Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The moron in the mirror

I’m 36 years old, and from time to time, I still get a big nasty zit on my face (how’s that for an opening line?). Sometimes even 2 or 3 at once. My wife gets them too. When it happens to either of us, we always make some bitter joke about being in our 30’s and breaking out like we’re in our teens. We stand in front of the bathroom mirror and moan like our lives are over. We try to think of all the upcoming social engagements that are destined for ruin and ridicule unless God, in His divine goodness, intervenes and eradicates all manner of blemish from our faces.

When it’s me, I usually think something like “why can’t I just have a nice, attractive, pimple-free face? Is that too much to ask?”

For the past 4 days, I’ve been staying with my brother who, as most of you know, is in the beginning stages of highly aggressive cancer treatment. One of the side effects of the treatment is something called an “acne rash.” Lots of the terms that we’ve been running into during this time have been cryptic and foreign-sounding. Not that one, huh? Everybody knows what that is.

The rash covers his entire upper body. On just his face and neck alone, Ken probably has, I don’t know, 500 pimple-like marks. And – sorry to be graphic, but I want you to get this – we’re not talking about just red bumps. We’re talking white-on-red bumps. Depending on your zit-doctrine, these are the kind just begging to be squeezed.

All over his face. Hundreds.

In addition to being horribly itchy and painful, it looks, well, you can guess how it looks.

This stuff is so out-of-control that Ken’s face is swollen-looking. He has difficulty turning his head because the skin on his face and neck are pulled snare-drum tight from all the rash bumps.

Ken told me that he avoids mirrors now. He said, “I used to look in the mirror all the time, but not anymore.”

The other night, he and I went to the movies and, afterward, to pick up some take-out at PF Chang’s. People stared at him. I don’t know how much he noticed, but I noticed it every single time. I wanted to punch them all in the face. Repeatedly. I was thinking I could even the facial playing field with a couple of good bruises and a crooked nose. Maybe some of those nasty-looking yellow bruises with some crooked stitches running across them. Who’s funny-lookin’ now?

Hey, he’s my brother. What do you expect?

But then I thought about all the times I’ve stared at strange-looking people. I don’t even want to get into this, because I might reveal that I’m the meanest, cruelest person in the known world. But let’s just say I’ve done my share of name-calling and joke-making. And even when I miraculously kept my mouth shut, I thought things. Things that seemed witty and just-being-honest at the time.

Shame on me.

That doesn’t even begin to sum it up, but it’s a start. Shame on me.

And here’s something else. I’ve decided that, at least for a week or so, I’m going to quit looking in the mirror so much. I’m not all that great-looking, but I sure care about my appearance a lot. I check to see how fat I look in certain clothes. I stretch out my neck to make it look like I’ve got a better jaw-line. I suck in my gut. I check my hairline and thank God for whatever gene-combination keeps me from going bald. Then I curse Him for the same genes that give me a big nose and a funny-looking smile.

Yeah, I do a lot of mirror-looking. You probably do too, but that’s not my business. Right now, I’m concerned about the vanity-gauge in me. I’m looking to recalibrate that sucker, if for no other reason than – in some ridiculously tiny way – to understand my brother. One part suffers… like that.

So, less mirrors. At least for a while.

Again, it’s small, but I just feel compelled to do something. When you know that you need to change and you don’t do anything to help make that happen, well, let’s all be honest. That’s not just “neutral.” There is no neutral.

So if you see me out some time soon, and I look a little unkempt; if my hair isn’t right or my clothes seem wrinkled or my shaving-job looks off, you’ll know why.

And before you judge me, take a look in the mirror. Or don’t.Whatever. I think you know what I mean.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The number "Five"

We're in Birmingham today, and for the next several days, visiting my brother. I’ll probably blog once or twice about that in the next few days. I’m so happy to be here and see him and his family, but I’m sad that Ken has to deal with so much pain and discomfort. Cancer – and the stuff we do to kill it – is a real crappy deal.

