My first contact with Jon Troast was via e-mail. He was a stranger to me, but I was writing about him and his music, so we started getting acquainted. The parenthetical portion of a particular sentence in that first email caught my eye: “I’ll send you a Dropbox link to my latest EP, titled ‘E’ (I’m working my way through the alphabet).” He does know there are 26 letters, right? I thought, remembering how Sufjan Stevens planned to record an album for each of the 50 states and managed to only get through Michigan and Illinois. My second contact with Jon Troast was during the Local Show Special Edition concert at Hutchmoot 2015. He was introduced by Andrew Peterson, who mentioned that he heard Troast had done something like 100 house shows in 100 days for 100 dollars each. Peterson paused, mentally crunching numbers, and beamed an almost conspiratorial smile. “That’s ten thousand dollars!” Troast smiled back, and said, “Yeah, for over three months of work.” I marveled, bluntly reminded of the cost of making music. I wondered if he had any days off, and how much his gas cost, and how on earth he booked all those shows, and then I was jarred back to the present as Troast sang.
I first met Kevan Chandler a few years ago when I sat down with him at Baja Burrito to talk writing and publishing. Kevan's an author, a podcaster, a voracious reader, a movie lover, and a man of rare wit and humor. It's been a delight to get to know him since that first burrito, and I'm honored to consider him a friend. Every time he's in Nashville, we try to get lunch. He's always got something new and interesting up his sleeve, and just a few days ago he launched his latest adventure. This is an adventure unlike any you've come across before. Let me explain. It began a while back with Kevan's dream of going urban spelunking---that's fancy-talk for exploring the sewer network under a city. Now, not everyone is fit for urban spelunking---but that goes double for Kevan. Why? You see, Kevan has muscular dystrophy. He only weighs about sixty-five pounds, has no use of his legs, limited use of his arms, and relies on a wheelchair (and friends) to get around. Urban spelunking provided a real challenge. But with the help of his friends, he overcame that challenge. He explored a network of city sewers while being borne in a backpack. It was a beautiful picture of friendship and service, and it gave Kevan an idea: Where else might he be able to go, if only he had someone to carry him? So was born the "We Carry Kevan" campaign. And this time he's going a lot farther than the local sewer.
Andrew Peterson usually gets interviewed by publications like CCM Magazine, The Gospel Coalition, and World Magazine. He was kind enough to take a break from talking to respectable journalists in order to tell me about his public humiliations in pursuit of rock and roll stardom and literary greatness.
Welcome, Andrew Peterson, to Sad Stories Told for Laughs.
It's an honor. I’m ready to bare my soul.
Good. The Rabbit Room readers have come to expect nothing less from my guests.
I've read all the other entries in this esteemed series, and I have to say, it's been encouraging to know I'm not alone. I could relate to all of them--except for Nick Flora's weird nudist story.
That was weird, wasn't it?
You were a character yourself in a few of those stories.
I think you were in Jill P's "Promoter who ran off with the money" story.
Oh, man! That's the only story I've been a part of that got legal. Litigious? Whatever.
I did have the cops show up at a show of mine a long time ago...
Tell us about it.
Kickstarting Ellen and the Winter Wolves was quite the exhausting undertaking, so getting the last supporters’ book in the mail was a relief. I’m really happy with how the book turned out and how it was received (people either liked it or refrained from telling me they didn’t), but after five months of all things Ellen, I’m excited to move on to other projects. (In case you missed the Kickstarter and wish you hadn’t, Ellen and the Winter Wolves is available in the Rabbit Room Store.) I hadn’t painted much since September, so after the Kickstarter responsibilities ran their course, I started a new piece. It’s so good to paint again! It’s called Cloak of Feathers and Leaves and is 30”x40” so it’ll take a while to finish. Here are some of the leaves that I’ve been working on this week. I look forward to sharing the finished painting with you all. Another project that I’ve begun is a picture book collaboration with Doug McKelvey...
Sally and Sarah Clarkson released a beautiful book into the world this week: The Lifegiving Home. I’m sure I need only say that our own dear Sarah had a hand in it to make everyone rush out and buy it without delay. But let me add that, not only is it penned by a mother-daughter duo we love and admire, it’s an absolute feast of ideals and inspiration, weaving everything from family devotions to picture books to picnic hikes to soup and bread suppers into a story of tangible, touchable love. What’s more, it’s a story for everyone. The Lifegiving Home is a cup of cold water to weary mothers parched for encouragement, and it’s a gladsome challenge to the newly launched young adult just setting out into the world for the first time. It is a book for grandmothers, roommates, husbands, and children. More than memoir or mere instruction manual, The Lifegiving Home is an ally in the lifelong adventure of creating kingdom outposts in the spaces of our lives. For homes don’t just happen, the Clarksons insist, they are made. And The Lifegiving Home is a celebration of all that it means to make home, in every sense of the word. Sally and Sarah champion the essential belonging a real home can provide in the midst of a heartsick, homesick world. They cast a vision for a lively center of fellowship, ministry, discipleship, and healing, and then they build a strong foundation of scriptural unction and practical application beneath it. The Lifegiving Home is the deeply personal story of the Clarkson family, told with warmth, honesty, and staggering generosity. But it’s also the story of all pilgrim-believers, “wending our way through unknown country, Home.” Sally is the mentor so many of us long for, and Sarah is a wise and kindhearted comrade along the way. I had the joy of talking with Sarah about The Lifegiving Home earlier this week (and Sally stepped in for a bit!) and I’m delighted to share a foretaste of this timely gift of a book. Enjoy, friends.
