Category Archives: christian music

Billy Corgan on Christian rock and more…


BCBilly Corgan, (or is is Willie now?), singer of the grunge band the smashing pumpkins, has done a pretty interesting interview with CNN in Hong Kong earlier this month. The whole transcript is here.

One part from it has been going round, and is about God as the future of rock, and his message to Christian rockers:

RAJPAL: So what are you exploring now?
CORGAN: God. I once did – a big American magazine was doing a thing called, “The Future of Rock”.
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: And, you know, they asked 50 artists, “What’s the future of rock?” And my answer was, “God”. And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, God’s the third rail of -” What is it? “Social security is the third rail of politics in America”. Well, God is the third rail in rock and roll. You’re not supposed to talk about God. Even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like, “Don’t go there”. I think God’s the great, unexplored territory in rock and roll music. And I actually said that. I thought it was perfectly poised. And, of course, they didn’t put it in the interview.
RAJPAL: What would you say to Christian rockers, then?
CORGAN: Make better music. (LAUGHTER) CORGAN: Personally, my opinion – I think Jesus would like better bands, you know? (LAUGHTER) CORGAN: Now I’m going to get a bunch of Christian rock hate mail.
RAJPAL: But that’s interesting -
CORGAN: Just wait, here’s a better quote -
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: Hey, Christian rock, if you want to be good, stop copying U2. U2 already did it. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of U2-esque Christian rock.
RAJPAL: Sure.
CORGAN: Bono and company created the template for modern Christian rock. And I like to think Jesus would want us all to evolve.

I’m not in touch with the modern commercial Christian rock scene, nor do I live in a country where one can find a Christian rock radio station on a car radio,  but I do think what he’s speaking about, even though I have heard more third-generation Coldplay clones in Christian rock lately than U2-sounds, but whatever.

Maybe that’s indeed the overall idea of Christian rock you get from the radio, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of people, adherents to the Christian religion,, making rock music or something like that which is informed by their faith soemwhere, and who do not sound at all like the mentioned U2 (or coldplay) rip-offs. They might not get as much airplay and sell as much records, but they are musically much more interesting. And Billy Corgan must know that, having Jeff Schroeder in his current band  line-up (who has been part of the Christian indie scene, and played guitars on the violet burning’s selftitled album).

Mr. Corgan himself has been singing about God and other religious themes since the beginning of the Smashing Pumpkins, but does not seem to tie himself down to one religion, even though he appears to be more spiritual than ever.

What also struck me is how he describes his old band, the original line-up of the smashing pumpkins:

we were four strangers who agreed on a musical vision. And we did more harm than good.

And then he identifies one of the problems of that band as ‘false loyalty’:

I would say the key experience for me, from the original version Smashing Pumpkins was, “What is loyalty?” What is loyalty? Because I had a false concept of loyalty and I rode that ship all the way to the bottom. When most people wiser than I, would have jumped off the ship when it was to their benefit.

So people always say, “What’s your greatest career regret?” It’s when the band blew up in ’96, that I didn’t jump off and make a new ship. I rode that ship all the way to the bottom. Like, literally, until it was like the bubbles were coming up and I was sitting there like -

RAJPAL: Is it kind of like, you know, when you’re staying in a bad relationship, that you’re always hoping that something will change. That things will work out in some way, shape, or form.

CORGAN: Yes. I’m sure you’ve only had successful relationships, but I mean, if you’ve ever been there where you’re breaking up with somebody for the ninth time – [..] We did a lot of that. We didn’t really break up so much as we were like, “OK, now it’s going to be like this, or it’s going to be like this”. And then, of course, nothing would change.

Another idea that could be interesting to think about is his rejection of the very well-known dogma that suffering is good for art. I actually have never seen that one questioned before, and it’s even more interesting that he uses an Eastern religion -shintoism- to make that point. I don’t know why he uses shintoism and not Buddhism here, which is based on the elimination of suffering, and does not see a positive role for it.

