Spray-painting the Vischer-mobile

A suspiciously raised eyebrow from the teenage cashier at the local Walmart was enough to clue my wife, JoAnna, and I in on the fact that it was not normal for customers above the age of 18 to saunter down the check out lane with six cans of brightly colored spray-paint. The solid neon tops of each can seemed to yell out, “Meet us under the bridge in a half hour! We’ll be making protest ‘art!'” Well, art is in the eye of the beholder, but for me and my band, it was picture day!

So, what do you do for picture props when the budget is tight? Of course! You buy some spray paint and de-boring-ize your old grey car! Duh… At least that’s what we did. We made “Old Silver” look like Rainbow Bright and the Teletubbies were in charge of pimpin’ out the exterior of my old Buick.

Am I happy with it? If happiness is measured by smiles, laughter, and hippies hanging out of their windows saying, “Awesome Car, Dude!” then yeah, I’m happy. Let’s be honest, to every 60’s and 70’s hippie has-been, who now drives a mini-van full of grandchildren, my car is heroic. They love the “psychadelic colors” and “haven’t seen something like it for years!” I wonder why.

Every morning, when I walk out to my car, I still laugh at how ridiculously legit it looks, and every time I drive down the road, I’m super entertained by the shocked grins and finger-pointing of other drivers and their passengers. My car is like a 90 year old man sporting a neon pink speedo. It says, “World, I know I’m old, but I wear my age with pride. Check out my wrinkles… and rust!”

Back in ’89, my Grandpa Kowalik bought Old Silver with cash. He paid cash for everything. Since then, he passed away, and three or four years ago, my Aunt Jeane and Uncle Dave sold it to me for 75 bucks in an effort to help me stay out of debt. It still runs like a charm. When my aunt and uncle saw its new look for the first time last weekend, you should have seen their faces. They both laughed out loud with my uncle blurting out, “Grandpa would roll over in his grave if he saw this!”

Well, I’m not so sure. He was a risk taker too. My grandpa left the Ukraine (a country in eastern Europe) and immigrated to the United States when he was still a teenager. He was the first graduate of Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he never went into debt. He worked at different jobs, pastored a church, and early on, he traveled to different churches to sing and preach. He fell in love with my grandma partly because she was a good piano player, and he told God, that he “needed a piano player” to be his wife.

As I’ve thought about how he would react to the paint job, I’ve determined that he’d love it. Maybe he wouldn’t love the color combinations or the choice of design, but I’m convinced he’d love what it represents. It represents a new era of my life. I’m no longer trying to make it in pop music. Yes, I’m still writing love songs. Yes, I’m still going to make cd’s from those songs, but those are more like “all these other things.” The focus of my music career has changed. I’m seeking first to build God’s kingdom with my music.

It’s all ministry from here. On stage or in interviews, I’m no longer going to tip toe around the fact that I’m a Christian. I’m no longer going to believe the lie that I’ll be pigeonholed if I tell people that I hear God speak. The thrust and focus for all of my music from now on is worship.

How does my brightly colored graffiti mobile represent that?

A couple weeks ago, I quit my job (with my wife’s supportive approval) again to do music. But this time, it’s different. This time I’m doing worship music.

The band pictures that were snapped of Jo, Allie, Ben, and I were promotional shots that we’ll use to send to youth groups, camps, and churches. We’re moving forward with plans to travel with different evangelists and speakers. We’re also working on refining 10 songs from worshipsongweekly.com for a new worship album.

We’re primarily a worship band now, and we’re using every ounce of our creativity and resources, including my car, to worship God.

I think that’s something Grandpa would be proud of. (And Grandma too, I hope…)

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Full-time Side Jobs?

Unless Apple invents an app that adds six hours to every day, or unless you happen to be a crossbreed between human and energizer bunny, for mere mortals, no full-time side jobs will ever exist. My make-believe “I can do everything at once bubble” once again popped in spectacular fashion this week as I realized that any full-time job- 40 hours and up- is going to bite a stupendous amount of time out of a seven day week, leaving my music career with only the crumbs that fall off the timetables and schedules of my life.

To be perfectly honest, my new job is great! I work with 14-17 year old guys in a group home type setting for rehabilitation. It’s challenging, rewarding, and is centered around relationships. The only issue? It’s not music.

