Category Archives: Music

#240: Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #240, on the subject of Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.

One of the problems with writing a series of reminiscences like this is realizing how much of that time I have forgotten; another problem is recognizing how much of what was happening I missed.  Paul Clark falls into both of those categories.

This is the fifth entry in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music; previous entries are listed and linked at the end of this article.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.  Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

Looking over his discography, I recognize that five albums of his were released during the time I was at the radio station, but I only recognize the album covers of three; the third of those, Minstrel’s Voyage, was a best-of that was released during a long stretch in which he was not recording, and I recognize tracks from that.  Although the cover of Drawn to the Light is immediately recognizable, the only thing I recognize looking at the track list is that there was this weird three-song piece late on the second side; none of the titles recall any music for me.

Clark, though, predates my involvement.  His debut album Songs from the Savior Volume 1 was recorded in 1971 or 72, depending on whom you ask, followed shortly thereafter by Volume 2 of the same.&nbsp I eventually had access to a copy of the collaborative effort Good to Be Home which is listed as by Paul Clark and Friends and doesn’t show on his regular discography.  I remember being impressed by the collection, which featured guitar work from Phil Keaggy, bass and drums from Love Song alumni Jay Truax and John Mehler, and keyboards from Bill Speer.  However, until I heard it again I didn’t recall a single track from the disk.  Listening to it, I recall much, and the title Which One Are You? (second on the disk) strikes me as the one which got the most airplay on our station, although the final track, Abide.  It also features a great deal of nostalgically characteristic Phil Keaggy guitar work.

However, I got to hear Clark live once.  I suspect it was a promotional tour for Drawn to the Light, but I do not recall interviewing him or even meeting him at the show.  However, I remember one part of that show quite clearly.  Clark was alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, and he paused to explain that he did not do requests.  He explained that at this point he had recorded so many albums that he couldn’t keep all the songs performance ready, and just focused on those he planned to play.  He then told of playing a concert with a full band, and as they finished the first song someone near the front yelled, “Hand to the Plow!” (a funky rock piece after the quiet introduction), which is probably Clark’s single most famous piece, or at least the one I’ve most heard mentioned in connection with him.  Clark ignored the voice and played his second song, only to have the fan shout the title again at the end.  When this happened again after the third song, Clark called the fan to the stage.  “What’s your name?” he asked.  “Bob,” came the reply.  “Well, everyone, Bob is now going to sing Hand to the Plow,” and giving him a mike he started the band on the song, and Bob successfully muddled through the piece (“Not too bad, actually.”)  He told that story to discourage us from making requests.

He is generally acknowledged to be one of the original Christian contemporary/rock musicians; I only wish I knew him better.

(In my research for this article I stumbled on a two hour concert, pirated audio from somewhere in the audience, of Paul Clark and Phil Keaggy.)

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.

#238: Love Song by Love Song

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #238, on the subject of Love Song by Love Song.

For many of us schooled in the late sixties, a record album was not just a collection of songs.  Thanks to contributions such as Abby Road and Tommy we viewed a record album as a work of art in itself, a skillful arrangement of music and lyrics which carried the listener from beginning to end through a theme or story.  The self-titled debut album from Love Song is such a recording, from the opening strains of the title song to its fragmentary reprise at end (missing from that video and seemingly from the internet itself) in which the band carries the listener through songs that seem to follow each other in an almost mandatory sequence.

This is the fourth entry in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music; previous entries are listed and linked at the end of this article.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.  Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

The album was more than that, though.  At the time of its release (1972) it was the first Christian rock band to get distribution nationwide, and thus in the minds of many the first Christian rock album.  We thought it wonderful, and argued that the only reason it wasn’t getting national airplay was because of the discrimination against Christian music on public radio stations.

In fairness, it was a mellow album even by the standards of the day.  Front Seat, Back Seat and Little Country Church were outright Country songs; a lot of the guitar work was on acoustic or even nylon-stringed classical instruments, and the wailing distorted lead guitar solo on Let Us Be One is well back in the mix.  On the other hand, the performance and arrangement was top notch across the board, and their use of vocals was unrivaled at the time.

