20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 2)

Part 1 Here.

In which I continue the process of spotlighting the 20 songs of Rich Mullins that I think are the most enduring, the most memorable, the “desert island” collection I would hand to someone who was hearing his music for the first time. (But not without a long list of honorable mentions.)

One of the things that impresses me most about the work of Rich Mullins in hindsight is its versatility. He could write classically cheesy 80s pop/rock in the vein of Mr. Mister or Toto. He could write dreamy, Carpenters-style ballads. He could write pop classical take-offs and piano-abusing growlers a la Billy Joel. Here you might interject that you don’t really need that kind of versatility in your life and give him a pass. But that would be a shame, because you’d be missing his nitty-gritty bluegrass, his Springsteenian soul, his country twang, his smart taste in folk covers new and old, and his Dylan-and-Simon-esque treks across the American landscape. And worst of all, you’d miss his unique, sometimes purely instrumental touch on instruments you’d never heard of, like hammered and lap dulcimer (and the inexplicable way he turned such instruments into the stuff of #1 singles).

Part 2 of our countdown continues to showcase that versatility across my hand-picked selection of tunes. Part 1 already included a number of favorites, but I’ve kept what I feel are some of the very best for second.

Continue reading “20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 2)”

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20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 1)

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Part 2 here.

For those who are interested, I have written some thoughts on the life and legacy of Christian musician, writer, wise guy and unofficial saint Rich Mullins at The Stream here. As I write this late at night, it was twenty years ago this night that his life abruptly ended in a car crash. Later, it came out that neither he nor his passenger was wearing a seatbelt–a boneheaded thing, but as those who knew him could have told you, it was typical of Rich’s particular brand of boneheadedness. Most of the time, it just made him a little weird and iconoclastic. This time, it cost him his life. A lot of people he touched are pretty sore about that, including me.

Anyway, there was a time when you couldn’t browse a Christian magazine stand or turn on Christian radio without hearing the music of Rich Mullins. With the state of the CCM industry today, his success feels, in hindsight, like a dream–a weird, miraculous dream, the kind you have once and never have again. (More analysis here, for music and music biz nerds only.) Nevertheless, it has been twenty years, and that dream is fading from the collective consciousness of the American church. The worship choruses and songs Mullins wrote (partly in collaboration with friends) were the fabric of a childhood that I’m forced to admit is long gone. I doubt this would shock him. He was a canny guy, and he understood music business. He predicted exactly when his first smash, “Awesome God,” would be a smash. He also predicted when it would fall completely out of use. That’s part of why people love him: He was a no B. S. kind of guy. He knew exactly who he was and never pretended to be anything else.

I remember when I first discovered Rich Mullins. I was in high school, and I was browsing an old shelf filled with books, CDs, dry pens and cobwebs. My dad had a small collection of discs that he’d bought but didn’t have time to listen to anymore. One of them was Songs, by Rich Mullins. At the time, I had a portable SONY CD player. I pulled it out the other day. It needs new batteries. It sits on my desk now as I write. When I slipped that CD into that player, the first notes to come out were Rich’s spin on Bach’s Fugue #2 in C minor (sadly, transposed to a different key). I was hooked.

The next song was “Awesome God,” a chorus which I was already thoroughly sick of at that young age. But the verses had always been fuzzy, and I heard them as if for the first time. Those verses, man. So weird. So cool. I find them even more so when I read that they came out of Rich in a spontaneous moment of improv while taking 16 hours to drag a trailer up a hill for a gig that was 8 hours away. He was bored and tired, his buddy was bored and tired, so what do you do when you’re bored and tired? If you’re Rich Mullins, and hence a little weird, you make like you’re an old black gospel preacher and start riffing. You take the Old and New Testaments and make a gumbo out of them. Out of that, you manage to pluck out an insanely hooky chorus. Then you try to remember it all for 16 hours until you can get to a piano and record a crappy demo. Then you hit stop, look up at your buddy and go, very quietly, “I think it’s gonna be big.”

Continue reading “20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich Mullins Countdown (Part 1)”

Two Sisters Review: Dunkirk (Part 1)

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I know. It’s been a while. Okay, it’s been all summer. We missed Wonder-Woman because to be honest Little Sis is a bit more invested in guy superheroes, and we missed Spiderman Homecoming because to be honest I got home and realized I didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. So now, for something completely different… our thoughts on Dunkirk. Her first viewing, my second. She has never seen a Christopher Nolan movie before. All her thoughts are her own. We hope you enjoy.

[Update: Read Part 2 here.]

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Two Sisters Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2

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The Two Sisters are baaaaaack! We saw Guardians: Volume 2, and we’re here to tell you exactly what we thought about it. In the spirit of Drax, we will hold absolutely nothing back as we answer all your questions (Is it as good as Volume 1? Is it weirder than Volume 1? Who is Peter Quill’s dad anyway? Who’s the best new character, and why is it Baby Groot? Is there anything important parents should know about?) and contemplate related topics, including but not limited to: the gift of mortality, the redemption of scuzz-balls, the power of musical nostalgia, and how Marvel patiently continues to lay the groundwork for the Infinity War finale. 

If you’re new to this series, be advised that this is really less of a proper “review” and more of a stream-of-consciousness deep dive, hence insert spoiler warning here. Proceed at your own peril.

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My Top 10 Love Songs (Valentine’s Day 2017)

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Once upon a time, I gave you my top five underrated love songs (at the time). Once upon another time, I gave you my top five love songs (at the time). Notice a pattern? Like most “top 5/10/20 things” lists, my list of love songs is a many-splendoured, ever-changing thing. Certainly, I would keep some things, but not all, and others I would now add without a second thought.

