September is always a great month for books and music, and this one is no exception. Among the many releases to be excited about is Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. In celebration, I had planned to reference her 2009 interview with The Paris Review in a weekender, but then I (re-)read it, and Bam. Simply too many sections jumped out, both one-liners and extended exchanges with Amanda Fortini, the interviewer. They talk about writing, family, memory, addiction, God – what more could you ask for? Since she was working on the new book when their conversation took place (not…
For this fifth issue of the magazine, we had the privilege of talking to author and journalist Philip Yancey about the message of grace in today’s churches. We also got a chance to re-print a small sample of his most recent book Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?.
To order a copy of The Forgiveness Issue, look no further than here. There’s more where this comes from.
In May of 2015, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the “changing religious landscape” of the United States. According to the survey, 70% of Americans identified as Christian in 2014,…
Maybe novelty is the currency of the blogosphere—but then again, maybe not. Sometimes the brightest-shining gems come out of an old closet at your grandparents’ house (or in this case, an old box of $1 books at a library sale).
It may be old (we’re talking last decade—you know, back when Pluto was a planet and “the Facebook” still had an article in front of it), but Richard Rodriguez’s essay “Atheism Is Wasted On the Nonbeliever” deserves to be talked about. Especially by those who claim to believe in something. Or are claimed by something to believe in, of whom I…
As Father’s Day rolls around, so does our Forgiveness Issue (purely coincidental). Here’s a teaser to the Fifth Issue of The Mockingbird–the Opener as well as the Table of Contents. Subscriptions and orders can be placed here.
A Cop Out in the Woods
It turns out writing about forgiveness is hard. Maybe we don’t experience it very much, maybe we haven’t had the words to describe it when we have experienced it, but it certainly seems easiest to picture forgiveness by what it isn’t. And there are plenty of examples. Whole genres of film, drama and music have dealt with narratives of…
Another free look at our Work and Play Issue. Take our word for it, though…it’s better in print!
One of the great theological books we discovered last year was Nimi Wariboko’s The Pentecostal Principle, a book which unpacks how the Holy Spirit creates the capacity for new beginnings in human life and communities. He views true religion as play, because it goes beyond the instrumentalism (do this to achieve that) of the Law to make room for spontaneity. According to Wariboko, our ordinary world is constantly open to the Spirit’s disruption with new initiatives, feelings, experiences, communities, and patterns of thought….
Our first free-peek into The Work and Play Issue of The Mockingbird is our interview with Brigid Schulte, journalist and author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.
Ironically enough, it took a good bit of phone tag for this interview on busyness to happen. When we were finally able to coordinate a time to talk, Brigid Schulte was calling from a train station, heading back home from New York City, and she sounded rushed but told me she had a few minutes to talk and set up a time. When it came time for the…
They say ev’rything can be replaced . . .
-Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released”
Twenty-five years ago, Rick Abath, a hippie Berklee College of Music dropout, was working the night shift at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Two men dressed as Boston Police officers asked Abath to let them in. When Abath did, they informed Abath that it was a robbery, covered his eyes and mouth in duct tape, and handcuffed him to an electrical box. During the next seven hours, the thieves stole 13 objects from the Museum worth around $500 million. Abath passed the time by singing…
Another Week Ends: Even More Camille Paglia, Digital Soul-Training, Backstabbing Enablers, Apolitical Auden, and Masculine Christianity
1. Where to start with a hierarchy of most severe ‘little-l law’ in ‘secular’ society? We could start with body image, health, having cool experiences, and the like, but prosperity honestly takes the cake. And among the people who have already checked that box, it’s fast becoming political correctness. Political correctness is important, but its ascendant, uncompromising severity and occasional use as a class-code leads to a totalization which is, to say the least, in tension with the traditional (L/l)iberal ideal of discourse. Cue Camille Paglia, who had some fantastic things to say in America Magazine (Jesuits) about the backslide of feminism and…
An exciting day for yours truly! My brand-new book A Mess of Help is finally available for order on Amazon (and Createspace, where Mbird keeps more of the revenue). To celebrate, we put together a little Q&A about the project below. There’s also an interview about the book over at Key Life, along with a sample chapter (MJ!). Help us spread the word!
What is A Mess of Help and how did it come about?
A Mess of Help is a book of essays that split the difference between music, memoir, and theology. I’d been encouraged to collect some of my writing, and when I looked back at seven-plus years of it on the site, the subject of music had inspired much of what I was most proud of. So almost all of the eighteen chapters (click here for the table of contents) started out as posts for Mockingbird in some form or another. I took those as the skeleton, and then spent that last year rewriting and expanding everything, doing my best to weave it all together like an album. The end result is more than twice as long as those original posts, roughly 80,000 words, and a whole lot more polished, thank God.
When I reread it as a whole, a number of non-musical plumb-lines stuck out. This is a book about creativity and grace, identification and sympathy, law and pressure, hope, religion, self-sabotage, success, sin, as well as my own life and faith. Also, since most of the characters I deal with are pretty eccentric, a certain amount of humor was inescapable. I suspected it would be a fun project, and it was.
What does the title mean?
The title refers to one of my favorite Beach Boys songs, “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone”, which hopefully speaks for itself. The subtitle “From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll” refers to how many of the artists profiled in the book point to some sense of strength being found in weakness, of inspiration being bound up with suffering rather than apart from it. The more precise word would probably be “cruciform” but that’s too academic to go in the title.
