Selections: Becoming Charlemagne

Introduction

We think of the dark ages as a epoch of great violence. And while this is true, the same could be said of any era of history, including the contemporary. Violence, though it can be fought with the willpower of peace, is always going to be a facet of life on terra firma. And yet, the dark ages seem to be especially straddled with this understanding, formed in the collective, unconscious memory of Western civilization. The truth is far more complicated, however, and through the darkness and fog of distant terror, a light can be seen.

It is the light of the Carolingian renaissance.

What it Is

Becoming Charlemagne is the 2006 non-fiction book by Jeff Sypeck, a professor of medieval literature at the University of Maryland. The title is apt but, in a way, pleasantly misleading. By using his knowledge of the era, Mr. Sypeck presents the decades leading up to the coronation of Karl, king of the Franks, as the first Roman emperor in a thousand years, becoming what some consider to be the first European as well as the father of modern Western civilization, as a straightforward story. Thus, it is also the story of how the rex francorum became Charlemagne, the fierce medieval king of legend, whose influence still affects us.

How it Relates to the Hearth

For me, one who is deeply attracted to the imagery and idea of the pax francorum, this book is foundational. By identifying and presenting the history of what happened on Christmas day in the year 800 in such a straight-forward manner, the author also peels away a number of unnecessary embellishments that have accrued over the centuries and have poured themselves over this monumental figure. At the same time, we are provided with a fresh pair of glasses to view the Carolingian renaissance in it’s original context. And at the end of the book, I would say it does show the glory of this oft neglected moment in Western history, while still maintaining a neutral enough tone for one to draw their own conclusions. Therefore, it should be nabbed by anyone who considers themselves a medievalist and one who seeks the warmth of the hearth.

Fun Fact

I believe, in an interview, this book was originally conceived as one written for children, about the journey of an elephant named Abul Abbaz, who made his way to the court of Charlemagne. In fact, a good portion of the final stretch of this book goes into the actual history of this event, confirming it’s authenticity.

Frankish Vision IV: Fantôme

There is a ghost in this house

There is a ghost in this castle

It can be heard when no one opens their mouth

It can be felt when no one speaks at the dinner table

There is a haunting presence

It is felt in the blooming flowers of the printemps

It is felt in the miserable, burning été, without stop

It is felt in the splendour of l’automne

But it is especially felt in l’hiver, when you thought it was gone

It does not want vengeance

I see her sitting on the empty chair

In the kitchen, I see her fretting with her hair

I see her playing with her childern, the memory

Through the fields and streets, I feel the lingering energy

She wants justice, closure

That you will never give her

So I am haunted, in your stead

And so shall I be, to this injustice,

wed

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

CRASHDOG – OUTER CRUST: THE LAST GREAT PUNK ALBUM OF THE 90S//20TH ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE

Crashdog’s 1997 release Outer Crust is the last great punk album of the 1990s.

As someone who identifies himself as a punk rocker, I don’t say that lightly. Indeed, depending on how eclectic your taste is, you could say that the 1990s were chock full of amazing punk albums for specific subgenres in a way that future decades would fail to replicate, from RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic and the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication being the greatest funk-punk-rap hybrid albums of that decade, to Streetlight Manifesto’s Keasbey Nights and The Suicide Machines’ Destruction by Definition being the decade’s best ska punk albums, all of which regardless are fantastic albums that I love. So it is not my intent to start a flame war-you can take all my opinions with as many grains of salt as you want. And yet, as far as I’m concerned, Outer Crust is equal to Fugazi’s Repeater + 3 Songs as the greatest straightforward, no sass, punk rock album of the 1990s.

This last June marked the album’s 20th anniversary-and this article really should have been put up back then, on the 1st, which was the day of it’s original release. But it wasn’t put up on that day because I was not paying attention to myself and my dedication to writing at the time as much as I am now. And so on this, the final day of 2017, as belated as I am, I find it prudent to celebrate this album, it’s message, and it’s unsurpassed, heavy anarchic sound, as it is a true unspoken masterpiece of an album that deserves far more attention than it currently does.

