Ian Cron: Michael, what inspired you to write The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse?
Michael Gungor: Interestingly what started it wasn’t necessary the full picture of where it ended up going. What started it was a blog post I wrote last November or October called “Zombies, Wine, and Christian Music” and it was just kind of a rant I wrote on an airplane and posted. I was not expecting to get any feedback on it really. And then all of a sudden in a couple days I had 60,000 hits and all these people emailing me and I was kind of like “what’s going on.” So it showed me there was obviously something in that poorly written rant that people want to talk about.
IC: What inspired you to write the blog post?
MG: Well I had just gotten off a tour with David Crowder Band and Chris August and others and we had been going around playing at all these pubs and bars and music venues and I noticed, now and then, that there was this weird Christian subculture thing that would creep into the room among the industry. Now everyone in the band is not afraid of having a drink or two, but when we were playing we would see the bar empty, but the show was sold out and I was thinking “there’s no way that not one of the 2,000 people in this room don’t want to have a drink right now,” but there’s this imaginary thing that says “we don’t drink because were Christians.”
IC: 60,000 hits are incredible. What did you write?
MG: Well I was trying to address what was going on underneath the drinking thing – like what’s making us pretend and have to act in a certain way. If these issues are kind of on the surface, what’s happening in the soil and tree that’s giving rise to this kind of fruit? So I just thought, I need to write a book about this because its something I had been thinking about it a lot. And it started kind of in my own little world with the Christian music industry thing, but then I just kept going with it and went broader and deeper into the soil and started to see that there are roots of it in our culture in general. The problem is not the fruit, it’s not like Christians need to do it better, or pop music needs to do it better, or anything else for that matter, I think the issues are coming from deeper down. We must tend the soil of our creative souls.
IC: Is the book a critique of the Christian music industry, or something more?
MG: Yeah, the book is not about the Christian industry, it’s more about my experience and I am trying to be subjective about my experience, but I believe there is something universal about some of these things. It’s not a Christian thing, I think it’s a human thing where were all trying to be loved and accepted in this world and to be happy and be fulfilled and make something meaningful while still trying to take care of and support our family. To me there’s a very uniting human truth under all of it. The book is called The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse because I think for all of us as creative individuals, regardless of what industry you are in, there are always going to be all kinds of things and people and voices that are competing for your attention and calling you this way and that way. And in a world that’s continually getting noisier and more complex, it’s hard to find your path sometimes and as a result, people end up getting pulled to and fro. But it’s important for human beings to find a better way and to learn how to navigate those voices, to listen, and to be aware of where you’re going, what path you want to follow, what kind of world you want to make, and how you want to order creation. Are we interested in pandering to some sort of industry just to make a few bucks, or is there a lot better deeper reason that we can create from and hope to aspire to?
IC: What’s the structure of the book?
MG: It’s split into three parts and it kind of moves down, down, down. It starts by talking about how we all order creation and how the work of our hands is kind of universal. And then it goes into talking about our culture and some of the main kind of roots of that tree and what I think plays a part in why our culture is the way it is - like capitalism, our worship of the celebrity, the noise of marketing, and all that. Even religion and how that influences people in our culture. And then in the third part I go even deeper into the deepest dimensional level asking why we as human people are the way we are, addressing the deeper soul issues that all of it springs from.
IC: Tell us about the critic, the crowd, and the muse.
MG: The crowd to me is kind of the culture. The crowd is one of the stops along the journey down to the soil. It is the voice of the masses and our society. I think our culture influences us far more than we even give credence to a lot of times. I like to think of myself as a creative individual with my own identity, but the reality is I don’t even have a language without my culture; I don’t even have a thought without the culture. So I think we would all do well to recognize that, on a lot of levels, we are products of our culture and the more we recognize that, the freer we become as creators to utilize what we want to utilize and to try to transcend and battle the things that need to be battled.
IC: So, the book encourages the reader to be more self-aware of the cultural forces that effect and mold us as human beings?
MG: Yeah, so that’s the crowd. And then there’s the critic and especially those more traditionally labeled as the creatives probably have some hypersensitivity to this category. It seems like most of the creatives I know put their work into the world and they are little babies and it’s a fragile little thing out there and the voice of the critic is an easy thing to attach our egos, self-worth, and joy to because we care about our work so much. So the critic is a powerful voice to us. What they think about our work and us moves us. In the book I make the argument that the voice of the critic can actually be helpful to us to kind of hewn ourselves. I remember as a young college student entering some of my music into a Christian songwriting competition and them telling me that it was trite and had odd key signatures and so on and some of that advice I was good to not listen to, but there was some of it that I needed to hear and that helped me. So the voice of the critic is helpful for us as creators, but it is also not trustworthy because more is always heard than is spoken. And the voice of the critic is untrustworthy; it is the voice of the preoccupied with their own issues and battles.
IC: It seems to me, as a writer, that the most powerful and persecutory critic of all is our internal critic. Is that your experience?
MG: To me the only reason the external voice has any power at all is because it echoes the internal voice. If I am critiqued for something that I am not already suspicious of or don’t really care about than I don’t have a problem, but if someone calls out the things that I’m afraid that I am, than that’s painful. So yeah, it really just goes to the question of “I’m I ok with who I am as a human being?” It comes down to letting go of some of the power of the voice of the critic whether that voice is coming from the inside or the outside.
IC: So how does someone get okay with themselves? Where are you on that journey?
MG: It’s certainly a lifelong pursuit to keep trying to love your neighbor as you love yourself. For me that is definitely not always easy, but letting go has become kind of the key. Letting go of the weight of those things – even letting go of some of my desires. In the book I talk about getting away and spending some time in Assisi, Italy. I had gotten to the point where I had just become so burnt out and disillusioned with what I was doing and who I was and what I was doing with my life. And it was interesting, while I was in Assisi; it was just a week in silence trying to let go and in that letting go, the questions didn’t really go away, I didn’t really have more clarity or answers in what I was supposed to be doing, but I was okay with the mystery of all that. I was just able to let go of the stress of not being able to control and understand all the mystery. And within that there is a bit of self-discovery and awareness that happens, which I know is a lifelong thing, because I can do that and spend a week in Assisi and then I come home and a week later I’m stressed out again. It’s a constant thing.
IC: How were you able to write a book while touring, and writing music at the same time? Where, when, how did you write this book given your other obligations?
MG: Yeah, you know, wherever we were – on buses, in hotel rooms, in my living room, in coffee shops, wherever. I think I had a lot of years of pent up things I wanted to say and frustration and you can only say so much through a song. It’s a lot different to try to make poetry than it is to just write out everything so I had it bubbling and just needed to spend the time getting it out. It was interesting though; it kind of tapped into a different part of my brain. Music usually comes more easily to me in the later hours, but I found that writing actually worked better in the earlier hours, which was a strange thing for me. But they are similar things - I mean its all creating, it’s taking raw elements and forming them into something else, you know, using our imagination and intention to make those raw elements into something new. So it was a similar thing to write a song or album, but then different at the same time.
IC: Do you have another book in your bones?
MG: Yeah, it’s not articulated yet, but I know that there are some things that I still want to address that didn’t fit into the logic of this book, a few rabbit trails. But yes I would like to write more in the future.