Category: General


Naughtiness

As I’ve mentioned before, I was a pretty good child. Behaviorally, I never did anything that was really dangerous; never smoked, never did drugs, never snuck out at night, was (almost) never disrespectful to my parents, and didn’t run with a bad crowd.

The biggest bone of contention between me and my parents was my musical choices. As I entered the second decade of my life, they started furrowing their brows. Bands like Aerosmith and Green Day caused them some grief, and they weren’t crazy about Smashing Pumpkins either. And it really started when I was in 4th grade and liked Vanilla Ice enough to ask for To the Extreme for Christmas. I got it, too.

But for whatever reason (fate, luck, God, circumstance, maybe all of them), I never discovered true naughtiness in music in my youth. The most I got was Steven Tyler quoting Frank Zappa (which I didn’t know at the time) singing “Buns up and kneelin’ / I was a’ wheelin’ and a dealin’.” And while that was more than enough for my parents, there were MUCH worse things out there at the time. 2 Live Crew caused quite a stir with “Me So Horny” and their entire As Nasty As They Wanna Be album, and it echoed in the church youth group my parents headed. Likewise, Digital Underground and “The Humpty Dance” crossed the consciousnesses of the teens in my parents’ youth group. They tried to play a cassette of it on a youth group road trip in my dad’s motor home stereo; he promptly threw it out the window.

Those two groups were on the periphery of my vision growing up, but Onyx wasn’t. When I was in 6th grade, there was a kid that went to my older sister’s school (Harkness Road, my own high school) that we gave a ride to in the mornings. We also took him to church for youth group on Wednesday nights (I went to the kids’ program at our church). His name was Luke, and he was what most adults would classify as a “bad influence.” My parents were friends with his mother, and I guess they were hoping good company would redeem bad character, the opposite of the way it typically works. It was through him that I experienced a number of different “naughty” things, Onyx being one of them.

Onyx were an early ‘90s rap group and a key figure in the gangtsa rap movement, a cluster of black artists that used incredibly violent imagery and profuse profanity. Since gangsta rap was meant to present an exaggerated glimpse into the black urban lifestyle and mindset, this also included rampant misogyny. Luke played me Onyx’s debut album on headphones one time, and I was particularly disturbed by the song “Blac Vagina Finda,” which essentially describes an interracial gang rape. I expressed my discomfort and distaste, and Luke laughed derisively and called me a pussy.

Loathe as I am to admit it, my desire to fit in with Luke and other people I was around caused me to wade into the sludge-teeming waters of gangsta rap for a while. It didn’t last long, since the overwhelming waves of stinking immorality bowled me over and were too much for me. It’s not that people like Onyx and Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were simply talking about sex and violence and the bad things of the world; I have no problem with that. It’s the way they talked about them. That way was extremely vulgar and obvious, which insulted the wordsmith in me, but looming largest in my mind was that it was celebratory. In their verbage, the bad things of the world weren’t bad at all. Gun violence was to be celebrated. Misogyny was to be celebrated. Illegal drugs were to be celebrated. Law and order were to be disrespected, insulted and ultimately destroyed. Love is weakness, attachment to your sexual partner is weakness, and your entire ethos is to be dictated by taking what you can get and not caring about how much damage you are causing to the people around you. Simply put, this was the opposite of everything I was brought up to believe.

So luckily, I went back to my Genesis and Phil Collins, and was on the verge of discovering R.E.M. and a world of other delights. And in the end, it worked out.

AC/DC probably would have been on that list of bands my parents were hoping I would NOT be into when I was younger. Like a few others I’ve talked about, my fandom of AC/DC is relatively recent. I was 9 when The Razors Edge came out, and I remember thinking “Thunderstruck” was pretty groovy, but the guy’s voice was like grinding gravel between two sheets of corrugated steel. And at that time, I didn’t have a clue that Back In Black even existed, let alone Bon Scott. A decade and a half later when the Jack Black extravaganza School of Rock was released, I found a liking for “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll),” which led me into Bon-era deliciousness. From there, I was hooked.

