Salt In The Oats – Why I’m A Fan of Aimee Mann

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One of the things I’m most grateful for about the Rabbit Room is the opportunity it affords me to have conversations about some of my more self-indulgent enthusiasms. Take, for instance, today’s specimen: the music of Aimee Mann.

The first pastor I ever worked for, who was also my mentor, shared an old, hackneyed proverb with me once, but with his own fresh twist: “Jason, it’s true that while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make himaimeemann-300x300 drink,” he said, and then pausing to let the next statement gather some heat… “But you can make him thirsty,” he said with a sly grin, pleasurably anticipating the reveal: “you can make him thirsty by mixing salt into his oats.”

This folksy wisdom has stayed with me all these years and remains a guiding philosophy in my ministry. It’s only the thirsty who want drink, and helping awaken people to their thirst can accomplish more than throwing a cup of unwanted water in their face – even if it is living water.

And this brings me to the music of Aimee Mann. Besides being immensely gifted, I always experience her music as a profound kind of primer for the gospel, asking the kind of questions that the gospel is eager to answer.

To my knowledge, Mann doesn’t share my faith, and I wouldn’t recommend her as a “Christian artist” (whatever that means – I imagine this would be a good topic for a future post), and yet her music–to my mind–holds a certain kind of value because of its truth-telling, a kind of truth-telling that to me feels like salting the oats – even if this is not her intent. In fact, Mann says she “believes in a higher power” but feels “no pressure to figure it out” (a disappointing and, in my opinion, intellectually flawed sentiment from someone as intelligent as Mann–I would have hoped for more from the writer who penned this great lyric: they don’t give the answers at the end of the test / so you can’t simply stand there and hope for the best…).   And yet I agree with her on the part of the equation she does have figured out and often writes about. So there is enough truth in her music for me to enjoy her formidable song-craft without my inner lie detector going off at every turn.

Rich Mullins is famously quoted as reminding us that God spoke to Balaam through an ass, and he still speaks through asses today, so we don’t necessarily have to think too highly of ourselves if God chooses to speak through us. This was, of course, Rich’s delightful way of saying that God can use anybody he wishes–with or without their permission. I feel humbled and grateful to have been told on occasion that I’m one of those asses.

(Aimee–if you happen to come upon this article, please know that I’m not calling you an ass. I just mean to say that though I could admire you for your giftedness alone, I’ve also been delighted to find so many places where your observations and my Christian convictions have converged unpredictably.)

Few artists have so consistently and truthfully written such an eloquent description of the human condition with such hipster elegance. Mann’s truths are more often than not sad ones–about alienation, fear, prodigals all running away from home–but they are truths that might make you thirsty. Consider this poignant lyric from the song she wrote for the soundtrack of P.T. Anderson’s film Magnolia:

You look like
The perfect fit
(ah, a sweet song of romantic love–but wait, here comes the twist!…)
For a girl in need
Of a tourniquet

Can you save me?
Can you save me?
Oh won’t you save me?
From the ranks of the freaks who suspect
They could never love anyone…

(“Save Me” from Magnolia)

Mann’s genius is the way she is able to tap into the motivations of the heart and her songs are populated with characters whose loneliness and brokenness drive them into addictive and self-destructive behaviors, circling the impact site of what I understand as “The Fall”.  These hopeless idolatries are not romanticized but revealed as the broken things that they are, affirming Paul’s famous tongue-twisting confession in Romans 7 that he doesn’t do what he wants to, but what he doesn’t want to do, he does. In an interview Mann says:

“I’m fascinated with the idea of addiction because it’s so counter-intuitive. Surely your behaviour should be one of those things that you really can control? But I started going to open AA meetings a few years ago, to listen to people talk, and just had this realisation of, ‘Oh–they really can’t stop.’ Even if you know alcoholism’s a disease, you sort of think, ‘Well, if they really tried to stop…’

“But they truly can’t. It’s a real paradox that in the 12-step program, the first step is that you’re supposed to admit that you’re powerless over it. Western society is based on the idea of will power, even in a Polly Anna-ish of way: the idea that if you set your mind to it, you can do anything! And it just isn’t true. You aren’t that powerful and it’s self-aggrandizing to think you are. As soon as you stop thinking that you are, you start to have a better chance.”