Makes one wonder if the ‘suffering is good for art’ is born in Christian ideas about suffering. And if it’s indeed as valid as we all suppose…

CORGAN: There’s a long established concept that gets bandied about, which is “Misery makes for great art”. And I actually think this is – if we were asking a Shinto Monk, I think they would laugh at this idea
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: Because you’re basically saying, “Suffering’s good for business”. And I don’t think suffering’s good for business. Crazy’s good for business, suffering isn’t. I think suffering or the gestalt of, “Here I am, ripping my heart open” – I think that lasts for about two or three albums.
RAJPAL: Yes.
CORGAN: At some point, you have to mature into the deeper work. Most people are living lives of sort of survival. And constantly posing an existential crisis, either through fantasy or oblivion, really has been pretty much explored in rock and roll. At least in the western version of rock and roll. Maybe not over here in Asia, but we’ve sort of, kind of, been through all that.

I wonder if his ‘deeper work’ as he sees it himself will ever be able to reach as much people as ‘mellon collie and the infinite sadness’, which was one of my favorite rock-albums in the nineties, but I must say that his last CD ‘oceania’ is not bad at all and better than most things I’ve heard from him from the nineties!
But it seems like he is not concerned with getting that success back.

Well, if you make repressed, middle class, white, suburban, existential crisis music and a bunch of people just like you buy it, is that success? [...]  I mean, yes, it’s success in the form of communication. But is it success in being true? No, it’s not true. It’s true to its corner, but it’s not true.

Maybe it’s just me, but the guy says a lot of things (some of which I’m not even talking about here) that are really worth contemplating.. Rockstars can be interesting sometimes, don’t they?

peace

Bram

(PS: normal blogging schedule might resume somewhere in September)

Musical interlude: Step into the madness (Larry Norman)


I was listening to the grandfather of christian rock lately, and I found this song about his homeland quite scary, and parts of it might be as relevant as they were when the song was released in 1991…

I must say that I do disagree with a lot of Larry’s theology, and that some of his ideas can be quite weird from time to time, but on other moments he can be incredible spot on, like in this song…

Step into the madness of a million city streets
Where dealers sell white powder and children stand and bleed
Where local gangs are vicious and cops are so impure
That schoolboys carry Uzis so they’ll feel secure.

Where fathers rape their daughters and beat up on their sons
Until the mother tries to stop him and goes and buys a gun
Where the local church is closed except a couple times a week
And turns its face from all the homeless in the street.

This is America, land of the free
Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.

Bankers and controllers make deals on foreign shores
And the CIA ships heroin to finance their secret wars
They sell the madmen weapons then send soldiers to their land
And in the name of God we battle for all the oil under the sand.

This is America, land of the free
Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.

Step into the madness as a thousand points of light
Illuminate the warheads for the final fight.
Step into the madness, say your prayers and drink your tea
Get ready for a kinder, gentler world war three.

This is America, land of the free
Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.

‘Sketches for a liturgy’ available again!


And now some news from the Bram Cools music front. For those who don’t know, I do make music, but not everyone is going to like it since it’s a bit rough and weird sometimes… (Listen to an older compilation called ‘I am the Belgian Christian lo-fi scene’ for example to get an idea…)

Years ago, in 2007, I took the RPM challenge, and recorded an album in a month (februari even, the shortest)! It don’t think it’ll ever reach the top-40 though (none of my music ever will I’m afraid…) since it was a weird, raw, lo-fi and not very professional concept album loosely based on the classical liturgies. It had all kind of weird musical styles, and was sung in a lot of different languages (Dutch, English, Latin, Greek, 2 words of Hebrew and one word of French) There was an electronic repetitive Kyrië, an avant-hop psalm of praise (in 5/8 meter), a lo-fi folk self-written creed, etc…

I made some home-’pressed’ CD-R’s’ at the time, but they have been ‘out of print’ since forever, and the music has been unavailable for quite some years now… I never even dared to listen to it because I was afraid that I’d hate it for being rcorded too hastily, and since I lost the tracks in a computer crash, I’d never been able to rework them again either.

Listening again years later I don’t find it that bad, so I decided to make it available again, with some songs slightly remastered.

And the re-release is… Tararara…

NOW!

