The Radio—April, 1990
On Tour, January, 1979
Reading Between the Questions
Editor's note: With this article, Image begins what we hope
will be a regular feature. "Life in the Industry" pieces are made up of choice
gleanings — material culled from diary or journal entries, for example — from artists who most often work in non-verbal mediums. We hope these
articles will convey what it's like being a working artist: the challenge of
making art and making a living at the same time; the burdens, tensions, and
graces that accompany the life of faith.
I much prefer making music to talking about it. There's something
visceral about instruments and voices that transcends words. Louis Armstrong once
told somebody, "If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know," or something
I'm drawn to producing because it is intuitive. I try to figure out
who the artist really and truly is musically, and then capture that on a tape
recorder. In this day and age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to
concentrate on this, because of the nature of the multitrack recording process
itself and because of the double-duty a producer must do, assisting the artist
and answering to the record company for the commercial values of creative choices.
I have had some production contracts with clauses that stipulate
the final product must be both technically and commercially acceptable, with the
producer held liable should it fail to do so. Of course, luckily, the persons to whom I was contracted happened to be human beings and to love music,
and we talked on the phone a lot, and FedExed rough mixes back and forth so this
was not really a problem, but I can imagine that out there in the big-time world it might not be nice to have to be a producer sometimes.
Technology has made it possible for recordings to be as near perfectas possible. You can have an artist spend hours or days on one vocal,
filling up countless tracks with alternate takes and assembling the best of all
the syllables together, or "punching in" a line until it is perfect. This is
such a common practice that our ears have become accustomed to it, and to be competitive, one must always bear in mind those who spend many hours
and many dollars to get the perfect take. It's common for records to cost
hundreds of thousands of dollars to make, and for hundreds of hours of studio
time to be expended.
I find myself increasingly drawn to the older spontaneous approach.
In the early days, things were taken down live, as they happened, in their
entirety. Of course, there could be more than one take to choose from, but when
music was mixed directly or mono, there was an energy that is difficult to
capture today. I've seen films of Tony Bennett singing live with an orchestra
from sheet music and emoting like crazy, and getting it in one take.
George Harrison said of the early Beatles' recordings, "The first
album took eight hours to record — the second one even longer."
I like to get an artist ready to do his vocals, get him to remember
why he wrote the song, and then get him to sing it without pretension and
without melodrama. I always keep the first take, even if there are flat notes,
and I generally will not let an artist keep singing past four or five takes. I like to use one take all the way through the song, if possible.
Competitively speaking, there will always be many subtle sharps, flats and rough
edges, and by market standards the records I make won't sound as commercial
because of this, but I have come to believe that it is these flaws that make a
track believable. Luckily, I have worked with some gifted artists, who are
accustomed to performing their material solo. The hardest thing is figuring out
what else to add once the basic instruments and vocal are on tape. Each song
dictates a mood of sorts, sometimes from the outset, and sometimes as it grows,
and I try to follow intuition and look for sounds and instruments that reinforce
that mood. That is the part I love the most.
If it means in a quiet song turning up a Vox amplifier to full
volume and playing a distorted harmonic, I can put several different echoes on
it and pull the fader way back in the mix, and it will just be a color. Sounds
are indeed like colors, and my hunger for a truer palette of colors grows day to day.
In one song, nothing but a
Didgeridoo would do. It took me several days to track down somebody who could play one, and he said the only note it
played was a G sharp, and the song was in G. Luckily, we could varispeed the
tape recorder and have his texture.
Making an album should be fun and not clinical, I think. I am apt
to hire musicians sometimes because I know they will have some good jokes to
tell. There is nothing like a good joke, usually in the company of musicians I know, the dirtier, the better, to take an artist's mind off: Oh-my-God,
this-is-going-on-tape-and-I 'm-going-to-have-to-live-with- it-forever-and-ever.
