Friday, September 19, 2014


I'm serious about making things: songs, drawings, a difference... and part of being creatively serious is playing.

A while back I was hanging out with Christa's family, and whenever the nieces and nephews are around we do art. For some reason that day we made masks. This is my Einstein mask. I'm posing in front of Christa's sewn paper wall piece with my "memory ray gun" which I made using paper bags, toilet paper rolls and old photos. You aim the ray gun at something (visible or imagined) that you would like to remember more or less vividly and press "enhance" or "fuzz" on the gun. Imagination exercises do help retrain a part of your brain that can atrophy if you let it.

And it's kind of fun.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Step Aside


This is a detail from a piece with the working title "Removing Art."

I've been thinking about how religious subcultures relate to art. One way, one phase, is removing it. This is sad. It can be devastating. It can be small minded and stupid, and often is.

And. . . it can also clear space for something different, something new, like forest fires re-calibrate local ecosystems. Is there a place for book burning? Flag burning? Our most sacred personal, religious and national symbols deserve respect but also reexamination and challenge from time to time. Jesus kicks over the money changers' tables in the temple. Hooray say the artists while the business people scratch their heads or call their lawyers. But...

If I, as an artist, am unwilling to accept the possibility of (let me say it stronger -- if I don't expect and look for) times and places where removing art or music is the right thing to do (rather than making or promoting it), I may find myself in the same boat as the money changers who could not imagine that what God desired might require them to... step aside.

(Please excuse the Melvillian hack of a run on sentence.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Listening to Music Now (Part 3: Critics)

Who tells you what to listen to . . .  or guides you to places they've discovered?
I used to go to record store owners to find new music. One of them made the switch and now I listen to his Spotify playlists. It is now, however, a different experience. Fundamentally. Whereas before I'd save up to buy an album every month or so (or maybe sign up for BMG again and get the free cds), now it's all at my fingertips. An unfathomable amount of music, right there. The fact that our minds are not blown by the landscapes open to us now, the treasure hunting available, is stunning. Once we start to get it we will learn new things, recognize new patterns, invent new ways of describing what we see. This is probably already happening.

This new reality calls for a new type of critic -- one that helps people learn how to listen again, how to look, how to appreciate, how to swim in the ocean.  Before critics were expert guides to particular swimming holes, rivers, or lakes. Some were explorers who visited other lakes and rivers. Some found the sea, but most of us didn't care because we couldn't afford to travel there. Now, however, the ocean is open to many, many more of us, and it's hard to hear the old critics voices over the roar of the waves. But some of them are modifying their boats or buying seagoing vessels. . . and other, younger ones are growing up on the ocean, visitors to the lakes and rivers  that were homes to yesterdays critics. But salt water is different than fresh water -- some skills translate and some don't.

I have a friend in his twenties that I see two or three times a year when I go to Nashville. He's become one of my new music "dealers", a seagoing explorer who comes to shore and shows me what he found since I last talked to him. He sometimes begins with an apologetic, "Well I don't have much for you this time" and then goes on to introduce me to a brilliant singer, writer, song, or even sub-genre. I'm trying to get him to write about what he hears. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Maybe it will work, maybe not. At this point the important thing is that he's out of his boat looking. When he comes to shore he talks to his friends and they talk to their friends. People like him may end up writing... or not. Maybe they'll talk, or tweet, or host television shows -- or maybe (hopefully) there will be another way to introduce people to what they find in the sea, a method that does justice to the kind of change we are undergoing.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


And now, for a brief respite from my ruminations on listening to music! Here's an in-process collaborative piece I'm working at with Christa.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Listening to Music Now (Part 2)

Here's a few questions to get you thinking about how you listen to music now:

Where you listen: on the computer, on hi fi equipment at home, at work. At a music venue, at church.

When you listen: What is your physical and mental state when you listen? Certain kinds of music require mental energy, other types can catalyze movement, but if you only listen in one way you miss a lot.

How you listen: Do you pick it apart or encounter it as a whole? Do you feel it or think about it? Do you disappear into it or launch off of it?

Why you listen: What are you listening for? To reinforce something, stir you, or challenge your reality? Again, it's easy to get into ruts and miss the variety of worthwhile reasons to listen. I've talked to a number of people who don't really listen to music anymore. One of the reasons is that once they outgrew the high school reasons to listen they didn't find new ones. They do exist.

What you listen to: this is where the options have opened up in such a massive way that we really can not yet really understand the change that has occurred. Until fairly recently, unless you had a lot of money and free time your access to the massively varied music that exists was fairly limited. No longer. If you can spend $120/year you have access to more music than you'll ever be able to adequately explore. Genres and subgenres spanning decades, continents, philosophies, emotions. It's insane.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Listening to Music Now (Part One)

I recently read an interesting post about Rhapsody's UnRadio. It's another way to listen to music, somewhere between the $10/month access to all music usually associated with Spotify and the new kind of "radio" experience which is Pandora. It's good to keep thinking about technology and how it affects the listening experience, because these are the pipelines through which the miracle of music flows into our brains and bodies.

