August 16, 2007

Soundtrack for a Writer -- Jeff Johnson

I’ve been saying for about fifteen years that if I ever made a movie, the person I would want to score the soundtrack it is Jeff Johnson.

I still say that. The only difference is . . . now that I’m making a movie, I don’t have that kind of control. Mind you, I’ll suggest it to the powers that be. But they’ve got the cash, so they make the decisions.

But that doesn’t mean that Jeff Johnson won’t do the soundtrack for my projects. Truth be told, he already has. For about fifteen years now. Of course, he doesn’t know it. And I haven’t paid him. (Shhh. Don’t tell.) No no no. I haven’t been doing anything illegal. Rather, Jeff Johnson’s music, more often than not, is what is playing when I write my graphic novels and everything else. Along with John Williams and Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer and those guys who have made some of the greatest, most moody soundtracks you can get, Jeff Johnson gets a lot of play on iTunes when I write. Actually, looking at the play count, he gets more than all of them.

How can you repay that? How can you pay back a guy who has helped you get through some writer’s block just because of the mood of his music? How can you pay back a guy who’s reflections on some Psalms helped you walk through a potentially disastrous time in life? How can you pay back a guy who very music has helped nurse the right tone or mood out of a scene? How can you pay back a guy who’s music makes a beautiful connection to your very core?

Answer: you can’t, of course.

I mean, you an buy their albums and whatnot. So you’re PAYING for it all, yeah? But let’s face it . . . I’m getting the better end of the bargain here.

But, I can also pass him on to you readers. Granted, I don’t know how many people even READ this. But I’m passing it on anyway.

Jeff has three new albums that just came out. And all three are things I’ve been waiting on, for different reasons.

First, there’s King Raven EP, vol. 2. It’s a five song album (and “priced accordingly”, I guess) that takes it’s inspiration from Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy. Already, there has been a King Raven, vol. 1. This isn’t the first time Jeff Johnson has taken inspiration from a Stephen Lawhead book. There was the Song of Albion trilogy, which spawned three Albion albums, and albums inspired by the novels Patrick and Byzantium. All of these albums are inspiring, beautiful and contemplative. And, ironically, all these music albums that inspired me as I worked on Hedge Knight, Kingdoms, and ArmorQuest (among others) were in truth inspired by stories themselves. These are great albums to work by, because they are almost exclusively instrumental. I’ve been waiting for King Raven vol. 2 since I got vol. 1. And finally, today, I was able to get it. It did not disappoint. Well, not true. It disappointed in that it was too short. But that’s always how I feel when I experience music like this.

Second is Selah Audio Mediations vol. 2. Hmmm. Another “Volume 2”? Yeah. Well, I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while as well. You see, there was a real movement by God when I listened to the first one. I bought it on iTunes and put it on my iPod when I went away for a business trip last year. I listened to it a couple times that weekend, actually. On the airplane and such. But a moment came on that trip when I had to make a life altering decision. Through two passages of unrelated scripture that almost literally fell into my lap and through listening to Selah Audio Meditations vol. 1, I was given a real comfort that I was going to be taken care of in this major moment. And, btw, so far I have been. I’ve listened to the Audio Meditations a number of times now, usually when I need some moments of quiet where I can just get refocused on what is important. Refocused on who is important. Refocused on God. Who knew that the iPod could be used to commune with God?

Third, an album I’ve been waiting for simply because it’s from Mr. Johnson. Standing Still is a celtic inspired worship album. At least, so I’ve been told. I haven’t heard it yet. I only just bought it a few moments ago. But I’ve been looking forward to it. “Here is a soundtrack for standing still featuring modern Celtic/Classically-infused music full of rich and subtle chants, instrumentals and improvisations woven together to create a backdrop for solitude and contemplation.” C’mon, how could you NOT want it? Doesn’t that sound like just the thing we need in a fast paced world that is focused on the ME and the NOW?

Check out and get inspired as well. Or just go there to find the soundtracks for my graphic novels and stories. Just don’t tell him that’s what it is.

He may start asking for royalties . . .

~ Ben

August 2, 2007

Ingmar Bergman: 1918-2007

There is a very short list of people who I can name, off the top of my head, as influencing my creative development.

Ingmar Bergman, a Swedish film director, is one.

My introduction to him was, believe it or not, from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The one where they die and Death come to them and they challenge Death to a game . . . of Twister, Battleship, etc. That was a parody of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, in which a knight, fresh from the Crusades, arrives home. Death comes to the knight, and the knight, desperate for a chance to do something worthwhile with his life, challenges Death to a game of chess as a way to put off the inevitable. It's a slow, existential movie that, in bouncing from slapstick to melodrama to genuineness, asks hard questions and gives difficult answers. Questions that Christians need to be asking. Answers that Christians need to grapple with. Bergman himself grew up in a very religious family, and those themes and ideas come up in his movies, but religion is empty and hollow in Bergman's movies. Isolation is a common theme. And yet, in that movie, where some find existential despair, I find some hope in the end of that film.

Bergman died a few days ago. When I found out, one image kept coming into my mind, and I'm sure someone, somewhere has already done this, but this is all I could think about as they talked about his death on the radio:

I've been trying to decide what it means.

I guess it means what it means. In the end, as in the film, Death comes for us all. The question is: do you find hope or despair in that concept?

~ Ben