At some point in high school I decided that the thing I really liked was punk music. Never one to dive too deeply into anything or go through a phase, this only manifested itself in sporadic MXPX and NOFX (any band with cool letters) listens, and a place in my senior book's favorite bands list as "obscure punk music" somewhere beneath U2, Portishead, and John Williams.
After high school graduation, I found a fat sum of bills in my pocket. I combined this money with my Wal-Mart Retirement Fund (another story, but I will just say that my five-month stint with Wal-Mart had ended by that point) to make a nice chunk of change, and I actually managed this money well for a year before blowing the majority on college books, a cheap bass and an even cheaper amplifier. By that point, listening to punk music wasn't enough. I actually wanted to play it--as quickly as possible--but I am getting ahead of myself.
Over the summer and my first semester of college I used a small portion of these funds to build up a sizable punk music library. I am using fancy words such as 'sum' and 'sizable," but let's be honest, for the first and only time in my life, I was going through a phase. One of the albums I purchased was Craig Brother's Homecoming, and for some reason, I found myself coming back to that album more than anything else. I even started speaking a little differently, the diction and intonation of the lead vocalist's voice coming out in my own. I am using fancy words like 'diction' and 'intonation,' but let's be honest, I sounded weird, and people noticed and made fun of me.
Anyway, I am not sure if it is fair to call this time in my life a 'phase,' as I still enjoy punk rock music more than most genres and still like all of the music now as equally as I liked it then, but that was the only period in my life where I completely ceased to listen to other genres. I was a rebel and all I liked was punk, flabnabbit. If the beat wasn't fast and the vocalist wasn't a little angry, I didn't want no part in it.
This period of time went on until February 27th, 2001, when Tooth and Nail Records finally released Craig's Brother's much delayed second album, Lost at Sea. I was working in a stage production called Final Exit at the time. I am using fancy words like 'stage production,' but in reality I was in a Christian Haunted House where I got to wear sweet Darth Maul makeup and scare the crap out of people. Being in close contact with a bunch of fellow Christians my age, I got to spend a healthy amount of time debating and lamenting various issues. As I was dealing with many conservative people (and I don't necessarily mean politically), I found my main argument with them to be:
1. America was not founded specifically by Christians to be a Christian nation during a golden age where everything was perfect that began at the beginning of time and lasted until the early 1960s when 'they' took prayer out of school. It was founded by enlightenment thinkers with a much different concept of God than many of us would call 'Christian' during a time like pretty much every other in human history where people mostly drank, fornicated, and hurt each other.
2. Actually, I summed up my main argument with people in # 1, except
3. Punk rock music is super awesome, and if you think it isn't, you are super lame. Also, don't tell me that heavy music where people scream is evil and un-Christian or I will kill you.
Anyway, this stage production shared a facility with a Christian Bookstore, and I made darned sure that on February 27th that store would have currently-on-a-Christian-distributed label Craig's Brother's new album Lost at Sea waiting for me.
They did. When I popped the CD into my car stereo with my younger cousin Calen (Calen, you made it to the Nicsperiment. That is your reward for being in Final Exit with me ten years ago), I heard the familiar boom-tap-boom-tap-boom-tap drum beat of the first song, "Glory." Then, about three minutes in, something crazy happened. The drums went into a martial beat and a children's choir began singing. It sounded kind of awe-inspiring in a way children's choirs don't usually sound.*
Then the next song started...and it was kind of slow. The vocals came in and vocalist Ted Bond suddenly sounded more R.E.M than Lagwagon. And then the lyrics hit me. And here is the first verse:
And though my sermon salts the air
My ears are still left empty, silence now holds dominion
Words once adorned are now laid bare
Unpolished lumps of nothing, so much unheard opinion
Wow. Somehow this dude hit exactly on my feelings at the time, and his voice was literally floating on an aggressive lullaby--literally, the song is called "Lullaby"--not a crazy punk rock beat. And wait, is that an E-Bow in there?--I didn't even know what the heck an e-bow was. The song ends with the lines:
There's so much to see with eyes wide open
But not a thing worth placing hope in.
Is that the idea?
It all seems like such a rip-off. Am I supposed to act like it's okay?
Take it like a man?
Don't give me that fantasy. I'm nothing but apathy and impotent anger.
And not a thing worth placing hope or anticipation
Except the gentle thought of darkness and silence and slumber?