They felt the adulation, and didn’t much care for it.  As Christian musicians they wanted to point people to Jesus, and it seemed that people were pointing more to them.  Three years after their debut album they released what was to be their final installment, Final Touch, and officially dissolved the band.  This was a less-admired album.  The most memorable cuts are the comical southern rock Cossack’s Song and the quiet Little Pilgrim.  They reunited for a live album, Feel the Love, three years after that, and in the late nineties there was a remastered disk under several titles of which Welcome Back was the preferred commercial one in the U.S.  They also appeared live with a dozen other artists from those early years on a live double CD tribute to Keith Green entitled First Love, also in the late nineties.

After their dissolution, Chuck Girard–vocals, keyboards, guitars–continued to do music consistent with the sounds of the band; the best known song was Sometimes Alleluia.  Bassist/vocalist Jay Truax and drummer/vocalist John Mehler lent support to other artists, most notably as part of Paul Clark and Friends, but other than Chuck the band members stayed out of the spotlight.

Fans generally believe that had the band continued it would have produced more wonderful music.  The first album had succeeded in achieving something great; the second, not so much, and Chuck continued to have about as good a career as a Christian Contemporary musician could have at the time, but never produced anything comparable to that first work.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials.

#236: Reign of the Imperials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #236, on the subject of Reign of the Imperials.

The Imperials began as a pretty standard male southern gospel quartet.  However, they kept crossing lines, pushing the envelope, reinventing themselves, and became a force in middle-of-the-road contemporary Christian music.

This is the third entry in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music, which began with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor, followed by #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael.  Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.

They first shocked their conservative Christian audience by taking a job as backup singers for that icon of everything that was wrong with American youth of the day, Elvis Presley.  This gave them exposure to audiences beyond anything they could have gotten as “another southern gospel quartet”.  It may have alienated some of their core audience, but it put them in a position to sing gospel music to secular audiences when they opened for “The King”.

After that, they broke another rule when they filled an open vocalist slot with Sherman Andrus, making them the first racially integrated gospel band.  Prior to that, there was black gospel music and there was all-white southern gospel music.  Now there was gospel music sung by a quartet one, and only one, of whom was black.  Again their core audience was shaken, but their reach expanded.

Andrus would eventually leave along with fellow vocalist Terry Blackwood to form Andrus, Blackwood, and Company, whose biggest hit to my knowledge was the rock-‘n’-roll tribute Wonderful, done with an almost comic backup from Blackwood to Andrus’ truly stylistic lead vocals.  (Unfortunately, they are also remembered for the completely tasteless idea for a song about the martyrdom of Steven, heaven is just A Stone’s Throw Away.)  Russ Taff joined The Imperials at that time, and also had a bit of a solo career on the side.

About that time Chris Christian had a contract to provide material for one of the major contemporary Christian labels, and the Imperials got him to produce their 1979 albums Heed the Call and One More Song for You, in a style that might be dubbed Nashville Contemporary.  They were a quality act within their style, and their novelty song Oh Buddha became one of the few heavily requested at our album-oriented CCM station.  They were never a cutting-edge rock band, but with recordings of songs like Old Man’s Rubble they broke out of the mold of southern gospel and became a standard in middle-of-the-road Christian contemporary.

I don’t own any of their recordings; they were never on my list of favorites, and my budget pretty much kept me to records I really wanted that I could get the record companies to give me.  They were, however, one of the quality vocal bands of the time, even if their southern gospel roots still influenced their vocal arrangements even after they crossed solidly into the contemporary/rock sound.

#234: Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #234, on the subject of Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael.

This is the second article in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music, which began with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor.

