Friday, September 30, 2005


After much serious deliberation and consideration, I have decided that Switchfoot is my favourite band of all time.

They have just released a new album - Nothing is Sound. It is wonderful. (Go to to listen to samples from the album.) It's slamming rock tempered with beautiful little acoustic pieces. And the most important thing is, this is not just another Top 40 album about booty-shaking-baby-i-love-you-baby-i-want-you-back.

I am getting increasingly disillusioned with that kind of music - I hardly listen to it anymore. Tell me something that means something, say something that is true.

Below the lead singer of Switchfoot writes about their new album. He writes beautifully - both in lyric and in prose. I wish I could write like that.

In 1991, when Rolling Stone interviewed Dylan on the occasion of his 50th birthday, he gave a curious response when the interviewer asked him if he was happy. He fell silent for a few moments and stared at his hands. 'You know,' he said, 'these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed.'

This record was written somewhere between the blessed and the unblessed, between the godly and the ungodly by a few young urban professionals from San Diego. These songs are dreams and questions, bleeding together, breathing in and out - always somewhere between life and death. And I feel this tension, this distance now more than ever, like a numbing ache... deep inside. The distance between the way things are and the way they could be, the distance between the shadow and the sun. And this is where we exist: within the paradox. Living out our lives: oxygen and carbon and hydrogen and so on... This record was the attempt to make something beautiful in filthy backstage dressing rooms everywhere, trying to sing something true with a broken heart. This record was written about things that I don't understand.

And yes, there's more than a wink of irony in all of this: making music from our most intimate thoughts and selling these songs online for a dollar a pop. Singing an anthem every night about how "we were meant to live for so much more" and many times feeling like a failure; singing "I dare you to move" and feeling trapped. Both loving and hating all the fuss that the music has brought. Knowing that even Rock and Roll, perhaps the best job in the world will not make me happy (in the yuppie sense of the word).

And yes, this American life is absurd! a strange paradox indeed... Perhaps no amount of money, sex, or power has ever satisfied us before, but maybe today will be different! Maybe this new purchase will make me happy! And the sun rises and sets once more - another day, another dollar. A carbonated beverage will help to chase your insecurities away. This new product will help to fill the meaningless void I feel inside. And so I drink the beverage, wear the clothes, and watch the war on TV. meaningless. meaning less.

Do we hunt our ridiculous suburban dreams like the neighborhood cat? Have we quietly fallen in line with the advertisement? Are we driven by ego uncontrolled, our lives simply vain pursuits of meaningless ends? Do we attempt to validate our existence by material means, relational acquisitions, sexual conquests, fiscal achievement, and cultural prowess? It was another jewish man who said something like this a while back.

"All is meaningless,"
Declares the teacher.
"Meaningless, meaningless,
Everything is meaningless"

For me, there is a terrible, wonderful freedom in coming to terms with these un-happy, un-yuppie words. It's a strange consolation in our dizzy and breathless race for happiness to find that you will never outrun the horizon. It's an avalanche you can't escape. It's a fatal wound that you cannot heal. If you fall on this rock you will be broken, if it falls on you you will be crushed. You see, this album started with a blow between the eyes that I am still recovering from, that's really all I've got to offer these days.

So in the half-light glow of radio shows, music videos, and greedy billboard charts I am aware of a darkness that is beyond me, I am coming to terms with my unbelief. No, I don't believe in rock and roll. No, I don't believe in the success that we've achieved. And no, I don't believe in me. In a free market world of the bought and sold I feel caught in between. I believe I've heard about a man who was exploited to sell everything from indulgences to the wars of men. And yet he offered only one bitter pill that was not easily marketed. Maybe that's what this record hopes to be: a simple bitter pill of truth that steps outside of our hamster wheel and looks up at the stars and beyond.

Maybe Dylan was right when he said Rock and Roll isn't Rock and Roll anymore. I've met so many lonely, desperate, beautiful people over the past few years. Yeah, I've got a bitter pill to swallow, but it just might be true. Maybe our lives drift quietly by and we can't stop the current. Maybe this modern river leads to the sea of death, where no medicine can cure these ills. Perhaps our restless wanting is satisfied only outside of ourselves.