It is usually the human things I remember from my sessions rather than the
technicalities. I rarely use charts, indeed, I don't read music, and some of my favorite players are the ones who see the session as a jam. I'll
never forget Byron Berline coming over to play fiddle on Garth Hewitt's record
the day after Scuds began landing in Israel. Garth's song was a waltz and began, "Ten measures of sorrow God gave to the world, nine to
Jerusalem, one to the rest." It was inspired by Garth's visit with some Melchite
friends in East Jerusalem, and had given him a real feeling for the sadness of
the situation of the Palestinians living there.
I was setting up a headphone mix for Byron as I played the tape,
and he didn't even ask the key or anything, but began playing from the top,
without a complete cue mix. Of course, I had hit the record button just in case,
and he nailed the whole song first take without ever having heard it before. He was playing his heart out.
I told him it was a keeper, and he, much impressed with the
timeliness of the song, asked Garth, "Did you write that song last night?" His
emotion about the war was part and parcel of his performance, as it was a jam to
him. That's what music is about, and those are the types of experiences I value
most in looking for the visceral and unidentifiable thing it is that makes music music, and not something else.
The Radio—April, 1990
For the past month I have been producing a Christian artist. The
record company is concerned about his sales figures, and would like to boost
them by having some songs which would be considered as singles for Christian
radio. I have to keep reminding myself that this is normal in an economy such as
The big rock stations have to be careful in selecting their
playlists to get the maximum number of listeners, in order to be able to charge
the maximum amount for advertising time on their stations. There are even
organizations that test market songs long before they ever get to the airplay stage so
that the choices from which playlists are made are as riskless as possible.
The Christian stations operate under similar principles. Every
station manager must worry that if enough people call to complain about a song
and nothing is done, Joe's Tire Store down the street might pull its
advertising. That's a fact of life. You have to play it safe if your livelihood
depends on not offending anyone to this extent.
Obviously, this stifles
the creative output of aspiring artists— this imperative to fit the mold. Those who refuse suffer financially—which is
also the kiss of death in a capitalist society that knows the price of
everything and the value of so little.
radio guy at the Christian record company called the artist and me to a meeting, where he discussed his strategy
for breaking this artist on Christian radio.
First, he suggested some things we not do. On the artist's previous
album, which I had produced, we had used some Standup bass, fiddle and pedal
steel. Our radio man explained to us that these were no-no's this time around.
He said the radio stations were scared to play anything with those instruments
in them, that it sounded too ethnic. I replied that we had already planned to use Standup bass on the new album, and he said, "Well, if you must,
but just have the guy play the roots—none of those high-slidey types of
notes—nothing too 'ethnic.'"
He proceeded to play us a few songs that were making it on
Christian radio. Surprisingly, they were not necessarily heavy in theology—in fact
quite the contrary. The lyrics were safe and warm and positive with a bit of
mild social concern thrown in now and then. The instrumentation was primarily
synthesizer oriented. Very shimmery sounds. Very cut upbeat tempos. Reminded me of the Osmonds.
I got angry. I'm not sure at whom. We began the sessions for the
basic tracks of drums and the artist's acoustic guitar. We worked for several
days on this, getting a number of songs done, but something in me wanted to play
devil's advocate and make a really big hit for Christian radio. I asked the
artist if he didn't have some other songs he'd never played me, perhaps
something he considered really stupid and inane. It turned out he had just such a
chorus. While the drummer had coffee, the artist and I quickly wrote a couple of
verses and a bridge, and the song was ready to record. The drummer was playing
too good, I felt. I told him to play stupider fills, like "the people" want to hear. It was a really sappy track.
Next day I called in a keyboardist and asked him to play me his
three most "Christian" patches. One of them was bell- piano-shimmery-ish, and I
said, "Perfect." Although he is an accomplished player, I had him lay down a simple track full of sweet major thirds. Next came the percussionist.
I asked him to not bring his great collection of Latin and African fare, but the cutest instruments he had, like bell trees, sleigh bells, claves,
little bongos, shakers and the like. I had him play warm and fuzzy little counter-hooks
through the song— things that might seem like real production value to people
who might not know better.