My wife “tagged” me with some blog game. I’ve only done one of these before (Johnny, you know I must like you a lot), and that one was actually kind of fun. This new one was okay, but it sort of seems like the kind of thing that girls would enjoy more than guys. But I love my wife a bunch, so I agreed. I did this yesterday, but didn’t get a chance to post it. Maybe it will be interesting to you, maybe not. Here goes.

What were you doing 5 years ago?
Let’s see… I know I was writing and recording a theme song for Camp Olympia (I do this every year in May). I was probably also getting ready to do camps with then-bandmates, Andy Crawley, Joseph Degelia, and Russell Wedelich. I may have been trying to figure out how to pay my bills, since Grassroots Music had sold 600 of my CD’s and, just before paying me, gone bankrupt (I’m not mad about this, but you asked). I know for sure that I was eagerly awaiting the 5-year anniversary trip to St. Lucia that Staci and I were planning (it ruled, by the way). And, most importantly, I was helping Staci put together all the paperwork for our first adoption (she did most of the work, poor woman).

What are 5 things on your to-do list today (not in any particular order)?
I don’t have “to do” lists. I have informal, only-in-my-head stuff like “I hope I write a hit song today, but if not, maybe I can answer a bunch of emails or eat a really good cheeseburger.” Today I didn’t write any hit songs, but I answered lots of emails. And I played with my kids. No cheeseburger, but there’s always tomorrow.

What are 5 snacks you enjoy?
1. Chips and pretty much anything that can qualify as “dip.”
2. Various beverages that are only sinful when consumed in excess.
3. Any ice cream that has the word “pecan” in it.
4. Pistachios.
5. Cheese in any form.

What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Adopt lots and lots and lots of kids and build a house big enough for them.
2. Pay off the debt of everyone I know, even the stingy people.
3. Build houses for all of my friends, right next to mine, so that we could have a hippy commune thing, only without any mind-altering narcotics, polygamy, or goat herds.
4. Pay a ninja master to teach me the ways of the ninja.
5. I don’t know what I’d do with the rest. I’d give it to my church and let them decide what to do with it. We might end up with a whole army of Jesus-loving ninjas, but more likely they’d start an orphanage or something like that.

What are 5 of your bad habits?
1. Talking too much.
2. Interrupting people.
3. Cussing too much.
4. Looking up myself on the internet to fill up holes in my soul that only God can fill.
5. Being too honest when asked to list my 5 bad habits.

What are 5 places you have lived?
This one is really boring because, aside from 3 months in 1994, I’ve always lived in Bryan/College Station. Believe me, I’ve tried to leave, but this place is like some kind of magnet.
1. My parents house. B/CS
2. A ratty apartment. B/CS
3. The house on Sandpiper. B/CS
4. T Bar M Sports Camp in New Braunfels.
5. The house we live in now. B/CS

What are 5 jobs you've had? (only 5?)
1. Sno-cone salesman.
2. Food delivery driver.
3. Janitor/maintenance man.
4. Video store manager.
5. Cotton picker/field hand

What 5 people do you want to tag?
None of these guys will probably do this, but I’m going to play along anyway…
1. Thad (his will be interesting and funny if he'll do it, but he won't)
2. Johnny (his will be, I'm sure, filled with tons of surprises, if he'll do it, but he won't)
3. Joe (his will be dry as a butterless biscuit, but hilarious, and he actually might do it)
4. Michael (he'll do it, and his will be humble and thought-provoking, because that's just him)
5. My brother (the only blog he has is the one that he uses to update people about his cancer, but maybe this will give him something fun to do instead of writing about rashes and chemo and such; but he won't do it)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A rare moment of joke-free honesty

Staci and I have been doing something for, I don’t know, the last year or so, that has changed our lives and our marriage. There’s a good chance that it’s changed more than that, but I really don’t know for sure.

