Do you ever reflect on the past and think to yourself, “I have lived many lives”? That happens to me quite often.
We moved into a new house a few months ago. Every time we move, I pack about 500-600 vinyl records in boxes for the journey to our new home. The other day I was rearranging my new home office and reorganizing my record collection. At the height of my collection, I had over 5000 records. Over the years I sold off some and gave away the rest. I’ve kept my favorites – the ones I’ve esteemed as “classics.” Some are one-of-a-kind acetates – which are single cut records that were once used to test new songs in live environments. Some in my collection are ‘test-pressings’ which are limited to 25-100 copies. The rest of my collection are just records I love.
How did I end up with so much vinyl? Well, that is a long story. I don’t have time to share the journey in its entirety at this time – it would require a book. I will share that many moons ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was a DJ. Now, some of you remember “Lance the DJ – the raver.” That may be your last and most prominent memory. Mind you, I may also remember YOU as the raver because of time and distance that is the last memory I have of you. Others may have more recent perceptions of me – a financial advisor or more recently (last 7 years), a pastor. I’m the same Lance but also a different Lance in a very real sense. Often times, I think to myself, “I have lived many lives.” Perhaps when you reflect on your life you feel the same way. We’re very much the same person we once were but at the same time we’re different. Life is so bizarre and yet strangely beautiful in this respect.
(Note: a “rave” is a massive all-night party centered around, friends, electronic music, dancing, drinking and drugs. “Ravers” are the folks that comprise the community centered around these events. At the time I considered myself a ‘sophisticated club-kid’ but let’s be honest – I was a raver.)
Every time I unpack and shelve my vinyl collection, I go on a journey. I don’t have a photographic memory but for some reason I can look at a record and remember where I played it and who was there. In fact, I have dozens of “white labels” that have no markings whatsoever. However, I can remove them from their sleeves and look at the grooves cut into the vinyl – the music in those tiny grooves pops into my mind. I may not be able to tell you the name of the track, but I can tell you what it sounds like and where I played it. Again, this is both bizarre and beautiful – that the mind can make such strong connections across the expanse of time and space.
Within every sleeve lies not just a slice of vinyl but a piece of music – a story – connecting to something beyond itself. There is a gift-nature to it all.
Think about it, 25 years ago, a producer had a vision – an idea for a song in his mind. In the audio studio – ex nihilo, he brings forth sound out of silence. He plays the music in his head and it manifests in reality. He creates, forms and shapes sounds into a song. The producer thinks to himself, “Hey, this is good – I’ll record it for the world to hear!” So, he records his beautiful song and sends the tape to the record press. From there an acetate is cut, a plater makes a mold of the acetate in silver with electro-plated nickel. Then the plate is placed on a stamper where the vinyl is pressed. The end result is music neatly embedded on a vinyl record – the finest analog playback in the world, I might add.
I was a professional DJ and producer in what seems like a different life long ago. Much of my time and money was invested in music. I would seek out those vinyl gems to play at raves and club events each week. I would lug of hundreds records in flight cases to various venues around Austin, Dallas, Orlando, Miami, Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Chihuahua, Juarez and the rest of North America. I was welcomed into people’s homes and lives.
Perched in the DJ booth, with music thundering and people dancing – I would find the right track and gently place the record on the turntable. Then, I would place the needle (stylus) where the groove on the vinyl began – matching the beats of the previous song. At the precise time with the tempos in sync, I would add upward pressure on the volume control on the mixer. And like being a pilot of an aircraft, I would throttle the volume higher – keeping the beats in sync with the pitch control, monitoring the EQ and ensuring the two tracks being played at once stayed in key. Once mixed, we were “wheels up” and full volume! I’d check the dance floor below to see how that producer’s idea – the music that was once in his head was effecting the crowd. Then, I would repeat that process hundreds of times – taking people on a journey. If you take a moment to think about it, this entire process is so rich and powerful.
I have thousands of those visions lining my shelves of my office. Every record is linked to memories. I look at a record and I can hear the music in my head. I see the faces of the people. I see old friends and my mind is flooded with more and more memories. It as if I’m right there with them again – even if it is just for a moment. Some of those people are no longer on the earth. Like my good friend and DJ partner-in-crime, Jamon – gone. I preached at his funeral a few years ago. Other old faces I’ve lost track of. Time and distance separates us. Some of the songs on my shelves are attached to long time friendships that exist today. It is all so very prismatic and beautiful – kind of like a spinning disco ball. Even the darkness and brokenness of the DJ / raver lifestyle can be brought into the light and transformed
Nearly 15 years have passed since I hung up my headphones. But even as I look at the records around me and all that has passed by in the river of life, I have come to realize the goodness and beauty of God working.
I see how he created us in his image with the ability to bring forth an idea – transforming music in someone’s head into music that somehow connects to the hearts of others. Then, stories, memories and lives are given a soundtrack. This is a thing of goodness, a reflection of the creative nature infused into the human creature by his Creator. Whether you are the producer, the DJ, the raver or the gal on a jog – we are listening to art that has in some way contributed to our lives. Sometimes silence is beautiful and good. Other times, we bring forth music and song into our little worlds. I mean, imagine a world without music? Given, not all music is good, beneficial or life-giving. Some music (if you want to call it music) brings out the worst in people. Perhaps we need to stop listening to that kind of music and play a new song.
As I sit in my home office, I am surrounded by music that connects with the old raver, the old man – the DJ. I see it all through new redeemed eyes and a new heart. I hear the music without even playing it. I close my eyes and see the gift-nature of it all – even as it is distorted in this broken world. I see the old friends and the times we shared. The fact that I had the privilege to entertain, meet and know so many incredible people in my many lives is deeply moving, particularly as I get older. As the memories fade as one song ends, I pray for those faces – many who I can’t even remember their names. I put that memory on the shelf…. and in true DJ fashion, I reach for the next memory dust it off and play the music in my head..
We can see the qualities of God’s beauty and goodness that He has lovingly infused into His image-bearers in the domain of human experience. This is the truth. Take it from a redeemed raver peering into the past with redeemed eyes – reaching for the next memory – just one more time before the night is over.
My wife recently shared with me a story about two college-age guys who shared the Gospel at a rave in Tennessee. Over 400 rave-goers placed their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and most are being discipled today. That is an extraordinary story of faith and how God even pursues ravers at raves. It is interesting to think that even in my dark days as a DJ, He was working to redeem and restore one who would become a pastor – from death to life. When I hear about the guys in Tennessee, if brought back memories and inspired the story above.
For those interested in listening to some of the music I was playing back then. Below is a link to a compilation album I released for Proton Radio in 2004 entitled “The Sound” (named after my radio show on 93.3FM in Austin and ProtonRadio.com)
(Feel free to share your thoughts and comment below)