Everything Broken and Everything Beautiful

By

Since late August I’ve been co-writing songs with Rebecca Reynolds (aka “Becca” here on the RR). As a songwriter, never prolific, and often completely mired in a swamp of doubt

when writing, I have read many books on art and creativity; Art & Fear by Bayles & Orland, The War of Art by Pressfield, On Writer’s Block by Nelson, On Writing by King, Walking on Water by L’Engle, The Music Lesson by Wooten, along with books like The Success Principles by Canfield, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey. In talking with Rebecca I quickly became interested in her research on creativity and how it operates, due to my personal search and frequent sense of lack in certain areas.

The first fact I noted was that her findings on creativity were similar to the principles of reliance, surrender, and trust I’ve found to be crucial in living the Christian life. Secondly, I realized that in certain areas I had applied these principles, but in songwriting I had not. I was still mired in Romans 7: “The songs I want to write, I’m not writing. The songs I don’t want to write, I keep writing.” Wretched songwriter that I am!

Rebecca has patiently hammered all those principles right back into my creativity where they belong. Romans 7 is the self-effort chapter, a chronicle of a self trying to be good by its own steam, rather than faith in the Source. In my creative life in the past few years, I had been on the same treadmill from which I’d been freed in other areas.

The main thing I have learned to do is relax, rest, “be of good courage,” and leap into the dark.

Rebecca comes up with some beautiful images culled from years of sensory input and reflection, especially from nature. These images are often subtly combined with Biblical allusions. Since August we’ve written the 12-14 songs for my next recording, a largely secular bluegrass and acoustic music collection, plus many more. I’m still learning how to do “frequent songwriting” rather than grabbing an inspiration or two once every six months and being primarily a player, but I’ve learned a lot.

This song may be used in the future on another cd, but I did this quick demo in my studio just for fun with two guitars and vocal to put on on Facebook and the Rabbit Room.

For guitar and recording geeks, the guitars were recorded with a pair of Neumann KM54s, through a Millennia Media dual preamp, a Millennia Media EQ, using Black Lion converters. The Black Lion converters were the best thing I could have done for my studio.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


32 Comments

  1. Ehren

    I’m impressed by the quality of this “quick demo” (aside from the deplorable lack of kazoo). The guitars sound rich and natural. I’d never heard of Black Lion but just looked them up. Which converters of theirs do you use, and what is it about them that you like so much?

  2. Jonathan Rogers

    Love it. Can’t wait to see the rest of what you two have come up with.

    Have you seen this movie of Father Thomas MacKenzie’s neighbor dancing with a carp, honest and free?

  3. Becca

    Kazoos aside, there aren’t words to describe how grateful I am for getting to make songs with Ron Block. Over the past few months, we have experimented with a wide range of melodic genre and lyrical theme. No matter what Ron touches, he nails. He is not only technically gifted, but he also has the ability to evoke images through the energy of his playing.

    That a man so accomplished would be humble enough to welcome someone like me into the creative process speaks for itself. He has solidified my suspicion that the great men of the world walk the span of their days learning.

  4. Loren Warnemuende

    Lovely. Such a perfect coupling of beautiful music and evocative words. Becca, you’ve nailed the descriptive imagery: the fractured reflection of the moon like a silver ladder! I’ve seen it so many times but couldn’t put it into words. Again, lovely!

  5. Joseph Morse

    Dear Brother

    Your music playing is a gift given to you by God and perfected by your discipline and drive. But those incredible songs you wrote in the past were not accomplished by your abilities but by your inspiration. God visited you in His good time and season. You have touched thousands with the words in these songs and of course by the snappy tones.
    You wrote “There is a Reason for it all” for Alison Krauss. I think “there is a reason” she sings it every night and has sung it for so many years. You touched something in her and she touches the same thing is us when she sings it. If any song could be written for a person of faith that’s the one. It’s the struggle of the world getting in, it’s hard times, it’s realizing that in the end returning to Christ out does what this world offers but yet our living the faith in Christ fades as we get caught up in this world. It is a profession of faith. That’s just one of your songs. Don’t get me going on the other ones. There is no block on Ron block. Thow out the books:) It’s all in God’s timing and season. You are truly blessed and so are we by what you have accomplished Mr. Ron. Looking so forward for the new CD.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Thanks to everyone for all the comments – I appreciate it greatly.

