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Friday, December 13, 2013
Purple State of Craig
Because the conversation continues….
One of the most profound pleasures of my life has been reaching across the aisle to John Marks at PurpleStateofMind.com.
Almost everything about this project was experimental and accidental. It started with John’s phone call, inviting me to take a look back at where we were as roommates at Davidson College. He was starting research for a book at the same moment I was itching to make a movie. We began in the wake of 2004 presidential election, when America seemed horribly divided along issues of faith and politics. We embarked on this journey with a far-fetched notion that thousands of people might join us in a conversation across the cultural divide. We aimed to air our differences, but keep it civil, to promote the best ideals of democracy. John and Ed Priddy supported our vision from the beginning. May their investment be rewarded in all kinds of ways.
As we toured the country with our film, Purple State of Mind, we met an amazing cross section of people. Our screenings generated passionate arguments and heartfelt tears. We made so many remarkable friends along the way, whether in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, Texas, Colorado, or Idaho. That is perhaps the most tangible reward to emerge from this project.
This website heated up around the 2008 presidential campaign, when faith and hope seemingly coalesced around an unlikely winner. We will now sign off on the eve of the formal start of the 2012 presidential election process, the Iowa caucuses. Each month has been marked by another contender, rising to the fore, only to find Republican voters increasingly indifferent toward that rising (and falling) political star. Civility has seemingly been tossed aside due to the national economic panic that has gripped us since 2007-2008. As we rebuild our economy in light of 21st century realities, we still desperately need some new rules of engagement, a recovery of civic discourse that forges a way forward.
John and I have each changed jobs, houses, and towns since Purple State started. We find ourselves in a different stage of life, taken away from this forum by professional challenges. At Pepperdine University, we are launching a new masters program in media production. I am eager to invest in the next generation of storytellers and media entrepreneurs. John is also engaged in the media, making provocative programs about Jesus’ last 40 days on earth and the nature of evil. So the questions we brought to the Purple State project remain as vital as ever. We are thankful for all who have joined in with comments, suggestions, and debate. And to those who stumbled across PurpleStateofMind and listened in, we hope you’ve been enlarged by the conversation.
We love these United States, no matter how frayed and unkempt that unity may appear. We can get pretty shaggy as individuals as well, but even on our worst days, we remain committed to the conversation. Godspeed, Purple State! May you continue to find places of refuge, sanctuaries of sanity.
Filed under: Music
Posted by: Craig
As the seasons change, so do my musical tastes. So in reflecting on my favorite albums of 2011, I thought about each month. What was in heavy rotation, dominating my ‘recently played’ iTunes list? Sure, other bands and songs had their day (James Blake, Radiohead, Wye Oak, tUnE-yArDs) But who kept me coming back for another listen?
Over the Rhine – The Long Surrender
Over the Rhine offer the ideal accompaniment to long, contemplative nights. Although produced in Southern California by Joe Henry, The Long Surrender captures the indomitable spirit of Middle America. Lucinda Williams joins in for the plea to get life “Undamned.” The album closer, “All My Favorite People Are Broken” breaks through as another gem from Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler. These are the most downbeat hopeful songs imaginable.
Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
I had the privilege of interviewing The Civil Wars after a riveting performance at the Sundance Film Festival. Their debut album delivered soaring harmonies and southern fried soul. Producer Charlie Peacock kept it simple, allowing the remarkable skills of Joy Williams and John Paul White to shine through. This instant classic matched more moods than any other album this year. Download immediately.
Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
Sam Beam came back with a big, roaring band, a long way from the sparse sounds of his early days. Maybe not vintage Iron and Wine but something more robust and well rounded. As colorful as the psychedelic cover art. Highly recommended.
Gregg Allman – Low Country Blues
April showers make things a little sticky. Under the expert ears of T-Bone Burnett, Gregg Allman recovered his long lost mojo. (A year earlier, Burnett resurrected Leon Russell’s dormant career). Low Country Blues echoes beloved Allman albums like “Laid Back.” Slow, low, and growling good times.
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
This highly anticipated album delivered on its promise of lilting harmonies and airtight arrangements. But Helplessness Blues expanded the Fleet Foxes range with more diverse and quirky sounds. They literally seem to have brought the kitchen sink into their twee, folky songbook. Helplessness Blues fills the void left by no new Mumford & Sons album for now.
Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
The comeback album of the year—a rollicking blast of old school rap. As fresh as Check Your Head circa 1992 and as edgy and fun as Hello Nasty. The Beastie Boys “make some noise” to celebrate Adam Yaunch’s cancer remission and allow us to join the “Nonstop Disco Powerpack.” Say, “Ho!”
Toro y Moi – Underneath the Pine
Just as Prince once wrote and recorded all his vibrant sounds in his parents’ house, so Chaz Bundick channels disco, funk, and lounge into his own personal stew. As Toro y Moi, Burdick crafted these bright, funky tunes to bounce through the summer. He makes me feel like dancing.
Diego Garcia – Laura
A cool breeze of a record. Romantic, Latin flavors form a pool side soundtrack. Even Diego Garcia’s album cover features water, fog, and more water. Just pressing play put me thoroughly “Under This Spell.” Relax, kick your shoes off, and chill.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver
This one took awhile to grow on me. A long way from the cold, Wisconsin cabin of his debut, For Emma, Bon Iver expands his musical palette. The shift from tortured to borderline schmaltzy was abrupt. But consider all the musical sources that have swirled around him like Kanye West. Aided by a crack back up band, the haunting voice of Justin Vernon remains compelling and convincing. Really intrigued by his next step.
Motopony hails from the Pacific Northwest (and thanks to Kat Linehan for turning me onto her favorite Seattle band). This diverse set of songs by Daniel Blue and Buddy Ross spans the gamut from experimental rock to rootsy R & B. It is constantly surprising and utterly original. Giv’em a listen.
Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
While the Jayhawks reunion disappointed me, Ryan Adams ‘sober’ return was remarkably resonant. Marriage to Mandy Moore didn’t dilute his gift for melancholy. And Los Angeles, with all the ashes and fire contained in the Santa Monica mountains, serves as a stirring muse. Hushed and haunting.
Jonsi – We Bought a Zoo
While nobody flocked to see Cameron Crowe’s movie (including me), the music of Jonsi compels me to listen carefully. The album includes a few pre-established tracks from previous Jonsi and Sigur Ros efforts, old favorites are surrounded by new settings of Icelandic weirdness. Orchestrations by Nico Mulhy makes this soundtrack lush, lithe, and life-affirming.
How many kids reading comics, envision themselves flying? They may imagine making that single bound off the roof of their home, only to land with a deflating thud (and maybe even a broken arm)? Mutant and Mystics is a throwback to a time when comics and sci-fi first expanded our notion of what’s possible, when adolescent dreams were fueled by the visions of Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Philip K. Dick. Yet, it also aspires to help us master human flight, to incorporate the astral projections of John Carter, to literally get to Mars.
Jeffrey J. Kripal’s mind-growing Mutant and Mystics aims to elevate consciousness. Or at least connect the dots between the human consciousness movement and the rise of sci-fi driven comic books. It mines back-issues of the X-Men series to point out just how normal it made the paranormal. Jean Grey isn’t merely a superhero, but an exemplar of the kinds of gifts and experiences we all should aspire to develop: mutants as our highest ideal.
Mutant and Mystics is distinguished by the seriousness with which it treats the seemingly ridiculous. (It is the featured at this month’s Patheos Book Club). Kripal manages the rare feat of offending both conservative Christians and materialistic scientists. He combines three areas that have been equally maligned by the scholarly community—science fiction, superhero comics, and the paranormal. While many have noted how comic books reflected the anxieties of the atomic era, Kripal pushes past the cultural connections to suggest a broad rising of consciousness found in the writing of Charles Fort, Ray Palmer, and John Keel. His attention to detail is admirable. Kripal snaps across esoteric and obscure corners of Amazing Stories with rare facility. Mutants and Mystics is a wild, dizzying ride.
Kripal’s rigor is matched by the creativity of the presentation. Mutants and Mystics is a beautiful book loaded with eye-catching graphics. Kudos to the University of Chicago for publishing a hardback that literally POPS.
What further distinguishes (and complicates) Kripal’s research is his personal connection to the stories he’s studying. (Read an interview with Dr. Kripal at Patheos). He begins Mutants and Mystics by recounting his own paranormal experience in India, where he felt the Tantric goddess Kali dancing across his paralyzed body in 1989. And the book ends with an affirmation of the human possibilities championed by the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. What began as prior research for Kripal turned into full-blown conversion. He is both Esalen’s historian and a dedicated practitioner. Should the lack of objectivity inherent in his research disqualify him? Perhaps an earlier era would have seen too many jumbled agendas. But in the postmodern moment, Kripal’s first hand experiences with the paranormal seemingly make him more qualified to tackle it as a subject—we understand why he is so interested in his subject.
As a scholar who writes on the intersection of theology and pop culture, I tread a similarly fine line. My book, Into the Dark, begins by recounting the profound effect the movie Raging Bull had upon my eventual decision to take Christian faith seriously. I write to try to understand my own spiritual experiences and filter them through detailed scholarship. Kripal is doing the same thing with sci-fi and the paranormal. He talks about UFO’s with the same passion I bring to the four Gospels.
Are we both equally crazy to merge the personal and the professional? Does it detract from our work or give us energy to burn? Christian scholars who have pointed to the Christological shape of the Superman story may be shocked to discover Kripal tying it to notions of aliens and the occult. (Read this excerpt from the book here). Jack Kirby’s contributions to the Fantastic Four are ascribed to Kirby’s personal Kabbalah. Yet even a cursory glance at Spider-Man’s mask demonstrates Kripal’s striking connections to the descriptions from alien abductions. Just when I thought he jumped the shark, Kripal lands a big one.
One haunting question unanswered by his impressive research: why are all of the writers he discusses (both of comics and sci-fi) men? Is there something inherently masculine in the human potential movement? Do aliens prefer guys? Or does it take masculine hubris to believe we are progressing toward Super-status?
Some may feel Kripal tries too hard to fit his examples into his overriding Metamyth. But I found his humor and perspective refreshing. Perhaps the mythic elements of comic books are rich and pliable enough to fit into multiple religious traditions. Mutants and Mystics explains why a film like The Matrix can be claimed by multiple traditions as ‘their story’. Kripal builds a convincing case for reading comics as a mystical, right-brained primer for human potential. For those who wonder why Hollywood keeps mining the Marvel vaults for more material, Dr. Kripal provides a provocative thesis. We have only just begun to discover our true power residing amidst aliens in spandex.
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