Those eloquent Welsh folks have a word for something we vagabond Americans can’t seem to name: hiraeth. It means something like homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or even a home that never existed at all; an intense longing for one’s motherland; a grief-tinged nostalgia for the lost places in the world where one’s heart once fit. I know that many in our transient culture like to talk about home in terms of people—home can be anywhere as long as you’re with people whom you love and who love you—and I certainly don’t deny that family and community are inseparable from the concept. But it is precisely the placeness of home that I am interested in: the incarnate reality of it, the dirt and the roof and the bones of it.
Last week I put on my smart hat (I don't actually have a smart hat) and went to Vanderbilt University. Professor David Michelson is teaching a course on early Christian poetry, and after one of the recent Local Shows he kindly invited me to audit the class. "As long as I don't have to write any papers," I said. He convinced me to stop by for a session, and---other than the fact that my smart hat was smoking and singed around the edges---I loved it. Here's what I learned in just two hours.
Lots of people assume that this is a video of JJ Heller playing really tiny instruments. The truth is far, far stranger. This is actually a video of a GIANT JJ Heller playing normal-sized instruments. We hear she's only playing arenas now due to the troubling issue of low ceilings in other venues.
A few months back, my buddy Pete (a.k.a. A. S. Peterson) asked if I would be up for doing some art for his wintery, Twilight Zone-like, Civil War-era tale, The Timely Arrival of Barnabas Bead. Pete had actually contacted me about this same story sometime last year, but scheduling conflicts prevented us from working together and my pal Jonny Jimison did some art for the tale. This year, when Pete asked, I was actually right down in the thick of the largest book project I've been involved in to date. I was inking anywhere from one to four illustrations a day, sometimes seven days a week, for months on end. Inking that much can really wear you out! I didn't actually know that until now. Pete was really hoping for art that was gestural, smokey, mysterious, and anything but the typical detailed ink work I am usually asked to do. And that was just what I needed, right when I needed it.
Walt Wangerin has started a great series of posts on his blog, Between Us. Check out part one, in which he discusses Maurice Sendak and the necessity of wild things.
Adults who write to their image of a child, rather than writing to genuine children, do in a real sense utter baby talk. And they miss the mark of a child’s intense experience. They make a conventional assumption of pastel innocence, angelic goodness, fresh unsullied souls (“trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home”)—and in consequence their language lisps, their menu of topics is reduced to the sugar cookie, and their attitude is offensive. Even as they presume to know better than the child, they present a teller and a tale too simple and simply less than a child can (and ought to, and wants to) experience. Simpletons tell simplistic tales.Read the entire post here.
Andy Gullahorn's new album, Fault Lines, is now available. Grab your copy or download from the Rabbit Room store today. Click here to check out our interview with Andy about the album.
Jon Foreman, the Grammy Award-winning artist and lead singer of Switchfoot, has been in quite a whirlwind lately. He’s released four EPs in a series called The Wonderlands, writing a song for each hour of the day. Meanwhile, he concocted a matching concert event, with 25 shows in 24 straight hours, in the midst of a full-on concert tour. I recently caught Foreman’s concert at The Loft in midtown Atlanta, and before the show I asked him about the new music, his approach to writing it, and the chaos he’s created. There’s quite a contrast between Legend of Chin and Fading West and even The Wonderlands work. How would you describe your growth as a songwriter and performer? On the one hand, everything has changed since then. We were still in high school and college. On the other hand, everything is the exact same; I am still writing songs about the questions and the things that are on my mind. Maybe it’s not so much a chemistry class anymore as it is death or faith or doubt. The other thing that has stayed the same is as a musician you hear something that challenges you musically from someone else and that inspires growth. Man, I’ve heard so much music since then, and hopefully that has challenged me to new places as well. The Wonderlands has 24 songs, one for each hour in the day. How much did you stick to that formula in the songwriting? I totally broke the formula.
Joseph Pearce is speaking tonight at New College Franklin's free and open-to-the-public collegium. Pearce is a renowned British speaker and author of books on Chesterton, Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare, and others. He will speak on The Lord of the Rings and the Christian foundation for the work. This sounds like a great way to spend an otherwise dreary Thursday evening. For more information, visit New College Franklin's website.
I lifted the idea straight from a Grace Livingston Hill novel: I had read dozens of them in my teens, and I was enchanted with the way those beautiful jazz-age heroines of hers always seemed to be stumbling into winter house parties on grand estates. The literary uses of the form varied, of course: if the heroine was an ingénue, the house party would serve as an excellent illustration of the vanities of the frivolous life and an opportunity to illumine the darkness of worldly pursuits with the sweet influence of her character. If, on the other hand, she was of the glittering beau monde, smoking cigarettes and shamelessly flaunting wide-legged pants (I remember one lovely creature whose inner quality was expressed---rather tastefully, in my opinion---by her arresting gold bangle in the shape of a serpent, wicked-looking emeralds for eyes), then the gathering would be the one place in all the world where she might encounter for the first time the warmth and welcome of a real home---an experience that would unfailingly change her life for the better and generally land her on the front row of the local church at the earliest possible opportunity. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not poking fun at dear Grace, though I’d never deny that her stories were formulaic. I doubt she would deny it herself, written as they were to keep the wolf from the door after she was widowed with young children. But if her books were predictable, they were also reliable, and in more than one sense...
On Wednesday, January 20th, Ron Block is playing Music City Roots, Nashville's acclaimed roots and Americana variety show. Can’t attend in person? Watch the free video stream. For tickets or to watch the broadcast visit www.musiccityroots.com. The band: Clay Hess on guitar, Mark Fain on bass, Rob Ickes on Dobro, and the man himself on banjo and guitar.