Friday, January 20, 2017

feel free to pray for Babylon the great
but do not forget its ultimate fate

Saturday, January 14, 2017

will eventually blog about some stuff .... but stuff happens. Nevertheless, preview of possible coming attractions (?)

A friend showed me Westworld season 1 and I mean to get to that. 

It's wildly belated but I've meant to write about why I have problems with Captain America Civil War having managed to see it a second time.  It completely falls apart and the weakness of the film is paradoxically organically tied to what Marvel Studios fans may regard as one of its great strengths, the overall cohesiveness of the Marvel film universe.  There's a problem, and the problem is, whether you'll want to believe this or not, Jessica Jones.  It just boggles my mind that Bucky seemed to have no real remorse for having killed a bunch of people as the Winter Soldier while Jessica Jones was haunted by killing just one person.  Bucky was brainwashed?  So what, Jessica Jones was under the thrall of Killgrave, a skeezy monster who can tell people to do things and they have to do it whether they want to or not.  The more fully integrated the Marvel entertainment brand gets the more pressing the problem of this double standard in which Bucky Barnes is off the hook for killing countless people while Jessica's superhuman liver lets her not die from the alcohol she drinks in guilt over having killed someone.  But we'll get to that later, I hope.

The "Legend of Entitlement" essay about the moral trainwreck that was Legend of Korra has yet to be written.  And there's a little piece about the genius of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold retelling of Batman's origin I want to get to. 

The selective Christian/pagan syncretism explicit in The Secret of Kells take on the Book of Kells might be another topic for another time.  All that is to say I've felt overdue to write about animation for years.  There's still a pile of stuff about Justice League/Justice League Unlimited I've wanted to get to.  The DC films this far have generally convinced me that if you want to see versions of these characters done convincingly it's best to stick to the Dini/Timm continuity or catch The Brave & the Bold (which got me to love Aquaman and had an actually good story for Crazy Quilt!).

I haven't written much about Archer or The Venture Bros.  Could but probably won't.  Might instead mull over a general ethos that comes across in the Adult Swim brand in more general terms.  But that, too, probably needs to wait. 

Things come up and things go down. 

This isn't the venue to get into that stuff.

I have, I will say, been working a lot more (again) on some musical projects.  There was this gigantic cyclical project, a musical thing that I spent years working on.  That's done.  For the long time long time readers (and/or the people who know who blogs here) you might have already heard.  It's not like there's never been lengthy discussions about contrapuntal music and the guitar here before.  I'm hoping to get around to discussing contrapuntal cycles by Igor Rekhin, Castlenuovo-Tedesco, Rodion Shchedrin, Shostakovich (yes, that one), Henry Martin and ... eh ... I might even go back to Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis for old time's sake because I love that cycle. 

I wish that when Slate did Wonder Week I'd gone back and recycled my "Counterpoint According to Stevie Wonder" blog post.  But I didn't.  Instead I wrote thousands of words about why that compound chorus in "Living for the City" is so amazing, which it still is! 

But a lot of stuff happens in the off-line world.  There's nothing wrong with feeling no huge obligation to meet deadlines that simply don't exist.  A friend or two in the real world asked whether or not the blog was retired on account of a certain Richard Nixon of megachurch pastors up and quitting.  Nope, still around.  If anything the blog can finally belatedly get back to all the stuff it was intended to be about a decade ago.  It doesn't mean people will want to read it but if they do I can be grateful. 

Still, it was hard not to notice that when that evangelical advisory committee for Trump's campaign was announced there were some guys on that list who got mentioned in coverage of the Driscoll meltdown.  Sealy Yates?  Was that the person who, as reported by Warren Throckmorton, suggested Result Source could be used?  Was that James MacDonald mentioned at The Elephant's Debt who showed up with Mark Driscoll at the Strange Fire conference?  Never mind the matter of whether you think Trump should have gotten the RNC nomination or have won the Electoral College vote.  The prodigious rate at which I've referenced Ellul in the last year might telegraph a skepticism about populist agitators and their fans whether it's red or blue.  No, this is another point, that even "if" Trump were as pristine as undriven snow that some of the evangelical advisors (who may not want to be linked to the guy by now but, again, separate matter) were peole who ended up being documented as having played no compelling accountability role for Mark Driscoll in the last six years and in one case may have positively advised the use of Result Source to rig the New York Times Bestseller list.  With an advisory committee tha tincludes people like that (or Paula White) nobody in the Oval Office, whether a Clinton or a Trump, would seem to be in "good hands". 

But then these days my fatalism and pessimism abou the United States would be hard-pressed to find a gloomier outlook. 

But then you can only do what you can where you can.  What I feel like I can do is make some long-form cases for how and why the boundaries between pop music and art music need some conceptual dismantling.  It's begun to drive me up the wall how some guys, and it's generally been white guys who ponticiate about jazz as musicians or journalists, traffic in an essentialist narrative of some kind or another about the history of the tradition.  I've grown tired of reading white liberal journalists and musicians write about soulful black musicians in ways that don't convey that  there is some seriously cerebral stuff going on in the music. 

I'm getting tired of "reification" only being deployed in some Marxist sense and not a gestalt sense, because the gestalt sense of reification is in many respects founational to getting how jazz can work as a listener's art and a performer's art.  I don't want to demystify the craft of music composition to make people stop loving the music they love.  I want to demystify elements of music because I'm tired of the idiotic claims of writers that Stevie Wonder "broke all the rules" of music in a song chorus (you know the one) when he was using chromatic median pivot relationships and octatonic linear movement in ways that can correspond to things done by Stravinsky or Scriabin.  There isn't a "white" or "black" way to deploy chromatic median relationships over octatonic linear movement! 

It pisses me off that after generations of black musicians trying to articulate things about their music in a way that lets the music be appreciated as music there are still white liberal writers out there (and generally their guys) who sell the holy fool vibe.  We don't need that.  It seems condescending to say blues "broke the rules".  One of my friends in college hated blues because for her the harmonic formula was too simple, too predictable and too impossible to do anything interesting with to make it worth learning. Whereas I can zone out blissfully to the endless variations John Lee Hooker introduces into 12/8 time.  I love pre-World War II blues and it's one of the wells of inspiration I keep coming back to.  One of my dreams is to find a way to arrive at a fusion of 18th century polyphonic and developmental thought processes with old Delta or Texas blues.  If I could write a fugue for guitar inspired by the music of Blind Willie Johnson I would so totally do it! 

... and try to get back to writing about some Batman cartoons. 

But this hasn't been one of those phases in life where it's easy to just sit down and write 6k to 12k words in a day like I was doing back in 2012. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

over at the New Republic, a rumination on the aging baby boomer rock stars and ambivalence about their legacy
If you were a rocker in reasonably good health who put out a reasonably successful record in the 1960s or 1970s and had yet to write a book, chances are you wrote a book or had one written about you in 2016. As the publishing industry has become more vulnerable, it has become more risk-averse. Established names with established audiences—preferably older audiences, who spend money on things like books—have become increasingly valuable. After the success of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Keith Richards’s Life, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, publishers are hot for baby boomer nostalgia, while musicians are just as hot to cash checks. In 2016, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Robbie Robertson, Johnny Marr, and Sebastian Bach all published memoirs—in a few cases, they even wrote them, too.

But, with the exception of Springsteen’s joyous memoir, a feeling of resentment permeates these books that are supposed to serve as well-earned victory laps. The desire to bask in glory turns out to be inseparable from the sense that credit hasn’t been given where it’s due. This curious mixture of self-satisfaction and resentment—call it the baby boomers’ revenge [emphasis added]—was reflected in the politics of 2016, which was defined by a reactionary nostalgia that led to the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, two catastrophic events that came over the expressed opposition of younger generations.

One thing these books have in common is a general ambivalence about the time period their authors are largely identified with. For Love and Robertson, it’s the 60s and early 70s; for Springsteen and Collins the 70s and 80s. These writers know that they made history, but are not quite sure what that history means. They are baby boomers who are abundantly proud of their generation’s cultural achievements but wary of its political legacy.

It's not entirely clear to me that the mixture of self-satisfaction and resentment is the peculiar domain of baby boomers who decided to go for Brexit and Trump.  But then this is the New Republic we're quoting here.   After all, it's the sort of magazine that can also feature stuff like ... :


So, Meryl Streep’s presidential address from the Golden Globes podium this weekend felt familiar. When FDR held his fireside chats over the radio, he codified the sound of both the American president and the American patriarch in his castle. Hollywood depictions of the American political voice have been various but contain certain definable strains. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frank Capra brought an existential sweetness to the Senate, throwing the system into a reassuringly contained and inconsequential chaos as an unknown enters the system by chance (literally, through a coin toss). Similarly, in Forrest Gump the hero accidentally makes an excellent speech about the unmentionable horrors of the Vietnam War due to an unplugged mic. On our televisions, The West Wing fooled us into thinking that grandiose monologues delivered by clever white people could right any wrong in the world.

Whoever this "us" was that actually thought Sorkin-penned dialogue solved anything at all must have been subscribing to The New Republic.  I've mentioned how The West Wing and Gilmore Girls can be thought of as blue state power fantasy/wish fulfillment narratives in the way that 24 was a red state power fantasy somewhere else at the blog, but overall it seems that the temptation to regard yourself as part of the greatest generation is a temptation that will erupt in every American generation.    As some old aging pop star put it in some song, "I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right. We're not just making promises that we know we'll never keep."

Yup, because only baby boomers have that sense of entitled we'll-change-the-world hubris? 

Generation X has had a few men and women who are able to simultaneously reveal self-satisfaction and resentment.  There might even have been a local case study here in the Puget Sound area who wasn't even a rock star ... .

But the desire to bask in glory may, really, be inseparable from the sense that credit hasn't been given where it's due for any human being who is not simultaneously also Jesus. 

There's this line from The Right Stuff where Wolfe described how all the astronauts wanted was to be led on to a stage where they then received at least as much adulation as the Pope and that this was really not so much to ask. Recognize that we changed the world and we'll feel like the world is a basically fair place, perhaps?

My thinking of late has been a great deal about whatever our legacies are are ultimately not things we can control.  Legacy sounds great on paper but what it turns out to be is beyond you or me. 

Kyle Gann blogged years ago about how he came across classes of students where not a single one of the students had heard a song by the Beatles.  When a commenter lamented this observation Gann, iff memory serves, replied that he was glad there was finally a generation of students that wasn't obsessed with the Fab Four for a change because he never liked them half a century ago when they were a thing. 

on the other side of the Electoral College decision, remembering Schumer's zinger that didn't come to pass

Not that I'm particularly thrilled with the outcome, but then I regard the empire as doomed either way.  Still ... one of the reasons that some people found the outcome at least partly amusing was because of stuff like this:


Schumer went on to promise that she would go to “rehab” to better please everyone, “both the rich, entitled, white people who are gonna vote for [Trump] and the very poor people who’ve been tricked into it.” She concluded, “I look forward to putting this all behind us in a couple weeks when Hillary Clinton is our motherf---ing president!”

If it had just been Dewey defeats Truman for one institution of the press that'd have been one thing.  What happened late last year seemed to involve the majority of what passes for the Fourth Estate in the North American continent. 

Depending on what does or doesn't happen we find out how long Trump is president ... but this was not Clinton's moment.