The background vocalists, who normally do more rock stuff, got into
the silly mood with me and came up with some really sappy parts, like something
out of a bad lounge act in the Seventies. The bass player did big, solid roots,
with the occasional pickup as stylized by LA session bassists in the early
Everything was finally on the tape. The dictum of, "No — play
something even stupider" had paid off. I made a mix with the drums way back (loud
drums are a no-no on Christian radio unless you are a very big star—so I put all
the drums on one sub-fader for the record company guy to handle himself—where
they ended up was 15dB down [I measured it with an oscillator] from where I had them.)
I turned my mix of this new song from the "No, Play Stupider"
sessions in. The next day I got a phone call from the radio guy who was very
excited. His actual words were, "Mark, we had no idea you were capable of such
brilliant production work." I wished I had videotaped the sessions. when the song
was released, it went to number two on Nationwide Christian radio, and stayed on the chart a good while. Everybody at the record company was excited.
After all, these are the sorts of things that assure they'll be able to keep
making their car payments and buying shoes for their kids.
I understand that
— it's just a job. But I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel. The whole process had nothing to do with Christianity or
excellence; only with making something that sounds like something else you've heard
a million times before, and will hear a million times again.
We were recording a song called "I Don't Ever Want To Be Without You."The same Christian record company radio guy called me and asked me if we
could change the song's title and lyrics. when I asked why, he said, "Because
there are two negative words in the title—don't and without ... I'd like some
positive ones; can you call the song, 'I Always Want To Be With You?"'
I have had similar experiences on several occasions with my own
songs. It's terribly demeaning to write something that tells its story in its
own way and be told it fails because it might scare somebody. My God, must we
speak with all the candor of a wax Elvis?
Fergus Marsh, a stick player from Canada, and I were working
together recently and talking about my experiences with Christian radio, and he
mentioned that his brother, Hugh, had recorded an album with a song called, "Rules
Were Made To Be Broken," which was constructed of excerpts from a book called
The Bass Saxophone by a fellow named Joseph Skvorecky.
I got a copy and couldn't believe how frighteningly similar to my
experience were some of the rules binding dance orchestras in Nazi Germany — for
violation of which a number of musicians were imprisoned in death camps. I quote:
In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is
to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in
life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics; as to tempo, preference is also to
be given to brisk compositions over slow ones; however, the pace must not
exceed a certain degree of allegro commensurate with the Aryan sense of
discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo be tolerated.
So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10%
syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the
hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the music of the barbarian races and
conducive to dark instincts alien to the German people. Strictly prohibited is
the use of instruments alien to the German spirit, as well as all mutes
which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Free-
Masonic yowl. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar
in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches); the double
bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions; if a
pizzicato effect if absolutely desirable for the character of the composition,
strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the
fingerboard which is henceforth strictly forbidden.
All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict
the use of saxophones and substitute for them a suitable folk instrument.
Nothing too ethnic y'all, none of them slidey-type notes.
Heil, baby. Yessir, boss.
Today I had an interview with an executive from a Christian
record company who was interested in signing me to a recording contract. We met
for lunch in North Hollywood in one of those trendy Italian vegetarian places
where there are six or seven different types of mineral water on the menu.
Allowances were made for each party to give his life story in
five minutes or less, between bites of garlic bread and shallots, despite
interruptions from the waitress who would be leaving for her break soon, and hoped we
wouldn't end up staying all afternoon.
I had my own hopes as the conversation began, as the executive
was intelligent and well-read. He was flattering in his remarks about my music
and actually quoted my lyrics. He was sure he was going to sign me.
He had a few questions first, however. I don't remember how he
worded the questions, or their order, but they concerned, in a pointed and
shocking way, my spiritual well-being, and had little or nothing to do with my
music. He said, "These songs seem like they were written by a person who is ...
faithful to his wife!" Then he stared straight into my eyes as if to detect some
guilty dilation of my pupils.
