I have stretched the limits on space between blog posts. But alas, it is a new year. That seems reason enough to write something. I took my Christmas lights off of my house yesterday. I took part in a Christmas tree burning tradition last night, and I believe I may have seen the last of the stray plush reindeer antlers on the entrance ramp to Interstate 65 as I drove past this morning. Christmas is over.
The work of making something more of this year than was accomplished in the last has taken center stage. The inventory of things done and left undone has been considered and now it is time to formulate the plan for achieving our various successes.
The New Year brings promise of reinvention. We do not have to be the same people we were mere weeks ago. We do not have to fall prey to the same trappings that diminished our self worth, or motivation. We can “rebrand” so to speak.
We can take the proverbial razor to the bumper stickers that told the world what we cared about last year. We can burn the old concert t-shirts that represented our tastes before we had matured to the present.
We can laugh in the moments when our friends would have expected us to frown. We can cry instead of seeking safety behind our stoicism. We can seek understanding in the situations we might most often have dug our heels in and wasted valuable resources trying to honorably defend ourselves.
In other words, we can change.
The topic of change has been the centerpiece for the on-going conversation in my creative circles. Artistic expression is, after all, a living process. It is real time evolution. “Evolution,” is the important word to consider.
I recently sat down with a collection of well-crafted songs that had made it through the creative crucible that is the recording process. These songs had pieces of my heart and soul woven into them. They had fragments of a life story sprinkled throughout. They had the sweat and the tears and the pains of hard labor giving them weight and worth. These were the songs that would make up the newest Jars of Clay record.
These songs matter to me. But they are part of a connected and historic idea that has spanned nearly twenty years. They are songs that are poured from a cistern that has been known to hold a certain kind of drink.
Whether the brand is as it should be, a representation of what we truly are, or whether it is a misconception born out of the need to easily label something in order to embrace or dismiss it, is of little relevance.
The fact remains, Jars of Clay has been called a “Christian” band for a long time. It has been truer in some years than others to what people believe that label actually is. We have chosen the title and despised it in equal measure.
I honestly have never encountered a more vague and misinterpreted label so subjective in its usage to be deemed utterly useless in the public forum as the label, “Christian.”
But I digress.. What is real, is my desire for artistic change. That is, to put it another way, “artistic evolution.” It is different from cutting off the past completely and disregarding heritage and tradition for the sake of something new and untainted by familiarity.
That is not evolution. Evolution implies a deep connectedness to the past. It says, that I have learned something from all that I have been through and experienced. It gives value to the under-formed ideas of young spirituality and zealous faith. And it gives credence to the nubile artistic expressions that often solidify an artist’s identity to soon in their careers. Evolution takes that past and draws from it in order to inform the future. Some artists will cringe at what they created early in their artistic lives. Yet every song, every wardrobe choice was part of a deeply satisfying conversation they were having. They may not believe what they once believed and wrote about, and they may not use the same words, or care for the same ideas, but they were no less valid in building a life of honest discourse. I don’t cringe. I don’t think the same, or write the same, or care for the same things I did twenty years ago. (And we can all be thankful for that. )
It remains to be seen whether a band like Jars can carry our history with us into the places we long to go. It remains to be seen whether we can join the bands at Coachella or Bonnaroo or have our music performed along side of Mumford & Sons and The Decemberists.
My hopes are strong that it is valuable to listen to artists that have learned something over their years. Maybe as valuable as listening to young artists that are theorizing about what the life they have yet to have lived will bring. It is all in the balance.
When we finally complete the work of these songs, and send them out into the world, we hope people will not find a new line drawn in the sand. We hope people will find a group of artists willing to sit and have the conversation about what we have done and what we have left undone.
We have learned a few things. Lesson one, do not hide.