Sunday, July 27, 2008

"God is my co-pilot, and the Virgin Mary is my hot stewardess" (American Dad)

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Life Spent Reading (Pt. 1: Childhood Roots)

The other day I posted a picture of my book collection (most of it, anyway), and it got me wondering once again, how in the world did it get to this? Why do most of the people I know own just a few books, and I own over a thousand? Is there a rhyme or a reason to this exorbitant amount of literary accumulation?

For as long as I can remember, books and time spent reading have been an integral part of my life. In fact, some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to me, her arms around me holding a book that we would both be looking at as she read and I either followed along or looked at the pictures while my imagination was carried off in the pages of books like The Velveteen Rabbit (one of my mother's favorites) and Where The Wild Things Are. My favorite childhood picture is of me, at 3 years old, sitting next to a record player with a book in front of me (only a bubble-pipe in my mouth could have made the picture any better). I like to think I was listening to music while reading (as I'm fond of saying that my life hasn't really changed since then), but I remember those books that came with a little record inside of them all too well. A narrator would read the book, usually along with wonderful sounds and character actors playing their part of the story. I had a whole shelf full of these, and I am grateful to my parents for so much encouragement in getting me to read so early in life. My mother even says that she used to read to me before I was born. She used to talk about her own love of reading as a child, saying she would often stay up all night and read a book (like White Fang) from start to finish, simply because she couldn't put it down. I remember how I was influenced by that idea and wanted to do the same thing, staying up well into the night, even that early, as a child, either in my room or in the blanket-tent/fort I would make in our living room on weekends, trying to read a book from start to finish. I usually couldn't make it through to the end the way my mother did, though. (One Saturday in 5th grade, I tried to read The Red Badge Of Courage straight through, and I have a distinct memory of wishing that book would end already, but plowing on in spite of my boredom with it. Even in childhood I was growing the roots of OCD that wouldn't let me not finish a book I started, no matter how much I wasn't enjoying it!)
My father was an English lit major during his first go at college, and in my later life now, I fully see the influence that had on me (at some point in recent years, I realized I was buying a lot of books that he already had copies of. Our interests in literature had begun to overlap). Our house always had shelves full of books, which I would play with as a child even before I was old enough to understand anything written inside of them. I think this early and constant, intimate and comfortable exposure to books certainly led to a development of a love for books themselves, as talismanic objects of wonder and enjoyment in my life. One of my favorite parts of the school year was the Scholastic book order. I can only vaguely remember anything I ordered from there (usually a Guinness book of world records was acquired yearly…something that may have subliminally led to my love of Guinness beer later in life), but I distinctly remember the thrill I felt when my stack of new books came in! (I still get something of that thrill as an adult through the magic of…) I also have summertime memories of joining the reading club at the library, where you would get prizes or something for reading a certain amount of books…

In 6th grade, in an otherwise educationally vacuous Christian school experience, I had one of the best teachers of my life. Mr. Wynn Clack was one of those teachers that you are proud to have known, someone who knew how to reach kids and get them interested in school in a way that is all too rare. One of the keys to his success was the freedom we had as students to pursue that which interested us. He had a love of history and had copies of historic newspaper front-pages hung up on the back wall that we could peruse and become familiar with without a single word of their history needing to be taught to us. We learned history because we were fascinated by these moments of history displayed before us. He loved photography, and we were allowed to bring cameras to class and take pictures at will. I took full advantage of this, possibly more than anyone else in the class, and have an album full of great childhood memories from that year. And Mr. Clack always gave us free reign of as much time as he could to read - whatever we wanted to read. Time spent reading in class was time well spent in his estimation, and looking back on my school years, I would say it was some of the best quality time I've ever spent in class. That was one year I truly loved going to school and looked forward to class time. That was also a transitional year for me in regards to my reading abilities and the kinds of books I was reading. The books I read were having a more profound (and sometimes embarrassingly silly) impact and effect on my life. I read my first C.S. Lewis book in 6th grade - an author who is still one of my top 5 favorites (I'll let you make the obvious guess as to "witch" book that was. Suffice it to say, playtime in the winter took on a whole new dimension in my imagination after that, with snow-covered tree landscapes transforming themselves into a place called Narnia). I read Johanna Spyri's "Heidi" (unaware of the "fruity" implications there may have been for a 6th grade boy to be reading such a book) and her description of the evening sky catching on fire developed in me the beginnings of a lifelong love of sunsets... (descriptions of the grandfathers meals for Heidi also inspired me to start snacking on cheese chunks with buttered bread and of those random odd influences literature can have on an open and impressionable young mind, and something I still do to this day). As a sort of counter-balance to reading Heidi, I read my first Mark Twain book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - a book whose influence on my life probably would have horrified my parents (I took to sneaking out of the house late at night sometimes to walk to the "cemetery" about a mile from our house. If you don't know why, read the book!). I fell in love with these books and the adventures they contained more than any books I had read before. I got lost in the worlds they depicted, and I reread Tom Sawyer a handful of times - it was my guide to life as a 6th grader. I still count it as an all-time favorite.

