Keith Green

It's very obvious what, and who this song is about. It's fitting for the occasion. Keith Green wrote it in the late seventies and over the years it has become a fixture in many churches songbooks. It's not the only one of his pieces to have achieved that status, but it may be the first. These days you see it happening a lot, but where most of the "new breed" of "praise-and-worship" songwriters just slap a couple of lines from the Bible onto a pretty melody, Keith was able to conjure the same responses with his own lyrics. That's really saying something, if you ask me.

So we know who the "Easter Song" is about. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to tell you a little bit about Keith Green, not that I knew him personally, but his ministry and music meant an awful lot to me back when I was a just finding my way out of adolescence.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a phony, plastic, "God-as-a-hobby" Christian. And they're everywhere. You don't have to look very hard or too far to find one. I despise charlatan snake-charming televangelists who twist the words of the Bible into one big advertisement for their ministry, targeting the sincere, if somewhat naive, seeker, hoping for the chance to dig into their pockets for spare change (or life savings). There aren't too many things in the world that bug me more than a person who forfeits their own personality because they think it's not "Christian enough". Then they walk around pretending that they are capable, on their own and by their own power, of loving everyone they meet. You know...the kind that think it's their business to point out the hypocrisy of others without even realizing that hypocrisy, to one extent or the other, is a big part of the human condition.

Keith Green wasn't that kind of "Christian". I'm sure he had his faults, as we all do. I'm not saying he was perfect or even necessarily a "model Christian" for everyone. But he was to me. Between Keith and Brother Larry at the United Methodist Church I thought I had a pretty good handle on the things not of this earth.

Keith was a "no bullshit" evangelist and songwriter, not afraid to speak out against what he saw as the lethargy of what the church had become. He wasn't the kind to "court controversy", but how could he not take flack for lyrics like this: "The world is sleeping in the dark/That the church just can't fight/'cause it's asleep in the light/How can you be so dead/When you've been so well fed?/Jesus rose from the grave, and you?/You can't even get out of bed."

The song, "Asleep In The Light", wasn't meant as a mean spirited condemnation of organized religion. It was a stern admonition, from one of their own, that the job it had been given was not being done to it's potential. Not only that believers had become content to fall into routing and ritual, but that it had discouraged interested people based on irrelevant things like social status and other inconsequential factors, up to and even including race. Maybe none of this rings true at this point in history. But I assure you it was this bad and worse in the days before the "Jesus People" and the charismatics came along, in the late seventies.

Maybe this was part of what drew Bob Dylan to Keith's music. Just after Dylan's conversion to Christianity he knew he wanted to make a gospel record. He'd listened to a lot of them during that time, but the one that he liked the most was Keith Green's first album, "For Him Who Has Ears To Hear". He held it such high esteem that he even wanted his record to sound similar, with the same production and everything. This didn't happen, for better or worse, as "Slow Train Coming" took much more of a blues direction, with deep gospel thrown in the mix. Even so, Dylan spent several days with Keith and his wife, Melody, talking about the project and no doubt reading the Bible a lot. Keith made a point NOT to let it be known that he'd hung out with Bob Dylan. He knew what kind of attention that would garner, most of it for himself and precious little (if any) for the message he wanted to preach.

Now what does that say about the man? Is that not a worthy example of a man whose heart is in the right place and who lives by the maxim "He must increase, I must decrease"? How different from the Paul Crouchs of the world who pay pseudo-celebrities to appear on their television shows so they can drum up what they think of as "credibility". And with that "credibility" comes wealthier "prayer partners" whose bank accounts they hope to raid. How different from the stages at a lot of churches these days with the smoke and lights, the $10,000 sound systems, the musicians with their huge monitors at their feet (God forbid they not be able to hear themselves when they're praising God), spotlights, flashy guitars, rock star poses from the bass man (the old Johnny Thunders/Sid Vicious look), bobbing and dancing to the rhythm of the pulsating "praise" music, switching gears turning on the tears for the "worship" music...and all of it cries out ME ME ME ME ME. Oh sure, they're singing about God and even TO God, but you might as well be at a rock concert. Nothing wrong with rock concerts, mind you. I like 'em as much as the next guy. But concerts are SPECTACLES. Like carnivals or circuses. Is that what church is supposed to be about? To each his own, I ain't judging.

But Keith Green only had a piano and a microphone. Though he used musicians on his records, to my knowledge he never performed live with a band. He never thought of his performances as "church services". For that matter, he never thought of them as "performances" at all. He saw them as nothing more than a chance to spread the gospel. I could be wrong but I don't think he ever played in a church. He did, however, play in some bars.

