The 27 Club

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Jul 17, 2017
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Treasure Coast of Florida
I will be moving in the next couple weeks to Vero Beach, FL. I am excited that I will be close to a great friend and mentor of my life.
I have known James for over 20 years and video recorded his wedding to his amazing wife Jennifer. He has been through some incredible lows and amazing highs in his life that I have been honored to be a witness to. He is an encourager and the type of Man that is always a joy to be around. James writes what is on his heart through his personal Blog, self titled, "The Whiskey Priest". He is an avid Adventure bike rider along with his wife.

Below is his latest writing piece that is in response to the death of Chester Bennington and reminds me why we are so impacted by artists. I find this writing very insightful and well worth the time to read.

The 27 ClubReminiscent of the bleeding jazz one might expect to hear pulsing from an underground stage of a 1920’s Harlem Speak Easy, Amy Winehouse, even as a young teenager, seemed possessed by the talent and pain normally associated with an old soul. Her whiskey soaked, smoke drenched voice was a powerful instrument that immediately wrested your attention away from everything else because you just had to see who these sultry sounds were coming from.

Watching her explosion onto the music scene and meteoric rise to superstardom, particularly in the wake of her second album, the world seemed collectively fascinated by the talent and life of this young woman. Her penchant for classic jazz and sonorous crooning came from her father and his extensive collection of vinyl, which included the likes of Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane and other iconic luminaries who bled their blues through their instrument, be it vocal or otherwise, transcending the moment with every soulful note.

When Winehouse’s life began to fall apart, ostensibly as a result of the pressures of new fame and the endless opportunities of instant fortune, no one seemed able to prevent the catastrophe that loomed. In the years following the release of her second album, it became impossible to miss the bedraggling effects drug addiction and depression where having on this young woman. Soon, tabloid tell-alls and outrageous photos of raucous partying were as ubiquitous as her music. Her concerts were often cut short as she entered the stage ripped out of her mind, stumbling around on her own lyrics. At every show her managers teetered on a cliff of panic, not knowing in what condition she would arrive and if her performance would be one for the ages or a complete melt-down.

Many watched with a fusion of anger and sadness as Winehouse spiraled out of control, lamenting that such a promising young talent could fall victim to so many demons, jealous for the great music yet be written and sung if only she could find her way ‘home.’

When news broke in late July of 2011 that Winehouse was found dead in her London apartment, no one seemed surprised. As coroners wheeled away her emaciated, heroin-torn body, neatly tucked in a black canvass bag, a silent melancholy descended over the crowd. Not long afterward, a police representative announced that Amy Winehouse had died all alone in her apartment of an apparent drug overdose. The darkness had won, not only in taking the life of an extraordinary young woman but in stealing the hope of a music yet to be revealed from a talent that touched millions of people as few artists ever did.

The 27 Club

For any fan of Rock & Roll, the death of Amy Winehouse is an eerie case of déjà vu. In the wake of her untimely demise, the Biography channel broadcasted a series of documentaries featuring the lives of exceptionally talented musicians, collectively deemed the “27 Club.” This infamous club is comprised of extraordinary musicians such as Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and now, Amy Winehouse, who all died in their twenty-seventh year and of self-inflicted wounds. Aside from length of life, they were artists whose authenticity and unmistakable pain produced some of the most soul-resonating, heart-twisting and spirit-tingling ‘moments’ of music ever recorded. Each one had an uncanny ability to translate their pain into poetry.

The flip side of such extraordinary talent is that the journey of exploration into their own wounds, in the end, proved too much for their earthen hearts to bare. Kurt Cobain’s suicide note is as sad as it is telling. In the final moments before turning a shotgun on himself, he writes, “I've tried everything within my power to appreciate [this life], and I do, God, believe me I do, but it's not enough.”

The only antidote for the almost unavoidable self-destruction brought about by diving headlong into the well of sorrow that is a part of every soul’s experience, is a gladness that is deeper and stronger than the sadness. To risk the one without the hope of the other, while giving rise to the possibility of amazing art, will almost always lead to a drowning in sorrow, or vomit, as in the case of Jimi Hendrix.

If heart-rending pain is at least half the fodder of poetry then this world offers generous amounts of inspiration for every soul to produce an anthology of lyrical art. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century Danish philosopher, described a poet in this way:

A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music... and then people crowd about the poet and say to him: "Sing for us soon again;" that is as much as to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul."

Each member of the 27 Club was a poet in their own way. And, like every true artist, the challenge is live and write and sing in this world in such a way that suffering resonates but doesn’t overwhelm. It’s a challenge many of the most brilliant talents seem to fail.

Oh, These Crowded Streets

There are few who live their art with an honesty that breathes out a transcendent song, which becomes life to those around - precious few. The other option, the one that seems as ubiquitous as the suffocating smog of Sao Paulo, is to match moderate musical talent with a carefully calculated market analysis and churn out bubble-gum pop songs that, like parachute pants from my youth, barely last a season before being relegated to the “What were we thinking?” garbage bin of culture. If it is simply entertainment that we desire, something that is catchy enough to take our minds off of our problems but not deep enough to call us to engage the sadness of our lives, then there is plenty of ‘art’ to go around.