A song that to me always epitomized this sentiment is called “The King Of The Jailhouse” from her record The Forgotten Arm–a concept record that chronicles the journey of two broken characters, a man and a woman, who in their loneliness look for hope and healing in each other.
aimeemanforgotten
The king of the jailhouse
And the queen of the road
Think that sharing the burden
Will lighten the load…

So wake me up at the border
When we reach Mexico
I’ll tell you a secret
That I don’t even know

Baby there’s something wrong with me
Baby there’s something wrong with me
That I can’t see…
(“King Of The Jailhouse” from The Forgotten Arm)

To Mann’s credit, she doesn’t sell us the idea that these two deeply broken characters can somehow solve the problem of each other’s loneliness. Two wounded people rarely make a healthy relationship–they make a hospital.

Instead, she speaks the simple truth about the secret that we don’t even know: “baby there’s something wrong with me that I can’t see.” As a follower of Christ I understand that “secret something” as sin, and this song has always seemed to me to be a prime example of how her songwriting brings us to the doorstep of the gospel, salting the oats and making us feel our thirst.

Some writers fall in love with their own depression, romanticizing their dysfunction, even glorying in it. But Mann’s work, while often melancholy, manages to mine such intimate themes of brokenness without becoming utterly depressing and nihilistic. It’s a wonder to me that she’s able to delve as deep into the darkness of the human problem while writing songs that rarely succumb to the darkness themselves. That she marries such potent themes to such delightful melodies is quite an accomplishment. Her songs sing like perfect little chilled-out pop gems.

Another potent lyric unmasking the Hollywood fallacy that the love of another person can fix what’s broken in us goes like this:

So baby kiss me like a drug, like a respirator
And let me fall into the dream of the astronaut
Where I get lost in space that goes on forever
And you make all the rest just an afterthought
And I believe it’s you who could make me better
Though it’s not
No, it’s not…

(“It’s Not” from Lost In Space)

We have been told by pop culture that romantic love can fix us, but if Mann tells us this isn’t so, it begs the question: “What can fix us? And if my loneliness can’t be fixed by the presence of someone else, then what is it that’s broken in me that needs fixing? And Who, in God’s name, can fix it?”

Salt in the oats.

But it’s not only what Mann is saying that captures my imagination, but the way she says it. This girl can write the heck out of a song! Let me throw a few lyrics at you that to me exemplify how literate and capable of a writer she is and the sure handle she has of her craft:

About the futility of telling the truth to people who don’t really want to hear it:

Cause I don’t have the bribery in place
No bright shiny surface to my face
So I won’t go near the marketplace
With what I’m selling lately…

(“This Is How It Goes” from Lost In Space)

People are tricky, you can’t afford to show
Anything risky, anything they don’t know
The moment you try, well kiss it goodbye…

(“It’s Not” from Lost In Space)

Or about co-dependency as a kind of addiction:

We have crossed the Rubicon
Our ship awash, our rudder gone
The rats have fled but I’m hanging on
Let me try, baby try
Baby please, let me begin
Let me be your heroine
Hate the sinner, but love the sin
Let me be your heroine…

(“High On Sunday 51” from Lost In Space)

About the determination to stay committed to a losing cause:

The moth don’t care if the flame is real
Cause moth and flame have got a sweetheart deal
And nothing fuels a good flirtation
Like need and anger and desperation
No the moth don’t care if the flame is real…

(“The Moth” from Lost In Space)

About the fear of love and letting your guard down:

So don’t work your stuff
because I’ve got troubles enough
no, don’t pick on me
when one act of kindness could be
deathly
deathly

(“Deathly” from Magnolia)

About the aftershocks of breakup:

Like a balloon with nothing for ballast
Labeled like a bottle for Alice
Drink me or I’ll drown in a sea of giants
And tell me, “baby, baby I love you”
It’s non-stop memories of you
It’s like a video of you playing
It’s all loops of seven-hour kisses,
Cut with a couple of near-misses
Back to the scene of the actor saying:
“Tell me baby, baby, why do I feel so bad?”