When his records began to sell well he decided to pack up his belongings and take Melody to Texas, where they set up an organization called Last Days Ministries. They used their money to offer food and shelter the homeless. Melody set up a counseling center for single pregnant women, where they were encouraged to re-consider having abortions. Both Keith and Melody were the most adamant anti-abortionists but very compassionate about it. They weren't afraid to call it as they saw it. No matter what your stance on abortion may be, you have got to give credit to people who are so passionate for their cause, who will not resort to attacks or foolish protests.

They also set aside funds to publish and distribute their ministries monthly periodical "The Last Days Newsletter". Not only was Green a talented songwriter, he was a powerful writer in general, and his articles for the newsletter were well researched, to the point, and most often right on the money. He also used the platform to publish articles by Winkie Pratney, Leonard Ravenhill as well as the old standards like John Wesley and Charles Finney. Some of these articles were so popular that he would print them up as gospel tracts and send them to you, in bulk, for free to distribute.

He did a lot of things for free. Including "selling" records. Long before Radiohead made news by offering their latest record, "In Rainbows", as digital download "for whatever you thought it was worth", Keith Green made his third album available "for whatever you can afford". Down to, and including, NOTHING. And it was a great album, too. Entitled "So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt" it was, in my opinion, his best yet. Perhaps his greatest song, "Grace By Which I'm Saved" is from that one. Needless to say his record label was having none of that. They were, understandably, in the business to make money (which is not the same as TBN or Daystar Network...at least, not IMO...I don't think the CEO of Sparrow records is being flown around in his own private Lear Jet). So Keith made his own record label, Last Days Records (I really don't know what it was he had with all the "Last Days" stuff, because they certainly weren't yer typical End Times alarmists). "So You Wanna..." got good reviews and he was able to release another record using the same "pricing" code. "Songs For The Shepherd"...I was so impressed with this album that I wrote a review for it in my music column at Seminole Jr. College (right along with reviews by the Psychedelic Furs, the Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen. that whole lot). His rendition of "Holy, Holy, Holy" is the most powerful I have ever heard on record. And you just know that he's giving out a LOT of these suckers for free, whether the people recieving them can "afford them" or not. No doubt Keith would have thought of it as a worthwhile investment even if it didn't make a profit. But it did, and so he released another one in similar fashion. "Jesus Commands Us To Go" was his sixth album and the third he was offering as basically free if you didn't want to pay. I wasn't as impressed as I had been with the last few, but I may have just been recoiling from the message, as it had become extremely geared towards all Christians being missionaries to some degree or another. I'm sure he was Biblically correct with his viewpoints, but I just knew I couldn't do missionary work, even on the local level.

On July 28, 1982, Keith was on board a small plane scoping out land on which he could do some expansion on the ministry, which was growing substantially. He was there with two of his children. They had one more and Melody was pregnant with a fourth. I don't know if an actual cause was determined, but the plane went down. There were no survivors.

That's that. And I guess that IS that for all of us, man and woman, young and old. When it's done it's done. Keith Green ain't coming back. He's left a legacy that's helped many people come to grips with what they believe. Look at the guy in this video...can't you just tell that something's happened to him? I mean, that's one of the things that really kept me believing when I was young. People who had very obviously really been changed. Maybe that's why I'm so intolerant of people who work it the opposite way, who try to change themselves. I'm not saying people shouldn't do what they can to be obedient. But I'm looking for authenticity, for genuineness. It's hard to find sometimes and sometimes it's there but I just don't or can't see it. Still, I know it's out there. It has to be.

I hope y'all have a very nice Easter holiday.



Lester Bangs, dead and in the grave, skewers Tall Tales

Tall Tales was a band I played in for about a year before being unceremoniously booted. These days I can say I'm glad it all went down that way, but I've become painfully aware that I still hold a bit of a grudge. I'm trying to work that out, but in the meantime I've been lurking on the message board at their website.

Anyway, a few days ago there was a post that read:

>>>You heard 'Pot Pie'? (*"Pot Pie" is the newly reformed band's current CD)
Put your take on it -- bad, good, indifferent -- on this link. The 'most enchanting' review, as deemed by Tall Tales Leprechaun*, gets a free copy of '69 Minutes' (by Bastille Day, 2004) and a card. Merit is not determined by favorable review, but by style and swagger and spirit.
Good luck.<<<

So I just couldn't resist posting this reply....

Hi, I'm Lester Bangs. I've been dead for several years, but at one time I was a rather prolific music reviewer. You ever seen "Almost Famous"? Phillip Seymour Hoffman played ME in that movie. Yeah, I'm quite a cult legend. Go to the library one of these days and check out one of the post-mortem compilations of my work from Creem, the Village Voice and various other music rags. I think you'll agree, after reading them, that I know a thing or two about music.