It wouldn't be until a couple years later that a book would influence me as much, and that book was one that would influence my entire life as a teenager. A book whose influence has been shared by millions of teenagers for the past few decades, written by an author whose few books opened up a world for teenagers the likes of which had never been portrayed in literature in that way before. A book about teens that didn't focus on prom-drama or dating or changing bodily functions, but rather one where the teens were in charge of their own lives, and authority was all but absent (the kind of world most teens dream about)... A legendary classic called The Outsiders…
(to be continued...)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Books in My Life

some of my book collection. the books on the main shelf there on the left of the picture are all double-shelved. so there's a whole other case worth of books hiding back there! Unfortunately, most of my favourite books are hiding in the back behind what are probably more recent acquisitions that by default found an easy resting place in front. My near-if-not-complete collection of books by Buechner, Merton, Dillard, Nouwen, L'Engle, Percy, Dostoevsky, Flannery O'Conner, Charles Williams, and others are all hiding behind works of relatively lesser value to me. But I do love them all. the Stephen King collection is hiding in the dark of my closet where it seems to belong.
I put the shelves in the hallway up over Memorial Day weekend, and those are single-shelved (I used to have a double-shelved case there, but walking through the hallway was a bit tricky without turning sideways, so I bought some smaller shelves - suprisingly hard to find shelves that aren't a foot deep!). I have a couple hundred books elsewhere, but this is the bulk of my library.

Monday, July 21, 2008

River on Fire

I don't know where to stop with my youtube obsession, but I was just listening to this song by Adam Again and struck by how good it is and how well it holds up over the years, no matter which side of the CCM /secular divide you may be on. Christian rock has produced a lot of crap in its time, more than its fair share, but it has also produced some absolute gems that make it all worth listening to. this is one of those cannon classics that does it for me every time...

What would you say if you knew what I was thinking?
Maybe you do, but you know not to dig too deep
What if i knew what you needed for sure?
I've seen in your eyes you need more, much more
And I could be happy, and you could be miserable
I'll grab a metaphor out of the air
The Cuyahoga River on fire
What can you say? The impossible happens
What can you settle for?
What can you live without?
I remember the night I first darkened your door
And I swore that I loved you
My heart was pure
You could be happy, and I could be miserable
I'll grab a metaphor out of the air
The Cuyahoga River on fire
My open window, a dream in the dark
My fingers, your face
A spark, a trace...
I know a lot about the history of Cleveland, Ohio
Disasters that have happened there
Like the Cuyahoga River on fire

Monday, July 07, 2008

"What about love...?"

I love Youtube. Finally some video footage of possibly the most legendary Cornerstone concert ever. I remember the chills I got listening to this final song of the '93 fest, up on the hill, when Mike Knott came out in a full-blown clown outfit and sang one of the darkest songs in the CCM rock canon. The symbolism was genius, the screams chilling, and this show is still talked about as one of the highlights in Cornerstone's history 15 years later...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

"There's nothing left but ashes where there was once a stolen kiss"

Sorry for the German guy intro, but I'd kill to have a copy of this whole Flevo concert from '89. Some of the best footage I've ever seen of Rez mowing the heads off the audience with their no-holds-barred classic rock onslaught. Rez was hands-down the biggest influence in my life and Christian faith from the first time I saw them back in '84 (where they gave me my first dose of a lifetime's worth of tinnitus) through my post-college years. I didn't get a chance to see them at Cornerstone this year where they performed a reunion concert, but I am planning on driving out to Muskeegon in early August to catch the only other reunion show they will be performing at the much cheaper, much closer, and much shorter "Unity Fest". I think their days of intense, high-energy aural assault are sadly long-over (as evidenced by what little footage I saw of the Cstone performance, with Wendi looking like she was performing for little kids rather than veteran rock fans, Stu just looks old, and John just looks tired), but I'll still enjoy the trip down memory lane... Until then, excuse me while I warm-up and psych-out with a few videos from the classic years...

"Regrets half-felt and sin half-loved...I say faith is just for fools...somebody tell me, what's the use?"
Another one from the same show, I think Rez does the mellow bluesier stuff just as good as the hard stuff, and the lyrics are always genuine and hit the mark for me. but don't take my word for it, I'm as biased about this band as they come!

"Angel-dust and tortured dreams say I'd be better dead"
This one is easily my favourite Rez song of all-time, and I was at this performance, down in the very front (as I usually was at most Rez shows). I'm still asking those questions, and sometimes I hear those voices (as we probably all do at one time or another). "You chase the shadows because your hopes and dreams have been lost to the night..."
from Cornerstone 1994:

And no Rez concert would be complete without a little "talk" from Glenn Kaiser. a segment that over the years (ever since Bootleg) has somewhat oddly been dubbed "Glenn's Rap":

and since I'm already loading up this post with enough video to make your computer come to a crashing halt trying to download it, I might as well throw in this little bonus clip just for fun. Evidence proving one reviewer's claim many years ago who wrote the classic line (in response to the general idea that Stryper was the first "Christian metal" band) that Rez band was playing metal when the members of Stryper were still playing with crayons! Think of it as the encore in my little Rez Band concert blog. A 10-minute window onto prime-era Resurrection Band, a full-on full-energy blast from the past that I kind of wish was audio-only (although that double-neck guitar is classic Stu!). This is the fashion of the 70's trying to merge with the 80's on a group of 60's Jesus Freak hippies, and it can be a little painful to look at for those of us who prefer our Rez band metal to be clothed in black leather. (I could really do without the Hawaiian(?) shirt is all I'm saying...)