photo by Adrian Bischoff

This past Monday I experienced a rite of passage necessary for every person that grew up in the Christian “scene” of the 90’s — I saw my first David Bazan show. I went there with the knowledge that I would write about it here on Patrol, but I had a very different plan originally.

I swore to myself I would not focus on his past, his angst, his doubt, his lyrics, or how Christians should “understand him.” These topics have been discussed ad nauseam by every twenty-something-remotely-religious blogger out there. This very publication is no exception, though it has contained, in my opinion, the best writing on the topic I have found.  In fact, the first article I ever read on Patrol was this one on Bazan’s initial growing doubt and agnosticism. Patrol has gone on to feature articles about a recent show Bazan did in New York and an analysis of the lyrical content of his newest album, Curse Your Branches. Indeed, a search for the phrase “bazan” will bring up no less than fifteen articles containing his name (though not all of the articles are directly talking about him). My point is this: we spiritually inclined “post”-everything evangelicals(?) care about this man, his music, and his heart.

I was going to buck this tradition and only talk about the show as I would review any other show: an evaluation of the venue, sound, performance, etc. I suppose I had fooled myself into thinking I could divorce myself from my investment in what Bazan stands for. But I couldn’t. Even before he took stage I was telling my friends who had never heard him before “Oh, he’s going to break your heart,” or “Just to warn you: he’s going to sing about some of the darkest doubts you’ve thought and felt but have never actually said out loud,” or my favorite, “This guy’s gonna mess you up.” This was certainly not “just another show.”

But Bazan did something really unexpected. He didn’t do “those” songs.  In his well-over-an-hour-and-a-half-long set, he only performed 4 or 5 songs from the new album, and even those songs weren’t the really “angsty” ones (save for his closing number “In Stitches”). He didn’t even perform the title track from the new album. He did lots and lots of old Pedro the Lion classics, but nothing really shocking. Even his Q&A didn’t “go there”. The most “religious” moment was when he asked the audience what we were reading and someone yelled out “The Bible!” and Bazan replied with a simple “Well, that’s nice” as he continued tuning his guitar.

At the end of the show I had this overwhelming sense of WTF? I wanted to watch him sing those words that have haunted me — to see his lips form them and to see the look on his face. I guess I just wanted to get into his head a little more and understand a bit more clearly just what happened.  But he refused to oblige my curiosities, and I eventually understood why, I think. Whether Bazan wanted it or not, even since his “apostasy”, he’s remained in some sort of netherworld as the “Christian” Non-Christian artist. And I think he’s sick of it. He doesn’t want to be “that guy.” He doesn’t want to forever just be seen as the angsty religious musician (and admittedly, before this show, I had forgotten how many songs he has written that have absolutely nothing to do with spirituality). He is an artist — one of the greatest lyricists of our generation, in my opinion — and his newfound convictions give him new insight on far more aspects of life and being than just theology.  

And the irony in it all is this: in this act he has inadvertently tapped into yet another shortcoming of modern evangelicalism and has critiqued it beautifully, offering us an example of truly spiritual living. He has helped us see that it is a bit anemic to spend all our energies and identity to merely present or defend our spiritual views. At some point we have to actually engage the world with our theological presuppositions (or lack thereof). Why can’t we seem to stop talking about “Christian” music, art and culture and rather start talking about all these things (and more) “Christian-ly”.  We should want to be full participants in both our humanity and the divinity that so richly and truly dwells within us; collapsing the “sacred” and the “secular” into one blazing center from which the beauty of the world is illuminated in such deep and haunting hues.

Thanks for the reminder, Dave.

About The Author

Paul Burkhart

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