Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bands that I love: Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil

Denver native Steve Taylor hit the Christian music scene in the early 80's and his deep lyrics and energetic live show quickly made him a fan favorite. He started out writing for the Continental Singers (anyone remember them?) while he prepared his first EP called I want to be a Clone. The EP sold well and led to three full length albums, Meltdown, On the Fritz, and I Predict 1990. His lyrics often employed sarcasm and satire to make his point, which was very different from any other Christian music of the time and often turned people off. He was not afraid to point out failures in the Church but he did it as an insider who held strong to his Christian faith. The strong Pro-Life stance that he held was one of the first things I noticed in his lyrics and one of the reasons I became such an ardent fan.

After a successful tour for I Predict 1990, Taylor laid low for a short time before forming a band with some of his friends called Chagall Guevara. Their only album, released in 1991, was well received by both fans and critics, but they were unhappy with their contract through MCA and broke up while working on their second album.

After laying low for a while again, Taylor released Squint in 1994. He followed it up with the Squinternational tour and recorded a live album called Liver (rhymes with McGyver). I was fortunate to catch his show with Guardian as the opening act and it was amazing.

When he finished that tour, he stepped off the stage and behind the mixing board. He spent time producing the albums of Guardian, the Newsboys, and Sixpence None the Richer. When those artists started to see massive success, he formed his own record company called Squint Entertainment. It quickly became the place for Christian artists who wanted exposure outside of the Christian music industry but did not want to water down their message. Bands like Chevelle, LA Symphony, the Insiderz, and Burlap to Cashmere either got their start or grew bigger because of the record label. Sadly, right when Squint Entertainment was hitting its stride, it was sold out from under Taylor and folded soon after.

Taylor continued to produce albums and direct music videos in the early 2000's but then got the bug to direct a movie. He made The Second Chance in 2006 and Blue Like Jazz in 2012. Neither movie made much money. I saw both of them in the theater and liked them. It seemed like he had a great movie inside him and needed a second chance for it to be created. (Pun intended.)

When he finished Blue Like Jazz, he got back together with some of his former musical collaborators, started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album, and went on a short tour. The album is in the works and another tour will likely follow it.

I have seen Taylor perform twice and actually got to meet him once. In the fall of 2000 I was in St. Louis at the National Youthworkers Convention where he was a keynote speaker. Earlier in the day I was wandering through the exhibit hall and walked past the Squint Entertainment booth where he was standing by himself. When I realized that it was him, I quickly raced over and introduced myself. We bonded over our shared experience of growing up in the Denver area I tried not to make a fool of myself. I had been told before how approachable he was but I was still surprised by how genuine and pleasant he was. After about 15 minutes of him asking me more questions than I could ask him, a crowd started to form so I took my leave.

In summary Steve Taylor is a class act and if he does not book a show in Minneapolis, I may just have to cry. Well, maybe not cry, but be pretty sad.

Monday, April 07, 2014

A happy ending to our car search

The time had come to replace our Honda Civic. It had served us well for many years, but it was a 1998 with 170,000 miles and it was tired. We sold it on Craig's List and started the search for a replacement. After receiving some input from friends, we decided that a Mazda5 would serve our needs well. It is a six seat, compact minivan that gets good gas mileage. We already have a full size minivan but wanted something that could handle all six of us if needed. It will be the car I use to drive to work and the vehicle we will use whenever Heidi or I need to go somewhere without the whole family.

I found a few websites that were helpful in the search for used cars and started planning my strategy for making the purchase. Right away I discovered that Mazda5s hold their value and the decent ones were out of our range. Heidi and I don't finance anything (except a mortgage) so we had a set amount of money saved up. A relative felt the Lord urge her to give us some money toward a vehicle and that proved extremely helpful. As I searched, all the vehicles I found were either newer with a lot of miles or older with less miles but a newer vehicle with low miles was proving elusive in our price range. I took a couple of test drives but those vehicles felt kind of beat down and the salesman I worked with seemed somewhat uninterested in selling me a car. It was a bizarre experience. In all this Heidi kept reminding me to be patient. As usual, she was right.

As the car search was progressing, I was getting tempted to reach past the amount we saved to buy a nicer car and finance the difference. Heidi kept reminding how that would be unwise and how we need to trust the Lord for our needs. I had been having trouble lately trusting God in the area of money. It is a blog for another day, but the duplex caused a financial catastrophe that wiped out much of our savings over the past few years. It is not smart to let circumstances dictate what you believe, but I was totally doing that. I ended up having a few discussions with people about money and my disordered attitude was laid bare. If I am to trust God for anything, I have to trust him for everything. The same week that I kept having discussions with people, a special guest, Dale Van Steenis, preached at our church. He talked about money and the role it plays in our lives. During his sermon, I felt the Lord say to me that He is going to use the car search to teach me to trust Him about money. It was clear to me that the Lord was going to take care of us.

Heidi and I scheduled a chunk of time to take some test drives. I was exchanging emails with a private seller in Savage (a southern suburb of Minneapolis) to plan a test drive, but something just didn't feel right. The car was great, a 2009 model with only 35,000 miles and a clean title. It was far and away the best one we had seen but it was still $2,000 more than we had to spend. I felt a strong sense that going for the test drive and making a low offer was not the right thing to do, so I sent him an email and told him that we would pay cash but we were $2,000 short of his asking price. I said that if our offer was too low and he did not want to take it, I would not be offended and would keep searching elsewhere. He replied that my offer was indeed too low, so I moved on in our car search.