For what seemed a lot of years I didn’t like Ralph Carmichael.  He wrote the song He’s Everything to Me, and was responsible for the little booklet of similar songs, songs of a particular style that I found irksome.  The way I have often described it is that these are songs older people bring into church services for the younger people, and young people tolerate as the best they’re likely to get but not really what they want.  The late sixties and early seventies were full of these pseudo-contemporary musicians, from the Hot Hymns and Cool Carols collection by Presbyterians Richard Avery and Donald Marsh to the Roman Catholic contemporary folk singer Ray Repp.  I viewed Carmichael as a facilitator of what I regarded musical pablum.

I was corrected.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.

It’s not that Carmichael wasn’t responsible for the publication and promotion of a lot of this music I thought didn’t really appeal to the target youth audience (and really, that audience was a lot more varied than I credited at the time).  It isn’t even that there were some gems in the trash–I doubt I would have heard Kurt Kaiser’s Pass It On were it not published by Carmichael (and Kaiser’s Master Designer, while not in the same class as the marvelous Pass It On, is a decent song, too).  It’s that there was more to Ralph Carmichael than I knew.  Carmichael might not have been all that adept at writing music for the upcoming generations of the sixties and seventies, but he proved quite adept at finding people who were and getting them in the spotlight.  Ralph Carmichael spearheaded Light Records.

I have no idea who the leading labels are today, but by 1979 there were four major publishers of contemporary Christian record albums.  Word Records (originally Spoken Word Records) came out of Waco, Texas, and their Myrrh label was instrumental in launching careers of quite a few major artists of the time including Barry McGuire and The Second Chapter of Acts.  The Benson Group in Nashville had several labels, of which Greentree Records was the largest in the contemporary field, with a number of Nashville-based artists including Dallas Holm.  Sparrow Records was a latecomer to the field, but quickly became the label of choice for most of the California-based musicians and dominated a lot of the best music.  Carmichael started the fourth, not in time but in size, Light Records, connected to his Lexicon Music and loosely to Word Records.  Andre Crouch and Resurrection Band were the big names on Light, which featured many other artists in a mostly light contemporary sound.

It also released, on vinyl, a weekly half-hour interview and music radio show, The Ralph Carmichael Radio Special, featuring its new releases.  We would receive these in the mail, a disk on which Ralph himself would talk with an artist and introduce all the songs on the A side of a recent album, and then for the next week the B side of the interview record would cover the B side of the album.  This kind of behind-the-songs program was not really otherwise available in Contemporary Christian music–oh, we made our own when we were able, trying to land extended interviews with artists in the area for concerts or available by telephone from elsewhere, but Carmichael made it easy, putting his young artists in a spotlight that boosted their exposure significantly.  He did a tremendous amount for contemporary Christian music in those days.

He ultimately earned a place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  It was well-deserved.

I still am not a big fan of the kind of music he wrote, but I have a lot of respect for the man himself.

I also have a story he told on himself, which I got from Barry McGuire, but it will arise in connection with another artist later in our series.

#232: Larry Norman, Visitor

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #232, on the subject of Larry Norman, Visitor.

I floated the suggestion on social media that I might begin a somewhat disjointed series of my recollections of the Christian Contemporary and Rock music scene in the late 70s and early 80s, and it was well received, so I’m going to begin.  It seems that one cannot begin such a discussion without Larry Norman, so that is where we will start.

First, though, let’s clarify my credentials.  I was in high school from 1969 through 1973 (that’s four years, fall to spring), and although the east coast was a long way from the center of the action, the Jesus Movement had hit our town hard, so I knew a fair amount of the music of the time.  I then attended two Christian colleges in succession, and after obtaining two degrees in biblical studies along with a lot of exposure to the music my peers were hearing, I tried out for an established Christian band (more on that later) and in 1979 took a job as a disk jockey on a Christian radio station, WNNN-FM, which a short time before my arrival had been ranked the #12 CCM/Christian Rock station in the country, and just before my departure was said still to be on the short list of fifty radio stations which Christian record company promotions people made sure to call every week.  We reported our top songs to the magazine then called Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, which later shortened its name to Contemporary Christian Magazine but kept the CCM logo.  More significantly, during that span of five years and a month I heard every contemporary Christian recording released by a major label, and quite a few independent ones.  I lived this music.

