Category Archives: pop culture

Why You (and I) Should Pay for the Music We Love

ImageDavid Lowery, alternative rock pioneer and now (I just learned) lecturer in the music business program at the University of Georgia, has written the best thing I’ve ever read about why it’s important to pay for the music you enjoy. I’ve admired Lowery for nearly 20 years now. I’m a bit too young to have been hip to his work in the 80s with Camper Van Beethoven, but Cracker’s Kerosene Hat, with it’s modest hit song “Low,” was one of the rock albums I cut my teeth on in the first part of the 90s. Cracker also remains one of the best bands I’ve had the privilege of seeing play live (with The Eels, no less!).

There’s a backstory to Lowery’s “Letter to Emily,” but don’t worry about it. It stands on its own as an open letter to all of us. Please read this, especially young people. The times are changing, and we need to be intentional about making ethical decisions that support the people who create the things we care about, whether it’s coffee or Tom’s Shoes or your church or music. If the artists you love want to give their music away for free on NoiseTrade or on their own websites, that’s fine, but please compensate them if and when you can. If you hear something on Spotify or Pandora that you really like, download the album from iTunes or Amazon instead of streaming it over and over. It’s the little things that make a difference, especially to artists and creators.

Gloria and I (as The Italics) have 3 songs for free download on NoiseTrade, a site Christian songwriter Derek Webb helped create which gives artists a place to give their music away (facilitating and encouraging generosity from artists) and also gives users a chance to “leave a tip” for the artist via PayPal (facilitating and encouraging generosity from fans). I recently noticed some money in our Paypal account because someone thought those three songs, which we recorded more than 8 years ago for less than $100 per song, was worth leaving us a “tip.” (If our benefactor is reading this – THANK YOU!) I can testify that this makes us want to record more songs and continue to make our art available. It makes us feel that what we do matters. That it is valued by someone. That we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. That it’s worth trying to carve out time in a life already chock full with three kids, ministry, and teaching for songwriting and recording. And we do this so part-time, so on the side, that it’s almost not worth mentioning. The tip was a symbolically significant gesture for us, but it’s very real for many artists, especially independent artists, who truly rely on fans paying for the music they enjoy, not only to sustain their art so they can keep making albums, but for their very livelihood.

Seriously, read the article. I know it’s long, but it’s important. And consider putting $15 / month in your budget to pay for the music you love. I know most of you spend more than that on coffee, and probably exponentially more than that on your cell phone bill. I believe that art makes the world a better place, so make a decision to do something that directly contributes to that end. Invest in things that matter. Begin to think of yourself as a patron of the arts. We need a more sustainable model, and it begins with taking personal responsibility for our actions and supporting (financially and in other ways) the things that are important to us.

And if you’re looking for a few independent artists worth supporting, might I suggest?:

What do you think about this whole debate? Who are some artists you think are worth my hard-earned money?

Who should I vote for?

Although I attempt to play it close to the vest during political seasons, when “passions” (that sounds so much nicer than “tempers”) run high – particularly in Ohio – I often find myself the subject of mistaken assumptions with regard to our standard, dichotomous political labels. Today, on the eve of the 2012 presidential election, I have decided to set the record straight.

When queried about my political affiliation, my response is “Christian.” I am surprised at how often fellow Christians think I am joking when I say this. I don’t think this is because they’ve disconnected their faith from their politics, but rather because they’ve intertwined them so thoroughly as to only see a possible connection between “Christian” and “Republican” (in which case, why wouldn’t I just say “Republican”?). But I really don’t know how else to answer. My life, including my political perspective(s), has been formed overwhelmingly by the Church, which I believe to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now. “Kingdom” is a political term. To adapt Stanley Hauerwas, I believe the church doesn’t have a certain politics, it IS a politic. Polis simply means “city.” To be a Christian  means (among other things) being a citizen of a city where Jesus reigns. So, with Hauerwas, I believe that when a Christian is asked to say something political, the appropriate response is “Church.” I do not claim that living this out is straightforward or easy, but I aspire to keep clearly focused on the fact that my primary citizenship is not of this world, and to quote Derek Webb, “my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country…democracy or blood – it’s to a King and a Kingdom.” This is not to diminish my love for or loyalty to my nation, or my gratefulness for the freedoms we enjoy, but an acknowledgment that I aspire to be a Christian first, and everything else a distant second.