I asked him what he meant by that.
He said, "Well, these songs seem like they come from the heart
of someone who is ... intimately involved with his local church, and is probably an elder!"
I started to figure out that he was prompting me or coaxing me
into a ritual confession. I disappointed him, I'm afraid, with the way I
shrugged off the question. Why was he asking?
"I'd like to just hear you say, 'God has called me into the
ministry of music.'"
I told him that that would probably not be my choice of words,
and I would feel presumptuous saying something that implies I'm on a first name
basis with the Almighty. I told him that I'm not sure what ministry really is, and that whatever it is, God seems to be kind enough to wrap it into
our efforts and sometimes wise enough to bestow it in spite of them.
All he wanted was to hear me use the lingo, recite the mantras
of evangelical musicians, kids who have been made to feel guilty using their
musical abilities, and who, as a result, must justify their talents with post-Jesus movement creeds-formula statements that are as culturally
nebulous and stale as the Victorian ones against which that movement originally
He tried several more times to get me to just say the words. I
said that I would make it a point not to say those particular words, if for no
other reason than to get him to think about what they meant.
Being a smart person, he knows I would have to do interviews to
sell records for him, and that in those interviews, I would be asked the same
types of questions, and I would be expected to toe the party line and echo the
same litanies—make the "comforting noise," as McLuhan put it.
I told him I just want to write some more songs and put them on
tape. I figure the content of the songs and how I choose to answer for myself is
my business. He says he is sorry, even cut to the heart, but he cannot and will not sign me, as, alas, I cannot say the things he wanted to hear.
I say I am sorry he cannot hear the things I'm trying to say.
On Tour, January, 1979
Tonight I played at a coffeehouse/club. It was in an old
building, and there were what I must assume were paintings of the Holy Spirit or
something on the wall, done quickly in bad tempera. The dressing room was an
office of some sort, I think. There was no place to sit. I tuned my guitar and
was looking through a possible set list when the man in charge walked in. He
said it was time to pray, as the concert was to start in five minutes.
After a ten minute prayer, the gist of which was, "Oh Lord, just
sing through Mark tonight and keep him out of the picture altogether," I
considered the prospect of lining up a great number of such concerts, then staying
at home and sending a cardboard likeness of myself for God to sing through.
I felt like, "why even bother writing songs?" why consult your
heart and soul in order to expose it, why subject yourself to the gristmill of
life and then try to bleed through a pen when it is all so easily reduced?
Why pray to a god who would rather speak through say, a stone?
Too bad that God made so many people who are interested in music and so few stones who are.
Needless to say, when I arrived on stage, I was not in the best
of all possible moods. I went through twenty two songs, opting between each not to say anything. I just sang. Having spent over an hour in this
manner, and having for the moment quieted the rage inside myself through the
therapy of re-living my life on six steel strings, I exited the stage back to
the dressing room/office.
Here I was met by the red-faced man in charge who didn't say
much, although I heard him clearly. He proceeded onto the stage where he
intimated to those present that the man who had just performed could not possibly
be a Christian because of the questioning nature of some of the songs and
because of the obvious fact that he had not SAID anything, and after all, what
is any musician worth who doesn't talk between his songs.
After this information, he proceeded to make up for all I had
not said by a gospel presentation seeming to last half a lifetime. He returned
red-faced to the dressing room/office, where I still stood, and uttered words to match the color of his face.
Since I had another 13 gigs to play on the tour, he had decided
to take it upon himself to call each of the promoters for those gigs personally
and inform them of my infidel status. I knew it would be useless to argue. I know I can be stubborn, but I kept asking myself, as we walked through
the cold to his dented yellow Pinto, "what good is music if you have to talk about it?"
