#WildGoose13: Why my impossible music genre doesn’t work

I’m not trying to throw a pity party, but yesterday was a tough day for me. When I arrived at the venue where I was playing, the sound guy said there was a problem and he wasn’t sure what to do because NPR was interviewing someone next door at the same time as my set so they would have to turn me way down. Then when I got up on stage, there was a problem with the sound that took fifteen minutes to resolve. Because of the delayed start, the stage manager walked around while I was in the middle of a song and told me I was done. I had already managed to mostly clear out a crowd of folk music fans with my strange, low volume
dance music mixed with uber-nerdy poetry. I had thought in my grandiose delusions that this event was going to be a catalyst for a new genre of worship music.

The problem is that I’m “inter-genre” to improvise an LGBTQ-type term. The music I like to make is trance. But the lyrics I write do not go with dance music. Last night I went back out to the festival after putting the kids to bed because there was a “dance party” at 11:30 and I wanted to see what a Christian dance party looked like. It’s basically a G-rated version of a secular dance party featuring “Body Rock” and “YMCA.” The DJ also shared an original piece in which the main lyrical hooks were “Wave your arms in the air” and “Make some noise.” I’m too hipster and contrarian to make bodily movements on command from a DJ, and I would be about as likely to say things like that as part of a song as I would be to write a poem that begins “Roses are red, violets are…”

But unlike the exodus of folk music fans from my set, the dance party DJ started with about 10 people (I thought at first it was going to bomb) and within ten minutes more than a hundred had streamed onto the floor from the surrounding darkness. And it hit me: people don’t want to think when they’re dancing. They want to have fun, play with glow sticks, “wave their hands in the air,” and “make some noise.” I also realized that despite the fact that I love finding rhythmical grooves that “entrance” me sitting in front of my laptop, I really don’t like dancing. So my genre doesn’t fit, and my attempt to pilot a new genre blew up in my face.

If I played guitar and made my poetry into rhyming verses, then I could be like the dozens of folk singer-songwriters who are playing here. But I’m not good at being “folksy” and telling funny stories with my songs. There’s too much dourness and gravity in what I write. Hip-hop probably makes the most sense in terms of a medium where prophetic social critique could occur and I’ve somewhat learned how to do that, but my style, fashion, and so forth are about as un-hip-hop as a white guy could possibly be. I submitted a hip-hop set for consideration by Wild Goose; it was rejected. I suspect the only reason my “danceable homiletics” set got in the door was because I got permission to use sermon samples from (and thus had the implicit “endorsement” of) rock star preachers Greg Boyd, Brian Zahnd, and Jonathan Martin. So I basically name-dropped my way in.

Whenever I ask other music producers for advice about my music, they often respond with a generic platitude like “Just do you.” Well, I’m really at a loss as to where to go from here musically. I had actually thought that I might be getting some business cards from pastors who wanted me to do this at their church. I did meet a famous pastor named Doug Pagitt who came over to the open mic tent where nobody other than my wife and kids had showed up to my advertised dance music making workshop. He seemed to respond positively to what I was doing. He took one of my poetry booklets I had made, but I’m not holding my breath for anything to come of it. It seems like God is always slamming doors shut in my face and then leaving them open a crack. Two people came up to me this morning to say they enjoyed my music yesterday. So the door remains open, but never more than a crack.


5 thoughts on “#WildGoose13: Why my impossible music genre doesn’t work

  1. I also brought something a little daring to the wild goose and watched it flop horribly. Over beer, a wiser man explained to me that art that is challenging is never going to compete well with art that is popular. You can’t expect people to pick from a menu and pick the “thing which i don’t quite understand which will probably make me uncomfortable”, he encouraged me to re-think how my art walks in the world, that some kinds of art need to sneak up and grab people when they aren’t expecting it in order to be what they need to be.

    … and I was listening from afar while cooking dinner while you were in the Open Mic tent, and I was thinking how awesome it was that this was the soundtrack of my dinner-time. I also scored a poetry booklet when I went up to the Open Mic tent and it is a prized artifact of WG13 for me.

  2. Morgan, you’re just before your time. I can totally picture a crowd dancing to your music at a Christian dance party in like 20 years. Come over and jam with Jackson sometime soon. Bring Cheryl and the kids.

  3. Mo, your work was fantastic. i’m glad I got to hear it, and i’m not an easy music critic. Don’t be too hurt by this. you’re wonderful. We’ll talk tomorrow. -Julia

  4. Hard to read this, Morgan. I’m sorry you were disappointed, Friend, but He gave you this skill for a reason. I think about the parable in Luke about the lady who badgered a judge to grant her justice, and eventually he caved, just to shut her up—you wouldn’t want a room full of people because they were being “polite” or had no where else to go. Also,the verse (sorry, cant remember exact verse) in Acts that tells us that our lives are to finish whatever God sent us here to do, regardless of rejection. Did God really slam the door, or did the crack emerge for discernment and refinement? God wants you to succeed.

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