Music has always been the centerpiece of my life, the language through which I speak and am spoken to, but it’s better for certain music to enter your life at certain stages of your life than others. Gangsta rap, while it was a horrible experience for me, came around at just the right time. It taught me a very stark lesson about where my musical boundaries were, what I could take and what I couldn’t. AC/DC, likewise, came around at just the right time. Had I waded into their music at a younger age, I might have not only drawn the ire of my parents (even more than I did anyway), but I might have become a different, more depraved person. It’s because AC/DC came around when I was mature enough to deal with them that their bawdy talk and low-brow subject matter can hit me at the angle it does. If it were from a different, younger angle, it would probably be a lot more harmful.

Next: always a bridesmaid, never the best-selling album of all time.

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The Editor

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I just got a promotion to Managing Reviews Editor a little over a week ago, and things have been pretty crazy around here! But I’ll get back on the AO horse soon, and get back to talking about Joy Division later this week. Be watching!

– Neal

Honorable Mentions: 1970s

I’ve now covered the best albums of the ‘70s, but there are plenty of artists and bands that deserve some mention at least. Here are those that didn’t make the cut.

Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band (named after brothers Gregg and Duane), during the time that Duane was alive and shortly after, commanded the best and deepest understanding of what made the blues – and music in general – so great in the ‘70s. Cameron Crowe based a lot of the dynamic of the fictional band Stillwater from his bitter love letter to the music industry Almost Famous on ABB, and it’s easy to see the bickering brotherly relationship of Jeff and Russell in the actual brothers of Gregg and Duane.

Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, but not before recording the seminal rock/blues album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with Eric Clapton and the rest of Derek & the Dominos. After he died, the rest of the ABB carried on and recorded Brothers and Sisters. While not being a tribute album in the strictest sense, I can feel Duane’s spirit as being present throughout the entire thing. Dickey Betts, one of the ABB’s two remaining guitarists after Duane, played twice as well when he was thrust into the spotlight, and took a much more prominent songwriting role as well. Betts penned what is probably the best-known ABB song, “Ramblin’ Man,” first single from Brothers and Sisters. And I would wager that it’s not because Duane finally got out of the way so Dickey could take the lead, but rather because Dickey said, “I gotta step up my game to honor Duane’s memory.”

It’s very much like Dave Matthews Band. After phoning in the dismal Stand Up and almost completely losing their mojo, saxophonist Leroi Moore suddenly and tragically died. The rest of them then released the fantastic Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King with a new-found energy and drive. Why? They were playing not just for the memory of a fallen bandmate, but also because that tragedy had made them realize the gloriousness of what they do for a living. Both DMB and ABB commuted their mourning into great music, which is precisely what music is meant to do.

Queen

Queen

Alright, confession time… I don’t really like Queen.

Woah, calm down people! Put the pitchforks away! I think at this point I’ve proved my classic rock cred, so let’s be fair here. I fully recognize that Queen is a major influence to lots of artists of the last 30 years, some of whom I greatly respect. And I also respect Queen, and happily defer the title of Mightiest Vocalist Who Ever Lived to the late great Freddie Mercury.

That being said, their over-the-top, operatic style makes me cringe. To even call it a “style” seems wrong to me – it’s a musical ethos, a philosophy, and one that I very much disagree with. Queen’s main aim was to make everything bigger, more epic and more of a show than it actually was. But to me, that effort only made what they did seem cheesy, cheap, and robbed of any sense of authenticity. Many other people might label (and have labeled) songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and the groan-inducing “Princes of the Universe” as awesome, but they only make me shake my head.

Then there’s “We Are the Champions,” the worst offender of all. Every time I hear it, I simultaneously want to laugh derisively, cry hysterically, and hit an innocent bystander with a brick. But then I calm my humanity down, and remember something; here it is.

