The Grinch Was Misunderstood

First of all, above is my favorite Christmas song of all time, which will make more sense after you read this post. And also, I truly believe the Grinch was misunderstood. Poor guy. I’m sorry to say this, but I really don’t like the holiday season. I don’t know what it is about it. But, by and large, whereas most people succumb to the winter doldrums, I am very glad when the calendar flips over to January 1st.

I think what I don’t like about the holidays is the fakeness of it all. Lets be honest; we all have issues when it comes to family. There are strained relationships and wounds that can be difficult to deal with. Yet, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are supposed to forget all about that, and be a big, happy family like nothing ever happened. Advertising and media shoves images of the happy family at Christmas down our throat, and makes us feel bad when ours doesn’t match up.

Then, you have the religious aspect. There is a large segment of society that doesn’t identify with Christanity, and it is growing. Everything from Judaism to Spiritualism to Atheism to every kind of -ism you can think of. But, we expect them to sweep their beliefs under the rug, and go right along with Christmas. Then, we have the nerve to attack them for taking the “Christ out of Christmas” when they try to find ways to celebrate this holiday that they (of course) MUST celebrate, without compromising their beliefs. As if we somehow have the right to dictate what they do.

First of all, we have no idea when Jesus was born. Secondly, many historians believe the whole concept of Christmas on December 25th was an attempt by the church to “repurpose” a “pagan” holiday, the Winter Solstice. And thirdly, I can’t speak for him, but I’m pretty sure Jesus would be absolutely disgusted by our fervent consumerism, militant religiousity, and complete lack of focus on anything resembling his teachings. When we shout and stomp our feet at Non-Christians about “taking the Christ out of Christmas”, or “keeping the Christ in Christmas” as the case may be, and knocking people over in Walmart on Thanksgiving Day for video games and toys, are we really doing what we should?

My friend Ted had some great comments last night. He called attention to that familiar passage in Matthew, where Jesus laid out the ONLY two principles we are to live by. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Ted pointed out that we really tend to gloss over this, and asked a question. How many of us can say at the end of any given day, that we really loved God with all the love we can give, and that we extended as much grace to people in our lives as we extend to ourselves? I don’t know about you, but I fail at that every single day. You can argue the details all day long, but that simple, powerful statement sums it up. If you are not extending everyone you meet the same grace that you extend yourself…you aren’t really loving your neighbor as yourself.

Which brings me to this. For me personally, Christmas is a fundamental flaw in our belief system. For one month out of the year, we pretend that we don’t fall short of that goal. We get caught up in some shiny trimmings, say Merry Christmas to people that pass by in the mall, drop in some change at the Salvation Army kettle, and feel good about ourselves. We don’t do anything to mend those broken family relationships. We just put a bow on them, box them up, and stick them under a tree. We don’t do anything to solve poverty, or addiction, or homelessness. We dump our pocket change in a red bucket, and figure that’s good enough. We don’t take the time to love other people who don’t share our beliefs; we force them to celebrate our holiday, and then get angry with them if they try to make it their own. We spend large amounts on gifts, and then don’t give love the other 11 months of the year. Even if you think what occurs during the Christmas season is good, why do we only do it for one month?

If you like Christmas, I am happy for you. If you have found joy in it, that is terrific. I am not judging you, or telling you what to do, or trying to force my beliefs on anyone. But I think the Grinch was misunderstood, and I wanted to explain why you can count me amongst his sympathizers.

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Rock and Roll

I recently played at the Fandana Festival in Huntington. My (current) favorite band in the world, NEEDTOBREATHE, was also playing the festival, and I got the privilege of watching them perform. Standing just a few feet from the stage, with the kick drum and bass pounding and vibrating my chest, and the guitars screaming, and the lights shining…I got chills a couple of times. Good rock and roll and good blues will both do that. (After all, blues and rock are pretty much the same thing.)

It got me thinking about the generation of people who had, in the past, stubbornly referred to rock and roll as “the devil’s music”. And of folks I’ve run across who curiously seem to live in some sort of self-made bubble, listening only to a certain kind of music, and making various other exclusions for whatever reason.

To each their own, but for me…man, rock and roll is beautiful. Because of this.

