Friday, April 23, 2010

Church: Lessons from Brand X: Shadow Gold, Risky Wiki, and Wordless Vocals

What can we learn about life and church from Brand X?

The band Brand X, that is.
One of the best bands you never heard of.
(Tons of churches are like it should be?)

No one is completely sure how to classify them: progressive fusion and free jazz come close.

But all agree on one classification:
They are anything but 1970s Genesis.
Which was precisely the point.

Smack in the middle of their run of classic, intricate, theatrical, progressive...quite often prophetic rock, Phil Collins (long before he became........... whatever he is now) of Genesis felt the need to use the other side of his brain, and swim in completely different waters as a side project, so he created Brand X by inviting some other brilliant musicians into a fusion/jazz-ish collaborative.

What then can church/ecclesiology glean from Brand X?

I will draw examples largely from their classic album, "Moroccan Roll"( amazon reviews):

1) To use the mixed metaphor inspired by my preaching professor (the one who had us create fairy tales and collages),"Your gold is in your shadow side."

This is not a Genesis album.. So I guess it makes no sense (or compete sense) that in the 70s i loved both the intricate, classically-inspired progresoive rock of that era's Genesis, and also the loosse fusion of Brand X (which I never would've been introduced to if not for the Genesis connection, fusion didn't sound like my genre). I came to love the shadow side of my taste and preferences, but I had to be indirectly hijacked (how's that for an oxymoronic metaphor?)

Right around this time, Bill Bruford of Yes tried to tour as the second drummer for Genesis...but he found that he inevitably wanted to play free, spontaneously, and play something a little different every night...which didn't work with Genesis' tight, meticulous, intentional and by they note-ness. Genesis' 1970s opuses were unpredictable (for a pop listener) in their twists and turns and time signature morphings, but in a completely predictable, note-by-note way, at least for the players and fans. Not a lot of room for wildly freeform detours and contours.

So Bruford left, and ironically (or inevitably)his highly successful replacement (to this day) was Chester Thompson (a Christian, btw) of jazz fusion band Weather Report.

Brand X may not have been the opposite of Genesis, but it's shadow...even a close cousin.
Both band did long and extended well...but one was tight and loose...or better yet, loose in its tightness and the other tight in its looseness.

An obvious leap for Phil if he wanted obvious opposite would have been from long and complex to short and simple. But Brand X was often just as long and complex as Genesis, but just from another style. Collins later definitely lept from long to short in his solo career).

Sometimes we are closer to our shadow and our salvation than we realize.
Yet we often don't go there as it doesn't feel like us.

I am so low church that I am high church without wanting to be or trying to be.
Or is it the other way around?

Brand X may not have been completely different waters than Genesis at all, but simply a previously unexplored tributary of the same body of work/water.

Richard Foster was inspired (read all about it here, but soundtrack it to Brand X) in calling the Body to draw from all streams of living water.
I wonder what he has in his CD player right now?

2)Collaboratives/wikis are required but risky...and rarely last in pure form

Brand X was designed to be, and largely was, a democratic experiment of equals...the independent, creative genius of each player was honored and followed...even with an obvious 'star' member. Of course, that this was largely an instrumental band helped...Though Phil was the drummer, he did occasionally "sing,' but never in a traditional way(more on that in the next point) but he was never (literally)the frontman. He hid behind the pulpit/drumkit.
That is the point of paradox.

Many will remember the amazing Cush, The catch it was to be a collaborative with no stars or frontmen...but it was fronted by star Michael Knott..

All churches should read the "Cush Manifesto"..and would do well to adopt it, but it is the harder, if holier way. Especially hard if your vocalist/preacher is charismatic, (in either sense of the term):

Cush is not a band. Not in the conventional way anyhow. Cush is far to hard to define. Certainly, the mystery can breed the legend...but the facts are, Cush isn't a mythical super band...but a gathering of friends. This is not to say Cush doesnÍt have some lofty goals. In the Cush manifesto that circulated shortly before the band debuted, it was proclaimed that Cush was "the new sound for the new decade". But even more so, the hope is for Cush to be unlike any other production the public has seen. "We wanted Cush to be more liquid," explains Eric Campuzano. "Anybody could be the singer, anybody could play the guitar, you know, like there never is really a central figure in the group. Like if we thought Andy could sing a song better than Mike Knott, then Andy should sing it...or vice versa."

Of course, Eric admits such a thing is easier said than done. "Reality is that, if you want to write a record, you have to write the record and you need facilitators to do that." Comprised mainly of members of popular early to mid-nineties modern rock band the Prayer Chain and the prolific alt-rocker Michael Knott, Cush runs the risk of being recognized more for itÍs members than the product itself. "Some people think of it as Mike's new project or our new project...and itÍs nothing like that at all, " Campuzano clarifies. "We had no desire...I really dont want to be a part of something like that. That's why we just listed the performers. No band shots, no credits. At times those...I guess it just takes away from the whole vibe behind it. "

The Cush Manifesto:

In a declaration of Truth and its winding road, members of the Prayer Chain, LSU, Honey, Fold Zandura, Duraluxe, Bloomsday, the Lassie Foundation, and Adam Again, have agreed to document below (the CUSH Manifesto) in which all members will seek the Truth and its Consequences. The result, A New Sound: CUSH.

