“Can I play ‘The Man in Me’? Sure…that said, I have a young child who I’m trying to teach the difference between can and may sooo…” To my mild chagrin, this retort was followed by a crowd full of knowing chuckles.
I was siting in a room with 75 fellow strangers, who were pleasantly amused at the sight of me receiving an introductory grammar lecture from the dismally jovial David Bazan. To be completely honest, I was really nervous to ask a question of any sort. I felt like I was already pushing my luck since I had asked the by reputation, frequently gruff Bazan about the inspiration behind the lyrics in his song “Simple Plan” (a song which is semi-utopic, yet suitably dissident).
As is often customary at his house shows, Bazan opened it up to questions. Since he had already off handedly referenced The Dude as a pseudo-philosophical influence, and since he had reminded us all of his new recording of Dylan’s classic available at the merch table, I thought it fair game to use a ‘question’ to request one of my favorite covers that Bazan occasionally performs. After busting my grammatical chops, and taking a few other playful pot shots at the crowd, Bazan humored us all with a crooning and sorrowful rendition of Dylan’s classic.
I met Bazan after the show, and much like well meaning fans frequently do, I fumbled my way through an introduction and thanked him for playing a song I’ve often dreamed of hearing him play. I let him know that it had rounded out the evening perfectly (as if I was the voice of approval he was seeking…)
For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Bazan began his public musical career as the front man for Pedro the Lion. He reminded us that he actually recorded many of the drum tracks for a number of Pedro records. Tonight, however, we all had the privilege of an acoustic guitar performance from a man known especially for his rawness and his candor. Despite having seen him play an acoustic performance a number of years back, nothing could have prepared me for the intensely intimate setting which was this small house show.
True to form, Bazan conducted this more intimate evening in a rhythm which gave space for a few songs here, a few questions there, and so on. As a millennial Christian, I am fascinated with Bazan’s lyrics, life, and story. Having grown up in the midst of evangelical youth sub-culture, Bazan described for us a dramatic shift in perspective as he approached 28 years of age. He realized that much of what he ‘believed’ did not align with what he learned and experienced. The tensions and burning questions he carried did not seem to have a home in the church he left behind, though admittedly, he still has a bit of a soft spot for the Church.
Bazan considers himself a “secular-evangelical,” much in the same way, a non-practicing Jew might consider himself a secular or cultural Jew. It is rare to hear someone tout that they are a cultural Christian, but it is a badge that Bazan seems to wear quite comfortably. Through both song and conversation, many times throughout the evening, it felt as though Bazan was pleading with us to deeply consider the implications of our world views (I think the general assumption on his part was that since he was playing in a highly Christianized suburb that most present were Christians of some stripe or another… it was a fair bet).
At one point Bazan made a self-deprecating remark that if we liked sad-boring shit, we should check out his new project: Overseas (a collaboration with Will Johnson and Bubba & Matt Kadane). However, (and I’m certain he knows this) Bazan’s work is far more than sad and boring. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly has a melancholy tone, but his work is a far cry from boring. Another brave soul dared to ask Bazan about his writing process, and this caused him to explain his philosophy of music: music is not merely a resource used to make us happy, it is intended to slap us in the face, to challenge us. He reflected that all the great works of literature are not the ones that tie up neatly, but rather the ones that speak of something true, and raw, and beautiful.
I believe this is an accurate description of the music I listened to tonight. While I disagree with many of the conclusions that Bazan has reached, there is a deep sense that the music he writes is ‘true.’ It is a true reflection on the harsh realities which confront us all as we slog through this whirlwind of fury known as life. Bazan’s work is entirely effective because it grabs hold of its listener and makes him feel the depths of searching and wrestling and chasing after the wind. If only for that moment, we are forced to pause from whatever it is we’ve been using to numb or medicate our existence and see the churning for what it really is.
For Christians who have wrestled significantly with doubt, Bazan is a man greatly admired. He is a man that is not afraid to ask hard questions and who never shies away from candid critique. While my journey of faith and doubt has not brought me to the same place as Bazan (and thank goodness, for I would make a terrible, and I mean awful, singer-song writer), I am thankful for some of the imagery and language he has given me to express my doubts in a manner that is true and meaningful.
Something Bazan said tonight will stick with me for a while: “If you claim to have a perfect system, to have it all figured out, I tend to distrust you.” He said it with a smile, but he meant it. For those of us who have found faith and held tight even through tumultuous times, we know what he means here. By no means am I suggesting that we give up the quest for the proper language of the Christian experience. What I am suggesting is that when we don’t know, we have the courage to be honest about it. It takes grit to say “I don’t know.”
However, in my humble opinion, it takes even more grit to say, “I don’t know, but I have hope and I take heart”
I think about the lyrics of another of Bazan’s covers, a favorite of mine from his early years: “Be thou my vision oh Lord of my heart, naught be all else to me, save that thou are, thou my best thought by day or by night…” I’m sure he feels quite different about it now, but for me, I am forced to realize the depth, the truth, and rawness of “thou my best thought by day or by night.” For me that is a statement that offers great challenge.