Monday, October 20, 2014

Nine Months in Aurora, IL

We're nine months in to a new ministry in a way-out Chicago suburb, on the edge of farms and prairie. We're living in the second largest city in Illinois, which is Aurora. You may know it from its portrayal in the movie Wayne's World. Do you remember that donut place that's in the movie? It's not here. But there's a Dunkin' Donuts just down the street. I guess that will have to suffice. 

This is our fifth ministry. Seventeen years. I turned forty this year. That's the age when you look back and take a little stock. Not too much. Just enough. Given the earlier posts on this blog, it was almost amazing that I finally found another church job (if you want a good pity party, scroll through them!). I just taught on Abraham in our student ministry, and how it can take a long time for things to align, and how God aligns things in His time. I'm not going to say that I was thrilled with our timeline: I don't think I should pretend that I understand it. But it wasn't bad at all. Hopefully the posts below echo that. I haven't read them since I wrote them.

As a return to form, today's post will talk about a musician, and some lesson that can be derived from what they did. This time around, it's George Harrison.

George was the odd beatle: not John or Paul, but not Ringo. I'm a big Harrison fan and love his solo work. But, knowing his history, he was probably never going to be received as the genius of his more prolific counterparts. In the 70's, after the Beatles' split, however, he seemed to take on the role of ex-Beatle George with aplomb: he produced artists, formed his own record label, and released the best (IMO) solo record of any Beatle, All Things Must Pass. When you listen to it, you are hearing songs written during by George concurrently during the album sessions ranging all the way back from Rubber Soul (1965) to Abbey Road (1970). Many of these were rejected for recording by the other Beatles. 

There's a Get Back-era rehearsal of George showing John the chords to "Let it Down", a great track on All Things Must Pass. The tape reveals John's disdain for the chord progression (typical of many Harrison tunes, with diminished or major seventh chords and asymmetrical progressions). It certainly wasn't straight ahead rock and roll, but it seemed like George had taken pop melody and stretched it almost into a jazz-like structure. John wasn't a fan, and it was the only rehearsal of the tune.

The span from Rubber Soul to Abbey Road was five years. That's not a long time in today's pop music landscape, but back then it was an eternity, when bands released two albums and two singles a year. That's a lot of product to put on shelves, especially if you are writing it. And it's a long time to wait to put out finished material that you are working on and completing. Imagine a group of painters telling one of their own that they can't hang most of their work up. "It just doesn't fit" or "We've already used most of our paintings" or "The wall's already full". Whether or not you're in the Beatles, you're probably not going to put up with that construct forever. 

This part of Beatles lore makes me wonder how we individually know when we're supposed to be a team player, and when we're supposed to be the star. You and I probably both know people who go out on their own, start their own business (or band), and either succeed or fail to varying degrees. How did these people know when to separate from their comfort and take the risk on becoming what they believed they could fully be? Of course, I tried something like that and failed (see earlier blog posts) and I regret a portion of that, but the good news is that it's hard to regret the experience you receive from your failures. You learn hard lessons, and that's a positive thing. I'm guessing, though, that I probably would have enjoyed it more if we would have succeeded. :)

One thing I know is that it doesn't scare me any more. We moved four times in four years (I don't recommend it) but I'm not really afraid of much. If I lose it all tomorrow (not that I'm anticipating this), I'll just get back up and start again. I feel like that whole experience made me my own person. I feel comfortable in my own skin. And in a profession (ministry) where you are sometimes encouraged to put on a facade for a variety of reasons, that can be a challenge. Happily, I don't really do that. But, as Over the Rhine would say, "Lord knows we've learned the hard way all about healthy apathy". Amen. I've learned to have passion about things that count, and be apathetic about things that don't. Hopefully, not to a fault. 

This brings us back to George. After All Things Must Pass, his solo career was inconsistent. He had quite a few albums that didn't sell, singles that tanked and a tour in 1974 which turned him off of touring for life (save for a handful of concerts in Japan). And on those post-All Things Must Pass solo records, I feel like I hear George vacillating between pop star hit maker, and spiritual guy who does his own thing. On one record in particular, Somewhere in England, the record label told Harrison to replace some songs because they were too dour and depressing. He complied, but only to a point, writing a new song called "Blood From a Clone". That's not exactly, as Nirvana would say, a radio-friendly unit shifter. My copy of this album is a cut-out, the process by which companies discount records that aren't moving. They actually "cut out" a portion of the cover to denote that it was returned to the label, which then is sent out again and sold at a far lower price. I remember in the early 80's seeing a whole cut out crate full of George's next record, Gone Troppo. After the relative failure of this record (which I love), George retreated and worked on movies (among them, Shanghai Surprise, the Madonna/Sean Peen vehicle). He "returned to form" on 1987's Cloud Nine. In interviews from that time period, it seemed like George had become what he had always at least teased: a guy who only cared about what moved him, what mattered. He did promotion, but did it on his own terms, suffering no fools in interview clips from the time. You can't live in a shadow forever, even if it's John Lennon or Paul McCartney or the Beatles mythos. He had become his own Beatle...er...man. 

Just like a preacher talking about standing in judgment before God, you sometimes stand alone. Not in a bad way. But sometimes, when the time is right, when God aligns everything, it's time for you to do your thing, to do the thing that He's given you to do. And it may not be now, and it may be multiple times. It may be when you're a hundred, like Abraham, or when you're not even an adult yet, like David. And you may have to do your version of recording critically maligned bad albums to get to the really good record that you were created to make. But whatever that looks like for you, I think you'll have your time. Maybe you've already had it, and another is on the way. I hope so.