    Ehren: On the Black Lion converters – I had them convert my Digidesign 192 to their converters; it’s one of the mods they do. The sound of those converters is so natural. When I get mic placement right, and very little eq (mostly a bit of top end), a 1938 Martin D-18 sounds exactly like a 1938 Martin D-18.

    Daniel: Mic placement – one below the neck, just barely on the body, and one above. Otherwise there’s too much low end on my Martins.

    Jonathan: Nice carp.

    Becca: I was going to leave the kazoo and add banjo, double-time, but thought better of it.

  7. Dave Lamme

    @Becca: I can see why Ron likes to write with you… your lyric blew sweet air on the sputtering embers of my faith. And like “… He has solidified my suspicion that the great men of the world walk the span of their days learning” … they will take me the rest of the day to get my mind fully around. @Ron: She sounds like a natural “BlockHead” … now that Crazy Pat and Rosie are back in Ca, maybe you can get her a hat! Lol Thanks for sharing (and I agree… those Neumanns sound sweet!)

  8. Joe Morse

    Lois up there. Don’t be misspelling people’s name. That’s my job! Don’t be horning in on my gig. I’m the king of typos and I don’t need the competition. I might need to thow you out with Ron’s self help books. It’s not “Allison Crouse and Union Station” I think it is Gretchen Mineholts of Management Stations, or, yeah, ah, Yeah! 🙂

  9. Becca

    You folks are so encouraging. Thank you!

    Loren: I’m glad you got that image! I won’t explain all the symbolism in this song, but the cup of a moon represents us. Not only do we reflect a light beyond ourselves, but we are also created to be filled vessels. There are some peaceful seasons of life that feel whole and still, but those don’t tend to last long. Trouble divides the surface of our waters, and it fractures us. Yet God (in His love) uses these times of breaking to lead us up the ladder of sanctification into a truer understanding of Him.

    Dave Lamme: You made me smile.

    S.D.: Our Brother of Perpetual Encouragement.

  10. Africa S

    I’ve literally spent the last 4 days thinking on this song. Between the beauty of such symbolic lyrics which paint possibly one of the most peaceful pictures ever in my mind, and Ron’s playing and singing, I’ve been overtaken by a sort of intense serenity.

    It’s hard to explain, but the song drives home such a deep message, but it carries you there on a cloud.

    It’s easy on the mind.

    Easy on the soul.

    Can you tell that I love it?

    Great job Ron and Becca! Ron, I don’t know if I did a good job of hiding how excited I was about the new album when we had our chat, but truth be told, I did a small celebration dance in my head.

    The only downside of this is that, you know when you hear or see someone doing what you do…except…doing it better? Yeah, this was about enough for me to throw my bedside writing notebook away, lock my guitar in the closet, and just leave this stuff up to the professionals. 😉

  11. Loren Warnemuende

    Thanks for the glimpse into the symbolism, Becca. Now I should start delving into the rest and see what I can unpack. …Though I think for now I’m just going to continue to soak up the emotions and images the words conjure 🙂

