Oct 1, 2010

Save Blue Like Jazz

I can point to several authors who influenced my Christian faith: CS Lewis, NT Wright, Henri Nouwen and Walter Wangerin Jr., to name a few. There are fewer authors that influenced me as a writer. But I can only think of two authors who influenced me as a writer of faith: Anne Lamott and Donald Miller; specifically, Traveling Mercies and Blue Like Jazz.

By 2004, my spiritual and professional life had hit the skids. The only job I could get was working at a church office. (God sure has a sense of humor). It wasn’t a bad job, actually. My bosses were cool, and my pastor let me come into his office at lunchtime and vent my frustrations and doubt. He’d nod and say, “Yeah, I know what you mean.” He loaned me several books that encouraged my faith. Not happy titles, mind you: Dark Night Of the Soul by St John of the Cross, Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb, and A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. The latter title sounds positive, but it’s written by a man whose wife, mother and daughter were killed by a drunk driver. The book is great. Read it.

But it wasn’t my pastor who told me about Blue Like Jazz. It was this random artsy guy who stopped in to visit the seminary intern working at the office. You know these young, artsy guys. They dabble in creative pursuits. They have their whole lives ahead of them and think the answers all their questions will be Yes and Amen. “Get back to me in ten years,” I want to tell them.

So this artsy guy was sitting across from my desk, raving about some über hip writer who had defined faith for his generation. “Blue Like Jazz,” he said and tapped on my desk. That’s all he said: “Blue Like Jazz. Read it.” And then he and the seminary intern went off to smoke cigars.

Two weeks later our pastor brought in an entire box of Blue Like Jazz and gave me a copy. It was like he was daring me to read it. I took it home, ready to pick it apart with my cynical, artistically mature eye. I didn’t want some young hipster dilettante telling me what my life was like.

Then I read the intro. I had to admit his analogy was creative: God was like jazz because neither resolved. He had a way with words. I read the first couple of chapters and had to admit he made some great points. When he said that going to a big church “was like going to church at the Gap” I laughed out loud. When he wrote about the confessional booth, I cried. Blue Like Jazz was better than Random Artsy Guy had said. It was terrific, and Don Miller became my hero.

When I sat down to write my own book, I thought of Blue Like Jazz and Traveling Mercies. Those books gave me permission to write honestly, and provided a yardstick with which to measure my own work.

Six years have passed. I’ve had the privilege to meet Don and get to know him.  He's not some über hip artsy dilettante. He's a funny, talented, generous guy.  I got to tour with him last fall. (God really has a sense of humor).

For the past two years, Don and Steve Taylor have been trying to make a movie based on the book. I read the screenplay, and it’s great. But they’ve run into problems with financing. And after two years they have finally given up.

So, how come this insanely popular book can’t get made into a low budget movie? Money. Basically, the guys who have the money to make the movie aren’t from the same generation as those who’ll go see the movie. The money guys probably like going to church at the Gap. They don’t cuss or smoke (at least, not in public). The movie has a little cussing and smoking, and the Money Guys can’t get around that. Now in Hollywood, old guys fund young-guy films all the time. Who do you think funded Superbad? Not Michael Cera’s friends. But in faith-based filmmaking, they can’t bridge the gap.

On September 16, Don announced on his blog that the movie was being shelved. In Hollywood they say it “went away,” because no one likes to say “over.” But the film was over.

Or was it? Two crazy young guys got an idea: get the kids who love the book to come up with the $125,000 still needed to make the movie. It was like Michael Cera’s friends decided to pass the hat. Here’s the video they made:

Save Blue Like Jazz from Save Blue Like Jazz

Maybe you're thinking: “Why should I donate? I’m an old white guy. I like wearing Dockers to church.” Or, "I'm a young white guy and the movie will ruin the book for me." Or, "I'm poor, I don't have a buck to spare." Well I’m an old white chick. I go to an old musty church with incense and choir robes. But if we are going to show how Jesus matters to another generation, we need to speak that generation’s language. Young twenty-something hipsters won’t respond to the things I respond to. But they’re going to respond to the way Jesus and faith are presented in this movie, because it’s written for them.

