Seeking to Respect the Artist’s Original Intent

On March 11, the legendary art-rock band Pink Floyd won a major battle in its ongoing lawsuit against longtime label EMI. Among other issues, the band members were upset with EMI for selling their songs online individually, instead of as entire albums, as their contract intended. A central issue, for Floyd, was the preservation of the music’s “artistic integrity.” As they labored together over classic rock albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and The Wall (1979), the members of the band always saw themselves as storytellers and have consistently maintained that their compositions were intended to be listened to from beginning to end as concept albums…not as one-off tracks on some “corrupt” greatest hits compilation.

I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan, though I did have a strong affinity for listening to The Wall (start-to-finish, all four sides) while doing my studying back in college. And while I don’t have a ton of sympathy for incredibly-wealthy rock stars carping about how poorly they are being treated, I’ll admit that I am really encouraged to see someone hitting back at the single-song-download ethos of the day.

As a teenager, I often walked from my home to the downtown area; my first stop was invariably Marty’s Records. Today, the shelves in my living room give silent witness to the fact that I spent – literally – thousands of dollars on vinyl albums while growing up outside Detroit. As a kid, I often made my pocket money by cutting lawns. Before firing up the mower’s engine, I usually knew which artist and title would be my next acquisition on that inevitable trip downtown. Part of the sheer delight of the music experience “way back when” was the highly-anticipatory walk across town with cash burning a hole in my pocket, the time spent perusing the shelves (to see if perhaps there was something more worthy of my money and time) and the sheer joy of checking out various album artwork, liner notes, and shrink-wrap stickers indicating whether or not there might be a full-size poster inside.

But of course, the crowning moment came when I finally arrived back home and carefully placed the new vinyl onto the turntable in my bedroom. Without fail, I would put on Side 1, listen to it from start to finish, flip it over and then listen to all of Side 2, reading through the lyrics, song credits and so forth. Suffice to say that the members of Pink Floyd would have taken great satisfaction in the way I treated every album as a carefully-arranged series of songs. David Bowie, The Ramones, Boston, Bob Seger, it really didn’t matter; everyone got the oh-so respectful Side 1/Side 2 treatment, at least initially.

What’s funny about all this is how I could be such a purist about the “right” way to listen to music (“We need to stay true to the artist’s intent!”) and completely fail to develop this same kind of passion for something far more important, namely my own understanding of the Bible.

Old passions die hard, too. To this day, it doesn’t take much at all to get me ranting about how music consumers are being robbed of the best that music has to offer by clicking-and-downloading versus wandering around in a bricks-and-mortar record store. Honestly, though, it has only been in the past five years or so that I have stopped listening exclusively to “The Bible’s Greatest Hits” and begun giving the greatest Artist of all time the respect He is most certainly due.

Last week, I wrote about how much Jesus clearly loved the Bible. Granted that “Side 2” had not yet been written down during His earthly ministry, Jesus nevertheless demonstrated the importance of having a strong love for everything that God had accomplished in the recording of “Side 1,” namely the Old Testament. I won’t belabor this point simply because I covered this in some detail last week (Learning to Treasure All of Scripture, Just Like Jesus); I’ll simply point out that on this side of the Cross we now have access to the completed work, both the Old and New Testaments, along with the single most impressive collection of “liner notes” the world has ever seen! There are now more translations, reliable Bible commentaries and study plans than ever before and we have access to far more resources than we could ever possibly tap. Plus, we have the reassurance to know that the Bible has never once “fallen off the charts.” (You did know that, even today, the Bible regularly outsells every other book on the planet?)

So I can’t say it any more simply than this: If we aren’t reading and reflecting on God’s wisdom within the Old Testament, we aren’t ever going to fully understand and appreciate much of what Jesus and the Apostles are talking about in the New Testament. I speak from experience here. I grew up hearing almost nothing other than the New Testament, and my Bible reading up until just a few years ago mirrored the much-despised “Single-Song Download Mentality” more than I care to admit. As a result, my own Bible understanding has been greatly hindered, and I am only now starting to see how I have really failed to appreciate the fairly-shocking context in which Jesus made many of His most sweeping statements heralding the arrival of the New Covenant.

How embarrassing to have been so incredibly passionate about making time in my life to listen to The Dark Side of the Moon beginning-to-end (rather than just playing the song “Money” over and over again) and not apply this level of concern to my own understanding of the Word of God? While there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying good music, there really is everything wrong with pursuing our passions to the exclusion of increasing in our knowledge and understanding of the God Who formed us in our mother’s womb. I’m fairly certain we can all substitute something else into the category of “passionate pursuit,” and of course we are all somewhat powerless to change our desires as if we were flipping a light switch. Whatever drives you – food, golf, sports, shopping, decorating – whatever gets your motor running, I guess I would offer up the possibility that we can all ask Christ to make His Word more of a priority for us, and He is gracious enough to accommodate our requests: “Lord, please change my heart such that I care more about knowing You than I do about my new Springsteen CD.”

The Crossing has a very do-able Bible reading plan for those of you who would like to join me in trying to appreciate all of God’s Word for what it really is, namely an inspired, masterfully-composed story that was meant to be appreciated from beginning to end. If The Crossing reading plan doesn’t work for you, please find one that does, or design your own. Here are some links to help you get started:

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