Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wilco (the blog post)

So, like I said in the last post, I saw Wilco. First time for me. It was one of the best shows I've seen. Liam Finn, a multi-instrumentalist, chronic looper and rock and roll progency, opened the show. Very cool. Wilco's got a new record out, called "Wilco (the album)", which has a song called "Wilco (the song)" (more about that in a minute). My wife bought a tote bag at the show, which has on it silk screened "Wilco (the tote)".

I've only recently really been into Wilco. They've been on my radar for a while, ever since their first record, "A.M.". But, they never really clicked for me until the last year or so. Now, much like Superdrag for me, I'm trying to get ahold of everything on vinyl by them that I can. I know, though, that, initially, I wasn't interested. Let me take you back to 1995.

In the early 90's, there was "alternative" music, and the teenagers saw that it was good. They bought copious amounts of it. Most of them didn't realize that, since they'd mainstreamed this "alternative" (read: Grunge), that it was no longer alternative. During that whole time when all these flannel wearers killed glam rock, there was a whole other undercurrent, which was the "No Depression" movement. Well, maybe not a movement. But, it was its own thing. It was called alt. country, Americana or who knows what else. It was rocked up country. Twangy punk. Whatever. And elitist music snobs like myself saw that IT was good, too. But, most others didn't notice.

Out of old country, rock and even punk influence came this Alternative Country stuff, and Uncle Tupelo was a part of it. The Jayhawks, too. And some other great bands as well. Uncle Tupelo played twangy country loudly. And there were two main guys in UC: Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. In a few years, deals were signed, tours were booked, a major label record was recorded and released, and the fighting and pettyness that success can bring reared its pointed little head. Jay wouldn't sing back up on Jeff's songs when they toured, they got into physical altercations, and so forth. UC split. Jay formed Son Volt. Jeff formed Wilco.

I read about all this at the time, and here's what I thought. Aren't two gifted songwriters better than one? Why are they such big babies? They're living the dream as rock stars. They were living MY dream, and they were being whiny brats. They were what was wrong with music, where musicians did their own thing instead of collaboration, and music suffered. I still think that somewhat today. After all, why can't artists work together when their best work was made together? Why can't churches work together instead of splintering?

Early on in ministry, I once suggested at a meeting of ministers in my town that we just all form one church, just like the early church only had one church in each town. It was so absurd to them, that they didn't even acknowledge that I said it. So, instead of pooling resources, manpower and prayers, small towns all across this country have 10-20 churches, most of them dying. Yeah, that's much better than my idea. Anyway....

Jay and Jeff split, formed two bands, and it was kind of like a divorce for music fans. I picked Jay's Son Volt, at least initially. He had his album out first. The single was good, and Wilco's record, "A.M", didn't get the airplay that Jay's record did. (This was pre-internet-as-music-conduit, kiddies). I stayed up with Son Volt for a while, bought CD's by both artists, but didn't spin 'em as much as other records. I thought I was vindicated in my indictment of both guys: their selfishness had allowed art to suffer.

Then I hear "Wide Swing Tremelo", Son Volt's best record. Then I hear "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Wilco's best. Then, I stand corrected. These guys are doing way better following their vision than compromising it for each other.

As always, there's Bible to back it up.

36Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." 37Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41)

Long story short, the Gospel is preached to more places because of the parting of the ways here. Some separation and subsequent segmentation can be good. Uncle Tupelo begat two great bands. I've read a few ministers and Christian authors lamenting the number of church plants that we have in U.S. They think that those church planters should use established churches, I guess. It sounds good, but those churches are so entrenched in their culture sometimes that they can't see any other way to reach out, if they reach out at all.

A friend of mine planted a church close to another church that I'd attended. He'd attended there as well, and had left the community for several years. He came back to plant this church, and, while in that process, talked to the leadership of the church we'd both attended (confused yet?) At the time, I thought, how could he do this? This is a church that has really cared for him. How could he plant another church (rival church, in my thinking) so close to ours? He knew something that I didn't, that our church, because of its traditions and conventions, just wasn't getting the job done, wasn't reaching out to the community and becoming a part of it. I didn't see it, because I didn't know that churches could do that. I'd never seen it work that way.

A lot of ministers I know don't like church plants. I have to say that there is a lot of people coming to Christ because of them, that may not have if there had not been a Christian presence where they were at. They don't have the baggage that some more established churches do. They don't have to appease any group of people in their church, because they don't have any groups in their church. They just have people.

I would also mention church splits in regard to this. Granted, church splits can be very bad, very hurtful, but I also believe that they can be a way to reach out, to give more variety to how we preach the Gospel, much like using different translations of the Bible to reach people where they are at. Church splits and church plants are not the same thing, but both can be used. Like Son Volt and Wilco, or like Barnabas and Paul, you may end up with something greater in the end.

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