Thanks for your ex-boyfriend…

By the time I became a senior in high school, I had begun to assume a “big brother” role in the lives of several younger girls. None of them were serious dating prospects, so that was fine by me, I suppose. One such girl, Ashley Smith, began dating a guy who was new to the school, so I was doing my “brotherly duty” and making sure the guy was alright. He was in my World History class, so I made small talk during class.

During the October of my senior year, I went to my first rock and roll concert with Ashley and some of her friends. The guy she was dating was sitting a couple rows back, so we visited with him during the show. I’ve been to a lot of concerts since then, but I still have very fond memories of that concert.

Pretty soon they were calling each other boyfriend and girlfriend and holding hands and such. Her best friend wasn’t dating anyone and Ashley was determined to find a date for her so they could go on double dates. Enter ignorant ol’ me. Ashley talked me into going on a blind date with her and I agreed. We went on a couple dates during Christmas time and did some fun, Christmas-y type stuff. We went on some double dates, and even triple dates with another couple.

Well, that didn’t last very long. It turned out the only reason she was going out with me was so she could go on double dates with her best friend. Once I started thinking there was potential for something more serious, she jumped ship (which was a whole lot better than leading me on, I supppose.) Fortunately, by this time, I had gotten to know Ashley’s boyfriend pretty well and we hung out together a lot as I eased back into being single again.

Ashley and her boyfriend only stayed together for a couple more months and then they broke. We were two guys, single and in the twlight of our high school lives. There was no better place to be. No need to worry about commitments or expectations with girls. We had some good times just enjoying our youthful freedom doing crazy stuff as our senior year burned down.

Almost five years ago, David was the best man in my wedding. He is now slowly building an underground following for Christian techno music Just a couple months ago, we got to visit him and his wife in the hospital just a couple hours after giving birth to their first son. I still keep in touch with a couple of my high school friends, but David and I probably keep in touch the most. I don’t know whatever happened to Ashley Smith, but I’m sure glad I got to know her ex-boyfriend.

Confessions of a closet emo boy

This weekend I made a couple impulse buys at the music store. I previewed Mae’s The Everglow and Copleand’s In Motion and liked them enough that I picked them up. I need to listen to them a couple days to let them settle in and then maybe I’ll review them. Both bands have been loosely (and probably unfairly) lumped into the genre of emo.

Wikipedia does a pretty good job of defining emo. The latest generation of emo often presents a juxtaposition between harsh noise and beautiful melodies and the singing often alternates from whispers to screams, often in the same song. The genre is hard to define because it doesn’t have a defining sound, but it does generally have lyrics that revolve around familiar topics. The interesting thing about emo is that you will find artists who are bold about their faith, but you won’t find emo music on the cover of CCM magazine or in the front of your Family Bookstore. Many artists are passing by the CCM world and going to straight to the mainstream as their careers progress.

My first exposure to the genre was via Further Seems Forever’s The Moon Is Down. I saw the band at Cornerstone in 2002 and was amazed by the overwhelming crowd response. I stood in the tent and watched as the fans at the front of the stage shouted the songs so loud that they overpowered the singer, what a loyal following! I picked up the album by the Boca Raton-based band, which mostly centers around the joy and sorrow of being in a long distance relationship (and while I can’t really identify with that anymore, at one time I *was* in Boca Raton and in a long-distance relationship, so maybe there is some connection there.) What really drew me into the album was the creative cadence and rhythms of the songs and the ebb and flow of intensity that flows throughout the album. Of course, Chris Carrabba has now moved on to his own work as Dashboard Confessional, perhaps the current defining band for the pop version of the genre, but FSF has done alright without him and I’ve followed FSF far more than Dashboard Confessional as it was the sound that originally attracted me, not really Carrabba’s forlorn teen-love lyrics.

A friend and I once discussed that being happily married and content is good for your life, but not really good for your music. There just are not very many bands out there that write very interesting stuff about being in a fulfulling marriage (I will name three exceptions that I can think of: 1. Steve Hindalong did a very good job of describing the marital sturm-and-drang of marriage on The Choir’s Kissers and Killers and that has continued, though not as effectively, into their more recent work. 2. Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler discuss the struggle of bringing a marriage back from the brink on Over The Rhine’s Drunkard’s Prayer 3. Derek Webb’s most recent material drawing parallels between a wife and husband and the church and her savior) Tension, it would seem, is one of the driving factors of rock and roll, and teenage angst about the hopes and failures of love is chock full of it, so the material just naturally flows. So, while I don’t really “feel” the lyrics of younger, more recent bands, I do love the push and pull of the intensity of the sound.

