Dig Here Said the Angel

I came along at the perfect time to become a Daniel Amos fan. In the 1970s, DA, part of the first, experimental wave of contemporary Christian music, had a country sound, but in 1978 the group recorded “Horrendous Disc,” a Beatles-influenced and yet vital and original concept album. If it had actually been released in 1978, fans believe, it might well have had crossover success. But a dispute between the band and Larry Norman, the CCM artist who founded their record label, held up release of “Horrendous Disc” until 1981, at virtually the same time as “Alarma!”, the band’s first album for its new label.

In spring 1981, I was completing the spring semester of my freshman year at what I often call Famous Televangelist University. My experience at “FTU” was in many ways a good one. I grew spiritually in a Christian-college environment and I still have good friends from those days. But I was already, even as a freshman, starting to recognize the importance of thinking for one’s self and not being caught up in the herd mentality. One of my dorm directors once said in a devotion that, in some ways, Christian college can be one of the hardest places to actually be a Christian, because it’s so easy to coast along saying and doing all the right things without any real reason for them.

I was already suspicious of Famous Televangelist Jr., who impressed me as kind of smarmy, but it would be another year or two before I really started to admit that Famous Televangelist Sr. was guilty of many of the same things I already didn’t like about some of the other TV preachers. A year or two after I graduated, Famous Televangelist pronounced that God had commanded him to raise X amount of money, and if he didn’t do so, God would consider his work finished and “call him home.” That was a level of either fraud or self-delusion that I could no longer countenance.

Anyway, a double-dip of Daniel Amos, with songwriter/frontman Terry Scott Taylor’s intelligence, satirical wit, and fearlessness, was just the lifeline I needed in the spring of 1981. I have been a fan of DA, of Terry’s solo albums, and of the Swirling Eddies (another band which overlaps heavily with DA) ever since. I usually list them along with Randy Stonehill as my favorite musical artists. Terry’s also involved with a third band, the Lost Dogs.

Two years ago, after not having toured in years, DA came to Smyrna – and I couldn’t go, because I was in camp at Mountain T.O.P. that week.

Anyway, DA is in the process of releasing a new album, “Dig Here Said The Angel.” It was launched with a Kickstarter campaign. I’m embarrassed to say, after having proclaimed my adoration for DA, that I didn’t get in during the official campaign. Money was tight. But, fortunately, even after the official Kickstarter ended, the band allowed procrastinators to contribute at comparable levels and get the same benefits. So, this week, I got my official e-mail with a download link to an advance copy of “Dig Here.”

Terry’s voice and songwriting style are distinctive, and it would be easy for the band to release something that sounded like a rehash of previous work. Thankfully, they always manage to bring a fresh approach. “Love, Grace and Mercy,” despite the heaviness of its lyrics, has an infectious sound, with little bits of pop creeping in, and “The Sun Shines on Everyone”  is a beautiful, Brian Wilson-influenced pop anthem which ends the album on a happy note. Terry’s subversive, poetic, sometimes wickedly-funny lyrics (he once wrote a song about hypocrisy, and Christian colleges, entitled “Hide The Beer, The Pastor’s Here”) make each new song a wonder to listen to.

DA once included a quote from William Blake on an album jacket about “that which is explicit to the idiot is not worth my care,” and it’s sometimes dangerous to presume too much about where Terry is going with a particular lyric; what I’m reading into it may not be at all what he intended.

But I think there’s a clear message of struggle, faith and delayed gratification in this album, and it may not be too presumptious to note that Terry went through some health problems a few years back, and even turned to fans for help (he had no medical insurance). Songs like “The Uses of Adversity,” “Jesus Wept” and the title track acknowledge the pain and struggle of earthly life and our impatience for relief.

Terry wrote all of the songs on the album except “Waking Up Under Water,” which he co-wrote with bandmate (and my Facebook friend!) Jerry Chamberlain.

Anyway, I could not be more pleased with the album, and it’s a wonderful addition to my playlists.

It’s a conspiracy against me

My tastes in music are eclectic, but I’ve always professed that my two favorite musical talents are Randy Stonehill and Terry Scott Taylor, both of whom I grew to love when I was in college. Randy, who goes back to the very early days of contemporary Christian music in the 1970s, is a singer-songwriter. Terry is the focal point of two overlapping bands, one called Daniel Amos (also known as DA) and the other called the Swirling Eddies, and he’s in a third band, Lost Dogs, and also releases solo albums. I still remember going with friends to see Randy Stonehill and Daniel Amos as a double bill in, I think, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, while a student at Oral Roberts University.

Two or three years later, when I was a senior in the spring of 1984, I was vice president in charge of student activities for the ORU Student Association. Our concert chair, Mike Rapp, brought in Randy on a double bill with Mark Heard (another favorite of mine, who died tragically young). I’ve told this story before, but I’m telling it again. I intended to sit next to Randy at the after-concert meal, and meet someone who was already one of my musical heroes.

