I missed it.  I’m not sure what I was doing but when I sat down to watch what remained of the Grammys my wife let me know I missed it.  The Foo Fighters had won best rock performance and Dave Grohl, the lead singer and former drummer of Nirvana, gave what my wife thought was a pretty good speech.  Most of the time the winners get up and pretend to be surprised, pretend to thank the fans, and then pretend their source of inspiration was the Lord himself.  When Grohl took the stage and began to talk into the microphone he said the following:

“To me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of music is what’s important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft, that’s the most important thing for people to do… It’s not about being perfect, it’s not about sounding absolutely correct, it’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here [your heart] and what goes on in here [your head].”

Back story:  The Foo Fighters recorded their new “album” in Grohl’s garage.  They didn’t use digital recorders that can correct sour notes or off pitch guitars.  They used an old school tape recorder.  Now, to be fair, Grohl’s garage is not your ordinary garage, and they did have a pretty good producer – but his point still stands.  In an era of digital enhancement a “performer” doesn’t necessarily have to be very good at their craft, they don’t even have to work at their craft, they just have to have excellent marketing and good publicity to create a good “brand.”  

Next week I will be taking part in a conversation with pastors and youth leaders about young people leaving the church.  I personally think Grohl’s speech gives a glancing blow to the institutionalized lives of young people.  The adult world doesn’t give young people much space for creativity – we give very little room for imagination.  We, after all, are the ones who set the rules, we continue to foster the institutions that establish the parameters marking out what is possible.  Cookie cutter educational institutions that impart employable skills and job training – helping young people to fit into the institutional mold.  Churches that lack the prophetic imagination that just might cause young people to see visions and dream dreams.  Political and economic structures that lack creativity and inspiration.  I mean, really republicans?  This is what you got?  Romney or Santorum?  And clearly, democrats, Obama is going to go into his 4 corners stall offense (think basketball) because he can – the inspiration of the 2008 campaign lost in the hum drum of running for re-election and keeping his job.  And we wonder why so many young people are bored and cynical.  We’re astonished that they don’t want to be a part of our groups and organizations – the church included. 

What if more young people learned to play the guitar, drums, or the “mouth harp”?  What if we had more garage bands – artistic expression outside the watchful eye of parents and teachers?  Could it lead to a transformation of our cultural institutions – the church included?  I know, I know – I can hear your smirk.  All I’m saying is getting a kid an electric guitar or trap set might do more for saving their “souls”  than one might think.   

 

2 Comments

  • James K.A. Smith says:

    Thanks for this, Jason. I'm with ya, but am just slightly more cynical only because I think Grohl himself is something of a dinosaur in just one respect: he is the product of a pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Xbox generation that was, to some extent, less distracted than youth today. I could be wrong about this, but my greatest fear for our young people today is that WE (the adults who sell them crap) have created a world in which they are so distracted that I worry they are not able to spend the hours and hours in the garage that would be required.

    I'm not saying this is some deficient lack in them; I'm saying WE have habituated them to distraction in the Pascalian sense such that I genuinely worry our young people do not have the same opportunities to cultivate the disciplines and "interior life" that are required for imaginativity. There will be exceptions, of course; and I would love to be told and shown I'm wrong in this worry. But making institutional "room" for imagination will be a gaping, sucking vacuum if young people aren't habituated to fill that room.

  • Jason Lief says:

    Jamie,

    Is it just the so called "crap" that keeps them distracted? So much of what it means to be a "good" student, a "good" athlete, a "good" kid is meeting the ever increasing expectations of the adult world. The Dave Grohls and Kurt Cobains of 20 years ago gave a powerful finger to the "adult" world. Amazing, really, how from our vantage point we look back on their cultural expressions nostalgically. (I wouldn't really call Grohl a dinosaur… McCartney? David Lee Roth? Now there we have some real jurassic action. Although the new Van Halen album is actually really good if you can get past the first track.)

    I hear you on the formation piece. I wonder, however, what needs to come first – the subversion of the structures and creation of space, or a process of counter-formation? Or do they happen simultaneiously?

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