Thursday, November 25, 2010

Song of the Week: Dancing in the Minefield

Of late, I have seldom been inclined to publish a ‘Christian’ song of the week. For whatever reason, the embers of faith have not necessarily been burning bright, and to be perfectly honest, I’ve found my time more valuably spent watching my abysmal Dallas Cowboys than sitting through a weekly church service.

But on this Thanksgiving Day, I cannot help but slip into old habits, and reflect a bit upon the things for which I am thankful this past year. Though we spend the holiday here in Indiana, a veritable world away from our place in Tucson and my home on Oklahoma’s plains, the essence of my thankfulness this past year is largely tied to a profound appreciation for my family – both the small one in Tucson with my loving wife Gwyn, our dog Alexas, and our fish Maestro, and our bigger ones here and in Oklahoma. Rather than posting the lone Shaker hymn on ‘thanks’ in the hymnal, I thought the song below by contemporary Christian musician Andrew Peterson was much more on point.

The Pax Plena Song of the Week is called Dancing in the Minefield, and as noted features the superb vocals of Andrew Peterson. I ran across Andrew Peteron’s music several months ago from the blog DonMillerIs.com. While I was already a fan of Donald Miller, over time I have come to appreciate his penchant for picking a good tune. When he recommended Andrew Peterson, I immediately consulted YouTube and was not disappointed. What struck me most by Andrew Peterson’s music was its honesty, and style. Musically, the song is both minimalist and acoustic, à la The Fray circa 2005. But what The Fray lacks in ability, Peterson compensates for in spades.

To wit, Peterson’s voice is as clear as the guitar he strums, and he doesn’t have nearly the same teen angst that artistically limits The Fray’s appeal. In a word, the music is substantive. Peterson’s acoustic guitar deftly unpacks a lifetime of reflection, while the sparse keyboard supplements Peterson’s vocals as well as a back up singer might do in a larger arrangement. Unlike many a sad song, Dancing in the Minefields is mostly upbeat. By my reckoning, the song’s most popular chord is the “C” chord, which keeps the sound optimistic and thankful rather than sullen and brooding. 

And it is exactly this sort of upbeat sound that is necessary to balance the serious themes being discussed in the lyrics. Dancing in Minefields tells the story of a lifetime spent together, breaking down marriage, its joys, and its complications. Unlike much of the cloying glamorization of love coming out of the Christian music industry, Peterson approaches the institution honestly. He analyzes the difficulty of marriage, specifically, rather than romanticizing it to meet a particular, Christian stereo-type of happiness. The singer opens by reflecting upon the mistake of marrying  too early, and contrasting that decision with the magnitude of committing one’s life to another. The poetic, eponymous conclusion is that marriage is like dancing in a minefield – which in many respects it is.

But the singer’s conclusion is far from fatalistic. The point seems to be that faith in the commitment, and faith in the mutual sacrifice of a marriage is what makes it worthwhile. In other words, the song challenges the proverbial us to get out of our own neuroses, and experience life by living for others.

And really this is the point of Thanksgiving: that we have individuals in our lives whom we can serve in quiet ways – perhaps in ways that only we can understand. Such simplicities make dancing in the minefields a joy, and give our otherwise troubled existence meaning. And for this, we can all give thanks.

Please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, Andrew Peterson’s Dancing in the Minefields.



Dancing in the Minefields
By Andrew Peterson 

Well I was 19 you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much to young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

Chorus:
We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

Well ‘I do’ are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

Chorus:
And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

Bridge:
So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you

Chorus:
So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Song of the Week: Kissing a Fool (Redux)

The Pax Plena song of the week has long been a favorite of yours truly. Harkening from the cold nights of my formative years, Michael Bublé’s Kissing a Fool impacted the way I listened to music in a very fundamental way. Perhaps more than any other song, Bublé’s Kissing a Fool taught me the importance of not only hearing music but feeling it. (So much so that I wrote a similar review of the song back in 2007. Though I am not normally one to repeat material, what I wrote then really did not do justice to the music of the song, and the way I perceive it now. Funny how time has a way of providing perspective.)

Like any good song, Kissing a Fool tells a compelling story. The song recounts the plight of a love-struck bard, reeling from the loss of his one and only. The singer’s reflections on the relationship-gone-bad are a mixture of sadness and marvel at what might have been, and the strength required to throw it all away. Naturally, the music melds seamlessly. Written by George Michael in 1988, this should come as little surprise. In addition to his penchant for cannabis, George Michael, in his prime, wielded an uncanny musical range, and still enjoys a legendary music career – one that somehow survived the train-wreck that was Wham!, leading to much more impressive works like Kissing a Fool.

The song’s music has been described as minimalist in nature, which really places the entire burden of the performance on the vocalist. Like its author, the feel of the song is at times brooding and at times soaring, which underscores the impressive vocal range necessary to perform the song well. In the Michael Bublé version, this broad range flows without effort and without interruption. When the song begins, a smooth jazz piano line, and the soft touch of the cymbal usher in the performance. But there is only a moment to enjoy the neo-jazz sound as listeners are immediately carried away into the relationship’s sad demise by Bublé’s voice .

Midway through, the thoughts of the vocalist become more pronounced, and as the song gains strength. A slight brass accompaniment drives home the power of the singer’s thoughts of futility and betrayal. But no sooner does the crooner sound bitter, than the music returns to the sober introspection that first introduced the song to listeners. As in life, the emotions seem mixed. Not long after the song hits an eerie quiet, it erupts with sound as the singer thinks about the couple’s lost future. At its zenith, the entire brass band joins with the percussion and the piano as the singer fathoms the thought of his love with ‘another man.’

Naturally, the singer is not one to deny reality. The remainder of the song is a quiet reflection marked most poignantly by the jazz piano. In a way, this only underscores how truly far away the lost love is. As the keyboard trails off, so too does the singer who is left only to conclude that his love was, indeed, kissing a fool all this time.

What gives the song its staying power – few songs that are twenty-plus years old are as popular – is its ability to tap into the raw emotions performed. Nearly everyone has loved and lost. Kissing a Fool taps into that small pain and sets that feeling to music in such a way that it transcends the particular circumstance of one’s life. Whether one is still searching for love, enjoying Mr. / Ms. Right Now, or enjoying the love to last a lifetime, most people can relate to the thoughts expressed by George Michael’s timeless work.

With that, please enjoy the Pax Plena Song of the Week, Kissing a Fool as performed by Michael Bublé. Lyrics follow after the jump.

Kissing a Fool
By Michael Bublé
Written by George Michael

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death
And from my heart
Strange that you were strong enough
To even make a start
You'll never find
Peace of mind
Till you listen to your heart

People
You can never change the way they feel
Better let them do just what they will
For they will
If you let them
Steal your heart from you

People
Will always make a lover feel a fool
But you knew I loved you
We could have shown them all
We should have seen love through

Fooled me with the tears in your eyes
Covered me with kisses and lies
So bye
But please don't take my heart

You are far
I'm never gonna be your star
I'll pick up the pieces
And mend my heart
strange that I was wrong enough
To think you'd love me too
You must have been kissing a fool
I said you must have been kissing a fool

But remember this
Every other kiss
That you'll ever give
Long as we both live
When you need the hand of another man
One you really can surrender with
I will wait for you
like I always do
There's something there
That can't compare with any other

You are far
When I could have been your star
You listened to people
Who scared you to death
And from my heart
Strange that I was wrong enough
To think you'd love me too
You must have been kissing a fool
You must have been kissing a fool

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dean Martin - John Boehner Connection

The DMJB Connection
Much ink has been spilt about the new Republican Congressional Majority. But perhaps readers are unaware of the comparisons being floated between incoming House Speaker John Boehner and the erstwhile King of Cool himself, Dean Martin.

To wit, no less than three press shops have made the comparison – one as long ago as 2006:
Easygoing and well liked, with a perpetual tan, a low golf handicap and an ever-present Barclay cigarette between his fingers, Mr. Boehner, 56, looks like a throwback to the 1950's — Dean Martin comes to Congress. But he is known around the House as a serious legislator, a pro-business lawmaker who is one of the few senior Republicans who can work with Democrats.
[Link]
Building on the NYT’s motif, AOL’s Politics Daily recently mused, “Who Is John Boehner: Dean Martin? Don Draper? Or the Next Newt Gingrich?” While U.S. News’s Washington Whispers delivered the most glowing comparison of all:
Like a character out of Mad Men, likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner is about to bring old-school cool and political wrangling back into fashion. "He's so cool, every man should hate him," says Tea Party organizer Dick Armey, who calls Boehner the "Dean Martin of politics." 
[Link]
Notwithstanding the fact that I am a Republican and the fact that Speaker Boehner is, indeed, pretty cool, comparing an individual to the standard of cool set by Dean Martin is a serious compliment – certainly not one to be taken lightly. A penchant for slick suits and cigarettes simply is not enough. Like the CIA looking for weapons of mass destruction, we require further proof.

