I’ve probably worked harder on my “Best Music of 2008” piece than any thing I’ve ever put up on my blog before, at least in terms of length of time spent working on it. My top 5 has pretty much been sealed in for awhile, though there were some shifts in their order and the album at 5 ended up knocking the album previously in that spot down a bit. I’ve listened to each album and thought about why I liked them, and the best answer I could come up with was the “click.” Certain albums simply “click,” they work. When they click, I look forward to listening to them, their songs get stuck in my head (and not in an annoying way), I ponder their lyrics and their meaning and they become a sort of soundtrack to my life over the course of the year. For every favorite album I have, I can usually pinpoint the time in my life in which that album was most relevant. When I bought it, when I listened to it most, and what I was doing or going through when I most heavily listened to it. Of course, there are those albums that become transcendent and make it to the top of the top. An album like, say, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen is one that I listen to quite regularly at every point in my life, so although I can remember when I first bought a copy and also pretty much when it became my favorite, it’s hard to place it into one certain time period of personal importance because it’s always there in some sense or another. But the typical favorite albums I have from any given year I can generally remember when they were at the top of my play list and what made them click. So obviously when an album clicks it’s got a lot to do with personal taste and opinion. My top choice for album of the year may be so far outside of any genre you normally listen to that you just wouldn’t get it. But I also try to evaluate my choices without bias, as much as that‘s possible when dealing with such a thing as music. If I’m looking at something and I realize it’s more of a guilty pleasure than a classic album I generally won’t include it.
Then there are those albums I want to be able to include. I want them to be good, I want them to click but I can’t force it. So, here comes the omissions. The first set of omissions I’m going to mention come with the preface that I’m not a staff music critic. I say this because, well, I do not receive free copies or free downloads of albums. Sure, friends may throw me copies of things they urge me to hear because they enjoy them and I may get a free album here and there for whatever reason. I also check out quite a large amount of CDs from my local library, but brand new and small label indie’s don’t wind up there in a large abundance (sometimes I’m surprised at what I do find, though). What I’m getting at is that a critic or group of critics for Paste, Mojo, or Rolling Stone can hear all important releases of the year before making their decisions. Since most brand new albums I get by paying the bucks for an I-Tunes download, stumbling across a well priced vinyl copy or picking up the CD at the shop, I can’t possibly afford to hear every notable release. So, this first group of omissions consists of albums I only heard portions of  and do not own in any form so I can’t fairly evaluate them:

*  Ryan Adams and the Cardinals: Cardinology —I used to love Adams, ’Heartbreaker” is a classic and “Demolition” has my vote for being his best and most underrated album. Most of his catalogue his good, and then over the past couple of years his prolific release schedule began to run together and I lost interest for much of it. Then I heard pieces of this album and really dug it, I think it will probably be an album I enjoy thoroughly.
* Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue — Jenny has been a part of my favorite new music for the past few years. Last year with her band Rilo Kiley’s release “Under the Blacklight,” and the year before that with the Watson Twins doing backups for her own album, “Rabbit Fur Coat.” I haven’t heard enough of “Acid Tongue” to include it in any form but have read nothing but good things about it.
*Conor Oberst: Conor Oberst — Oberst decided to release his new album without using the Bright Eyes moniker. I loved “Casadaga” and “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” so I’m sure this one would suit me as well.
*My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges — I love the lead-off single, “I’m Amazed,” and think I’d really enjoy the new direction.

Then there are the albums I wanted to include, I wanted to click for whatever reason, but ultimately just didn’t do it for me. “Death Magnetic” by Metallica was raved about in the press and although I could hear the excellent craftsmanship coming though with every instrument and Hetfield’s lyrics didn’t cheese me out, it just didn’t do it for me the way the fan ignored “St. Anger” album did. “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay was what I hoped would be their big creative and artistic step forward, but I enjoy their first album from years ago much more. The Knux got a lot of press for “Remind Me in 3 Days,” and on first listen I thought it would make the list. It feels like a mash-up of Run DMC and early Outkast combined with Prodigy like dance beats and rock riffs, but ultimately a few factors knocked it off the list for me; Krispie kept announcing in the background before his every verse, “it’s Krispie, check it out now,” which began to increasingly annoy me. Then “Parking Lot” and “Hush” veered too close to Too Short lyrical content, and for some reason I didn’t give The Knux  a pass on such issues as I do a lot of rappers, maybe because their potential and indie cred tells me they can do better. I do highly suggest you check out “Roxanne,” “Fire,” and several other cuts, but it’s not cohesive enough to make the list but it is somewhat of a runner up.  Maybe next time they‘ll get it fully right.

So those are all of the runner ups and omissions I can think of at the time. I’ve held out the back two spots on my list for awhile, awaiting the mad rush of new albums that seems to hit every year before the Christmas season. There’s still hints that a few artists may or may not release last minute albums, I’m waiting to hear about that. Luckily for me the new Bruce Springsteen album is slated for January not December so I don’t have to worry about that throwing me for a loop. It’s also worth mentioning that although I never thought I’d use I-Tunes for complete albums, they’ve been a blessing this year considering the shrinking aisle space music retailers are giving to anything other than top 40 releases. So I hope you enjoy reading the articles to come, this often mentioned music recap should be posted by the end of December along with my other year end articles. I generally read reviews before purchasing albums, but I didn’t go back and read what most critics have said about the albums that made my list until after I had written what I had to say about them. My two most often trusted sources for music reviews are Rolling Stone and All Music Guide, and for more indie fare Paste magazine. It’s odd, because some of the albums on my list received top billing on AMG and mediocre ranking from Rolling Stone, while for others it was just the opposite; apparently AMG and RS rarely agree. There was at least one album that made my list that received top ranking from both RS and AMG but a lot of internet and fan complaints. There is one high ranking album on my list I’ve yet to find a full album review of from any online or print source that I regularly read, and there are a few that were generally praised by most sources but outranked by their own pet picks. Suffice it to say, I think my recap will differ greatly from many you could read and I hope you find it interesting.

More of my “Overlooked and Under-rated” blogs will arrive soon as well, and I still have a few religious and philosophy pieces to wrap up before year’s end. Thanks for reading.

