Bon Iver and the Revival

Almost exactly two years ago I was in Grant Park in Chicago with just under a hundred thousand other people finding myself quite a small, insignificant cell of an overwhelmingly complicated, breathing organism named Lollapalooza. I only pretended to know half of the bands that my fellow music loving Chicago travelers were so excited about seeing as we charted our days from stage to stage with highlighters, being sure to hit all of the acts we absolutely had to see or else the world would surely collapse, or something like that. It's like registering for classes."We'll have to leave Fleet Foxes early to catch the beginning of Coheed" or "Would you be ok with seeing only half of Animal Collective? of Montreal is at the Vitamin Water stage and I hear their finale is awesome" or "No, Hamilton. We cannot miss Snoop." And so on.

For those unfamiliar, a brief description of Lolla. There are somewhere around eight stages spread throughout Grant Park, between 50 and 100 bands, six headliners, three days, and the palpable promise of unexpected, out of place revival.

The resonance in your stomach as Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra cries "Oh God, I need it, for I was wrong again. Take me to the River and make me clean again. Oh my God, make me clean again, and oh my God let me see again"

The purple clouds painted behind a skyscraper skyline silhouetted by a massive, orange-glowing orb that no longer hurts your eyes to watch skirt impossibly far down until it disappears as the backdrop to Ben Harperplaying slide guitar in the city that has its own kind of blues.

The spark of this brief reminiscence: Friday was miserably cold. The rain started promptly at noon and let up just before the headliners took the stage that night, leaving the ground muddy and trampled by both feet and gaping, gathering puddles of filthy water. There was a grave-chilly breeze sweeping like the unwelcome arms of the angel of death off of Lake Michigan that all but stole the heart from inside of us. But the crowd packed like slimy sardines in front of the stages and sang anyway.

We were at the Playstation Stage, because that is where the crowd had swept us. It was off track from where we wanted to be, but outside the throb of people was where cold dwelt, and in there at least we didn't shiver. On the stage there were little stagehands like scampering minions ensuring all of the equipment was good to go before the band began playing. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver walked out first, humbly, barefooted. He carried a guitar in his right hand and a stool in his left and sat before the microphone and in a tone that brought warmth to all who heard it said "Thank you guys for standing out there in the rain. We are Bon Iver and we'd like to play some songs for you."

What happened then was one of those things that exists beyond coincidence. Justin sang the opening melody line to Woods (love this version) and the rain slowed to a drizzle for a moment before stopping completely. You could watch the crowd's heads look up momentarily and smile before watching the rest of the band members walk up to their mics and add in the looped, sweeping, haunting, awe-striking harmonies that gives the band its soul-aching sound. The crowd echoed back at Justin's beckoning, "what might have been lost" at the end of The Wolves (Act 1 and II) (around 2:36), but besides that, they were captivated in uncharacteristic silence and drenched not in water anymore, but in magnificent, melodious, devastatingly beautiful sound.

Love

I begin this short section with what could be a step in an Aristotelian Logic proof when it is actually a proof in itself:

God = Love

Love has been horribly mistreated lately, mostly because it has been portrayed as something that exists in its strongest form between two people, or between somebody and God, or between somebody and anything at all . Mostly I submit that it has been mistreated because we have inserted ourselves into it, profaning perfection. How can we, with straight faces and hearts that do not break from the heaviness of the defacing of something beautiful, even say that we are worthy of Love? How did we arrive at the conclusion that Love is sex or feelings or friends or any exclusive category to which we can assign it? Why do we not teach "God is Love" as it should be taught: that being without God is being without Love? If He was telling the truth (as I'm fairly sure he was) when He called Himself Love and the ultimate reason that we are here in the first place is to find God, delight in Him and bring Him joy, how can we flippantly toss "I love you" around anymore?

How did we forget that "I love you" means "Together we are touching this thing that is much bigger than we are, and we should delight in that, because it is so much more important in delighting solely in each other?"

When Love lights on the shoulder of a human being, it is more beautiful than words or music could describe, but it has an effect, I assume, similar to the tranquil transcendency of Bon Iver during that break in the rain. Connecting with Love is connecting with God Himself, so the only way you can find it is by looking for Him. You can burn your dating manuals and Cosmo relationship advice, because anything we conjure - even what we call love itself - to try to mimic the existence of God will ultimately disappoint. You will find yourself in a world that has what it calls a love crisis when it's not a love crisis at all. It's simply what happens to our substitutes for God when we hold them up to the light.