From now on it can be downloaded via the ‘Gloria in Te Domine‘ bandcamp site, where I want to share my more ‘religious’-minded music (like worship, praise, gospel, meditative and liturgical stuff, if I’d ever be able to play such stuff….) You can get it for free or choose to pay for it if you like… And if you like soundcloud more, you can also find it here.

Tracklist for Bram Cools – sketches for a liturgy:

13. Amen
So you can all download the album in the format you like for free or for the price you like …. If you want to use them and need chords or lyrics or so, please contact me…
Anyone who likes any of the songs?
shalom
Bram

The lost psalters interview (from August ’11, Kortrijk)


Last August the psalters, one of the most remarkable, unique and impressing band of the planet, were in Belgium to play their amazing music, and they did a show in Kortrijk. I was happy to be the opening act, with just a crappy guitar as a substitute backing band, but I actually hardly remember anything of that, since the psalters concert itself that came after my set was much, much more impressing. (one bootlegged song of my own set, called ‘Ellulian glasses’ can be found here)

As was their new CD ‘carry the bones’, which was for me the best CD of 2011! You can mail order it through their site now btw. Do it, you won’t regret it! The real CD has a very cool package and does sound lots and lots better than mp3′s of it at 128 bpm.

I also did a very interesting interview that night for a Flemish website with the mysterious ‘Captain Napkins’, as the CD booklets call him), one of the two leading forces behind the band. Browsing through my old files I found the English version again today, and I found it way too interesting to not share it with the world. Sharing is what makes us humans…

So here it is (drum roll on oil barrel), the psalters interview from Kortrijk, Belgium on 8/23/2011, done by myself (Bram), originally for cultuurshock.net (read the shorter Dutch version here!)

Bram: So this is your second time in Belgium. please tell us about the first time you were here:

Captain Napkins: Well, the fist time here in Belgium we got to play in Antwerp. We were invited by some cool folks to stay in a squat-house, that used to be a customs building on the bay. It was an amazing experience to stay in there, and then on top of that we played a show in a squat bar (the Scheld’apen) The interesting thing was that Antwerp had just kicked a lot of gypsies out of the city and given them some land right next to the bar to camp out, so when we were there was a couple of acres full of gypsies and then there was anarchists, punks and different folks all together. It just made for an amazing night.

There was a big tree-house right behind the bar, a huge tree-house even, like a real house in a tree, And there was lots of good beer. It was one of our favorite shows that we have ever done, very intense, The place was packed. Yes, we loved it! We absolutely loved Belgium!

Bram: What’s the difference between playing your music in Europe and playing it in america?

Captain Napkins: Sometimes it overlaps, you know: There are places in America that we’ve played that remind me a lot of some places that we’ve played in Europe. But I guess as a generalization, I would say more consistently people in Europe take what we’re doing much more seriously, like they think of us more a like we’re trying to be ourselves: as an organization, as a community, as a movement of combining worshop and justice, and ehm, fighting the empires that we humans create. In America, I think a lot of venues and places see all of that as just a gimmick, and at the end of the day we’re just a band…. So I think in Europe people have been taking us more seriously, which has been great. Plus the shows in Europe, it seems like people take music more seriously, not just us, but in general. The venues seem to take sound more seriously, like they’re very apologetic if they don’t have exactly what we need.

Bram: I heard the same from an interview with Dave Edwards (frontman of woven hand and 16 horsepower) once. Who said that Belgium was the most receptive country for just listening to the music, and taking it very seriously, even in the details.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, but I would say lot of the countries we’ve been to in Europe. The venues seem to take the music and the show a little more seriously, you know they put more work in it. but Belgium is one of our favorite places, for sure.

Bram: Okay, let’s switch to another subject: you guys are known to be both Christians and anarchists, how do you combine that?

Captain Napkins: It’s not at all a matter of combining, for me, for us… Well, anarchy… (pauses) We’re Christians, In a way I’m a Christian and I’m just a Christian, but I like to articulate ourselves as anarchists because the concept of anarchy helps people to understand better what we’re talking about: that there’s no system of man that works. All systems of man end up oppressing other people and elevating some people at the expense of others, and for us end up in the way of God, the One who created this world, so, yeah.