A little background; Crashdog was one of the first Christian punk rock bands, arriving onto the scene in the late 1980s. Coming out of Chicago, they were based out of Jesus People USA. They were openly political and perhaps because of their location in one of America’s most famous and urban cities, their music had a liberal bent. Maybe that isn’t so out of left field today, but it still feels uncommon to see openly liberal or social-oriented Christian discourse. And yet when I listen to Crashdog’s music, I hear a lot of thought, intelligence and heart. I don’t feel deceived in any way when I read their lyrics, I feel encouraged because I can feel the urgency of when they were written. As someone who was born in the early 90s, my favorite decade, I become fascinated with what this band and the people behind it thought about this era that I was alive for and remember so little about. They spoke out against the GOP, they spoke out against the Yugoslavian civil war, they spoke out for women’s rights, against racism and racial inequality, and they spoke out for marriage as well as many more relevant topics. In summary, all of their music is deeply tied with 90s culture and at the same time immediately hits me with everything I personally am interested in.

The original vocalist, Spike Nard, sang on Crashdog’s first three albums, Humane Society, The Pursuit of Happiness, and Mud Angels, released from 1990-1994. I like these albums but to me they sound a bit more like grunge albums, not the straight punk sound I constantly crave. And while I like Spike himself, I ultimately prefer the voice of the next singer, a certain Andrew Mandell, who had originally played guitar on those earlier albums. 1995’s Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus is another good album with some standout hits that unfortunately goes on a little too long. All the while, they played at Cornerstone a few times and kept trucking on with their political and spiritual focus guiding their musical talents. In any case, everyone should also go check out these older albums if they are interested.

And then, 1997 came.

And with it, the release of Outer Crust.

Right off the bat, the cover art of a stylized, polluted cityscape surrounded by impoverished shanties grabs you with it’s stark, haunting atmosphere. A low lying haze of smog lazily floats along and there isn’t a single living person to be seen. I bring this point up because I had an interesting exchange with my uncle when I showed him this cover art. To me, as the viewer, it feels like I’m observing this glistening city that was built on the backs of my fellow, discarded human refuse, and now we’re all pushed out to the barrens, the titular ‘outer crust.’ In my uncle’s opinion however, he felt as if we, the observers, had built a heaven for ourselves as represented by this shining city despite being surrounded by an ugly hell, as symbolized by the shanties. This is a minor point but it’s definitely one of the more interesting debates I’ve had over an artistic piece in awhile.

But after you’re done taking in the art, well, that’s when you hit the play button. A short dialogue sets the scene. The next thing you know, you are immediately thrown into punk rock bliss. As much as I am tempted to go through each individual track and provide a breakdown in the classic review style, I don’t want to, as my hope is for everyone who reads this article to go out, buy this album on the band’s Bandcamp or to go get a physical copy and listen to it for themselves. Suffice to say, this album is a breathtaking, heartbreaking work of 37 minutes of punk rock mastery from beginning to end.

Now, I’ve shown Outer Crust to many people, of all philosophies and walks of life (basically anyone willing to lend an ear). And whenever I, respectfully, try to get one of my atheist or otherwise agnostic friends in particular to listen to this album, I sell it as “the only Christian punk rock album you should ever listen to.” And in order to do that, I bring up two points; the first being that it’s one of those albums where everyone involved, from the musicians themselves to the sound engineers, is firing on all cylinders. I couldn’t really find anything about the specific production of Outer Crust, but just by following the time of release, I can see that this thing took two years to make. But in those two years, Crashdog’s sound completely flipped. Gone were the earlier oi or grunge influences, Outer Crust is an astonishingly heavy, amazing sounding, 100% anarcho, crust punk rock album. And while some of this sound can be traced to a few older songs here or there, Outer Crust is the only Crashdog album that has this sound.

Outer Crust sounds like Crass turned up to 11; the album is blindingly fast, yet every song has a defined, heavy beat. It’s worth noting that the producer of this album (as well as some of the group’s other endeavors) was Steve Albini, which in itself isn’t too surprising given his extensive record and Chicago base. But some of the heaviness here feels in part similar to what you can see on something like his earlier work with Helmet, only better.

