In Conversation with Steve Bell, Part II

Covered With Slime and Lost in Astonished Wonder

Steve Bell is a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. After years of working with other artists, in 1989 he experienced a spiritual awakening that lead to the creation of his own label?Signpost Music?for which he recorded fifteen solo albums.

He’s now marking the 25th anniversary of Signpost with a multi-disk recording project, Pilgrimage (partially funded by Kickstarter), and a tour of Canada. A feature-length documentary is now being made about his life and career. He’s won many awards, including two Junos. Recently he took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about his experiences and how music relates to spirituality. (See the first part of this interview here.)

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
– Kurt Vonnegut

What was the most mesmerizing musical experience of your life?
Gah! So many experiences. The first that comes to mind was an Andre Crouch concert at Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg in the early ?70s. I found the energy, synergy, musicality, and ecstasy of that concert almost too much to take in. I can feel it still.

Has anything funny or strange happened to you on stage, on tour, or in the studio?
I was once on the road with a gospel band (late ?70s) and billeted out to a farmer’s home to sleep for the night. The next day was my 18th birthday, but I hadn’t told anyone. At the time, we’d been on the road rather relentlessly and I was exhausted and lonely for home. I remember falling asleep that night, dreading the following day.

At about 6:00 a.m. the farmer came bursting into my room saying that one of his cows was birthing and in terrible distress and that he needed my help immediately. I stumbled, half asleep, and rather alarmed, to the barn to help deliver a calf. I emerged about 45 minutes later, into the crisp fall air, covered with slime and lost in astonished wonder. It was one of the best days of my life.

Why did you call this project “Pilgrimage?”
I’m at the point of life now where I’m looking back as much as I’m looking forward. Although I haven’t always been very deliberate about it, it is evident that I’ve been on a life-long pilgrimage and this would be a good time to pause and reflect on it. Who knows how much is left of the journey, but I hope to learn to attend more deeply to each “thin place” along the way.

Did seeing the documentary about you give you pause to reflect on any aspects of your life and work?
Mostly I felt a deep gratitude. One hopes, above all, not to be just taking up space on the planet. There was a moment, while watching it for the first time, when I felt deeply that this work has mattered and still matters. It makes me want to take it all a lot more seriously.

How would you describe your experience of raising money for your recording project with Kickstarter?
I fully expected folks would help out but was astonished to the degree to which they did. In an age in which artists are lamenting the lack of support for the arts, what is evident is that folks will support the arts if they deem the work to have social value. The recent collapse of music as a commercial industry is forcing artists to, once again, serve the community with their craft. I think this is good.

How has your spirituality affected your work?
I’m not so sure that spirituality affects the work as much as it is the work. Spirituality, Christian or otherwise, is about connecting. “Religion” comes from “re-ligament.” For Christians, this is particularly significant, as we understand God’s very nature to be, in itself, communion.

The work of connecting various tones and spaces, silences and amplitudes into a harmonious whole, is to tap into, and give witness to, the dynamic, Trinitarian mutuality of God.

It’s amazing work when you think about it.

(to be continued)

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.