Well, Randy ended up going through one of those airport-hell trips on his way to Tulsa – delays, missed connections, everything that could possibly go wrong. He arrived exhausted. Then, we had to tell him that, because of an arcane ORU rule, we wouldn’t be able to hand out flyers for Compassion International, a worthy charity with which Randy was closely affiliated and which he promoted at all of his concerts. Randy probably had every right to object or make a scene. He didn’t. He was the perfect gentleman. He gave a great concert – I guarantee, no one in the audience had any idea how tired he was – and stayed down front afterward to talk to anyone who wanted to talk to him. He behaved exactly as you would hope a Christian artist would behave. It’s so nice to meet one of your heroes and have them live up to your high expectations.

Needless to say, and quite understandably, he didn’t stick around for the after-concert dinner, and so I didn’t get the chance to have any sort of conversation with him. I met Mark Heard, and asked him a question which I realized as soon as I heard it coming out of my mouth was ridiculously stupid.

I saw Randy one other time in concert, a few years after college, when he was at the War Memorial Auditorium in downtown Nashville. I only saw DA in concert that one time.

OK, let’s jump to 2011. After not having toured in years, DA books a few dates, including one in Smyrna. Smyrna! But they failed to check with me on the scheduling, and managed to book the concert during one of the two weeks that summer when I was at Camp Cumberland Pines at Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry program. By a strange coincidence, my roommate in camp that week was devoted Mountain T.O.P. volunteer “Smitty” Smith, a member of the very church in Smyrna where DA was performing.

Now, it’s 2013. Randy Stonehill was scheduled to appear May 18 and 19 at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville as part of the “One Way Experience,” a sort of CCM nostalgia event also featuring Chuck Girard, Michael Omartian, Evie and The Archers. For my birthday, my wonderful sister, Elecia, gave me a ticket to the May 18 concert….

… which has now been cancelled, for some unannounced reason.

I can’t win.

Tell me you’re coming back soon

All of this ridiculousness about the scheduled rapture got me thinking about two of my favorite songs about the longing for Christ’s actual return.

The first is “Coming Back Soon,” a beautiful little number in which the singer bids his little daughter farewell in order to go out on tour, but promises her he will return.

This is the only video I could find on YouTube; it has Randy before the song, which starts at about the minute mark.

The other one is the strongly Brian Wilson-influenced “Soon!”, written by Terry Scott Taylor and performed by his band Daniel Amos.  I found this video on YouTube, made by a fan. The images which have been selected to accompany the song are kind of, well, cheesy, which is disappointing to me because one of the reasons I like this song is that it doesn’t play to clichés about heaven or the second coming. But this was the only way I could find of getting the music into this post. Click “play” and then minimize your browser until the song is over.

Mountain T.O.P. experience

Okay, now, this isn’t even funny.

As I blogged last week, my all-time favorite band, Daniel Amos, which hasn’t been on tour in a decade, will be in Smyrna on June 13 – when I can’t go to see them, because I’ll be in Altamont for one of the two Mountain T.O.P. Adults in Ministry weeks I’m doing this summer.

Well, guess what? My favorite public radio program, the Chicago-based “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” is going to do a show from Nashville this summer.

On June 30.

During my other Mountain T.O.P. AIM week.

Ed, Jay, Julie, Kim, Sam, Bo and Buddy, I just hope you guys know how much I love you. Because if I didn’t love you ….

No. No. No……….

voxfrontDaniel Amos, my all-time favorite band ever since I was in college in the early 1980s, hasn’t been on tour anywhere that I could see them in a while. But they’re touring this summer, in spite of the band’s frontman, Terry Scott Taylor, having some health and financial problems.

They will be in Smyrna.

On June 13.

Will I go see them? No, because I will be at Camp Cumberland Pines for one of the two Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry weeks I’m doing this summer.

I absolutely cannot believe I will have to miss this.

Larry Norman, R.I.P.

Christianity Today has a really nice, and not sugar-coated, piece on the late Larry Norman.

Of course, I’m a big Daniel Amos fan, and like many fans tended to blame Larry Norman for the dispute which prevented DA’s seminal “Horrendous Disc” from being released in the 70s, when it might have been ground-breaking, until 1980, virtually simultaneous with “Alarma!” on DA’s new record label. After waiting decades for Norman to release “Horrendous Disc” on CD, I and other fans were particularly annoyed that Norman saw fit to add a couple of “bonus tracks” to the CD of himself singing DA songs. It seemed like a deliberate slap in the face, especially since “Horrendous Disc” is considered a concept album, making extra tracks a redundant intrusion.

But you can’t dispute the key role that Norman played in creating Christian rock, both through his own talent and by giving a forum to artists like DA and my other particular favorite, Randy Stonehill.

Just within the last year I was reminded of Norman’s “I Wish They’d We’d All Been Ready,” by Randy Bonifield’s very funny send-up of end-times theology, which incorporates parts of Norman’s song:
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