I don't have to look these lyrics up because I still know them by heart. I must have listened to that song every day for three or four months straight after that drive. Then the next song, "Masonic," began and there was no punk beat there either. There were harmonies, though, and they were awesome, and there was a bass fill-in that wasn't composed of 8th-notes, and it was awesome. And just like whatever girl I was crushing on at Final Exit that obviously wasn't awesome enough to realize how awesome I was, the girl in this song rejected the singer, too...and it was awesome.
The songs just kept rolling, "Divorce" holding onto the punk beat as a familiar island, but the lyrics still pushing, "Head in a Cloud" following with harmonies that soared above them into Outer Space. Next was a song that was not only absent a punk beat, but featured a VIOLIN.** And those lyrics:
Have all the plans that you laid out so carefully
Fallen short of your Neo-Victorian fantasy
You cling to so desperately?
Despite the righteous beliefs that you profess
You still can't cover the stains that mark your Sunday dress
No need to confess
This song is followed by two non-punk relationship songs, "Falling Out" and "Set Free," the second of which is a ballad--not a love ballad--it's a breakup song, but certainly not cheesy or one-note. While not completely topical, these songs still fit the mood of the album, and, while still a bit heavy, lighten the tone a little, until punk music rears its boom-tat head again on the penultimate track, "Prince of America."
Prince of America
Why do your tears fall so rampantly?
Are you not satisfied, in a world without context
Where everything's trivial, and nothing has meaning
Not even the throne you're heir to?
The album ends with the title track, a 7-minute monster that incorporates all of the musical and lyrical ideas that came before it. I won't even attempt to describe this song lyrically because I can't really do it justice. Suffice it to say, if you thought the above lyrics were juvenile, you will think this song is more so, but if you are actually correct in your opinion and think they are awesome, you will think this song is even more so.
This album said everything I felt, carried all the punk-rock attitude that I wanted, but was, for its majority, not punk rock. The overarching musical style was pretty hard to describe. Punk influenced rock? Whatever the case, I began dusting off my older music. I replaced my old Portishead cassettes(!) with CDs. I started playing more tempos than breakneck on my Bass. I felt musically free again, but still loved my punk rock--I realized that in all honesty, everything that I liked artistically was punk rock in some form: The free-for-all aggression of Deftones or Project 86. The Edge only hitting one chord for an entire song when someone else would jam pack it with notes. The Dismemberment Plan feeling all out of place. Portishead not sounding like anyone else. Moby marrying 100 year-old gospel songs with dance beats. Bjork being out of her mind and not covering it up one bit but celebrating it.
All punk rock.
Also, at that point I really solidified my Christianity as rebellion mindset. Not rebellion "as the sin of witchcraft," but rebellion as standing against things that are anti-Christ--even if those things are the church (not The Church) and its misled members. Thanks, Craig's Brother! I'm sure this was your intention!
And a final goofy story on Craig's Brother's Lost at Sea:
One summer after college I hit a kind of dark patch and drank far more than usual. One night I ended up in a bar with a good buddy of mine and we ran into the bass player of a certain no-longer-together indie-rock band that was also on Tooth and Nail records (though far after Craig's Brother was), and the bass player's wife. We then conspired to drink ourselves into a stupor, though I became the go-to-guy for dusting off the pitchers, of course. At one point of mass consumption, the bassist and I happened to have our hands raised in the air, and our shoulder tattoos popped out. I had been contemplating getting the cover of Lost at Sea on my other shoulder for some time. I figured no one else on the planet would ever get this tattoo. Then I saw it on this guy's upper arm.
"Dude, that is so awesome," I said. "That is one of the best album's of all time. You beat me to it."
Now I can never get Lost at Sea's artwork permanently etched onto my body.
It's just not punk rock to get the same tattoo as somebody else.
*Legend has it that Craig's Brother, without the label's permission, hired a children's choir to perform the trendsetting vocal performance during the bridge to "Glory," only to find the children's performance unsatisfactory. The children's attending parents then took a crack at the part, and their performance is actually what made it to the album.
**More Craig's Brother trivia: Ryan Key, lead vocalist for flash-in-the pan (but by comparison to Craig's Brother, huge) punk band Yellowcard did a short stint as a Craig's Brother touring guitarist. Legend has it that Key once crashed the Craig's Brother van, then quit shortly after to form the aforementioned Yellowcard and briefly struck it big. However, the violinist from Yellowcard played violin on this decidedly non-punk sounding Craig's Brother song.