In light of this, the question of how we live as citizens of our this-worldly cities in the time that remains is not at all simple. In fact, I think it’s incredibly complex, which is why platitudes like “vote biblical values” strike me as not only meaningless but rather irresponsible – I want us to take our Bible, and our responsibility as citizens, more seriously than that. I believe sincere Christians can come to radically different conclusions about politics, because I believe there is a bit of good and a bit of truth – as well as a whole lot of broken, sinful humanity – involved in ALL of our attempts to govern ourselves and organize our common life in the present age. But I believe the Kingdom of God subverts all of our this-worldly political systems, which makes our politics (any of them) a poor foundation on which to build our lives or in which to place our faith.

This is the source of my “dis-ease” with contemporary American politics. I see both sides offering utopian visions of heaven on earth, and I see Christians on both sides believing that “their side” offers true hope, while the “other side” will bring only doom and destruction. We’ve bought into what Peter Enns identifies as a “rival eschatology,” one very different from Christian hope. Perhaps we’ve succumbed to this because we see our this-worldly situation as the more “real” one, and the Kingdom of God as far off, when as Christians we are called to live as though we believe that the Kingdom is more real than “real”…which is admittedly not easy.

So politically speaking, I feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land. I feel very at home around conservatives who promote personal responsibility, family values, and “life.” However, I am often frustrated that this tribe that places such great emphasis on life doesn’t take their agenda far enough to oppose not only abortion but capital punishment, torture, drone strikes that kill civilians, endless war, and to insist upon care for the poor and downtrodden, orphans and widows, and the planet on which we must make our home for generations to come. I am concerned about an uncritical faith in capitalism and “the market” to solve all our problems, an untroubled complicity with violence and militarism, and an inherent selfishness that celebrates those who are “winners” (according to the world’s rubric), while ignoring (or worse, rationalizing) the systemic injustice that results in an impossibly wide gap between the winners and losers. So, although I have chosen at times to vote along these lines, I prefer to not identify myself as “conservative” or “Republican.”

I also find myself quite at home amongst liberals who emphasize equality and believe that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status much less their mental or physical ability, should have unencumbered access to education, health care, and a basic quality of life. However, I am often frustrated that this tribe doesn’t go far enough in fighting for this same basic quality of life for the unborn, or in stressing the importance of taking individual responsibility for our actions as a necessary basis for a flourishing society. I am concerned about an ideology that at times prefers the welfare of plants and animals to that of human life, an inherent naiveté about the brokenness of our human condition that leads to the mistaken and silly belief that if we work together and simply love each other – and most importantly ourselves – we can bring about our own salvation and achieve peace on earth. So, although I have chosen at times to vote along these lines, I prefer to not identify myself as “liberal” or “Democrat.”

I also believe that if being a Christian means anything it means telling and promoting the truth. But I confess I don’t see much truth-telling during campaigns: from the candidates, the media, or even from us ordinary folks as we air our opinions. (Perhaps the old saying should be revised – in war and in politics, truth is the first casualty.) I am troubled by a culture where we’re more likely to dig our heels in about our biases and beliefs when presented with evidence to the contrary, rather than dare to think and reconsider. So in the interest of truth-telling, let me make a few confessions, and give you a chance to weigh in:

  • I am far left on some issues, and far right on others. (What can I say? Anyone who knows me would agree that moderate is not a word often used to describe me.)
  • I am concerned when who we favor in an election becomes a litmus test for our patriotism, or even our Christian faith, rather than simply an indication of diverse political and philosophical preferences, many of which are more likely inherited than thoughtfully selected.
  • I believe America would be better off with more than just two viable political options that seem so polarized in some areas and yet so completely identical in others.
  • I am quite attracted to certain aspects of the platforms of the Green party, the Libertarian party, and yes, even the Republicans and Democrats too; I also despise certain aspects of all of them.
  • I choose to believe most candidates for political office genuinely desire to serve the common good and make things better; I also don’t believe any politician can be trusted to keep all the promises they make during a campaign.
  • I believe God has instituted that we should have systems of governance, but leaves it in our hands to work out what that actually looks like; I don’t believe God is the puppet master behind the geopolitical landscape or is responsible for who wins an election.
  • I believe that if Jesus walked the earth today, he would be quite disinterested in the spectacular beauty pageants we call “elections.”

So…given the available choices, and in light of these convictions, who do you think should I vote for, and why?