Tag Archives: music

My first post at Paradise Uganda blog

I forgot to tell you that I posted my first post at the Paradise, Uganda blog. I actually posted it before my little musing the other day but it ironically touched on the same theme: being on the outside, looking in, and wondering why you’re there.

For the record, what I originally thought I was volunteering to write is nothing like where my blog posts are going – and with the blessing of my dear friends. Rather than help with the fundraising “rah rah”, I’m writing more about faith and life and … well, stuff that’s where I’m most comfortable. Yay!

Here’s the beginning of the post; there’s a link at the end that’ll take you to the Paradise, Uganda blog where you’ll also see a little video of Jesse in Africa:

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When my friend Jesse Sprinkle asked me if I wanted to be involved in a project he was working on, I didn’t ask what it was or what he needed from me. There are moments in your life when someone asks and you say yes and you know it’s exactly as it should be.

I’m not a musician. I’m not a missionary. I’m not a fundraiser or a world traveler. I’m not hip or cool or trendy.

I’m just a writer. For years I’ve written feature articles in magazines and websites on everything from entertainment to dog food. I love telling stories. So when Jesse asked me to join the team for Paradise, Uganda, I signed on for the one task I knew how to do: blog.

It’s never easy jumping into a project that’s already been moving along at mach speed. It’s difficult to find your place, to keep up, to feel part of the crowd. The things I’d originally planned to blog about … well, they just don’t seem like where I’m supposed to be. The ideas I had … someone else has them, too. The things I thought I brought to the table … not so helpful right now.

It would be easy to just back out, just say, “Gee, I don’t think I’m supposed to be here, I think I made a mistake” and go home and hide under a rock because I don’t fit in.

And yet I know I’m supposed to be here. I don’t know how or why I know, I just do. (Click here to finish reading on the Paradise, Uganda blog)

Caution: influence may appear much bigger in rear view mirror

I was cleaning my office on Sunday – I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor – and for reasons I can’t explain pulled out the old CD player and a box of my favorite CDs and started blasting music.

I mean, blasting music. Windows open, breeze blowing in, music pouring out.

I haven’t done that in a long, long long time, since before I crawled under my emotional rock and curled up into a ball with the dogs and dust bunnies.

But on Sunday? It was rock and roll and sing out loud and dance with whichever dog was closest to me.

I’m no musician, and I couldn’t tell you anything about the art of making music. Which, of course, is why I always felt like a fraud when I was covering music. I just know what makes me happy,  makes my blood tingle and my spirit soar. And doggone it, I love a song I can sing along with. Loudly and off-key.

What I loved about covering music was the people. I’d go to music events and pick the unknown bands to interview, especially the ones who had the time to hang out and talk, who weren’t dishing out pat, rehearsed answers about how they wanted to share Christ with their music when in reality, they just loved making music and being on stage. Which of course was often not only the more honest answer, but the one that may actually have served God the most.

So this music I was blasting away on Sunday made me think of old friends. A lot of CDs were from artists I know or I’d interviewed and remained friends with, or music that was playing while I was with friends having fun times and making memories.

But I didn’t just listen. In between listening to music and doing the cha-cha with Bandit, I actually contacted with those friends. Sent a little Facebook “I’m thinking about you today” hello.

It was awesome.

I had a discussion, for example, with an artist pal who caught me up on the band and added that he hoped big things would happen soon. I told him, “Hopefully big things will happen soon – but remember that just doing what you’re supposed to be doing might actually be the ‘big thing’. You just might not get to see how big it is until it’s in the rearview mirror.” He said that was actually encouraging.

The truth is, that was something I needed to be reminded of, too. Trying to lift the boulder I’ve been living under has been exhausting, and when I look at the work that needs to be done to clean house – literally and figuratively – I can get overwhelmed.

Which is why I am so grateful that, while at a writing conference a few years ago, someone encouraged us to create a writing mission statement to help guide us when things got overwhelming. Here’s mine:

“Connect. Inspire. Change the world.”