Will I enjoy A Mess of Help even if I don’t like music that much (or the music you write about)?
That’s certainly my hope! The task of an essay is to make its subject interesting to those who might not be otherwise drawn to it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. Again, I think if you appreciate the Mockingbird “voice”–the breadth, the perspective, the playfulness–you’ll enjoy this book greatly. Of course, it won’t hurt if you like some of the music already, but it’s not a prerequisite by any means. Here’s how I explain the focus in the introduction:
“For better or worse, pop music became my way of making sense of both myself and the world around me… So perhaps it should come as no surprise that when Christianity took root in my life, I not only found its core message of grace so exciting and enlivening as to be compelled to write about it, but music would become one of the primary lenses through which I came to do so. Not just music but culture itself—high, low and in between (T. Van Zandt).”
So it’s a book about Christianity and culture? Or a Christian approach to popular culture?
Not really. I hate to say it but that phrase “Christian approach” often implies an agenda, unspoken or unconscious, that culture is valuable only insofar as we can harness it in some way, or how it stacks up against the standards of our faith. But to quote someone I admire, I’m convinced that “any goodness, beauty, truthfulness, or enlivening candor we have the wit to discern is something for which we have God to thank.” That is, that it’s already been harnessed. So this isn’t a Christian “take” on secular music, at least as I see it. The artists I wrote about are the ones that have spoken and continue to speak to me rather than vice versa; I talk more about what I’ve learned from them than how their work filters through a pre-existing framework. That said, I gave myself plenty of room to explore, so who knows–“preacher brain” is not the easiest thing to shut off. Again from the introduction:
“It wasn’t that I set out to write about the intersection of Christianity and culture; it was simply that music was the most honest language available to me—the lingua franca of my inner life, my immediate vocabulary for understanding what was happening to me. In fact, so immersed in it was I, that to avoid pop culture would have been to embrace precisely the kind of phoniness that permeates so much religious “engagement” with it these days.”
Any parts you’re particularly proud of?
I’m really happy with the whole thing, actually–mainly cause I had such a great editor in Will McDavid. But if you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked which sections I like best, the 15,000-word annotated playlist that closes the book (“Sing Mockingbird Sing”) is probably a favorite. It gave me an opportunity to be a bit outrageous, going on long tangents about ecclesiology and aging and failure and addiction, to name a few. The Michael Jackson essay was the most ambitious, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The Beach Boys may be the funniest, with ABBA and Elvis tied for second.
Can you decipher the cover for us?
Sure. Stephanie Fishwick, who’s designed a number of our covers, really outdid herself with this one. All the elements of the crest allude to bands that are covered in the book. The surfboards and “woody” wagons refer to The Beach Boys. The “TCB” lightning bolt was the slogan and logo (“Takin’ care of business”) of Elvis Presley’s entourage, also known as the Memphis Mafia. Michael Jackson’s sequined glove occupies a central place. The surfboards are flanked by upside-down Hofner basses of the kind that Paul McCartney is known for. The dice are the “tumblin” variety, immortalized in song by The Rolling Stones. There’s some English mod regalia courtesy of The Who. The platform boots were added with Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and ABBA in mind. The guns and roses and big stars should be self-explanatory. And those flowers are gladioli, the kind that Morrissey would carry in his back pocket during the early years of The Smiths. Oh, the sunglasses are Phil Spector’s trademark. Finally, the (crowned) lamb of God presides over the whole affair with a banner that reads “Vobis Petrum Deus Dedit”, or “God gave you the Rock”, making a St Peter-Argent-KISS triple entendre.
Why this book now?
Well, as cliched as it may sound, it’s the book I most wanted to write because it’s the book I most wanted to read. I genuinely don’t think that something like A Mess of Help exists, something that combines music and theology and coming of age in a way that’s both honest and entertaining. My fear is that it’s overly niche—too much of a stretch for religious audiences and too theological for secular ones. But that’s out of my control. Plus, Mockingbird has put out quite a few books at this point, but almost none about pop culture–which is a tad ironic, since “pop culture” is a term that’s often used when people describe our work, even though I don’t see Mbird like that at all (which I spell out in the book). Still, it was time for that part of our scope to be represented in the publications, and the MoH direction was where the inspiration felt most genuine and free. The next one will likely be about social media, we shall see.
Order your copy today on Amazon or Createspace! And by all means write a review if you feel so led.
Many thanks to Josh Encinias for arranging, carrying out, and writing up this interview with one of our all time favorites, John Davis.
Last Wednesday was Christmas morning for true believers. John Davis (The Lees of Memory, Superdrag) dropped demos for his scrapped third LP. While the 20 demos on Heart Medicine: Hypothetical Solo Jamz Vol. III: 2007-2013 aren’t a cohesive bunch — ranging from gospel tunes to hardcore — Davis didn’t pick these tracks from the musical scrap heap.
I was introduced to JD when he opened for the OC Supertones’s “final” show back in 2005…
Now that the Relationship Issue is out the door, we couldn’t wait to give a little sampling of the amazing conversation we had with NYT Modern Love Editor, Daniel Jones. The full interview can, of course, be read by ordering the magazine, here, but why stop there? A subscription sounds more like it! And, while the pocketbook’s out, check out Daniel Jones’ new book, Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject with the Help of 50,000 Strangers. You shan’t not be disappointed.