Pedro The Lion - Indie Rock's Best Storyteller

Former frontman of Pedro The Lion
musicmonkey
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Pedro The Lion - Indie Rock's Best Storyteller

Unread postby musicmonkey » Mon Feb 28, 2005 3:17 am

Indie Rock's Best Storyteller

If someone handed me a ticket to a Rolling Stones concert, do you think I would pass it up? Not a chance. Aerosmith? AC/DC? Well, sometimes they curse and they talk about things that I as a Christian would never speak of or take part in Â… but consider me there.

<img src="/media/david_bazan_tw_walsh.jpg" alt="" align="left" hspace="10" width="250" height="311" />Mention Pedro the Lion, however, and I'll have to stop and think. He says he's a Christian, but some of his songs are about sex and murder. Something's just not right about that. I think I'll have to pass.

We don't want to admit it, but this is often the mindset we fall into as Christians. Sure it's ok for non-believers to talk about secular things, but if a self-proclaimed Christian does it, he must be a backslider, that horrible term in gospel songs that I sang about in choir, which describes a believer who has strayed from the path of righteousness.

Or maybe he just decided to sing a song about a topic that fell outside of the Christian bubble.

Hit up a Five Iron Frenzy, Relient K, even MxPx show and you're likely to be bombarded with a slew of kitschy Jesus fish and shirts with Christian versions of popular slogans on them. The fans are overwhelmingly friendly, spreading that Christian love whenever they can, especially since their parents are waiting at the back of the concert hall and can see everything they do. If someone shoves past you in the crowd, you assume that he was separated from his friends in the front row and graciously allow him through while praying for forgiveness for the nasty thought you just had about him.

This is the Christian rock show environment.

Though MxPx fights the Christian band image more than the others, these groups sing Christian songs, sometimes in Christian venues, for Christian audiences. Earlier this year I couldn't get a ticket to a Relient K concert when every church youth group in the state of Illinois showed up. I can't imagine Pedro the Lion ever drawing quite the same response.

An unlikely Pedro the Lion fan, Melissa whipped out her palm pilot to confirm the date of the show as we rode home on the "el" one day after having known each other a week. Two months later I had to talk her out of wearing the Ann Taylor top with the slightly dressy black pants since we were going to the Metro, a scrubby old theater in Chicago where everyone else would be wearing hoodies. Her devotion to Pedro the Lion, however, can't be questioned. The blonde-haired, hazel-eyed Californian princess called a friend while at the show so she could hear the band play. Another friend left a teary message on her phone when she didn't receive the same service.

Melissa was just one odd member of the motley crew that piled into the car that evening to go to the concert. Andrew and I became fans when a friend who was obsessed with Pedro urged us to see the band at the Metro last May, while the driver knew the girl who was dating the band's drummer. Joe, a friend who came at my invitation, was the typical American society member who didn't even know that Pedro the Lion was a band, much less what type of music it played.

We are all Christians. We attend church and lead Bible studies, and we don't have qualms about attending a concert where David Bazan, the man behind Pedro the Lion who calls himself a born-again Christian, will sing about murders and sex and maybe even curse occasionally. But not everyone feels that way.

I may jam to Pedro's 2003 album Control when I'm in the car by myself, but if my mom was in the passenger seat or I, for some reason, had to drive a carpool, I would quickly turn to the classic rock station, which would play songs that poorly mask the sexual innuendo, but at least they probably won't spell it out for my mother and all of creation to hear.

Some people would probably call this hypocrisy, but let's instead consider it discretion. As Paul says in Romans 14:19, if you consider something good that another person calls "unclean," don't flaunt it in front of him, but "make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification".

There are days when the sky is gray and hate, what my friends and I have termed the precipitation that is slightly more than a mist and less than real rain but leaves you soaking wet by the time you've arrived at your destination, is falling and all I want to do is stay in sweatpants all day and read A Confederacy of Dunces or some other sadistically humorous novel. But I know I have to go to class or a meeting or do any number of other tedious things on a day that should only be used for closing the curtains and watching Clue as I did when I was a kid. On days like these, Pedro the Lion accompanies my every move. But though I have formed a dependency on Pedro's 1998 release, It's Hard to Find a Friend, to pulse through my headphones and keep out the winds roaring off of Lake Michigan, even I'm a little squeamish when it comes to Control, Pedro's concept album that documents the affair of a married man.

"Adultery and death are interesting," Bazan told the Metro audience casually when a fan asked about his risqué subject matter. Once they happen, everything changes.

Joe and I made our way to the VIP seating in the wings of the balcony, leaving our friends to stand in the crowd below. I tried to blend with friends of the band and others who appeared to actually be very important persons and hoped they couldn't tell I was just a college kid who got a lucky break and two free tickets to the show. I casually sat down and pretended I wasn't freezing in my chair right under the air conditioning vent in an effort to look as though I belonged there. Joe, on the other hand, despite his long-sleeve shirt, spent half of the concert shivering in his chair and the other half avoiding the draft by circulating within the non-VIP audience.

A teenage girl in the front row wearing blue cheetah print cat ears cheered loudly when a boy near her, the stereotypical geek with gangly legs, glasses, and a Mom-bought-yet-indie-rock sweater, talked his way onto the stage to play a shaker that looked like an orange. He twitched with nervous delight as the drummer and guitarist ushered him over to Bazan who greeted him with a smile before they whisked him away to the other side of the stage where he took up his position leaning over the cymbals to shake the orange under an overhead microphone for the first song, a job he took very seriously.

"Bloodstains on the carpet," David Bazan sang softly, his unassuming voice with its silvery monotone quality sailing above the guitars and drums and orange shaker. Bazan sings the story of a man who has just murdered his wife, but apparently that's no reason to get worked up. He concluded the song with a gentle "ba ba ba" as though he were humming to himself while taking a stroll through the park.

His hands moved effortlessly across the guitar strings, his strumming neat, tight, controlled. The other guitarist's wrist moved up and down at a furious pace compared to Bazan's subconscious strokes as though he has practiced in the mirror for his rock star fame while Bazan simply fell into it one day and realized he rather liked it. His movements reminded me of the instructions someone once gave me on playing the tambourine: jiggling the wrist is wasted motion. And Bazan isn't one to waste, whether in the movement of his hands or the meaning in his lyrics. Everything has a mission, a purpose, and Bazan draws a straight line from point A to point B.

"Why do you rock so hard?" someone yelled when he asked for questions from the audience.

"That's not a good one," he said, shaking his head and pointing to another raised hand whose owner cried out for more "7-inches."

"I put one out just an hour ago," he said dryly like the fidgety character John Cusack plays in every movie. He paused for a moment and issued a "why did I just say that?" groan before chuckling under his breath and peeling into the next song.

The crowd was small and friendly, if not terribly diverse in its composition. Indie rock kids in high school, indie rock kids in college, Melissa and Joe. But there is something here that separates a Pedro show from most other concerts where Christians are performing. Unlike a Point of Grace concert where you wouldn't be able to find a single non-Christian who wasn't dragged there by a friend in a fit of evangelism, non-believers come to listen of their own accord.

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17, NIV). Jesus said it; Bazan puts it into practice.

The crowd slipped into an excited state of depression, one fan laying his head on the stage as Bazan painfully called out, "What's wrong with second best?" His own arms hung limp at his sides as he sang the dismal anthem of a man tangled in an extramarital relationship. Somehow I got the feeling he might not really be satisfied with second best status. Not every Pedro the Lion song makes you want to curl up in a ball and mourn the sad state of your existence. Underlying much of his music is the foundation of his relationship with Christ, often appearing in songs that, as he says, "critique Christian culture."

"I would really like for Christian rock music to kind of disappear completely," Bazan confessed. "Not necessarily because it was Christian, but because a lot of it is in poor taste and appeals to the lowest common denominator. I would have similar critiques of mainstream culture."

Despite his criticism of Christian rock, songs such as "Of Minor Prophets and Their Prostitute Wives" and "The Well" bear obvious references to the book of Hosea and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Similarly, "Lullaby" is a poignant affirmation of God's never-ending love while "Diamond Ring" clearly alludes to Jesus with the lyrics, "Even though you haven't any answers / you still think that you don't need anyone / to save you from the mess that you've created / even when I gave my only son."

The average church-going, Bible-reading Christian might not, however, be a huge fan of "Slow and Steady Wins the Race," a song that turns a trip to Grandma's house into a metaphor for the Christian life. The main character, the "good son," is too busy trying to stay on the straight and narrow path to care that his brother has strayed from the path and fallen into a ravine. Once the good son arrives, the grandmother asks where his brother is. The boy casually replies, "I don't know." The allusion to what Christians have termed their Christian "walk" becomes clear when Bazan goes on to sing of how happy he will be when he arrives in heaven and gets his crown for a "race well run." This song is only the first track on Pedro the Lion's concept album, Winners Never Quit, which details the good son's corruption, which he tries to justify by his goodness, and his suicide.

Bribery, ego, murder, suicide. Christian performers rarely, if ever, address these issues because they fall outside of the protected realm of Christian musical subjects, mainly God is awesome, I am a sinner, God's grace is awesome, How fortunate I am God saved me, and the like. Control, Pedro the Lion's latest album takes the violation of Christian music content codes a step further, explicitly describing an affair and the sexual activities involved. "The mattress creaks beneath/ The symphony of misery and cum/ Still, we lie jerking back and forth/ And blurring into one," Bazan sings in "Second Best." If the "critiques of Christian culture" weren't enough to send the Christians raging, this just might do it.

You may not be able to find any scathing criticisms of Bazan's music by well-known Christian musicians, evangelists, or the like, because despite the occasional mudslinging, Christians usually don't want to be the one to cast the first stone. Still, talk of bloodstains and sex tends to trigger a knee-jerk response in most Christians. Pick up your jaw, turn off the music, pretend you didn't hear it and quickly turn on some old-school Newsboys. That will clear the air.

"If [Christians] are critical [of my music] because of assumptions that they've made about what I have to say or my beliefs, that's pretty irritating," he sighed. "It's un-thorough and kind of silly."

Of all people, you might think Ann-Krestene, his wife since June, would be most concerned about his sometimes sexual and violent subject matter. Surely having your husband sing about having an affair or murdering his wife, while not necessarily upsetting, can't be comforting.

"I think that he's just a really brilliant fictional writer and he just happens to put his artwork to music," she said supportively. "I get quite a few questions at the [shows] and I just think that if the listeners have a little bit more of a mature view of it, they would see it that way as well."

Though he has played at Cornerstone Festival for several years, Bazan avoids the Christian label. As long as he continues to put out albums that make some Christians squirm in their seats, however, the Christian community at large isn't likely to force that label on him.

"The people in Christian culture who are actually trying to make art under a Christian pretense, I just think that it's kinda backwards," Bazan said. "It degrades both the art they're attempting to make and the message that they're attempting to sloganize and make sort of palatable."

Christian musicians fit a certain niche, a certain need, a certain ministry. Pedro the Lion isn't a part of it. He will never top the Christian Pop charts or get played on mainstream Christian radio stations and I doubt youth groups will play his CDs before their services, but when he plays at the Metro or a club in Seattle or New York or Canada he will have a following of both believers and non-believers, which is a ministry in itself. So when he shows up in Chicago again, wearing that same black T-shirt he wore last time I saw him and the time before that, I'll be bobbing my head in the front row among the mob of hooded sweatshirts with the Californian princess, dragging along another typical member of society who needs enlightenment, and I'll never consider Bazan's music second-rate.

<i>Second best, oh second best. I can learn to live with this, plus I really need a rest. After all what's wrong with second best? What's wrong with second best?</i>

<a href="http://www.cornerstonemag.com/pages/show_page.asp?46">Cornerstone Magazine</a>

musicmonkey
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Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2005 1:12 am
Favourite TV Show: The Leftovers
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Pedro the Lion

Unread postby musicmonkey » Fri Mar 18, 2005 2:21 am

Pedro the Lion
By Anne Valente

<img src="/media/pedro.jpg" alt="" align="left" hspace="10" width="418" height="278"/>With a new album out this month and a tour launched alongside <a href="http://www.deathcabforcutie.com/">Death Cab for Cutie</a> and <a href="http://www.benkweller.com/">Ben Kweller</a>, Pedro the Lion has its plate full. The new album Achilles' Heel, marking their fourth full-length release and due out on May 25, is just as tragically gorgeous as its predecessors and shows continued movement in the right direction. And the tour, with its dynamite coupling of Pedro the Lion with Death Cab and Ben Kweller, promises to be a gem of a live show, delivering three stellar performances for the price of one.

"He does not preach but instead grapples with his own questions, and in doing so lets us in on some of the most beautiful material being produced today in the music industry."

Much in the same way that <a href="http://www.ironandwine.com/">Iron and Wine</a> is really just a one-man show composed of singer/songwriter Sam Beam, Pedro the Lion is the pseudonym of David Bazan, the humble force behind the stage name. Deeply religious yet resistant to the pigeonhole of Christian rock, Bazan is a rare anomaly in the music world. He draws upon his spirituality in the writing of his songs, but you might never even notice it if you didn't listen to the lyrics. The music is both spiritual and secular, his faith not necessarily the focal point of his work but certainly a part of it, as an extension of Bazan himself. For Bazan, there is no such thing as Christian rock; there is only music. He does not preach but instead grapples with his own questions, and in doing so lets us in on some of the most beautiful material being produced today in the music industry.

Because the media at times focuses too much on prying into Bazan's religious convictions, the real issue at hand is overlooked. What is most important about Pedro the Lion is the amazing songwriting and composition talent, and the subtle ways in which the music makes you want to cry every time you hear it. Here, Bazan talks about these things and more, no religion allowed.


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