Of course, memory is imperfect, but it’s one of those things that the longer you think about a subject the more you recall, so we’ll be remembering a lot along the way.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

Larry Norman Photograph by Michael Sierra upon induction to San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame

My problem with discussing Larry Norman is that I don’t really feel that I knew him all that well.  I owned a pirated copy of the live performance of Sing that Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation (link is the studio version), and I must have heard other recordings of his.  I jammed on Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus with some college friends who knew it, and knew Six-Sixty-Six, Unidentified Flying Object, and I Wish We’d All Been Ready–three songs strongly reflecting his premillenialism, the last of which made it into a few hymnals–but I was never a serious fan beyond recognizing his importance in the field.  I attended a concert he gave at Gordon College, but only remember the conversation I had with him backstage afterwards (the gist of which is given in my previous web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician); my wife says we heard him again at the Levoy Theater in Millville, New Jersey, but I do not remember so much as being at the Levoy.  I can picture the cover of his cleverly-entitled album Only Visiting This Planet, but barely remember the title song and am not certain I heard any more of it than that.  In the five years I was on the radio station, we never received a single recording from him, so although he was still touring for years (it’s what musicians do, apparently–I recently heard that Blood, Sweat, and Tears was playing at the Levoy) he seemed to have largely dropped off the radar by the early 80s.  He died early in 2008 at sixty years old.

Still, his impact was never insignificant.  He is known to have been instrumental in the salvation of early CCM folk-rock artist Randy Stonehill (and we did receive one album from him during those early 80s years).  He was an acquaintance of Paul McCartney, and I recently heard that Bob Dylan came to Christ in Larry’s kitchen.  He is said to have been the original Christian rock musician, and may well deserve the title.

On the other hand, it might well be argued that his early dominance can be attributed to a lack of competition.  His at times squeaky tenor voice is an acquired taste, and his songs were mostly simple pop progressions and melodies with shallow lyrics–good solid evangelistic material, most of it, but not very competitive with the sounds that would come starting in the mid seventies.  If you liked Larry Norman, it was almost certainly because he was the first decent alternative to secular rock and pop music, or because you had met him and heard him live.  He was charismatic on stage, and well worth seeing in concert.  He was a powerful personality off-stage, and a minister with keen discernment and an understanding of the people he met.  His ministry counts for a great deal, even if his music is not all that remarkable.

And in heavenly terms, that’s what really counts.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

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#181: Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #181, on the subject of Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration.

I have long been of the opinion that the best way to learn to write songs, initially, is to find someone who already does and work with him, in essence apprenticing as a songwriter.  That’s how I learned, although it occurs to me that I never really wondered how my mentor learned.  Still, I had learned quite a bit of music theory and had attempted quite unsuccessfully to write songs before I met him, and very quickly learned the secrets once I started working with him.  I have since worked with quite a few people who had never written a song before, and taught them the basics of how to do so.  So there might be other ways to get started, but working with someone who already knows what he is doing is a tried and true approach.

img0181Music

Because of this, I’m not claiming that anything I write could ever teach you how to write a song.  I can teach you quite a bit of music theory (I did some of that in Mr. Young’s Music Theory Class on Facebook), but to learn to write a song I think you would have to go through the process with me.  On the other hand, this past weekend I persuaded my youngest son to collaborate on a song, and it came out fairly well, and so I am going to attempt to explain the process that brought about the song here.

I am going to state the caveat I have often stated in other contexts:  all songs are different, and there are many different ways in which they come into being.  When people ask whether the words or the music come first, I always say no, because it does not work that way.  There have been times when I have begun with words that had no music, and other times when I had a melody but no lyric, or even a chord progression or background that was worth forming into a song.  How it happened this time is one example, but it shows aspects of process.