The temptation to retroactively imagine that the last eight years were actually somehow great is going to be too strong for some people.  This may be less a function of a responsible or thorough reading of historical events than a rear-guard nostalgia prompted not so much but a clear-eyed view of the past as a panic-fueled vision of the future.  The paranoid apocalyptic idiom that the red and blue cultivated together during the Cold War may have fractured into unique apocalyptic idioms favored by those red and blue but the paranoia has begun to smel the same.  It's not even that there's nothing to be worried about.  There's always been stuff to be worried about.  Any number of genre/pulp classics are reminders that ever since we humans invented nuclear weapons and used them there's been reasons to worry that we'd incinerate ourselves.  But it would seem the order of the era in the post-Cold War American idiom is to only have melt-downs that betoken the fall of Babylon the Great when your team isn't in power.  It was weird reading David Gushee (was it?) lamenting overweening federal power as if the reach of the federal government was only terrifying because Trump won.  Conversely, a decade ago someone I know was declaring that more or less the problem was the President DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH POWER to implement the War on Terror.   In an age in which the greatest apostasies to advocates red and blue is to not be red or blue it would hardly seem any wonder that genuine threats from overseas would matter less to red and blue partisans than the mere existence of the other color. 

It'd be easier to feel bad for the press if the press itself didn't seem to be one of the inveterate ruling castes these days.  Just because they are so very often not particularly religious doesn't mean that the entertainment castes of the United States haven't embraced what could be described as a form of clericalism, but a clericalism of the artist rather than the formal priest. 

and I guess lately I feel like a slightly anticlerical sort on the subject of the arts and entertainment.  These people don't necessarily have special knowledge that's worth more than what you can have about the arts.  It's not as though the red and blue partisans don't have a history of holding jup entertainers as saviors.  It's not like Reagan always had his career in politics, after all. 

a Francis Schaeffer retrospective at Mere Orthodoxy suggesta a third way between adulation and anathema ... we might be underselling some of the foibles a little
He got some of the details wrong. He was an over-the-top generalist. The film series and book, How Should We Then Live? have a certain Cold War feeling that has now been succeeded by newer concerns, such as globalization and Islamicist terrorism. But he was fresh, and insightful, and had a “nose’ for trends and people. We can do a great deal with his heritage, whether in general areas or in the arts in particular. So many of his insights were right, though partial. May we be his worthy children as we build on his legacy and add to his insights!
He got some of the details wrong is too nice a way of putting it, depending on the subject.  I still agree with Schaeffer's critique of art for the sake of art being a dead end.  But Schaeffer's whole take on history blows up when you start breaking it down into the component disciplines.  Musicians with a modicum of music history could find no end to the implications of what Schaeffer got wrong about just John Cage.  But I'm incubating some thoughts about stuff like that which may or may not be presented in this particular context, i.e. this particular platform.

We can, certainly, do a great deal with his ideas and proposals, partial though they were--we can also, in another sense, remember that at most he provided a potential starting point and that perhaps the most valuable thing we can do is, and I'm trying to find a way to say this that can be construed as respectfully dissenting, move on from Schaeffer as clarion call to have Christians do X and go actually do X. 

I'd write more but I'm still mulling over a lot of stuff ... and to some degree there's some stuff at Roger Scruton's end of things that merits some pushback.  But I'm not sure how inspired I am to tackle that just yet ... maybe some stuff can wait for the weekend.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Nat Hentoff has died ... and a semi-related link on arts critics positions withering away in newspapers

Well, as arts news goes 2017 started off with ... basically the death of Nat Hentoff.  Perhaps not a name that would jump out or ring bells for readers, but it's a passing that deserves to be noted.  If people were unhappy at so many artists and such dying in 2016 losing Hentoff at the start of 2017 hardly seems like an indication that this year will be "better".

So thematically it would seem that we're witnessing the death of the era of arts critics in mainstream and local newspapers.  Thus ...

Blogs and niche arts websites thrive (if not economically, certainly in terms of traffic). But they can do great work, gather thousands of readers and still not plug the hole newspapers have left by pulling arts pages. Niche sites cater to niche audiences. They ghettoize content and normalize the notion that a story about a tremendous new rock act doesn’t belong between a report about a corrupt city council member and a recap of a Cleveland Cavaliers game.


“Newspapers are where most investigative journalism originates from, so it’s scary,” music publicist Jim Flammia of All Eyes Media says. “But it’s also scary for me professionally because I need places for our artists to get covered. My artists make their money on the road, so regional coverage is more important than national coverage, and that regional coverage comes from newspapers.”

There's a strange and not necessarily delicious irony reading this kind of stuff.  The irony is that when I started blogging back in 2006 what I was aiming to do was write about chamber music; classical guitar involving musical traditions that were not the usual suspects of Spain and Spanish-speaking traditions (I'm fond of stuff more from central/eastern Europe, Japan, and elsewhere, though I'm a stereotypical guitarist in that I do admire Sor and Villa-Lobos); animation and other things.

It was only when local and regional media, to say nothing of national press institutions, seemed to be systematically failing to cover what I thought needed covering about the history of Mars Hill that this blog took what was arguably the largest half-decade detour a would-be arts blog could take.  The blog came to be so utterly defined by investigative journalistic blogging about Mars Hill that when I saw a friend from the Mars Hill days a few months ago he asked if the blog was retired.

Nope, it's finally getting back to arts stuff.

But the ghettoizing effect of blogs is not merely a function of writing, it can be a function of the reading tendencies readers bring to their web experience.  Traffic to the blog is a tenth what it once was, which is fine.  The number of people who read the extensive series of posts late in 2016 I did on recapitulatory tendencies in early 19th century guitar sonatas is a mere fraction of the people who read about that memo proposing Driscoll get a raise.  There are times when investigative journalism is more important than arts coverage.  Ideally we can have investigative journalism and arts coverage.

But back when I was a student journalist I realized that a lot of what constitutes even the best arts coverage is still, in the end, advertising copy in a lot of ways.  Take any article in The New Yorker about this or that book or author that allegedly "predicted" Trump and what have you got?  A book of the month style advertisement for a book that the staff of The New Yorker imagine you either haven't bought/read yet or that you should read again.  Now there's a great deal of value in arts criticism precisely when you don't intend to watch or read any of the stuff being discussed.  That's not to say you want to be like Tom from Metropolitan, reading criticism rather than the books themselves as though you've read both.  :)

So in a way this blog is a reflection of my intermittent feelings and thoughts that we could have more academic discussions of guitar literature.  Those discussions are out there, to be sure, but they're not always easy to find. 

And what we're really lamenting when we lament a decline in critics is institutional endorsement.  The problem with a blog is that no matter how prestigious the author or content of a blog, it's not usually an example of the institutional press. 

It's hard to forget that in the last six or seven years what ultimately shook the foundations of Driscoll's empire here in Puget Sound was not exactly mainstream press coverage, at least not by itself.  Negative press coverage played a role but by no stretch of the imagination did Warren Cole Smith count as a liberal/secular journalist.  Neither could that be said of Janet Mefferd.  Driscoll's empire crumbled because of intra-evangelical, intra-Reformed critique.  Had things been left up to the left (religious or otherwise) Driscoll's brand might be even more powerful now than it was in 2012.  It may well be that a variety of the alliances of convenience through which different people who had criticisms of Mark Driscoll have withered away.  That's probably as it should be. 

An arts writer can make the difference between me reading a newspaper and not.  I basically stopped reading The Stranger for the most part after Chris DeLaurenti stopped writing for them ... unless something unusually pertinent showed up in the paper's pages. 

But my feelings about arts criticism and arts critics are profoundly mixed.  I wrote a haiku a while back ...

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft

isn't exactly an upbeat message.  Given the failures of the Fourth Estate to anticipate the recent Electoral College decision (never mind the small lake of post-mortems) the press may need to ask itself whether or not we're going to miss the freedom of the press in a post-Hentoff media or not. 

To put it another way, from where I've been blogging in the last ten-ish years, arts critics can have a comparable well of self-aggrandizing self-pity that north American Christian intellectuals can sometimes have.  We've got folks who are sad about their declining influence in society while we don't always seem to have the most airtight case as to how much influence we had to begin with. 

Some of my most persistent critical interests (i.e. what I've written criticism about) have been on subjects that I have rarely seen mainstream arts critics even bother with.  Yeah, yeah, maybe Richard Brody will vent about childrens' movies and cartoons for kids being all moralistic.  So what?  How much mainstream coverage is there of animation as an art form?  Not a ton, except in the comics scene, perhaps.  We'll get coverage of stuff considered "grown up" enough to count, so we'll get stuff about The Simpsons, South Park, or Family Guy, or Archer, or maybe sometimes The Venture Bros.  The pending Ghost in the Shell remake makes "some" headlines.  Ghibli makes some news for people already dialed in.

But arts criticism tends to ignore animation as a medium because of stereotyped associations with kid stuff.  One of my pet projects has been to occasionally write about cartoons and take them as seriously as I would novels by Dostoevsky or Camus or poetry by Levertov or Eliot or Stevens.  Part of the fun of criticism as a discipline and an art form is that you can write about the stuff that interests you.  I would propose that if you want to get a clear sense of where a society is at look into the stories a people considers safe enough to share with children.  What ideological and metaphysical perspectives are endorsed in kid tales?    If I were to take Batman stories more seriously than stories by Hemmingway that could be a reason why.  Arts criticism can travel about in the things people want to watch and discuss and not just the stuff academics have decreed we have to discuss in order to graduate from high school.  When the director Satoshi Kon died it was hardly news over here but it was sad news for me.  More people noted the death of George Michael than Roland Dyens, I suspect ... .

and so then there's music, and if there's a topic that could be said to interest only academic sorts, the evolution of sonata forms in solo guitar literature would be such a topic. 

All of this is stuff you can write about as much as you want at a blog.  You could do it for a local newspaper but ... really ... could you?  I can hardly think of more than maybe five articles (all reviews) discussing any of the music of Ferdinand Rebay.  Now, sure, maybe his music isn't your bag and that's fine.  What the role of arts criticism can play is in catalyzing conversations and debates.  I'd like Rebay's guitar sonatas to get quite a bit more exposure because even though I actually do admire Ponce's guitar sonatas they're in danger of being overplayed lollipops, to borrow some phrases Matanya Ophee has used.  Now perhaps Rebay's sonatas are lollipops but there's something to be said for sucking on a new lollipop once in a while. 

I haven't even gotten around to discussing contrapuntal cycles by Kapustin, Shchedrin, Shostakovich or Henry Martin yet ... that's stuff I want to get to.  You may be getting the idea here that what a blog has the luxury of providing is extended arts criticism that does not have to worry about a fiscal bottom line.  Newspapers may have less and less ability to provide that platform for arts criticism.

It might be a good thing if arts critics have to have other jobs with newspapers.  In the last few years of trying to catch up on arts criticism and the arts scene I've sometimes been discouraged and a little depressed at the solipsistic tendencies in arts criticism.  The idea that someone like A. O. Scott can make any defense of the art of criticism by saying in any way that it's "the art of the voice" seems ridiculous.  If I've never had confidence that art for the sake of art was ultimately a compelling life-long reason to make art that seems even more true about criticism for the sake of criticism if by criticism we mean the literary art form.  The problem with the art of the voice is that you have to be willing to say something.  Hentoff, it hardly needs to be repeated, was willing to say something. 