Bram: I understand that, but some people might not: I’ve just heard that there is a group of anarchists here in Kortrijk that refused to go come to your show tonight just because you’re Christians. How would you react to that?

Captain Napkins: I understand that. There’s a lot of Christians that have been very judgemental and hurtful to a lot of people. You know been jerks basically, so I totally understand that. There’s also been times for that we’ve been invited to play in a place and we found out that they were Christian and we didn’t want to play, you know.

Bram: Well, I heard that about Christians too, when hearing that you were anarchists, didn’t want to hear your music…

Captain Napkins: yeah, same thing

Bram: I remember when I let someone hear the song ‘come now and join the feast, right here in the belly of the beast’, they thought you were satanists. So how do the common Christians in America react to your music and your message?

Captain Napkins: yeah we’ve been shut down sometimes. We’ve played some shows.We’re very anti, we’re very unpatriotic, you know, like I love, I love the people of my country, I love the l…

Bram: (interrupting quite impulsively) Belgians are the most unpatriotic people of the world.

Captain Napkins: Okay

Bram: We actually just don’t care, we still don’t have a government now for I one year and a half and we don’t even care.

Captain Napkins: That’s maybe similar… that’s how we feel. I’m sure Belgians love each other, and they love the land. That’s how I feel, you know, I love the land from where I come. I love the people, but I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about those people more than other people. so in all those ways I’m not patriotic at all. and that offends of some Christians, and so we’ve kinda shut down

Bram: In America?

Captain Napkins: some of them are very conservative people and we’re not….

Bram: So, conservatives in America are really patriotic?

Captain Napkins: yeah the conservatives in America are patriotic and they tend to be violent.

Bram: recognize this T-shirt? (show T-shirt of the ordinary radicals)

Captain Napkins: yeah

Bram: I guess you know the ‘litany of resistance’, where Shane Claiborne says something like ‘I pledge allegiance to the transnational church that transcends all borders’ or something like that. (losing my words) So, when you’re thinking of Christianity and being part of a country, part of a nation, whatever, Being a Christian and being part of a people, part of a nation, what’s the connection?

Captain Napkins: for me, I don’t consider myself a part of the nation. I just am a part of the

(We arrive at the bar, looking for a good Belgian Beer, and decide to get a Hopus, a rather strong one)

Bram (to bartender): He’s from America, he’ll really appreciate it, he’s the leader of the band who played.

Bartender: yeah, I know man, it was so nice.

Bram: He deserves a hopus, really!

Bartender: yeah man, of course, of course, of course!

Captain Napkins: yeah, we have a lot of Belgian beers in Philly, in Philadelphia, my city where I’m from they love Belgian beers.

Bartender: Belgian beers are the best.

Bram: So, let’s get back to the interview: one of the guy frsom the squat-house where you stayed last time couldn’t be here tonight but he really likes your sound. He said you were the most tight band heever heard. Like one voice playing together, like there’s no ego in the band. How do you do that?

Captain Napkins: Well it’s interesting. I haven’t really, eh

Bram: You’re just tight together without ego’s, like one band with one vision, musically.

Captain Napkins: (thoughtful) Well, if that’s true, well I mean I haven’t head that a lot, it’s a new thing to me actually. But if it’s true, then what makes it happen is that there is a theology to what we’re doing, there is a vision and a mission that.

Bram: A theology?

Captain Napkins: I mean it’s built on a whole thesis, you know.

Bram: I’ve read a short version of it on your website and I’m still waiting for the whole version to be released.

Captain Napkins: Yeah, I need to write it out… that’s what I want to do when I get back from Europe. some more writing. I wrote it long time ago when I was in college. it’s for college, so it’s not, you know, there is a lot that needs to be changed.

Bram: What would you change?

Captain Napkins: Well, not even so much change as I would just add a lot, there is a lot that needs to be added and kinda updated maybe. I still agree with pretty much everything that’s in there, just a lot of things need to be updated…

Bram: Okay, on to something else, and maybe very strange question: what’s the gospel for you as a Christian anarchist? That’s the most important question for a Christian: What exactly is the good news?

