This was a paper I wrote last month for my English class. The assignment was to pick and write from a list of college essay prompts, and I chose one that involved describing a work of art that changed your life.
“The Foreman Who Built My Career”
October 6th, 2012
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a music lover, through and through. My interests in the creative arts began at early childhood, and through my life have included film, poetry, and even acting. However, the most prominent passion in my life has become music, and while it was always a constant interest to some degree, it has grown over time to be an all-consuming (not to mention critical) part of my life. Somewhere between the home-movie-making days of my late adolescence and today, it clicked in my head that music was truly my passion, rather than film. I attribute a great deal of this mental shift to the works of musician Jon Foreman.
Jon Foreman is the lead singer and primary songwriter of the alternative rock band Switchfoot. Jon formed the band with his brother, Tim, and their mutual friend, Chad Butler, in 1996. Their style of alternative rock, mixed with their introspective lyrics, caught the attention of music industry legend Charlie Peacock, who soon signed them to his independent Christian record label. While the band never “preached” in their lyrics, the Christian faith that all three members shared influenced their early work such that they were marketable enough to be played on Contemporary Christian radio, but didn’t label themselves a “Christian band”. After their music was featured in the hit Mandy Moore flick, “A Walk to Remember”, the trio was signed to Columbia Records (owned by Sony BMG). Their first major label album, “The Beautiful Letdown”, was met with much critical success in 2004, with hits “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” topping not only Christian charts, but also the mainstream radio charts.
This is around the time when I first became aware of Jon Foreman’s work. I was raised in a Christian home, and the family car was always tuned to our local CCM Radio station. We moved to Rochester, NY in 2004 and even at nine years old, I remember growing tired of the CCM station in town very quickly after. This station would play the same 10 songs for months on end, rarely adding a song to their repertoire. When “Dare You to Move” first aired on the local Christian station, it was the only new song I’d heard in a while, and it had a fresh quality to the instrumentation and lyrics that appealed to me. When I began exploring the band’s other music over the next couple of years, I began to fall in love with Foreman’s writing. The lyrics that Jon crafted, from the first indie record up to their most recent major label releases, had a not only an unmistakable introspective voice that I had never heard in a band before, but a poetic quality that gripped me.
Foreman had me captivated by this art of songwriting, and had me dying to know what this craft was all about. The subject matter of his songs was extremely mature, exploring the human condition, and questioning his own motives in the wake of adversity. This made his songs truly universal; anyone could relate to them on some level, just by their nature. I also felt a connection, because of his perspective. Foreman was a Christian, like myself, but he was striving to make music that expressed life from his own lens, but didn’t preach at others who didn’t share his beliefs. This was the type of music I could be passionate about creating. I never saw myself wanting to entertain Christians specifically, but I wanted to create songs like Jon’s, that reached everyone, but maintained my own vantage point through my faith. By the time I turned 13, I was picking apart every song Foreman had ever laid his hands on, which led me to his much more intimate solo works.
Jon Foreman’s solo works truly crafted the songwriting that is now a crucial part of my life. I first began to study structural concepts that I noticed in his songs. These were ideas that I later learned the names of (such as a “hook”), but I just listened to the music and picked them up myself. His lyrics taught me even more. I learned about different rhyming patterns, as well as how vulnerability in lyrics makes a song great. I learned about many moral and ethical concepts that I couldn’t even begin to list (as this would take all year), and Jon’s thoughts-turned-symphonies crafted my young mind.
Truly studying these lyrics gave me a clear and honest picture of who Foreman was as a person, and I looked up to him with a great deal of respect and student-like awe. Reading interviews and other articles online, I learned that Foreman was constantly writing, so I began carrying a notebook around with me, jotting down many lines and verses throughout my day (a practice I still follow today). I read a quote of his that explained how he views Christianity as a faith, and therefore, didn’t like calling it a genre. Other quotes were introspective, like his lyrics, and many shaped my thinking in a critical time of my mental development.
By the fall of 2009, I had a Switchfoot fever. The band was playing a free show at the New York State Fair, only a short distance away, and was due to release a new album, “Hello Hurricane”, one month later. While waiting in my front row seat all day at the Fair, I made a little paper sign, asking to drum with the band. I drew a tambourine on it, because I had heard of other bands letting kids come up to play tambourine (or something similarly non-intrusive) during live shows. My mind was blown when Jon Foreman, mid-show, pulled me up on stage and asked me what song I wanted to man the drum kit on. Long story short, I was speechless, and played a song with the band, in front of hundreds of people. This moment made me feel valued as a musician.
When “Hello Hurricane” was released, a DVD was released; featuring a documentary about the journey Switchfoot experienced making the album. Over the course of this journey, the band had left their label, built their own studio, and recorded this album independently. I couldn’t believe it. This new masterpiece, which I had already declared one of my favorite albums ever, had been created without a record contract! I was inspired to work hard to make the dream I had, to record a “real” CD, a reality. Long story short, I released that CD three years later, with not only the recording process, but also the lyrics and musical content, truly Foreman-inspired.
The bigger picture came into play during the process of creating that record. I discovered my prospective career; audio engineering and producing. In a strange sort of way, Jon Foreman, by being himself and honestly expressing himself using his musical talents, literally inspired my entire future career. This is the part where I should say, “It’s too bad he may never know what an impact he’s made on me.” I would, too, but last week, after a Switchfoot concert in Syracuse, I looked Jon Foreman himself in the eyes, told him this story, and then handed him a copy of my own recording project.