So, all of this is to say, I’m so far from an emo boy as you can get, but I will confess to liking some of the music, and I’m encouraged about the future of rock music. It’s so easy to throw my hands up and say “There’s no good rock music anymore”, but I’m excited about some of the emerging bands that are combining beauty and intensity all while proclaiming bold faith and love from God without beating it over our heads.

Farewell Petra

The Phantom Tollbooth announces that Petra is retiring at the end of this year. Petra, along with artists like Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy, and Daniel Amos pioneered what is now a huge industry of Christian rock music. Petra successfully transitioned from a Jesus music band to a new-wave pop band and then to an arena rock band. They were, however, unable to move forward from their arena band days successfully and while they were one of the defining bands of Christian music in the 80’s and 90’s, they were unable to replicate such success in the 21st century.

In reality, Petra probably hung around about five to seven years too long. Arena rock ebbed as alternative grunge music rose (and truth be told, I’d far rather hear more recent bands’ vocals than the screeching of hair-rock bands) and the revolving door of musicans resulted in a band that was mostly faceless excepting vocalist John Schlitt and guitarist Bob Hartman. Time and declining sales finally caught up to them.

I have long history with Petra. They had already been around a long time by the time I had discovered them, with over two decades of albums already released. The first album I ever picked up and heard was Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out. These days, it is now the trendy thing to sneer on bands that jump on the bandwagon and create a praise and worship album. In 1989, however, the idea was pretty new. I remember mowing the yards in the summer listening to this album on my walkman. I remember listening to Beyond Belief on the way to Six Flags with my youth group. I wasn’t totally on board with hair-metal music, but I was starting to warm up to it.

It may be hard to believe now, but at one time, it was cool in high school to be a fan of Petra (well, at least among the youth group kids.) We all had t-shirts, the cassettes, and we thought we were the coolest. After the release of Unseen Power, I went with my friend Ashley and her church group to the concert in the civic center. That was my first ever rock concert and it’s still remembered as one of my top 15 concerts My friend David was at the concert also. As David and I became good friends (I’ll be writing more on that soon), Petra was a common factor.

In my freshman year of college, many of my fellow associates in my fraternity were all Petra fans and when Petra played again at the civic center, we all went as a large group. I remember Jon Preston returning from visiting his parents in Tampa and seeing them in concert while he was there. He walked up to me in a tour t-shirt exclaiming, “Dude! You are going to love this show!” I remember Jeff McCammon and Brian Water’s answering machine message, “You’ve reached Brian and Jeff, we’re not here, ’cause we’re seeing Petra!” The event was as big as any Switchfoot, Third Day, whatever concert you’d see today. Wake Up Call was more pop than rock, but it was still a memorable album.

John Lawry left Petra in 1994 and when he did, his signature keyboard sound left with him. Keyboards in rock and roll were on their way out at this time, but it signified an end to the Petra I knew and the beginning on a theme of change within the band. When No Doubt was released in 1995, I was in Florida, far away from most of my friends and far away from most everything that I was familar with. Petra was one of the few connections I had with my life back home. I went to see them in concert in Fort Lauderdale with Nolan and his little sister. I remember Nolan’s sister (who was, by far, the coolest and most mature thirteen year old I’ve ever met) saying after the show was over, “Wow. They were really good. I bought their CD. I wonder if they have any other CD’s?” During that tour, founding member Bob Hartman stopped touring, leaving no original members in the band. When I replaced the processor and motherboard in my computer, I dubbed my computer “Petra” since it no longer had any original parts inside the case anymore. This became a reoccuring gag among my friends.

In 1996, David and I were reunited to see Petra in concert in Gainesville. I was totally unaware that three days later my girlfriend would break up with me, which would last for a summer before we got together again. A year later, at the long, drawn out end of our relationship, when we had our last conversation on our phone, I hung up and listened to Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus because at the end I had no idea what to do. So I did what Job and Jeremiah did after their world was turned upside down and praised God. A couple weeks later, David and I once again saw Petra in concert and that show was probably the best show I saw in terms of quality and intensity. The music was more mature than past work and we worshiped the Lord that night. I had hoped that this was the future of Petra, moving towards a more mature sound with more complex songs and an older audience doing music for the church.

