are callings, not trades), doesn't inherently have anything to do with any spiritual practice or belief of any kind. Inherently.
A culture that rightly supports a baker that doesn't want to be forced to make a cake that celebrates things that go against his spiritual beliefs, flips the script and goes full hypocrite on me by forcing me to sing about nothing but Jesus Christ in artless, literal language all day every day at the threat of being labeled... I dunno, something bad. An apostate, I suppose.
At best, and as crazy as it sounds (and is), ignoring me becomes an act of obedience to Christ.
Does the baker literally write JESUS IS LORD on every birthday cake he makes? Is he supposed to figure out a way to squeeze in scripture references to a sugary script that says nothing more substantial than "Happy Birthday Bobby?" Why does nobody expect him to do it, while demanding it of me? Why do you think what I do is somehow more important than making a kid's birthday cake look good (which is probably, actually, more important)? Do you know how hard it is to learn how to sing or play an instrument well, or write "Happy Birthday Bobby" in sugar, perfectly, in one take, every time? I can't do it. Granted, I've never tried, but unlike music, never having tried it does not give me the inexplicable-yet-ubiquitous opinion that I could do it, if I wanted to, and if I ever was useless enough to waste my time making birthday cakes like a degenerate wastoid who should repent of baking because, like everything, baking is an act of worship and therefore either pure and righteous (or wicked and sinful), and therefore the baker owes us the fruits of his sacrificial labor for free, I would write "John 3:16" on every cake.
A ridiculous concept on its face.
But with music, that's what everybody expects. Which is hardcore idolatry.
"A wise son heareth his father's instruction:
but a scorner heareth not rebuke."
Everybody understands that the baker might have Jesus in his heart while he makes a cake that doesn't literally or technically have anything to do with Jesus, but I'm expected to sing the same song a thousand times on a loop, ad infinitum, about Jesus Christ and nothing else, not even on the surface, ever, or I'm a heathen.
How ridiculous. How patronizing. How absurd. Where is my Greta Thunberg mask? "How dare you" put my trade on a pedestal above those other trades. How embarrassing and unsightly. Why do you insult other tradesmen by telling me that what I do is more important than the work of any given plumber, electrician, or car mechanic? Nobody with any sense thinks that Michelangelo or Miles Davis deserve more credit for "making the world a better place" than the guy who invented indoor plumbing. Given the choice between the Mona Lisa and indoor plumbing, what would you choose? Really. Not the painting, I hope. What's wrong with you, anyway? Have you no shame? Will you ever repent of this hardcore idolatry?
I scowl at ye with mythological levels of disdain that are matched in condescension only by your own opinion of regular working people.
Lol. Poor Greta. She probably actually believes her own lines. Surely she does. How sad and unintentionally hilarious and disgraceful.
But none of this is why I'm writing this article. Unfortunately, it needs to be said, but I'm tired of the topic in ways that can't be politely described. I have to use GIFs of Greta Thunberg, who I pity as a manipulated individual created by Jesus but who is in fact a tool of Satan being used to bludgeon, destroy, and insult the entire Western world. She speaks for me in no way at all, and yet, when talking about the music industry, and the unthinking, default idolatry toward it engaged in by everyone this side of Caracas, she comes to mind as an appropriate spokesperson.
2. Venezuelan Rap
Which, speaking of Venezuela, there's some legit rap from there. Rap is a dead form, overbaked and long-since totally absorbed into corporate Borg society, but if you absolutely must to listen to it, hear ye this:
Good song, even if it is 11 years old. Apparently, rap isn't even new in places obscured by the dreaded Iron Sarape anymore, the populistic, chile-flavored brand of Socialism that for whatever reason thrives in large swaths of Latin America. I wrote about it in an article titled Eva Perón & The Socialist Mindset, if you're interested in some of my shallow, unresearched thoughts and observations on the matter.
“Donde existe una necesidad, nace un derecho.”
"No estoy de acuerdo."
While we're on the tangent of Venezuelan rap, about which I know effectively nothing, this is one of my favorite examples. Nothing like a guapa in a hardhat, spitting some working-class idealism on the people. Apparently, things did not work out according to plan, however sick the flow:
3. Jesus Overturning The Merch Tables
So, what's the reason for this article, if not to smash the idols, to overturn the altars in the marketplace in the exact-opposite way Jesus overturned the merch tables in the house of worship?
If Jesus wasn't down with turning the temple into a record store, is it safe to assume He would at least be sympathetic with the idea that it isn't cool to turn the record store into a temple?
I certainly think so.