This new style of sound definitely comes in part from the fact that somewhere in those two years, Crashdog found a second guitarist to add to their original four piece formula, and the extra complexity immediately and constantly abounds, as Jason Burt and Mike Perlmutter proceed to see who between the two of them can riff and rock into oblivion faster. They are both amazingly on point.

At the same time, as raw as it is, Outer Crust has a very smooth quality to it. Despite being wonderfully down-tuned, it never has the feel of a garage or grunge rock sound. It doesn’t feel grimy in the least, and absolutely no fat is wasted here on the album’s fourteen songs; it is practically one solid stream of consciousness.

There are numerous fantastic punk choruses and while I am not necessarily trying to single him out, I think the aforementioned Andrew Mandell should go down as one of punk’s greatest vocalists. His voice drips with angst, the most important component for any punk singer, yet his vocals are also fantastically layered, clean, and raspy in a way that is amazingly melodic, especially when paired up with the fantastic bass and drum work, courtesy of Brian Grover and Greg Jacques, respectively. His lyrics are direct, immediate, but above all beautifully raw.

Long story short, Outer Crust is a fast, heavy, lean, dance worthy, clean, raw, politically charged, spiritually and emotionally driven powerhouse of an anarcho punk rock album. Do I even have to mention that by 97, nu metal and pop punk (the latter being one of the banes of my existence) had pushed out any chance of something like this ever reaching the mainstream?

Which brings me to my second point, about why this album is so top-notch fantastic.

This album, to me, showcases a band that knowingly or otherwise is on it’s final gasps. The reason why everyone is giving it their all in such an impressive way is because after this, it’s over, not unlike pulling out your last reserves of energy before you cross the finish line in a bike race. I’m not entirely sure what the reason or drama was, but it was nonetheless decisive. A few of the members went on to form the folk punk group Ballydowse, which I unfortunately have some mixed feelings about but is still a great band in it’s own right. There was some sort of statement on their hiatus in 2006, and in 2012, the group briefly reformed to play at the final Cornerstone music festival. There have been a few posts on Facebook, but I believe but that’s been it.

The end.

La fin.

And so, what of the legacy of Outer Crust? What of the legacy of Crashdog? A criminally underrated band putting out a criminally underrated album is far too common to be of some major music industry concern. At the same time, as much as I try to get people to give this album a chance, I will always understand if they’re not comfortable listening to the Christian message, or are just not attracted to heavy music like this. Those last two reasons are totally understandable.

And yet, this is my favorite album of all time.

In fact, one of my goals for 2018 is to memorize all the lyrics to all the songs, it’s that much a part of me. Because of it’s intelligence and sincerity, it has carried me through hard times; because of it’s speed and efficiency, it has become my favorite album to jump rope to; and because of it’s historical association with the era of my birth and insight, in it’s own little way, it has brought me closer to God and becoming a Christian in my own right.

So if there’s one prayer I have, it’s that by highlighting this album in the way that I have, I can do my part to bring it to the attention of someone like me. Someone who needs it at a similar critical moment in their life, which for me was the struggle of trying to graduate from college and get out of the house. Or maybe I can help someone who also considers themselves to be a fellow 90s kid that’s looking back at history and seeks Outer Crust’s social and spiritual perspective. I would tell that person that this album is not a substitute for the Bible itself, of course, but it may serve as a point of interest to help you on your path to greater wisdom, wisdom that comes from on high.

And so, happy 20th anniversary, Outer Crust. I do hope that this article achieves positive attention and traction, so that when we celebrate the 25th anniversary, the name of this album becomes ten times more celebrated. I’d like to give another sincere, thank you very much to all the people involved in it’s production. And of course, thank you God, for showing me punk rock to begin with.

Happy New Years, everyone.

Frankish Vision III: Clothilda

This moment is her glory

She shines bright in the morning

Giving arms to the radiance around her

Giving alms to the daughters that found her

For seven years, she has worked to destroy

The shadow tower you tried to build over her joy

Every brick a cruelty, every wall, lain with her stress

And yet now she stands before you in golden dress

An address;

The tower has been illumined away

The knowledge and prosperity made the mortar sway

Until all your groomed evil’s weight collapsed

You cannot escape from your new Tolbiacs

Yet, still she comes to you and raises an offering, open hand

And you remember the moment’s stare, in distant land

When the both of you sat across from each other

And pleadingly, she sought truth you would not offer

Please, please be my lover;

It was difficult, to escape the lie of your wing

To unchain herself from your taunts and stings

But she persevered against your relentless sneer

All the courage of the archangels to free from fear

And yet, she understands the power of forgiveness

And for those she shelters, a light through the mists

You kneel to her now, as all will at St. Genevive

Married now to a new, beautiful light and eve

She is the bride of courageous peace

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Frankish Vision II: Hiver

What constellation, draped softly over form

What distant cries of magi, drifting and worn

‘Neath wolf and bearskin rugs, comfortable and warm

Yet in memorance, tidings forlorn

In Aachen, in moonlight shorne as the palace doth tremble

In Martinopolis, river sigh as chants bore from chalice wrought treble

In the borderlands, frost pretty upon the ancient Goth temple

Yet in preparence, bindings forewarned

Forget the sweeping rain, child has passed

Forget the need for soup, uncle has passed

Forget the beauty, I above have fast

But entwined with thine, I love and laugh

And so, I cannot forget what nigh relapse

For in this sea of beauty, I have completed many laps

And the oaks are my anchors, ice & sharp pine the frame

Hiver has come, soothe is thy name

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Selections: Jars of Clay

Introduction:

The early 1990s was one of the most productive, wonderful periods for the Christian arts. While Christian music is still produced and is powerful, it is but a mere echo of what was happening twenty-something years ago, when Christian acts were putting out songs that were somehow ending up on the greater pop music stations (Sixpence None The Richer comes immediately to mind). In retrospect, it may even be described as a golden age or renaissance-but this is not a historical analysis. This is a highlight of a specific album, from a specific band, one that may even have truly been at the forefront of this rebirth.

That band was Jars of Clay and this is about their first album.

What it is:

Jars of Clay was a band coming out of Nashville, Tennessee, having met in college in Greenville, Illinois during the early 1990s. For the most part, they have kept the same lineup and have continued to put out albums, the latest being 2013’s Inland. Their first, self-titled album, which came out in 1995, is my favorite album of theirs and also the point of this selection, though I also like Much Afraid and The Eleventh Hour.

How it Relates to the Hearth:

Now, I know that everyone’s hearth is unique unto themselves, but when I think of a soundtrack to go with the formation of your interpretation of the hearth, I can’t think of a better place to begin than here with the first Jars of Clay album. The music presented here, especially on the songs Boy On A String, Flood, and Blind is such a rich, warm, acoustic sound, full of stringed instruments and deep, sober ambiance. And despite what you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, this type of music wasn’t found solely in the Christian music scene; in fact, it was greatly shown off to the world via M-TV’s Unplugged series of performances, such as Alice In Chains, The Cranberries, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Nirvana, et cetera. The fact that this music blossomed during the post-grunge period is probably not a coincidence either. But what’s weird is this type of music really didn’t carry on too much longer past the mid-nineties, and as far as I can tell, it wasn’t prevalent during the 1980s either. Not even Jars of Clay really continued this style past their early albums, which is why I’m solely talking about this first album (though to their credit, it still shows up here and there). Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the power of this first album. I want to highlight the song Blind in particular; recall my statement that the hearth is a realm of both darkness and light (point seven, specifically). This is the defining song for that point in the Manifesto, the prime melody for that mood of both light and dark. Nay, in full disclosure, I believe I wrote the Manifesto of the Hearth while listening to that song and the entirety of this album itself.

Another important aspect as to why this is the quintessential hearth sound relates to the apparent beliefs of the band itself. In a later interview with NPR, which I remember hearing on it’s original air date, the band spoke of how they choose subtlety in expressing their Christian beliefs in order to make their music more accessible. I think this directly relates to my belief that the hearth shouldn’t be constricted by the ideals of dogma, that the hearth should be an inviting, neutral place in order to foster personal relationship, faith and the producing of art.

If all of this interests you, then turn off the lights, light some candles, grab some wine and go listen to Jars of Clay.

Fun Fact:

The band takes it’s name from the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 4:7:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Manifesto of the Hearth

As I write this, I stand before a chasm overlooking a vast, shrouded wilderness. Cool mists swirl around an infinity of choices, and nothing can be predicted betwixt the enveloping shadows. But there is a modicum of reassurance, for somewhere in the distance, beyond the wilderness, is the forge of the reason for the fortitude I now carry close to myself. It is the pulse that drives the engines of my quintessence, for I have painted my name upon the immense constellations that now overlook me with the will to get to that place beyond the wilderness, and the prize it keeps.

Fire, warm and gentle, kept and tended between the walls of shield and homestead. Amidst the encroaching darkness it lies and even as far away as I am from it, I can feel it’s heat, beckoning the ice-bindings of my heart to come undone. It is the hearth, and I must walk the trails of love to reach it. If I return to the paths of hate from whence I came, I will be forever lost to both myself and those who wish to see me again.

So many depend on me.

I have decided, then, to make a map-which is the document you read before you. A central thesis, to guide me through this journey, which is physical, philosophical and historical in nature. It is my goal to explore the rich literature, music, and art that defines the hearth. To that end, I must define the hearth, as I understand it, through my soul et avec mon coeur.

The hearth is divided into seven realms, each of which holds one of the kingdoms of compassion:

  1. Realm of Love: The hearth is at the center of the home, providing shelter and heat. And gathered around the fire is the family, who partake in each other’s company and delight. The children laugh and play with their toys in the firelight, while mother and father watch and smile, occasionally sipping their wine. Eventually, the young ones tire, and they are carried to bed; and in their loft, mother and father stare long into each others’ eyes with feelings of adoration. Which is to say that the hearth is family first; with so much of the world today attacked by the corrupting forces of greed and distraction, I think a call to rebuild the family unit is necessary. For I have seen too many broken families, and the struggle to escape that brokenness is a journey in itself that many undertake but don’t finish. I understand that families are chaotic and divorce is common, but I don’t think it always has to be that way. What constitutes that family-or how your cultural background counts your family members is besides the point. If structural violence is a great storm, then building a strong foundation of familial unity is the best way to weather it.

    If the hearth can bond families, I believe it can create them as well. For myself, I was born in a college town-a once kind example of 60s and 70s optimism now forever stung by a post-90s attitude of grunge and acceptance of scuzz. Sexual assault is unfortunately quite common here, and what romance that does form is often merely transitional in nature. I’m not trying to give dating advice and I don’t want people to live in any sort of continued violent relationship, but I believe that there is such a thing as lasting, true love. For every night I place my hand upon my wall and I believe that whoever is out there for me is doing the same, and every morning when I wake up, I wrap my arms around the invisible space where she might lay someday. So whatever your interpretation of love might be, I believe in it, to drive the cold Winter away and tear down the dungeon walls that separate ourselves from the embrace of empathy. Perhaps the hearth is where such love might be.

  2. Realm of Faith: The hearth does not exist purely in a realm of logic. While building a fire to stay warm against the sharp frost is smart, to understand that the moment of companionship built around it is in itself a miracle is to comprehend the preciousness of it. The sweet laughter of a daughter, a sip of mead with your partner-all of this is a magic in itself. It goes beyond all forms of science, and is an acceptance of the divinity of life. This is a universe of sweetness, and it must be felt with the humility of acceptance, that there is such thing as a divine.

    For myself, I consider myself to be Christian, for I beilieve in God and the miracle of the Lord Jesus. But I don’t necessarily believe in the rigidity of dogma-of any kind, really. I believe that God exists in the home and with the individual, and that that relationship and your personal understanding of it should be fostered before obsessing with the proving of your conviction, or allegiance to any congregation. God exists in the hearth, foremost, and the beauty of life and the divinity of life built around the hearth provides a richness to the multiverse, that we are all a part of. But the hearth itself transcends, and unites all points in the multiverse that you interact with. And so, to reiterate, love, and the hearth, is a realm of faith.