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Casual fans and many music critics consider Johnny Cash to have had three significant periods of output during his career. First of all, his early rockabilly hits for Sun records. During this period he produced the bulk of his catalogue hits- – “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Get Rhythm,” “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” etc. After this initial Sun and immediate-post Sun period most think it isn’t until 1968’s comeback album “Live at Folsom Prison,” and its sequel “Live at San Quentin,” that Cash produced anything significant. Then they skip over his catalogue until they get to his third and final act, which consists of his collaborations with producer Rick Rubin, the American Recordings albums volume 1-4 and now posthumously continuing.
Well, those three acts are Cash’s big three creative phrases. But over the years and during the in-between phases Cash continued to make commendable records.

One such buried treasure is “Blood, Sweat and Tears” which was originally released in 1963 , during his post Sun and pre Folsom era. “Blood, Sweat and Tears’ is one of the best cohesive albums Cash recorded yet it contains no real “hits” of his. It’s a singular folk country art album. His version of the standard and oft-covered and reinterpreted “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer” sprawls across 8 and a half minutes, pretty unheard of for popular music during that time. It’s a story-telling song, complete with echoes and sound effects, voice acting and background vocals and it’s perfect. “Busted” is as close to a hit as we have here, and if you’ve ever bought any of the extensive anthologies and compilations over the years you’ve likely heard it. It’s depression era blues, lamenting on the unpaid and un-payable bills, sick kids and suffering hopes, which sadly sounds eerily prescient again these days. Other folk standards and characters arrive on the album, “Casey Jones” most notably. “Roughneck” has Cash swaggering that he “learned to cuss when I was 2.” “Another Man Done Gone,” is a scary and vivid recounting of a man being hung. The Carter Family lend the backup vocals and aid in the instruments, so we get a nice, rounded musical album that’s not just a one man show–though we all know Cash can carry a one-man show when he wants to. His voice is still nice and strong in this era. Cash’s voice is one of the best 20th century instruments. When he was young it boomed and echoed like the voice of God or at least a founding father. When he was old it sounded frail yet faithful, driven and reflective of America’s failures and successes.

If you’re looking for a bit of Cash’s work that digs deeper than the compilation discs or the late in life collaborations, go for this one. You could do much worse than this perfect time capsule of blues, folk and roots music that still sounds relevant today.

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This is my personal plea to the Academy, disregarding the fact that they’ll never read it; at least I wrote it: do not overlook “The Dark Knight” for a Best Picture nomination. Seriously. I know that very competent, capable and captivating films will be up for Best picture. I’m not a naïve or bitter fan boy who feels that the “real best” pictures are over-looked. Winners and nominees from the past few years have truly displayed the best that modern motion pictures have had to offer: No Country for Old Men, There Will be Blood, The Departed and Million Dollar Baby, to name a few, truly deserved the recognition and awards that they received. Although I’m a comic fan, I don’t think many films based on comics have been worthy of Academy consideration. Such adaptation films have gotten increasingly good: Ghost World, V for Vendetta, Sin City, Iron Man, and 300 to name a few; but none yet have deserved “Best Picture” status. And although I’m a Batman film, I would not in a million years make the claim that the entertaining Tim Burton version from 1990 nor the excellent Nolan prequel to Knight, “Batman Begins,” deserved it either. But “Dark Knight” truly does. Subtext, depth, actors working in top caliber performances, excellent dialogue, a pitch-perfect script: all of these are qualities previous winners had, and these are qualities that “Dark Knight” has as well.

Critics and movie-goers alike have clamored for Heath Ledger’s recognition for his perfect performance as the Joker. His getting a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor is almost, but not quite, a given, and deservedly so. His performance is scary, dramatic, edgy, darkly humorous and full throttle. He completely disappears into his character to the point you do not recognize him: his speech, his body language and his entire persona resonates as the Joker. I wonder if this terrific performance would have been fully acknowledged if not for his untimely death, however. I know that early reaction to test shots and PR of the performance had critics raving in droves, but would the academy have thought to acknowledge it if not for the personal tragedy causing them to take notice? I say this not to belittle the performance, but to describe what it took to get such a supposed “fan boy/popcorn” film noticed.

Because Ledger was not the only amazing performance on display. Sure, Christian Bale’s performance as Batman didn’t scream “Superb!”, but his Bruce Wayne was spot-on. Everyone else knocked it out of the park…Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhal, Michal Caine, Gary Oldham all give career highlight displays of their talent.

The underlying depth of Dark Knight is what sends it over the top. “You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain,” is the over-stated message we hear a few times quite bluntly. More subtly is the concept that society feels it must vilify its heroes and raise its villains to heroic status for the supposed betterment of all. The film presents us with overwhelming evil, a type of person who does wrong for no real reason. “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Michael Cain as Alfred says to Bruce Wayne at one point. This type of evil enters an already rotten and corrupt atmosphere. Gotham, especially as depicted in the Nolan films, is a place so wicked and corrupt it simply has to have a Batman to protect it. Yet the presence of such a person as Batman inspires the evil people of the city to get progressively wilder. So what measures does such a Batman have to take when presented with the evil of someone like the Joker? What all possible actions can be committed by “good” people that will allow them to remain classifiable as such? We see how such people and such actions affect truly good, decent and honorable men by watching the progress of Harvey Dent, as played by Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart’s performance can’t be mentioned enough, it’s truly incredible. We seem him live and breath the part, we watch how he is as a righteous man in a corrupted city, an honorable attorney in a crooked court system. We see how he rises to the challenge but also how he ultimately is affected when true evil hits close to home. We see how plans by the Joker seek to use Dent as his ultimate statement and how the Batman and the city responds– Dent is Gotham’s White Knight, Batman is its Dark Knight and the reality of each is different than their respective public personas.

Visually this film never ceases to stun. It’s very evident that what many films use digital affects to portray, this film actually does in the old-school style. In one memorable scene a building is blown up, reportedly really done for filming, and in another a semi truck is completely flipped in a rotating 180 degree shot. Certainly computers are used to polish and add to the action sequences, but this balance of real–the use of models, and real, coordinated stunts–and digital, computer based affects results in a gritty, realistic, astounding picture.