Pulling back a little from our immediate situation, back beyond Youtube, before Itunes existed, back, back, back before surround sound, back to the invention of cds, back further to DAT tapes, cassette tapes, four tracks, quadraphonic stereo, vinyl, the first radio, first recordings. This has all changed in a just a bit longer than a human lifetime.

And how we listen to music continues to change. In live settings natural acoustics made a huge difference --  for most of history. And, although we thought all our sound reinforcement changed all that, it really didn't -- natural acoustics still matter. Ask anyone who has ever set up a sound system in a public (or private) space. Ask the people who suffer through music that sounds much worse than it should because it does not fit the room it's being played in. Acoustics still matter.

Headphones or speakers? How much (and what kind of) noise pollution is around you?

Many factors influence how we listen to music now, but the building blocks are the same, and worth remembering, especially since we now have access to an unprecedented, incrementally increased amount of music -- styles and types, live and recorded. What this means (among other things, including new challenges and opportunities for professionals and amateurs alike) is each of us has a chance to discover and rediscover music!  iWhatever our phase of life, music can be a gift, an avenue for grace of God, a prophetic prod towards truth, an invitation towards growth, an exposure of the heart, an aid to rest. So consider carving out a half hour. Get on Rhapsody, Spotify or even YouTube. Explore. It may remind you what a marvelous gift life is, and what a beautiful, terrible world we live in. Which is a good thing to remember.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Song and Dance Man

One of my favorite Bob Dylan quotes goes something like this;
"I'm just a song a dance man."
Coming from one of the most revered and long-lived musician/lyricist/activist/poets around, this is a fun statement. And like most good poetry it is both true and not true at the same time, depending on what level you look at it. Allow James Moore explain:
"Scrape away the veneer and what's left is a guy madly in love with the art of musical performance, someone who, for better or worse, till death do its part, is both master and slave to the creative process itself."
So on one level it's true, he is a song and dance man. Especially important for those who want to immortalize and worship him to understand. He's not the messiah.
On the other hand he's much more than that -- and his work is profoundly satisfying and disturbing, helping you face reality and shining light on our hiding places, reminding us how much meaning there can be, how much sorrow and joy in a simple song and dance.
What does this have to do with anything, you may be wondering? Well, part of what I'm working at in my own life and work (both as a songwriter and a leader in the Dandelion Seed Company artist network) is digging through the underbrush and the topsoil to find the bedrock I can really build my life and my work as an artist on. If it's not fame or money or being true to myself, what is it?
I think Dylan's quote is a nod in the right direction. One of my first and deepest foundations for my life and journey as an artist is simply this:
That art and creativity, the song and dance, are good things. They are a gift from God, they make life richer. Yes, they can do so much more -- move people, make them think, draw them closer to God, teach something -- all that is true, but without the foundation of them being good in and of themselves, being a gift from God, it is SO VERY DIFFICULT to really live out the calling or make the journey we are called to make as artists.
Imagine if you only saw your child in terms of the value he or she could add to your or someone elses' life -- you would be hamstrung as a parent from the start in being able to help them become the gift they could be to others, and yes, to you yourself. Something very similar applies to the arts in general and more specifically to those who are called to an arts-related vocation.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Love, Take Me Home

Home is my theme for this year, thinking about it, reading, writing songs, drawing and hopefully moving closer to it -- building better homes, appreciating the ones I've had and have.

Along these lines, I posted a song called Love Take Me Home on Soundcloud. (Oh, for you less technologically savvy -- just click the link and it will take you there). I wrote it on this theme for some friends in Asia a couple months ago. They seemed to like it. Hope you do too.

Monday, April 7, 2014

House Flying

This is a collaboration with Ellah Clemons. She drew the basic, original house/space ship and gave the idea for the chocolate factory. She also drew one of the butterflies. I drew the rest, attempting to work her ideas and approach into the larger context of the painting.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Thailand

We are in Thailand installing art and playing music.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

At This Stage

I had the privilege of sharing the stage numerous times with Eluvia's more than competent rhythm section in this unique context created by Christa Reuel.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Direct Car
Desperate Clearing
Dust Coil
Delicate Clasp
Drive Closest

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Was Gone Earlier

I shot this photo staring out the window of the house where I co-wrote most of the Surge On Smith songs for the next record. We're about half way through writing the record. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Good Photo

This is a good photo. It was taken by Justin Clemons a while ago, when he was a much less well-known photographer. He took it for Surge On Smith, just as we were getting started. We got up before dawn and he dragged all his lights into a field in the middle of Dallas. There are different kinds of art; I'm glad to have been part of this one one. Check out his stuff...