Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Swiss Miss

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a precocious musical yuppie. When I was a kid, I refused to wear anything but Dock Martins, plaid flannel, and prepubescent-boy fit Levis. When the first ipod came out, I was bound and determined to have a massive library greater-than-thou’s, from classic rock to impressionist classical. I scoffed when people swarmed over MGMT, claiming that I, I relished in the glory of The Management’s 2005 album, Climbing to New Lows, long ago. I was that person who fell to the ground in ear-splitting agony at the mere hint of the lap steel or fiddle of country music, and who raised their arms shamelessly to the grimy synthesizers and British posturing of indie-electronic. So you can imagine my surprise (and consider my words slowly, because well, they’ve got a bite) when I started meandering in, in Christian rock, and…slowly found myself irrevocably in love. And throughout this short-lived journey of melodic endeavors, I’ve come to understand that music isn’t a broken piñata, its pieces waiting to be scooped up quickly and in copious quantities. Music is a—a cup of hot chocolate—fresh from that box of Swiss Miss in your mom’s pantry. Sure, to the coffee connoisseurs at Starbucks, your powdered sugar might be a good laugh over a Chai latte. But to you, your hot chocolate is what fills you entirely. It warms your veins. It simplifies life. Sometimes, it even evokes a sense of purpose. And if you could have those moments of self-induced happiness, even to where that laughable thing defines you, would you, could you say no?

It’s all Jon Foreman’s fault. “I dare you to move.” He told me. “I dare you to move/ like today never happened/ today never happened before.” I was fifteen years old, and my feet were starting to swell under the hot, rusty rocks of the Grand Canyon floor. I was on this twelve-mile hike to the Havasupai waterfalls, where a bunch of youth-group kids and I would spend the week camping and singing Kumbaya. I didn’t go because of the week-long, “Christ-centered” atmosphere. I went because I needed to get far, far away from my monotonous life in Fountain Valley, and I pretty much dominated physical challenges; or in other words, I was that irritating friend of yours who always has something to prove. So here I am, fifty-pound backpack to boot and six miles to go when this Jon Foreman guy starts whining in my ear. It was a new album that was trekking the charts—Beautiful Letdown—and I had thrown it on a hiking playlist to experience the hype that these youth-group kids couldn’t get enough of. So: I’m putting one foot in front of the other, and the more seconds that tick by with the song, the brighter the rocks are getting; the lighter this pack is starting to feel. At first, I took the irresistible melodic hook of the intro and high-voltage buzz-saw riffs of the chorus as the meaning of the euphoric high I was progressing into. So I played the song again. And again. And I realized: this Jon Foreman guy has a serious grip on existence. “Maybe redemption has stories to tell/ Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell/ Where can you run to escape from yourself?” His words sunk deep beneath the skin, and stayed with me the remainder of the week. As the turquoise walls fell above me, I’d pop in my headphones and listen, the combination of crashing water and sky-scraping harmonies bringing me to that elated state of contentment again. I’d listen to this guy sing about the false security and pursuit of happiness I so blindly held onto, and a faith in a purpose I so longed for. His shimmering balladries weren’t preachy; they were exactly what a fifteen-year old struggling with impending adulthood needed. “I Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot was the initiator of a whole new world I’d never heard before; and it changed me entirely.

I got home from that trip and jammed my ipod into this portable-speaker thing and yelled at my dad to come in from the garage. Short introduction: my dad is the reason for my strong inclination—borderline obsession—with music. When he and my mom divorced, he’d play Nirvana’s Nevermind over and over again in his car, and I realized from a very young age that music changes people; or in his case, can help you cope with the seemingly impossible. Continuing: so my dad came in and I insisted that he listen to this small bundle of gloriousness I’d experienced in the Grand Canyon. I played a couple of Switchfoot’s stronger songs and sat Indian-style on the carpet, thinking I’d just provided my own father with the true nirvana of post-modernism. But the opposite happened: as “I Dare You to Move” came to a dramatic close, he gave me that “I’m smiling out of necessity because if I tell you how I really feel you’ll throw an Academic Decathlon debate in my face” face. “That’s nice, honey.” He said. The words were crushing; so much heavier than that toddler-sized backpack I’d carried for a round-trip of twenty-four miles. So, out of necessity for approval of not only my father but from the rest of my high-school peers, I hid my love for Christian rock, only listening to it in the privacy of closed quarters. I shoved the box of Swiss Miss to the back of the pantry, and continued back to my cup of black Sumatra coffee.

But the cravings were always there. You see, you feel cool with that big cup of bitter liquid in your hand. But it doesn’t change the taste of it; and the more time that passes by, the more you long for your sappy-sweetness again. It wasn’t until this year, as I Myspace-stalked some old friends and foes of mine, that I delved into my love for Christian Rock once again. This girl Jackie had a typical Urban-Outfitters inspired page of Poloroid-quality pictures and starred lists of “likes and loves”. She had a lot of friends. And yet, a familiar acoustic-sounding, string-centered melody filled the air as her music player opened, and I found my veins beginning to pulse in endorphin-like happiness. There wasn’t much innovation to the lyrics: “Love is here/ love is now/ love is pouring from/ His hands, from His brows”. Yeah, I’d heard that before. But for one reason or another, I stayed on her page for two hours, clicking the replay button. The band, Tenth Avenue North, sang a typical Christian-themed song called “Love Is Here”, and invited listeners to “come to the water” to experience the understanding of Christ’s love. And as much as I would’ve gladly turned on some electronic, film-noir sounds of Portishead or Kings of Leon, all I wanted was more Tenth Avenue North. These gentle chords made me feel warm inside. The lyrics engraved a deeper purpose into my heart and mind. The grandeur choruses brought light into my perspective on the world. If this seemingly cool and popular Jackie could play “Love is Here” on her page, well, then I could too.

That day, I consolidated my entire itunes library, changing all of my discreet “misc” genres back to their rightful place in “Gospel and Religious”. I probably bought a couple-hundred songs too, finally showing the Christian-rock world the support I so owed it. And the more I uncovered in Christian music, the more deeply in love with it I fell. Sure, much of it can create a borderline overkill of raised hands and joyous, unashamed praise. But when the majority of what I’d be listening to otherwise consists of cynical doubt and hopelessness, I guess a little mind-numbing glee can be the right dose of perspective I need. So, today I stand tall (although as a categorical Amazon-woman, it’s not too hard to do) and proud: I am a Christian-Rock lover. I love Jesus. I love bright and shiny things, and Swiss Miss hot chocolate with marshmallows on top. Jesus music defines who I am, and well, I might just be that blissfully ignorant to not care.

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