Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Matters More?

New Derek Webb Song. I'm not usually a big fan, but he really hits home on a lot of good points. Also his use of strong language, to me, shows where his passion is even at the expense of his "Christian music audience". I know using cussing in a "CCM" song is taboo, but it really works here. This song gives me hope for the CCM genera of music. Honest and authentic lyrics have been emerging with a lot better music coming from some of the artists.

From Derek's on website, you can see what he's putting on the line (at least hints) to stand up for what he feels in his heart, led by the spirit! Here are copies of the 2 emails:
Email #1 (5/12/09):

i haven't sent many personal emails to this email list but we're in a situation that has gotten a little out of control and it's time to fill you in. as some of you may know, i've been working for months on my new record, 'stockholm syndrome', which i've recently finished and turned in to the record label. they've been very supportive over the years, but this time we didn't get the response we expected. it seems i've finally found the line beyond which my label cannot support me, and apparently i've crossed it.

i consider this my most important record and am adamant about all of you hearing it. we had originally hoped to have 'stockholm syndrome' out this month (next week even), but at this point we're not sure when the record will come out and in what form. the majority of the controversy is surrounding one song, which i consider to be among the most important songs on the record. so we've decided it's an appropriate time to break the rules.

but because of various legal/publishing issues we're having to be rather careful with how we do what we need to do. that's really all i can say for now and i've probably said too much.

this is our plan and we're moving ahead, but we're not sure what kind of trouble we might be getting into. we'll let you know as soon as we know our next move-

Email #2 (5/19/09):

this is turning into a bigger deal than we expected. as a result, we're having to temporarily pull everything online down (can't explain now). and to be on the safe side, i'm going to personally go offline while we sort this out. i re_ally shouldn't use my twitter account for now either so don't expect any updates there.

make no mistake, our trouble with the label over content is very real, and not as simple as one word; we're backed into a corner. but we have applied all of our creative resources to this, working furiously to create something that we believe not only subverts any legal issues but should also be a _pretty wild ride.

so this will be the l_ast email for a while. we'll try to leak information via a new twitter account, @syndrome. you're o_n your own so start paying attention. i'll see you on the other side-
Feel free to leave thoughts on the MESSAGE and MEANING of the song (agree or not), as well as the mess he seems to find himself in because of his beliefs. This is similar to what a lot of people (including myself) have experienced as ministers in churches.

PLEASE DO NOT leave a comment chastising me for posting a song with strong language in it. I didn't write the words, so I leave that to artistic creativity on behalf of Derek.


  1. Thanks for this blog - I was looking for somewhere I could learn more about the song.

    What Derek does here is no new thing so it's surprising so man are talking about it I guess. Pastors from small churches to Mark Driscoll and Jay Baker have been using language and been making this argument for a long time.

    I don't agree with using language that could be a stumbling block for someone else. I think the point of the song will be the same on the clean version and the original version.

    Sadly, I just don't think it's that good of a song. I like Derek Webb quite a bit. From Caedmon's Call, his solo stuff, and stuff from he and his wife...I love alot of his music. I especially like "She must and Shall go Free".

    However, this song.....just no that great no matter what language is used. Just my thoughts.

  2. Thanks Tom for your thoughts!

    I am not a big Webb fan myself, although I did like him with Ceadmon's and just never got into his solo stuff although I appreciated his change in message and direction.

    I think you are possibly onto something here. This song may not be that much different than his last couple of CD's, so what makes this one so much more of a struggle for him and his label? He states that it is far more than one or two words. I don't think it is SOLELY the stronger language. Would the song be better without it? I honestly don't know, but I would assume that HE feels that it is needed to convey the urgency, intensity, shock, importance, etc... (all speculative) in his creative formula.

    But that aside, I have a feeling that he has pushed the proverbial envelope past the line for his label. So I guess the ultimate question is which do you go with, the bigger industry/MAN/institution, or your heart and gut. Hopefully the battle is something far more than the use of "naughty words", and about something that he considers "matters more"! I have a feeling that this is the battle his is fighting! One that many of my colleagues and I have fought with institutional religion. Our heart and spirit-led beliefs that are in opposition to what the institution demands of us. But, I also reserve the right to be wrong on this!

    Great thoughts Tom. Thanks for taking the time to chime in. Feel free to

  3. You are a gold-mine Justin. Every time I stop by your blog there is something interesting. This is my post on another blog (one where I found the lyrics because I'm not good at picking them up audibly and need to see it as well often). And more will follow my jot. You can omit the first sentence.

    "[I'm kinda surprised no one has touched this one. I found your blog looking for the lyrics to this song which I found via another blog.] In regards to mustical content being produced by a "Christian" (I use quotes because the term itself for me as a platform of legitimacy is an utter fallacy) and it being edgy or controversial. Derek Webb is new to the game, and not really that far out there. Pedro the lion was sold at the Family christian Bookstores for years, and his stuff was far more racy. On a more thematic note I am glad Webb is causing a stir. It actually makes me think there is some life left in Christianity, and that it hasn't completely sunk into the doldrums of mediocrity, and stagnation of thought."