It was another jewish man who said something like this, "If you seek to gain your soul you will lose it." I am on a journey that will one day come to final terms with these words.

a few general thoughts on new tunes and their relationship to our previous four albums:

A part of me wishes I could say that our music was formulated and planned out by brilliant, methodical minds who structure entire records out of themes that are independent of anything that has ever been thought of before. In reality, most of these songs are simply the spontaneous ramblings of a man with a guitar who can't sleep - trying to make sense of a broken heart in world that is upside down. In many ways these songs mirror the melodies in my own life: relationships, fears, hopes, insecurities, doubts and so forth all set to the major and minor keys. But it makes sense that these honest songs are the ones that we're proud of; because whether it's Elliot Smith or Stevie Wonder or Pavement or whoever, the honest ones have always been my favorites.

So at the end of our time as a band perhaps we will have only one song to sing - just one very long, rambling, eclectic song that touches on life, death, pain, sex, anger, joy, peace, politics, God and the other elements of a searching soul in the twenty first century. Maybe at the end of my life I will sing only one song, a song that has been refined and purified. A lonely group of notes that will be a sweet, sweet sound for an audience of one. Or maybe I'm still trying to figure out this broken, beautiful planet - writing songs as a way of therapy in the hopes of a better understanding of this existence that we call life. Either way, the bitter struggle for meaning and truth in the postmodern world is a subject matter that I don't think I could ever exhaust.

"Nothing is Sound" is the fifth Switchfoot record. For me, it feels like the next step of a journey, diving deeper into uncharted territories. Because we've lived and breathed on tour for the last eight years, onstage is where our music comes to life, a life that is hard to pin down on tape. If you think this record feels a bit like a "live" record, we're proud to say that these recordings have somehow captured the energy of our live show more than any other record we've ever made.

Perhaps the best way to look at this record is as the next chapter in a mystery novel: many of the the same characters, the same settings and yet a few more clues come to life. Who knows, it could be a dark chapter revealing even more mysteries to be solved. I'm pretty sure you're the only one who can decide for yourself; I'd be curious to hear what your thoughts are. I certainly have my own... Whatever the theme of this record might be, believe me - it was only partly intentional! Hope you enjoy the tunes.


Friday, September 23, 2005

The Beautiful Letdown

We went to really nice French restaurant in Times Square for dinner with a representative from our sponsorship board.

Chez Josephine is run by Jean-Claude Baker, French adopted son of African-American Josephine Baker - "the most successful music hall performer ever to take the stage" (according to Ebony magazine). She was the toast of Paris in the 1920s, star of stage and screen in the 1930s, Red Cross volunteer and undercover agent in World War II, participant in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement march on Washington, and star of several farewell (and comeback) tours. She also adopted 12 children of different races and called them her "rainbow tribe." The restaurant is named for her and is essentially a celebration of her.

Mr Baker sat and chatted with us for a bit after our meal, regaling us with interesting little restaurant anecdotes and stories of his adoptive mother. He told us also about how he had set up a foundation to celebrate the work of early 20th Century black artists, in honour of his mother. I was most impressed.

The food was superb and the company delightful. The ambience was lovely, with live piano music in tinkling softly in the background. We even got complementary sorbet at the end (our fourth course!) and it was the best sorbet that I had ever had. Seriously. But then again, my experience of sorbet is hardly exhaustive.

We walked to the 42nd Street metro stop to catch the subway home, happily full of sumptious food.

It was close to midnight.

I saw this black girl in the near-empty station, busking for a dime.

She was playing "If I were a rich man" from Fiddler on the Roof, and the painful irony could not be more obvious.

And so this is New York.

An uneasy mix of extremes, an irresolvable tension, a conflicted existence. There is so much beauty and so much pain, all of it side by side.

To borrow words of Switchfoot, this is the beautiful letdown.

This is life.

But thank God that this is not all that there is to it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Trip to the Opera

Lincoln Centre

We went to the opera, l'amie and I. Mon amie (see? I learnt a new permutation! :) geniusly found us $16 student rush tickets, and the seats were decent too.

In Madame Butterfly, east meets west. A callous American lieutenant marries a young Japanese girl (Butterfly), only to leave her. He comes back three years later with his American wife, only to find that he has a child. Madame Butterfly loves him desperately and has been waiting for him all this while. She is shattered when she realises that he has abandoned her. He feels deep remorse but it is now too late. He wishes to take the child back to America to give him a better life. She agrees to let to child go with him. When he comes for the child, she commits ritual suicide.

SHE sat quite still, and waited till night fell. She had a sword in her lap.

Butterfly [softly reading the words inscribed on it]
Death with honour is better than life with dishonour.