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Yeah. It’s from the heart. From the soul. Guitar is my preacher. Drums are my choir. Turn it up to 11 and feel the joy.

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Paper Planes

We get high
And just pass on through
If you get knocked down
Don’t let it be what makes you, you

I used to be afraid of myself
I used to not know who I could be
But now, I’m just free

We’re like paper planes
Floating by on the breeze
And when we crash
We fall down like the leaves

I used to be afraid of myself
I used to not know who I could be 
But now, I’m just free

© 2013
Brian Keith Wallen

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Heroes

I am blessed, always. But I am blessed this week especially, because I got to see two of my biggest musical influences and heroes perform, up close and personal.

As a guitar player, there are four people who have really shaped and molded me. Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Richard Thompson, and John Mayer. I never got to see Doc Watson, but I have seen the other three, and I saw Richard and John this week!

We’ll start with Richard’s concert on Sunday. It was in Kent, OH, which is in the Cleveland area, and I went with some of my best friends, Steve, Gene, and Gary, all of whom are huge RT fans as well. I had seen him a couple of times previously, both solo acoustic shows. This performance was electric, with his trio. It was phenomenal. The sheer power and energy energy that flowed through his playing was amazing, and Richard is an absolute virtuoso, but he makes it look effortless. He never fails to humble me,  and it was worth the 500 mile roundtrip drive to see him. We were only 2 or 3 rows back from the stage, in a very intimate venue called the Kent Stage. For an example of his playing, check out this video.

So, I was hanging out on Monday, still thinking about how awesome that show was, when I was reminded by a Facebook post that John Mayer would be in Cincinnati on Tuesday. I decided on a whim to see if there were any tickets left, and there happened to be a single seat in a great location. I nabbed it, and headed down to Riverbend.

Phillip Phillips opened, and he was solid, better than I expected in fact. But when John Mayer came out, the place went nuts. It was absolutely surreal having someone who has occupied a very large space in my musical life playing a few dozen feet from me.

I love John Mayer for his blues work, but he is currently pursuing Americana and Country music, primarily. I knew that going in, but I had hoped he might still slip in a few blues tunes. Unfortunately for me, he didn’t. It was still a very solid show, and he displayed plenty of great musicianship. He played a good number of new, unreleased originals from his next record, and also an interesting array of covers, including tunes by Bob Dylan, Blind Faith, and the Grateful Dead.

I felt a lot of mixed emotions walking out of the concert, because as I said, I feel that John is one of the best blues guitarists in the world, and that was what I really wanted to hear. However, I understand wanting to try and pursue other styles of music. As an artist myself, I’ve gone off on a few tangents that people probably didn’t appreciate.

One thing that definitely shone through was that John obviously feels very strongly about what he’s doing now, and genuinely has a passion and a love for it. So, I can’t fault him for it, and I support his creative spirit. I’m glad I went, but if he decides to come back to the blues, I’ll be first in line for a ticket. I have a few pictures below.

Riverbend, 7/9/13

Riverbend, 7/9/13

 

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Stories of the Road

I have played 11 shows in the past 13 days. About 1,800 miles and 27 performance hours later, here I am. I have loved every moment of it.

One of the coolest parts of being a musician is meeting new people out on the road, and I have a great story from my time in Evansville, Indiana. I was playing at a bar called Lamasco, a real haven for live music. They have some form of entertainment going on just about every night of the week. It’s a cool, cozy venue, and a good place to play some gritty blues. I was there this past Tuesday, and about halfway through the show when a big group of guys walked through the door. They were taking pictures, videos, really getting into the music.

I went on break, and one of them came up to me and introduced himself. He said his name was Mike, and that he played guitar for Barry Manilow. He explained that Barry was in town for a gig, and it had been pushed back by a few days for some reason. So, they had been stuck in town for a while with not much to do. They really dug my sound, and after we had chatted for a while, Mike joined me on stage for a couple of tunes. It was awesome! I chatted for an hour or two after the show with all the guys, which included David Rozenblatt (Percussion), Ron Walters Jr. (Music Director/Keys), Joey Melotti (Keys), Ron Pedley (Keys), and as I mentioned, Mike Lent (Guitar).