Captain Napkins: Well, for me it’s about… (pauses) Eh… This might sound a little bit vague, but it’s important to me. When you ask that question I think of how God is love and loved us all into existence. He loves creation into existence and because of that our faith is about being in relationship with God, with each other and with creation. And that’s where anarchy comes in, and that’s where radical justice comes in: because the world fights against creation, the world fights against the Creator, the world fights against relationships. But for me it starts with the idea that God is love, God loved us into existence and God wants us to be in a a relationship with Him, with each other, and with his creation.

Bram: Makes a lot of sense to me. When I hear this I’m reminded of the controversy of Rob Bell’s ‘love wins’ book, so maybe let’s just ask one of the hardest questions of our faith: what do you think about hell?

Captain Napkins: (pauses) Wow, about hell? I actually was just talking to somebody last night about that and, eh, I do think that there is a hell. I don’t really know, but Jesus talks about it a lot, and our scriptures talk about it a lot, and eh… I’m uncomfortable, but at the same time I think that, eh, you know, I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who goes there, but I think that God is all-powerful (pauses) There is this woman, Julian of Norwich, who’s the first woman ever published in English. She is way back in the 12th century and she wrote something like she had a vision of hell, and she wrote something about like “and all is well and all will be well and all matter of things shall be well”. And it was just this, like it sounds redundant, but it was just her saying that God is kinda makes it work. And God makes it right, and God bring the healing but it’s tough how, I don’t know man, I mean it’s too tough.

I’m not one of those people that thinks that people who don’t confess Jesus automatically go there and stuff. I mean, I don’t know who goes there. I’m not one to decide who goes to hell and who doesn’t, you know, I do believe. I don’t even want to say that people definitely go to hell for eternity and all I think maybe that’s something that’s out of our understanding I’m also one to not say that hell does not exist, I think that hell does exist. And I think there is this suffering. there’s this horrible mess that’s out there and I think that there is such a thing as justice. I think that when injustice happens there is a need for retribution.

Bram: Would you say that there is retribution in justice, or just only putting things right and cleaning up evil without taking revenge?

Captain Napkins: yeah, I don’t necessarily believe in revenge, but I think when something evil happens I think that something needs to be made right, and it isn’t simply forgiven. It’s not a matter of like this horrible thing happens and well, it’s just okay now. No, I believe that like, when people, when a whole village is slaughtered by another group of people, that evil isn’t simply forgiven by God, there is a payment for it, there is a suffering that makes it right again.

Bram: And Jesus took that on him to give us forgiveness. (looks at watch) Looks like it’s getting late, so it’s time to end the interview. So I’ll have one last question: If I’d ask what you’d say to Christian people in Belgium, just regular Christian people, what would you say? What would you challenge them to?

Captain Napkins: Well, eh… People respect authority too much. People respect the Powers that Be too much. Because maybe the governments here are better than our government and so it’s easy…

Bram: Well, we kinda do have healthcare…

Captain Napkins: Yeah, yeah so there’s a lot of good things, and, ehm, it’s easy to not respect the American government but maybe it’s harder for Europeans to not respect theirs. But still I think that any government,and any system still falls short to the Kingdom of God. I think we always have to question them, and that we first have to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, and not citizens of a human government or a King. Maybe I’d say something like that…

Bram: Thank you very much! One more beer?

cannot keep You, cannot contain You (Gungor)


I’ll let this beautiful gungor song speak for itself… A lot of Truth in there, and the music is quite beautiful too… He can use words better in this song than I could in a blogpost or even a book I’m affraid!

Gungor – Cannot Keep You

They tried to keep you in a tent
They could not keep you in a temple
Or any of their idols, to see and understand

We cannot keep you in a church
We cannot keep you in a Bible
Or it’s just another idol to box you in

They could not keep you in their walls
We cannot keep you in ours either
For you are so much greater

Who is like the Lord
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And He seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord

We’ve tried to keep you in our tents
We’ve tried to keep you in our temples
We’ve worshiped all our idols
We want all that to end

So we will find you in the streets
And we will find you in the prisons
And even in our Bibles and churches

Who is like the Lord
The maker of the heavens
Who dwells with the poor
He lifts them from the ashes
And He seats them among princes
Who is like the Lord

We cannot contain, cannot contain
The glory of your name
We cannot contain, cannot contain
The glory of your name

We cannot contain, cannot contain
The glory of your name

Who is like the Lord
You took me from the ashes
And you healed me from my blindness
Who is like the Lord

(Their album ‘beautiful things’ can be bought here, do it and you won’t regret it. The new one ‘ghosts upon the earth’ is also very impressive!)