(“Video” from The Forgotten Arm)

Or check out further evidence of her command of language and imagery in this lyric about the false self we’re tempted to bring to people:

I won’t find it fantastic or think it absurd
When the gun in the first act goes off in the third
‘Cause it’s rare that you ever know what to expect
From a guy made of corpses with bolts in his neck
If the creature is limping the parts are in place
With a mind of its own and a fist for a face
Say hello to your new creation
Now it’s better than real
It’s a real imitation…

(“Frankenstein” from I’m With Stupid)

Here’s a great little lyrical gem from a song she wrote about a doctor friend of hers who would take his Maserati down the freeway to the part of LA where he’d buy the drugs to feed the addiction that was destroying his life:

“The road to Orange County leaves an awful lot of leeway…
You’ve got a lot of money but you can’t afford the freeway…”

(“Freeway” from @#%&*! Smilers)

(I might add that this lyric agrees with Paul’s assertion that what we think of as freedom to do what we want, to follow the god of our stomach, becomes a vicious kind of tyranny–the road to our destruction leaves an awful lot of leeway… a pseudo-freedom that can enslave us.)

Mann’s difficulties with the music business are well documented and in some of her songs she alludes to the unfortunate experiences she’s suffered at the hands of various record labels:

Guys like me
We look good at the gate
But you’ll agree
With the odds on the slate
And put your money
On a bona fide heavy weight
And take it off guys like me…

images-1And listen to this transparent confession of one of the inner conflicts about being an artist:

[We] pull you close
But never really
Looking warm
But feeling chilly
You’ll describe us as “impassioned”
When it’s just a front we’ve fashioned…

(“Guys Like Me” from Lost In Space)

Another song of alienation mined from her experience as an outsider artist who is no longer the darling of the pop charts:

“It must be hard ringing the bells of doors that don’t swing wide anymore
It must be hard hearing the sound of voices just inside of the door”

(“Ballantines” from @#%&*! Smilers)

That such sad songs would be written with such melodic sweetness is another part of what makes Mann’s music so satisfying for me. It is a pleasure to enjoy an artist so deft and adept, both lyrically and musically. I envy her craft.

In the era of digital music when iTunes reigns supreme (even I’ve succumbed and get almost all of my music digitally now), Aimee Mann makes records you want to hold. Few make artwork and packaging as engaging as Mann does and it’s a music geek’s dream. Lost In Space (my personal favorite Aimee Mann record) comes with a tiny comic strip booklet relating a kind of parallel story that complements the musical journey. With The Forgotten Arm she offered an oversized comic kind of book with gorgeous illustrations that evoked a 50’s pulp kind of vibe–a pictorial depiction of each song with the accompanying lyrics that tell the story of the illustrations. It’s so cool! It actually won the grammy that year for best artwork package (check out this music video made from the illustrations). And her most recent record, @#$*! Smilers, came in a specially bound book with vibey 30’s style illustrations and a package that is the coolest I’ve ever seen for a CD. Half the time I buy her records for the packaging and artwork alone.

taxalimann-thumb-500x417These records have a very old-school sentiment – encouraging us to do more than just download the songs we think we’ll like. She asks us to buy into the whole experience , engaging the artwork, going on a journey. For the loving care with which she champions the traditional Long Play album, I am grateful and applaud her.

On a different note, Mann is as interesting as the music she writes. Some may recognize her as the voice behind “Voices Carry” – the hit by ‘Til Tuesday from the 80’s.  She led the charge of championing indie artists in the 90’s, being one of the first artists to figure out how to bypass major labels, starting her own SuperEgo Records.  She is married to Michael Penn, an accomplished musician himself and brother to Hollywood royal Sean Penn. She’s had several TV and film cameos like in The Big Lebowski where she plays the German Nihilist who sacrifices her toe in a ridiculous kidnapping plot. Also, P.T. Anderson’s acclaimed film Magnolia was actually inspired and then written around Aimee Mann’s demos that Anderson heard, later becoming the soundtrack to the film. Anderson is such a fan that he wrote her lyrics into the dialogue between the characters. Mann’s album The Forgotten Arm was born out of her latest hobby: boxing. The forgotten arm is a boxing term for when you’re getting pummeled by the one arm of your opponent, and it makes you forget about the other arm that comes and takes you by surprise with an even harsher blow. She’s shown up at gigs with black eyes she’s gotten from sparring partners like her producer Joe Henry. Most intriguing about all this is her dream of boxing Bob Dylan, who is also a hobby boxer.