Here’s what we’ve been doing. Any time that we’re together (and often when we’re not, but I’ll explain that later), if one of us says “we really need to be praying for/about…” we just pray right then. If we’re at home, we just sit down right where we are (if the kids are around we drag them into it) and pray for a few minutes. If we’re in public, we find some way to do it with minimum obviousness and “show.”

I know this isn’t any huge thing. Lots of you probably live your lives like this, but it’s new for us. We’ve always prayed together. Every couple handles this kind of thing differently, I know. But we’ve never had excessive feelings of weirdness or discomfort with it. I pray pretty much the same way I talk, and so does Staci (only Staci sometimes prays with a kind of intuition and intensity that’s a little bit mystical), so it’s all pretty much the same as having a conversation, only The King of The Universe is in on it.

The new part is that we have a “let’s do this right now” kind of thing going. And, for some reason, it’s just made our prayers feel more real and more connected to who we are and who God is.

I’m not saying it’s easy to explain. I’m not about to give you a method to a better life or anything. I’m just telling you that we’ve changed the way we’ve been praying, and it’s been significant for us. It is what it is.

But it has changed us. It’s pretty much obliterated that whole “I’ll be praying for you” problem, which I assume you’re familiar with. You know, where you don’t really end up praying for the people who are counting on your prayers.

That’s over. Sometimes the whole thing is comical, because someone will tell me something that they want me to pray for, and I’ll say, “let’s just pray now.” I don’t do it to be “edgy” or shock-jock or odd-for-God or whatever (at least not most of the time). It just makes the most sense to me to take care of it right then. But of course you can imagine that some people are a little thrown off by it.

Hey, I’m a little thrown off by it. Sometimes the “let’s pray right now” line just flies out of my mouth before I really process it. Sometimes I am feeling a little full of my spiritual self – thinking how blessed this person is to be getting advice from a smart guy like me –and I realize that I’ve just invited someone to pray with me (for them) and I don’t even know what to pray for.

There’s a little bit of reckless idiot still hiding out in my corners and cracks.


As far as I can tell in searching my own heart, I don’t think I’m bringing this up to say how super-awesome my/our prayer life is. Even if I was trying to say that, it wouldn’t be the truth. We pray for stuff when we think of it, but sometimes we’re too busy or too selfish or too cynical to think of it. Sometimes we only think of stuff that is helpful or life-giving for us, completely forgetting about the needs of others. Usually Staci isn’t guilty of any of those things, but even she’s a human. A super-hot human with really good hair, but a human no less.

No, I’m writing this for a couple of other reasons. First, I’ve run into a lot of people lately who feel like they just don’t know how to pray.

I know this feeling. I've had it many times. Like maybe somebody showed it to me at some point, but I forgot to write it down, and now when I have to do it without the help of an experienced pray-expert, I just freeze up and clam up and stumble along until I finally say “oh forget it, God you know what I want.”

Or -- for better or for worse -- I just turn my praying into a fill-in-the-blanks test, inserting every cliché I can think of until my prayer sounds like the half-hearted, prepared statement of a high school football coach speaking to the reporter of the local rag after a game that everybody knew they were going to win anyway.

Lots of people pray like that. I pray like that. For many of us, this is prayer-as-usual. If we even pray at all, we pray without passion. We apply more purpose and sweat and effort to blogging or voting for American Idol or trying to figure out Lost than we do to praying.

Lord, have mercy.

Hey, this is me, too. I’m the chief of sinners.

So that’s the first reason I’m writing this: to remind us that praying is just something you have to practice and repeat if you want to “master” it; that praying is something you have to make yourself do so that you’ll actually be doing something eternal and right amidst all that is temporal and silly (and that's a lot).

Second, I’m writing this because I want to tell you about a few things that I’ve been praying about today.