Jesus said “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it.” In “We Are the Champions,” I find a gigantic object lesson about this saying. You could almost change it to, “Whoever tries to be a champion will be a loser.” If you go around saying you’re the champion and you don’t have time for losers, not only will you eventually be the biggest loser of all, but you’re kinda being a douchebag on the way down. That’s what pisses me off the most about “We are the Champions”: the narrator is just such a jerk. If this guy says he doesn’t have time for losers, then I will happily be a loser. All the other losers he doesn’t have time for will get together and have a Loser Party, and Jesus will be hanging with us; I guarantee it.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd

I was raised in Massachusetts, and still live there, so it’s safe to say I don’t really understand people from the South. I see a Confederate Flag on the back of a pickup truck and I think, “Hmm, what’s it like to be a racist?” According to the Civil War mythology up here, the South are all a bunch of racists who were whining about us not letting them have slaves. Of course, down there, it’s not about slaves at all – it’s all about the North being on a power trip and trying to tell the South what to do. So of course, I look at bands with a heavy southern bent a little cockeyed. All of them piss me off a little with their attitude.

All except Lynyrd Skynyrd (and the aforementioned Allman Brothers Band). It doesn’t really make sense that I like them – they have heavy southern accents, don’t truck with the “less is more” ethos, and are pretty loud about their Confederate loyalty despite that the Civil War has been over for about 150 years.

But on a much more important level, it makes perfect sense. They make great music – that’s it, really. And as someone with fangirl tendencies when it comes to the electric guitar, I freely admit that when I listen to “Free Bird,” I feel a little like putting a Confederate flag bumper sticker on my Hyundai.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

So what do you do when you’ve been in five – count ‘em, FIVE – very successful bands (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos)? I dunno… go on to an even more successful solo career, maybe?

Even though it started a little before his final “band” experience, Eric Clapton is a more powerful force when he’s the star. Arguably, he was always the star. The only musician he played with outside of Cream that could keep up with him was Duane Allman from D&D. He’s very simply a guitar god; that fan who spray-painted CLAPTON IS GOD on a metal fence wasn’t wrong. And in addition to keeping the blues alive with his incredible albums From the Cradle and Me & Mr. Johnson, we also have him to thank for the much-covered pop classics “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears In Heaven.” And even though he hasn’t made an album on this list in his solo career, Eric is one of the musicians I most esteem and respect.

Rush

Rush

I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with Rush. My first experience with them is hearing “Tom Sawyer” when I was about 7. It was an electrifying experience, but every other Rush song has failed to live up. Besides that, there’s the unintentional silliness of their music. That statement probably greatly offends Rush worshippers (and there are a lot of them), but I can’t help it. Some of their music is just plain embarrassing – for the songs themselves, but even more so that this is some of the best-thought-of music rock and roll has to offer. “ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION. WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.” Seriously?

Balancing that is the album Moving Pictures. While I don’t see anything that’s world-endingly awesome (other than “Tom Sawyer”), I can’t really find a single flaw either.

There’s also an incident in their discography that caused me a lot of frustration when I heard about it. They recorded a two-part song called “Cygnus X-1.” Now, I’m all about multi-section compositions, and for that, Rush gets a thumbs-up. But they destroyed the good standing that earned them by putting the two sections on different albums, separated by almost 14 months. “Book I” is the last track on A Farewell to Kings in 1977, and “Book II” is the first track on Hemispheres in 1978. That’s kind of like an author writing “He stood up and saw that the murderer was-“ and ending the book there, then waiting 14 months before releasing another book, and starting it with the end of that sentence. Sure, it’s something Charles Dickens did all the time – that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The Clash

The Clash

In The Clash, we have punk music turned to a purpose other than just pooping all over everything. In The Clash, punk is a force for social and political change rather than merely an expression of the rage a disenfranchised generation felt. While The Sex Pistols and The Ramones were spitting on their audiences and crushing beer cans on their foreheads, The Clash were trying to improve the world.

That being said… meh. I’ve tried to drum up some excitement about their music, but in the end, I just shrug. It actually scares me a little, because I know that some people treat the members of the Clash almost as religious figures, and believe in their music the way suicide bombers believe Americans are infidels.

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac’s epic tale of love, sex, betrayal and sticking it out for the love of music is one of the things that drew me in to study music as more than just something to listen to. I remember watching VH1’s Behind the Music series when it first went on the air. Fleetwood Mac was one of the first ones. No band’s story in the whole of rock and roll has more human drama and literary conflict than that of Fleetwood Mac.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads

Talking Heads appeals to me because I have a slight appreciation for things that come out of left field. True, the fact that it’s weird isn’t enough for me – it also needs to be good. But Talking Heads, on the whole, satisfy both of those requirements. They lose their touch with their last few albums, but the pinnacle came in 1980 with Remain In Light. A daring uprooting of the band to Jamaica and an innovative musical approach are gambles that paid off and then some with this album. All the songs are based around a single chord and a 2- or 4-measure riff. On all eight songs, they don’t deviate from that chord. The idea sounds weird, and it is, but you can’t argue with success.

Next: I found my thrill on Solsbury Hill…

The House That Rock Built

Last week I took a vacation to the Lake Erie area, in the vineyards of Geneva, OH. My vacation spot being only an hour away from Cleveland, I of course took a trip to the absolute pinnacle of musical geekdom, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

For disciples of rock like me, going there is a spiritual experience. I imagine it as similar to a theologian going to St. Paul’s Cathedral, a Civil War buff going to Gettysburg, or an art student going to the Leaning Tower. Walking up to that glass pyramid electrified my very soul, and for the briefest of prophetic moments, the entire world crystallized into its perfect form. God spoke to me, and all he said was, “See?”

Some highlights:

  1. Elvis had a really shiny suit – and was a Denver police officer.
  2. The double-neck guitar, despite its over-the-top ridiculousness, was very popular at one time. The Rock Hall has on display those owned by Jimi Hendrix, Mike Rutherford of Genesis, and Alex Lifeson of Rush, and they never fail to make me giggle as if to say, “oh you guys!”
  3. Soul singers in the ‘60s really knew how to dress.

    Sam Cooke's coat and hat. One word - stylin'.

    Sam Cooke’s coat and hat. One word – stylin’.

  4. Rock stars make their signatures as illegible as possible.
  5. There’s a section about protests to rock and roll. Statements from politicians, Christian leaders and activists are written on walls, followed by statements from musicians as a sort of response. The best one is from Eminem, from his song “Who Knew”: “Quit tryin’ to censor music, this is for your kid’s amusement / But don’t blame me when lil’ Eric jumps off of the terrace / You should of been watchin’ him, apparently you ain’t parents”
  6. Jimi Hendrix’s family had a really ugly couch.
  7. How did people NOT know Rob Halford was gay the second they laid eyes on him?

    "Not that there's anything wrong with it!"

    “Not that there’s anything wrong with it!”

  8. I now have to listen to every single song on the list of Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
  9. The Rock Hall NEEDS a restaurant. A microwaved cheeseburger and tater tots that taste like cardboard simply aren’t enough for hungry museum-goers.

My third trip to the Rock Hall also made me realize two things. The first is that I already know a ton of information about the science, history and art of rock and roll. The second is that as much as I know, it’s only a miniscule fraction of what I have yet to learn. Rather than daunt me, that thought fills me with exhilaration like nothing I’ve ever felt before.

Next: isolation and other fun activities

Merry Nuclear Apocalypse!