It began while I was driving in the car.  I should credit the Reverend Jack Haberer, because if I recall correctly when we were together at Ramsey High School he put under his yearbook picture, “Secretly desires to be born again again,” and the line has stuck with me over the decades.  It was nagging at me as I was driving, so I pulled a digital recorder from my pocket (I have one on my cell phone and another that is just that) and dictated something roughly poetic.  I do this sometimes with ideas for articles, stories, songs, and tasks I should complete, because I know I will forget quite soon if I don’t, and even with the convenience of recorders that I don’t always think to use too many ideas escape me.

Upon arriving home, I played back the recording and cleaned it up a bit, typing up a document that read

If deep in your heart you remember when–
Did you want to be born again again?
The good news is the news is true:
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.
Even you.

So I had the beginning of a song idea, but I had no melody, no music for it at all.

What I did have was a desire to help my youngest son Adam with his own music.  He happens to be a natural–like me, he picks up instruments and figures out how to get music out of them.  He plays the piano for hours, but has very little notion of the names of the chords or key signatures.  He is learning; he questions me frequently, about what he’s doing on the piano or the guitar or the recently-added cello or other instruments.  He is very creative, but he doesn’t often write what we call “songs”–he does improvisational music, and then tries to remember fragments of it, or he records himself jamming at the piano and uploads it to the Internet but can’t otherwise reproduce it.  I wanted to give him something of an understanding of how I write a song, and so I wanted to collaborate with him on something.  I printed those words and kept them on my desk for a couple hours.

He is notoriously difficult to catch, but while I was rushing about getting his mother ready for work I saw him standing in the living room, grabbed the lyrics, and said something on the order of, “I thought you might like to collaborate on a song.  Here are some lyrics to get it started.”  He took them over to the piano and started playing something and singing something.  I was only half listening as I was otherwise occupied, and by the time I joined him he had worked some of the bugs out of it and I tried to pick up his melody.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the rather stock chord progression he had adopted, even with the unusual stray notes, and the melody was nothing terribly original–but the song had vitality and drive, and that fit it extremely well, so I quickly tried to learn his melody, which probably changed a bit in the process.  He had also doubled the end words, so that Even you was sung four times rather than two.

He then grabbed the paper and ran looking for a pencil or pen.  People who know me will wonder that I didn’t just reach into my shirt pocket and hand him one, but around the house I don’t wear the shirt with the pencils, only the pocket T-shirt, so I only sometimes have a pen available.  He grabbed one from the kitchen, and scrawled words on the page as the pen died in his hands.  Still, there was enough there that we had a second verse, and I got one of my pens and filled it in, with a few tweaks, thus:

There in your mind when you feel abused,
Don’t you get tired of being used and used?
Darkness falls, then the light breaks through.
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

After that, we were talking about a bridge.

That progression I mentioned was A minor, G major (with a suspended 4 frill), F major, E major (with a suspended minor second frill)–yes, quite common, quite boring from a musical theory perspective, and it repeated, playing through three times for each verse.  I wanted to exit into a bridge with an unusual transition, and he had played something I liked (he was on the piano, I was on the guitar).  I started talking about where the chord would be “expected” to go, and before I’d gotten very far he told me what chord to play.  Well, he didn’t exactly tell me, “Play an F major 7 with an added augmented four,” but he told me where to put my fingers and that’s the chord he wanted.  As root progressions go, it was not terribly interesting (from the V of VI to the IV), but the dissonance inherent in the chord was interesting, and he wanted to slow it down so I shifted to a light picking (I tend to avoid tempo changes in my songs, preferring meter changes that achieve the same effect but are more precise).  He sang the next words, You want what you want, creating the shape of the melody for the bridge, and then started spitting out words that he liked as individual lines.  I told him to write them down, because it was obvious we were going to lose some potentially good material if we didn’t do something.  He wrote you got the joy, Jesus got the pain, then crossed out Jesus got and replaced it with He took, and added away to the end.  He next wrote your sin is a stain–redemption sustains, but it was all disjointed.  I said I wanted to invert that line, strike the away, and make pain rhyme with stain, but we needed a line between to make it fit.  He suggested you get what you get, and with a bit of scribbling arrows on the page we wound up with

You want what you want.
You got the joy, He took the pain.
You get what you get.
Redemption sustains, sin is a stain.