Sadly, this was not to be the case. A year later, Petra released God Fixation, which sounded like a bad imitation of bands like Matchbox 20. It was clear that they were still trying to target the youth group audience and I had long grown up from that crowd. I was very disapointed in the songs and the music and Petra began to decline in my list of bands that I loved. David and I did get together again and see Petra in concert in 1998, this time in an interesting twist, opening for the Newsboys. The first time I saw them, a little known band from Australia known as the Newsboys were opening. The members of the band began to turn over quickly after this, and they seemed to become faceless to me.

By the time Double Take came out, I had moved on to other bands. I found intensity in subtlety in highly talented bands like Over the Rhine and Caedmon’s Call and if I needed a band that commanded an arena, U2 delivered with integrity and authenticity. I purchased the album because I almost felt a little obligated. The album was an acoustic reworking of old songs and I really wasn’t overwhelmed with the redone songs, but I at least appreciated that they were trying something different with their sound. I must’ve purchased this album around the time I got engaged to Adriene, because whenever I listen to it, I always have memories of buying her ring, going to Amicalola Falls and proposing and all the fun we had that weekend. In 2000, I did see them in concert at an outdoor festival in north Georgia and while the show was ok, I really had more fun walking around Tallulah Gorge and such.

When Bob Hartman started working with the band again, they experienced a slight upswing in quality. Of course, by the time Revival came out, everybody and their brother had released a praise and worship album, so it got buried. The album did have some nice tunes and for some reason I always associate it with coffee at Cafe Intermezzo near Perimeter Mall because I guess Adriene and I probably went there a lot around the time I picked up this CD. Adriene even said it sounded like Angie Aparo, so at least they were sounding a little more relevant. Jekyll and Hyde came out last year and while it finally sounded like the band had a little bit of a pulse, some of it was pretty derivative (even down to lifting guitar rifts from other bands, but that wouldn’t be the first time for Petra) and it just felt like the steam was running out.

David and I have had many years of memories with this band. They aren’t either of our favorites anymore by a longshot, but we still take a chance to see them in concert whenever they are in town to relive old times. I guess I knew the day would eventually come when they would finally stop, but part of me felt like since they had been around so long, they would always be around for me to both love and gently mock. It’s cliched to say that another part of my childhood has died, but well, there aren’t many pieces left, so it’s sad to see another part end.

A statement from their website says they plan to tour until the end of the year, doing a farewell tour of sorts. Hopefully they will swing through Atlanta so that David and I can recall simpler days of worshipping God and listening to music one last time.

The First Kiss

So in my re-tellings of some of my romantic blunders of my youth, I’ve been telling the stories in mostly chronological order. So now we’ve reached a point in my life where we hit a pretty big dry spell. There’s just not much to talk about when it comes to my early high school years. My main crush was still largely unattainable and most of the other girls around me just didn’t interest me all that much. I was hopelessly single, but not really desperate enough to do something about it. However, it was during this time that I had my first kiss, and it was not at all what I expected.

One night, while out with a group of friends, we went over to a friend’s house to watch some movies. One of my friends had brought along a friend of hers that none of us knew. She took a liking to me rather strongly in the evening and well, quite frankly, it creeped me out. I’m not really a very “touchy-feely” person so when she started cuddling up to me and such, I was a little apprehensive, but rather than cause a scene while we were all watching the movie I just let her. All of us were all bunched up on the couch anyways, so it wasn’t like I had anywhere to go.

Well, the girl who had brought this friend must’ve sensed that something was going on between us. (She must’ve have been reading expressions from her face and not the quizzical, confused looks on my face.) At the end of the night, she said she had to go straight home and suggested that I drop her friend off at her house. I was giving some other people a ride home, so I agreed.

The way the route ended up, she was the last stop on the way home (maybe if I knew now what I knew then, I would’ve taken along another friend or two in the car and backtracked to take them home!) and it was a long trip to her house. As soon as I dropped off the last person and I was alone in the car with this girl, she started to unload on me. She began to talk about her parents and all the issues in her life and such and all the red flags started waving in my mind. As she kept talking, the red flags turned into air raid sirens. Not much longer after that, my brain was screaming, “Dear Lord, man! Just drop her off on the side of the road and get as far away as you can! Abort! Abort!” But I had a duty and that was to get her home safely, and after hearing all these stories, at least be one man in her life who didn’t screw her over.

