Friday, April 17, 2009

The Gong Show

Some time ago I purchased the film "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" on DVD. George Clooney's directorial debut was the alleged true story of Chuck Barris, creator of The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, and about his exploits not just as a television show creator and producer, but also as an agent for a branch of the U.S. government as a contract killer. It's a very interesting film, though it's loaded with tons of visceral sexual dialogue that could have been toned down, but such is the way of people in Hollywood doing whatever they feel like. Sam Rockwell is outstanding in the lead role, by the way.

I was reminded of this film and the story it told of its creator after seeing a clip on YouTube earlier this week of one of my favorite, but now defunct bands, performing on The Gong Show:

That's right, folks. Oingo Boingo not only performed, but won on the episode of The Gong Show in which they appeared. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Tomorrow morning I am helping to adjudicate the first round of bonafide auditions we are having at our church for our music department. This is the first time we've ever brought in multiple people for a mass audition like this, and we're having some interesting comments and remarks from people who have called in asking for information:

"I don't know the lyrics to any of these songs (in response to one of 8 songs they need to learn for the audition)."

"I just thought this was going to be something fun to do every once in a while and didn't realize it was going to be big 'to do'."

"I've played in bands for, like, 20 years, opened for touring acts and stuff, but I'm not sure I can pull off the level of professionalism you guys are looking for."

"What if I bomb?"

"I don't know if I can make the audition times. Can I come by later in the day?"

"I didn't think I needed to sign up or anything."

Okay, that last one I didn't get, but I'm looking ahead to the future, anticipating what someone's going to say when they come in.

I think I might be surprised at the number of people that will come in tomorrow and next Saturday that don't measure up to the standards of excellence that we're looking for, or that might even be aware that we have standards that we're asking people to meet. There are still so many people operate with the mentality of "volunteer" that it's mind-boggling. Our church's executive team even moved away from the term "Volunteer" because of what that word implies -- someone giving of their time, expecting no pay, but still acting like their presence isn't required, or that they have no accountability to anyone. We figured that by changing the name to "service team member", it would put a more active connotation to the position. And yes, we're at the point of being large enough to require a very large number of service team members, but when it comes to our musicians and actors, we simply can't afford to pay anyone. And since artists are usually the flakiest of the bunch, this is where the most problems spring up.

But I'm also encouraged by some of the phone calls I have received, those from people who get the idea of serving in their local church being the job of a servant, and not that of a volunteer. These are the people that I would have no problem getting down and dirty in the trenches with, because I know that their vision for ministry matches our pastor's vision. Our mission is to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to people and to train up disciples by connecting with people where they are, finding touchpoints that relate to them in such a way that they are compelled to come back next week because they don't want to miss out on something God might have in store for them. And of the people that have signed up to audition so far, I can immediately think of 4 or 5 that are the type of people we're looking for because they have the attitude necessary to serve effectively, no matter what they do. Now, it'll be a bonus if they can sing thunder, act up a storm, or play their instrument across the ocean, but their attitude will be enough to make us remember them even if their talent doesn't measure up to where we think it needs to be.

We won't be banging the gong on anyone, or getting it on for that matter, but we're going to really take note of what they bring to the table other than just the level of talent they possess. If only The Gong Show had that presence of mind when bringing the poor hopeful hacks onto their stage. Honestly, I think if Americal Idol uses the gong approach during their auditions, their ratings will go even higher. But then again, those people aren't in it for the service.

Are you?

There Is No Box.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Musings of a Comic, Vol. 3

I use the term "brilliant" too often when I talk about people. I don't understand why I do this when someone obviously has done nothing to achieve brilliance in their life. I don't think you become brilliant in life until you try stuff that does not work and fail, many, many times. And you say to yourself, "Hmm. I should not do the things that do not work. I should do something different and see if it works. And if it does, I should do it again. And if it still works, then I should find ways to improve upon it. Then and only then will I achieve status as a genius."


Not too long ago, i went to my insurance agent's office to drop off a payment. And they have a signboard outside their building, you know, the kind where you can change the message on the board from time to time. And the sign says
which to me, is kind of odd. Because the word "hop" is in quotes on the board, but it's also saying to come in for a quote. "But Gerard, I have a quote already from the sign." But I knew what they meant, so I took them at their word.

I opened the door to the office, entered, and hopped over to the reception desk like a huge bunny. And they were like, "What are you hopping for?" And I'm like, "I'm following your instructions."

When I dropped off the payment, I smelled something that reminded me of winter. You know how certain scents can remind you of certain seasons? Well, this candle that was burning reminded me of what Christmas decorations smell like, you know that cinnamon-evergreen-fruitcake smell? So I mentioned it. "It smells like winter in here."
"It is," said one of the ladies, "it's called Winter Memories. It's my last one, we're getting rid of it, then I'm gonna bring in some candles that smell like spring."

It made me wonder if there are candles that smell like abstracts. I know they have aromatherapy candles with scents that are supposed to bring about a certain frame of mind, but do they have scents that actually smell like a particular frame of mind? Like, what would anxiety smell like? Rotting tuna? The air around a steel mill during a heavy shift?

What about wet money? Greed.

A lake that no one ever swims in because of the smell -- despair.

Three week old cherry pie -- anger.

Chicken McNuggets -- resignation.

Ash mixed with burned barbeque sauce -- gluttony.


That is all for now.

There Is No Box.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Random Thoughts from the Back Burner

Here are some random thoughts from The Back Burner.

I work with a guy who's our pastor's son. He's a brilliantly gifted graphic artist and creates many of the animated video introductions we use for our message series, and he's taken a year off between high school and college to save up some money and work at the church on staff. But he's 19, and he has some habits. One of them is to break wind anywhere he feels like it. They don't usually smell bad, they're just loud.