Do you have a child or a friend who doesn't "get" your faith? If you could make Jesus come alive to him or her, would you spend ten bucks to do it? Then do it.

I’m that random artsy guy tapping on your desk.
"Blue Like Jazz. Fund it."

Check out the Save Blue Like Jazz website.


Jeff Goins said...

Thanks for getting the word out, Susan!

Simone Says... said...

i don't drink or smoke, but i cuss - a lot. i'll check out the video and pray for some willingness to be generous. also, this book is on my list. cannot wait to read. thanks for sharing.

Susan Isaacs said...

You will LOVE Blue Like Jazz, the book and the movie. It changed the whole game for readers and writers. His latest, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years is even better in some ways. Oh and I cuss A LOT so I am really looking forward to the movie. ;)

EmilyAdele said...

Susan, thanks for this post sharing your personal story and encouragement to save BLJ:The Movie! Even though I had already posted a direct link to the site on my FB page a few days ago, I just posted this for any friends who need some reminding.

Audra Krell said...

I found your post on another blog and came over. May I repost on my blog?

dave said...

Hi Susan,

I made my donation! Really hoping this film gets made and gets seen by lots of people.

Although, I kind of hope they leave out some of the stuff about jazz. As a jazz saxophonist I can tell you that the "not resolving" analogy might be a good one, but it's also a false one. Jazz most certainly resolves. In fact, while getting my jazz studies degree I had to spend a lot of time studying very specific types of resolutions in jazz! (And as a side note - jazz is also 99 percent of the time NOT a "free-form expression," contrary to what Don says in the book. Jazz usually has very specific forms that it utilizes.)

Probably seems silly and nit-picky to some, but there's no reason to annoy a bunch of jazz musicians by making a great movie (or book) but including false statements about jazz. (Especially when you're getting so much play out of the word "jazz" itself!)

Regardless, go Blue Like Jazz!


p.s. I do feel a little vindicated that when I went to see you and Don speak in NYC, I got Don to sign my copy of "A Million Miles..." with "I admit it. Jazz does resolve!" :)

Susan Isaacs said...

Hey Dave: Thanks so much for donating. I think they're going to make their goal, BEFORE the month deadline. Isn't that terrific? REALLY? Don signed your copy of blue like jazz with that admission? I LOVE IT! Maybe Jazz does resolve. It takes a long time to do it. But then that's probably the case with all good classical music too. Anyway thanks for supporting the movie.

Claudia said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Susan. I'd been meaning to read BLJ for a while, then read it a few weeks ago LOVED it - could not put it down. Afterwards, I went straight to amazon and ordered 'a million miles in a thousand years', and read that as soon as it arrived, which was last Wednesday. Wow, what an amazing book that was, too. Finished reading that book very excited about seeing the movie, so I've just donated - thanks so much for the heads up.

ps in A M M I A T Y, I saw that he quoted you, and thought " I read her blog, and my friend Lori knows her in real life! That means I'm only two degrees of separation away from Don Miller!" I nearly fainted from happiness.

Susan Isaacs said...

Claudia! So glad you liked BLJ and AMMTY. Weren't they terrific? I didn't think Don could top Blue, but AMMTY was so profound. THANK YOU for donating to the movie. To think the film WASN'T going to happen, and then a massive grass roots support came up and the fans are MAKING IT HAPPEN. I forgot you knew Lori. Which means you know the spectacular Abe. I miss that kid. Hate that they live 1800 miles away ....

Claudia said...

Profound is indeed the word.

(And sadly I only know Lori on the internet - hi Lori, if you're reading! So sadly have never met the spectacular Abe in real life either - hopefully one day!)

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Liz Babbs said...

Hi Susan, I love Blue Like Jazz and his latest book. I donated today and became an Associate Producer! So your walk on part is secured!

Love your book, too and your performance work. I'm a British author and performer and we have the same agent!

All the best with putting your solo show together. The clips give a great taster.
Liz Babbs

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