The most instructive analysis on this score comes from the Daily Beast’s post-election article describing the new Speaker’s fondness for hooch. Two quotes are on point:
When President Obama suggested a “Slurpee Summit” with Boehner and his colleagues this week, the likely Speaker came back with a counterproposal. 
“I don’t know about a Slurpee,” he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “How about a glass of Merlot?” 
[And here:
"You have a good party and people tend to show up for the next one,” Boehner once told The Hill. “You'd better make sure the first one's a good one.” 
[Link]
While comparisons alone are insufficient to bespeak a ‘coolness connection’, I think that Dino Martin would approve of merlot over Slurpees. And he certainly would approve of a good party. After all, if we can say anything at all about Dean Martin, it’s pretty clear the man loved life.

So, as a final verdict, we’ll let the comparison stand for now– at least until  Speaker Boehner does something to require a rescission. As with Dino, It’s hard to call the man set to put the party back in GOP anything but cool.

Special Thanks!
By the by, special thanks to Dean Martin aficionado “Dino Martin Peters” for calling the US News piece to my attention. DMP has a terrific site discussing all things Dean Martin since 2007. His slice of the web can be accessed at http://ilovedinomartin.blogspot.com/ .

As a special note, last week’s “Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma” was featured recently on DMP’s site. It’s a great privilege for us here at Pax Plena to connect with the broader community of Dean Martin fans on the web. Thanks a ton!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Song of the Week: On an Evening in Roma

I've never been to Rome. But after listening to Dean Martin's On An Evening in Roma I sometimes feel as if I have. 

When the Pax Plena Song of the Week, On An Evening in Roma, was released in 1959, Fidel Castro had just assumed power in Cuba, the Barbie Doll made its debut, and the Dali Lama made his initial flee from Tibet. Though the world was surely going through trying times, Dean Martin’s easy singing style helped the world forget. By the time On An Evening in Roma was released, Martin had already been on the American music scene for more than ten years. In that span, he released the much heralded That’s Amore, and the eventual No. 1 hit Memories Are Made of This.

By contrast, On An Evening in Roma never even cracked the top 50 songs on the American charts and fared even worse over seas.

But what makes the song a classic is its singer. Martin, perhaps more than any crooner of his era, masterfully uses his voice to tell a story. The music proceeds languidly, as  the faux Italian sound dictates that it should, while listeners detect a hint of mischief as Dino describes the couples of Rome wandering off. But above all, it is Martin’s warbling voice, explaining the mysterious, arbitrary role of the espresso in the grander scheme of love that makes the song ‘perfetto’. 

The song has seen a bit of a resurgence of late, appearing on soundtracks in a number of movies, some related to Rome, and others not. I suspect this is attributable to both Martin and the song’s lyrics. What Dean Martin does that other versions of the song do not is use his low-tenor voice to playfully describe the scene listeners hear – from Rome’s street lamps, to its starry skies. Dino flat makes Rome come alive.  And everyone loves a good love story, right?

In some ways, there is only so much that the written word will do to describe the ability of Dean Martin. Without further delay, please enjoy the Pax Plena song of the week, On An Evening Roma, as performed by the legendary Dean Martin. 

On An Evening In Roma Lyrics

by Dean Martin

Como e' bella ce' la luna brille e' strette
strette como e' tutta bella a passeggiare
Sotto il cielo di Roma

Down each avenue or via, street or strata
You can see 'em disappearing two by two
On an evening in Roma

Do they take 'em for espresso
Yeah, I guess so
On each lover's arm a girl I wish I knew
On an evning in Roma

Though there's grining and mandolining in sunny Italy
The beginning has just begun when the sun goes down

So please meet me in the plaza near your casa
I am only one and one is much too few
On an evening in Roma

Don't know what the country's coming to
But in Rome do as the Romans do
Will you on an evening in Roma

Como e' bella ce' la luna brille e' strette
strette como e' tutta bella a passeggiare
Sotto il cielo di Roma

Don't know what the country's coming to
But in Rome do as the Romans do
Will you on an evening in Roma

Sott'er celo de Roma
On an evening in Roma

© Pax Plena
Maira Gall