When we got to her house, I pulled in the driveway and the talking continued. At some point, the conversation turned to religion and it quickly became apparent that this girl was not a Christian or she had some pretty bad misconceptions about God. I kept trying to look for an out in the conversation and drop in a “Mmmm, yeah. It was nice to meet you. Gotta go now. Curfew and all that. Have a good night!”, but it just wasn’t happening. Finally, I squeezed it in and thought I was finally going to get to go home. She reached for the door, but then unexpectedly turned and kissed me!

I had no idea what to do and my brain short-circuited. I guess I was like a soldier who at the initial impact of combat falls back on his training. I started talking at a 100 miles an hour about how I wasn’t interested in her and I’m pretty sure at some point I busted out the Four Spiritual Laws on her (falling back on that Youth Group training like a soldier in battle, baby.) This was not the response she expected at all, because lots of crying and such ensued before she finally went from the car to her house. I left the house with an enormous ache in my heart for someone whose impression of men had become so badly distorted that she really didn’t know how to interact with them in any way other than physical affection.

I never saw her again and I never brought the whole incident up with my friend that introduced me to this girl. I had no idea how I would bring it up in a conversation and since she never mentioned it, I figured it was best to let it lie. I don’t even remember her name now, and sometimes I wonder whatever happened to her.

Over the Rhine at Smith’s Olde Bar

Over the Rhine came into town this past weekend touring their new album Drunkard’s Prayer. I was a little apprehensive that the show might lack some of the energy of some of their past shows due to the low-key nature of the newest album, but thankfully, this was not so.

Touring with Karin and Linford are two talented musicans who have been travelling with them for a couple years now. Devon Ashley (of Indianapolis with a band named “The Pieces”) played drums while
Rick Plant (known mostly for his work with Buddy Miller) played electric bass for most of the night, but also played electric guitar on a couple of songs.

Over the Rhine was also accompanied by their opener and friend, Kim Taylor. Kim had just returned from taking her son to Disney World for a couple days and was still a little stunned from the experience. Taylor entertained the audience with a “solo” by her imaginary friend during her opening set.

Setlist (songs with [KT] indicate songs that Taylor joined the band):
Faithfully Dangerous
This is the most jazzy version that they were doing around ’97 or ’98 on tour.

I Want You To Be My Love

Born [KT]
Kim Taylor joins the band on stage, playing acoustic guitar and singing background
vocals. I always liked it when the band toured with Terri Templeton as it gave the
vocals a little depth, so Taylor was a welcome addition. Rick Plant played electric
guitar on this song.

Spark [KT]

Lookin’ Forward [KT]
Linford straps on the electric bass guitar and Rick plays electric guitar. This was
a little rollicking version of the song that I liked better than the version on
Drunkard’s Prayer.

Anything At All [KT]

Suitcase [KT]
Linford played acoustic guitar on this song. I love this song and it sounded
wonderful with Kim on background vocals. Kim got the giggles before this song (Karin said it was from the Disney trip) and had to work hard to compose herself for this song.

Linford also played acoustic guitar on this song.

Little Did I Know
Karin wandered around the stage during the instrumental breaks.

Drunkard’s Prayer
Karin plays piano and Linford plays the accordian on this song. This is another
song that I liked much better live than on the CD.

Karin plays piano, Linford plays the electric bass, and Rick played electric
guitar. This song was awesome! I would love to see what Paul Moak could
do with this song. Maybe he’d tear it up too much, but it would be interesting
to hear.

All I Need I Everything [KT]
Kim Taylor rejoins the band on stage.

Cruel and Pretty [KT]

Hush Now
Karin and Linford only on the stage for the first song in the encore.

Great Van Morrison cover! Jazzy and upbeat. Had the crowd all bouncing and swaying
just a little.

Latter Days [KT]

Drunkard’s Prayer hasn’t grabbed me the way that Films For Radio did, and it hasn’t slowly grown on me the way that Ohio did, but the live versions of songs off of the new CD stood up very well next to the older songs. Combined with the fact that they played some of the regulars I really enjoy (like “Latter Days”, “All I Need…”) and not some of the ones that I’m burned out on (“Ohio”, “Poughkeepsie”) and all in all, I had a fabulous time.

The couple next to me smoked clove cigarettes all night long. Normally, I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, but the aroma of the clove cigarettes was pleasing and dare I say it…. intoxicating?

I suspect the next time I smell clove cigarettes, I will think back to this night.