[points the knife sideways at her throat]

[The door on the left opens, showing Suzuki's arm pushing the child towards his mother: he runs in with outstretched hands. Butterfly lets the dagger fall, darts toward the baby, and hugs and kisses him almost to suffocation.]

You? you?
Beloved Idol!
Ador'd, adorèd being,
Fairest flower of beauty.
[taking the child's head in her hands, she draws it to her]
Though you ne'er must know it
Tis for you, my love, for you I'm dying, Poor Butterfly
That you may go away
Beyond the ocean,
Never to feel the torment when you are older,
That your mother forsook you!

[exaltedly] My son, sent to me from Heaven,
Straight from the throne of glory,
Take one last and careful look
At your poor mother's face!
That it's memory may linger
One last look!
Farewell, beloved!
Farewell, my dearest heart!

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. It reminded me also of the ending of Miss Saigon (my favourite musical ever), where the sacrifice of the Vietnamese mother is clearer - her erstwhile lover proposes to support her and the child financially in Vietnam, but she kills herself so that he and his wife have no choice but to take the child back to America, where he will have a better life.

For there is no love greater than this - giving yourself up for another, dying so that those you love, may live.

God is love. - 1 John 4:16

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Light in the Darkness

We went on a very enjoyable sunset cruise organised by the university to celebrate the end of the orientation period and the end of the first week of classes. The views from the boat were spectacular. We saw the skyline illuminated in the orange glow of the setting sun, the sky gradually darkening and the city lighting up. It being the day that it is, the twin beams from Ground Zero lit up the sky, reaching so high that they grazed the stars. It was both beautiful and eerie; beautiful for what it was, but eerie for what it represented.

So much of what is beautiful is also oftentimes so very sad. We live in this strange dichotomy, this irreconciliable duality, where the human heart is capable of great love as well as immense cruelty.

You see, I don't think that there's a "them" and an "us". I think there's a "we", and we're all broken, and in our brokenness, we break each other.

Yet we were meant to live for so much more. He who made the sun and the stars, he who breathed blue into the sky and ignited the sunset, formed our hearts, and therein lies the beauty, for we were made in his image. But we have all rejected our first love, turning away from he who made us, and we live lives with no reference to the giver and sustainer of all life. We all go our own selfish way, and this is how we break.

But there is a light in the darkness for we were not, and we are not, left alone.

The opposite of love isn't hate - it's apathy. And he who made us loved us enough to come down to earth to be amidst us, to seek and to save, to mend and to make new, to bring beauty out of brokenness, to turn darkness into light.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Timely Mistake

Because I am such a muppet I left my much beloved sunglasses at Abercrombie & Fitch in Staten Island (of all places). Now I have nothing against Staten Island, it's just that it is so far away. But I had to get my sunglasses back. So I went, thinking that this was just going to be another wasted afternoon.

And yet God brings good even out of my careless stupidity, and I pick up a free book at the Activities' Fair from the nice people from Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (thanks guys!) - "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller, "Non religious thoughts on Christian Spirituality" it says on the front. It's a great title. It's also a great book. I highly recommend it.

I read it on the Metro, on the ferry, on the bus, at the food court in Staten Island Mall, and then on the way back.

It was exactly what I needed.

It's just so amazing how God never lets us go.

"In America, the first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a free-form expression. It comes from the soul, and it is true."

"I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul. It is as if the soul is saying something, something about freedom.

I think Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is something very difficult to get on paper. But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful.

The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands."

- Donald Miller, "Blue Like Jazz"

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Of all places this picture was taken in the carpark of the Staten Island Mall.

It made me think about how oftentimes, there is so much beauty in the ordinary of everyday.


Suburban sunset (Staten Island, NY)

Today I saw the most beautiful sunset.

Of all the acclaimed paintings in all the art galleries (and I've been to quite a few), I think God is still the best painter of them all. He is the consumate artist.

Have you looked in the mirror lately?

Talk about beautiful.

Yesterday Cherfy and I took a walk through the Wall Street area down to South Street Seaport, and even though the sun was ferocious, we walked in the shade most of the way because the buildings were just so tall. Looking up, all you could see were slivers of blue. Today I took the ferry to Staten Island (passing by the Statue of Liberty - the Staten Island ferry is definitely the best "free" ride in New York) and then the bus to the Staten Island Mall. It's one of these typical suburban American strip malls with an open air car park that sprawls for miles and massive low lying buildings that stretch forever. But what surprised me the most was that looking up, there was just so much sky.