Nick Cave at the Hollywood Bowl: DIG!!!

Given the apocalyptic dread flowing from Wall Street, I welcomed the prophetic, rock and roll doom emanating from Nick Cave’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl. No one offers scary, Old Testament warnings with more swagger. Cave has lived so many lives—from heroin addict to rock star to screenwriter. His evocative soundtracks composed with Warren Ellis for The PropositionThe Assassination of Jesse James, and the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are moody, minimalist masterpieces. Alongside his murder ballads, Cave has also remained obsessed with the New Testament, particularly the Gospel of Mark. His concert to close the Hollywood Bowl season was simultaneously frightening, energizing and inspiring.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been dropping heavy news upon their audience across fourteen albums. The lanky, Australian has always been an acquired taste. For years, only goths welcomed his singular blend of Gospel and gloom. My colleague, Barry Taylor, rhapsodized about Cave’s spiritual insights in our book, A Matrix of Meanings. At age fifty, Cave brings more energy, wit and warmth to his concerts now than ever before. 

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The Tragedy of Empty Walls

One of my goals in life is to fill empty walls with art. There are a lot of empty walls in the world, and there are a lot of artists creating work. You would think it is a match made in heaven.

There is a boat load of issues that begin to rise to the surface like a ghost ship from Nantucket. What kind of art is appropriate for a particular wall? What if the art is damaged? Who will install the artwork? Who will take it down? How do we find the art? What if someone objects to the art? These tip of the iceberg questions are part of the empty walls problem. On the other side of the issue is the sad reality that many artists keep their art locked up in closets and storage containers. Some keep their art to themselves because they aspire for representation by galleries, and believe an exhibition outside the commercial system will compromise their artwork’s value. Others are doubtful of the arts value, or are leery of publicly sharing deeply personal forms of expression.

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Tags | Art

Poetry Friday: Denise Levertov

Today, poetry from the celebrated American poet Denise Levertov. You can find out more about her and read more poems (including this one) on

This poem stirs my soul. It's an excerpt from a larger work.

Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]

ii Gloria

Praise the wet snow
falling early.
Praise the shadow
my neighor's chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.
the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.
god or the gods, the unknown,
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Tags | Writing

The Cover Songs Series: #1

Everyone will give a cover song a chance. You could be in Nordstroms and the piano player that was simply background music will suddenly draw you in like a fly to a high-wattage lamp when you start to recognize he's not playing Beethoven, but Fleetwood Mac. Suddenly you catch yourself humming "Landslide" all the way to H&M.

Even at their worst and most disgraceful, people will give a cover song a chance. The worst band in the world could cover a Beatles song and we'd still stick around to watch it like a slow-motion car crash. At their most average or mediocre, a cover song could be listenable to the small niche it's aimed at (like when bad punk bands do covers) and have somewhat of a life-span. At their best though, when they're brilliant, cover songs can make you look at the original song though as through through a prism; bending and distorting, exposing and magnifying. A good cover song should make the listener reflect on the original, maybe even fall in love with it a little more. The first time you hear a great cover song, it can be like the first time you watched The Sixth Sense - you can't listen the original the same way you had before you learned this new secret. In covering a song, an artist is making the original transcendent because the song now has a new audience and context.

Some more famous artists do obscure cover songs and, in so doing, introduce people to new songs they'd never heard before; like hearing a friend tell a story about someone you've never met but who now you're dying to.

I'm not talking about simply singing a song in a way that's nearly identical to the original, that's just karaoke, or as millions of American like to call it, American Idol. That takes the gift of a voice, but not the exercise of talent. Talent sees a song as story to be re-told, not as shoes to fill.

It's with that introduction that I begin a series of posts on my favorite cover songs. I found 11 on my computer so I may do all 11, I may do less; I may group them together, I may do them individually. Maybe you've heard all of them, maybe you've heard some of them, or maybe you haven't heard any of them. Whatever the course, and whatever the case, I hope they shed new light on familiar paths or introduce you to some new friends.

Lastly, I hope you'll stick with me through them because I'll tie them all together at the end.

These are in no particular order at all.

First up, Obadiah Parker's cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!".

Kim sent this to me when we were just friends. I think that's when I knew there was something special about her. We speak the same language.

When "Hey Ya" came out in 2003 you could not escape the song. It was on the radio every time you got in the car, on TV every time MTV decided to play a video, and in every restaurant, bar, or dance club that had music. The fact that it's effortlessly catchy and had a great video ensured that we were haunted by the melody or captivated by the green and white, retro-themed video. On top of that, one of the lyrics became a catch-phrase; "Shake it like a polaroid picture".

While America was busy shaking their polaroids like crazed fans at an Ed Sullivan taping, we didn't bother to look at the picture that Andre 3000 was telling us to shake. On the surface, "Hey Ya" is a fun song - I challenge you to not tap your foot or hum when listening to it - but deep down it's a meloncholy reflection of our culture's view of love and relationships. The song is like the clown who's crying on the inside.