4. Stupid Old Heart
Today is the 10th anniversary of the release of Stupid Old Heart, a sonic garage full of low-riding cars custom-built for cruising the cemetery alone at night in a state of crippling heartbreak. Read ye yonder album synopsis:
"As the title implies, Stupid Old Heart is largely a collection of unrequited love songs, a dystopian vision of valentines gone wrong. From the opening strains of "I Am A Verb, You Are A Noun (chasin' the snail)" to the ridiculous, aberrant lunacy of "Zombie Wastoids Have The Power," Stupid Old Heart charts the descent of a man from freedom to madness, by way of his heart. Featuring poetry written and performed by Trey Blake of Brighton, England ("Untitled Lovers"), who also provides background vocals throughout the album, Stupid Old Heart is the perfect self-inflicted valentine for all the broken-hearted people who haven't yet realized they're better off alone."
There ya go. I couldn't have said it better myself. Listen to the album here, if you are interested.
5. The Art of Musical Taxidermy
"Songs are my cars, and tunes and words are my assortment of wrenches."
From Art Worshipers & Artistic Legalists
If songwriting is like building cars, recording is the art of sonic taxidermy.
If songwriting is like being a car mechanic, recording is like being a taxidermist.
And there are 2 kinds of songs: Live songs, and recorded songs.
Unlike the freeze-dried stuffed animal on the record, the live song is a living animal. In the context of a live show, it's our job as performers to let that animal run as free as possible within the restraints of whatever form we're working in. Punk-Rock, Bluegrass, Outlaw Country, Old-School Badass Rock & Roll, whatever. The animal should be as true to itself as possible, and it's our job to get out of its way and let it run free. Amateurs and dilettantes will posture and strut, because their ego is what's important to the performance, not the free-range madness of the wild animal itself. They will step all over the feet of the sound that is thrashing to escape their control, and hate you for correcting them in this religious act of artless ego-worship. Probably, this is because they have no idea what musical husbandry is all about, and are only playing rockstar so their girlfriends will think they're cool for one more day. Having no business on a stage of any kind, it will never occur to them that the best live shows are those in which the performers are surfing in tandem on a sonic wave of their own unconscious making, and that ego has no place near any of it.
Obviously, it's okay to try to capture the spontaneous movements of the living, wild animal on your mechanical recording box, and if you have analog equipment and reel-to-reel tape, you'll have a better chance of success than those of us who to-date have had to "make do" with the undeniable blessing of digital recording, which is a frozen, frigid medium. Analog machines produce an undeniably warmer sound, and are probably the best recording technology the world will ever invent.
Digital recording is like trying to plant a garden in a refrigerator.
There's nothing wrong with it. That's just what it is.
Digital recording is like making ice sculptures out of sides of sonic beef. A bear here, an arm there. A tail, some ears, a telephone. Anything. Just freeze it together; the subzero temperatures inherent to the technology will hold it together. There's no need to worry about maggots or decay. The sounds themselves have never been thawed. The snare drum has clapped shut, trapping a lonely wolf in search of something to eat, anything that can be chewed... A hitchhiker bathing in soup, a rabbit... A mouse, a cogent thought, some French Fries. Of course, such balmy luxuries are not here. The vocals have been chiseled like an epitaph into the ice drive; the guitar tone was forged in Antarctica, beneath the starry seas of Niflheim, and the world of endless mist.
It's a frozen, loveless world.
Which makes it the perfect medium for capturing an album full of unrequited love songs like Stupid Old Heart.
Stupid Old Heart isn't the most joyful record in my discography, but it has some definite highlights, such as the first 2 songs on the "Leaving Monterrey" video mixtape, which also happen to be the first 2 songs on the album itself.
"Untitled Lovers" is another highlight, but you can read more about it in the article An Album of Musical Nudes, which gets into the album itself in a little more depth.
So, regardless of whether the lovers have a title or not, recording is the art of musical taxidermy. While a live performance is like setting an animal free from the zoo, perhaps dancing around with it under a circus tent, or running free with it through the open plains, recording is stuffing the corpse until it looks and sounds the way you want it to. Snarling, smiling, sleeping. Fighting with a mongoose, or mounted to a wall. Whatever you want. And digital recording is done in a freezer. Recording and live performance are different animals, literally, and both can do things the other can not. Just don't forget that what you're doing is NOT sacred, and since it's NOT an act of worship, there's no reason not to insist on reasonable compensation for services rendered.
And finally, if you appreciate what I do, feel free to subscribe to and share the songs on my YouTube Topic Channel. Both the main channel and the "Wild Bores" topic channel that the algorithm overlords forced me to buy, because "it's a different artist," because the band name is different.
To their credit, they did let the Nathan Payne Memorial Service album slip past the algorithm net, even though that's technically a different band name too. But it's all me.
Subscribing and sharing helps a lot. Listen, like, repeat. Put an album on a loop and mute it while you sleep. Tell your animal friends.
I appreciate it very much.
Thanks for listening.