(One more tid-bit of trivia for those of you who might be fans of my music–the bridge for my song “Blessed Be” was directly inspired by Mann’s descending progression that precedes the verses of her song “Choice In The Matter”)

So, there you have it: those are some of the reasons why I’m a fan of the music of Aimee Mann (though, admittedly if I’m in a dark mood I’ll tend to abstain from her work). For my money there are few songwriters as capable and interesting as Mann who pull it off in a way that makes it sound so easy and makes me go, “Whoa, how’d she just do that?”  Though I feel reticent about making an unqualified recommendation–I suspect some Christians might be offended by some of her songs – her music insightfully tells the truth about fallen human nature and our slavish devotion to things that will break our hearts, a malady that I understand as sin. In this way, her music to me is a good example of “salt in the oats”–the kind of songs you might play a person before playing them a song by Jill Phillips, Sara Groves, or Andrew Peterson or (insert your favorite Christ-centered lyrical singer/songwriter here).

To dip your toe in pool and see if you want to dive in, here’s a playlist of some of my personal favorite Aimee Mann songs:

Save Me (from Magnolia)
Video (from The Forgotten Arm)
That’s Just What You Are (from I’m With Stupid)
It’s Not (from Lost In Space)
Guys Like Me (from Lost In Space)
Choice In The Matter (from I’m With Stupid)
Amateur (from I’m With Stupid)
Freeway (from @#$*! Smilers)
The Moth (from Lost In Space)
You’re With Stupid Now (from I’m With Stupid)

Jason recommends: Lost In Space was the album that solidified me as a fan. Some call it a downer record, but production is atmospheric and beautiful to me – rich, ambient guitar tones lead the way for this really chilled, vibey, and literate record.

Here’s the “Save Me” music video from the movie Magnolia (Pete Peterson and I had a conversation about what we loved about this movie and you can read that post here)


31 Comments

  1. Gail Hafar

    I feel this way about Patty Griffin’s music:
    Some lyric samples from her debut album Living With Ghosts (forgive the lack of italics and such… as a previous PC owner, I haven’t figured out the keys on my new Macbook yet):
    “Diamonds, roses,i need Moses
    To cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain
    I don’t necessarily buy any key to the future or happiness
    But I need a little place in the sun sometimes or I think I will die”

    Or my favorite, Forgiveness:
    “We are swimming with the snakes
    At the bottom of the well
    So silent and peaceful in the darkness where we fell
    But we are not snakes and what’s more
    We never will be
    And if we stay swimming here forever we will
    Never be free

    I heard them ringing the bells
    In heaven and hell
    They got a secret
    They’re getting ready to tell
    It’s falling from the sky
    Calling from the graves
    Open your eyes, boy, I think we are saved
    Open your eyes, boy, I think we are saved

    Let’s take a walk on the bridge
    Right over this mess
    Don’t need to tell me a thing, baby
    We’ve already confessed
    And I raised my voice to the air
    And we were blessed
    Everybody needs a little forgiveness
    Everybody needs a little forgiveness”

    Like you, Jason, i could go on and on about her and I see her so very much as salt in the oats… I pray fiercely for some friends who love her music but haven’t yet fallen in love with Jesus.

    And Magnolia – well, that movie has about the best ending I have ever seen in a film… and by ending I literally mean the very last second. I gasped.

    Ok, I need to go to sleep now. Thank you for a new avenue of salty oatmeal. =-)

    Gail

  2. Jennifer

    I really enjoy her music as well. One of my favorites is Superball but not for any sort of noble reason. I think it’s fun and sometimes I just feel that way. Also love Jacob Marley’s Chain. I don’t have her last two recordings. After reading this, I feel I need to get them. I always sort of wondered if folks here listened to her. I’m glad to find out they do.