Where you can find it I needn't address this, because the answer isn't limited by your search terms. Perhaps God will stop a rainstorm and sweep you up in sound to say "Hey, remember that I invented this, so connect with me." Maybe you'll see a stranger walking out of McDonald's with coffee and biscuits for a man with spiders nesting in his dreadlocks and God will remind you what acting in Love (in Him) is. You'll find it in everyday things that are beautiful in ways that are bigger than your tasks or debts or deadlines or your broken heart. Pretty soon you'll see God as the constant on the graph and we are the erratic heartbeat, only occasionally blipping high enough to see Him.

Edit: I urge you not to take this as a piece of new-age nonsense or a defense of the increasingly common and frustrating idea that finding out who God is is sufficient. I laid awake last night with this (perhaps) irrational fear that I could be construed for making a case for Universalism or that we can make a connection with God without going through Jesus first. If I come across that way, I assure you it is not my intention. Honestly, I was simply trying to offer encouragement to those who have been where I have or who have been plagued by seasons of doubt or questioning or borderline disbelief. We are so easily caught up in things of man and so quickly drawn into the political or philosophical realms that have been created around God that we forget to see God for who He truly is.

I just wanted to say that perhaps it'll take you packing close to hippies and headbangers listening to a band who doesn't know they're singing about God to realize that finding Him is less of a task than we make it out to be.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

Born This Way

*Warning* This is long. It is, I hope, thought-provoking as well. I suppose we'll see.  

For the first time in my life (excluding my remarks about the impossibly catchy and brilliant melody of Paparazzi), I will say that Lady Gaga was on to something. For nowhere near the first time in my life, and equally as far from the last time in my life, the contents of this post may elicit anger from some.

This is my worried face.

It is no secret that I can be somewhat of a hermit occasionally, leading me to be behind on some popular trends and fads and whatnot. I spend time reading books by long-dead authors, obsessing over grammar, staring at walls, altering sixth chords, ignoring phone calls, writing papers, disintegrating slowly into acute and undiscovered forms of madness, and wishing I could do things like pogo stick professionally or own an invitation-only private island. So I was surprised to find out that Lady Gaga had a new (it is new to me, ok?) song out (that apparently came out last September? wow.).

I had no choice but to listen to it. I simply had to.

In the song, Gaga sticks up for her fellow weirdos, challenges racial discrimination, discourages conformity, blahblahblah something bland and generic like the rest of her pop Contemporaries. However, as I was listening to it, I couldn't help but think that the song is not driving at these pro-social messages. I, like Gaga, would love to see this generation raised without the crippling dependency on the approval of others... but her point is different.

"Don't be a drag - just be a queen," she says, blahblah "because God makes no mistakes." Ohhhhhhh ok. I see what we're getting at here. This isn't about racism or individuality, this is about being gay. Or, how does she put it? "No matter gay, straight or bi, / lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track baby."

Gaga isn't to blame, because I have heard this excuse more than any excuse in the book (or lengthy pamphlet.... people's excuses are rapidly lacking the ingenuity they once did) for any number of actions. It is the perfect justification: the ultimate shifting of blame away from yourself - "I was born this way."

I think that we have confused "made" and "born".

Ignoring the grammatical differences between implied actors in each of these cases and approaching it purely from a) a logical point of view and b) a spiritual point of view, we can go ahead and say that Gaga's argument can absolutely hold no water.

Logical If I were the totalitarian dictator of the entire world, the first thing that I would do is require a basic working knowledge of logic proofs. We would eliminate all of the needlessly idiotic statements coming from important and imbecilic people, alike, and help Hamilton's headache wane just a little bit. Oh, if I had the words for the gratuitous logical fallacies encapsulated by this excuse. It is "born this way" that would cause the crumble of society as we know it if we listened to what we were saying. I won't even talk about murderers, rapists, child pornographers, cop killers, drug dealers, sociopaths, etc. who can all claim the same thing, because I am conscious of people taking what I am saying out of context. I don't want somebody to quit reading or ceasing their rational, calm thinking about the subject because I just equated their homosexuality with the Manson killings.

But hear this: in a way I am. You can't pick and choose the people for whom your excuse works. If "I was born this way" works for homosexuality, so should it work for murder and lust.

I was born a liar, a thief, a self-obsessed, self-indulgent, self-worshipping idolater. But I wonder how many people would excuse me if I walked around snubbing my nose at people, spouting absurd lies and doing whatever brought me pleasure because of my obsession with myself if only I started saying "don't worry about it, I was born this way." Would they try to amend the rules to allow me to slam heroin in the streets as long as I wasn't hurting somebody else? I mean, it is my right. I was born that way.

Of course not. But here is where I might lose you, if I didn't already, because it is my transition to the next point.

By establishing a distinction between degrees of heinousness of crimes, we are, necessarily, saying that we believe in some sort of a moral order. A moral order cannot exist without something against which to measure it... a moral law. A moral law cannot exist in solidarity, because it necessitates a contradistinction between "good" and "evil," where one cannot exist without the other. Finally, in order to establish what we see as "good" and what we see as "evil," there must be what Ravi Zacharias calls a "Moral Law-Giver," or something to qualify the relative degrees of what we are seeing.