  12. Dan R.

    Loren and Becca,

    If I could join in that conversation about the lyrics, I was struck by that line too, though it would seem I read some additional things into the symbolism. You could say that I’ve listened to Jon Foreman’s words about these symbols too many times before, or that I’ve read too much G-Mac for my own good(and you’d probably be right on both counts), but I loved the way that that symbolic pairing, in your writing, seems to paint a picture of us, as we reflect that light beyond ourselves, climbing that ladder formed only by the fracture of our peaceful state. I also thought I caught glimpses of something to the effect of the way that any co-existence of both symbols is what causes that fracturing (i.e. the moon pulling on the water and making the tides that take the form of the waves), but that that pulling and that fracture are the essence of the formation of the “silver ladder,” which would not exist but for such relationship of the two; the moon always pulling the water towards itself, and the fracturing of peace being the way of carrying that out, and also of forming that gravitation’s fulfillment. Sorry if I’m rambling, but I really love this idea, and the way you give form to it, Becca! Also, thanks for giving us some explanation of the thoughts behind the words. It is appreciated.

  13. Becca

    Dan R:

    Rambling? No way. Do you have any idea how rewarding it is for me to hear your thoughts? How dearly I love the Rabbit Room for the gift of community like this!

    Though the water in my mind’s eye was not an ocean, the symbolic link between gravity/the tides occurred to me as well. Are you ready to face the full force of my nerd-dom? Prepare yourself for a look into the vortex. (Insert ominous sucking sound here.) Seat belts, please.

    A few months ago, I had a long conversation with a physicist genius buddy of mine who was trying to explain his belief that there is no such thing as gravity. I’m going to do a terrible job of explaining why, but he proposes instead something like layers of space/time that are compressed by the presence of other objects, creating the illusion of gravity. I believe this is somehow connected to the string theory, since that’s where our discussion started.

    Regardless, I exited that discussion not knowing whether the moon was pushing against or pulling upon the earth. So, when this issue came up in the song (despite the lack of significant tides in smaller bodies of water, I sensed an unavoidable symbolism in the marriage of water and moon), I was stuck for a while. I finally realized that either school of physics works, for the world sometimes draws us, sometimes we pull on it, and sometimes we push one another away. What is most true in all of this, however, is that God’s light reflects through us. We are vessels bearing the sun (Son) before the dawn.

    I love what you wrote here so much:

    “…that that pulling and that fracture are the essence of the formation of the “silver ladder,” which would not exist but for such relationship of the two; the moon always pulling the water towards itself, and the fracturing of peace being the way of carrying that out, and also of forming that gravitation’s fulfillment.”

    I’m going to be chewing on that for the next few hours. Thank you for taking time to write it down. What a gift to find listeners who think then recreate! ‘Stirs up all sorts of hopes about heaven in me.

    Oh, and by the way, it’s not necessary to dig through a bunch of symbolism to “get” this song. I was very intentional about leaving it to work both ways. It can function just fine with imagery alone, and there’s nothing lesser about enjoying it like that. So, if it speaks to you in pictures, just rest and enjoy them. I think sometimes Jesus uses beauty/art beyond our cognition. It does my heart good to hear His comfort and nearness taking root, no matter how He choses to move.

    (BTW: ‘Just listened to this again. Ron Block’s guitar is unreal. How can he do that?)

  14. Africa S

    Now, this is just a theory, but I heard from someone that when Ron plays, he actually has a direct line to Jesus and He is telling him which notes to pick/strum. As this seems to be the only logical answer for the phenomena, I’m going to accept it until proven otherwise.

    Or he’s just, like, talented and practices scales and modes and arpeggios (who does that?) and stuff. But the first options sounds cooler, don’t it?

  15. Loren

    Phew! Never thought of the waves and moon connection, Dan R and Becca! It’s great to hear your insights on it, but I think, in the end, I will let the waves ( 🙂 ) of symbolism wash over me, and go back to enjoying the imagery.

    That, and as Africa S pointed out, the inspired guitar work of Ron.

  16. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    On the pictures and symbols in the lyrics –

    In verse two, I also see Abraham and Sarah waiting years for the fulfillment of the promise of a son, and the promise of heirs as many as the stars, and of course the correlating to our own experiences with the sometimes apparently slow movement of God. In the fog angels I see submission to the will of God, yielding, and releasing “my way” to the sovereign, good, and loving will of the Father.