A nicer, more gracious group of people you will not find anywhere. They offered me a ticket to the show, so the next night, I got to sit about five rows from the stage at a Barry Manilow concert and watch some of the best musicians in the world.

There is a belief held by most independent performers that someday, someone who can give you your big break will walk into whatever bar, club, or venue you’re playing at in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t sure I believed that, but I do now! Thanks again to all the guys, and thanks again to Amy and Jessie at Lamasco! What an awesome place.

If you want to keep up with my crazy schedule, as always, bkwmusic.com is the place. Where will I be in July? Well…Lexington, Dayton, Richmond, Pendleton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Metamora, Fairfield, and Evansville, to name a few cities in the three states I’ll be visiting this month. Can’t wait to see who I run into out there!

I’m starting a new tradition. With every blog post, I’ll share a song/artist with you that has really been impacting me lately. This week, it’s the band Wilco. Specifically, the “Sky Blue Sky” and “Wilco (The Album)” records. Both masterpieces. Check out “Country Disappeared” here.

Thanks to Arnold’s, Brukner Nature Center, the Wine Stable, Raintree Square, the Three Legged Mare, Lamasco, Expressions, Wildwood Pub, Charley Creek Arts Fest, and the OTR Biergarten at Findlay Market for having me here in the past couple of weeks.

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New Songs

Samples of song titles and new song lyrics from here in Pigeon Forge…let me know what you think. You’ll see the full songs soon; for now, here are some bits and pieces.

Forget About That
“I am worn
And my soul is hungry
For something more
Than what it’s been fed before”

World Spins Around
“It’s a lesson I learned
Not to have too much hope
In a fire that burned into a ghost

The truth is bitter on the tongue
And it burns going down
But when I’m feeling blue…
I still wish you’d come around”

I Will Be Free
“Let the road I’ve traveled on
Be the road that leads me home
And let the light that I have seen
Be the light that fills my dreams”

Don’t Recall
“The rain is falling here
And lighting’s striking all around
The wind has grabbed my fears
And brought them to the ground”

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Feeling Thankful…

I’m sitting here on the couch, writing this post, and I’m tired. A very good tired. I just got back from a jam session with some of my favorite people and musicians. People like Marty Price, Denver Jessie, and Avery Perry. All current/occasional members of my bluegrass band. It was wonderful. I’m tired because it was one of those experiences where you put your whole concentration, your whole body, every ounce of your being…into the music. And you taste, see, and feel every note. It’s alive, and vibrant. It makes you a better person for having experienced it.

So many things have come into focus since the new record came out. (Want it? Don’t have it yet. Get it here.) The biggest thing is that I have some of the most incredible friends and family in the world. Their generosity, kindness, and encouraging spirit have overwhelmed me at times these past few days. I’m about to turn 21, and I finally feel like my whole life is in front of me, thanks to them.

Now that I’ve rediscovered my love for creating music, I have a dream. A vision. A desire. I know exactly what I want to do. I want to have a show that is a complete showing of all the pieces that make up my musical puzzle.

It would start out with just me, solo, on acoustic guitar. Folky music. Then, an upright bass and a mandolin or dobro would join me, and delve into the realm of bluegrass. Then, we would push the music towards the blues. Eventually, the upright bass would become an electric bass, the mandolin/dobro would become a second guitar, a drummer would join the mix, and my acoustic guitar would become an electric, culminating in blues/southern rock for the end of the show.

This is my dream, my desire. To eventually be able to take that show, hone it, perfect it, find the perfect musicians for it, and take it to theaters and auditoriums across this country, across the world eventually.

But a dream doesn’t arrive fully realized. It has to start developing somewhere. So, now the challenge is figuring out where to start. What venues, what personnel, what marketing. What does it look like? Where does it fit? How do I pay the bills with it? How do I grow it?

After I wrote this last blog post, I heard from a few of you who said that they were glad that I finally figured out what I had seen all along, so I figured that I’d just go straight to you this time for suggestions on how to start realizing this dream. Let me know what comes to mind.

Thanks for your constant love and support.

-Brian

http://bkwmusic.com

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