  3. Chris Slaten

    I think you have found a good niche with these extremely thorough fan driven artist reviews. Perhaps this is the benefit of doing this in a blog format and not having to worry about narrowing down the word count, but I’ve always wanted reviews to have this many angles and lyric samples.
    I know you’ve given us more than enough to chew on, but I wanted to post another example of her great lyrics:

    From Til Tuesday’s “The Other End of the Telescope”

    “There was a time not long ago
    I dreamt that the world was flat
    and all the colors bled away
    and that was that
    And in time, I could only believe in one thing
    the sky was just phosphorus stars hung on strings
    and you swore that they’d always be mine
    well you can pull them down anytime

    I know it don’t make a difference to you
    but oh, it sure made a difference to me
    You’ll see me off in the distance, I hope
    at the other end
    at the other end of the telescope”

    Also, I’ve always seen her as kind of an anomaly in the world of “hipster elegance”, because her lyrics are often extremely sincere, straightforward and sometimes almost preachy rather than ironic, ambiguous or dramatic. Lyrically she seems to fit in more with the new folkies like Bruce Cockburn, John Gorka or Dar Williams. Do you think it’s her sound or her connections (Anderson, Brion) that put her into the indie hipster category? Not that it really matters what category she’s put in. I love that she can be so direct and do it in a way that still feels like art.
    Some of her co-conspirators, Joe Henry and Jon Brion, could also probably also use a little Rabbit Room love.
    Thanks for your work.

  4. Chad Ethridge

    Thanks for this post Jason. I’ve recently been reading “Through a Screen Darkly” by Jeffrey Overstreet and he brings a similar argument to films. Truth is sometimes portrayed by artists whether they affirm the truth of God’s word or not. Psalm 19:1-2 speaks of how the “heavens declare the glory of God . . . day after day they pour forth speech.” In the same way artists like Mann “pour forth speech” in ways that communicate with our soul.

  5. Mark Anderson

    Aimee’s got some real moments and so does Michael Penn (her husband) who had a big hit years ago with “No Myth” and then started producing some really fine lyrics / music but has been largely ignored. Must be an interesting house full of interesting conversations with sad conclusions.

    I enjoyed the ‘salt in the oats’ imagery greatly. With many years of listening and enjoying behind me now, I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of worthwhile music / art (at least as I measure it) comes as a direct result of doubt, pain and suffering finding expression; those who have not wrestled with any of these things generally have very little of any lasting worth to share with me.

    And – like you Jason – I could wish to somehow answer the poignant and real questions that artists continue to raise. But for many of them the only real answer has been excluded willfully and without a real understanding. Here’s – for example – Ben Folds with some shocking (in the fullest sense of the word) self-awareness but a blunt unwillingness to accept the only Answer there is:

    there was a time when i had nothing to explain
    oh, this mess i have made
    but then things got complicated
    my innocence has all but faded
    oh, this mess i have made

    and i don’t believe in god
    so i can’t be saved
    all alone as i’ve learned to be
    in this mess i have made

    but i don’t believe in love
    and i can’t be changed
    all alone as i’ve learned to be
    in this mess
    i have made the same mistakes
    over and over again

    Any Christian who can listen to those words – so honestly expressed – and not feel a sense of kinship and understanding has missed the heart of the gospel. The world is full of lost souls who stand on the very edge of heaven and shout their pain and their need of a Savior in the clearest possible terms – but won’t take just one more step.

    I know why you don’t listen to Aimee when you’re in a glum place – I’m the same way with Ben or John Wesley Harding or any of a dozen lost souls with guitars. When I’m down, I’m reaching for people who – despite their flaws – have the answer at least: guys like you and Andy. Thanks for doing what you do Jason.

  6. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Let me just say how much I enjoy your guy’s comments – they reflect the fact that the Rabbit Room is exactly the kind of Christian online community that I would dare to hope it would be. Good to connect with people of my “tribe”.

  7. Tony Heringer

    One and the same Pete. “Voices Carry” is a great 80’s song and concept video (back when MTV really was Music TV):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkBWkMLrOk4

    Jason,

    Dang, nice to see the fingers aren’t hurting like the voice. I’ll need more time to digest this one. Glad to see Aimee survived the one hit wonder band ’til tuesday to go on her own. Sounds like she was the fuel for that group and “Voices Carry” sounds like one of the songs you describe here.

    Here’s a link to a Tiny Desk concert by the The Avett Brothers:

    You said you hadn’t heard them and based on the tunes you played Cherie and I this band would be one you might enjoy. Scott Avett has a huge voice — in fact someone on this video asks if he swallowed an amplifier. 🙂

  8. Tony from Pandora

    Justin McRoberts did a cover album ‘Through Songs I Was First Undone’. He did a cover of Mann’s ‘Save Me’ Nearly as good as the original.