Maybe it's because I'm dead, but I just didn't like "Pot Pie" very much when I heard it (that guy from Drowning Pool who croaked a couple of years ago somehow procured a copy and he let me borrow it, anxious to get my valued opinion). It just didn't ring true, that's all. Maybe there's a market amongst the living for a band of geezers who are rapidly approaching middle age playing frat-boy party rock with sub-juvenile lyrics, but I guarantee it'll never sell in heaven or hell.

Musically it has it's strengths, I'll concede that. Must be nice to have that tuneful Reid fella back in the fold. What in the world did you think you were doing without him? But someone needs to tell him that Peter Buck still holds down the guitarist slot in REM...there's no need for Robbo to impress anyone with his ability to mimic Buck's style. If I want to re-live the glory days of jangle-pop, I'll give "Murmur" another spin.

Back in the days when I still breathed God's good air and my heart pumped blood through my veins I was plenty capable of ripping an album to shreds, mercilessly panning it in such an entertaining way that even the musicians who I was lambasting had to admit it was a pretty fun read. But now that I've mellowed out in the afterlife I don't really like to cut people down to size quite as much as I used to. So with that in mind, I'll save my true thoughts on the majority of "Pot Pie" and simply advise the guys in the band to place an ad in the Oklahoma Gazette or Urban Tulsa seeking out a TALENTED vocalist. This wailing and caterwauling method that Danny Fallis has cultivated may have been acceptable (and who knows, maybe even slightly enjoyable) back in the days when he was throwing stuffed animals to the crowd at Club Nitro, but Jesus, the guy's got to be close to 40 years old now, and he sounds almost as pathetic as Steven Tyler drooling about the "kitty in the middle" while waiting for the Geritol to kick in.

I don't mean to be a party pooper, but the plain truth is that I heard "69 Minutes" had a couple of mildly amusing tunes on it, and I really was hoping I'd win that free copy. You DID say that the winner would not be determined by whether or not the review was favourable. I can't help it if I'm dead and find absolutely no humour in the Beavis and Butthead level of the lyrics on "Pot Pie", nor is it my fault that I would rather just listen to old Replacements, REM & Meat Puppets albums than cut any slack to a third rate imitation of same, even if you guys are earnest. You asked for opinions, and you got mine.

Now, I don't know how you're going to get my free copy of "69 Minutes" to me, should I be the lucky reviewer to win it (and face it, my review is the best, hands down...all that come after it will pale in comparison, and furthermore I have it on the authority of a higher power that I am 100% RIGHT about "Pot Pie")...after all, the Postal Service doesn't generally deliver packages to St. Peter's Gate. So if you guys are honest and fair about your intent to judge on "style, swagger and spirit" (and that's about all there is left of me, ya know, "spirit"), you'll surely award the free CD to yours truly...and since I cannot recieve parcels where I am, may I donate my free copy to Steve Ray, the incredible vocalist for Pitbulls on Crack? And if he refuses it (as he very well may, seeing as how he always thought Tall Tales sucked) maybe Dave Cantrell would take it. I know for a fact that he sold the copy you gave him to Wherehouse Music for a buck several years ago, walked out the door whistling a snappy tune and considered the dollar in his pocket to be much more than what the CD was worth.

It's too bad Wherehouse Music went out of business...I heard they had at least 29 copies of "69 Minutes" that they were giving away free with each new Smash Mouth CD purchase. The theory was that when the customer listened to the Tall Tales CD they weren't quite so disappointed in the dismal Smash Mouth music and were less prone to return it for a refund.

Anyways, thanks for giving me this opportunity to critique "Pot Pie". Don't quit your day jobs, gentlemen, that's the best advice this dead rock critic can give you.

Peace on earth and goodwill to men,
Lester Bangs


Music Video of the "Week": Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison...

Sorry I didn't do a MVotW last Wednesday, and most likely I won't get around to doing one this week, either. Not so much apathy as just...oh, I don't know why. But this one will make up for both, I promise. I'd heard some while back that the guitar solo Prince does in the George Harrison R&RHoF tribute was amazing, but I've only just now come around to checking it out. It is not only amazing, it will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It will bring the goose bumps out of hiding. Only a few seconds into it and you realize that you're in for a real treat. There is a bit of showboating, especially towards the end, but hey, it's Prince. I'm not a fan of his work in general, as I don't really enjoy the kind of music he creates. I'll tell ya this, though...if he decided to put out a "rock" record and it sounded anything like this I have no doubt it would be an instant classic. Critics used to compare him to Hendrix in the early 80s on the strength of songs like "Purple Rain". I always thought that was a crock of shit, but honestly he hits Hendrix territory in this solo. But enough of my blithering. Listen for yourself.

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Prince, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison...