Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
I once had a silly daydream. It was a vision–at least for one album–that Andrew Peterson went hip hop. In support of the project, I witnessed Ben Shive, then known as Jive Shive the DJ, laying down some scratch while Andy Gullahorn–pants sinking six inches below the top of his boxers–led the congregation in breakdancing. Behind the curtain, Andrew Peterson emerged to open the show with his new rap version of “Nothing To Say.”
I admit that it’s a radical idea, but a great experiment, I must say. Having come to know many of Andy’s most loyal supporters, I have a strong hypothesis that there exist a large, loyal contingent of A.P. devotees that will invest in anything the man brings to market, even a rap or punk rock project.
Why such loyalty? Well, like trying to craft a short list of desert island items, the answer to such a query is similarly faceted. Even so, I think I can consolidate it into three primary reasons: quality, candor, and truth.
A.P. aficionados know, as much as they know their own name, that Andrew Peterson will fashion his work with precision and punctuality; almost like the painstaking focus of a tool and die maker building patterns for aerospace parts. Quality. The song, the lyrics, the music, the art–they will not fly until they are right. “Right” in this case means thoughtful, beautiful, insightful, layered, poetic … and true. This man won’t use a marginal word or phrase when another will communicate more clearly.
Truth. It’s rare to find a passive A.P. supporter. When pressed, even casual observers of Andy’s music will often admit–at one point or another–to being assaulted by the truth. Once clobbered, a man is seldom ever the same. Unexpectedly, we are shaken by discovering truth (sometimes very fundamental truth) more clearly, more deeply, more explicitly, than what we knew before. Like a psychic mirror, we find reflections of feelings and deeply held beliefs we know to be true, but lack the emotional vocabulary to enunciate.
Candor. In Derek Webb’s The House Show CD, one of his song introductions suggests the best thing that could happen to a believer is for his private sin to be displayed on a newscast for all to see. One of the most unfortunate things that happens in communities of believers is that in our human effort to become more like Jesus, we transmute into perverse plastic puppets, clumsy facsimiles with painted on smiles and artificial charity. It looks real, but it sometimes misses the mark of authenticity.
An Andrew Peterson song isn’t a tell-all biography; nor do we want it to be. It’s not a movie; it’s a snapshot, a glimpse of reality through the keyhole. Lines such as “It’s the fear that I’ll fall / One too many times / It’s the fear that His love / Is no better than mine,” remind us that we are not alone in our spiritual walk, that other travelers walk similar roads.
Andrew Peterson’s work assists us in confronting our own humanity. In seeking to become more like Christ, we must admit the truth of where and who we are. Not who we would like others to believe we are, but who we really are. Grounded in the truth that we are in Christ, we can begin to appropriate what that means. If we are inauthentic curmudgeons camouflaged as superstar Christians, we not only fool others–more tragically–we sometimes fool ourselves.
A.P. has a history of laying it on the line. On stage and in our speakers, he tells us the truth about himself. That’s not to say that we know everything and it’s not to say that we are vicariously glorifying sin, but in learning of his struggles, we are reminded that he is a little like us. He’s human, not one of those scary puppets. In that, we may find the courage to understand our own darkness. Not that it’s okay, but that it’s okay to admit it.
I am hopeless as a writer. The introduction to my review of Appendix M: Media / Music / Movies just took me eight paragraphs to write. The thing is, the introduction is really the review. You see, as much as any of Andrew Peterson’s more “polished” efforts, Appendix A and Appendix M are testament to the aforementioned themes of quality, candor, and truth. While it’s true that some of the musical performances on “M” lack the gloss of studio projects, that which we lose in studio sparkle is more than offset with enhancements and transparency.
Take the opening song on M, “Further Proof” for example. It’s a song about writing a song. Oh yeah, and in the ostensible purpose of letting us in on the mechanics of songwriting, we–oh, by the way–just happen to stumble upon a clever primer on the nature of those things that last. It’s candid; who else offers commentary on the process in the process? It’s quality work because it’s good; in structure, in content (cerebral in a light-hearted way), and clarity. Finally, it conveys truth by contrasting the temporal with that which is eternal.