    Now in regards to Tom's comment. I appreciate your perspective on the issue of language, and not wanting others' to stumble. I take issue with this claim for a few reasons.
    First of all it is a work of art, an expression of heart and mind if you will. It is also not ubiquitous to the point where one who wishes to shelter them selves from certain language need never hear Webb's music. Now the argument could be made that some of those very people may have at some point been fans, or are still fans of Webb's, and this is not fair to them. To them I would say that as an artist Webb needs to grow and transform, and that he may just be growing and transforming into someone they no longer can be fans of, or at least they can no longer be fans of the newly produced music of us. In short I don't think it is Webb's job to cater to anyone. If you like the music and appreciate it you do, if you don't then its not fair to say that he is causing others to stumble.

    My other issue with the statement is the, in my mind so forgive me, stale attitude that the language one uses to communicate what is going on in their heart or mind should be dictated or constrained by anyone or anything. Much of where I differ with many is at a very rudimentary point, so there may be very little common ground here. My position is that the person writing to the church in Colossae (I think I spelled that right?) is like many other people of his time with opinions, and angles. The letter here is a product of that as is the statement in 3:8 about the language one uses to communicate. It is his opinion, and there is nothing standing between us and another idea on the subject aside from a series of events that allowed that idea in that book to be disseminated and accepted by a certain populace. I'm not trying to minimize the importance, or quality themes/messages in the the letter, nor the Bible as we have it as a whole, but to take a sentence or two and create such a large and pervasive dogma seems a bit on the silly side and constrictive to ones life. Nor am I saying that it is ok to call a black person the N word, or any other number of offensive statements in order to offend. I'm not going to go youth group and start cussing up a storm. Why? Not because I am double faced, or some such nonsense, but because it is not appropriate in the context. If I slip it I move on and laugh about it. Its not a big deal.

    I've ranted enough sorry for the overly long comment. Hope all is will sir.

  4. Aeolus,
    Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes all I have to go on that my blog is being read is the counter at the bottom...but that only shows how many times the page has been loaded, not whether or not someone actually read the posts and found the material quality. This means a lot to me.

    As a musician (not a great one, but an aspiring one) myself, and as a person who has lots of musicians and songwriters in his life, I completely understand when an artist states that his or her "Wal-Mart" version (w/o any explicit lyrics) is not their "true work". At that point, I am not into music who uses cussing simply for the sake of cussing, but I still understand a lot of times when an artists feels the need to choose a stronger word to express far more than what the lyrics are saying.

    I have a friend who is a fantastic song-writer. All of his music is spiritual. My fav. song by him, he drops the F-bomb at the end in the refrain. I've heard the "clean version" performed, and it just doesn't hold the intensity and urgency that is built up and released by a single word in his creative work discussing war and faith in tandem.

    Of course I also grew up singing with the radio, and if the song said "damn" in it and I sang it in front of my mom, she would say, "usually we don't want you to use that kind of language, but if it is in a song on the radio and you sing it it is ok. My mother understood maintaining the integrity of the artist's intent... but this was like adult contemporary, 80's, and 70's before explicit lyrics became "cool".

    I honestly like your statement about language of the heart and mind being dictated. (sorry, bad paraphrase) I would agree with you on this. My old college roommate, back in my conservative, "cussing is always a bad thing" stage, pointed out that the philosophy of language. Who decided what words were taboo? In what context are they taboo? When and through what circumstances made them taboo? And finally, do they remain taboo because of a specific reason, or simply out of an unenlightened habit? These have always been food for thought for me.

    As for Paul, well he uses some strong language (an greek/roman equivalent to one of our more harsh words today) in one of his writings. And his teachings (and I would argue that some of the teachings about the "tongue" are not his at all, but someone writing in his name or a book ascribed to him through tradition) would be inconsistent if he were talking about "foul language" as modern American Christianity likes to apply it today. No his teachings about the tongue are much deeper and are rooted in a different situation and context as you point out. As a whole, the teachings about language are more about terms of love and respect (as a generalization) than about the actual words. This is actually where Paul is far ahead of his time in understanding what Wittginstien would call "word games" thousands of years later! Paul understood that how language (all language) is used both informs our attitudes and places the boundaries on our actions.

    As for Webb. I want to see this album published because I think he has a right to write the music that best reflects the source of inspiration (the artist's own thoughts, beliefs, hopes, fears, observations, etc...). Will I buy it? IDK, I still shy away from most "Christian" artists under a Christian label. I will have to judge it like I do all music: do I like it musically, and do I connect with it emotionally and spiritually? I don't mean that in a "Christian" kind of way, but to me, the music I listen to usually connect with me heart and soul in some way...because that is where the best music comes from IMHO.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts! Always a pleasure, and a lot of great things to ponder here!

    Take care my friend, and hope to hear from you again soon!