Full marks for this iteration go to the networks of Radio U, that little radio station that saved my life in grad school and that became a lot more than that, which I still check every now and again just so that I can know Where Music Is Going.
See, musical waypoints were always very easy to find when I was young. I spent almost the entirety of the ages between childhood and 21 hearing new things; going from my parents’ taste in music (on albums, on 8-track, and on the old, old reel-to-reel) to discovering country radio to discovering pop radio to discovering all the possible different formats in between to wondering why I never heard any of the songs that Donnie Simpson played on Video Soul on the radio to discovering this little thing called “college rock” or “alternative” to going to college and being immersed in that to a pair of albums that changed how I thought not just about music, but about life.
Musical waypoints became much more difficult to find after I left college. In fact, for the first few years after I landed in Columbus and I wasn’t around many people with similar musical tastes initially, I found a little bit of static in my listening. Old friends kept up with electronically helped (hooray, rec.music.christian!) and new friends found…electronically helped (hooray, rec.music.christian!). There’s something of a gap in my library between 1993 and 1996, when on a fateful February morning, Radio U came on the air.
Radio U was exactly the radio this not-entirely-mature-but-entirely-too-earnest doctoral student needed in 1996. I loved the rock, and I did listen to CD 101 and 99.7 The Blitz as I moved, but I was still a very young Jesus-seekin’ Christian and I wasn’t getting to Cornerstone Festival after ’93 and I wanted more of that kind of music in my life. Radio U delivered it, and then some.
I’m going to spare you all the waypoints that intervened, except to say that there were more than a few earnest Christian kids in Columbus, Ohio in 1996 who, twenty years on, probably still get a bit emotional when they hear the guitars that open Stavesacre’s “At The Moment”. But I’m always grateful to that station that became this Christian-broadcasting multimedia thing that gave me confidence that Christians weren’t merely interested in making shiny happy music for the masses, but actual art.
Twenty years later, without even thinking that the radio station was twenty years old, while I was figuring out how to make a Roku box work on a TV, I installed a Radio U Roku app.
And I figured I could watch and see what was Most Wanted.
I have no clue what the first song I listened to was. It was kinda pounding and kinda Klingon and I just can’t get behind that sound no matter how much I give it a chance.
Now, the second song…well.
See, there’s a formulaic Christian song structure that I get used to, even in rock styles. That track resists every template. It resists it sonically, and it resists it lyrically. Every time I think I know what I’m about to hear, the song turns left and does something just a TINY bit different.
I enjoy that.
That sticks around for a couple of days and then I can’t get the track out of my mind and in 2016 when you can’t get a track out of your mind you take to the YouTubes.
Now, there IS a traditional music video for this song, and you should listen to it and watch it and stuff. But that lyric video is unlike anything I have ever seen. And it implants words into my head.
I wrote a short thing about Jimmy Eat World’s “I Will Steal You Back” and the fight of the last two-plus years – losing an institution, regaining status (for whatever that status means), and vocalizing what is lost. That song spoke to motivation, and to ambition – perhaps a dumb motivation, perhaps a foolhardy ambition, but the hope that I could contribute to change, and that change will be for the better.
So, of course, the very first song on this album has the refrain “Things don’t seem to change; they move in place, they stay the same.” And “People never change; they move in place, they stay the same.” You make the commitment, you take action, and then…nothing.
And then, as the first song dissolves into the second, the finger goes from pointing to other people to pointing at the self.
I was always out in front of it
Waging war against the storms when I felt overwhelmed and withheld
You and I were like a pair of thieves
Stealing from rich and giving to whoever we saw fit
Now you’re over it
I’ve been wrong a thousand different times
But I don’t know, I don’t know this time
You were there through every single lie and crime
What do you think of your son now?
The title of the song is “Birds Will Never Fly”, and the resignation behind the words is VERY heavy. And the doubt.
These are the left turns I hear in the words. Who is he singing to? God? His father on earth? The next lyric is “Wait a minute, I was here for you/Now you’re sick, you’re sick/I’m sick of it too” which frustrates me as much as ANY lyric I’ve heard in forever. I suppose it works both ways; disgust in the human relationship, projecting exasperation in the heavenly relationship. I really don’t know – except the frustration mirrors my own frustration at my own ineptitude.
Frustration isn’t good. It’s a result of not living in the world that isn’t what it can be. But frustration is good in that we have that picture of a better world, and we’re not content, and we’re motivated towards greater things.
The songs that open Move In Place put voice to frustration as beautifully as I have EVER heard from popular music.
And I feel that frustration more and more pointedly by the day. I know I have purpose here (and I have moments where I get, ahem, “clarity” regarding that purpose). But I also know intellectually how hard it is to make the world better, how to encourage people to cooperate. And even with knowing that intellectually, the emotions that surround that reality are heavy.
In the time between when I started writing this and now, I started a new job, learned a new city, moved into a new house (a full month and change after starting the job), and flailed in a new laboratory with experiments that worked sometimes (and they were experiments of my own design so it’s mostly my fault; in fact I’m finishing this while I’m trying to figure out how to salvage one of ’em). It’s felt like nothing’s gone right this fall, and often.
I have needed the first half of Move In Place. A lot. And I have a series of songs that are now waypoints to me, in same way I’ve gotten waypoints for other times in my life.
It’s reassuring, y’know? I’m nearly 45 years old. I’m in all likelihood over halfway through my life. And I can still find rock songs that speak to my season and that revitalize me.
And I need that song that laments how people never change to transition itself – into a song that speaks to a thing that remains the same.
Thanks to the men of Come Wind for the soundtrack to a new era in my life.