The CUSH Manifesto

The Foundation of CUSH is: God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. King David and The Psalms. Love. Celebration. Longing. Giving. Purity. Innocence. Faith. Pain. Gospel. The earliest Rock and Roll. Willing to change and grow with others. Willing to have anybody play any role, whoever is most suited for it at the time. Willing to be anonymous. Willing to be produced. Sharing, being selfless, letting go. Being Honest. The song winning. Soul. Letting your ego get you there, and then sacrificing it when the time comes. Music being able to be performed in any way, by any combination of people, in any setting. Being Free, Creative, Spontaneous. One instrument per part, one player per part. Minimal overlapping of tones. A Groove. A Drone. A Basic Progression. An acoustic guitar. An electric guitar. A bass guitar. A six-string bass guitar. A piano. An organ. A horn section. A cello. A violin. A viola. A voice. A hand-drum. A tambourine. All things that make a sound when you shake them. Washing everything in the dreamiest of reverb-effects until you can't tell what it is, but rather what it feels like.

Doing the thing you always wanted to do but were afraid to. Jumping off the deep end of the peer. Staring Fear in the face and walking right into it with a faithful heart. Turning your life upside-down.

CUSH is from the core of your relationship with God -- Good, Bad, and Ugly -- and reaching out in Moans and Groans to Him.
CUSH praises like Gospel, and wails like Rock and Roll.
CUSH feels the best, and hurts the most at the same time.
CUSH sounds familiar, like the best songs you've ever heard, but feels new.
CUSH is an Action.
A CUSH song does not have to be 3:30 long.
A CUSH song can be 68 minutes long.
A CUSH song is already a greatest hit. From the slowest, most isolated place, just before God, bowing down, quiet, heavenly noise, swelling, droning, heaving, glowing, flickering, underwater, the true reality, connecting spiritually with God and seeing all of humanity through His eyes. The true nature of Love and everything. Placid but full of colour, vivid life, musical movements, sounds, dreams, asleep but still awake, alive yet dead, dead yet alive. Alone, but not lonely. Haunting sad, painfully beautiful, moving, majestic, heart-wrenching, yet humble meek, and poor in spirit. Drone, Middle Eastern, heavy, rock, epic, magnificent, cross poly-rhythmic, whatever-wherever music, where all heaven and earth are in His command.
CUSH is not about self-loathing.
CUSH is not about editing yourself before giving.
CUSH is not a solo project.
CUSH is not a band.
In CUSH, you win by letting yourself lose.
CUSH is a concept, an ideal, a greater goal, a principle.
CUSH is a beautiful spirit shared by all.
CUSH is like 'the Force', ...But better.


But the magnificent manifesto was hard to live up (or dial down) to. You know, contrary to what you would have guessed by the quotes above, at least on its main album, all songs were sung by the senior pastor (Knott).
They imploded. Brilliantly, I might add.

A church I know launched out with a model of three pastors, team leadership of equals.
That model lasted a little while and imploded... brilliantly, I must add.
Now they have two pastors:
One is technically the lead pastor, but it is still a collaborative, Cush-y fluid church.

Brand X in its original incarnation lasted a few years..though they have reunited without Phil.
(Sometimes the guitar replaces Phil's vocal, hear it later

In a church gatherings, I often comment that I am the man up front claiming it's not about the man up front.

There is no front, even when I am up there.

I may implode....brilliantly would be nice.

3)Wordless vocals can speak louder than words.
On those rare occasions when Brand X songs include vocals, they were never classically vocalized...or hardly ever in English ("Sun in the Night" was subversively in Sanskrit, sample snippet here). By the time they recorded "Streets of Soho" with Phil singing an almost pop lyric in English, I wandered of their days were numbered.

Here some posts on wordless vocals often taking us into realm of glossolalia, or instrumental "playing in tongues":

I love one movement (video, 3:37ff here) of the Brand X Song, "And So To F"....Phil's vocals might be transcribed as a mindless "la-la,"....but are moving beyond words to me..

Martins Smith (of Delirious)'s prayer language (I am in awe that some of his glossolalia moments are not excised from some concert CDs by Christian companies that may even be cessationist!) seems to be loaded with "La la"s that counterintuitively speak volumes.
(But as he once told Ken and I, "only in America," does the church seem not to get it).

Here's two Delirious examples (they must be online somewhere!) of what i mean:

  • From the "Access: D" album, play 4:01-4:17 of "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever." Here, many hear Smith singing ecstatically in tongues. He is actually(also) singing in Spanish (I remember the first time I visited a Spanish-speaking Pentecostal church...i was never sure if they were singing in tongues or in Spanish..or both (:...)
  • From the same album, play 2:07ff of "Access D Part 6: Lord You Have My Heart." Dare you to transcribe it. Better yet, interpret it. Best yet, soak in it.

The Bono "OOOHH" death wail (and nigun rap) are also always chilling beyond words.
Words should chill out and disappear, so they can chill and appear.

How about Phil Collins' "throwaway" or "scat" (or not) vocals on
"Disco Suicide's third (or so) movement:

It may be that the band's only choice when they reunited without Phil, and performed this song was to "replace"...better yet, "translate" or "interpret" (as in interpretation of tongues) his vocals via guitar (video here).

For those called and tempted to preach, I hope I am preaching to the choir in saying:
a) that there should be more preaching BY the choir....and that
b) sometimes one word/no words are enough.

See these wordy links about being less wordy (I may have almost made the Guinness Book of World Records for shortest sermon ever (story in 2nd link), but I do not perfectly practice what I preach):

As St. Bruce once preached,"Those who know don't have the words to tell"
Well, that was 3 points and a preacher-like was that!?
Summary: What can church/preacher-types learn from Brand X?:

Shadow Gold, Risky Wiki, and Wordless Vocals!

Bonus track, "Macrocosm," which one Amazon reviewer calls "apocalyptic" and not (just) because it ends in an explosion:

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