I still wanted a second bridge, something that would break out of the ordinariness of the progressions so far, because the other chord in this bridge was a G six nine, and we played it in essence F to G to F to G, returning to the original progression–and the melody was only slightly different from that of the verses, although slowed.

My vision at this point was that we were going to write a third verse related to that idea of sin, do a different second bridge, and resolve it in a fourth and final verse.  The tempo being what it is, the song was moving fast and I thought felt short.  I put forward an opening line for the third verse, Asking yourself why you want to sin, and we started talking about what to say next.  The contrast between losing and winning came to the fore, and I wanted to say something about choosing to lose, but couldn’t fit it comfortably and still get to the word win for the rhyme scheme.  Between us we hammered out the second line, and along the way Adam said that the words to win should flow into the next line, the object won opening that line.  I observed that the second line in previous verses always had the double ending–again again, used and used, and that we should maintain the pattern, to win to win–and then that this would achieve what he wanted, if we made it to win.  To win victory in the opening of the next line.  The rest of that flowed quickly, and we had a third verse,

Ask yourself why you want to sin,
Why you lose, you were made to win.  To win
Victory, and to make it through
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

And now we came to the point where I wanted the second bridge, and I pushed for the resolution from the E major to go to something at least a bit unanticipated, the C major.  I also agreed again to reduce the drive.

At this point we needed a progression, and Adam said that he wanted me to go from the C up half a step, so I slid it into the D-flat major.  That certainly satisfied me for unusual progressions, and he liked it as well–but he said we needed to resolve that, and since I was the expert on that point he left it to me.  I decided I could go from the D-flat to the A-flat to the E-flat, and from there I could get back to the C easily enough (all major) and repeat the progression.  I also recognized that the last note of the melody of the verse was the E, and I could hold it into the beginning of the bridge and start this melody on the same note.  The melodic line at the first chord change was tricky, but I managed to bring it down to be on the G by the time we reached the E-flat chord, which was the common note going back to the C chord, and a leap back up to repeat the line worked.  I wrote the words with the melody at this point, and Adam put them on paper.  I also after the second descent held the G with my voice and changed the chord from the E-flat to the G major, thinking that it would give me the leading tones to get back to the A minor for my final verse.

But–

That fourth verse was supposed to resolve the message of the song.  There were probably a lot of things we could have said, but I had none of them in my mind yet and I realized that the unexpected shift to the G major chord provided a musical resolution to the song, and that the words of what was supposed to be the second bridge resolved the message rather well.  I presented the alternatives to Adam–write a closing verse, or end the song here–and he agreed that this was a decent ending for the song.  Thus our fourth verse never materialized, and our second bridge became instead our coda:

Thank God for what He’s done
To set us free
He gave His only Son
For you and me.

And you should be able to hear the song here on SoundCloud.

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#169: Do Web Logs Lower the Bar?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #169, on the subject of Do Web Logs Lower the Bar?.

I noticed something.

img0169Diary

I don’t know whether any of you noticed it, and there is an aspect to it that causes me to hope you did not, to suspect some of you did, and to think that I ought not be calling it to the attention of the rest.  But it is worth recognizing, I suppose, even if it is at my own expense to some degree.

What I noticed was that some of the web log posts I publish are not up the the same standard I would expect of my web pages.

Certainly it is the case that some of the web log subjects are what might be called transient.  I was quite surprised to see in my stats recently that someone visited the page that covered the 2015 election results for New Jersey.  I’m thinking it must have been a mistake.  Yet at the time it was important information, even if in another year it won’t even tell you who is in the Assembly, because we’ll have had another election.