Ten years later, I was playing guitar on tour for another
artist, staying in a hospitality house in Washington, DC. A young girl was
serving us a lunch of chicken and rice with fruit and herbs, and handed me a
note at the end of the meal. It turns out she had been present at the concert at that coffee house/club and had listened to the songs and remembered
them, and had forgotten what the red-faced man had said altogether.
We were driven to a house atop a hill overlooking the lake of
Neuchâtel. The autumn light and the thin wind made for a striking light blue color
on the surface of the lake, which was farther accented by the yellowing leaves
in the gardens on the hillsides and the brown-reds of the tile rooftops. We had to climb a couple hundred yards of steps to reach our chalet. It is
small with two beds in a loft. There is a nice piano downstairs, but the ground-level
floor is a bit chilly for loitering on the ivories.
Alter resting from the drive and lack of sleep from the long
concert the night before, we went to the concert hall for sound check. There
seemed to be electrical problems—which would persist throughout that night's performance.
sound check, we talked with members of the local youth-group for about an hour. The church was an old Romanesque structure, and I
kept drinking the hot tea we were served to ward off the chill. The walls were
damp with condensation. I discovered that the church was adjacent to an
excavated Roman-era burial site. We had an hour or two to look around in the
musty interior and cold stucco exterior, and the concert began.
There were lyrics projected in German onto the half-rotunda
above the stage, onto frescoes so faded they served nicely as a projection
screen. Some of the lyrics were out of order, I was told later, and this added a
bit of humor for those fluent enough in English to listen and read
simultaneously. We talked to a number of people after the concert, most of whom seemed
genuinely interested in discussing lyrics, and in discussion itself. A bit different from America.
Afterwards, there was more hot tea and sandwiches. Andrew
dropped us off at the chalet in his Citroen, saying, "Tomorrow, I cames to pick
you up, then we go eat somebody." I'm sure my German is much worse.
After a number of concerts and meetings, and after talking to
quite a number of people to whom we are foreigners, my mind is divided on the
way the situation here is as regards the mixture of music with Christianity.
Alfred sometimes seems a typical Christian concert promoter, seeing the concerts
as an outreach. Others are simply enamored by American singers who make records
in a way that I find rather distasteful. I'm getting a sinking feeling that they are going to make the same mistakes here we have made in America.
They want a "Jesus Movement." They want a "Sixties." They see churches, state-run,
as cold and heartless places, and the grass to them is greener on the other side of the Atlantic. They want to be like Americans, and I'm afraid
they are looking at the culture that has surrounded American fundamentalist
Christianity rather than its tenets, and swallowing it whole.
It is a shame, for the national sense of aesthetic here is
remarkably higher than back home. As we were in Lucerne, walking across the old
wooden bridge in the center of town, I noticed the oil paintings on the apex of
each rafter set in the bridge—quite a lot of them. I asked the promoter if they
were re-painted or cleaned periodically. He replied that they were painted in the 1400s and were cleaned once in the 1700s. I asked him if there
were ever any problem with graffiti, and he asked me what that was. "You know,
where somebody defaces public property with spray paint, or carves their
initials into it," I said.
"Why would somebody want to do something like that?" was his reply.
They don't realize what they have, and what they will give up to emulate America.
But a few of the people I've talked to don't really like
Americans. They see us as a bunch of people with John Wayne masks on. This, oddly,
gives me hope that they won't make all our mistakes here. There are as yet no
Christian record labels—everyone has to compete in the same marketplace, and I
envy the healthiness of that. We lost it long ago back home, when the Great
Religious Segregation occurred. But I think the strength of the American market
will eventually burgeon in here with all its ugliness and affect the way they see things.
I just wish the beautiful Swiss could remain isolationists a bit longer and maintain their own style.
Reading Between the Questions
I had sworn I would never do another interview in a Christian
publication. I reneged on my promise today. Now, since I am my own record company, I
have to take whatever opportunities present themselves in order to promote my
music to people who might buy it, so I can keep on doing it. If I had my choice....