Hey folks. There won’t be a new AO post until Monday, as I’ll be stuffing my face with family tomorrow. Since Thanksgiving is the official signal to the start of the Christmas season, here’s Weird Al with a festive tune about the A-bomb. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Long Songs

A few days ago, I asked a rhetorical question on a Facebook status update: what’s the longest song ever made? I thought I had answered that question in the blog post I linked to, the answer being Longplayer, but I got several responses in the form of guesses. Friends of mine guessed “American Pie” (8:33), “Free Bird” (9:06), “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” (17:04), and “Alice’s Restaurant” (18:34), which are all really good guesses, but miss the mark by a long shot. So I started thinking about an actual answer to that question.

It’s a little tricky, because you have to ask, “what is considered a song?” Upon analysis, I determined Longplayer isn’t really a song; it’s just a bunch of singing bowls, something that just barely qualifies as a musical instrument. That’s the reason I’ve excluded Mike Oldfield, too. His music is only music in the barest sense of the word: because he and his fans say it is.

I also decided to limit it to pop songs, which eliminates symphonies and other classical compositions. To qualify, they also had to be one continuous or contiguous song, and not separated by other songs. Suites, or individual songs all strung together (with no break in playing) and united by a common lyrical theme, are permissible. I also decided to let in songs separated by division of the physical media, such as sides of vinyl; it’s not really Jethro Tull’s fault that CDs hadn’t been invented when they made “Thick as a Brick” and it was too long to fit on one side of an LP. But songs on live recordings don’t make it if they don’t have a studio counterpart equally as long. Other than that, I use a combination of my instincts and trust placed in the artist. If they say it’s a song, I give them the benefit of the doubt, excluding clear and obvious attempts to have a really long recording while injecting little to no musicality or effort.

An undeniable finding: almost all the artists on the list I’ve compiled are either progressive rock or progressive metal. This says one of two things. Either only prog fans have the attention spans to listen to a song that’s much longer than 5 minutes, or prog artists are completely insane. I think it might be both. The only non-prog group on here is Pink Floyd, but they’re foundational to most of the other groups on here. Heck, most of them learned to do long songs in the first place from Pink Floyd, among others.

Neal Morse

That being said, Dream Theater is probably the guiltiest single culprit, having four songs on this list. It could have been five, though; their suite “In the Presence of Enemies” is over 25 minutes long, but it doesn’t make the list because parts II and III are separated by the rest of the album the suite is on. But the undisputed king of long songs is Neal Morse. He’s in two different bands on this list, and also has multiple songs as a solo artist. He’s in the band that takes the cake, too.

That band is Transatlantic, and the song that wins the award for Longest Song (with the restrictions previously mentioned), is “The Whirlwind,” clocking in at 77 minutes and 54 seconds. “The Whirlwind” is the name of the album it’s on, too, and it’s the only song on the album. You’ll notice that the song is just shy of 80 minutes, which is the maximum length of a CD. When a physical medium longer than that comes into widespread use, you can be sure that Neal Morse will make a song that matches its length.

Anyway, here’s the list, in ascending length order.

Dream Theater, “A Mind Beside Itself” – 20:26

Rush, “2112” – 20:34

Yes, “Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)” – 21:37

Yes, “The Gates of Delirium” – 21:50

Genesis, “Supper’s Ready” – 22:52

Dream Theater, “A Change of Seasons” – 23:06

Spock’s Beard, “The Water” – 23:10

Pink Floyd, “Atom Heart Mother” – 23:35

Pink Floyd, “Echoes” – 23:37

Yes, “The Solution” – 23:47

Dream Theater, “Octavarium” – 24:00

Neal Morse, “The Conflict” – 25:00

Transatlantic, “Duel With the Devil” – 26:43

Spock’s Beard, “The Great Nothing” – 27:02

Manowar, “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy” – 28:38

Neal Morse, “The Door” – 29:13

Transatlantic, “Stranger In Your Soul” – 30:00

Green Carnation, “The Truth Will Set You Free” – 31:03

Magellan, “The Great Goodnight” – 34:45

Dream Theater, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” – 42:04

Jethro Tull, “Thick as a Brick” – 43:46

Meshuggah, “Catch Thirty Three” – 47:09

The Flower Kings, “Garden of Dreams” – 59:16

Green Carnation, “Light of Day, Day of Darkness” – 60:06

Transatlantic, “The Whirlwind” – 77:54

Feel free to add any I’ve missed in the comments section.

Telephone Spindle

a telephone spindle

The dining room table I grew up with was unlike any I’ve seen. It was made using old pieces of telephone wire spindles; one of the circular pieces was cut in half and formed the ends of the table, with other end of the spool being cut to form the middle of the table. In the very center of the table, where the hole of the spool was, a ceramic disk was added. Legs were also added, carved roughly to look slightly arty, and the whole thing was stained for protection and smoothness. It looked very rustic and DIY.

The chairs were part of the set, made from a similar kind of wood. They were also incredibly uncomfortable; they didn’t have any padding on them, so the only thing separating hard wood from your butt was the clothes you had on. The chairs and table stained and sealed, so there was never any splintering, but doesn’t make for an overly pleasant sitting experience. I had grown up with these chairs, though, so I didn’t even notice how uncomfortable they were until one of my college friends sat in them.

My parents bought it when they first got married from a hippie furniture co-op in San Diego called Many Hands. It was a popular thing in the early 70s to make stuff out of other stuff, to reclaim man-made objects and give them new life. It seems like something Jesus People would be into, to make functional things out of refuse and seemingly wasted material; out of death comes life.

I loved this table. When we were little, my sister and I would build forts using this table, plus blankets and couch cushions. It was the perfect height for sitting under, and it was the customary spot for sitting and counting to one hundred for hide-and-seek games. It had a giant, two-fist-sized divot in the underside, probably where there was a knot in the wood. I often wondered what had happened to it, if some great dog had taken a bite out of it. And I can remember just walking around it in circles when I was 4 years old, counting aloud by ones to see how high I could count. I think I got to over 600 before my mother made me stop and have lunch.

When I moved into my first apartment post-college, I inherited the table from my parents. When you looked at this table, you got the idea that it was from a past age, even if you couldn’t say what age. My roommate thought it was something medieval, and could picture huge bearded warriors sitting around it with mugs of ale and double-headed axes laid against the wall behind them. My sister’s husband Chris was helping me move in, among others, and he and a friend of mine carried the table up two flights of stairs. I never tried to lift it, but it apparently weighs a ton. Chris swore that if he helped me move the table out again, he was bringing his chainsaw.

Oh, the tales this table could tell. I’ve told some of them, but the table itself could tell many more if it had a mouth and a voice. Tables, I’m pretty sure, have perfect memories. Its stories would be not just of my own family, but of all its owners before us. Tables see the best and worst of human beings, serving as silent observers to the passing of years.

NOT our family’s table… just a table

When I moved out of that apartment, I didn’t have a place to put it where I was moving into, nor did I have storage space for it. My parents didn’t want it back, so I had no choice but to leave it with my roommate and his brother, who was moving in with him. They called me about a month or two later asking permission to get rid of it. It was very nice of them to make that call; they understood that the table held a lot of sentimental value to me, and they didn’t want to treat it unfairly. I shed a little bittersweet tear, but I consented for them to put it out by the dumpster. They told me later that when they walked by the dumpster the very next day, it was gone. Someone else had recognized the greatness of that table, and had decided to make it their own.

It makes me smile and sigh. That telephone spindle table had served my family well all through my formative years, and even before then. Now, it would serve another family. And it would have even more stories to tell.

All this is actually leading somewhere; trust me.

Doomsday

I was living in New York the spring of 2011. I was riding the subway one day when I saw a poster inside a train saying the Rapture would happen on May 21st of that year. It was a warning to all the heathens and pagans to repent of their sinful ways and be saved from total annihilation. Looking into it a little more revealed that not only would the Rapture be on May 21st, but the entire universe would be utterly destroyed five months later.

My first thought: “Cool, now I don’t need to figure out my retirement fund.”

My second thought: “Wait, are they actually serious?”

Serious they were, and what defies logic even more than the actual prediction is that thousands of other people across the country took it seriously as well. It was well-publicized, as the NYC subway poster told. For a few months, some people appeared to have lost their minds.

Harold Camping with Bible in hand

This whole thing was started by Harold Camping, head of the Family Radio Christian network. He came to the date of May 21st, 2011 using no sources other than the Bible. He said, “I know it’s absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true.” I guess he skipped over the part in Matthew where Jesus says, “No man knows the hour.”

People bought into it, and then some. There were reports of people just giving stuff away because they wouldn’t need it once the rapture came. And I’m not talking iPods or ab-rollers or commemorative beer mugs. One guy sold his house and gave away his life savings, all because some guy with zero authority on the subject said the world would end on one particular day. Camping didn’t even have a good track record – he’d been wrong about this very thing before, saying in ’92 that the Rapture would occur in September of 1994.

I remember seeing a news item on TV about some believers who had gathered in Times Square to await 6pm (the exact moment  Camping said Christians would be taken up to heaven). I can hear the question before you ask it. “But what about 6pm in New York being 3pm in LA?” Not to worry; the Rapture would go time zone by time zone! Christians were going to stagger into heaven by the hour; I guess there wasn’t room on the Heaven Bus for us all. Anyway, 6pm came and went, no Rapture, and Robert Fitzpatrick, the guy who organized the Times Square event, looked like the most colossal of morons.

Robert Fitzpatrick checks his watch at 6:01

Every eye went to Camping at that point, but he responded with a “My bad! The Rapture is REALLY gonna happen on October 21st, simultaneous with the end of all existence.” I don’t have to tell you how THAT worked out.

This seems like comic book stuff, the kind of thing you would read in a H.G. Wells novel. But one thing forces me away from laughing derisively about it and makes me very sad, and that’s the damage it does to Christians in the eyes of the world. When a guy like Harold Camping makes a ridiculous and laughable statement like this wearing the label “Christian” on his forehead while he’s doing it, it’s we Christians who pay for it. It’s like a few radical Muslims who crashed some planes and blew up some buildings ruining everything for every Muslim on the planet. Immediately after 9/11 and for a few years, there was so much anger in the American culture against Muslims and Islam in general, blind hate born out of ignorance.

The same thing happens all the time for Christians, only it’s not hate; it’s derision. “Those crazy Christians don’t know anything, and I can feel comfortable rejecting every last thing they profess because one guy said the world was gonna end this afternoon.” After May 21st passed without even so much as stubbed toe, there was a series of billboards that said things like “Fool me once…” and “Every day is judgment day. Use yours. Use reason.” Those are sentiments I agree with, but the billboards were put up by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization dedicated to making all religions and their adherents look like idiots.

My own feelings about the matter are complicated. First, I laugh mockingly that Family Radio could make such an insane and obviously wrong claim. Then, when people lump nuts like Camping in with all other Christians (including me), my defenses go up and I say “Hey! …I’m not like Harold Camping!” It’s tragic in this case, but the loudest voices are usually also the most extreme, most inflammatory, least educated and least logical.

But I like the reaction from some Christians. A church in Milpitas, CA held a service on Sunday, May 22nd to comfort Camping’s true believers. A deacon there said, “It’s easy to mock [these people]. You can go kick puppies, too; but why?” Even though people fooled by Camping were stupid and gullible, they’re still human beings who deserve our compassion. And they got enough kicking from the non-Christian world. More than 830,000 Facebook users registered for a country-wide “Post Rapture Looting” event. In a practical form of mocking, the Seattle Atheists formed a Rapture Relief Fund, “to help survivors of any Armageddon-sized disaster in the Puget Sound area.” When no such disaster occurred (what a surprise), they fund instead financed a camp for kids that teaches about critical thinking.

And, of course, we may go through this all again in the coming months, since December 2012 is approaching and the Mayan calendar end there, suggesting the Mayans thought the world would end there, too. If you want my opinion, they just ran out of room…

Next: The end of the world means the beginning of Ziggy Stardust.

Rocky Mountain High

I’m going on vacation to CO for a week, so a vacation from writing is called for, as well. When I get back, the Rolling Stones will get some gospel in them, and we’ll find out if David Bowie really is an alien. Cheerio!

Jesus People

According to my dad, my parents were NOT hippies – they were Jesus People. Hippies and Jesus People have a lot in common, like a mellow and positive attitude, a fashion sense that included bright colors, long tassels and hemp, and a liking for patchouli, most likely to cover up the odor of an unwashed body. But while hippies were very loose and open about spirituality, they were generally opposed to organized religion; they saw it as a way to keep people down.

Jesus People, on the other hand, found true freedom and liberation in Jesus Christ, something they didn’t find in the hippie culture, despite the advertisement of it. Hippies were wary of Jesus because of his association with Christianity, a thing of oppression (as they saw it). But Jesus People were much more interested in Christ as a person than they were in Christianity as a religion. They loved him. It is possible to be in love with someone who’s been dead for 2000 years, because to Jesus People (and to Christians in general) he’s not dead. He lives within each one of us, growing and improving us from the inside out. It’s like The Matrix – the concept can’t be fully explained; you have to see it for yourself.

Jesus People used to wear these buttons that said “One Way.” It refers to following Jesus as being the only way to heaven. When a member of the Jesus Movement saw a stranger that they thought might be a fellow Jesus Person, they would hold up their index finger (“one”). If the stranger did the same, they both knew that they had something in common, and that they would see each other again in heaven. It was like they shared a little secret, something the rest of the world wasn’t in on. It’s like when I was living in New York, regularly wearing my Red Sox cap on the streets of Manhattan. Most people didn’t care, but one time I saw another guy wearing the same cap and caught his eye. We exchanged no words, but gave each other a little nod and smile as I passed by.

It may seem like Jesus People were some exclusive organization with a rigorous membership process to weed out the fakers, but that’s not how it was. It’s important for us of this pluralistic generation to understand that Jesus People weren’t enforcing their individuality, or proclaiming their distinction from everybody else. They weren’t saying, “I’m different and I like that.” They were saying, “I’m saved, and you can be too!!!” The message of Jesus People was what the message of modern Christian evangelicalism should be: the more the merrier. And that should come without exceptions, addendums or provisos. This is an invitation regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation; if you have lungs and a beating heart, you can join this club.

As for Jesus People themselves, most of them grew up, got married and had kids, and generally settled down into a typical American existence. However, most of them (including both of my parents) never lost that zeal and passion for the word of God, or that all-or-nothing mentality that’s an essential part of their Christianity. And since both of my parents are such freakishly awesome people, it must not be a bad thing.

Even so, Jesus People are part of a bygone age, and their way of thinking about things is just different that ours today. They touted the “one way” philosophy, a thing that’s not only stuck around in Christianity but gotten more intense. While I’m certain that there’s only one road, Jesus’ road, I think that road might be a lot wider than a lot of Christians believe it is, or maybe than they want it to be.

I’m completely aware that people are gonna quote the “way is straight and narrow” verse from the Bible to me. Here’s my response. Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel, “…narrow [is] the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I posit that certain Christians would prefer it to be “only YOU guys find it, and screw everyone else.” It’s narrow, yes, but only in comparison to the other road, the one that leads to destruction, and the number of people who choose it. Perhaps another way of putting it is that those people aren’t even on a road; they’re lost in the forest being eaten by the bears. The only way for us to find them is to go into the forest and risk getting eaten by the bears ourselves.

Oh jeez. I try to write about Led Zeppelin and I end up preaching about evangelism. Sigh… more about IV next time.