Enter Obadiah Parker. It took a big, bearded, birkenstock-wearing dude with a guitar to strip the song of it it's glitz and get to the heart of the matter. The cover itself is really good, but what he did by splicing video of him playing the song together with the original video was genius.

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Tags | Music

The Golden Calf

Damien Hirst is the most successful member of the YBA’s (Young British Artists) that reinvigorated the contemporary art scene in Los Angeles starting in the 1990’s. His work ranges from animals immersed in glass tanks filled with formaldehyde to abstract dot paintings.

On Monday, as the global financial markets roiled, Damien Hirst sold a white calf with gold coated hoofs and horns preserved in formaldehyde at Christies Auction for $18.6 million dollars.

Before I can even attempt to have a discussion concerning the financial value of art, I need to provide some context for my thoughts. I still hold to the classical assumption that currency is a bridge across an exchange of need. In prehistoric times the hunter might exchange meat for the grain grown by a farmer. In our modern times, we have a complicated balance of free market, subsidy, and regulation that seeks the optimal value of a loaf of bread or the price of a home. Probably then and certainly now, the system is out of balance. In our system the poor decisions of a disastrous executive is compensated a thousand fold more than the sweat and blood of a garment worker. In our system a preserved cow is sold for $18.6 million dollars.

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Tags | Art


When I open my daily newspaper, I don’t usually expect shocks to my system. I expect to be mildly perturbed by the latest political posturing. I’m well beyond outrage at the way we’ve wasted billions in Iraq while Osama bin Laden continues on his merry way. Another day brings another Wall Street meltdown. So it came as a great surprise to see that David Foster Wallace, the most iconic novelist of his generation, hung himself in his Pomona, California home. The news of his suicide has haunted me.

What does it mean when the most insightful literary observer of our postmodern condition punches his ticket? If Kurt Cobain was the musical voice of Generation X, then David Foster Wallace was the novelist who brought the same punk rock energy to his scathing satires. But Cobain’s anger was counterbalanced by Wallace’s rapier wit. They railed against similar issues (consumerism, boredom, meaninglessness) but with markedly different styles. Two of our strongest voices proved incapable of finishing the race. Perhaps they suffered from the burden of genius.

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The Jesuz of Tupac & Social Awareness

In October I get the chance to speak at the Christian Community Development Association’s (CCDA) national conference in Miami, Fl. The overall theme of the CCDA conference this year is peace. So, when asked, I proposed that I do a workshop on Tupac & peace. Oxymoron, right? Some might just say that, but I wouldn’t. In fact, just the opposite. It’s amazing to me how the media can make someone into a villain overnight, and Tupac was just that in many people’s eyes. Last Saturday, September 13, was Tupac’s 13th year death anniversary. Many people celebrated his life and his message. Here are some thoughts of mine on the Jesus of Tupac and how it all connects to being socially aware.

Tupac pioneered the dialogue about theological matters in the ‘hood and Hip Hop culture. Tupac became a lighting rod for those theological matters, both positive and negative. Tupac connected the profane to the sacred. Moreover, Tupac made religion, God, church, and community attainable for comprehension and understanding by the masses.[1] I use the term theological message as Tupac’s own interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus, salvation, and Heaven using his own contextual hermeneutic. Here, Tupac’s spiritual message is centered more on both an idealistic and realistic message for living. A lot of Tupac’s spirituality[2] was shaped over his entire life; his theological understanding came during his formative years as a child through his early adulthood.

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Tags | Music

Salting Salt

"We Christians are to be salting salt in this world. We are to try to redeem culture, even as salt stops decay and gives taste to things. That is the only task we have. If we are put in a prison camp or a concentration camp, we are not allowed to work anymore.

Well, no, maybe we can work, even there."

- Hans Rookmaaker


Reacting To vs Engaging With... The Conversation Continues

I just came across this. I copied it from a Hans Rookmaaker biography, and it speaks to this conversation about reacting to vs. engaging with our culture.

"Man is not just a piece of straw on the flow of history. He can go against the stream. It may mean we are drowned, swallowed, damaged, thrown aside; that we don't come to the end. But it is better to go upstream, fighting against the stream, than to go down and fall into the deep abyss."

-Hans Rookmaaker

Are you a movie lover? Take the Quiz

Are you a movie lover?  Do you find yourself quoting random lines from TOMMY BOY or LORD OF THE RINGS?  Then you should take the INTO THE DARK quiz.
My smart and savvy publishers at Baker Academic are giving away cash and prizes.  All you have to do is take the short, sweet, but tricky INTO THE DARK quiz. Yes, to promote the release of my new book, Baker Books has created an online movie test.   This is exactly the kind of trivia that has attracted my attention since I first saw Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.   It features twelve questions about films featured in my book–contemporary classics like MementoEternal Sunshine, and No Country for Old Men.   Only one week left to enter, so take the quiz here.
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Tags | Film
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