Herewith, my top ten love songs. A few ground rules: no breakup songs. No Bryan Adams. No Air Supply. No Richard Marx (Dad, can you forgive me?) No Bette Midler. No Kenny Rogers. And no Lionel Richie. Absolutely no. Decidedly no. Uh-uh. Also, my mom will kill me if I put “Just the Way You Are” on here even though I kinda like that one. (Don’t tell anyone, I prefer we keep this between us.)

All right, now that we’ve got that out of the way, herewith, My Top Ten Love Songs As Of Right Now, c. Midnight on Valentine’s Day, 2017.

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Questions & Answers: Hearts and Bones and Carrie Fisher

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Carrie Fisher and Paul Simon

Many have commented that 2016 was thicker than usual in celebrity deaths. But some of those deaths have felt crueler and more poignant than others. (I for one couldn’t care less whether Prince lived or died. Sue me.) The comparatively young death of Carrie Fisher has come as a particularly sad shock to cap the year off. Tributes from various friends and associates have poured in, all emphasizing her sharp wit, humor, and honesty. It’s struck me that Fisher’s distinct un-sappiness as a person has rendered this outpouring less syrupy than the usual “dead celebrity tributes” fare. She was a complicated personality with lots of hard edges and dark corners, and she spoke about those hard, dark parts of herself with disarming candor.

Some fans are just now learning that Carrie Fisher was married: once only, to rock legend Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel fame. Their stormy, whirlwind romance gets extensive treatment in Peter Ames Carlin’s new Simon bio Homeward Bound, from which some pertinent excerpts are provided here. It’s painfully sad reading. Carlin paints a vivid picture of two people who had extraordinary sympatico, yet were so deeply dysfunctional that neither one could handle the other’s pain. They shared a fierce intelligence and a melancholy bent that inevitably drew them together. There are stories of titanic fights between them that would dissolve all of a sudden because they began to laugh helplessly at each other and themselves.

However, there’s no denying that their marriage was spectacularly ill-advised. Fisher’s bipolar disorder and drug abuse weren’t things that could be pushed under the rug. They were an ever-present ball and chain. Coupled with Simon’s own ongoing depression, and topped off by a tragic miscarriage, they inexorably dragged the marriage down to its doom, a mere year later. Interestingly, it was Fisher, not Simon, who made the final decision to cut it short, no doubt believing it was best for both of them.

As is typical with such things, this wasn’t the end of the story. Simon and Fisher maintained an on-again, off-again relationship for a number of years thereafter, before Fisher once again decided to break it off for good.

Musically, some of Simon’s best work came out of this relationship, most famously the song “Graceland.” Fisher is the “she” who “comes back to tell me she’s gone, as if I didn’t know that, as if I didn’t know my own bed.” However, Simon wrote another song about their relationship that slipped through the cracks at the time: the title track for a flop project called Hearts and Bones, which has been revived as something of a cult classic in recent years. While the stature of “Graceland” is undeniable, and the track understandably more ear-catching, “Hearts and Bones” is, for my money, the deeper and more poignant lyric of the two. It traces “the arc of a love affair” between “one and one half wandering Jews” (Fisher was half-Jewish), from marriage to divorce. One might mistakenly think it was written in the wake of their separation, but eerily, it was actually written on the cusp of their marriage.

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George Bailey and the Embrace Of Home

This year, one of my all-time favorite films turned 70. It’s a Wonderful Life has rightly earned its place as an American classic and one of Jimmy Stewart’s best roles. It gives the lie to anyone who tries to paint old Hollywood in broad, simplistic strokes, by presenting us with a likable hero who catches one bad break after another and eventually has to be pulled from the brink of suicide.

Over at The Stream, I paid tribute to the film by dusting off a film project I’ve featured here before, which combines the movie with Andrew Peterson’s song “World Traveler.” George’s story has so many layers of meaning, so many resonances, chief among them the resonance of home. In this article, I weave George’s story and the story Andrew tells in his song with some personal reflections of my own. I hope it cheers somebody this Christmas Eve. A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Two Sisters Review… Rogue One (Part 2 of 2)

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Is Rogue One really the first Star Wars movie to realize it’s about war? Why is Darth Vader suddenly making bad puns? What’s CGI [SPOILERS] doing in here? Can we talk about Jyssio for just a minute? And the 64k question: Did we NEED Rogue One? Welcome to Part 2 of our deep dive! And, as with Part I, SPOILER WARNING. If you have not yet seen the movie, bookmark this and come back when you have!

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Two Sisters Review…Rogue One (Part 1 of 2)

Well em gee… December sure flew by! As a reminder, for blog-only subscribers, you can follow me on Facebook (and now, on Twitter!) to keep up with my various writings. Despite appearances, I haven’t been wholly inactive this month. You can read my two latest articles for The Stream from my author’s page here. Both of them tie film together with life issues such as abortion and assisted suicide.

Today, we’re back with something lighter: another blockbuster deep dive in two parts with Little Sister, thus expanding the series which I’ve chosen to christen “Two Sisters Review.” WARNING: Thar be SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk.

Today, we cover stand-out new characters, likes and dislikes about character arcs, plot holes, and how we feel about the shades of grey it introduces into Star Wars morality. Tomorrow, we’ll cover Darth Vader (force-chokes! bad puns!), the new villain, more plot holes, Rogue One As War Movie, CGI… characters, and oh yes, shipping. Read on, and stay tuned!

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