Spiritual This brings me to the clincher, the basis on which I believe we should be living our lives. We have the single most historically and archaeologically backed document in existence that posits page after page of insight into the nature of this Law Giver. The perfect good. The absence of all that is, what we call, evil, although it is not an entity in itself but rather the total absence of good. The same way as dark is the absence of light. The same way that cold is the absence of heat. God can be countered not by reasoning, because reasoning from humans is tainted by human imperfections, nor can He be countered by science, for science cannot even agree with itself. Within this document, this collection of insight, are very specific things to which we must be held accountable. The moral law given by the Moral Law Giver. And believe it or not, every one of the "evils" I have mentioned above is on that list.

I possess those evils. You possess those evils, and they, in a manner of speaking, possess each one of us. But were we made that way? No. We were not created by God to do evil, because God, the embodiment of all that is good, is incapable of doing evil, just as a candle is incapable of producing heat. It is not a limitation on God, it is an attest to the nature of things. Just as we do not question the limitation of a flashlight because it is incapable of producing dark, we do not question the limitation of God because he is incapable of producing Evil. Because evil cannot be produced.

We were, however, made with free will. And where there is free will there is the option to walk either in the light or the darkness. So we were not made this way, but rather we were, as Gaga so eloquently reiterates, born this way. Hence my saying she(?) was on to something. But it cannot be, as she said, God who made us this way.

God did not make us murders, liars, homosexuals and thieves. But he made each of us capable of being all of those things so that we can put aside ourselves and our selfish nature bent on reproducing as much evil as we can and look to Him instead.

It is that act of self-denial that Christ demanded at the cross. Deny your addictions to pornography. Your propensity to anger. To hate. To lust. To homosexuality. And take Him instead.

We were born for that.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.

>Nightingales

>I pause in the middle of writing a critical essay on a Joyce Carol Oates short story to take a momentary return to something not school related. When I say "in the middle of writing" I mean I've been sitting here trying to write it and have been highly unsuccessful and am therefore going out to get coffee after this. And Krystals.

I wanted to write about some of the big things that have recently been going on. Things with echoes farther reaching than I can fathom. God things that I love. Funk things that I hate. But I couldn't really do it quite yet, because it's all still so new and so in the moment and so over my head and overwhelming that I haven't processed it enough to make it coherent to anybody except for me. And the moment you start understanding me in my moments of babbling incoherency you should get yourself checked out, because you have surely been drug into the grips of insanity.

Speaking of insanity, I now have 4 (well, 3 and a half) songs written for the project I hinted at like 4 months ago. My projects seem to last a really really long time.

It's tricky, their layering, because they are poetry disguised as music. They are music disguised as poetry. It's poetry in the Romantic sense of it, for it is grasping at something sublime which I, myself am unable to express.

That being said, the video posted below is the song beginning the project. It's just me and an acoustic guitar, which means that there is so much more to come in the final recording that this is really just a preview. The finished product may bear only slight resemblances to the skeleton laid out, but it is a skeleton indeed. And you, dear internet, are my poor man's publisher, editor and most apt critic.

The song is called Nightingales. It deals this concept of a God struggle, the "fear and trembling" Paul talked about in Philippians. Even if none of this ever takes off the ground, it is at least therapeutic for me and about the only way I know how to say it. Words aren't enough. Music isn't enough. Together they really aren't enough either, but I don't really know how to do anything else.

So bear with me through the roughness and perhaps it will be polished come the end.

Nightingales 

Rest for the weary, burdened, and alone
Open arms awaiting your return.
If only you’d return

Rising together, we guillotined the king,
Erased the promulgation that destroyed who we have been.
Now we’ll be who we have been.

Our freedom: inspiration, (though) from our outstretched, broken arms
Bereaved by the deceased who made his home among the stars.
But Your eyes were in the stars

We’re nightingales in daylight, we’re sheep in wolven skin
And still we wait in hiding to draw the hunters in.

I fell inside, I felt alive, I fell in love all over again
I felt this side of feeling alive and I fell in love all over again
My inhibition fell aside and I fell in love all over again
I fell inside, I felt alive, I fell in love…

But the shadows creeping down the hall,
My purloined bravery’s defeat,
The way I saw them climb the walls
Forced me to retreat

Face down, under cover, where I’ve seen this all before
The monsters stretch their claws from within our wretched souls

*Edit: Youtube was being extraordinarily difficult to deal with, so click here to see the same video, just in a different location.

*double Edit (I never do this): I recently posted a slightly more produced version here

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.