Films like “There Will Be Blood” and “The Departed” convey such deep and real conflicts and themes but they admittedly require your careful attention and efforts. This often results in the deepest connection and effects of films, by creating a give and take relationship and effort on the viewers part. “Dark Knight” just takes that attention by never letting up, though. It’s commendable that such a summer blockbuster and somewhat “popcorn” film can succeed in entertaining you, exciting you and keeping you on the edge of your seat while also providing deeper themes, concepts, moral ambiguities, philosophies and also display top-of-the-line acting, directing, production and musical score. Most summer blockbusters, regardless of how entertaining they may be, do not deserve academy recognition. This film does. Please give it the nomination, academy. Ultimately a film like such buzzed works as Changeling, Australia, Milk and others may deserve and win the trophy, but at least give this film the credibility it deserves by giving it a ballot spot. Thank you. For regular readers or those that may visit again, I’ve written my spiel for this film. When it comes time to mention it’s place in my year end recap, I’ll be brief.

So, last week national news reported that priests in a few conservative Catholic Diocese, including one in North Carolina, have stated that any church members that voted for Obama should repent before being allowed to receive communion due to Obama’s pro-choice stance. When a “viable pro-life candidate” is running for election against a pro-choice candidate, some of these priests said, church doctrine compels believers to vote accordingly.

I truly don’t want to drag up a tired, circular and never ending argument for no reason. I feel that, at least currently, my view is politically sound and secure. I am apparently not in a small minority, since during this past election no ballot initiative that would change abortion from its state of safe, legal and rare passed.

So really, I’m not bringing this issue up in a political sense, or in a call to arms type rally cry either. I just feel like venting a bit and expressing this debate in a slightly different light. See, in my current town there is a large conservative Catholic base. Those that aren’t Catholic tend to be evangelistic protestants. Those that are neither tend to be very influenced by those that are in some form or fashion. This isn’t a bad thing, this isn’t a disparaging remark against those groups of people. I grew up in an evangelistic protestant church and many of my closest friends and family still attend one. I attend Episcopal churches, a denomination that draws heavily from the Catholic church. My point in mentioning this at all is that I’ve become increasingly aware of how commonplace it is to hear openly “pro-choice” vocabulary on a frequent basis. When I’m at work I hear it from co-workers and customers. Driving around town I see multiple “pregnancy counseling centers” that are really just Catholic-funded organizations that attempt to deter any expecting mother from getting an abortion.

It’s the “safe” statement to make: “I’m pro-life.” Even many who consider themselves pro-choice often feel they must preface it with a statement such as, “Well I personally think abortion is wrong but I’m pro-choice because I don’t feel the government should be involved.” Such statements over-look the fact that it’s doubtful anyone getting an abortion does so frivolously, joyously or without potentially agonizing over such a choice. And why is it such a safe proclamation to say something like “Well I feel abortion is wrong. It’s just horrible, but…” I hear such things all the time. What if you say such a thing to me and I happen to have a mother, a sister, a wife or a close friend who had to have an abortion at some point in their life for whatever reason? If such a person close to me had done so, do you really think I would be happy to hear such a judgmental statement? Such a blanket statement like “Abortion is horrible,” if said enough is apt to find ears of someone who has been involved in such a painful decision and it implies they are horrible for having made that choice.

Those that vehemently state that they are pro-life…are they for the life that is here and now? The life that is alive, living in some form on this planet? They stress over the 1 in 3 women who will have an abortion at some point in their life, saddened and angry that one less baby will be brought into the world with each of those women’s choice. But would they support and strive for programs that would help that potential baby once it grew into childhood and adulthood? Would they support methods and programs that would pay for the mother to be able to afford going through pregnancy, birth and child-raising? Would they support programs that help that child receive medical attention, vaccinations, food, clothing and education? What about the children living in the world today? The child soldiers in Uganda? The children losing limbs in South Africa mining diamonds so that Americans can be “flashy?” The homeless children right here in America? What about apartheid, war, famine, poverty, death and destruction? It’s a bloody, scary and sad world but are those that are “Pro-life” concerned about those alive and trying to cope through daily life in it? I don’t mean to be sarcastic, really, but there’s plenty of life right here right now in the world that could use such people’s support, care, attention, funding and love. We can argue all day about when life begins, when the soul becomes present, when the life can live on it’s own, when such life has a purpose, meaning, destiny, fate or role. We can debate personal freedom, a woman’s right to make or not make decisions in regards to her own body, the role government should or can play in such a personal decision. But we have already argued such points and we still seem to not be seeing eye to eye. So I now think those of us that believe it is a personal and weighty decision that is much more grey than it ever is black or white to look at those of you who see it as a holy mission and ask the more rational of you to at least broaden the scope. If you love and respect life and want it to be lived more abundantly, focus some of your energy on those that have life here, now, on this planet. Many staunch pro-lifers feel they give a “voice to the voiceless,” and that they speak for those that cannot. There are many more forms such figures take. The children dying of AIDS in Africa haven’t a voice, at least not one that those that can do something about their problem seem to hear. Nor do those that suffer from the violence in the apartheid in Israel-Palestine that doesn’t accurately get covered in American media. Families that live in the most susceptible areas affected by man-caused climate change and ecological havoc suffer due to the actions of others residing continents away. Women and children toil in slave wage sweatshops for many American companies to sell “cheap” products. I could go on much longer but I think you get the picture. My point is obvious: these types of people need your passion, your care, your focus. They are alive, and there is no debate about that nor is there any debate as to whether they yet have a soul or a purpose. And of course there are many more examples of people that are much closer to home. With our US economy in the shape it is in a “pro-life” type mentality shouldn’t find it hard to find a life worth saving. So yes, I’ll say it once again: let your moral convictions guide your personal decisions in the abortion matter and let others do the same, that’s all most of us “pro-choice” folks ask– to let people make their own decisions in regards to such a difficult and personal decision. And don’t assume a Christian has to think a certain way. In one of the earlier-mentioned conversations, a coworker was lamenting the death penalty and mentioned his wife’s convictions on how immoral and outdated the death penalty is. He mentioned that she had grown up Baptist and often said that they “got it wrong,” because they condemned abortion but promoted the death penalty whereas Catholics “get it right” because they condemn both consistently. Well, I know Baptists that are against the death penalty and Catholics that are pro-choice. Doctrinally there may be disagreements but it’s not necessarily “in the book.” Episcopal tend to be pro-choice and anti-death penalty, at least in my experience, but I’ve known plenty that hold other opinions. Let’s drop the judgment and focus on these other issues that cry out for our cooperation and our service. Thanks.