Nothing drastic. No plans for world peace (I can’t even manage dog peace in my own house). No specific goals to save the world or feed the hungry – although those are all tasks that happen within that little mission statement (although not nearly as much as they used to happen, which may be one of the contributing factors in my years under the rock. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

I’m reminded of that quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which I often share but will share again because it’s so darned inspiring for me (bold emphasis mine):

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

There’s nothing in there about meeting page view goals, making money, or being a literary rock star. I’m good at a few things: connecting people and encouraging people, and hopefully in the process facilitating others to fulfill their missions in life and thereby be a link in the chain that will change the world. 

So here I am, halfway through the week, feeling so flipping fantastic, so happy to have reached out to people and found them still there, to be reminded that nothing more is expected of me than to do exactly what I’m supposed to do today.

Which, if I’m reading the signs right,  means some serious puppy snuggling.

Davy Jones dies; goodbye, my childhood!

Sad news today: Davy Jones of The Monkees died today at 66. Goodbye childhood!

Of my earliest childhood entertainment memories, The Monkees are at the front of the line (followed very closely by “That Girl” and Carol Burnett, but that’s a story for another day).

In fact, as a child I got to meet The Monkees. How’s that for cool? (And possibly where the seeds for my entertainment writing stint were sown? We’ll never know, will we.)

The Monkees had flown into the Rochester, NY airport. It was maybe 1967 and I was maybe three-years-old, but I was old enough for the memory to be imprinted on my brain. I knew where we were going and who we were going to see. There was a crowd, and I remember being at the fence as the guys got off the plane – this was back when people got off the plane and walked around on the tarmac.

And then they came over to us, and I remember being scared. One of them had a beard and was carrying a movie camera and had it pointed as the crowd; my mom thinks it was Mickey. Someone – she thinks Davy Jones – wanted to reach over the fence to hold me and I started screaming like a baby.

Well, I pretty much was still a baby!

My mom thinks there may be a slide photo of the moment somewhere in the cases and cases of projector carousels I have stored in my spare bedroom that date back to the early 60s.

Yes, Kodak holds a special place in our hearts here in Rochester, and in our personal photo albums. It’s more than the decline of a company as Kodak gets out of the picture business; it’s the end of an era of memory-making. But I digress

Watching the video clip of the opening and closing credits from “The Monkees”, I realize how much pop culture really does shape our lives. It can be for good or bad – methinks today’s music falls on the bad side of the spectrum.

But in this case, it was good. Very bubble gum, pop rock, innocent cutesy, let’s try and walk like The Monkees because it’s fun kind of good. Super innocent, puppy love, Marcia Brady falls in love with Davy Jones kind of good.

It probably won’t surprise you that from The Monkees I graduated to … ta da! The Osmonds!

My sister and I reminisced today about seeing The Osmonds in concert – I was seven years old, I’m pretty sure. My dad took me and my sister, and my cousins came in from Pittsfield to see the show with a guy named Ernie who was dating their mom. I remember the opening act – Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods, of ” One Is The Loneliest Number” – and that my dad bought me a life sized poster of Donny Osmond that hung on the back of my bedroom door until til it fell apart.

Sigh. Innocent pop music. Those were the days.

Today is a sad day. Rest in peace, Davy Jones. And thanks for the memories!

PS: My dad just called. He now lives in Pennsylania and he’d forgotten until he saw the local news tonight that Davy Jones actually lived in Middleburg, PA, just up the road half hour from where he is in Milton. Who would have guessed? See, your childhood never really goes too far away, does it? They’re going to have a celebration this weekend. Wish I could make the trip; it would be fun to have another Monkees moment, even if it is a sad one.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dorkiest of all?

I'm definitely not as cool as I look like I think I am in this picture from 2008.

So my editor at Beliefnet wants me to send a photo for the new header they’re doing for the Gospel Soundcheck blog.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, I have gone back to blogging about Christian music at Beliefnet, after a hiatus of about 8 months. A year or so ago, the company was sold, and in the time I was away they’ve changed the blogging platform and given the blogs a nice little facelift.

So now it’s time for mine to get prettied up.

On a positive note, we’ve changed the tagline from something about being a backstage pass to  your favorite Christian music artists to “where Christian music meets the world.” Which really better reflects the direction I want to go. “Not so snarky anymore” didn’t seem quite so professional. Or realistic. (I’m trying, honest I am.)

