I’m more likely to read a book. Having
said that, I have every album Bruce Cock-burn has made. I love Alison Krauss and
Gillian Welch. I love the whole Emmylou
Harris camp, The Bros. Landreth, Jacob
Moon is magnificent, Leo Kottke, James
Taylor. My favourite singer would be Billie
Holiday. Bob Bennett’s music has been
significant for me.
FT: I’m thinking of you as an artist who makes
his living from art created from his faith. Have
you had a faith crisis and how did you cope
SB: Yeah, I mean without making too
much of it, our family has suffered a lot
with mental illness. My mother has lived
her life with a sometimes crippling anxiety disorder. My dad is bipolar and I’ve
been prone to depression. We’ve had
suicide in the family, financial terrors,
eating disorders and like anyone, all
manner of disappointment and loss.
These are the things you wrestle with in
the middle of the night when you question
God about the content of His “friendship.”
My dad was a prison chaplain and I grew
up going to church in prison. When you
awaken to the profound dignity of every
human person, and to the social dynamics
that exclude and alienate, you begin to ask
how this can happen in a culture that
claims to be foundationally Christian.
Other crises of faith have been brought
on by trips. My first time to Kolkata and
Palestine shut me down from writing for
long periods of time. I felt I had nothing to
say in the face of some of the tragedies I saw.
I have a First Nations foster daughter. I’ve
gotten a clearer picture of how brutal this
society can be if you are not in the mainstream. If you look at the wounds that colonial Christianity inflicted on First Nations
people, you have to ask, Is there a fatal flaw
in this faith? That’s the kind of thing that
gnaws at me at 3 o’clock in the morning.
But I can’t stay there. I’m constantly
overwhelmed by resilient beauty. My
foster daughter lived with terrible addictions she financed through prostitution.
Now she’s a beautiful mom with great
kids, struggling and yet overcoming. She
awes and inspires me.
I’ve been criticized for writing beautiful
or even light melodies to sad or dark lyrics.
I can’t help it. Darkness does not have the
last word. I believe that in my bones.
F T: What guidance do you offer young Christian
SB: I’m in the happy place of life now where
I have some resources to share. My manager Dave Zeglinski and I own a nice little
studio we’ve increasingly made available
to young artists. I love to tell them they
belong to a noble, meaning-making guild
that has brought comfort and beauty for
thousands of years, and the commercialization and celebrity that goes with it is
an almost criminal distraction.
Ours is an honourable and indispensable
craft, and we need to take it seriously. We
need to think deeply, feel deeply and avoid
anything that is simplistic and cliché.
I had a wonderful experience recently
with a new Canadian band. Dave and I
had a little bit of money kicking around
that we thought might help them get
started. We invited them over to my
house for burgers and beers, to offer them
some financial assistance and, if they
wanted it, counsel.
I was out cutting the lawn that morning,
and God spoke to me very clearly that this
was not to be a burgers and beer thing –
this was to be a feast. I cleaned the house.
I thought through the best meal I could
remember my wife making, she was away
at the time, and I went out and bought a
few great wines. I felt strongly that God
wanted me to bless them. This was potentially awkward because there was no
consensus of faith between us. We had a
great time, and just before we were about
to eat, one of the brothers, who would not
identify as Christian, held out his hands
and said, “We need to thank somebody.” I
knew it was blessing time. I affirmed their
gifting, impressed upon them that they
had the honourable charge of leading
people through their music to experiences of the transcendent divine, and then
asked if I could bless them. They bowed
their heads as I prayed over them and
blessed their journey.
That is what I want to pass along – more
than how to get a gig or a grant. That’s
important, but not as valuable as fostering
the dignity of the work we’ve been called
to do for the sake of the world.
FT: Thank you so much, Steve. /FT
THE FT INTERVIEW
I’ve been criticized for writing
beautiful or even light melodies
to sad or dark lyrics. I can’t help it.
Darkness does not have the last
word. I believe that in my bones.