Sunday, August 24, 2008

Things Beneficial

Walking through a church building today to see a friend of mine, I came across a veritable trove of historical information, especially interesting to one who wants to know the history of the Bible. A little book called The Pocket Bible Handbook, or Halley's Pocket Bible Handbook, was unassumingly supine upon a shelf in the room. Leafing through it, I realized that I had found a sort of index into Biblical history. I'm going to have to find a copy of that. Here endeth the geeky rant.

I'm on here today to share a few items of business that have been very helpful or inspirational to me.

Nathan Head
First and foremost, this guy is about as patient as they come as I try to dot all my J's and cross my Q's in the making of this new record. He's committed to helping folks make good music, even through a limited budget. He works out of The Garden, his studio up in Sevierville, runs Cubase 4, and maintains a steady gig at the Miracle Theatre acting, dancing, and singing on a rigorous schedule. He also eats at the Fox & Parrot, a British-style pub niched quietly away in a small artistic community off US 321 in Gatlinburg. All of these things make him cool.
This is a joint venture championed by Derek Webb along with Brannon McAllister, of Portland Studios, David McCollum, who I think is a manager at Dryve Artist Management, and another "industry veteran," Mark Nicholas. The premise is that word of mouth is the best advertisement anywhere. I would tend to agree, given that word of mouth doesn't force artists to sell their souls to the bottom line. At this website, artists submit their music, and people download it. The consumer either pays any price, or tells three other folks, via email, about the particular album.

Ground Effects Coffee House
This little place, run by Randy and Leann Calico (file that under the Coolest Last Names Ever), has been a haven for me when I need a good place to play a show. They are just about the kindest people you could ask for, and their food is a taste bud's fantasy. The coffee is amazing. The stage, though, is not made for tall people. Andy Vandergriff survived it though, and he's one of the tallest people I know in my hobbit-sized world. So, unless you're Yao Ming, you shouldn't have any trouble. Get there early and wander around in the antique store across the street. There's a bookshop a little further down the road and a great little woodworking place near the inn.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Three-In-One Book Review

Three new gems for your young one have come out. I read through these out loud (since that is the way you should read stories and small, poetic books) to myself, since I could not find any children to borrow at the time. Perhaps if I had gone through the neighborhood looking for some though, things might have turned out differently. I would definitely be labeled "That creepy guy with the beard." But if you have some children at hand, then I recommend the following reads:

God Gave Us Heaven
by Lisa Tawn Bergen, art by Laura J. Bryant

You get to follow Little Bear on a day with her father as they pal around together. She, like all kids, is full of the questions for which adults can never come up with the perfect answers (Isn't it funny how all our answers are just a little off?). Her father doesn't pretend to know everything, but answers out of his simple faith and patient wisdom, all to the visual tune of beautiful watercolor arrangements.

God Loves Me More Than That
by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by David Hohn

How many bumbles are there in a bumble bee? I don't know, but you can be sure that God loves me more than that number. This book is chock-full of reassurances like that, completed by David Hohn's masterful paintings of beautiful and heartfelt and funny things. My favorite pictures had to be the elephant on the tightrope and the hippopotamus in a raincoat. This is one to read slowly and make sure that the pictures really get taken in.

When God Created My Toes
by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by David Hohn

You may have noticed that this is the same team that brought you God Loves Me More Than That. This book is my favorite of the three. The little girl in it is just about as innocently and sweetly irreverent as one can get, and she's perfectly secure in God's love in the way that we all desire to be, once we are old enough to grow out of our faith and into our logic, to our shame, of course. She wonders, and I have to laugh and wonder if God held his nose to make my toes. And did he ever shout "Hip, Hip, Hooray!"? And the illustrations are exquisitely done and sometimes side-splitting.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

TVUUC: Another's Memoir, and Mine

This is something I had started writing a little while after Jim Adkisson entered the Unitarian Universalist Church on Kingston Pike.

I could hear the crunch of my shoes on the loose roadside gravel. The air was a smoky din of automobile noise and people moving like woodlice on the pavement. I peered over the edge of the walking bridge and glimpsed the cars flying by beneath me on Cumberland. In the space between the railing and the train trestle, just beyond arms length, they looked like a grimy slot machine that would not stop.

This is how I’ve felt for the eternity of the past two days, trying to scramble for some sort of definitive path through the senseless slaughter of Unitarian Universalist church members. It made national news headlines, and even got a spot on the front of the New York Times. I was at work before sunrise on Monday, slinging coffee to the morning commute, and glanced at the front of the page, and some part of me wished that it would have been a bigger section of the paper. Why? I don’t know. I wish it was as big as I know that all our restless natives feel about it. Somehow, the world’s consolation of a sixteen-point font and two-and-three-quarter square inches of print space makes me realize that we are a single broken oyster shell in the surf, smoothing and tumbling into sand. Endless sand.

I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to write anything about it. All had been written, within hours; all that had been spoken and postulated was thrumming in an electric blue web far above our heads, smoking in the ears of hungry media consumers. As I stepped into a church meeting on the west side of town, I considered telling a friend there that he should be prepared for the fallout that was sure to come. I still don’t know if it’s true. I do remember praying that the shooter was not a Christian, and hoping that he was still alive. Is that selfish? Again, I don’t know. I really do hate that part of me wants to be central to the plotline, and desires nothing more than a necessary soliloquy amongst the action. That guy usually has nothing to say. How much of our postulation for the past few days has been of the spotlight-snatching variety? On the TV, I feel like the city’s grief leaves its banks like the Mississippi into an Iowa cornfield. Of course, to say that such emotional adultery is commonplace is not so much cynical as it is forthright. It’s not really my desire to contribute to that. No amount of news coverage and sympathetic greeting card shuffling is going to make the gaping wounds of misunderstanding bleed themselves into healing. No ribbons or bumper stickers or tritely intellectual nomenclature is going to keep the shallow wounds of the uninvolved open so that we can stand beside the actual victims of this evil. What wound would spur us to stand beside the shooter himself, who, let it be said, is a victim of evil?

I wonder what he had for breakfast. Did James D. Adkisson have the same toast and eggs that Greg McKendry or Linda Kraeger ate that morning? I guess that I like to view murderers as pop-tart sort of people. If they actually paused to thoughtfully cook a one- or two-course meal, wouldn’t that make them sociopaths? Isn’t that what Hannibal Lecter did? Killers who eat quick, dry meals are perhaps less likely to be mulling their actions over so rationally. At least, it’s what I’d like to think. I told my neighbor that I’d rather have crazy people than citizens who go out with evil on their minds. Our own justice system recognizes that some people don’t keep their hands fully at the helms of their actions.

I also wonder if someone would actually post bail for him. Who, with a million dollars lying about, would be so kind as to drop it in the city treasury for the freedom of James Adkisson? On another note, who would be so kind as to sit down and talk to him, or listen to him, as if he had only had a pop-tart and gone out to read the paper that Sunday morning? As a Christian, I wonder if, given the opportunity, some Christian would buy him a cup of coffee. What would he do under the influence of a willing ear? The papers said that he was frustrated with his lack of social security benefits. The internet was swollen with rumors of his ex-wife’s past attendance to the church. The FBI kick-started their investigative machine, because James’ crime wore the shoes of a hate-crime. This is a comparatively new word, and a quietly subversive misnomer. There’s really no problem associating hatred with the violence of that Sunday morning. The clincher is when the word assumes that there are some crimes, nay, some evils, in which hatred is not involved.

We keep a laundry list of hatreds in this world. It might just rival our litany of badly titled “loves.” We have simple hatred, racial hatred, socio-economic hatred, self-hatred, hatred of foods, hatred of situations, projected hatred, socio-pathology, masochism, anarchy, and the dark carolers keep singing. Can we really, by the differentiation and filing of our emotions and actions, gain control over this hateful spiral? That is our desire, isn’t it? To gain control. Why else would we name things with such unimaginative and boorish hullabaloo? If there is anyone being lax, look sharp! Chaos will sneak up into your lap if you don’t name it quickly. This is, perhaps, at least one reason we ask beastly questions like, “Why?” We are cows standing in the outwash of interstate billboard lights. We can no more comprehend “Why?” than they can grasp the advertisements. I don’t know if James Adkisson himself understood why he decided that mass murder was the best course of action.

The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
quipped lightly about the strange sound of the thunderheads that had brewed over the candlelight vigil the next night.
    “We don’t know who’s speaking outside…but we trust, we have faith, that it is a friendly voice.” I think of Rahab, the foreign prostitute housing the Hebrew spies, saying that the whole land is quaking in fear of their people, in fear of the one who walks before them and behind them. I think of the hearts of Pharaoh’s men at the sight of a pillar of fire reaching down from the night sky and torching the desert sand between them and Moses. We always fear what we don’t know. We always fear to be known as well, even as we are famished for having our naked souls loved with a longing that C. S. Lewis said was almost indecent to mention.

The words “tragedy” and “shooting” are now part of our daily landscape, folded into the fabric like unnoticed strokes of dark paint. Grief is now, for all but those closely involved, the broken nose of the Sphinx. It has always been so, and the circle of wounded suppleness is shrinking. May we see brokenness and still weep. May our souls still be rung like loud bells by the approach of the failed and the fractured. May we not only be shocked, but hurt. Hurt like a man who has eaten something wrong. May our hearts be consumed with the wracking spasms of wrestling with that which has tormented us. And let us not heal quickly, but slowly, and together, not breaking a single bruised reed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blessed and Amazed

I have to show you guys this.

I used to think that these folks were great. Now I think that they're passing fantastic! The V Cafe has been a small and unassuming home for creative, aspiring Christian artists for a few years now. That they're even open to my music, and also that they provide a platform for a wide range of musical styles, speaks to their willingness to dialogue with people about faith and the exploration of all things spiritual. I try to always appreciate a champion of the arts, and these guys are no less.

They have released their first compilation CD of music from folks who have played at the V. They've been gracious enough to put a song of mine on the CD, and to call the whole collection Something About the Journey, which is a lyric from the song Pilgrims. Plus, they graced the cover of the whole thing with a picture of what looks like my favorite section of Rifle Range Rd. in the autumn (not that I had anything to do with that part).

You can buy this CD here or at their website.

The Indigenous Coffee Mongers

While I work for a national corporation, the name of which I will not share, but which some of you know (and over which some cry "Havoc!"), there are new wild grasses of coffeehouses springing up in Knoxville, locally owned, singular, and rich in passion. I have only tasted the fare of a few of these places, but what I have tasted contains all the depth embodied in the above traits. Their websites are, well...sub-par for the most part, but that is because they haven't really focused on the MySpace-style advertisement of their product. Word of mouth has been their billboard. My wife says that I am probably the single greatest small business advocate in the city. I will say that when you present me with a product that impresses me, I'm going to tell everyone I know about it. That said, here are the newcomers. I hope you will taste them for yourselves.

-De Colores Espresso
Bev Ketchum runs this place, and you can taste every line of her inviting smile in each flavor of gelato that pours forth from this little gem. She's also really cool about local art and music, though, since downtown seems to be the hub of that wheel, her deep West Knoxville location makes it difficult for her to capture the imagination of the customary local art crowd. But if you ever make it out there (and you should), you'll be enchanted. Buy a sandwich and a shot of espresso, and follow it up with a cup of inimitable lemon sorbet.

-Coffee and Chocolate
These guys don't have a website, for the reasons mentioned above, I would guess, among others. I was a little apprehensive about their opening, worrying that they wouldn't make it. For the record, I worry this for a lot of small businesses - more than I could ever patronize. So I've been glad to see them moving forward in the minds of Knoxvillians. My neighbor doesn't like their espresso, but we're all quite picky 'round here (the best espresso I've ever had was in a pub in Dundee, Scotland called The Counting House). I feel that they've at least lodged themselves somewhat firmly into the upper echelons of coffee mongering in Knoxville, however, especially with their desserts. This video should tell you more.

-Blackbird Coffeehouse
This place is extremely new. Tucked deep in the chewy nougat town center of Sequoia Hills, it has capture my interest and whetted my tastebuds. I haven't even been their yet, but I've heard tell. My aforementioned neighbor loves it. Their schtick has traveled far and wide in a short period of time, and I hope that they're a portrait of the zeitgeist in Knoxville. Hours are a bit short for me to make it out there regularly, but I'll be sure to get there soon. The pictures of their personal construction work speak for the owners' passion for the place and the community. They already have quite a few regulars, I hear.

-Remedy Coffee
These guys aren't even open yet, but I have great hopes for them. They certainly seem to have high hopes for themselves and their place in the community. Hopefully, they'll jump right in and catch a good number of regulars, since the Gay Street residential bug is inching ever-so-slightly northward towards Jackson. I'm glad that they're in the Old City, right across from where Cup a Joe used to be. While Java has survived us all as far as local coffee businesses go, and has also been a champion of local and organic foods since the difficult days of Victor Ashe, I'm hoping that this will be the poster child for the Old City becoming a neighborhood again (although the nightlife is always jumping nowadays).

          Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical.
-Jonathan Swift

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Through Dry Gulches

We at the Whipple house (still unnamed, as I have commitment issues with titles), are having a hard time readjusting to the institutional church. After spending so much time fighting to be a part of a house church, which, as of now, is still in existence, we've gone for a couple Sundays to a traditional church in addition to meeting with our brothers and sisters at a friend's house over a glorious potluck supper.

I say traditional, but perhaps I better clarify. That evocative word conjures up images in some people's minds of a dear sweet fluffy old lady sitting at an aging upright piano, hammering out a ragtime or bluegrass beat with the left hand and insisting on playing at a breakneck clip. People in overalls clutch their 1611 King James Bibles (not printed in 1611, of course) and belt out hymnody in strong, farm-raised voices. Another fun picture is one of the creepy, emaciated organist sitting in the paltry light of a tallow candle, holding out minor chords as if his patience alone is the root of the perseverance of the saints. Neither of these is what I mean by "traditional."

In short, our little group has been meeting together to study the Bible, pray, and get to know each other in an intimate setting. Going from having no liturgy and all intimacy to having a great deal of liturgy and less intimacy is very difficult. We're feeling a little like wandering sheep, seeking the watering hole where the rest of the herd lies in repose. I suppose that being picky doesn't help.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

New Record: Old Skin Horse

I've been really excited, for the past few months, for everyone to get to hear this music. There's been a lot of work poured into this, and there's a lot of work still to go, but there are a few new cuts on my myspace page, listed as DEMOs.

The release date is September 30th.