But a photo? Seriously? Who needs to see my face on the blog?

When we first did the blog header back in 2008, I sent along a few snapshots I took using my camera and the timer feature. I don’t like seeing pictures of myself, and the one they picked to use I should never have sent. I look like I think I’m hip and cool, which I most definitely am not.

And one of the first readers to leave a comment on the blog said I was fat. So I don’t have any warm attachments to that picture. But trying to replace it isn’t going to be easy.

Not only am I … wait, let me count it out … 2008 … 2009 … 2010 … 2011 … that many years older, I also weigh a little more. And every picture I take using my camera or webcam looks ridiculous.

Plus, and this is going to be the most difficult, my editor said I can’t have any dogs in the photo. What?! All I have are pictures of the dogs. How about chickens? Or a duck?

Me and my snuggle duck.

Maybe I could wear a hat. I look good in hats.

Looks like rain!

I got a couple of OK pics from the webcam but the quality isn’t that great. The quality with my regular camera is super, but the pictures are stupid. That’s because the fuzzier the photo is, the better I look.

The webcam photos are ... eh, so so.

 

The fuzzier the photo, the better I look

Maybe they should use this school photo from my elementary school days. It is one of my favorites, after all.

When I look in the mirror, this is who I see!

It’s official: the Gospel Soundcheck blog is back

I did something this morning that some of you might find strange: I signed a contract with Beliefnet to reactivate the Gospel Soundcheck blog.

I know, I know. When I stopped writing about Christian music last year I went out with … well, exhaustion, frustration, and more than a little bit of cynacism. I was tired. I was frustrated, and yes, after 10 years I was jaded and cynical.

 But I also had a few bucks in my pocket, so I could afford to be self righteous.

After almost a year, I find that not only do I miss the pay, I miss writing the blog. Honest! I do!

I miss working with a great editor (Dena, I miss you!). I miss being involved on a daily basis with great publicists and artists, and I miss looking out for stories that other Christian music sites miss.

I didn’t miss this season of “American Idol”. Not one tiny bit. That I don’t know who competed or who won or who the judges even are any more makes me so happy I could get on the table and dance. In fact, hold on a minute while I do just that.

So when the opportunity came to go back to Beliefnet, I admit that I blew it off. Several times. But more and more I found myself saying, “Gee, I wish I was still writing that blog because this is a great story.” When my friend, musician Dan Kulp, and his wife went to Eastern Europe to adopt their third special needs child. When I saw that Jesse Sprinkle was going to Uganda again, and this time taking his 12 year old daughter. When I chatted with my pal Matt from Wavorly and wished I could tell everyone about a showcase they were playing in NYC. And on and on.

So after talking with the new music editor, Stephen Russ, and finding that we get along swimmingly, and talking about blogging ideas and the new company and how this all will work, I’m happy to say – yes, really happy! – that I signed a contract this morning. I hope Stephen knows what he just got himself into.

I’ll let you know when the blog is back up and running; make sure you “like” the Gospel Soundcheck page on facebook to keep up to date with news. And watch for stories about artists in and out of Christian music that are doing positive and life changing things, stories that will hopefully inspire you.

And thanks in advance for your support and your story ideas!

Katy Perry on her gospel start, her music, and more on CBS Sunday Morning (video)

Back when I was writing the Gospel Soundcheck blog for Beliefnet, I wrote a story about Katy Perry and her gospel album. At the time, it wasn’t a fact much in the media, and since I was just starting to write the blog (in 2008) I needed a story that would grab page views … er, I mean readers.

Did it ever. That story even got me an interview request from a very popular entertainment show who wanted me to talk about Katy Perry and her faith. I declined; I don’t know Katy Perry or anything about her faith. But I knew Christian music. At least, Christian music in 2008.

Anyway, over the two years I wrote the  blog, I got to learn more about Katy Perry and sit in on a publicity teleconference. And I fell in love.

Sure, her music is a little edgy; hearing 5-year-olds on the playground singing “I Kissed A Girl” is a little weird. But Katy Perry is so darn likable it’s hard to judge her for making super catchy songs. (Go ahead, try and get that little ditty out of your head.)