    While I will be exploring aspects of Christian culture, I hope to explore the understanding of the hearth as understood across the world over.

  3. Realm of Art: The power that comes from the hearth illuminates outside of and inside an individual. It inspires creativity and expression, encouraging an exploration of the senses-be it in the form of music, painting, or craftmaking. If it unites individuals in a shared activity, all the merrier, for through unity, art also has the power to heal.

    For myself, I am French-American and am proud of my ancestry on both sides. But through my French blood, I am guided to the medieval, and the medieval shapes me in turn. In particular, I am drawn to the Carolingian empire, and the renaissance guided by the emperor Charlemagne. I understand the violence and evils of the time, but I also understand the beauty and goodness of the period, and am drawn to it like an elk is drawn to a stream running through the grass of a meadow. The poetry of the time, the poetry I will write set in that distant century, I hope to share with all.

    In short, the hearth is evocative in the images we see in it.

  4. Realm Without Titles: The hearth is a realm that exists for all individuals, regardless of economic status and wellfare. It is a nexus point for peasants and nobles alike; a liminal object to shine on our souls and prosperity, whatever it may be. It is a part of the wealth of our condition, bought for our humbleness, paid for in our humility. And so, it is a gift from God to all who wish to seek it.

    That said, the hearth is a chamber of nobility. It should not be decorated in the cheapness of temporal things, but instead drawn and lined with the chandeliers of eternal pleasantness. And fellow human beings should be above the ideals of business, objects or false scenes, for life itself is greater than all these things. I do not presume to tell you how to decorate your hearth, friend, but it should be held sacred at all times.

  5. Realm That Is Ancient: The hearth is a primal energy, a force that is as elemental as Earth or aether. That is not to say it is anti-technology; we cannot unchange the time or place for when we are born, or the benefits that come from the acceptance of knowledge. But the hearth is something that cannot be touched by any digital outlet, any government force, or any such mechanized presence. It is a power of the soul, one we shape as much as a lord can shape the castle he seeks to build. A martial circle.
  6. Realm That Is Carried: The hearth is not a withdrawn, static item. As much as we seek it, we take the light created by it with us into any monstrous lair we may enter. There are dragons and vampires in this world, corrupting presences of excess and unchecked wants. But we should not be afraid of these beasts; the hearth, and the drive for simplicity that surrounds it, means we have a strength greater than any fire they may breathe over us. Kindness, forgiveness and love our are weapons to heal the wounds of this land. Let us not retreat into cloisters or temples held high in mountains to remove ourselves, but let us walk through the violence of poverty and emerge rich in graciousness. Let us do right, to make us treasure the hearth we have betwixt our blood and bone even more.
  7. Realm of Darkness & Light: Yes, a flame is meant to fight against the somberness of dark and night. And yet, at the same time, as we are bathed in the heat, let us take a moment to look upon the land now draped in snow. Regard the beauty of the brilliant moonlight reflecting off the splendid ice. The air is rich in a new beauty. Even in our house, the shadows we see about us add a softness that wasn’t there before. In this way, darkness should be allowed to enter our being, but in a harmonious way. If our chateau were all light in dark, it would keep us from sleeping comfortably. And if it were all dark, we would stumble constantly if we wished to move through it. Such is the gift the hearth brings us, to rest between. I was born in darkness, yet I walk in light; both are with me.

And so, I have said my piece and spoken my peace. In my time, I have visited all of these kingdoms, staying in all of them to varying seasons. I do not remember which I visited first, or second, but in each passing visitation did I have more understanding of the language spoken in their courts, the dialects and accents of amour. And as I walk through the forest, I transcribe the words I have learned in those courts upon the trees I pass to mark my crossing. For should I get lost, I will know from where I came, yet never shall I consciously return from whence I came.

Floating in the air, I hear remnants of ancient chants. At midnight, plumes of raw light pour forth from mossy banks. And the lavender scented breeze that caresses me gently reminds me of a lover running her hands through my fair hair. And so, I am not alone, as I make my way to the valley of rest, and the castle that lies within that holds the source of gentle dreaming. A shelter of hope, to calm my shattered matter.

Amen