As consumers, value is inextricably linked with quality. Are we getting our money’s worth? After all, Appendix M doesn’t have a jewel case and there’s only eight songs. “Pshaw,” is not too far from the response that a typical Andrew Peterson supporter might offer to that question.
Here’s what we get:
1. Eight tracks featuring songs that we’ve never heard before, or at least never heard in quite the same way before. These are songs that for one reason or the other didn’t make it on to a standard project: they didn’t fit the theme, were only done live, or were sung by somebody else (Jill Phillips on “All the Way Home” in what–as we might expect–is an otherworldy performance).
2. A personal welcome and introduction from Andrew Peterson himself.
3. A play-by-play from Andy featuring a description of each track, how they came to be, and what they mean to him.
4. A variety of wallpaper for your computer desktop including shots from The Far Country; Behold the Lamb of God; Slugs, & Bugs & Lullabys; and, The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats. I just replaced The Far Country wallpaper with one of the Behold the Lamb of God versions.
5. Fifteen video clips. The video of Andy and his first (only?) skydiving experience is worth at least $13.00 by itself. Also catch live versions of old favorites such as “Rise and Shine,” “Venus,” “Loose Change,” and more. We are also treated to Andy’s cover of Rich Mullins’s “The Color Green.”
One of my favorite videos is the electronic press kit, one of those continuous loop clips you see playing in your local Christian bookstore, selling the CD and offering the public an inside look at the recording artist “as a person.” Andy has the look of a little boy, ready to go to Sunday School, wearing clothes that give him a bad feeling. When wearing clothes that were mandated by Mom, my brother and I used to refer to this bad feeling as simply, “the feeling.” We still talk about the feeling in the way that only adults can when they have known each other since childhood. I would describe the feeling as an uncomfortable, eerie fashion sense that you look better to your mother than everyone else, including yourself. At the last funeral we attended together, grabbing his tie and pulling gently, I ask my brother if he had “the feeling.” He did.
Andy looks “that” uncomfortable. And yet, though I smile to myself in places, like when I watch the shot of Andy in the button-down shirt with puffy sleeves, I am genuinely moved by pictures of his wife and kids, of the studio clips where and when “Family Man” was recorded, and Andy’s own extemporaneous words about the song.
6. 46 personal journal entries, some of which are fall-down hilarious, and most of which are moving and insightful. I’ve never mentioned or admitted this out loud or in print before, but I’ve always felt comfortable in the role of contrarian. As a kid, I would often reflexively take the opposite view. What I learned from that–besides having a lot of fun and annoying my friends–was that there was often more truth on the opposite side of conventional wisdom. So I wasn’t afraid to look.
Maybe I’m wrong (but then again maybe I’m not!), but it seems to me Andrew Peterson often pursues a similar track when he writes. He’s unafraid to turn an idea on it’s head. That’s not to say contrarians don’t pay a price. We are often bruised and scorned (long time A.P. supporters may remember the controversy surrounding “Mohawks on the Scaffold”). On the other hand, there’s often beauty and truth where others fail to tread. As you read these journals, look for A.P.s tendency to view things differently than otherwise might be expected.
7. Chord charts for Love & Thunder; The Far Country; and, Appendix A, Bootlegs and B Sides. This guitar hacker, able to read and use tabs only v-e-r-y slowly, really appreciates the chords. That way, I can just hack away. I feel more in my element.
Much of what I like about this project is its humor, variety, and serendipity. Even the title of this eclectic effort was encouraged by some rather low-brow bathroom humor at the Andrew Peterson message board. Those characteristics–humor, variety, and serendipity–not bathroom humor–are probably more intrinsic in the appendix projects than Andy’s studio albums. Still though, in an effort that is closer to a scrapbook than a bound and published hard cover book, we find quality, candor, and truth. After all, it is an Andrew Peterson project. And though we shouldn’t hold our collective breath for that rap version of “Nothing to Say,” Appendix M, Media / Music / Movies offers enough offbeat fun and unconventional surprise that you won’t need to bother yourself with the kind of startling daydream that started this review. Just buy the CD.