The interview went fairly well, as such interviews go. At least
I didn't feel attacked. There are two attitudes prevalent in the Christian press as it relates to the music business. Conservatives tend to take
one's spiritual temperature, and I must admit that procedure often feels like it
is done with a thermometer of the non-oral sort.
The second attitude is one of "We can be as cool as those
secular publications," in which the interviewer wants to feel like an outsider
in order to be as cool as he considers the interviewee to be. Both attitudes are, it seems to me, useless, but these folks make their livings that
way, and their magazines might help me sell a few records.
Life is much more of a compromise than I ever imagined. In
printed media, there is always the angle to consider. No matter what you say,
words can be put in your mouth, and usually are, by those of the conservative
persuasion. The particulars of what you say are not important. It's the smell of the
interview that seems to matter to them, and if you read between the questions,
the primary question seems to be: "But are you really a Christian?" The
interview becomes a litmus test. It strikes me as people greeting like dogs. It
is a waste of time if you can't move on from that point.
It is especially difficult if a song you have written is hard
for them to understand. The unfamiliar causes them to panic, and they want to
see the results of your saliva test before they will allow for the possibility
that what you have written might be valid.
Funny, if you go through the litmus test for a while, then they
will start to listen to you sometimes. But only so far as the next thing you say
that sounds unfamiliar to them. I believe this attitude is fostered by fear, and condemns anyone who dares to be a bit different to be assumed
guilty until he can prove himself innocent.
I can't count the number of times I have felt hurt inside—that
it couldn't just be accepted that I was a Christian—that I had to prove it on
their terms and with their words. They can slant the interview any way they wish in their magazine, and make you look like an infidel or a hero.
Dealing with "cool" interviewers can be just as frustrating.
People can be so taken with music that they ascribe to it more importance than
it has. They find more than is actually there sometimes. With all the new "Christian
alternative" labels springing up everywhere, the attitude seems to be: "Hey, we can be just as cool as those bands in the secular world."
It's sad that the Christian music environment has not given
these musicians enough of a feeling of self-worth to the point that they feel
they must hide their identity on the fringes and emulate some other pop
phenomenon in order to justify their musicianship.
Some try to make the jump to a major label deal. But the music
business is no more about truth on the outside of the Christian ghetto than it is
on the inside.
Music is a product and a product only in this economic
structure. If you find something else in it, then all the better— they'll use that
as the angle and sell it to you in larger quantities. But it is nice to see real
musical art exist in spite of all these things. The joke is on the business
somehow, by God's grace, if you look real hard. It is the people who understand
these things, Christian or no, to whom I am grateful after an interview, because usually we are still finding things to talk about after the
interview is over.
On a tour a few years ago, I played in a lot of bars. Most
people think that bar owners only use music as a come-on in order to sell
drinks. But by the end of the tour, I had met a lot of owners of bars and clubs
that I really respected—there were so many lovely individual stories.
One couple's lifelong dream had been to open a bar where there
could be music they liked and people to hear it. They were not Christians, but
they did not mind that I was. They showed us a bit of the town and told us a bit
about their lives, and were quite endearing.
Why is it that I felt closer to them than I have with most
promoters at Christian colleges I've played? Perhaps we have more in common by
virtue of our common humanity than we have differences by virtue of our
religions. Maybe the problem in Christian media stems from being taught a reversal
of these things, so that a "them and us" mentality takes hold of us, and we have to go on greeting like dogs to make sure that we are on the "us"
side of the fence.
Music is a solace for me now. As I age, contrary to common
sense, I am more and more drawn into it and apt to spend more of my waking and
some of my sleeping hours thinking about it, or just feeling about it. It is my
escape. what with earthquakes, medical insurance, taxes, correspondence,
fatherhood, traffic, lack of job security, I am increasingly irresponsible, it
seems, in that I take on the mantle of Peter Pan and follow the second star to
the right directly between a pair of speakers, or to the case that holds my
mandolin. To feel the wood in my hands makes up for a variety of stress and
pressures that I probably should spend more time worrying about, things which
never go away regardless of how caught-up you feel. They do go away for chunks
of time, though, when I am making music of some sort.