One of the more memorable reviews of Scott Timberg's book Culture Crash was at Arts Fuse, where the author dryly observed that it could seem as though Timberg only thought the seismic economic changes that slammed the working classes across the United States over the last thirty some years were a big deal when he lost his job as an arts critic. 

But then it seems the older I get the more I get the impression that writers in the United States by and large don't want to talk about the infinitesimally small odds that you or I can "make it" as a writer; it was illuminating to read that Sor had a desk job in the military while he was alive and doing his guitar composing thing.  It was interesting to read that Wenzel Matiegka was a clerk in a law office for a while.  To the extent that arts histories and arts coverage discuss the "what" of the finished products and not the possibility that very, very few of these people paid all their bills (or maybe any in some cases) doing what we remember them for ... it'd be nice if I could feel it was terrible that arts coverage has been declining in the last fifteen odd years.  But for some reason I'm just not feeling that heartbroken about it this week.  The art of criticism can withstand all this and the role of the vocational critic in the arts may e precarious as the role of the vocational artist.  It doesn't seem those institutional jobs or that institutional clout is coming back any time soon ... if ever ... so what alternatives may emerge?  Sometimes it seems the blog will have to do.  It's only a small part but it can still be something. 

Monday, January 02, 2017

Frank Turk at Pyromaniacs on calling it a day on blogging, which inspires some more thoughts on what some call watchblogging

It looks like we may begin 2017 with one less active contributor to the Team Pyro blog ... the only one that WtH would even occasionally read.

Frank Turk's debate with Internet Monk on the subject of Mark Driscoll may have been the best distillation of the ways in which American Christians were able to talk to each other and past each other on a set of topics.

Forewarning, some of these links may or may not work as they are:
Now—I agree that my blogging put me on a larger stage, and I agree that once on that stage, others on that stage may rebuke, react or correct.

I agree that I must consider this as the possible work of the Spirit.

But there exists NO WORKABLE AUTHORITY STRUCTURE that involves Frank Turk or any other internet critic that can place these Driscoll issues out of the realm of rebuke and into the realm of specific accountable repentance, i.e. we know when he’s repented, how and if it was sufficient. [emphasis added, all caps original]

The only way we will know that Driscoll has repented is, apparently, when Frank says so, and as much as I trust and affirm Frank, I’m simply not ready to sign on to giving individuals- pastors, bloggers, etc- that kind of jury duty.

Frank has a standard of repentance in his mind that he derives from scripture and experience. I’m sure it’s wonderful. But I have not agreed to it, and unless Frank has contacted the Mars Hill elders, I don’t think anyone else has agreed to it.

Who has the last word on Driscoll? The blogger in the UK who says Driscoll is a Jesus rejecting apostate who teaches Jesus was a pervert? The people on the floor of the SBC who haven’t listened to or read a word of Driscoll? The mob with torches in Missouri who clearly loath Driscoll as a danger to the church? The major pastor who indicted Driscoll in 4 posts on his blog? Some assortment of bloggers and pastors?

To date it seems that Turk's concerns about Driscoll's fitness for ministry were, at some length, basically vindicated.  What Janet Mefferd and Warren Throckmorton and Warren Smith and others unearthed about the promotion of one of Mark Driscoll's books raised plenty of legitimate questions about Mark Driscoll's ethics and competence as an author.  It needs to stressed that at no point did Team Pyro contributors ever meaningfully add anything of notable significance to that investigation.  It's possible for Turks' concerns to have been legitimate as far as they went without having made a compelling case in a context that, to put it colloquially, mattered.  Internet Monk succinctly explained why. 

Yet Spencer's caution that there was not, is not, and would never be any basis for people on the internet being able to meaningfully confront questions of character and conduct on the part of a Mark Driscoll apart from those in direct Christian community with Driscoll (i.e. elders and members of the local church who could actually influence things around a leader) was also vindicated.

It became abundantly clear between 2013-2014 that Mark Driscoll's elders did not and could not ultimately hold Driscoll accountable.  Survey the half dozen variant narratives on how and when and why Mark Driscoll claims God gave him permission to quit and you'll see that the formality of paying heed to his elders was surely made, right up to the day that Driscoll (entirely in retrospect) claimed he was given a divine exemptionSure, back in 2010 Driscoll wrote out the six reasons why he wasn't going anywhere yet five years later, poof, he was gone and over in ArizonaOne of any number of crowning ironies in Driscoll's 2015 roadshow of explaining how God told him he could quit was that in 2014 he'd preached a sermon about how if some guy says "God told me I get to do X" to be skeptical.

Pastor Mark Driscoll
ACTS (5:12-42)
May 04, 2014

So I want to be careful with this because this can be an opportunity for spiritual abuse. Because sometimes people say, “God told me.” Well, we’ll see, OK? You can’t just pull out the “God told me” card. [emphasis added] Ladies, let’s say you meet a guy and the guy says, “God told me to marry you.” “Interesting, he didn’t tell me or my dad, you know, so I don’t have to just assume that because you say the Lord says that the Lord in fact has spoken.”

You need to be very careful. Somebody comes along, “God told me to plant a church.” Let’s check that. All right, you can’t—I mean, 1 Corinthians 14 is clear. If you think you got a word from the Lord, you’ve got to check it by the leaders. So what we’re looking for, if you believe God has told you something, especially to do something that is difficult like this, we’re looking for a godly person—Peter’s a godly person. In godly community—it says he’s with the apostles, they’re all agreed. Under godly authority—they all agree on this. With a godly motive—to talk about Jesus. Doing a godly thing—wanting to minister to people. In a godly way—by being open in public and not hiding anything. So if you believe the Lord has told you something, he may have, but I would ask, “Are you a godly person in godly community under godly authority with a godly motive doing a godly thing in a godly way?” ... [emphasis added]

As we now know, inside the same calendar year Mark Driscoll resigned from his position at Mars Hill and in 2015 explained that he did so in spite of having agreed to submit to a restoration plan and process proposed by his elder board.  This could be regarded as independently attested by Mars Hill leadership within 2014 when they expressed disappointment that in resignation Mark Driscoll pre-empted any restoration process the leaders of Mars Hill could have walked him through.

If Turk has come to feel he has become a leader in bad example retiring from blogging is a respectable decision. 

Something Turk doesn't exactly get to directly but sort of gets to is the problem of influence, you have an influence on people.  Or ... maybe there's another way to put this.  Frank Turk may or may not realize that fans of Team Pyro can be pretty much the same hard-headed pugnacious arguers that at one point attached themselves (and in some cases may still attach themselves) to Mark Driscoll.  The fanbase dynamics for a Team Pyro blog can be much the same as for a Mark Driscoll blog and when you're bathed in the nebulous sphere of this influence you can't see it for what it is.  It's possible to propose that this can be a weakness endemic to any blog or blogger who is primarily known for being willing to steadily sound off on anything that might be regarded as controversial.  So in that sense Team Pyro and Mark Driscoll, as iterations of the dynamics of the blog scene, aren't necessarily at all different.

And at another level, maybe neither is a Frank Schaeffer or a Rachel Held Evans.

Something I appreciated about Michael at Internet Monk was that he made it clear that his writerly persona was not the flesh and blood person.  There might be overlap in a Venn diagram but the writer Internet Monk is not precisely the same as the human.  What people read into Michael's work and inferred from Michael's work were never automatically or necessarily the same thing as who Michael was in the flesh.  Whether we're talking about a Team Pyro contributor or a Mark Driscoll these kinds of public blogging polemicists of yore have had more than a little bit of a stake in conflating, altogether, the real world distinctions that can accrue between persona and person. 

I've written plenty of stuff critical of the leadership culture of what was once Mars Hill.  Anyone who's read ten posts of this blog in the last seven years would know that.  I have lived in the Seattle area since the first Bill Clinton term.  It's never been lost on me that if I wrote stuff about Mars Hill it would have significance where I live because I was living with Mars Hill members as housemates even after I'd stopped being a contracted member.  I had to literally live with the prospect of how what I wrote would or could influence Mars Hill friends for better or worse.  What was the best way to raise concerns in a way that respected their humanity and shared Christian faith in a way that didn't tell them what to do but invited them to reconsider the plausibility of the constructed narrative?

The trouble is that the only ways you can effectively do that involves trust and earning and retaining trust is, by and large, not a primary concern among bloggers who want to prove something.  So in that sense Frank Turk could be right, a great deal of blogging is a kind of exhibitionism. 

Then Turk's got this:
if you are using the internet to talk to people who do not know you and cannot know you, you are doing some of the things I did, and you probably do not understand the consequences.  I didn't.  The first consequence seems really obvious to me now: you are kidding yourself about your level of influence.  

Well, at one level, what's the point of the internet if you don't use it for precisely the purpose of talking to people you haven't met before about a potentially shared interest?  For instance, for people with disabilities who are effectively trapped in their homes the internet is exactly the kind of life-saving resource, literally and figuratively, they can avail themselves to when something unexpected happens.   More than just a handful of my closer friends that I made at Mars Hill I made through what was initially an internet connection. 

The problem is not necessarily that people don't understand the consequences in the sense that they don't understand their own influence.  I lean more toward the proposal of Terry Teachout about social media in general, which is that this so profoundly alters our understanding of public vs private figure that both the law and our sense of social conventions has not caught up to the ways in which we often unwittingly employ social media technology. Ergo some ignorant kids do stuff with social media that gets them in trouble or politicians send pictures of parts of themselves that sink careers.  At the risk of being a pedantic scold who at one point studied journalism here, if more American Christians even knew what theories of the press were and what the implications of mass media platforms are they might think twice about starting a blog or making what they regard as some witty comment on a Facebook wall or a twitter feed.

Then there's this ...

The Bible never asks anyone to be a mostly-faceless, mostly-nameless shill for his own unregulated opinions -- and this a second corollary to my apology and retraction: in all seriousness, nobody is holding you accountable for your actions, and you are harming the spiritual well-being of those you are seeking to influence by proliferating a system in which there is no accountability.  You are making the local church into nothing, and that should bother you

Awesome, so who, exactly, was John the Baptist accountable to?  I'm not talking about John's saying "He must become greater and greater, while I must become less and less."  The question of whose authority gave John the right to do what he did was a big enough deal that John was asked and it was a point for discussion between Jesus and his adversaries.  To what extent do we get an answer that would satisfy blogger-era Frank Turk? 

For that matter, who wrote the letter to the Hebrews?  Do we have manuscript evidence that Matthew, Mark and Luke got notarized signatures on the original manuscripts of the synoptic gospels?  Does John SAY John was the one who wrote the gospel with his name traditionally affixed to it or is that a strong inference and a historical association?  The Bible actually has a couple of documents written by mostly faceless and sometimes even nameless shills for what some people who first read them might have regarded as unregulated opinions.  There were plenty of people who didn't like what Elijah had to say, for instance.  Ah, but we can't even be certain Elijah wrote anything down.  Sometimes we have a name but the name doesn't tell us a whole lot about the person, like Obadiah.  Are we completely clear who wrote Esther?  How sure are we that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes?  Turk's bromide has an appearance of wisdom to the sorts of people already disposed to take him seriously ... but in a way his warnings can boomerang. 

The other trouble here is that Turk conflates "mostly-faceless" with "unregulated opinions".  This is too glib a stereotype to be taken seriously.  It also presumes that any attempts to downplay personal identity have as their purpose a desire to shortcut accountability for things said.  The idea that bloggers just do stuff and say stuff without being connected to a local church has to be assumed.  There was some blogger who used to be a member of Mars Hill and when that blogger stopped being a contracted member the person didn't stop remaining connected to fellow Christians inside Mars Hill and outside Mars Hill.  For that matter, this blogger became a member at another church and continued to participate (albeit in a limited way) with the life of a local church.  When the time came around to write some possibly confrontational posts about where a leadership culture was going in Mars Hill the last thing Mars Hill elders and advocates could say about the blogger was that the blogger wasn't a member of a local church. 

What happens if the blogger is a member of a local church and works studiously to back up claims made with documentable sources that others can reference?  Does that continue to carry on the vices of bloggers Turk is concerned about? When piles of information distributed within Mars Hill via The City ended up here at the blog would Frank Turk's case be made that the problem was the blogger had no accountability?   When this showed up ...

and demonstrated that intra-Mars Hill documents presented that Mark Driscoll's 2012 compensation was in the zone of $500,000 was that harming the people of Mars Hill or was it helping them make an informed decision about whether to offer more continued support to Mars Hill?  There's no reason thousands of people could conclude both things happened when that document went up. 

Perhaps we could put this another way, perhaps more in keeping with the tenor of Team Pyro contributors, does Frank Turk's guilty conscience about his own self-perceived ethical failures as a blogger entitle him to presume other bloggers have shared in his character flaws?  Couldn't that be construed as emblematic of the collective character flaws of a Team Pyro blog altogether or perhaps the commentary brigades of some watchdog blogs the Pyro guys might not feel like naming?

Look, this blog has been known as a watchblog in spite of ample evidence to the contrary.  Publishing tens of thousands of words about 19th century guitar music might telegraph this has never been a "watchdog blog".  For years I'd stonewall the issue of "what's your mission?" from Mars Hill and Driscoll advocates raised in comments at the blog.  This blog was about Mars Hill history for a time when it seemed necessary to compensate for the failures of the press and in the last year it began to be more about discussing the possibilities of syntactic manipulation of stylistic elements in 19th century guitar sonatas and ragtime traditions to arrive at a possible synthesis of both styles.  That could understandably bore the daylights out of a lot of people but it's also a case for someone like Frank Turk that the trouble with a Pyromaniacs blog and a watchdog blog that goes after some favored son they like is that they are potentially doing the same thing, collapsing their blogging identities into personas--the showboating church leader has to be seen and the showboating watchblog blogger has to always, ever and only be blogging about timely issues that ask hard-hitting questions.  These are people who may both be trapped in the pigeon-hole of a self-cultivated persona.

It doesn't have to be that way.  If this were explicable in terms of Hollywood tropes these bloggers typecast themselves as action heroes.  I enjoy Batman movies and Batman cartoons but when I worked on cultivating a tone and voice for this blog, particularly as I was writing about Mars Hill, I went for a fusion of Jane Austen and Joan Didion because I admire their work.  If there "were" going to be a way to formulate a voice that in tone and content were an alternative to Mark Driscoll's macho showboating stand-up routine it would best be a literary voice and it seemed harder to find literary voices more contrasted with Driscoll's platform persona than the literary voices of Austen and Didion. 

Or in cinematic terms ... the downside of making yourself a kind of blogger Whit Stillman is that only so many people can enjoy what you do.  If the persona I cultivated "could" be likened to a Whit Stillman character then bloggers like Driscoll or even Team Pyro guys might be likened to ... Michael Bay characters.  I mean, they call themselves Team Pyro and have outlandish clip art.  We've got technical analysis of 19th century guitar sonatas.  Perhaps the study in contrasts on the basis of blog images here is too easy? :) 

So, yes, I deliberately set out to write in a style that punished the inattentive or TLDR sorts of people who read blog posts.  I also deliberately cultivated a writing style that soaked up the ethos of two women writers who I was moderately sure Mark Driscoll fans who would take to the internet very likely never read.  Austen's one of the great comic genius of English language literature but it's not the sort of genius that would be readily appreciated by a Driscoll fanboy, by and large.  Odds are moderately decent the average Mark Driscoll fan might not even know who Joan Didion is. 

Perhaps the easier way to make this point I'm trying to make is that any literary persona necessarily straitjackets you and typecasts you.  You need to ask yourself whether or not this distillation of what you choose to do is something you're comfortable with, if this distillation of you is something you're willing to live with as the presentation in media terms of who, for all intents and purposes (because you hit the publish button) is who you really are in terms of published work.  Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, and the same can be said of blogging.  Somewhere in the last ten years when I was at Mars Hill I began to realize I didn't like who I was becoming within the confines of Mars Hill, but that the sins people told me I was increasingly guilty of in how I related to people were simply not sins I could effectively repent of if I stayed within the confines of Mars Hill.  Now any number of people could say those sins of being cold-bloodedly condescending to people I don't agree with still happens but who's to say I'd be better at not doing that if I'd stayed inside Mars Hill?

As for that accountability thing ... it seems to be one of the pious bromides of certain strata of Christian bloggers.  The trouble is that it has to be presumed.  it isn't always the case in the real world. For instance, at no point in the last seven years could Mars Hill elders make a case that the guy who blogs at Wenatchee The Hatchet 1) wasn't a Christian 2) was a liberal of any kind 3) was not a member of a church or 4) was not careful to avoid making claims that could not be substantiated.  There were apparently some burning questions as to how on earth Wenatchee The Hatchet kept getting stuff from The City nobody outside Mars Hill was even supposed to be able to see ... but if anything that would have counted as a case that there were times when bloggers could keep institutions accountable that were emphatically interested in avoiding certain types of accountability. 

For that matter, Frank Turk's pious bromides seem unable to concede that it's possible to do the watchblog thing as a member of a local church.  It's the Team Pyro weakness for not quite being able to grant that a watchblog thing can ever be done that can, at least in light of some of the controversies that swirled up around some of their favorites, can seem ever so vaguely like a double standard.
Then again whether red or blue or theological left or right we've had a depressingly diverse range of case studies in which criticizing the other team is a whole lot easier than challenging how people on "our" team have failed or how we ourselves failed to live by the ideals we profess.  Turk seems unable to commit to the possibility that a watchblog can be a kind of repentance process.  That's a shame because while it may often be bloggers who vent about corruption in the church have chips on their shoulders, and while it's certainly common enough that many a blogger bloviates about the distinctives of who has or hasn't the bona fides of legitimate club membership, it doesn't always have to be that way.  It's also possible for a Christian blogger to be a church member willing to submit to local church leadership and still do something that gets known as watchblogging.

At the risk of using self as an example, Wenatchee The Hatchet did the watchblogging thing for a while, when it seemed necessary, while being a member of a church and even choosing to remain connected to the fellow believers who were still at Mars Hill.  That might even have been a reason people were willing to leak so much information to Wenatchee The Hatchet.  When you know this isn't some person blogging from the other side of the country who's never set foot in a Mars Hill service but someone who got to know the three co-founding elders and spent a decade inside the culture you can have "some" confidence the person will try to represent the history of Mars Hill accurately. 

It's not that there aren't plenty of bloggers who continuously confuse their own personal convictions and prejudices with some kind of journalistic service to humanity, it's that Turk seems too set on the assumption that this is the only kind of blogging Christian bloggers are able to do.  We can probably all agree that whatever watchblogging is it's not good for it to be a constant vocational activity.  My own study of the prophetic literature and the provisions in Mosaic case law have persuaded me that prophetic activity was at most an intermittent and ad hoc role for when case law didn't cover what has just come up.  That may seem strange to people but recognizing that the prophetic mode was quite possibly ad hoc and intermittent even as described within the Bible itself can be a potent corrective for how Christian bloggers might presume to wield a prophetic voice.  If it can be demonstrated that most of the time this was not the norm it can guide you for when you struggle with the question of whether or not you may need to play any kind of prophetic role speaking to issues where you are in a Christian community.

When Amos was told to stop prophesying or to go prophesy somewhere else he declared he was not doing this as his day job but because the Lord sent him.  Amos 7, perhaps, should be life verses for would be watchbloggers. If you feel compelled by your understanding of the Scriptures and the providence of your location and participation in a Christian community to challenge what you regard as wrong then give the watchblog a shot but regard it as an ad hoc, occasional, emergency state.  Don't make it your life or think of it as the thing that defines your activity in blogging.  If it's not done out of love and concern for a Christian community you are, to the best of your ability, able to still participate in, consider whether or not the Lord in His providence can't raise up someone else.  Elijah imagined he was alone and the Lord told him otherwise.  What motivates you to blog on the sorts of things that pass for watchblogging should be love of neighbor, not resentful self-pitying loathing that the kinds of people you can't stand have a podium.  Someone's going to give them a podium anyway.  Scripture warns any number of times that false teachers don't have any trouble getting audiences. 

The shame of those Christian bloggers who paradoxically inveigh against watchbloggers is that they don't seem to realize that one possible application of Leviticus 5:1 is that if there is a charge to testify regarding what you have seen and heard that ... could ... possibly ... be a case law applicable to what we see in watchblogging.  A great deal of what was done in watchblogging here was not exactly spouting personal opinions.  Longtime readers will remember that a super-majority of the blog in watchblog phase was simply transcribing and preserving for the public record what people in the Mars Hill leadership culture actually said and did for the record.  That this so often led certain leaders in Mars Hill history to look like idiots was merely a secondary effect!    There were times when I'd get messages from people saying "You will have to answer to God one day for every unkind word you've said about Mars Hill."  Yes, and the thought of answering God as to why I didn't testify to what I saw and heard about how the leadership culture treated people or acquired real estate or how leaders were appointed was way, way more convicting than the thought that perhaps one day Jesus would be upset that I wrote blog posts expressing doubts about the competence and good will of the higher echelons of what was once Mars Hill leadership. 

But I didn't Team Pyro it.  I documented things and often let the invitation to reconsider the Mars Hill narrative be implicit.  If you tell people to leave they will bristle.  If you let them come to the conclusion they should leave of their own accord based on what they can read then you've given them the opportunity to make their own informed decision.  The trouble with Christian bloggers can all too often be that people appoint themselves arbiters of conscience who don't want to give people any choice, whether it's a Mars Hill fan or a Team Pyro fan or any number of other teams. 

If Frank Turk has come to feel guilty of embodying the vices of bloggers he has so long seen in others but not always in himself, well, okay.  We can even say "Amen".  But it's one thing to realize that you have character flaws you can disseminate via electronic communication and another thing to express this point in a way that universally implicates your target audience as being at least as guilty of your own vices as you say you are.

After all, Mark Driscoll had a habit of saying he had pride which was why he had a claim to say you need to repent of yours.  It's a strange, sad irony that Frank Turk's parting words could have exemplified a kind of self-exonerating self-implication that we've seen in a guy like Mark Driscoll.    Still, repentance has to start somewhere and retiring from blogging can be a start.  That's more respectable than Driscoll bailing on the church he helped found while retroactively claiming divine permission.  The difference between Turk and Driscoll can still be galactic in that it seems Turk knows when it's time to quit and has both the will and ability to do so.  Driscoll, perhaps, has neither of those.

Ironically, when we look at Michael Spencer's observation about Turk's position, Spencer pointed out that what Turk was functionally advocating for was that bloggers like himself could serve as a court of public appeal or public opinion to determine and discern whether they believed someone should legitimately be in ministry or not.  So many years later the irony inherent in this sort of advocacy may not already be obvious ... but if the Team Pyro people can decide by way of blog declaration that someone they disagree with on things should not be a pastor then who's to say a blog like Wartburg Watch can't do the exact same thing? 

Let's recall that Michael's rejoinder to Frank was that the problem was not the ideal for accountability or character articulated by Frank Turk, the problem was that a bunch of bloggers could not be the self-appointed jury with any real-world authority to implement that process of judgment.  It may have transpired that Turk was "right" about the problems of Mark Driscoll's fitness for ministry while being wrong about what could be considered an effective means of accountability, while Michael may have been right about the incapacity of the internet to serve as a normal means of accountability while perhaps being wrong about Mark Driscoll's fitness for ministry at the time of the debate.  This is not to say Michael didn't begin to have some significant reservations about Driscoll as the years went on.  He did, but as readers of Internet Monk no doubt know, other things were starting to happen.  For Christian bloggers who want to consider the range of views and options for what's known as watchdog blogging that debate between Michael and Frank Turk is probably going to be something like highly-recommended reading if not "required" reading. 

The irony that's hard to shake here is that it would sure seem like if the Frank Turk case for bloggers holding famous pastors accountable in some way were a genuinely compelling argument the Team Pyro people should be, I dunno, maybe fans of the Wartburg Watch. 


One of the things that hasn't changed this year is all comments automatically roll into moderation. 

Just in case, against all probable odds, folks are burning to comment.  Most of the time people don't want to comment but thought we'd just clear up the comments policy moving forward in case anyone was unclear. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

looking back on a decade of blogging, you can labor to be the best neighbor you can be but you can't control your legacy

Just 378 posts this year and that's if you count this one, too. 

Seems ... like a small number.  It doesn't feel very prolific.  I don't feel like I'm the sort of writer who could make a living doing this.  It's not a matter of whether or not I had fun writing a bit more than 6,000 words in a day.  That was easy.  I even watched a bunch of Batman: the Brave and the Bold this weekend and an episode of The Venture Brothers to take a break from the writing part.

It's kind of strange to realize Wenatchee The Hatchet has been an active blog for a decade.  More than a decade, really, since I started blogging back in January 2006. 


When this blog got started up the plan was to discuss music for classical guitar, particularly chamber music from composers from central and eastern Europe.  The idea was to write about non-Spanish guitar literature.  There was also this idea to write about animation from Asia and the U.S.  Sometimes that even happened.  That still happens.  It was only this year that survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas became a series of blog posts.

Beyond reasonable doubt the blog has gained a reputation for a fairly specific range of topics.  When I started the blog a bit more than a decade ago I was a mostly contented member of a church that used to exist, that exists no longer.  It seemed at the time I started the blog I'd be there the rest of my life.

Obviously a lot of things changed.

Mark most likely continues to say that guys should live for a legacy, they should be willing to reverse-engineer their lives so as to arrive at the place in life where they want to be, to leave the kind of legacy they want to have when they die.  At one level this is still a potentially admirable way to consider life. 

The trouble is that you can't reverse-engineer your expected life legacy in a vacuum.  There are always people involved,  people who may or may not need or want to have to deal with the consequences of whatever it is you think needs to be done so as to effectively reverse-engineer for yourself the legacy you want to have when the day inevitably comes that someone publishes an obituary about you. 

You can't usually be certain about the day you die.  You also can't ultimately be certain what your legacy, whatever it is, may be.  One of the things that can be easily missed about the book of Job is that his children all died and he lost his possessions at the start of the book.  I mean, yes, we get told that but it's easy to forget in the midst of all the arguments. What I mean to say is this, a careful and considered nuance reading of the book of Job will keep in mind that no matter how formidable your legacy may be in observable possessions and family lineage, the mystery of divine permissive providence can have all of that destroyed within a single day.

Way back in 2010 I wrote about Amaziah, king of Judah, and how a person's greatest moral failure can come through how they respond to their moment of greatest success.

Sometimes your great moral failure can be due to what it was you did to obtain your great success.  Oh, maybe it won't be a sin, exactly.  It might not be anything strictly illegal but it could just be ... unwise.  And that can end up being your real legacy.

Part 22 of 1st Corinthians
Pastor Mark Driscoll | 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 | June 18, 2006

Here’s the tricky part: Figuring out what your idols are. Let me give you an example. Let’s say for example, you define for yourself a little Hell. For you, Hell is being poor. For you, your definition of Hell is being ugly. For you, your definition of Hell is being fat. For you, your definition of Hell is being unloved. For you, your definition of Hell is being unappreciated. That fear of that Hell then compels you to choose for yourself a false savior god to save you from that Hell. And then you worship that false savior god in an effort to save yourself from your self-described Hell. So, some of you are single. Many of you are unmarried. For you, Hell is being unmarried and your savior will be a spouse. And so you keep looking for someone to worship, to give yourself to so that they will save you. For some of you, you are lonely and your Hell is loneliness, and so you choose for yourself a savior, a friend, a group of friends or a pet because you’ve tried the friends and they’re not dependable. And you worship that pet. You worship that friend. You worship that group of friends. You will do anything for them because they are your functional savior, saving you from your Hell. That is, by definition, idolatry. It is having created people and created things in the place of the creator God for ultimate allegiance, value and worth.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get incredibly personal. This will get painfully uncomfortable if I do my job well. I’m going to ask you some probing questions. We’re going to try to get to the root of your idols and mine and I am guilty. I was sitting at breakfast this morning. My wife said, “So what is your idol?” I was like, “Hey, I’m eating breakfast! Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about that.” I’m the pastor. I preach. I don’t get preached at. Eating bacon. Don’t ruin it. You know, it’s going good., And I told her, I said, “Honey, I think for me, my idol is victory.” Man, I am an old jock. More old than jock, lately, but I – I’m a guy who is highly competitive. Every year, I want the church to grow. I want my knowledge to grow. I want my influence to grow. I want our staff to grow. I want our church plants to grow. I want everything – because I want to win. I don’t want to just be where I’m at. I don’t want anything to be where it’s at. And so for me it is success and drivenness and it is productivity and it is victory that drives me constantly. I – that’s my own little idol and it works well in a church because no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results. So I found the perfect place to hide.

And I was thinking about it this week. What if the church stopped growing? What if we shrunk? What if everything fell apart? What if half the staff left? Would I still worship Jesus or would I be a total despairing mess? I don’t know. By God’s grace, I won’t have to find out, but you never know. [emphasis added] So we’re going to look for your idols, too. Some questions. Think about it. Be honest with me. What are you most afraid of? What is your greatest fear? See, that probably tells you what your idol is. Sometimes your idol is the thing that you’re scared of not having, not being, not doing. What are you scared of? You scared that you’ll be alone? Are you scared that no one will ever love you? Are you scared that you will be found out that you’re not all that smart? Are you scared that you’ll be stuck in the same dead-end job forever? What are you afraid of

How about this one? What do you long for most passionately? What do you care about? What do you think about? What are you motivated by? What do you give yourself to?  ...
In somebody's case that idol might be legacy.

UBI Number                        601677819
Category                              REG
Profit/Nonprofit                   Nonprofit
Active/Inactive                    Inactive
State Of Incorporation        WA
WA Filing Date                  12/22/1995
Expiration Date                  12/31/2016
Inactive Date                      03/24/2016
Duration Perpetual

Inactive as of late March this year, expiration date ... today.

Driscoll spent a good deal of 2015 sharing on the road how God told him he was released from ministry. It wasn't what he expected or wanted but ...

Robert Morris advised it, by Robert Morris' own account.
Transcript of Robert Morris and Mark Driscoll from the Gateway Leadership + Worship Conference
on the evening of Monday, October 20, 2014, as broadcast live via DayStar Television:
Robert Morris:
 Uh, it was publicized that we cancelled him; that’s not true, we did not cancel. I’m speaking of Mark Driscoll. We did not cancel him. He and I decided together uh that he was going to step out of ministry for a season and get some healing. [emphasis added]

This decision was not explained in 2014 as the result of a divine imperative.
Pastor Mark Driscoll's Resignation
By: Mars Hill Church
Posted: Oct 15, 2014

On Tuesday, October 14, Pastor Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as an elder and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. The Board of Overseers has accepted that resignation [emphasis added] and is moving forward with planning for pastoral transition, recognizing the challenge of such a task in a church that has only known one pastor since its founding. We ask for prayer for the journey ahead.

As is well known, inside and outside of Mars Hill, Pastor Mark has been on a leave of absence for nearly two months while a group of elders investigated a series of formal charges brought against him. This investigation had only recently been concluded, following some 1,000 hours of research, interviewing more than 50 people and preparing 200 pages of information. This process was conducted in accordance with our church Bylaws and with Pastor Mark’s support and cooperation.
While a group of seven elders plus one member of the Board of Overseers was charged with conducting this investigation, the full Board of Overseers is charged with reaching any conclusions and issuing any findings.

Finally, Mark Driscoll was not asked to resign; indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter. [emphasis added]
Not that anyone seems likely to ever see that 200 pages of information or the results of 1,000 hours of research.  Driscoll's resignation was apparently a surprise to the BoO.  There was no mention of God instructing the Driscolls to do anything in Mark Driscoll's resignation letter, either.
 October 14, 2014Michael Van Skaik
Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability
Mars Hill Church
Dear Michael:

Last week our Board of Overseers met for an extended period of time with Grace and me, thereby concluding the formal review of charges against me.
...That is why, after seeking the face and will of God, and seeking godly counsel from men and women across the country, we have concluded it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church we helped launch in 1996. [emphasis added] I will gladly work with you in the coming days on any details related to our separation.

As reported by Warren Throckmorton former Mars Hill elders reported ...
starting about 3:45

The investigation of formal charges against Mark Driscoll has revealed patterns of persistent sin in the three areas disclosed in the previous letter by the Board of Overseers. In I Tim 5:20, it requires that an elder be rebuked for persistent sin. Our intention was to do this while providing a plan for his eventual restoration to leadership. The Board of Elders in agreement with the Board of Overseers are grieved, deeply grieved, that any process like that was lost to us when Mark Driscoll resigned in position and left the church. [emphasis added] Now is the time to move on and consider what God is calling us to next as a church as we participate in Jesus’ mission to make disciples in His name. Today begins a new chapter in the history of our church which has proceeded in one direction under one leadership for many years now, but I want you to understand this, God is our Father. That does not change. Jesus is the chief shepherd of the church and that has not changed.

It would appear that Mark Driscoll became the Richard Nixon of megachurch pastors and quit rather than continue to comply with a restorative/disciplinary procedure he would eventually go on to see he agreed to submit to.