It is also the case that being an eclectic sort of web log it is going to have pages that do not appeal to everyone–indeed, probably there are no pages that appeal to everyone.  I recently lost one of my Patreon supporters, and that saddens me, but he was the only person contributing as a time travel fan, and was not contributing enough to pay for one DVD per year; I’m sure he is disappointed that I haven’t done more time travel pages, but there has not been that much available to me and the budget has been particularly tight.  With pages about law, politics, music, Bible, games, logic problems, and other miscellany, there will certainly be pages that any particular reader would not read.  Yet that has always been true of the web site, and although the web log is not quite as conveniently divided into sections it does have navigation aids to help people find what they want.

What I mean, though, is that I don’t seem to apply the same standard to web log pages as I would to web pages.

I suppose that’s to be expected.  As I think about it, I recognize that I put a lot more time and thought into articles I am writing for e-zines and web sites that are not my own.  I expect more of myself, hold myself to a higher standard, when I am writing such pieces.  For one thing, I can’t go back and edit them later–which on my own site I will only do for obvious errors, never for content.  For another, something of mine published by someone else should represent the best that I can offer, both for my own reputation and for that of the publisher.  If you’re reading my work at RPGNet, or the Christian Gamers Guild, or The Learning Fountain, or any of the many other sites for which I’ve written over the decades, you might not know any more about me than what you find there.

It’s also the case that, frankly, anyone can set up his own web site, fairly cheaply and easily, write his own articles, and publish them for the world to ignore.  There is a limited number of opportunities for someone to write for someone else’s site, and to be asked to do so, or permitted to do so, is something of a recognition above the ordinary.

Of course, there are even fewer opportunities to write for print, and fewer now than there once were.  Not that you can’t publish your own printed books and comics and magazines, but that those that exist are selective in what they will print, and so the bar is higher.

The web log system makes it quicker and easier to write and publish something.  I suspect that there are many bloggers out there who open the software, start typing what they want to say, and hit publish, as if it were an e-mail.  I maintain a higher standard than that–all of my web log posts are composed offline, and with the only exceptions being the “breaking news” sort (like the aforementioned election results page) they all get held at least overnight, usually several days, reread and edited and tweaked until I am happy with them.  (As I write this, there are two web log posts awaiting publication which have been pending for two days, and I will review this one several times over the time that they go to press.)  But even so, the standard of what I will publish as a web log post is considerably lower than that which I will publish as a web page.

In that sense, the web log becomes more like diary, something in which you compose your thoughts and then ignore them–except that this diary is open to the world.  I think–I hope–all bloggers put more thought and care into their web log posts than they do into forum conversations and Tweets and Facebook posts.  However, while I have read some web log posts that were excellent, I have also read a few that caused me to wonder whether the author was thinking.  I try to keep some standard here, but I admit that sometimes I wonder whether I posted something because I thought it was worth posting or because I wanted to keep the blog living and active.

In any case, if you read something here and wonder why I bothered to post it, perhaps now you have a better idea of that.

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#168: Praying for You

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #168, on the subject of Praying for You.

A number of years ago I was playing quite a few venues and interacting with quite a few other Christan musicians, and something began to bother me.  At first it was that we needed to support and encourage each other, and I took steps to do this, connecting venues with artists as I was able.  However, I realized that no one had ever mentioned praying for me, and I had not mentioned praying for anyone else in music ministry, and that this was something I should remedy.  I sent notes to–well, quite a few people whom I knew were involved in music ministry, and offered to pray for them on condition that they keep me informed of their situation (that’s going to be explained).  A very few accepted my offer; one offered to reciprocate.  Then over the next year or so they all dropped off the radar, as it were, no longer answering my inquiries about their situation, and today I again have no Christian musicians on my prayer list.

And that just is not right, so this is an attempt to fix that.

img0168Hands

On the other hand, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m being exclusive.  I have quite a few Christian ministers on my “friends” list who are not musicians, or not primarily musicians, and quite a few who are not involved in ministry but would want my prayers (and some of you are indeed already getting them, whether you want them or not).  So I am putting this forward as a sort of “open offer”, that anyone who wants me to pray for him (or her or them) should contact me, and I will put you on my prayer list.

However, I have a few conditions.

The one idea that is not a condition is that you pray for me.  I would not feel at all right saying that I will pray for you if you will pray for me–it’s too mercenary, I suppose.  I certainly do not object to you praying for me, and if you wish for me to meet conditions similar to those I am about to state here, I will certainly endeavor to comply.  Nor is it a condition that you support my Patreon or PalPal.me campaigns–a lot of people who need prayer don’t have money, although I’m sure that people who have a lot of money still need prayer (not something I really know from personal experience).  I am certainly grateful to those of you who do support my efforts in any way at all, but I need to assure those who cannot do so or cannot justify doing so that they will not be treated the worse for that.

My conditions are based on II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

What I derive from that is the point that God wants us to agree in prayer, and answers prayers when more of us are agreeing, because that way when He answers there are more of us saying thank You to Him for the answer.  That, though, means that if I am going to pray for you, I also have to know how God is answering those prayers.  So this is how it works.

  1. You must connect with me through Facebook.  If we are not already “Friends” send a “Friend Request”, and I’ll approve it and ask how we’re connected.  Just tell me that you read this post and wanted me to pray for you, along with some idea of who you are (for example, pastor, Christian musician, Christian gamer, reader of my other materials).  I am betting that I will already have some notion of who most people who want my prayers are, but I don’t always connect names to people quickly, so at least jog my memory.  I do not really do e-mail–every few months I download a few hundred letters, throw most of them away, and see if there’s anything important in what remains.  Facebook is the way I communicate.
  2. Tell me enough about your situation that I can pray intelligently.  This is not Romper Room (and I pray for Sally, and Jeff, and Mary, and Mark….).  If I’m to know how God answers these prayers, I have to be praying for something particular enough that you can tell me about the answer.  I have a theological objection to those “unspoken” requests which I should probably discuss somewhere sometime, but as Paul says about people who pray in tongues in public meetings, if I don’t know what is being prayed, how can I say “amen”?
  3. Which of course brings up the final condition.  Probably about once a month I’m going to get a reminder to drop you a note to ask what is happening.  That’s so you can tell me what good things God has done and I can give thanks for them, and so you can update me regarding what I ought to be praying.  If I miss a month, don’t worry–I’m still praying.  If you miss a month, don’t worry, I’ll keep praying for a few months without hearing anything.  However, after a few months I’ll decide that you’re not answering and I’ll drop you from the list.  I can’t very well give thanks to God for answers to prayers on your behalf if you don’t tell me what God has done on your behalf.  You are, of course, welcome to drop me notes between my reminders, either to let me know about God’s answers or to redirect my prayers.  I do not want your impersonal newsletter; I want to interact with you directly, to hear from you what God is doing.  If it’s not worth a few minutes to do that, you don’t really want my prayers.

So that’s the offer.  I should caveat that the only people for whom I pray every day are my wife and myself (she because she deserves it, I because I need it); how often I pray for you will depend on a lot of factors including how many people ask for prayer, how serious I perceive your need, and the limits of the program that manages the prayer list.  Obviously I am offering to pray for individuals, but the offer also extends to individuals who want me to pray for a ministry they represent, such as their band, who thus are promising to keep me informed regarding the band.  I also don’t promise that I won’t give you advice if I think you’re asking for prayer about something with which I can help; it’s free advice, and you can decide whether it’s worth as much as you paid for it without offending me.  You can also ask me to stop praying for you (which I assume you would do if my monthly queries are irksome) and I’ll take you off the list.

I think that covers it.  Any questions?

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