Here’s a big one. Lots of you have already heard about this, so I won’t try to act like it’s my exclusive scoop. The more I think about it, I’m pretty sure this is the worst family scenario I can reasonably imagine. Aside from all the obvious stuff that everybody knows about the patriarch of this family, here’s something else you should know: these people are on a mission to save orphans, and they use their own actual, personal money to make it happen. Moreover, they started an organization that helps others do it too. They gave my family $2000 when we adopted Jude. We didn’t have the money to adopt Jude. Then we did. Because of them (and some other generous folks who would rather not be linked to). So pray for it. Right now. They need it.

The other one is nothing new. My brother is in a miserable state right now. You can read more about it all here. You can even look at pictures that show you the awful rash that covers most of his body. The rash is exacerbated by heat, so he can’t really go outside much at all, because it’s summer in Birmingham. Also, he’s nauseous and weak and lonely. And he signs off every one of his blogs with “God is good.” I’m telling you, this guy is a hero. And so is his wife, who is limping around on bad feet (long story) to keep everything together in their life. Pray for them. Right now. They need it.

Oh, and in case that’s not enough to get you on your knees or whatever, you can go global with your praying. Myanmar is facing a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And Rwanda is totally screwed up. I could continue, but then it might sound like I don’t have any faith.

Sometimes I don’t. But that’s why I pray. I don’t just pray because I have faith. I pray because I need faith.

And in those times, the Lord reminds me that He does stuff like keeping this kid alive when no one said it was possible (lots of folks prayed for this one, and I have to believe that it mattered). He reminds me that He brought us these little guys even though we can’t make babies the normal way (though not for a lack of blessed procreative activity). He reminds me that I have more friends than people should be allowed to have; that I have a career and a house and a wife that really loves me.

I wish my faith wasn’t so tied to results, but there you go. I’m a mess.

If I sound preachy, forgive me. This is the stuff that’s all over me today, and the only way to get it off is to throw it on you.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I want to spend your money

I posted a couple of weeks ago about CD's that I think you should buy. But like a big jerk, I didn't even provide go-buy-it-here links on a couple of them. I'll remedy that now.

John Sherrill's new record, which contains at least 2 of the best worship songs I've heard in a long, long time (and a bunch of other really great ones), is available for pre-order (and sample-listening) here.

And Clairmont's new CD, which I co-produced and recorded at The MixLab, and which features my sometimes-bandmates Michael and Ben, and which rocks harder than I could ever rock even if I was in a quartet super-band with Nikki Six, Eddie Vedder, and Ted Nugent, is available for pre-order here.

I'm telling you, you won't regret these purchases, unless you hate music or have some kind of disorder that causes you to always regret purchases. But we don't deal with that kind of thing here at the World Tour HQ. We deal with music lovers. As far as disorders, we really only deal with mine. And when I say "deal with," I really mean that we laugh at them and, sometimes, applaud them.

In other news, I'm hoping to get a second tutorial done this week. I've got to work on some more weird voices for the "ross mocks his own song" portion of the video.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

For everyone who has ever wanted to lose again

OK, so here's my first attempt at the video tutorial that I mentioned in my previous post. The first request was for "I Lose Again," so I did that one first. Due to the fact that it's played in an alternate tuning, this tutorial had to be a little longer than, I think, future ones will be. So I had to make it two parts.

The first video is basically me teaching how to play in DADGAD tuning, and showing the basic chording of the song. The second video is more of the actual run-thru of the song, plus some hilarious antics.

Also, I wanted to do this thing as high quality as possible, so these are kind of big. They may take a while to load. Sorry. I probably won't do that in the future.

For those of you who actually use this tutorial to learn the song, I'd love your feedback. I put more work into this than I intended to, and I probably won't put that much work into this kind of thing in the future. I mean, the point was that I hate making chord charts, but I ended up basically doing all the work of a chord chart, plus a lot more. I'm an idiot.

So I would love to hear if this is even helpful.

Finally, if you already know how to play the song, or if you have no interest in playing the song, but you think I'm entertaining (and who doesn't), watch the last minute or so of the last video to see me putting on a laugh-riot comedy act.