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So my new 2008 music recap articles will be showing up shortly. In getting mildly back into form as far as writing album reviews,  I thought I’d go ahead and kick off my thread of “overlooked and under-rated” albums that every collection should have. Sure, I like my top-rank classics, my “Abbey Road,” “Born to Run,” “London’s Calling,” “The Queen is Dead,” “Fear of a Black Planet,” “Me Against the World,” “Little Earthquakes,” “Rain Dogs,” “Plastic Ono Band,” all of those must-have ultimate classics and personal favorites. But there are also those albums that are always worth a listen yet rarely discussed , and this is the one I kicked this thread off with.

Okay, so it’s not as if this album is completely overlooked by everyone. Rolling Stone included it in their top 500 albums list,  AMG’s site gives it 5 stars and an AMG pick “check mark.” The reason it’s worth discussing and presenting as one of the all time greatest “overlooked albums” is because it’s simply incredible. Most people think of Joel simply as being an adult contemporary balladeer who also dabbles in classical music. It’s easy to forget that in his early days he was pure, amped up, balls out rock and roll. “The Stranger” is the best evidence of that.  “Only the Good Die Young” should be on every short-list of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Lyrically and musically, it’s a genre highlight and by far a Joel high-mark. “Just the Way You Are” is undeniably schmaltzy and unfortunately the type of song that most think Joel exclusively performed, but cheese and all it is a nice song. The sax riff alone should be enough to bring back good memories for anyone who‘s grown up listening to good rock and roll. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” is the best hidden gem from this record in that it rarely makes the compilation discs and wasn’t a radio hit but remains a perfect song and a continuous concert requested play.

The title song, “The Stranger” is the other buried treasure here and of course the other hits that are present remain entertaining: “Movin’ Out” and “She’s Always a Woman to Me.” Granted, this isn’t deep and weighty stuff, but it does the job. It’s perfectly packaged and nicely presented pop music played with skill and written with a bit of flair. It’s not an “album’s album” in the sense of concept or narrative structure, just a  nine-song, quick, fun listen that neither aspires to greatness or insults your intelligence. Live recordings from this era of Joel’s career showcase what could have been for him: concert recordings of this album show Joel and his band working up a frenzy, rollicking in the joys of rock and roll and coffeehouse beat poetry. Sure, Joel had other good songs later in life. Unfortunately only two albums display him as a real, viable rock star. This one, and the almost-as-good “52nd Street.”

“The Stranger,” is a perfect vinyl age artifact, evidence of a time when musicians had only so much space to utilize; so the good ones cut the filler and left you with nothing to skip the needle over. They start each side strong and end each side on a strong, suitable note. In fact, I’ve only owned a vinyl copy of this album for 4 years and I’ve worn it out. So don’t do the typical artsy-music critic thing and write off guys like Joel– of course someone like Dylan is more hip, important and relevant. But people like Joel kept the radio worth turning on, and people like that are always needed.  This year, “The Stranger” was released in a special edition box set complete with re-mastered CD, SACD, and live DVD recordings of the performances from that era; it may be worth the upgrade if your copy is also scratched.

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Recently, I became very interested in some of the books by the Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong. Moderate Christian friends of mine that study theology have told me Spong is a bit too out there and that while he starts his writing career pushing the envelope yet still offering different ways of interpreting things within the context of Christianity, that by now it’s hard to classify his philosophy as even being Christian. Apparently he’s apt to simply label any that disagree on his points as being a fundamentalist and he’s accused of being arrogant. It’s also worth noting that he holds no degrees– no doctorates in theology, history or philosophy, he was simply a practicing minister (now retired) and writer. Regardless of all of these points, the few books of his I’ve read have been very thought provoking. He may not have a PhD, but it’s clear that he’s spent a lifetime reading, studying, interviewing and debating in his search for the roots of Christianity, the state of Christianity and it’s future. He maintains the viewpoint that Christianity must evolve–it must change or it will die, taking its place alongside of the ancient religions of Olympus. He began making such claims years ago, believing that in light of modern science literalistic interpretations of scripture would completely die off. Well, as Raymond Martin stated in his overview of the conflicting views on such issues in “The Elusive Messiah, “it has not worked out that way and things do not seem to even be moving in that direction.”

I enjoyed Spong’s “Resurrection: Myth or Reality,” because it explores different ways of looking at the Gospels and the Easter Promise. Spong approaches each gospel individually at first; he looks at what historical time it was written, who the writer may have been and when the writer was alive. Did the writer ever meet Jesus or anyone that had known Jesus? If not, how long after the historical Jesus was present did the writer craft his gospel? Then Spong looks at the version of the Resurrection each writer portrays and how each version differs. Spong makes the claim that the Gospel writers engaged in the Jewish writing and scripture reading practice of Midrash.

Spong seeks to explore what the historical Jesus did that caused those writers to place him firmly in the tradition. He seeks to discover what happened that caused the disciples of Jesus to go from being scared and scattering in the event of his arrest and execution- -many going so far as to deny even knowing him- – to being faithful and wiling to die to spread his message.  Spong explores “discrepancies” in the gospel narratives and in the translations made of them throughout history., as well as possibly different meanings  the text may have had in its previous language incarnations–events that were spoken of in Aramaic, written about in Hebrew and Greek, and eventually “officially” transcribed in Old English.

But what is Midrash?  In a way, Midrash is the concept of timelessness. When events and people are written about in the Midrash style, they are placed in a past, present and future dialogue. Spong claims that much of what is written about Jesus is  a Midrash placement and reinterpretation of Hebrew scripture and history.  Words spoken by Hebrew leaders such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah are re-spoken by Jesus. Similarly, events that occur in the Jesus narratives are re-told events of those same Hebrew leaders. Location often plays a big part in the Midrash tradition. Events occur on Mt. Sinai, in Galilee and in Jerusalem in reference to earlier events that also occurred in those locations. According to Spong these stories are re-worked from the Hebrew traditions to place Jesus in the context of a timeless Holy journey. For Spong, each gospel writer was not merely recording a literal account of Jesus’ life- – they were instead “canonizing” him and elevating his story to a Holy, mythic level. Since each gospel was written years apart and none were written while Jesus was alive, each gospel writer reworks events from previous gospels as well as the Hebrew scriptures.  Spong doesn’t state these claims to attack the Gospel authors. He doesn’t accuse them of twisting the truth or spreading lies. He feels that they were aware that there was more to Jesus than mere humanity and that they felt his life was important enough to elevate its story into the realm of timeless and Holy myth. Myth in this sense does not mean “untrue.” In many ways, myth becomes an ultimate truth because it communicates an undying and important message that is “more true” than factual based historical records. It becomes irrelevant for the events of the Gospels to be clung to as literal fact. Spong disputes that Jesus literally rose from the dead in a bodily manner, and he uses variations among the gospel narratives as supporting evidence for such a claim. He dismisses the idea that the “red letter” words spoken by Jesus in favor of the belief that such words were merely the author of each gospel attempting to capture the essence of Jesus’ message concisely.  So ultimately for Spong the truth of Jesus becomes that of a man who God chose to pervade and express the God-presence through so that those who heeded his work, words and teachings could know God and spread the message to the world. The disciples realized Jesus’ importance fully in the aftermath of his death and began to speak of it, becoming willing to die for it to be heard. The authors of the Gospels sought to express the importance of the life of Jesus by recounting his story in the ancient Hebrew tradition of Midrash, elevating his story in the miraculous wording of the Torah. Church founders developed their churches to spread the message of love, forgiveness and service.