  9. Scott

    Aimee has been one of my fave artists ever since I saw Magnolia one New Year’s Eve and was totally obliterated by it. The soundtrack to that movie opened the door to her other brilliant recordings and I’ve been hooked ever since.

    I would also highly recommend her first album “Whatever” which includes the brilliant “Fourth of July,” “Jacob Marley’s Chain,” (probably my favorite Mann penned tune) and “I’ve Had It” (a beautiful ode to the family that can come from playing in a band), as well as “Bachelor No. 2” which includes her awesome collaboration with Elvis Costello, “Satellite.”

    And while her husband, Michael Penn, may not be as prolific as she has been, his albums carry the same weight and share many of the same themes. “Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947,” his most recent album in particular has some of the best writing of his career.

    It’s interesting that this is the second blog post I have read in the past couple of weeks praising Aimee’s music. I hope this means she’s gaining a lot of the artistic and cultural success that she deserves.

  10. Scott Riggan

    Salt in the oats. Thank you, Jason, for articulating this concept so well. I’ve been a huge fan of Aimee Mann since “Lost In Space” and you’ve outlined all of the reasons why her music resonates so deeply with me, personally.

  11. Jen

    I never listened to her until now, but after hearing those songs, I feel like I should have. Beautiful stuff. Thanks for making the introductions! 🙂

    The instant gratification/iTunes generation part of me wants to download an album and listen to it right now… but the music geeky part says a record store run is in order. Creative packaging is always a great bonus.

  12. David H

    Regarding Ben Folds’ “Mess.”

    The song’s lyrics seem replete with the sarcastic irony for which Folds is famous. On iTunes, Folds explains that the song “Mess” is “loss of innocence song” about having so much baggage that now you are unable to completely explain your history; “you’ve made a mess.”

    Folds has written frequently on spiritual themes and has never professed himself as an atheist. And while some of his songs are autobiographical (like “Brick”) or directly related to his observations (like “Jesusland”), he often creates characters who don’t necessarily reflect his life or personal beliefs.

    Perhaps most ironically, Folds sees the branding and politicizing of Christianity as a barrier that is difficult for many to get over or around. In a Relevant magazine interview he said:

    “It does no good for the teachings of a great man to put it across billboards and political campaigns,” Folds says. He believes that the use of Jesus as a brand to sell products and promote patriotism works at cross purposes with Jesus’ message. “If that’s your first exposure to a great man, it’s a negative exposure.”

    http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/music/features/18017-dogs-dogma-jesus-and-ben-folds

    That’s not a rock crying out. That’s an intelligent, searching person recoiling from the walls religious Christianity has built around Christ.

    Jesus told his followers they were supposed to be salt to the world. All too often those who claim to represent him seem to be something else altogether. The great challenge for real Christians is not in assaying and evaluating the worthiness of the product provided by folks like Aimee Mann and Ben Folds. Salt is salt; it is salty regardless of its source.

    Real Christians don’t need to be the sole source of salt, rather they are called to be conduits of authentic living water for all who are thirsty.

  13. David H

    I thought that was nicer than sheep and goats.

    How does one differentiate between the folks who casually adopt the title from those who actually are? I’m not going to start pointing fingers, trying to differentiate between true believers and those who simply picked that box on the census. But I have heard there is a difference.

    I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. The reality of faith is only known between the individual and God. But I am likewise hesitant to judge between the sources of salt, to borrow Jason’s metaphor. I will taste and see.

    I grew up dismissing all the efforts of those who were “lost.” Those people had nothing to teach me. These days I not only find myself standing with Jason in my acceptance of contributions from artists like Aimee Mann, but I am also very hesitant to dismiss them as spiritually non-sentient. I embrace their search because I am a seeker, too.

  14. Mark Anderson

    Yeah yeah – real Christians. You know – the kind of folk who wouldn’t watch Magnolia or listen to music from Ben Folds and Aimee Mann. Or be caught eating with tax gatherers and sinners. Oops.

    Actually I don’t mean to be snarky. In fact I appreciate the Ben quotation provided as it’s often the attitude of those who dismiss Christian claims – “it’s too hypocritical”, “it’s all about promotion or patriotism” etcetera. I’ve even heard several peers publicly claim they didn’t want to be known as Christians anymore since it carried too much historical baggage.

