Fire Flew From His Fingertips — Another CDB Exegesis


In the arena of contemporary music, a lot of fluff exists.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of songs recorded in the last 75 or so years that serve no purpose beyond mindless entertainment.

But then, there are the songs with depth, the songs that mean something, the songs that beg to be analyzed and discussed.

Songs like “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

I would hope you’re familiar with this American classic. But, if you’re not, you should be. Take this moment to listen to the video below. I’ll wait.

OK, welcome back. Don’t you feel better now?

I’ve read any number of good analyses of the song, like this post looking at the silliness of the bet and disputing the outcome. Or this one that, at greater length, reviews the performances of the two competitors, and also concludes that the devil won.

I’ve dipped my toe into those waters before myself, in a post in which I argued that the golden fiddle was just a loss leader to win more souls.

But I had the song stuck in my head the other day, and had a different thought.

Maybe the point wasn’t really about the bet at all. Maybe the song is really all about artisanship, about integrity.

Because it’s true — it’s hard to make a case that Johnny’s overall performance was indisputably that much better than the devil’s. I mean, really, enough that THE DEVIL, lord of evil, would just say, without contest, without any other judge, that Johnny had won? It’s hard to buy.

Maybe the devil was just his own harshest critic. He clearly took his fiddle playing seriously and was proud of his skill. Maybe, in that contest, he realized he wasn’t where he wanted to be with his playing. Maybe he’d gotten complacent. The overall performance was great, to be sure, but maybe Satan realized he’d become too dependent on his band of demons. No doubt they were a great combo at hell banquets, but the contest was supposed to be purely about the one-on-one fiddle playing, and the devil’s calling in his session musicians. That’s fine if it’s about the musical end result, but if it’s supposed to be about pure fiddle-playing virtuoso skills, it’s crap.

Maybe the devil gave Johnny the golden fiddle because he was disappointed in himself. I hope that after the song ended, the devil went back to hell, rosined up his bow, and started practicing again, playing purely for the love of the instrument, getting his skills back where he knew they should be.

And, after all, after that, you never hear about anyone else beating the devil in a fiddle contest.*


*Ignoring the, to me, non-canonical “The Devil Comes Back To Georgia,” which doesn’t really say what happened in the end anyway. The video is kind of awesome, though.

Review — “The Voice” Bible


A while back I wrote a review about how much I loved the “The Voice” translation of the New Testament, so when Booksneeze offered me a free review copy of the now-completed full “The Voice” Bible, I was incredibly excited.

Since I first got The Voice New Testament, it has become my primary versions of those books. When we’ve been reading the epistles in my Sunday School class, I read out of The Voice. An almost-seamless combination of a word-for-word and a thought-for-thought translation, I have never encountered a Bible that does a better job of making the scriptures readable to a modern audience while still maintaining a feeling of literal authenticity. Making The Voice even more amazing is that it not only does an unparalleled job of making the language contemporary, it does while also doing an unparalleled job of working into the text the historic context in which the scriptures would have originally been read. This Bible is very possibly the closest a lay person can come to what it would have been like to read the canon when it was first closed — in contemporary language and with an understanding of the cultural context.

Since I first started reading The Voice New Testament, I couldn’t wait to read the full version. While The Voice does an excellent job of making the epistles more easily accessible, in my opinion, its greatest strength is in how it presents the narrative portions of scripture. While that means the gospels seem newly fresh, narrative storytelling is a minority of the New Testament. It’s far more prevalent in the Old Testament; and this new complete version of the Bible really demonstrates the advantages of The Voice. As with any new translation, deviations from familiar language may be jarring — “In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below. Here’s what happened:” But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — there’s a great benefit to being stripped of knowing the words and having to start actually hearing them and thinking about them again.

And The Voice is a great place to start doing that.

The Voice at Booksneeze.com

“One Day, Down In Alabama”


“Early evening, April 4, shot rang out in the Memphis sky …”

I was working as a substitute in a middle school one day in February, and the teacher, it being during Black History Month, had left an assignment for her students to read excerpts from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

The students, as students tend to do, were becoming more interested in talking to each other than in doing the assignment, so I asked if they would like me to read it to them.

I am, I should note, a decent reader.

They were enthralled. They’d probably never actually heard a recording of the speech, and you can tell that having the words actually come alive, actually be a speech, instead of just another reading assignment, let them feel the power and emotion of King’s words.

Unfortunately, their reaction caused me to get a little overconfident.

The excerpts in the book were good, but it left out some parts that I felt were worth including — the “Free at last” part, for example, and the titular “I have a dream” parts, particularly the “one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers” section.

So for the next period, I offered to read again, but this time, instead of reading the excerpts in their book, I looked up the full text online.

This was, arguably, a mistake.

I was able to keep the students enthralled with the excerpts, but the full speech proved to be too long for their attention span, and I had to balance trying to maintain discipline without losing the flow of the speech.

And, I’ll admit, at one point, it made me sad. I’m reading this historic speech to a very predominately African American classroom of students, and I’m having to deal with, for example, one student taking off his shoe and making another smell it as I’m trying to read. And it just seemed — disrespectful. Not to me, but to King, and his followers and peers who changed the nation. Show him the courtesy of listening to the words that helped change your life, you know?

But, then I wondered — what would he have thought? How would King have reacted to see African American students so disinterested in his fight? To be acting out in that way instead?

And, really, part of me wonders if maybe, just maybe, the fact that 49 years after he gave the speech it could be so taken for granted would bring him a little happiness. That maybe, just maybe, that’s kind of what he was trying to accomplish.

Brilliant Words for the New Year


“What About When Buildings Fall …”


I had planned to write my remembrances of 10 years ago today. But my memories don’t matter. It wasn’t about me. My experiences were only those of one American that day, and the important thing is not what we as individuals experienced, but we as a nation. That one day, we were one.

The Best of Huntsville, Alabama


My Huntsville picture post the other day was part of a blog carnival by local bloggers, titled “The Best of Huntsville, Alabama.” Go check it out!

Spacecraft Past, Spacecraft Future


So about two weeks ago, I went and gave a talk in Decatur. And it was fun.

The Friends of the Library group for the Decatur Public Library invited me to come talk about my book, Homesteading Space. Which, in large part, I did. However, I gave the short version of the Homesteading lecture that I put together when I spoke at the International Space Developers Conference earlier this year, and which turned out not to be all that short.

It was short enough, however, that I was able to use the audience as guinea pigs to update my talk a bit, jumping forward 40 years from Skylab to talk about the current and future state of human space exploration. As a member of the policy committee of the National Space Society, and just as someone who is passionate about spaceflight, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the topic of “now what,” and I now have a bit more freedom to discuss that openly than I have before.

What surprised me was how much fun it was. In retrospect, I just don’t have as many opportunities to have in-depth discussions about space as I used to, and I think I’m in a bit of withdrawal. I hadn’t been having a terribly good day, to be honest, before the talk, but I was in a great mood by the time I finished it. I’d gotten my fix.

Point of all of this being, I’ll be doing it again on Saturday at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s Davidson Center at 1 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and I’ll have a few copies of the book to sign. And this time, I’ve actually practiced the new part of the talk, so it should be even better.

Join me, won’t you?