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram

When death dies, all things live


The new gungor record is really good. If you read dutch, I have written a review here for cultuurshock.net. Not only the music, but also the lyrics and the stories behind them are impressive…

And last but not least, Michael Gungor is one of those musicians who can make a brilliant album, and yet play even better live versions. This version of ‘when death dies is just beyond incredible…

[Yes, that black guy is playing cello solo's and beatboxing at the same time...!]

When death dies (Gungor)

Like the waters flooding the desert
Like the sunrise showing all things
Where it comes flowers grow
Lions sleep, gravestones roll
Where death dies all things live

Where it comes poor men feast
Kings fall down to their knees
When death dies all things live
All things live

Like a woman searching and finding love
Like an ocean buried and bursting forth
Where it comes flowers grow
Lions sleep, gravestones roll
Where death dies all things come alive

Where it comes water’s clean
Children fed
All believe
When death dies all things live
All things live

Beautiful, isn’t it, the idea of the final defeat of death? Why aren’t we more excited about this idea as evangelicals? Especially when even Harry Potter is…

But to get back to the point of this post: Yes, Christian music with roots in the worship scene can be artistic, and lyrically and theologically challenging!

shalom

Bram

Christian music as a genre?


Michael Gungor, the guy who wrote the instant hit ‘God is not a white man‘, has written a very interesting blog post about the genre of christian music, a topic I am planning to also write about in the near future.

The 2 problems he sees with the ‘Christian music’ category’ are very interesting:

First there is the issue of discrimination.  If a record store had a “gay music” section, people would be infuriated.  Why?  Because it’s discriminatory.  To relegate someone’s art to a small subculture of sub-art simply because that person is gay is wrong.  It hurts that artist.  It hurts all of us.  I think it’s the same with Christian music.  There are plenty of us who are Christian artists who have no desire to simply stay within some CCM ghetto around people that all think the same about everything.  There are plenty of us who are open minded to the thoughts and opinions of others who would love to enter the conversation of our culture not as a superior, bigoted judge of the rest of the world, but as a fellow human being who also has opinions and thoughts about the world that we live in that we love to express through music.

Being placed in the Christian section is the musical equivalent of a pizza company being forced by somebody to call their pizza place “Pete’s Christian Pizza” even if they’d rather not.  Can you see how forcing a business person to label their business a Christian business just because they are a Christian would be discriminatory?  It is the same thing forcing a musician who simply wants to make beautiful and honest music into the Christian category of music.  You might as well paint a scarlet letter across our chests.

Secondly, I think that this categorization hurts the art.  Because this category exists, it comes with baggage.  Imagine if you were a Republican, and you really believed Republican values, but you found out that if you wanted to make a record that it would be placed in the small Republican Music section in the back of the store.  That might effect how you make the music…  If you are going to make a “Republican record” as opposed to simply making a record as a Republican, it would probably effect the art.  In fact, it might have a tendency to overtake the art and turn it into Republican propaganda.  The music becomes secondary to the message, which means the music is probably going to suck.  You can only rhyme “Limbaugh” with so many things after all… (more here)

Michael is right on in my opinion. What do you all think? If we’d be consequent and put music in categories of content, we’d have a ‘hate and violence’ section with a lot of rap and some metal, and an ‘empty oversexed nonsense’ with a lot of top 40 R&B and pop. Now that would be interesting ;)

And the next song (a 2001 hit from the dutch symphonic metalband within temptation) would be definitely in a  ‘pagan gaia worship’ corner of the record store… I’ve always found that the whole CD sounded a lot like a Christian album but then  from another religion, and that’s not really a compliment I’m affraid.

stay (un)tuned, I hope I’ll get back at this topic soon…

Bram