    It seems to me however that the world and its current ruler are going to do everything possible to malign and dismiss Christianity no matter what name it goes by or how informally it may be practiced. I’m all for doing away with spires and stained glass or – if it comes to that – to billboards too. But the Ben Folds of this world are going to find another ‘reason’ why Christianity is unacceptable at that point. Sometimes it’s just about – sadly – being willfully blind.

    I’d love to believe that Ben or Aimee or for that matter Elvis and Wes were bound for heaven and trusting in Christ – but I don’t see any real (sorry, there’s that word again) evidence in their conduct, their public pronouncements or their lives – I just see a lot of doubt, fear, regret and angst. I think I’ll have to stop short of seeing them as a source of salt or light.

  15. David H

    Perhaps the perfect Christian is certain, fearless, guiltless and without worry. I know it is what the followers of Jesus are called to be. Jesus said there is no fear in love.

    But I don’t know any perfect Christians. Me, I’m not much different from Ben and Aimee, Elvis and Wes. Except that I trust Christ will cover my doubt, fear, regret and angst. My faith walk hasn’t resulted in those being banished from my life, just in my repeatedly offering them up.

    Just to be clear: I don’t think anyone here said folks like Ben and Aimee are Christian by any definition of that word. I’m pretty sure Folds, at least, wouldn’t even check that box on the census.

    But if the pre-requisite for being salt and light in some small measure were being perfect and saved then it isn’t just the rocks and Balaam’s ass that would remain silent. Salvation, in my experience, doesn’t signal an end to sin, only the acceptance of forgiveness.

  16. Tony Heringer

    “Salt is salt; it is salty regardless of its source.”

    I like that line, it reminded me of a favorite quote:

    “The truth is like a lion. Whoever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.” – Charles Spurgeon

  17. Mark Anderson

    Hey Dave:

    I’m pretty sure we agree on things both musically and theologically. I’m not meaning to split hairs here (or split heirs if you’ll pardon the pun).

    But the only example I can imagine for a non-believer being salty is perhaps Lot’s wife. If some artists like Aimee occasionally stumble on the truth I fear they’re the personification of Winston Churchill’s observation:

    “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

    I don’t believe the prerequisites for being a bit salty or a bit of a glimmer in the darkness are perfection and salvation. That’s a good thing since I – like you – am admittedly quite flawed; I struggle to believe that God has entrusted an underachiever like myself with “the ministry of reconciliation” or that He’s called us “workers together with Him”. But despite my lack of perfection, I do believe the sole prerequisite to be light or salt IS salvation. An unsaved Ben or Aimee cannot point anyone to the truth since they themselves have no idea what it is – that can’t charitably be described as light as I understand it. At best their moments of truthful observation are accidental and – for them – confused with all manner of strange philosophies.

    I enjoy the bits of truth I find in modern composers’ work to be sure. But I shudder to think of the terrible lies which they share with seemingly equal authority and which simply must be making an impact on impressionable non-Christian listeners’ minds.

  18. Peter B

    Oddly enough, this is the reason I’ve appreciated Billy Joel; he acutely understands the problem, even if he doesn’t know the Solution. Of course Aimee Mann seems to be a bit more gifted and consistent…

    Funny story: this article was so long that I read it in several sittings, and at some point fell under the misconception that Pete Peterson was the author. Of course this led me to google for this supposed song that he wrote, at which point I uncovered a most disturbing headline: “Arthur ‘Pete’ Peterson, dead at 95”.

  19. Peter B

    Could be a test of the new Google Future app.

    The article mentioned something about his nearly completed final manuscript, The Saxophonist’s Saturday Night Special.

  20. Michael McCleary

    Tricia from Superchic[k] reminds me of her, especially on their (Superchic) slower tunes.

    Once at a show in DC Aimee ranted a bit about Christians. I had only been a Christian for a few months at that point, and remember how callous (and essentially arrogant) her words were, and it is sadly also not surprising that she is/was extremely pro-abortion.

    On the topic of “Christian Artist”, Jacques Maritain’s “Art and Scholasticism” is quite brilliant,
    http://www2.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/art.htm

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