  17. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becca said, “Oh, and by the way, it’s not necessary to dig through a bunch of symbolism to “get” this song. I was very intentional about leaving it to work both ways. It can function just fine with imagery alone, and there’s nothing lesser about enjoying it like that. So, if it speaks to you in pictures, just rest and enjoy them. I think sometimes Jesus uses beauty/art beyond our cognition. It does my heart good to hear His comfort and nearness taking root, no matter how He choses to move.”

    Um, not to bring up The Matrix again. Ok, I will, just this once.

    There were many people who got something from that movie, often a sense of empowerment. Symbols and types usually do their work regardless of whether or not someone understands cognitively. When I play guitar, people can often feel something significant and be moved without always understanding just what I am getting at.

  18. Becca

    Ron, I hear this in your music often. There is a track in one of our album songs that portrays winter. When I heard it the first time, I could see snow falling, see ice on branches, feel the heavy, grey, pregnant sky of January. I also felt the earth holding its breath for the appearance of Spring/Christ — like in Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas. This is one of the things I love most about your work. You are so gifted technically, and there is enjoyment because of that. Yet there is also a visionary aspect to your creation that works layer, upon layer, upon layer.

    I’m so glad you “got” the fog angels picture. You nailed it. That image showed up the day after I listened to a Major Ian Thomas sermon online. (I believe it was the one where talks about Paul being “put.”) The next morning, I pulled into the state park as the sun was rising, and these thousand beautiful, individual tendrils of fog were rising off the water and dissolving into the light. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They looked almost as if their arms were reaching up, sighing with joy at being absorbed. Yieldedness is not often associated with any sort of pleasure in a culture that values autonomy, so this picture of blissful resignation was very powerful to me. It made me yearn for the King I can trust without question.

    Yes also on Abraham and Sarah. It makes me smile to hear that you see this.

    I am continually frustrated by the slow pace of my growth, so it moves me deeply that the night sky is marked with the promise of my own redemption. When God directed Abraham to the stars in reference to his promised children, I was among those already known. This is the same sky pierced by Christ at his ascension, and from it He will return. This low little atmosphere, around this low little world, among scores of planets, among scores of solar systems, is the chosen receptor for the Messiah. No wonder creation groans in waiting. No wonder I groan as well.

  19. Kim F

    Becca shared about fog angels in one of her blogs last fall, and it moved me to tears both then, and again now, seeing them incorporated into these amazing lyrics. Well done to you both.

    “…sighing with joy at being absorbed.” If I would only be as willing…

  20. Africa S

    I’m learning a lot from this song and the discussion following. Especially with what Becca said about how, “…sometimes Jesus uses beauty/art beyond our cognition. It does my heart good to hear His comfort and nearness taking root, no matter how He choses to move.”

    In my case, I worry a lot about what the listener will think of something I’ve written and if it is “good enough”. Most of the things I’ve written have never seen the light of day, not because I don’t like them or I think they’re bad, but because I don’t know if other people will like them and God forbid someone not like something I’ve written.

    Being the self-proclaimed Anxiety Girl and unfortunate People-Pleaser that I am – in my journey to reach a point where I, like, don’t do that – I’ve learned that it’s not about what people want, it’s about what God wants and how He chooses to use us as His vessels.

    When it comes down to it, if we are abiding in Christ first and allowing Him to work His Will in us, that Will will come through in whatever we do. Besides, people tend to appreciate Loving, Gentle, Kind, Peaceful people. (Not all the time, unfortunately, but often.) So in the case of writing a song or playing music, if I’m letting go and not focusing on what I want to do or what other people will think of what I do, but what God wants to do through me, His Will will be done in whichever way he chooses to move, and that’s what is important.

  21. Renee

    That is so beautiful! The imagery so clear.
    Something mysterious happens in my soul when beautiful words combine with beautiful music.
    I am touched.

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *