Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hipster Christians, Part MCCLXXIII

The saga continues. Brett McCracken, about whom I've written before, has now published his book about hipster Christianity called, wait for it, Hipster Christianity. I'll give Brett a plug and suggest that you buy the book.

And I'm worried. Admittedly, I haven't read it. I need to read it, and I will. But based on the excerpts I've seen, and Brett's recent article in The Wall Street Journal, it seems to me that Brett is focused on the wrong things. There's much, much more going on here than a desire to be cool, and to fit in with the culture. There is a fundamental rejection of those things with which Evangelical Christianity has been identified. The kids are not just tuning out. They're running the other way. And Brett's book appears to be analogous to a purported critique of the Amish worldview that merely focuses on the funny hats. He nails the fashion trends, but he misses the point.

I don't know how many of you are involved in so-called Emergent churches. I suspect I am, although the members of my church probably wouldn't identify themselves as such. They would simply identify themselves as part of a Christian church. But all of the other earmarks are there. It's full of people about whom the label "hipster" would easily apply if one were looking for outward signs of hipsterism. But here's the deal. They congregate together for theological and philosophical reasons, many of which have to do with an uneasiness with, if not an outright rejection of, the Evangelical cultural trappings with which many of them were raised. Vote Republican? Probably not, or at the very least they believe that whatever Republican candidate is currently running for office has not received a direct endorsement from Jesus. Vote based on a candidate's stance on abortion and/or homosexuality? Nope. Convinced of the God-given merits of free enterprise capitalism? Nope. Take their cues from the evangelical cultural ghetto? What's that? It's not that they've even rejected it. They simply don't even think about it, although they seem to actively engage the culture as Christians. Engage in the culture wars? Emphatically No. They're sick of them, and disgusted by them. Care for the planet that we live on, and take care of orphans and widows, and engage in ending sex trafficking? Yep, big time. They seem to think these things align with the will of God.

Many of them like Sufjan Stevens, and have tattoos and piercings. And Amish people wear funny hats. So what? I know these folks. They're so hip that they gladly welcome a 55-year-old fat guy with a hearing aid into their midst. And I'm there for the same theological and philosophical reasons. Those are the reasons that seem to be missing from Brett's analysis. Seem to be. I'll read the book because now I'm genuinely curious. But those are my concerns.

Best Coast -- Crazy For You

Latest Pitchfork sensation and L.A. "It" girl Bethany Cosentino knows her way around an old Leslie Gore song. Oh, she updates the template a bit, slathering on some lo-fi guitars a la Vivian Girls, but she employs the same little-girl pout as the Queen of '60s melodrama, and she mixes the same lethal concoction of infectious hooks and maddeningly banal lyrics. But it begs the question: do we really need another pop melodrama queen who rhymes "crazy" and "lazy"?

Bethany likes boys, of course, and alternately longs for her missing guy or wonders why she's hooked up with such a scuzzball. She also likes sitting on the couch in her sweatpants, smoking weed, and watching TV. I haven't heard such unapologetically slacker sentiments in a pop album since the glory days of Dinosaur Jr. Which leads to the other big rhyme scheme here, the word "high," which is most frequently paired with "fly" (the upbeat tunes) and "die" (when life is a bummer, man). The songs breeze right on by -- thirteen of them in about half an hour -- and there's something to be said for pop economy. But Crazy For You is the aural equivalent of eating Twinkies. There's that sugary buzz going down. And half an hour later you're hungry for something more substantial.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Born to Walk With a Cane

Neither Bruce Springsteen nor I are getting any younger. A while back Image Journal asked me to write about Bruce. That essay appears in the current issue of the magazine. You can read an excerpt right here. If you want to read the rest, you have to buy the magazine.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fire in the Suburbs

What does The Arcade Fire have to do with Westerville, Ohio? More than you might think.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

James Hand

James Hand writes and sings like Hank Williams, and makes the kind of hard honky-tonk music that hasn't really been in vogue since Buck and Merle raised a ruckus out in Bakersfield in the early '60s. And if he sounds like he's been directly beamed in to the waiting world from some west Texas honky-tonk, well, in fact he's been beamed in to the waiting world from some west Texas honky-tonk.

Now 58 years old, he's been working as a rancher and cowboy most of his life (yes, apparently these people actually exist) and singing in dusty bars on the weekends. He's got two albums out on Rounder Records, one from 2006 called The Truth Will Set You Free (that phrase rings a (cow)bell), and one from 2009 called Shadow on the Ground. And if you like Hank, Buck, Merle, and the whole anti-slick country contingent, he sounds real good. This is truckstop jukebox music at its best.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

John Mellencamp -- No Better Than This

And a quickie review of John Mellencamp's latest No Better Than This, also at Christianity Today.