I don't know why the attraction is so strong. I am surprised
haphazardly by the same deep resonances inside when I find myself thumbing through
a magazine and come upon a particularly striking photograph, or see a painting
hanging in an out-of-the-way place. I'm drawn into the mood of those photographs
or paintings—I think of feelings I have had when stopping my car on a
cross-country drive in the desert and standing there in the windy loneliness for
a while, hearing nothing, seeing shadows, the subtle color differences indifferent heights and textures of blowing grasses, feeling the extreme
largeness of the outdoor room and its horizonless walls; or I think of the
feeling of waking up in the musty woods with daylight barely filtering through
motionless leaves overhead, the dampness on the ground felt as an unheard thud; or
the smell of pinon wood burning, and the cold air carrying it into my nostrils,
as the sun drapes red dirt and rocks with the crimson curtain of a melancholy
sunset; or the feeling of standing helplessly in a fluorescent hospital
corridor, watching the minute hand of a cheap wall clock stand still while my
Daddy dies a grueling death and steps into eternity.
The primacy of these feelings impels me to capture them, and
preserve them in my memory forever; to conjure the magic of something good
waiting around the corner, over the hill, tomorrow, on the morning of the resurrection.
Music is my job, so it does not always fulfill this purpose, but
usually, at the least, it sets me on the path to it. It is difficult at best to
reveal one's true self to those who are closest, much less to friends and
acquaintances and audiences. But when you are able to catch a glimpse of your true
self, of the beauty you have felt and the despair you have been burdened with,
that is something that transcends the antiseptic responsibility of making the daily ends meet.
I wish sometimes that I just didn't have to think about any of
this, and could drone away my life. It would be easier. I have worked in a
factory, and one becomes a bit hypnotized after some time to the point where all
one can think about is going home, watching TV, having a beer and going to bed—so the cycle may be repeated. The music business can be like this, but
I find myself ever thankful that I have not lost the resonances inside when the music is right. I have no idea how we have made ends meet thus far,
as am rather useless in other areas. But increasingly, writing brings about a catharsis of my own terror and pity. It is something I have to do.
Dare I say that it becomes an experience of worship for me at times?
When you can see through the fog for an instant, and you
understand haltingly and briefly what good is, and how God is connected with that,
it cannot help but put a hell of a perspective on things you perceive as
problems, and help you discover multiple ways in which you have been numb. For
that brief moment you feel that God's in His heaven and all's right with the world.
I've tried to explain this to those family members who are not
of the artistic persuasion, and they find it difficult to understand. I find it difficult to understand myself, and sometimes wonder if normal
people can feel these strong pluckings of the celestial strings.
Maybe those inclined towards the arts are so spiritually retardedto a degree that we must go through the whole process of cathartic
expression just to discover how we really feel. Artistic expression might be seen
as a Darwinian protection device for the psyche of fragile individuals, for whom sensuous contact with the outside world is too much to bear, and
is repressed, and must be brought up and thrust out into the open from time to time at great effort in order for them to simply survive emotionally.
I only know that I am cursed with doing it.
I must at least tell somebody, even only God and myself, what I
have seen and felt. As soon as I think of how I have felt, the words to describe
it come, and only need to be written down; the melody is there, and it works its way out of my larynx onto a cheap dictation recorder, to be
forgotten or to be listened to later and fleshed out as part of the job.
Maybe I'm just a selfish maniac who is wasting his time trying
to transfer feelings which perhaps no one cares about onto a fretboard and apiece of magnetic tape. Maybe it's the modern petroglyph, or the modern
way to write on the wall of your cave: "I was here." Maybe it is a cry to God
about how much I hate the bad things and how much I love the good things.
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Mark Heard ( Image, Summer Issue 1992 )
This article is taken from the Summer 1992 issue of
Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion.
Used by kind permission. All rights reserved.
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