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Posts tagged "A Mess of Help"

Hated For Loving: The World According to Morrissey

Hated For Loving: The World According to Morrissey

There was a a lot of music that sustained and soundtracked my recent sabbatical, but none more effervescent than that of the man in question. Which seems fortuitous, as his is a particularly comforting voice at moments when the veil is pulled back on the human condition, as it was here last week. What follows is a slightly revised version of the Moz chapter in A Mess of Help, a personal favorite which I was pleasantly surprised had never found its way onto the site (in its entirety). So, if you have five seconds to spare…:

You cannot write about Steven…

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Searching Low and High for the Who Behind The Who

Searching Low and High for the Who Behind The Who

A flurry of thinkpieces circulating at the moment about the dark side of identity politics—for reasons that should be fairly self-evident. Just before starting in on a contribution of my own, a guardian angel reminded me that I’d already spilled plenty of ink on that subject in The Who chapter of A Mess of Help, an earlier version of which appeared in the Identity Issue of The Mockingbird. Somehow that essay never made it onto the site. Well, no longer:

It was the mid-90s, and one of my older brother’s friends had decided to make our house a stop on…

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The Secret History of William Axl Rose [Super Deluxe Edition]

The Secret History of William Axl Rose [Super Deluxe Edition]

Well, the unthinkable has happened. Axl and Slash have buried the hatchet and are confirmed to be playing a headlining set (with Duff, possibly others) at Coachella this year. True to my word, to celebrate the momentous news, I’m posting the full Guns n Roses chapter of A Mess of Help. Portions of it appeared years ago in various forms on this site, but what you’ll find below was completely rewritten and is about three times longer – thus the Super Deluxe descriptor. Hope you have a fraction of the fun reading it that I had writing it. 

Intrigued, excited, and…

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FEBRUARY BOOK SALE – 20% Off All Mbird Books!

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A little self-promotion: Whenever we find a theme here on the blog we’re especially excited about and feel we’ve done some of our best writing on, we’ll take a few months, get an editor onboard, and take the time to basically do it way better and more in depth than we can find time for on the blog – thus Mockingbird books. They’re a little underused, but we love all of them – and want you to, as well. So we’re offering 20% off through the end of February. Get some books, tell your friends. IMHO, they’re solid work. Catalogue below:

A Mess of Help, by David Zahl: Our newest book presents the best of DZ’s music writing, revised, rethought and expanded, plus a good bit of never-before-done material, too. Get to know the ‘cruciform’ shape of the lives/work of many of the best rock n’ roll artists, and don’t miss the ultimate annotated playlist.

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Eden and Afterward, by Will McDavid: Mockingbird’s most ambitious biblical foray yet, it gives a pretty good deal of thought/reflection on the beginning of the Bible, Genesis. By reading it with fresh eyes and a view toward its character as literature, EAA makes these old stories fresh, new, and surprising.

PZ’s Panopticon, by Paul F.M. Zahl: PZP does comparative religion through the only lens that really matters, i.e., how do the different religions look to a dying person? Immensely provocative, entertaining, and profound, in classic Paul Zahl style.

The Mockingbird Devotional, edited by Ethan Richardson and Sean Norris: Our bestselling book by a good stretch, this 365-day devotional, by over 60 contributors, provides the Gospel every day. Called the “best devotional on the planet” by Tullian Tchividjian.

Grace in Addiction, by John Z: When it comes to the bound will and the crucial question of if, and how, people change for the better, look no further. This is our most practical book, an extended meditation on the Twelve Steps with almost infinite application to ‘Christian life’, and inexhaustible comfort.

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This American Gospel, by Ethan Richardson: A rare work of what might be called ‘personal theology’, TAG starts in the gritty, everyday stories of the popular radio program “This American Life”, and it weaves them together beautifully into deep meditations on themes of human life. Packed with insight.

The Gospel According to Pixar, edited by David Zahl and Todd Brewer: Just what it sounds like; Pixar’s golden age not only resulted in exceptional children’s movies, but also a surprising Gospel bent to almost everything they did. Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and others strike a remarkable balance between story and parable. Perfect for young Sunday School courses, adult nostalgia, or a good cry.

Judgment and Love, edited by Sean Norris: One of our earliest books, Judgment and Love takes a bottom-up approach to the old theme of Law and Gospel, telling personal stories of how these themes play out in real life.

Promo code for everything is 4FYR46BT – except for Pixar and J+L, which are already discounted. Pick up yours today!

 

There Is A Valley: Old Age, Creativity, and the Return of Bill Fay

There Is A Valley: Old Age, Creativity, and the Return of Bill Fay

Here’s an Ash Wednesday appropriate portion of A Mess of Help, taken from the final chapter, “Sing Mockingbird Sing: The Alpha and Omega of Annotated Playlists”. This is track 18 of 20. You can listen to the entire playlist here.

I am sure I’m not the only one whose ears perked up during the scene in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the now-classic documentary about the band Wilco, where lead singer Jeff Tweedy plays an unknown song imploring the listener to “Be Not So Fearful”. Plaintive and disarming and, most of all, comforting, the tune employs biblical language without…

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How Did We Get Back to 1991?

How Did We Get Back to 1991?

One of the themes we’ve been exploring these past few months in our weekend columns, as well as a few isolated posts, is the palpable rise in censoriousness that has been making itself felt on social media and in certain higher education settings. According to voices on all sides of the ideological equation, a resurgent devotion to “political correctness” is creating a situation where the institutions charged with promoting open dialogue in a liberal society–academia and journalism–are in fact squashing it.