Thus, the “Easter Promise” for Spong (and those that agree with his viewpoint) does not rely on a literal and physical resurrection of Jesus, but rather the statement that “death cannot hold him” is fulfilled in his spirit being raised by and back to God and his teachings live on in his followers. Spong feels that we as Christians use Christ as our “entry” to God- – our way to love more selflessly, serve more strongly and live more fully.

I don’t fully accept all of Spong’s theories and claims. I did find “Resurrection” to be a scholarly and interesting work. I agree that even the Gospels can be approached with a non-literal interpretation. As for the resurrection being a physical fact or a symbolic myth? I think that Christians can take either viewpoint and still be Christians.

Unfortunately, Spong’s later work follows such claims in a chain of links to more outrageous suppositions that do indeed place him outside of what can comfortably be classified as “Christian” philosophy. His post millennial work “The Sins of Scripture,” is not only his least scholarly and intelligently written work but it also makes claims that push his theology too far– in this work, Spong rejects any possible view of a Theistic God. He states that event after event, including 9/11, have proven that a view of a God who lives apart and outside of the natural world and who cares about the details of our own personal lives, who is there to comfort us and watch over us, is illogical and unrealistic. Spong lists sporadic excerpts of scripture that describe God as a “breath that is in all of us,” and a presence that abides in all natural creations as “realistic” descriptions of God. It’s at this point that Spong loses me. His early work had admirable goals–to “rescue the Bible from fundamentalism,” by exploring alternative ways of looking at it and by gleaning the ultimate essence and message that is sometimes “lost in translation” and strangled by legalism and claims of “inerrancy.” He proceeded to dispel the ways scripture is often misused to oppress women, non-white races and ethnic groups and homosexuals. He wrote works that urged the Church to grow, evolve and reach out to all people because he felt the message and goals of Christianity were possible and positive for all people. All of this was good and fine, and I can respect different approaches and interpretations as being valid. I can’t follow his thoughts that lead to complete rejection of any type of theistic God, at least not in a way that allows him to still consider himself a Christian theologian. He did wait until retiring from his lifetime of service with the church to make this last bold statement, so maybe he was aware of that.

So that’s just my take. I’ve barely skimmed the surface in this article, really. If this interested you I suggest that you give “Resurrection” a read. Even if you completely reject a non-literal approach to the Easter story, which is understandable, you still may learn quite a bit about the Gospels and the history of the time, place and events that occurred within them. I also should make note that if you, like me, are relatively a novice in deep theological study, that an “extreme” theory like that espoused by Spong should be followed up by other scholarly and intelligent approaches that fall more to the center of things. Completely accepting the far radically liberal views of Religion without question is just as misguided as completely accepting the fundamentalist views without question.

Next up on this site, I have a short and simple article. It will be the first of possibly ten articles that will appear over the next few months in which I take a look at “under-rated” classic albums. It’ll be a way for me to ease into my year-end recap of the best new music and an excuse for me to revisit and re-listen to favorite albums of mine that don’t usually make the top cut. Thanks for reading.

“The Sandman” Book Review

November 11, 2008

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The 20th anniversary of the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is this year. In recognition of that and as a continuation of my “10 Great Examples of Comic Book Literature” thread, I now offer my “Sandman Book Review.”

Norman Mailer called The Sandman, “a comic book for intellectuals,” and he was right.

As I find myself writing in a lot of these pieces, Neil Gaiman is a brilliant British comic scribe (like I’ve said of Alan Moore and Garth Ennis). But he’s more than that, he’s a brilliant writer of not only comics but of novels, short stories, poems, children’s books and screenplays. The Sandman is what first gave him a name in the industry and that series also has the honor of producing the first comic issue to receive the  World Fantasy literary award for “Best Short Story.”

Sandman  very well displays what comics are capable of doing. For all you non-traditional comic readers, for everyone that jumped into the medium with books like Moore’s WatchmenThe Sandman is the next stop for you. It’s a cross-genre fantasy epic that covers more ground than one would think possible. It’s high literature, ranks up there with the best classic prose work you can mention short of Shakespeare. It’s illustrated by a slew of variously styled artists. It originally ran as 70 issues which were collected in 9 volumes and a sort of “epilogue” book was released years later, Endless Nights. Recently those original 9 volumes have been collected into 4 massive, coffee table sized hardcover’s that are priced at 100 bucks a pop, so grab those up if you’re wealthy.

The Sandman follows Morpheus, more commonly referred to as “Dream.” Dream is one of “the endless,” all of which are siblings. Dream’s brothers and sisters are: Destiny, Death, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium (Delirium is somewhat like Tori Amos’ persona and it’s intentional). The Endless have existed since time began and although Dream is the central character of this story the others play important roles as the story progresses.

As I said it covers multiple genres. You may very well be scared witless by the roadside diner carnage in issue #6 (which appears in volume 1, Preludes and Nocturnes).  In that story Gaiman pushed the envelope on what was expected fare for “mainstream” work at that time. It’s scary not because of what the villain does but because what the humans are actually capable of. Equally scary is the Corinthian, the serial killer spawned out of nightmares who shows up in volume 2, The Dollhouse.