Driscoll said a decade ago he thought his idol was victory.  It seems more likely his idol is legacy and so perhaps the way to reformulate his own possibly rhetorical questions back to him ...

If the sum of your legacy that you've worked for your whole life were to be wiped out so that nobody could look at the churches you helped plant and the legacy you helped build and all this within your lifetime, would you still believe in Jesus?  Would you still follow Jesus?

This isn't abstract. It's not even something we can't find in the narrative literature.  King Saul was explicitly told that he was removed from God's favor for recalcitrant disobedience and that the role of kingship would be given to another.  Saul opted to hold on to his station.  We know how that ended, thanks to the books of Samuel. 

We can work our whole lives securing a legacy that could be wiped out in a single day.  This year the entity that was once known as Mars Hill Fellowship and later Mars Hill Church ceased to exist.  You can find the churches that spun off of that old empire across the Pacific Northwest.  Only time will tell how long those churches last.  Driscoll, for his part, has repurposed decades worth of sermons and teaching in a way that avoids mentioning his legacy in the final years of Mars Hill all that much.  It would be challenging to do, after all, because you can't very well talk about the legacy of having planted Mars Hill without mentioning that Driscoll's resignation precipitated the death of Mars Hill.  It was already crumbling after years of sustained controversy about Mark Driscoll's authorial ethics and competence.  In many ways Mars Hill died because its legacy was too intrinsically bound up in the individual legacy of Mark Driscoll rather than ... it very obviously, ostentatiously was not all about Jesus, wasn't it? 

Starting the blog a bit more than a decade ago it sure seemed like what the blog would feature would mainly be stuff about music and animation.  You can do what you can but you can't control what your legacy, if any, may turn out to be.  You can make decisions about how you treat people, what you say, what you do .. but legacy?  You'd have to be a god to be able to control in advance the legacy you want to have. 

It was worthwhile to take a long hiatus from writing about music and animation for half a decade to document what was going on here in the Northwest.  It's not that I never wrote about music or cartoons or that I didn't write music.  I wrote quite a bit of music, actually.  But I felt obliged before God and neighbor to document what I saw happening and to do so as reliably as possible.  I don't really regret any of that.  It was challenging and I got some hate mail from people who insisted that one day I would have to answer to God for every bad word said about Mars Hill. 

That's the thing ... I never told anyone to leave Mars Hill in ten years of blogging.  I never advised it.  I shared the history and asked a lot of questions and proposed that perhaps there were some systematic problems in the leadership culture.  I didn't tell anyone to leave.  This may be the thing watchdog blogs most suffer from, this idea that if you yell loudly enough to tell people to leave that they will leave.  That's not how it works.  You can document.  You can invite people to reconsider the plausibility of the formal narrative.  You can share what you have seen and heard. You can share your doubts and considerations.  But the second you tell people what to think you'll be ignored, and unfortunately the very probable reason for that is you will have conducted yourself in a way that likely ensured that you deserve to be ignored. 

Now I'm an ex-Pentecostal for a lot of reasons.  I was at a formerly solid church (I thought) that had leaders embracing Latter Rain ideas.  So I stopped attending.  I ended up becoming a Calvinist (boring, boring story, that).  I'm not really a cessationist or a continuationist in the American usages of those terms.  What I'm about to propose probably sums up my thoughts about spiritual gifts and also about this topic of legacy.

We can't be sure that what are called spiritual gifts were given on a recurring basis.  A person might have a spiritual gift for X or Y on one occasion and not have it on another.  We simply can't know.  We know the gist of Pauline argument and instruction but there's endless debate about that stuff.  It is, in any case, secondary to what Paul made clear was his primary concern.  Make love your aim and seek the greater gifts, the greater gifts being those gifts that are of more immediate, practical service to the fellow believers in the local church.

What Paul's argument boils down to can be appreciated and appropriated by charismatics and cessationists alike, make love of God and love of neighbor your primary aim and through such learning, wisdom, study and community as you have the spiritual gifts can be providentially left to the work of the Spirit in you.  The gifts of the spirit and the fruit of the spirit do not seem possible to ultimately separate even if the gifts such as prophecy and tongues will one day cease.  Make love your aim and, so to speak, the gifts will be sorted out as a secondary effect.  The Christians in Corinth had made the gifts the primary rather than the secondary concern. 

For that matter, it seems important to stress that as Paul gave instructions regarding the use of gifts he gave instructions about the gifts of the Spirit as social gifts.  You don't get this or that spiritual gift merely so you can be blessed.  Let's just assume for sake of illustration that somebody says you were called to be a prophet or given a gift for prophecy?  So what?  If your first thought is how you may be blessed by this you're off on the wrong footing ethically, spiritually and socially.  When we look at what prophets said and did as described in the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament we see they had a judicial role, a role that was often ad hoc and supplemental to revealed case law and stories of Yahweh's saving power.  We need to bear in mind that a role such as that of a prophet might not have been expected to be "normative" even within the context of the Old Testament.  Sure, there's cases to be made by Zwingli and Bullinger for how the OT prophets had a role fulfilled by pastors later and all that stuff.  We've discussed that before.  For the moment let's just say that "if" the prophetic role was ad hoc this could explain how someone like Amos could have a normal day job while confronting the powers that were.  The thing is until such time as you participate in Christian community in some way it doesn't matter what you think your spiritual gift is if you're not using whatever it is to be of service to the body of Christ.

and if the way you try to do that is concerned primarily with your own personal legacy you might have missed the boat altogether to begin with. 

Remember how in the book of Genesis God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?  Abraham was commanded to sacrifice the child of the promise, his legacy, to demonstrate his faithfulness to Yahweh.  God required of Abraham to sacrifice his legacy and Abraham was, obviously, willing to do that as recounted by the book of Genesis.  But we don't just have Genesis.  We also have Job, who refuses to reject Yahweh even when Yahweh permits Satan to destroy Job's legacy in a single day. 

So perhaps to put this all in terms that might be pertinent to someone like Mark Driscoll, who most likely is still eager to live for a legacy, if God one day destroyed everything you'd spent the last two decades of your life working for; if God used circumstances to crush your public reputation and reveal the extent of your character flaws in a way that caused your empire to crumble; if God showed that your moments of victory were gained at a steep ethical price; if you lost the legacy spanning a nation and the memory of your empire was scrubbed away .. would you still serve Jesus?  It's not like there's nobody in the Bible of whom we could say he loved his royal leadership legacy more than he cared to heed the word of the Lord in how he treated people.  That guy was King Saul.

it doesn't matter if you get a direct divine commission to go be a leader of manly man, after all. 

Ishmael was promised a great legacy, too. 

Stuff to contemplate as we head into 2017.  You can labor to be the best neighbor you can be but you can't ultimately control what your legacy is. 

links for the weekend and a few assorted musings on the year that was

Perhaps we should open with a poem, so we will.  Here's a haiku I wrote a while back thinking about all the arts criticism and writing about arts criticism and writing about the arts I've been absorbing in the last few years.  Perhaps it can be a little axiom to ruminate on as a prelude to what's coming next.

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft

We had a lot of celebrity entertainers die this year.  We've witnessed a lot of outpourings of grief.  George Michael may have had more written about his passing and the extra-musical significance of his music than Roland Dyens may have had written about him.  Pierre Boulez died this year but odds are pretty good vastly more has been written about Prince and David Bowie.  Merle Haggard probably had more written about him than Boulez.  Or perhaps Boulez had plenty written about him.  But that's not necessarily where I'm going.  The poem can suggest a direction, that the artists and entertainers that critics write about are those who are consecrated by the process of criticism.  A. O. Scott can claim that the art of criticism is the art of the voice but what the voice says hasn't stopped being important, has it?  Is the voice enough?  The voice of the critic, certainly if we've surveyed the voices of criticism about arts and politics THIS year, is a voice that either nicely asks or forthrightly demands to be regard as articulating some kind of sacred oracle. 

Years ago, back in my early 20s, I wanted to get into journalism, and I had fun writing arts pieces as a student journalist.  It was fun to talk with artists and theater types and musicians about the ideas that animated their work.  It was fascinating how very few visual artists seem to think in any way at all the way a writer or a musician would seem to think about thinking.  Okay, that reads terribly on the page.  Visual thinkers think deeply but not always in a way that can be articulated in words and so they could at times seem completely inarticulate when I'd ask them about elements of design or approaches to color.  It went better asking VERY concrete questions about using knifework to paint or how to cultivate flooring materials for mosaics and murals.  If the unexamined life is truly not worth living then many of the artists I tried to interview in my journalistic projects had alarmingly unexamined lives. 

But the process of making art and interpreting art was beyond question.  When you meet someone who is interested in being an artist, who is interested in being an entertainer, you can sometimes meet someone who regards themselves tacitly as being part of a priesthood, but a priesthood that most emphatically can and should be able to get laid!

Even if a person goes on to work in some not-so-artsy field after having majored in a liberal art they can go on to collect a paycheck somewhere but the real true love is ...
My real career as a librarian is all very well, but since it’s fundamentally a paycheck, I can’t muster excessive enthusiasm for an institution that provides a lifelong education free of charge for the broadest conceivable public and generally represents American values at their best. I didn’t major in English to serve American values. I majored in English so that I could spend the rest of my life arguing about books and culture, even if I had to do so in my off hours, even if the argument was chiefly with myself. I still think it was the best decision I ever made.
There are too many Americans writing too many memoirs these days.  But then at the risk of interrupting this with more intermittent haiku ...

we yearn to be more
than one life can be so we
look to our heroes

and to go by what some people publish and admire ... to go by the way people like A. O. Scott have talked about the art of criticism being the art of the voice I ... just sometimes ... worry that when we look to heroes through whom we can vicariously live as full a life as we can that some folks nominate themselves. 

if you're the hero
in the story of your life
pick a new hero

By the time I got done with an undergraduate degree in journalism I'd cast off as implausible the idea of majoring in literature or philosophy or music or biblical studies.  I didn't feel any "call" to formal ministry and probably never will feel such a call, even though I have loved reading theological books. I'm slowly plodding through Emil Brunner, for instance.  Adolf Schlatter's Romans commentary is hard-going but I'm still giving it time when I'm not reading musicology stuff.  I'm also reading Calvin's commentary on the Psalms.  I'm still curious about philosophical questions and literary stuff even if I haven't read much fiction and often set books of fiction aside for long stretches.  The last work of fiction I remember going through was Jane Austen's Emma.  In any case, I got to the end of my college days convinced that while it might be nice to one day get paid to do something artistic the expectation of being able to do so as a regular means of employment had to be regarded as nothing less than delusional.  To put it in more 2016 terms, it takes a delusional amount of college-admitted-and-college-graduated privilege to think you not only "should" be able to be an entertainer for a living but that it's some kind of right. 

... and the kinds of people who can pay the bills by writing or acting or playing music saw fit to tell their fans who they should back this year.  The entertainment industry is a kind of priesthood and the priesthood, among many other priesthoods, had set their hopes on one and not another (though neither were particularly inspiring as far as the big two go). 


Commentary from places like Slate withstanding, we couldn't have gotten to the place we've gotten in the United States in 2016 if the traditional left and right had retained their coherency.  I'd read a book by D. G. Hart years ago on evangelicalism and conservatism.  The thumbnail sketch is that the Reagan coalition was a one-off temporary alliance between traditional conservatives, libertarians and anti-communists that ultimately did not survive as a viable coalition in the wake of the end of the Cold War.  The primary point of the book, though, was that if you looked at the sum of the history of what we call evangelicalism in the United States it's as much or more a progressive/populist tradition as a conservative tradition.  Scholars and journalists who labor under the presumption that "evangelical" has always meant Republican will at little length betray an ignorance of both the histories of religion and politics in the United States. 

But ... the contested loyalties and appeals of Clinton and Sanders in 2016 seems like an example of how within the blue scene whatever former unity there was for the liberal/left in the United States also fractured in the decades after the Cold War.  Traditional liberalism, neoliberalism and more hard left elements in the blue America did not necessarily agree on anything any more than the traditional conservatives, libertarians or neo-cons agreed on things in the last decade.  Trump was in some sense only possible because both the left and the right saw their internal coalitions and alliances of convenience fall apart. 

It's fascinating how Ethan Iverson can link to Alex Ross who explained how the Frankfurt school predicted Donald Trump over at The New Yorker.  Over at The New Criterion Fred Siegel can explain at length how Trump's capacity to upset the routine of American politics was the result of the elitism entrenched in high culture by the Frankfurt school ethos.  I remain unconvinced by either. The New Yorker has been in some mode this last month where writers regale subscribers or readers with any number of books and films that somehow "predicted" Trump, which is in some sense a variant of book-of-the-month club advertising.  The odds that the Frankfurt school "predicted" Trump seem ... low. 

Conversely, when conservative intellectuals rue the lack of appreciation the uneducated masses have for Bach or Wagner (ugh!) it's as if the cultural elites left and right and whatever new variables may emerge seem committed to the idea that, whatever nominally populist movement happens the important thing is that if there "were" a class conflict that "we" are not even possibly on the wrong side of it.  When someone at Slate laments that white women betrayed the sisterhood by voting for Trump that may be an example of writers writing for Slate as if they themselves were synchedoches for the entirety of human females across time and space. 

... don't ruling castes and ruling empires regard themselves as the summation of all that is truly human?    Were there no clerics in the medieval period willing to say they had some kind of right to universal political rule?
Perhaps a bit selfishly, I worry about high culture. This past year I noticed how much harder it was to pay attention to the more esoteric arts as the relentless political drama unfolded just a tab away.


Trust me, the bosses at every news organization know exactly how many eyes have seen any given dance review or poetry essay. Click! Share! We are all in this together. Click and share even if you don’t read the whole thing or if you disagree with certain aspects of any given article. At the top of the next century we don’t want Star Wars movies and video games to be the only culture left.

I don't know.  Richard Taruskin has set out to aggravate, to be sure, but when he described in his Oxford History how what we now call the symphony was essentially aristocratic party music that eventually gained acceptance, for a time, as publicly accessible music art how swift should we be in saying that Star Wars movies and video games can't possibly qualify as "art"?

Besides, to go by how liberals and leftists have reacted to December 19 this year why are we sure there will even be a next century, exactly?

But then three decades ago the Terminator franchise was imagining a post-nuclear dystopia ushered in by military-funded artificial intelligence.  There's a paranoid apocalyptic imagination for a liberal as there is for a conservative. 

It was slightly surprising that the electoral vote came down to a result in which Clinton LOST pledged votes.  It was not surprising at all that questions about the legitimacy of the Electoral College were brought up in venues like Slate.  Nor is it even particularly ironic that having been aghast that Trump could say that he would accept the outcome of an election if he won that those aghast that Trump won the Electoral College votes would cast doubt on the legitimacy, necessity and viability of a process from an institution that chose someone besides Clinton for the Oval Office.

American red and blue state partisans, or at least a subset of theme, are simply totalitarian ideologues who only recognize something as tyrannical if it's done by the "wrong" team. 

Whether writers at mainstream publications or people within the entertainment industry or academics it can seem as though the thing they have overlooked is the possibility that within a genuinely global market the gatekeepers of economic participation for adult participation in the life of a citizen may not recognize they are part of ruling castes.  To put this in a very blunt way, members of the press did not anticipate that the Electoral College would select Trump because the members of the institutional press, as what Jacques Ellul described half a century ago as the aristocratic caste of propagandists

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7
from footnote on page 252

... The propagandist is a technician and a member of an aristocracy of technicians that establishes itself above the institutions of a democracy and acts outside its norms. Besides, the employment of propaganda leads the propagandist to cynicism, disbelief in values, non-submission to the law of numbers, doubts on the value of opinions, and contempt for the propagandee and the elected representative; he knows how public opinion is fashioned. The propagandist cannot subject himself to popular judgment and democracy. Finally, the propagandist is privy to all State secrets and acts at the same time to shape opinions: he really has a position of fundamental direction. The combinations of these three elements make the propagandist an aristocrat. It cannot be otherwise. Every democracy that launches propaganda creates in and by such propaganda its own enemy, an aristocracy that may destroy it

For such members of this aristocratic caste the worst thing that could happen would be for representation processes in a democratic state to arrive at a conclusion other than the one the propagandists would prescribe.  The problem here is that red and blue state partisans only see each other and not also themselves as members of the propagandistic castes.  Thus we have entertainers who won't perform for the Trump inauguration.  To put it in a diplomatic way, it might be preferable to never perform at the behest of a head of state given the times, and that this might be the way to go whether the head of state were either a Trump or a Clinton. 

But, in any case, after so many entertainers and journalists told so many people who ought to win it would seem that the tedious scut work of, say, redistricting in the wake of political defeat, was not a huge priority for one of the big two parties.  The way the editors of The Stranger put it, the rural red-state people weren't really Americans and their voices and concerns were not legitimate.  Okay ... but as the sorting of red and blue into their respective regions and districts played out ... what happened?  Was the contempt of urbane urban technocrats and information brokers never going to boomerang?  Would people who could afford to go to private colleges and Ivy league schools really never be able to imagine that compared to people in fly over states might not eventually come to view them as ... to just use Marxist terminology ... class enemies?  No particularly affection for Trump being expressed here ... but it's interesting that whether in The New Yorker or The New Criterion the sort of populist resentment that is considered to have catalyzed the election of Trump is the sort of thing writers at both News can double down on. 

Since it turned out Clinton won the popular vote the scapegoating done by the blue partisans of the demographics associated with a Trump victory seemed like ... scapegoating.  Educated deployment of stereotypes by college-educated people is still ... educated deployment of stereotypes by college-educated people.  There seemed to be more than enough bigotry from the red and blue to go around.

I managed to get more caught up on reading arts stuff this year and sometimes I'd read stuff I found immensely helpful (Hepokoski & Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory, for instance).  Other times ....

Composer/pianist Vijay Iyer gave me the first building block I would use to develop my ideas surrounding universal music. In a room full of workshop participants, he said something akin to, “Genres don’t exist. They were invented by record companies to sell albums. Genres are an attempt to categorize a community of people who come together and create something.”[3] [emphasis added]  Once again, I was confronted with a paradigm shift. My musical training, rhetoric, and artistic upbringing had been a world of categories, styles, and genres hinged together. I thought of the countless hours spent trying to play a style correctly and how often I seemed to fail in that goal. At that time, I was already bothered by the mentality that our musical ancestors had somehow received the divine right to invent and that all the rest of us could hope for was to imitate. Yet I was encumbered with the popular notion that I needed to “learn the rules” before I could “break them.” At what point were the rules learned and the breaking could begin? The goal of stylistic execution was perpetually in conflict with my interest as I attempted to occupy both worlds. I embraced Vijay’s comment. He was giving me the words I needed to articulate what I believed and felt all along.

A paragraph like this makes me glad I couldn't afford to go to grad school to study music.  The idea that genres don't exist is so patently idiotic on its face it reminds me of an axiom attributed to George Orwell, the axiom that holds that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them.  Just a few weeks ago I made a long-form case that the boundaries between two musical idioms can be regarded as permeable but both 19th century guitar sonatas and ragtime exist as identifiable genres.  Who could have an incentive to claim and even genuinely believe that "genres don't exist?"  Why would music colloquially and conventionally identifiable as being in a genre really be a categorization given to "a community of people ... "?  The recording process itself commodifies music, reifies it into something that can be bought or sold or pirated or gifted or checked out.  The trouble is that for the sorts of people who write for New Music Box many of them are obsessed with categorizing people as belonging to this or that demographic.  Or, conversely, to aspirations of a "universal". 

There are plenty of complaints that have been and could be leveled at Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music.  He has a not-so-hidden beef with what's called high modernism.  He also can be construed as dropping the ball by writing a history rather than an encyclopedic survey but that's to forget he didn't set out to write an encyclopedia.  However, one of the strengths of the history is that Taruskin builds a case that there were no ultimately benevolent empires of patronage yet each empire of patronage had benefactors and advocates  and partisans and ideologues who were convinced that their particular dynasty of arts patronage and production represented the highest and noblest ideals and values regarding the human condition.  Another way to put it would be to say that Taruskin shows how different empires regarded themselves as expressing in art the universal human condition.

We're closing out a year in which people have become more acutely aware that things that, so to speak, made sense ten years ago can't be brought back as was.  For instance ... let's take Gilmore Girls.
While Stars Hollow may embody some of the best aspects of life in a small town—the intimacy, the democracy, the sense of an “us” to be fought for—it can also, at times, embody the worst: the insularity. The exclusivity. The sense of a “them” to be fought against. [emphasis added] The mingling of all of those things, in the seven original seasons of Gilmore Girls, led to a show that is deeply concerned with questions of belonging—about who may be counted as “one of us” and who, by implication, may not. The show’s Netflix revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, has only amplified those anxieties: The Stars Hollow of 2016 is place that, though it congratulates itself on its cosmopolitanism, remains deeply provincial.

Early on in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Rory gets some bad news: The Atlantic, she learns, has spiked one of her stories.

Rory explains this turn of events to Lorelai as just one of those things: a story bumped for space—a common, if frustrating, occurrence. After watching the Gilmore Girls revival, though, I have come to a different, if totally self-serving, conclusion: Maybe The Atlantic has simply realized what Rory herself has not. Maybe our fictional editors simply discovered that Rory Gilmore, her gleaming résumé notwithstanding … is not a very good journalist. That she might even be, actually, an actively bad journalist.

Most publications have ethics guidelines that their reporters and writers follow. And almost all publications have basic standards that they lay out, which are in turn meant to lend some structure to the day-to-day doings of individual journalists. Here are some of the rough guidelines that Rory systematically violates in A Year in the Life ... [WtH it's a long and impressively dreadful list]

 Gilmore Girls, when it comes right down to it, is a show about white people in Connecticut spouting off pop culture references as rapidly as they can. [emphasis added] For some people, that might be part of the appeal, an escape to an idyllic New England town—or a nightmarish one, depending on your point of view—free from any kind of political turmoil or social unrest. But that’s the same quality that made the show’s 2016 revival feel like such a fossil

Just as Jack Bauer in 24 could be described as a hedonistic red state power fantasy Gilmore Girls could be described as a blue state power fantasy (or The West Wing).  What seemed capable of entertaining and charming a decade ago (I did actually watch a handful of episodes of GG with my sister and Lauren Graham is nothing if not immensely charming on screen) seems to have trouble getting across now.

What changed?  Trump?  Or is it possible that the insular and self-congratulatory nature of the blue state power fantasy inherent in a show like Gilmore Girls had plausibility enough in the age of George W Bush that couldn't withstand 2016?  Rory won't win the Pullitzer, it seems, because as one author put it, here personal and journalistic ethics are so disastrous it's only within the fantasy realm of the entertainment industry itself (which may only be capable of seeing any attempts at journalism as alternately advertising or to serve an adversarial role to demographics looked down upon by entertainers) that Rory could be imagined able to pay any bills writing for publications.

If you like Gilmore Girls as it was, no problem.  But it seems the reboot had mixed results and one of the concerns fans of the old show came to express was that something felt off.  Let's propose that what felt off about a show that imagined, so to speak, Al Gore won 2000, was that there was something in the self-congratulatory blue state power fantasy that seems "off" now, perhaps a discovery in the last ten years of what is now called white privilege, perhaps?  Or perhaps the tide of superhero films is a problem?  Or, what if even our allegedly naturalistic/realistic dramas are more suffused with a super-heroic sensibility than we've imagined?  I couldn't get into 24 because Jack Bauer had cell phone reception that would be the envy of Batman and I figured this, if I was going to watch superhero stories I wanted the characters to officially wear capes.

 A lot of what passed for realistic drama ... journalists in movies talk to people and write a few notes and then produce articles that "change the world".  Generally that's not how it works.  As TV show depictions go the closest thing I've seen to a presentation of how research tends to play out was Karen Page spending hours reading and reading every article in a week's worth of newspapers and finding nothing particularly interesting about what she wanted to find out.  THAT is more like it.  Of course we didn't get shown that, we got shown Daredevil and Electra fighting a bunch of people while the character Karen Page did all her research off-screen. 

In the realm of entertainment there are ideas and processes and results that are regarded as best kept off screen.  One of the laments in the wake of Trump's election is all the nasty resentment and loathing that, thanks to the Electoral College vote, liberals and progressives have had occasion to witness.  But Oregon, for instance, was in many ways chartered as a white separatist utopia that forbade slavery and barred blacks from being able to contract.  It's not as though racism across all categories ever went away, it was just, so to speak, off scene or off screen.  There's a level at which those upset by Trump's victory may not understand there's a potential for self-incriminating judgment when they say, in far more words than this, that the wrong people have been allowed to have a voice in influencing the outcome of national politics.  The majority should never be allowed to lord it over a minority in the political realm in theory but in practice blue state partisans are astonished that Trump won because of how districting played out.  Gerrymandering should not have allowed for this to be possible because, well, Trump shouldn't have won, right?  Maybe ... but had Clinton swept the Electoral College and the popular vote would there be any complaints about a numeric minority of rural/red state voters being treated as though they had nothing to contribute?  Let's consider that the editorial staff of The Stranger declared in an earlier decade that the rural red-state people weren't Americans.  If it's only a disaster that the red state electorate returned the favor then perhaps the problem is with both the red and blue state civic religions.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected, it is the liberal schools that are worried about possible threats to their very survival based on the overweening power of the federal government.

So the overweening power of the federal government ONLY became a terrifying problem because ... Trump won?  Why was it not terrifying during the Obama administration?  Or was it terrifying?  One of the reasons I regard the United States as a spent force culturally and economically and spiritually and intellectually is because it seems the partisans of red and blue don't seem to care about something being despotic unless the kool-aid being dispensed has the wrong food-coloring.  In the age of the internet it seems that tyranny is only tyranny when "they" do something and not when "we" do something. 

Unfortunately people who say they are conservative tend to fret only about the power of government as though that were the only means of a mass wielding of power toward a negative end.  Do these people forget that lynch mobs involve mass action?  Even William F Buckley could grant in his long life that Ike was right to send the Guard. 

The more time I have had to think about the last Captain America movie the more a failure it seems to be.  Cap takes a stance that organizations can be corrupted.  So can individuals.  The idea that a formal power like government can be corrupted doesn't mean groups can't be.  The mere posing of the question of whether "power" leads to conflict is to forget that not all power is distilled into a readily identifiable individual.  If anything the diffusion of responsibility allows groups to be far more vindictive than individuals would dare to be.  This can be true of racists and white supremacists as well as progressive social justice warriors.  The vindictive capacity is equally alive in both forms of herd behavior.  In that light it's all too easy for educated entertaines to feel as though anyone dumb enough to vote for Trump deserves a disaster. 

And perhaps the aristocrats of Europe had a similar disdain for populist insurgencies in the 18th century.  If the crisis we've seen this year is that neither of the two party machines represented what people wanted the shock and embarrassment of 2016 might be explicable on the basis of a simple suggestion, that this was the year of the spite vote.  People weren't so much unreservedly voting for someone as they were voting against the other, whether we were talking Trump or Clinton.  Once the DNC demonstrated that it would not and could not allow its party to be hijacked by populist agitation (e.g. Sanders) the RNC may have won (for want of a better word) because they were pragmatic enough to decide they WOULD let a populist agitator hijack the heretofore conventional process. 

It's hard to feel much antipathy toward the white evangelicals who are said to have voted for Trump.  That the two party system gave us the options of Clinton and Trump signals the empire is doomed either way.  It doesn't matter which of the two won in the sense that as "the" global empire any nation-state that seeks to rise will automatically have to be regarded as a threat by US and we will have to be a risk variable to "them", whoever "them" may be.  Any attempt to blame Trump for an increased likelihood for us getting into a conflict or Russia or China should force people who think Clinton would have averted all possible military clashes in the next four years merely by dint of not-being-Trump about what stuff she backed in the last sixteen years that might possibly suggest otherwise.  And what about the last two terms of Obama we've had?  Trump may well be the disaster people on the left fear he will be but let's not forget that the United States is the big kid on the playground with nukes regardless of who the executive is.  It seems as though red and blue partisans are only willing to say the President is the antichrist if the wrong party has someone sitting at the desk. 

This was a year where we finally got to dig into technical stuff about music.  The survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas was fun.  In a way that's a commentary on what I wasn't seeing in academic publications that I felt needed to get written.  If guitarist scholarship wasn't going to take Matiegka's work to be serious enough to discuss well, then, let a blogger do it.  If guitarists HAVE (thankfully!) begun to write about different approaches to sonata form in the guitar literature there can (and should be) more written about that. 

One of the things I've been exploring in my reading in the last few years is the disconnect between what I was told sonata form was back in college and what more recent scholarship has unearthed about what has been called sonata form.  More recent scholarly work on 18th century music is basically saying there was no such thing as sonata form as the 19th century called it in the pedagogy of music in 18th century Europe.  There was a grand binary form, for sure, and it had the features we ascribe to sonata form but 18th century music may have been less committed to a "plan" and more committed to a process.  The way my recent favorite writer on music (Leonard B Meyer) put it was distinguishing between a script and a plan, and distinguishing between what he called a syntactic climax and a statistical climax.

Blogging about ways you can manipulate the syntax of sonata scripts and ragtime style so as to arrive as a synthesis or fusion of the ragtime idiom with what we call sonata form is admittedly esoteric.  But in an era in which the presence or absence of jazz at Yale; and in which questions about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of jazz as high art music on par with the tradition of string quartets and piano sonatas; it seems that a way forward is not necessarily through the identity politics or critical theory that fixates on what seems to amount to extra-musical club membership rites.  To try putting this more directly, I've come to have a couple of reservations about critical theory as an option in American academic is course.  This seems to be a pet cause for the sorts of people who by using critical theory can exempt themselves from being a member of one of America's ruling castes.  The second is that If we're going to arrive at a persuasive fusion of musical idioms in which something like a jazz or blues sonata can happen we won't get there through critical theory, not in the way I've seen it deployed.  Journalistic/academic score-keeping about who counts as being able to write in a jazz or Anglo style won't help.  This discourse needs to ratify the reification and boundary-making activities of club membership first and foremost.  It has the illusion of asking questions around music in ways that can close off questions of surface. 

Look, if I wanted to introduce kids to the octatonic scale and chromatic median pivoting I wouldn't do it through a Scriabin piano sonata or symphonic tone poem, I'd do it through Stevie Wonder's Living for the City".  I agree with Taruskin the gap between the academic and vernacular/repertoire canon has gotten too big.  Taruskin's contribution could simply be noting that.  But if music scholars want to help rectify that problem then showing that octatonic linear movement and chromatic mediants can be just as fun in Stevie Wonder as they are in Stravinsky.  Music isn't really a language we all understand (pace Stevie Wonder) but music education could play a role in showing that certain musical possibilities can exist across styles. 

As I've been blogging this year, the boundaries between styles are permeable but if you don't set out to demonstrate they are permeable because you believe that there's really a "black" or "white" way to use augmented sixth chords you may just be part of the problem rather than the solution.  We may have to set aside what the accepted scholarly conventions about sonata are in order to do this.  You can say form follows function but if you misread either function or form you misread the whole thing.  My interest of late has been in exploring what the syntax of musical styles is  in a set of styles so that I can figure out which things to manipulate in which styles to increase the odds of arriving at a synthesis of blues, jazz, rock, country and 18th century approaches we tend to have labeled as forms.  A ragtime sonata or a ragtime fugue is inherently plausible.  People in music who set out to master styles so as to provide persuasive accounts of that style may be doing a worthy thing but as a composer I don't see what the point of mastering a style is unless you plan to compose in it.  Given my essentially post hoc approach to theory, I find what I enjoy first and analyze it for what works afterward.  So I love Stevie Wonder's music and then slowly work out what it is I hear that makes me love the music.  Ergo, "Living for the City".  Ergo, exploring the possibilities of overlap between early 19th century guitar sonata themes and ragtime strains along the way of analyzing a few pieces.

The gap between what an establishment says X is and what X can be observed to be might be the theme.  When the gap between what we're told is going to happen and what happens is really big then it can seem like something went way, way off.   Exploring the gap between the narratives characters tell themselves to convince themselves of their heroism and the way they treat people suggesting that they are not, in fact, heroic, has been a staple theme for both Nolan brothers for a while now.  The more assiduously you convince yourself and tell others you're the hero the more you might ... possibly ... be the bad guy.  Sometimes some simple thing changes that forces us to reassess what it was we saw.  Did we see what was there or what we wanted to see?

Back in 2015 I blogged about an interesting thread of articles and blog posts on the subject of style in music and metrics in the popularity of styles.

anyone remember the old piece in The Atlantic about the shazam effect?

Billboard replaced its honor system with hard numbers in 1991, basing its charts on point-of-sale data from cash registers. “This was revolutionary,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s current director of charts. “We were finally able to see which records were actually selling.” Around the same time, Billboard switched to monitoring radio airplay through Nielsen.When that happened, hip-hop and country surged in the rankings and old-fashioned rock slowly began to fade—suggesting that perhaps an industry dominated by white guys on the coasts hadn’t paid enough attention to the music interests of urban minorities and southern whites.
If you measure things based on intra-industry reporting rather than who actually picks what you can create an intra-industry echo chamber. 

Perhaps ... that's what the American Fourth Estate did to itself on Trump.  The old rock stars were not necessarily as popular as the intra-industry pep talks made them out to be.