He once said, "If I could fart money, I'd be rich."
To which I countered, "Not necessarily. Just because it's louder doesn't mean it's worth more."

He looked at me, puzzled, so I continued. "Think about it. If you were to drop a dollar's worth of quarters on a table, they'd make noise. But think of how much more noise a dollar's worth of pennies would make." I then went on to formulate that paper bills make even less noise; henceforth, the louder one's farts, the less hypothitical money they would make. That person's farts would have to be nearly silent in order to make a decent living.

He looked away, pondering this truth. My job was done for the day.


One of the video series I produce and direct at my church is called The Little Timmy Chronicles. My good friend and fellow musician Tim was game to help me shoot a video illustration for one of the messages we were doing a while back, and he did so well with my direction and his own personality coming off of the screen that I decided we would have to keep this going. Once I told him the name of the series, he was like, "Dude, no. Little Timmy?" But the name stuck, and people often ask us when the next one's coming up.

I would love to do an episode where Little Timmy just doesn't get the signs posted all around him. The first one that came to my mind is on a road near the Alton Police Department that says "Caution: Deaf Child Area." I could just picture a camera mounted to the hood of the car, aimed at the side of the car where Timmy would be sticking his head out the window, yelling "HEY, MOVE!!!"


My pastor is a former electrician, so he's often in the media room helping us connect, reconnect, or patch in new equipment in different ways as we increase our productivity. I remember once we all got into a discussion on whether someone said "big S-video cable" or "big-ass video cable". It's stuff like that that reminds me how human my pastor is, and how much I really like working with and for him.


My father is also a retired electrician. When I was twelve, he gave me a small paperback electrician's handbook, in case I ever needed to reference anything. When I was twelve, I was playing Nintendo, discovering metal and alternative music, and developing my skills as a trumpet player. I was also eating way too much. The only thing I could do with electronics was plug in my cassette player. I don't know what he thought I was going do use the book for, unless it was to discover the family joules.

That's okay, you don't have to groan for my benefit. I know it's a horrible, horrible joke. It was when I was twelve, too.


I've got a coupon from QuikTrip that I haven't redeemed yet, good for a free BBQ Chicken Taquito. The expiration date is 4-20. I'm just sayin'.

Anyone remember that old song they used to sing in children's churches called "I've Been Redeemed"? The song went like this:

I've been redeemed
By the blood of the lamb
I've been redeemed
By the blood of the laaaa-eyaa-eyaamb
I've been redeemd by the blood of the lamb
Filled with the holy ghost, I am
All my sins are washed away
I've been redeemed

Well, I made up new lyrics to that not too long ago.

I've been redeemed
For a 20-ounce shake
I've been redeemed
For a 20-ounce shaaa-eyaa-eyaake
I've been redeemed for a 20-ounce shake
Goes great with a burger made out of steak
I'm worth 100th of a cent
I am a coupon


That's all for now. Enjoy.

There Is No Box.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Churning 'em Out

It's getting more and more difficult to come up with things to write about on a weekly basis. Forget daily -- I don't have enough hours in the day, it seems to take care of the items on my lists, and there always seems to be something else to take the place of a recently vacated list spot. However, something potentially exciting happened this week.

I started writing a rock opera several years ago. I got about as far as the 13th song when I hit a writing wall. I know how I want the rest of the story to go, and I've got the ending all fleshed out . . . it just turns out writing the storyline in song form is more difficult than one would think. "Tommy" wasn't written in the same day Rome was built, you know.

Anyway, the last song I wrote for it is one that I've actually considered submitting to the American Idol songwriting contest, and the only thing that's kept me from doing so is the fact that they tend to look down on up-tempo rockers and are still operating under the delusion that the listening public prefers watered down ballads with black holes for souls. Topically, it would have worked because it talks about taking the initiative you've kept yourself from in order to achieve what you've always wanted. And last week, I thought that the song might be a great one for our church's Southeast Campus band to play at some point in our current series (titled "So Now You're Dead . . . What's Next?").

So I contacted Thom, our band leader, and told him about the song. He told me to email him the lyrics, which I did, and he got back with me and told me he liked it and to get it going so that we could see whether the rest of the band would be able to catch onto it. So I took some time the other day and finished writing the chords and the melody, and I REALLY like the way it turned out. I'm getting together with our guitarist at some point next week to hammer out the details and transitions, and to finalize the format of the song, also to see if he can come up with a good solo for it.

The last night I spent a couple hours working on an idea for a song that I'd written down a few months ago, which, strangely enough, could also be used for this current series at church. And oddly enough, the melody and chord structure is pretty much intact in my head, which isn't what typically happens when I sit down to hammer out song lyrics. This one is really, really wordy, but I have a feeling it'll work out well, even in a corporate worship setting. The sound that I'm hearing in my head reminds me of a mixture of Chris Tomlin, Green Day, and . . . well, the other part is something I can't really compare to anything else. I guess that's ultimately what I'm looking for, isn't it? [Chorus of Angels: Yes. Yes it is.]

While this hardly constitutes a writing resurgence, I do feel as though my focus is coming back around to the things God has asked me to set aside for a time. I keep looking more and more to Him, and He keeps piling it on me. The good stuff, I mean. I'm working more, becoming more busy at both jobs, yet I feel his joy carrying me through everything.

If that's not reason enough to mark the date with a document such as this, I don't know what is.

(Oh yeah. If American Idol is still doing the songwriting contest, I'm freaking entering the first one I was talking about. Screw convention.)

There Is No Box.