But it’s not all scary. Volume 3, Dream Country is a short volume collecting a few short stories including the award winning issue about William Shakespeare (the Bard also makes an appearance in the very last issue of the series in volume 9, The Kindly Ones).  “Ramadan,” which originally appeared as issue 50 in the series is collected in volume 6, Fables and Reflections, another collection of Sandman short stories. “Ramadan” is a middle eastern fairy tale about ancient Baghdad complete with vibrant colors in the mythic Arabic style. The whole of volume 8, World’s End is basically an otherworldly version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

My overall favorite volume of this epic is probably volume 4, Season of Mists. In this part of the story, Dream travels to hell after being goaded into guilt by his sister Death for imprisoning a former love in the underworld for thousands of years. Once there, however, he finds that Lucifer has a plan for him.

As the overall epic moves from start to finish it progresses into a tragedy. Early volumes are primarily horror based or DC universe-referential. As things move into the middle arcs it’s much more epic and fantasy based, and as the later volumes tie up the theme of a supernatural Shakespearean Tragedy appear. Along the way we experience thrills, chills, dark humor, absurdity, heroics, poetry and an array of amazing art. Gaiman uses different artists for pretty much every story in the series and they all have drastically different styles which fit the different types of tales. Gaiman himself sums up the entire story by saying, “The Lord of Dreams must change or die, and makes his decision.”

If you enjoy The Sandman, try Gaiman out in a few of his other mediums. Fragile Things is an excellent collection of short stories. American Gods is an entertaining novel. Coraline is a very nice, eerie dark fairy tale for children and adults alike. Stardust is a fantastic fairy tale film that Gaiman wrote the screenplay for.

I also realized that I’ve made the claim numerous times that “this shows what the medium is capable of doing,” in my various comic reviews on this site, but that most of those series have focused on the fantastic and the highly imaginative forms of fiction. There will be reviews of Maus and Understanding Comics in this top ten thread, but if you’re looking for something right now that’s based in reality, a very person and place driven dramatic and artsy work, please do not hesitate to check out Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly. I’ll refrain from doing a full review of it now because it will be reviewed in detail in my upcoming “Best of 2008” piece, but I will say that the art alone is some of the absolute best I’ve ever seen. In attention to detail and focus on real-life locations and detailed expressions of characters, it’s a joy to simply look at. The writing is superb as well.

One last note, if you scroll to the bottom of the site here you can click on the different categories I’ve place my articles into. If you click on “comics” you can read the original “10 Examples…” and the reviews of those selections I’ve completed so far. Thanks for reading.

As I begin to write articles dealing with Christianity and alternative viewpoints to traditional “moral” issues, I’ve begun to think about my personal history with organized religion and Christianity. Typically I keep my blogs as depersonalized as possible, and although they’re often from my own first person perspective and they reflect my opinions, I try to keep them more topic orientated rather than have them seem like journal entries. But, I felt that writing this particular essay would help me organize my thoughts and give a prelude to a few of the religious articles that will appear sporadically on this site in months to come.

Until the time I was 16 I attended a conservative Southern Baptist church three times a week and rarely missed a service. After I had a license and was driving, I found out I could get away with just a single Sunday morning service without taking to much of a verbal punishment from my mother. My earliest memories of church-going are of a feeling of fear. Fear of hell, fear that I was constantly committing sins, fear that I wasn’t really “saved.” As I grew older and moved into my early teenage years, that emotion evolved into anger. By this point I was reading and thinking about issues for myself a bit more, and I was angry when a preacher or youth pastor ignored the other side in a debate, ignored the alternative view or simply spent too much time railing against popular culture. For a young music, book and film lover like myself, it was unfathomable that a beautiful, moving and inspiring song might be wrong simply because it didn’t specifically mention the Christian God. One particular youth pastor began by simply criticizing “inappropriate” or “obscene” popular music but by the end of his career was labeling all music that didn’t specifically praise God as a sin and/or a waste of time. This led me to research and build my debates before each class (as a side note, a music critic I like once noted that religious musicians sometimes fail by trying too hard to invoke the prescence of God whereas the best moments when God’s presence is made known through song come when the God-given talents of the musician shines through when they weren’t intentionally seeking God). So ironically, my love of rock and roll music led me to develop an open mind about everything. If my church leaders could be wrong about that, they could be wrong about much more.
My parents meant well. I know my mother wanted me in church as much as possible because she wanted what was best for me. I know that the church was full of good, faithful and caring people. I know that the pastors were good men with hearts in the right places. It simply wasn’t the right place for me, and I know now that spirituality and worship should be practices that do not result in the emotional expression of fear or anger. One excellent thing that I gained from my time in that church was a love for theology, philosophy and debate. One of my Sunday school teachers, who was also a family friend and a later employer, infused his classes with bits of philosophy and debate. He exposed us to basic philosophic concepts and terms, and invited healthy debate. Although I was usually on the opposite side of him in discussions, he always treated me with respect and the things I learned in that class spurred me to enroll in philosophy and world religion courses when I got to college.

So while my earliest emotions in regards to religion were fear and anger, my late teenage and early twenties were marked primarily by doubt. I ended up minoring in philosophy at college, and I found it much easier to look at and think about religion from an academic standpoint. I do not downcast that either (the doubt perhaps, but not the academia). Philosophy and Religion are wonderful things to study from an academic viewpoint and it’s not impossible to gain faith in such a way. My doubt wasn’t so much a result of study but more so a cause for study. I looked at alternative viewpoints because I doubted, not vice versa.

I’ve only been out of college a few years. I spent a few years in a new city and occasionally attended church. I’ve tried most Christian denominations at one point or another in my life–Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian, Methodist and Episcopal. I eventually found myself drawn most to Episcopal and recently, in another location once again, I’ve begun semi-regular church attendance for the first time in about 6 or 7 years. My wife and I attend an Episcopal church about 2 or 3 times a month. What initially drew me to the Episcopal church was it’s focus on social justice issues. I knew that more conservative churches criticized the Episcopal church for focusing more on addressing the problems of poverty, sickness, AIDS, civil and human rights and problems than on evangelizing. I knew that there had been debate in the Episcopal church but that ultimately they had been the denomination at the forefront of the gay rights issue, and the first openly gay clergy in America is an Episcopal minister. For me, being involved with a denomination that left room for debate, for different opinions and lifestyles and one that provides hope and community, and works to provide peace, justice, love and forgiveness for it’s congregations and the world was perfect.

I’ve heard quite a few sermons in Episcopal churches now. The other day I realized that as of yet, I’ve never heard a sermon in one about hell, damnation or judgment. I’ve never heard a bishop or minister rail for 30 minutes on our sins and shortcomings. In short, I’ve never heard the types of sermons that I heard regularly while growing up and I’ve never felt the focus was the same. But where those conservative sermons sought to promote right action and right thought by making us fearful of sin and hell, the same right thought and action is promoted at more liberal churches through different means. If I’m challenged to meditate and pray multiple times daily in seeking what is best for myself, my family and the word, if I’m challenged to focus on the bigger picture and do what I can to combat poverty, sickness, fear and injustice, if I’m challenged to be Christ to the world around me (something in my stage of Christianity I can’t even fully fathom), well if I follow through in actions that seek to meet those challenges I don’t have time to do things that the conservative churches might be railing against and I never have to hear such things mentioned from the pulpit. I heard an Episcopal minister recently make the point that Christianity has no dietary laws, which is different than many word religions. Christianity does not prohibit the consumption of pork, alcohol, or vegetables that “grow in the ground,” as many world religions do (ah, that alcohol thing is different than what conservative churches teach but that’s another issue altogether). He made the point that many religions maintain these dietary laws as a way of unifying their group, a way of “standing out” and “separating themselves from the world.” Christianity does the opposite, because it doesn’t aim to separate it’s followers, it aims to be an inviting and welcoming, inclusive group. Christ hung out with tax collector’s, prostitutes and the like–this is not an exclusive club, it’s one that any who seek peace and understanding should and can join. Well, that type of message is something I can relate to, something I can feel strong for. As for my new history with the Episcopal denomination? I like the issues and the standpoint of the overall Episcopal denomination in the world. On local levels, I’ve always heard inspiring, uplifting and challenging sermons and felt positive after leaving the service on most occasions. I still feel that I’m a searching and doubting type of Christian in many ways, but I think real faith leaves room for that. I’ve heard that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt but rather certainty. If you know something to be true factually then there’s no need to have faith in it. I recently begun reading a bit more theology again, something I’ve pushed aside for years. I turned most theology away in favor of a broader study of philosophy so as not to lock myself down into one religious viewpoint (that of Christianity) but rather a study of the viewpoints that come from around the world, from those world religions and especially those philosophies that underlie and predate most all religions. I still enjoy and love philosophy but I’m finding it possible and even necessary to study what alternative viewpoints are present in the realm of the Christian religion. What really brought me back into reading Theology again were books by some of the most liberal and radical theologians out there. I’ve really enjoyed books by the Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong. I know even many liberal leaning moderates reject Spong’s later work as going to far outside of convention to truly be classifiable as Christian. He also has no degree or doctorate in Religion, Philosophy or History (but to be fair it’s obvious he’s spent a lifetime reading, studying and exploring his faith and the history of Christianity). A later article I will post here details some of what Spong has to say on certain issues, but to be brief, although I don’t think writers like him have all the answers and I don’t agree with all they have to say, it’s writers like that that have caused me to once again look at Theology. I can now read some of the other viewpoints and go back to the original scripture in new ways to think about it, so I have to give credit for that.

So that’s my journey so far. I think Christianity has room in its fold for doubters, questioners, and people of every race, color, personal philosophy, sexual orientation and gender. I think Christianity is about peace, love, equality and hope rather than judgment, shame and exclusivity. I also think that for Christians, Jesus is the “I Am,” the way, truth and light–the entry point to God and positive global service but I think the world is large and other religions offer an “I Am” entry point to their followers to reach the same goal. In short, Christians aren’t the only ones that are “right.”

Future religious articles will be posted here, off an on. The next of which will probably deal with Spong and Midrash and it will be available sometime in the weeks to come. Another forthcoming religious article I’m working on deals with Hell. The most troubling and somewhat unfathomable concept of Christianity for me was always Hell. If God is fully loving and forgiving and if God only punishes us so that we can learn and grow, how could God send any of us to a place of eternal punishment and why would he do so when there’s no room to learn and grow because there’s never an end to the pain? I believe now that such a viewpoint of hell is a scare tactic used by evangelicals to persuade unbelievers to convert, because I think such a concept is inconsistent with the Christian God. But what really is “Hell?” An article concerning this and “Sheol,” will be on this site in a month or so.

Thanks for reading. Next up is my review of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” in the continuation of my “10 Examples of Comic Book Literature” thread and it arrives just in time to nod towards the 20th anniversary of the series first arrival.

democratic_presidential_candidate_barack_obama_speaks_in_virginia

The election is over and we learned the results much quicker than I had anticipated. Senator McCain gave an excellent and thoughtful concession speech and President Elect Obama spoke powerfully about change, hope, possibility and unification.

“Somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted,” activist Eldgridge Cleaver said of the 2008 election. Most weighing in on the Obama victory, the Democrat House and Senate victories and the overall success of a new and powerful multicultural, progressive political power base say that regardless of what happens, history has been made and the old style of GOP politics that have held power for most of the last half century is over.

I’m very happy that Democrats won significant seats in both the House and the Senate during this election–with proper Democratic leadership I feel that we can see an arrival of a new era of Progressive Politics in the tradition of Clinton, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt. I’m happy that Obama has been working to assemble a bi-partisan, intelligent and multi-cultural team of advisors to aid in this new era.
I hope that conservatives heed McCain’s advise. He plans to do all that he can to support and help Obama and this country face the struggles ahead; some GOP and conservatives have acknowledged that they would follow suit, but of course the blowhards like Rush Limbaugh are already scrambling to spew their ignorance and anger at the nation’s choice. It is important all politicians and citizens work together to address the drastic problems and issues ahead of us– wars, the environment, the economy and our freedoms, choices and civil rights.

It’s worth noting that ballot issues up for votes in relation to abortion resulted in overwhelming pro-choice votes. This nation has upheld and spoken loudly in their support of a woman’s right to choose and the request that there be the absence of government presence during that private and difficult decision. Not a single anti-abortion bill passed during this election.
Marijuana issues across states resulted in a 12th state legalizing medicinal marijuana, and in Massachusetts the citizens voted to decriminalize the private possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana– so now, if someone is “busted” for marijuana possession in New Hampshire they will have to “surrender” their marijuana to the police and pay a $100 fine. Hopefully these are steps towards a more intelligent and realistic national drug policy as well as prison reform.
The world had already weighed in on what they think of Obama. Every nation other than Germany and Israel (who both supported McCain) spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of Obama and saw his election as a huge step forward for our nation and also for restoring a positive image of America to the world and repairing diplomatic relations.