So here goes.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Another Lame Contest!!! With Pathetic Prizes!!!

I fail in the little things. That’s my main problem. If you need someone to write a 6-minute, tear-jerking song about idolatry, I’m your guy. If you’re looking for someone to confront a very tense, heavy-conflict situation, call me. You’re wanting to record/produce a big budget indie record? I got you covered. Big stuff? No problem.

If you want someone to return a phone call or write a thank you note, Lord help me. I’m a wreck.

The devil, they say, is in the details.

Which brings me to today’s topic: chord charts. For the last several years, I’ve gotten about one request per week for chord charts of my songs. Sometimes it’s “hey can I get a chord chart for ‘Clear the Stage?’” Other times it’s like “I’d love chord charts for all the songs from your last 3 CD’s.” I happen to have a chord chart (and even sheet music) for “Clear the Stage,” but the other request is a little tougher.

See, I don’t really write chord charts for my songs, because I never use them. Even when I record my songs in the studio, or when I teach my songs to new band members, we always use The Nashville Number System. I just don’t really have a use for chord charts.

Worst of all, I don’t always know what the chords are for my songs. Admittedly, most of my songs are pretty simple, but sometimes I’m just making up chords that sound good. And when I start slapping capos on the guitar, I don’t have a clue what I’m playing.

There is one big exception to this. When I recorded To Make God Famous Vol. 2, I actually spent several weeks making charts for the songs on that CD, as well as the songs on the other Famous project. I ended up putting all those charts into a CD-ROM thing on Famous 2.

But that’s all I’ve got.

So, pretty much every time I get these emails asking for charts, I answer in one of two ways. Sometimes I’ll just be really truthful and realistic and say something like “Sorry, I just don’t have charts, nor do I have the time to do them.” I mean, people aren’t usually offering to pay for charts (and I’m not even sure that I'd feel okay taking money for them), and my life is just too busy to spend hours and hours on something that doesn’t help feed the kids.

Other times, I’ll actually believe the best about myself and I’ll say something like, “I don’t currently have a chart for that song, but I hope to get to that very soon, so check back with me in a few months.” Months pass, and of course there are no charts. Because it just never gets to the top of my “to do” list. You know how that goes. Ross King, Big Fat Liar Face.

And that’s where I am now. But I’ve decided to do something about it. I still don’t want to sit around making charts, trying to figure out the names of chords. I ain't gonna do it. But I’d love to help people to learn to play my songs if they want to. There are dozens of longing, eager fans out there waiting for this.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make short video tutorials, showing anyone who is interested how to play various songs. And that’s where you come in. I’ve written a couple hundred songs. I’ve personally recorded over 100 of those. I’ve got no clue where to start.

I need you to vote. I need you to tell your friends -- anyone who has ever been interested in playing my music -- to vote. I know I don’t get a ton of traffic around here, but I really do need help.

And since I haven’t done any contests around here in a while, I’ll turn this into one. Maybe that will generate some votes. Here’s my deal to you. Everybody who votes is a winner. If you will simply vote for a song that you’d like to learn, I will mention you in the video tutorial of that song. Like a dedication or something. It will be like, “Michael Steele, I know how badly you wanted to learn ‘Anymore,’ so here it is.”

Like that. Depending on how the voting goes, the first video will be up sometime next week.

Oh, and here are the two conditions.

First, if you know me well enough that you could just sit down with me and learn the song sometime when we’re having lunch, you don’t get to vote.

Second, if you don't play guitar, don't vote.

Why the conditions? Simple. I don’t want a bunch of camera-hungry goons mucking up the voting just to get their 15 sad minutes of not-even-real-fame on my obscure youtube page.

SA Details

Here's some additional info on my San Antonio shows (listed in the previous post). The show on the 18th is basically full/closed, but the show on the 17th is wide open. Darrell Smith, who I've worked with numerous times in the studio and on the road, is going to playing that night as well, and info can be found at his site on the "schedule" page. Check it out if you're interested. Or email me with questions. Hope to see you there.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Yous really oughts to goes to these upcoming shows

Here are a few shows in the coming weeks. As always, some of these shows might be closed/full, so just let me know if you want more details on any of this.

May 14 -- Elkhart, TX
May 17 -- San Antonio, TX
May 18 -- San Antonio, TX
May 30 -- Houston, TX

Also, here's a pic that was sent to me by my pal Jason Fullen. This was our last night in Reisterstown, MD. You can't hear it, but we're really rockin' hard. Just outside of the shot, people are weeping and freakin' out and stuff.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rock is the Cure for Blog-Block

I haven’t had much to write about lately. I’m done with house shows until mid/late May. Plus everybody around here has been sick. Oh, and I can’t think of anything really worth making fun of. So basically, I’ve had blog-block. I don’t know if that’s an official term or not. It sounds like an official term.

Anyway, in lieu of something brilliant, I’ve decided to plug a few of my pals in the music biz. Here’s the thing. I’ve got tons of friends who make music for a living. Some of them are really famous and have absolutely no need for any plugging from me. But most of them are about where I am. In other words, they have a decent amount of fans/supporters, but they can always use a little more. They're just trying to make a living.

So I figured I’d point you to 4 of my current favorite CD’s, that just happen to feature actual friends of mine. Here’s my guarantee: even though these are my friends, these are absolutely excellent music projects that absolutely deserve your money. Nobody’s paying me (or even asking me) to do this. I just want you to know about good music, especially when it’s made by people are actually really cool, really God-loving, really humble. I mean, how rare is that in the music business? Don’t answer that.

OK, in no particular order, here is




Todd Wright All the Freed
I know I’ve plugged this one before. But here’s the deal. That was a couple of months ago, and this CD is still getting played a few times a week in my home, my car, and on various mp3 devices in my family. This is the best worship CD that I’ve ever been involved in recording, including my own. Every song is good, and several of the songs are crazy-awesome. Stop making excuses and go buy it. Oh, and the link to his site just has a cool pic and that's all. If you want more info on Todd, join the masses and go to his blog.

John Sherrill Song of the Redeemed or Faithful or Join in the Song
Listen, I don’t know the title of it. I’m not even sure where you can get it (maybe here or here or even here). I got an advance copy because John is my pal. But I’m telling you, this is far and away the best thing he’s ever done. it's just ridiculous how great this thing is. I’ve already done a couple of the songs for my church, and my people have been going bonkers for them. It’s just a fantastic, great-sounding CD of songs written by a guy who actually knows and loves Jesus and lives the Kingdom.

Andy Gullahorn Reinventing the Wheel
Andy don’t need my help. He’s got lots of friends who are more famous than I. But I just can’t help it. This CD is funny and thought-provoking and tear-jerking and just plain great. Amazing acoustic guitar work, great songwriting, and brilliant-but-simple production. Andy makes it look easy. Buy. Now. Please.

ClairmontLions Somethingorother
Again, I don’t know the exact title. Something about lions. The CD isn’t out yet. I know, I know. I shouldn’t be asking you to buy a CD unless I can actually point you to a venue for purchase. My bad. But I’m just so excited about this record. Ben Love and Michael Steele (who play with/for me a lot), along with lead singer and head songwriter Josh Taylor, make up Clairmont. We’ve been recording this CD at the MixLab for a couple of months, and it’s just really, really great rock music. I so wish I could write music like this, but I’m just too much of a pop pansy. What’s their sound? Think this meets this, with a little bit of this. And maybe a touch of this. But absolutely none of this, thank heavens. It should be out in 6-8 weeks. Watch for updates -- and listen to clips and live tracks and such -- here and here, and maybe here.

That’s all for now. Go buy music and tell me what you think.