A few days after our email conversation, the seller contacted me saying that he and his wife decided that they would take our offer. We had already scheduled a test drive in Hudson, WI for that afternoon and put a $100 deposit down for them to keep the car off the lot that day. So we decided to keep the appointment in Hudson and drive the car in Savage the next day. When we arrived in Hudson, we learned that the vehicle we had agreed to test drive had been sold a week earlier. Upon that unpleasant revelation, I called the seller in Savage and he agreed to let us test drive it that day. One hour later, after stops at Starbucks and McDonalds, we got to the seller's house.

The vehicle was in great condition. An elderly couple owned the car and barely ever drove it. Heidi and I took turns taking test drives and quickly agreed to buy it. However, it was a Saturday night and our bank would not be open again until Monday. I anxiously waited until Monday evening when Dan, my brother in law, went with me to pick up the car. Our search was over and we were very pleased with the result.

Someday the car will rust away and be gone like the rest of our earthly possessions. After a week I am still thrilled with our purchase but the point of all of this is not the car. Sometimes God needs to teach us things and He uses many creative ways. My disordered view of money needed to be dealt with and God decided to gently teach me through something as simple as buying a used car. This will be an ongoing lesson for the rest of my life but I feel that I am making progress toward trusting Him regarding money.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Thin does not equal beautiful.

Any day now I will be the father of a daughter. I am pretty sure that she will have me and her brothers wrapped around her little finger. Heidi keeps gleefully pulling tiny little pink clothes out of boxes and showing them to me. All of this is making me think of what kind of woman our unborn daughter will grow up to be. I know that she will be beautiful.

I have been thinking of how our culture has warped beauty and how the American beauty ideal messes up our daughters. Through history, beauty has taken many shapes and sizes and colors. Somehow America has decided that beauty is rail thin. Who decided this? No one seems to know. Somehow gaunt runway models with no visible muscles have become the ideal that all women are supposed to achieve. I don't want my daughter to grow up with this idea that is both not achievable and not healthy. I want her to be comfortable in the body that God gave her.

So, daughter that I have yet to meet, I have a message for you. Thin does not equal beautiful. Don't get me wrong, there are thin women that are beautiful but it is not thinness (is that a word?) that makes them so. Beauty can be tall or short, thin or curvy, pale or dark. It can be red hair, blond hair, or brunette. Beauty comes in so many ways and I am sad that, as a culture, we have created so many problems for ourselves by defining is so narrowly.

I will tell her every day that she is beautiful until she believes it. I will fight against all the messages that bombard her and tell her that beauty is defined by being rail thin. I will tell her to be herself and that beauty takes all shapes and sizes and colors. I am excited to meet her soon and tell her for the first of many times how beautiful she is.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Six obscure albums that I love.

I love a lot of obscure music. Bands that no one has ever heard of and albums that you only find in the bargain bids at music stores. There are a few that I think deserved to find a greater audience but for one reason or another never did. Here are my top six.

XL & D.B.D - Sodom and America. I found this CD in the bargain bid at the bookstore at Speak the Word Church in the mid 90s. The album came out in 1993 and was just too far ahead of its time. The vocals were done by XL, an African American rapper who also loved metal. He called himself XL because he was a large man. In interviews he would talk about how he loved mosh pits and metal as much as he loved rap. The band was D.B.D, otherwise known as Death Before Dishonor. The fusion of metal and rap would become huge a few years later, but at the time, no one really knew what to do with these guys. I would have loved to see their live show. They did make another album about six years after this one but it was not nearly as good.

Red Sea - Blood. This was a project album where some guys from other bands got together to record an album but only saw it as a one time collaboration. The most well known member was Robin Kyle, of Joshua and Die Happy. The album was released in 1995 and featured a hard rock blues sound. The lyrics were consistent with most blues albums, looking at some of the more difficult aspects of life yet remaining hopeful. I am not sure if they ever toured but I would have loved to see their music played live.

Velocipedes - Sane. This band consisted of just two guys. The first was the drummer and the second guy was the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. They submitted a demo to REX Records and got a deal. After a week of recording, they were told that they were done and never heard from REX again. The album was released in 1995 to almost no fanfare and sold a few thousand copies before going out of print. The album's production was pretty bad and I wonder what could have been if they were given a shot at another album with a bigger budget. The sound is hard to explain other than it was a modern metal (modern in 1995) sound with loud guitars and even louder vocals. I found the lyrics to be encouraging and when I am feeling low this album tends to find its way into my Ipod playlist.

PK Mitchell - All Hail the Power. PK was the bass played from Neon Cross before he struck out on his own. This album is unique in that it consists of 10 old hymns put to metal music. The words to the hymns were not updated or changed, just recorded right from the hymnal. It was released in 1993 but had been completed a couple years earlier. Therefore sound was more 80s metal than the grunge that was all the rage in 1993. He just released All Hail the Power 2 a month or two ago and I am excited to check it out.

38th Parallel - Turn the Tides. This is probably the most well known band on this list. They put out one album in 2002 on Squint Entertainment (after Steve Taylor left the label) and broke up after touring to promote the album. Their sound was rapcore with two lead vocalists and their live show was extremely entertaining. Sadly, Squint did a poor job of promoting them and then went under soon after the album was released. I held out hope that they would make another album but a few years ago the band said that they are done for good. The song Horizon remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

Dogs of Peace - Speak. One of my favorite concerts featured Dogs of Peace opening for PFR on their farewell tour in 1996 (before PFR reformed and broke up a couple more times). The production on this album was so good and the band was so talented that I could not wait for them to record another album. I had to wait a long time. A friend told me that they are working on another album with the same lineup and I hope I am not disappointed. In my humble opinion, their song, Necessary Pain, is one of the greatest songs ever made. The guitars in that song blow my mind every time.

Now I am wondering how many of my friends out there know about any of these albums.