So this is going to be my first blog since graduating with my doctorate, a blog I have so humbly given the name RockstarProfessor (sarcasm intended). As the title denotes this is a music business blog which is meant to educate and cause serious abstract thought and debate on the entrails of the business side of a creative industry. In addition, this particular blog is the launching point for both my beginning to write a book on the music business (this book will mix stories of my journey in the industry along with the research I conducted during my doctoral studies on the industry) and the national radio launch of my bands latest album. Lastly it is on the heels of the one of my videos going viral. In light of that, what deep data driven analysis of the music industry am I going to reveal? What secret about viral videos am I going to unearth? What does my subject and musings today have to do with the music industry at all? The answer is NOT MUCH; if at all? For me and my journey through young adulthood, the music industry and early manhood though, my subject today means everything.
Today’s subject is about hero’s; particularly one of mine. Oooo you might be thinking he is going aspirational and will espouse on the Mt. Rushmore of his deity of songwriting- Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Prince, Levon Helm, etc. etc.- and while you may be right that in that I admire all of those people in one way or another, they are not the subject today. Okay then maybe you might think I am going to wax whimsical about the closely familiar and relational- my mom, or wife, or kids but that would be wrong as well.
In fact the hero I am going to speak of today did not play an instrument that I know of and is no relation.
To go further the inspiration for today’s blog was a short Irish man, a lustfully failed priest, an alcoholic, a recovering alcoholic and then an alcoholic again, a liar, bitter, selfish and arrogant, BUT…..BUT he was also an author. Not just an author though that is far too mere mortal for his words. He was a poet with words that weren’t poetry, a prophet for those who desperately needed the message he passed on, a well-worn old and needed friend for those who were about to give up on it all.
It is no exaggeration or hyperbole to say that this man’s words whether spoken or written have proliferated and informed every single lyric, every morsel, every bite I have ever written like the red sauce drenching a wet burrito since being introduced to his work in 1998. His message has formed and shaped my very worldview, it has gently taken me by the trembling hand and brought me, kept me believing when logic, my own arrogance, the failings of others, and shear laziness would have lead me away. For a moment let me digress.
In the year 2000 (yes I am hearing the old Conan O’Brian skit in my head too!) I was a singer in a band of 5 funky brothers (musically and odor wise at times) who was about to release our sophomore album for a well-funded but inept label and I had made a comment about how influential this author’s work was on the lyrics I was writing in an article for a national magazine. Did not think much of it until one day my phone rang and the caller I.D. (God I am old!) said New Orleans and I joked with my then wife that it was probably him, knowing that he lived there. She answered the phone, her face turned ghost white (and she is Italian) she murmured a couple hesitant, “yes…..yes…. he’s right here. Jason, its Brennan Manning.” So being the trusting husband I was, I retorted, “whatever, who is it really?” The answer back was, “No I am serious.” Now keep in mind, that I had been on tour with, written with, hung out with rock star after rock star and none of them, not one left me impressed or star struck in the least, this was however a different matter all-together.
After fumbling through some awkward pleasantries, we spoke about life, faith, and of course with Brennan… GRACE. We exchanged lyrics, thoughts, and fears for about 45 minutes. As cliché as it sounds we laughed, I cried and then it ended. That was the only time I ever spoke to Brennan, we never met in person. We exchanged a letter or two through the years but never met face to face. We never met but I read every word the man ever wrote and it changed me, deepened me, and urged me to crawl grateful at the foot of the throne full of joy.
Brennan’s seminal books where The Ragamuffin Gospel (http://www.amazon.com/The-Ragamuffin-Gospel-Bedraggled-Beat-Up/dp/1590525027) and Abba’s Child (http://www.amazon.com/Abbas-Child-Heart-Intimate-Belonging/dp/1576833348/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y). The overarching theme of his writings was this; we are all screwed up (the blessed are the ones who at least know it); it is okay to be screwed up; God is madly in love with us anyway. In two words Brennan’s message was that of Vulgar Grace!!! Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the man
· “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
· “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
· “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”
· “In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”
· “The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind. This book is not for the super-spiritual. It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne, and not Jesus, their hero. It is not for academics who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis. It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion. It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion. It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation. It is not for the fearless and tearless. It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the Gospels, “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.” It is not for the complacent who hoist over their shoulders a tote bag of honors, diplomas, and good works, actually believing they have it made. It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus. The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents. It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay. It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God. It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.”
See I am writing about this man’s influence on my writing in a music business blog for three reasons; 1) He recently passed away 2) My wife gave me his final book All is Grace as a graduation gift and it reminded me of how much he has meant to me and 3) To quote a line from the movie Almost Famous “Didn’t we get into this to avoid responsibility?” or to paraphrase it is the creative that drove me to the music business, it is how music can reach and touch the soul. How words can articulate the heart. Song has that innate search for what Brennan called the “beautiful transparency.” I put up with all the other, stats, deals, business models, etc. because the creative makes it worth it.
Brennan Manning had his critics for sure but that is not what this blog is about and I will not dignify their arrows with a response here. The theme here is Brennan’s message has found its way in so many of my songs from Sweet Lullaby, Boy Meets Girl, and Give in the old CCM days, to Find Me, Reason, and Broken in the RAWK days to the title track on the new album Troubadours, Vagabonds and Thieves. His words changed my life and influenced my lyrics far more than any musician, NO he was not perfect far far from it, but neither am I, neither are you…. isn’t that the real point.
I will end this (quite lengthy) blog with the lyrics to That’ll Preach, which contains the title phrase to the newest album. The irony here is that when I wrote these lyrics with my buddy Kevin Lawson I had not recently read anything of Brennan’s or really thought of him in quite some time and to be honest I don’t know if Kevin has ever even heard of the man but his message permeates these lyrics.
I will close with this, a simple thank you Brennan- rest now in Abba’s arms.That'll Preach- ITunes
By Jason Lee McKinney, Kevin Lawson
All my friends are troubadours, vagabonds and thieves
Just like me
Dirty orphans drowned in water, raised up as sons and daughters
Just like me, Just like me
We’re all bikers and drinkers, poets and thinkers
Wanting nothing but to be free
Open roads and pirate souls, looking for a hand to hold
Want something real to reach
We’re all looking for something that’ll preach
When it comes to counting cost, I know I’m found but I’m still lost
Just like you
When I feel I’m losing ground, all I got to do is look around
And see a room full of rebels just like me
Oh I see a room full of rebels just like me
All my friends are troubadours, vagabonds and thieves
Just like me