Chris Rock described the state of things memorably in his recent interview with New York Magazine, admitting that he refuses…

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A Mess of Help: Reviews, Recording, and Reddi-Whip

An extremely heartfelt thank you to all who helped put on the launch party for A Mess of Help this past Saturday at The Olmsted Salon in NYC, especially Dusty Brown, Melina Smith, and William Brafford. It was a blast, from start to finish. If you weren’t able to make it (and/or are currently trapped by snow), the audio is available! You can listen below in fact:

I was also gratified to see a few reviews crop up on outlets that I greatly respect. Perhaps it’s gauche for the author to publicly thank his critics, but who cares–it’s a rare thing to feel so deeply understood by anyone, let alone people you admire. First, there was John J Thompson’s flattering and supremely articulate write-up for ThinkChristian. The opening remark mirrors how I felt after reading his review:

“I would say that books like David Zahl’s A Mess of Help make me feel less alone in the world, if there were any other books like David Zahl’s A Mess Of Help to be found. The fact is, there are not… With great humor, candor and spiritual insight – and an insanely passionate musical vocabulary – Zahl crafts rant after rant that would be equally at home in the film High Fidelity as in a Bible study. It’s like he’s having a long, funny, interesting and rambling conversation with all of the voices in his head. That some of those voices seem also to be the ones in my head is overwhelmingly comforting.”

That’s the kind of thing that makes you want to keep writing. Prost, Herr Thompson! Second, Curator Magazine published a full-length treatment by William Brafford, who conducted the interview on Saturday. I always knew I liked him…! There are any number of paragraphs I could excerpt. Here’s one:

IMG_6822“Humor and passion practically drip from the pages of A Mess of Help. Love of paradox is said to be Lutheran trait. You’ll find it here, especially in an amazing essay that rediscovers the bizarre Elvis movie Change of Habit in all its kitschy glory. Dave writes, “Elvis Presley was not ridiculous, then amazing. He was both at the same time.” Dave’s collection of bizarre Elvis anecdotes is rivaled only by his collection of bizarre Brian Wilson anecdotes, like the one where Wilson tells a reporter something amazing and profound about God’s love as the power behind the universe, and then totters off into the kitchen to squirt Reddi-Whip into his mouth.”

Finally, over at LIBERATE, Zac Hicks calls A Mess of Help “A Book on Rock that Both Melts Your Face and Slays Your Soul… Just as it Should”:

It would be much too simplistic, and probably close to an insult, to describe this book as a “Gospel according to [name that band]” volume. Zahl is actually more deep and honest than that. It’s probably more accurate to describe A Mess of Help as teasing out of all the glory and grime of rock n roll history, all of which beg for answers that can only be found in the grace of God in Christ. And the best part is that A Mess of Help doesn’t use the artists as a platform for something else. It operates out of a deep knowledge and love of all the musicians and music at hand, and it journeys through the very questions that those musicians ask in their lives and work… I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Launch Party This Saturday (1/24) in NYC!

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Really excited about this – click on the image for more details. Would love to see you there! I’ll also be preaching the following day at all three services of Calvary St. George’s in Manhattan.

Why I Spent Last Year Writing a Book About Pop Music

Why I Spent Last Year Writing a Book About Pop Music

Thought I’d kick off the new year with the introduction from A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll (minus the footnotes), something of a personal essay and one which spells out a bit of the thinking behind this whole Mockingbird project.

It was the kind of question that sticks with a person, especially when they’re seventeen. My father asked me one day, out of the blue, “What do you think matters more to people your age—music or movies? Which has more influence?” Even then, I knew enough not to speak for ‘people my age’. But my…

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Another Week Ends: Failed God Movies, Vintner Jesus, Modernized Evangelicals, Church-Nerd Humor and (More) Futile Resolutions

Another Week Ends: Failed God Movies, Vintner Jesus, Modernized Evangelicals, Church-Nerd Humor and (More) Futile Resolutions

1. The Net’s been a little sparse this week due, I assume, to people traveling and days off work and such, so here’s a brief week-ender with a few good links. First off, at The Atlantic, Emma Green wonders why 2014’s most religious movies were some of its worst, citing Noah (which was pretty good in our books); Exodus, which seems pretty over-the-top/plain bad; as well as Left Behind, God’s Not Dead, and Heaven Is for Real, all of which we’d probably have theological (not to mention critical) reservations about. Anyway, she diagnoses a few interesting problems of the God-movie genre in our day:

Despite their varying…

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Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children's Movies, and More Messes of Help

Another Week Ends: Exotic Magi, Histories of Christmas, More Elves on Shelves, Rand Reviews Children’s Movies, and More Messes of Help

Housekeeping thing: a few copies of A Mess of Help sent out had lots of 5s in their tables of contents. Let us know if you got one of those, and we’ll send a new one.

1. As we’re getting into the Christmas spirit, The Economist makes a surprising contribution with a survey of the Magi’s reception history. Apparently the men were likely astrologers/sages of some sort, but people found kings more appealing. In medieval times, some strange theologians talk about massive royal retinues encamped outside Bethlehem, etc. And in other strains of the tradition, they were bumbling traveler types, something in between the…

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A Mess of Answers about A Mess of Help

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 HelpMoHwebcover 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?

the-beach-boys-you-need-a-mess-of-help-to-stand-alone-1972-7Not 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?

elvis-steves_RJ_33Sure. 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.