It was an unexpected interview. Not that fact that I was interviewing Roger O’Donnell, longtime keyboardist for The Cure and Thompson Twins, since I had it scheduled for a few weeks in advance already, but rather that I actually enjoyed it so much. I’ve interviewed nearly 1,000 musicians in my time as a writer so the process has become rather dull for the most part and rare is the interview where the conversation is as stimulating as it was with this one.
Of course, as a music industry veteran for the last 30 years, O’Donnell’s perspectives are quite interesting to say the least. However, it was one thing he said in the middle that stays with me long after we both hung up our phones. When I asked him about the demise of the Cure into what he earlier called “the best Cure tribute band ever,” O’Donnell said the reason was that an artist only has so much to say and after that, they just repeat themselves.
I’ve heard this mentioned before in a couple places from a few artists in my time and I wonder about its truth. I’m also a pastor nearly five years into a church plant and I can easily see from time to time how much a fresh voice would help in this place. As a sports fan, I’ve definitely seen how the firing of an old coach simply helped for the sake of bringing in a fresh perspective. And I wonder, does this holds true for the artist?
Perhaps an even better question to ask is what does this mean for the Christian artist? Is it true that there’s only so much that we can say and then we need to move on? Of course, it’s impossible to create a formula that everyone should only make 10 albums or 20 years of playing shows or whatever. But rather than shrug and say “we can’t figure this out,” I think it’s worth asking a simple question of “is there a time to stop, at least for some people?”
I don’t play an instrument (at least to the level that anyone at all, even my mother, would pay to hear me), so, as I said, my venue is the church. And I definitely see this in play there. Here in the Bible Belt, there are many more churches alive than there should be – several in each surrounding city seem to be holding on only because somebody left some money in a trust fund or will, died, and then the church lives on its holdings.
A friend of mine runs an inner city church and non-profit and most people reside right next to an old Methodist church. They’ve asked to rent from them, partner with them, meet at all separate times, etc. but to no avail. The same 10 to 12 people continue to drive in from “safer” areas (read: white) and refuse to allow anyone else to use the building. And I suppose it’s their right to do so since they own the building and are able to pay their utilities. But is there life there?
It’s a natural life cycle to die and live. We’re so scared of one that we can’t embrace the other. But it’s death that gives nourishment to life. In fact, it’s even the promise of death that brings life to some things.
We almost closed as a church plant three years into it. I grew up in a Pentecostal, money-manipulating atmosphere, so I promised if I ever led my own church that I would never do the same thing. But I went in the extreme other direction – never, ever mentioning the fact that it takes money to run things, like it or not. And because of that, we were going to shut down.
I stood in front of our church that Sunday morning and explained it out. I said that I wasn’t afraid for us to die, that we had a great three year run and that I wasn’t going to manipulate for money, but that the reality was that this was our last week if things didn’t change. Since then, we’ve never looked back. There was something in that moment – knowing that everything has a limited run and that we can be okay with that – which has propelled us in a way we’ve never experienced.
I wonder about this within our lives, wherever we are. What does it mean for the artist to know there’s only so many records to make and to make them well? And what does it mean to know when the life is gone and we’re stuck in our routine and comfort zone?
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.