Sadly, one thing that didn’t come through in a positive manner on election day was homosexual equality rights. A bill in California passed banning gay marriage. The thousands of legal gay marriages that have already taken place in California will remain valid, but officials noted that those couples may face legal issues of some form in the future. Every bill dealing with gay rights came back negatively, ranging from adoption rights for gay couples to gay marriage bans in multiple states. So, as we finally make the steps in the right direction in regards to racial civil rights and equality, we as a nation still have miles to go in recognizing that all people, of all races, genders, religions and sexual orientations deserve the exact same human and political rights.
So, I hope you educated yourselves and voted. I hope your happy (or at least willing to deal) with the outcome. I hope that we as a nation can move forward. I also hope we keep realistic. As one commentator truly said earlier today, “he’s not a messiah,” and Obama is not. We need to realize he’s human and he’s a politician and that he can’t fix everything. All progress will take time, too. Many are ready to see instant change once Obama takes office, and that’s highly unlikely. It will take time to notice progress and it will take time for things to fall into place, so hopefully we will all realize that and have patience.

If you’re a regular reader to my blog, I will give you a brief heads up on what to expect in future articles. I plan to try and give politics a bit of a break for awhile (that is unless something outrageous occurs). The next “Christianity And…” piece will arrive soon, this one will be “Christianity and Hell,” and it will focus on alternative viewpoints and beliefs in regards to what Christianity actually teaches about “Hell.” Another religious piece is in the works and it’s in response to some of Bishop Spong’s books, specifically “Resurrection: Myth or Reality?” and a concept he speaks of in that book that I had been previously unaware of–the concept of “Midrash,” a Jewish writing and scripture-reading technique that relies heavily on symbolism and myth and which Spong claims the Gospel writers to have engaged in. Not too long from now, my “Year in Review” pieces will appear as December comes and passes: my top ten lists of the best in Music Albums and singles of 2008, Books, Films, and Comics, so check back soon.

It’s been a good year to catch a concert as great musicians all over the popular music spectrum have traveled around the country. Nine Inch Nails has been coast to coast with their “Lights in the Sky” tour promoting their last three albums, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits have both toured this year; in hip hop Lil Wayne and Lupe Fiasco headlined a few gigs together and though they differ drastically in style and substance both are at the top as far as skill in their field goes. Kanye West elevated hip hop shows to a more theatrical level with his current tour and countless classic rock bands like AC/DC have hit the road once more.

The show I was most surprised to hear about was “Rock and Roll Means Well,” a pairing of two of my favorite current bands, the Drive by Truckers and the Hold Steady. I’ve raved about both bands multiple times on this site, and reported the announcement of the show about a month ago when I first heard of it. Well, the tour finally kicked off on October 30th in Louisville, Ky. It’s only going to last about a month, ending up in the New York area by the end of November. DBT have been touring for their 2008 “The Home Front Tour” in promotion of their latest album Brighter Than Creation’s Dark and the Hold Steady have been touring in promotion of their new album Stay Positive. I caught a show of DBT’s for “The Home Front” in a small club in Huntsville, Alabama and it was terrific, but where it focused primarily on the new album, during this new tour DBT is dragging out a wide variety of material, much of it harking back to their earliest songs. DBT founder and singer Patterson Hood promises a lot of surprises and stated that this tour was a break from their other tour and the focus is on just playing the best and wildest rock show they can play.

On Halloween night “Rock and Roll Means Well” arrived in Nashville, Tennessee. I was lucky enough to be able to get tickets and make the drive into town to catch it and I think it’s going to be the concert tour of the year, so if they’re coming anywhere near you, make sure to go if at all possible. After an opening act by Bobby Bare Jr., The Hold Steady took the stage in full Halloween garb, dressed as America’s Founding Fathers. They kicked things off with the opening track from …Positive, “Constructive Summer,” and for an hour and a half they ran through great song after great song: “Sequestered in Memphis,” “Navy Sheets,” “Hey Sapphire,” and most of the new album but past albums were in full display as well. After hearing songs from Separation Sunday like “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night” I’ve dug it out and listened to it several times since the show and I now like it as much as my favorite HS album Boys and Girls in America. Overall a great set, and although most of the audience seemed to be there for DBT (with HS mainly being a “northern” or “Midwest” favored band and the show being much closer to DBT’s Alabama I guess that was to be expected), the crowd finally began to adequately become involved. All of the background vocals and “whoah’s” coming from the crowd amps the HS songs, they’re built on “sing-along choruses.” Craig Finn played the perfect front man, approaching us like he was telling us stories and preaching to us about rock and roll. He carries a stage with unabashed, geeky abandon. The entire band seemed to gain energy as the show progressed until they were all bouncing with creativity by the closing number. My only disappointment was that they didn’t break out “How a Resurrection Really Feels,” “Both Crosses,” or “Crucifixion Cruise,” any one of which would’ve been perfect for the “church of Country Music and Rock n’ Roll” that is the Ryman Auditorium.

The Drive by Truckers took the stage about thirty minutes later and it became obvious that this was who most of the audience came to see. Pattersoon Hood did the same great job he always does of introducing and bridging the songs with his conversation that always reveals autobiographical tidbits. Before launching into “Bulldozers and Dirt,“ he let us know that it was the first song he ever wrote that he thought was any good. “Puttin’ People on the Moon” seemed even more angry than usual, and it was set to a wild light show. Shonna did excellent with “I’m Sorry Huston,” and Mike Cooley rocked the entire building with “Where the Devil Won’t Stay,” and “Marry Me,” the latter of which contains the tour-naming line, “Rock and roll means well but can’t help telling young boys lies.” During an encore the band blasted out covers of Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Love,” and Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” and Pattersoon added an ending section that wasn’t in Young’s original version in which he chanted “give change a chance,” which is as explicitly political I’ve seen him get from stage (other than some of the lines in “Puttin’ People on the Moon” and other such songs).

Get tickets while you can. In a recent interview Patterson Hood noted that the next few weeks of the tour could go either way depending on the mood of both bands in the aftermath of the election. If there’s an Obama victory Hood noted that the shows would likely feel much more like a celebratory experience…if things go the other way, he said it might be one “angry m******g show.”