The meaning of the word “Entertainment” is quite telling. It means to provide amusement (original Greek means “without thought”), a diversion; or, to “hold up in the in-between-times,” as Henri Nouwen put it. If it is true art that we long for, something that makes us live more intensely, more meaningfully and more purposefully for having experienced it, then something more than Britney Spears or The Jonas Brothers is required. The promise of art is nothing less than a touching of the transcendent.

For the soul who has been encountered by the true Lord Jesus, the call is deeper still. Not only do Christians have the challenge of singing their song in such a way that the pain doesn’t prevail but to sing it in a way that the suffering, though deep, dark and at times, crippling, becomes the very doorway to life. Like so many of the Psalms, where the beginning is the sorrow of darkness, resolution comes in the exquisite gladness of light. If the promise of a radically new life of indestructible joy is true, it must over power the darkness, even while we wait in the twilight of a breaking dawn.

Jesus said to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble but take heart I have overcome the world.” It doesn’t take many years of experience before we come to understand that the darkness inside our own hearts creates more trouble than the darkness that surrounds us. There are, to be sure, terrible things that happen all around us, even to us, every day. The biggest battles we will ever face with darkness occur within our own breasts. Yet, even here, in the secret places, the light is shinning, piercing the darkness with joy inexpressible. That’s the unfathomable claim of Jesus and the staggering nature of grace.

In his book, The Call, Os Guinness recounts an interesting illustration of the power of grace in the life of John Coltrane, the pioneering jazz saxophonist who recorded with the likes of Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. As a direct result the excesses of fame and fortune afforded, “Trane” in his pursuit of the ‘transcendent’ had a brush with death while still in his twenties. During the course of his recovery, he had a life exploding experience with Jesus that changed everything. However, most people, including the cadre of superlative musicians who were his friends, believe that his best work came after his conversion. “A Love Supreme,” arguably his best-known piece, is a stunning offertory of thanks to God, in which Coltrane seems to surrender his very soul.

Guinness continues, “After one utterly extraordinary rendition of “A Love Supreme,” Coltrane stepped off the stage, put down his saxophone, and said simply, “Nunc dimittis.” (These are the opening Latin words for the ancient prayer of Simeon, sung traditionally at evening prayers: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”)… If his whole life had been lived for the passionate thirty-two minute jazz prayer, it would have been worth it.”

Some people ask me how I can be such a Jesus guy and yet still love the music and poetry of pagans. The answer is really quite simple. These artists often give a more honest picture of the crushing sadness of the world that Jesus came to save. The gospel means that Jesus dove to the bottom of the well of our sadness and we came out clean. So when it comes to art, the more honest we are about the darkness the more beautifully the light of Christ shines.

I don’t understand why much of the best art and music seems to come from people other than Christians. That concept is counter-intuitive to me. It seems that within the embrace of so much grace and truth, an honest reckoning with pain and suffering could be done with added courage and honesty precisely because we have experienced the overpowering light of love. James the Apostle says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Jesus is that perfect love, which alone can cast out the sorrow we carry about in our bones.

More so than anyone else, the Christian should have that inexplicable juxtaposition of brutal honesty mixed with a contagious joy. Why should the world look to the 27 Club for poetical words to life’s deepest sadness? Shouldn’t each soul that bares the name of Christ be an inexplicable masterpiece of real sorrow overcome by unimaginable joy?

In the final analysis, looking at the truth of one’s own life highlights the artistry of God, even more so than our own sadness or strength. For me, that kind of poetry and truth telling is incredibly helpful and healing – the kind of truth that the 27 Club would sing about, just as Pink Floyd did in Comfortably Numb. The problem, of course, is that they never saw the joy of the gospel. But, they were wonderfully honest about the pain in life, which makes the best soil for the transcendent touch of Jesus.

We need to live like gospel artists, as apprentices of the Great Artist. If we directed our attention to speaking the truth of our own lives with transparency and authenticity, the truth of Jesus would appear increasingly precious by those around. Sadly, it often appears that much of what we do is akin to painting by number, a product specifically fashioned for a predetermined best result. We opt for lifeless technique and refined arguments to win battles of wits and worldviews when an incarnational experience of grace and truth is the only path to life.

What would happen if we spoke truth along the way, as it were, and actually shared something of the real process that Jesus has undertaken in our lives? What if we trusted Him as the author and perfecter of our faith – that he has orchestrated every bit of joy and suffering, each challenge and every opportunity to shape us into His vision of beauty? I imagine that a life of Art would result, like the kind of music Trane played. And, like the twenty-four elders who kneel before the throne of God in the unforgettable picture of worship in Revelation 5, we would, in joy, cast our crowns before the Alpha and Omega, the first and greatest of artists whose joy is creating something unimaginably beautiful out of you.

I’ve been an absolute Biography junkie these past few months - maybe longer than that…

Dear JohnZero whatever,

With all due respect (kidding), with your 3rd non-FJR-riding post on this forum,

you bring a cliché-stuffed, junior high school, plagiarized, patronizing, bible-thumping, wannabe-spiritual fucking sermon?


(BTW, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and all the others at LEAST had something worthwhile to say. You? ...Not so much.)

You're welcome, admins.

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