Doug Burr -- O Ye Devastator

Here's my review of Doug Burr's new album O Ye Devastator at Christianity Today.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eli "Paperboy" Reed -- Come and Get It

Eli "Paperboy" Reed sounds like a white kid from Boston, which is who he is. His songs sound like note-for-note throwbacks to mid-'60s Stax and Atlantic soul. In this case, the whitebread voice is an asset. God knows we've been inundated with retro soul over the past few years. It's a classic sound, of course, but the question remains whether anyone could possibly improve on Otis Redding or Sam Cooke. To his credit, Reed doesn't even try. He's just a white kid who loves soul music, and if the arrangements are slavish imitations of Booker T. and the MG's, the singing is more beholden to Hall and Oates. It's blue-eyed soul, all right, but it's refreshing to hear a singer in this genre who tries to be no one but himself. Yes, you've heard this all before. But perhaps not quite so unselfconsciously.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Brave New Economy

What Color Is Your Parachute? What parachute? Remember when words like "career planning" used to be meaningful?

But here are a couple helpful tips.

Tip 1 -- Managing a Job Search

In the Brave New Economy, no one hires anybody as a regular, full-time employee. If you have a Ph.D. and want to teach, you may end up as an adjunct professor, which means that you're hired for a quarter or a semester at a time, and you're paid a pittance to teach an auditorium full of undergrads who will eventually graduate and join you in the scramble for very temporary jobs that pay a pittance.

In the IT world, the timeframes are even more truncated. A 2-week contract? Believe it. Yes, employers will now pay you to work for two weeks; no more, but possibly less. Slightly more common are the 4-week or 6-week contracts. What this means is that the day you start a new job, you have to actively and vigorously pursue your search for your next job. Here's a typical scenario: you receive a phone inquiry about your interest in another position on Day 1 of the new job. You feel uncomfortable talking to another employer in front of your new, albeit highly temporary, boss, so you decide to retreat to the bathroom and talk there. Except you haven't been around long enough to figure out where the bathroom is. So you awkwardly try to keep things vague on your end, as your boss listens in from 5 feet away, indicating your interest without revealing too much. And because you're an idiot, and don't really know how to talk in riddles, you end up totally befuddling what may have been your next employer, who concludes that you can't communicate.

Believe me, it happens.

If you have a particularly meddlesome boss (this is all hypothetical, of course) who seems irritated by the fact that you occasionally have to use the bathroom, he or she may get on your case for fielding non-work-related (little does he know) phone calls during work hours. You know what you do? You take the calls anyway. What is he going to do? Fire you? Oh well, there goes 9 days pay.

Tip 2 -- Making Your Way Through the Bureaucratic Tangle

If a potential employer contacts you about a possible job, you will need to fill out approximately 87 pages of paperwork in order to even be considered for the position. Filling out the paperwork in no way guarantees that you will secure an interview for the position. In fact, because you're competing against 2,000 other people for the same 2-week contract, you realistically have about a .05% chance of securing an interview. Nevertheless, if you do not fill out the paperwork, you have a .00% change of ever landing those lucrative 80 hours.

So, depending on how hot the job market is in your area (I have recently had to fill out paperwork for 2 possible jobs, amounting to 174 pages), you need to be disciplined and set aside several hours per day to manage the bureaucratic load. It's also useful to keep the following information handy, because you will need to refer to it during the application process:

-- Four references (names, titles, your relationship to, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, summary (no more than 5 pages per reference) of duties performed while relating to said reference, their education, their certificates attained, relevance of their current position to position for which you are applying, political affiliation (particularly relevant for government work), etc.)
-- Employers for the past ten years (name, address, phone number, name and title of manager, phone number and email address of manager, salary, start and end dates of employment, summary of duties performed). Face it, this is what kills you. If, like me, you have worked for 73 employers in the past ten years as an IT gun for hire and all-around communications guru, this could take a good, long while. Discipline yourself. You have to do it.
-- List of weaknesses -- Helpful suggestions: Sometimes I work too hard. Occasionally I have a difficult time not becoming prideful when my co-workers tell me what a wonderful co-worker I am.

If you can scale the bureaucratic wall, the rest is easy. The odds are 2,000 to 1 that you're done. But if the unthinkable actually happens, wear a suit, brush your teeth, go to the interviews, and, if need be, go pee in a cup. If all goes well, you're set for the next 80 hours.

This is all part of negotiating the Brave New Economy. Best of luck. You'll need it.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Collected Works

The folks at Paste have been busy, in this case bundling up all the scattered writings of various writers and tying them together with a virtual string. Here's my bundle, about 400 articles and reviews that go back about eight years.