Besides, she doesn’t seem to me to be an opportunist. She’s an artist with a super quirky personality, a super supportive family, lots of talent, and a marketable … well, everything. All celebs do the same thing; she’s just more honest about it.

You can check out my post about Katy Perry on the Gospel Soundcheck - and be sure to “like” the Gospel Soundcheck Facebook page for some news about the blog, coming next week!

So maybe I miss Christian music – but just a little

I interviewed Barry Graul this morning. He’s the guitarist for MercyMe. You know the band, even if you don’t know the name; their crossover hit “I Can Only Imagine” was huge. Today we talked about loving your neighbor, because the band is on the road in support of their most recent project, “The Generous Mr. Lovewell.” (The article will run in the June issue of the Christian Voice Magazine.)

It was a great conversation. And for just a minute, I missed Christian music. I missed talking to artists; I missed chatting with band members, tossing around thoughts and ideas outside of the normal “how did your band get its name” questions.

But it only lasted a minute. When I hung up the phone, I remembered that covering Christian music on a daily basis also meant receiving piles of redundant & uninspiring CDs every week, and fluff and phonies, and dealing with readers so entrenched in the Christian consumer culture that they forgot about Jesus.

I needed today’s interview, if only to remind myself of the things I used to really enjoy about covering Christian music.

And now … on to write a dog article.

Musicians On Call – using talents for a greater good

I heard an ad for this organization today and thought it sounded really interesting – and it is!

Musicians On Call is a group of artists who donate their talents to people in health care facilities, both through live performances and recorded material.

They give bedside performances, have a CD “pharmacy” of recorded music they provide at no charge to health care facilities, and even help patients record their own music.

What a great way to use a talent to help others! It’s so unique – and makes me wonder about other ways that we can use our gifts for greater good.

Loving our neighbors isn’t just about giving money. And there are many ways to serve others than in a soup kitchen or on a home construction site (two common volunteer activities).

So take a minute today and ponder this: What talents do you have that you could use to serve others?

Page view whoring and the dark side of online writing

Do we really need to know who slept with whom and what other skeletons celebrities have in their closets?

Over on another blog where I cover Christian music, I posted a quick note about American Idol season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino’s alleged overdose on “aspirin and sleep aids”.

I briefly commented in the post - again, because I rant about this frequently on that blog – that I hate writing about celebrity news. I mean, in the whole scheme of things do we need to know that a pop star may or may not have had an affair with a married man, and do the parties involved really need their dirty laundry hung out for the world to see?

But my job on that blog is to write about music, Christian music, and anything remotely related to Christian music, and since American Idol has been one of the driving forces on that blog for two years, I felt I needed to at least mention the story.

That, and I’m expected to generate a certain number of page views every month if I want to get paid.

And after two years, I have learned that news about the release of a new worship album generates zero page views and pop star gossip draws all the readers.

I call it page view whoring, and it’s the dark side of online writing. Continue reading

That song that's stuck in my head

I woke up this morning with a song stuck in my head. That happens once in a while. Usually it’s a tune that I’ve never heard before.

I’m not a musician, so it’s not like I can write the song down or record it. Usually, it only takes a few minutes for the song to fly away from my mind when I wake up. But today, I woke up with a familiar song in my head and I can’t get rid of it.

The song?

Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train.” Good grief.

I have no idea where that song came from. I haven’t heard it in a million years, and I didn’t dream about it last night. And yet there it was this morning, in my head, and it’s been playing over and over and over all day.

Somebody make it stop. Please.

I’ve tried several times to read the book “This Is Your Brain On Music,” because in it the author supposedly explains why songs get stuck in our head. But it’s so technical that I can’t get past the first chapter or two.

I’ve heard that when you get a song stuck in your head it’s like your brain is itching and the song satisfies it. I don’t know if I believe that. This is like nails on chalkboard. Which is not very satisfying at all.

Oh well. If Ihave to hear this song all day, I thought you might want to join me. Because once you hear it, it’s not going away.

Visit my new blog, Bark Around Town!