I have what some musicians call “the curse” or “the itch.” It’s this unexplainable draw that keeps singers singing and performers performing even if it drives them to poverty. Fortunately, it’s not just music’s addictive nature that demands my attention. I love songwriting because at the age of 16, God said, “You’re a songwriter,’ so for me, it’s a call I can’t ignore. I literally desire to write songs during most of my waking hours.

Over the last year, I’ve been bombarded by people asking me to be a part of this sales company or that multi-level marketing scheme or this business or that get-rich-quick opportunity. Most of them promise things like, “You can do this for a couple years and your music career will be funded for life!” or “Just do this as a side job… Then you can fund your music career.” The problem? If I need something else to fund my music career, music’s not really a career. It’s a hobby. I’m not satisfied with music as a hobby. It’s not something I was meant to tinker with on my time off. It’s the blood boiling culprit that keeps me up until 3 a.m. poring over a single line of lyrics when I have to get up in two hours for work. It’s the reason I’m randomly late for appointments because I lost track of time while sitting on a chair for 10 hours humming melodies into my iphone.

I’m not obsessive about music. I’m not driven. I’m just asking God to steer my passion for songwriting onto a collision course with opportunities that will provide a good income for me and my soon-to-be wife. That’s all I’m asking. No more side jobs, God. You’ve given me the desire. Now I need a full-time job, a full-time job in music and songwriting.

What About Eloping?

“Elope” is a word that conjures mental neon flashes of romantic teenage foolishness, premature pregnancy, and Elvis-style Vegas Weddings. As a middle-schooler I always used to imagine an antelope bounding through the grassy western plains of my imagination every time I heard an adult throw that taboo grouping of letters around. “Elope.” It rolled off the tongues of most of my elders with a slippery mix of amusement and distain. Tales of those who had eloped were often dramatically intriguing and filled with familial objections. Both sets of parents vehemently opposed the marriage while two young lovers knew they were “meant to live happily ever after.”

Why am I rambling about this one little molecule of language? Simple answer. I’m helping my fiancee’ plan our wedding. Regardless of what I used to think of eloping, its seduction continues to look more and more attractive. Who knew when you ask a girl to marry you, the cost of the ring doesn’t even accurately foreshadow the cost of the wedding. Whether parents chip in or not, I keep thinking to myself, “All of this money would be ours if only we would…” Yes, that once taboo yet glitzy word now sparkles like a little bit of problem-solving magic.

No. My fiancee’ JoAnna and I don’t plan on making a last second dash for the courthouse. And too much money has been doled out to justify slipping off the suits and white dress to head to Vegas. But I have thought about it. As April 14 sneaks up on us like a highly trained ninja, the suspense mounts. There’s bridal showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties, invitations to send, marriage counseling, reception plans, a music playlist to pick, flowers to approve, vows to write, and a host of other things I never think about when attending someone else’s special day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. I’m not complaining. You should see the help we’re getting. By ourselves this would be a catastrophic mess. But we do have moms, sisters, aunts, friends, cousins, groomsmen, bridesmaids, and Grandmas. You notice there weren’t many categories associated with the male gender in that list? Yeah, I understand why. JoAnna said that she wouldn’t have many preferences with the wedding. I no longer pretend to understand how she defines “many,” because she definitely has preferences.

And I digress. The rabbit trails of wedding planning have transformed into an endless maze with continual surprises and “oh, I never thought of that’s.” I’m eternally grateful that JoAnna’s parents didn’t raise her to be a tear-jerked bride-zilla, because every new detail offers her the opportunity to be a smalltown version of Narnia’s White Witch.

Yet she’s very gracious even in her tears. She’s definitely the kind of girl I’ve always dreamed of strolling down the aisle toward me on my wedding day. Don’t fault me for beginning to imagine that the aisle is in a courthouse or a Vegas chapel. It’ll never happen. The wedding’s too close, and besides, we don’t have the money to fly to Vegas. I checked.

Our wedding: April 14, 2012 3:30 pm
Reception: 7:00 pm
Location: Somewhere in Ohio south of Cleveland

We’ll be sending out invites in the next week.

Oversold & Underpaid

The title of this blog reminds me of a steel guitar-twanged country song about expecting too much and getting too little in return. And that’s exactly the mood this small fraction of the blogosphere is bound to wreak with.

Recently I found myself in a hole- a cellphone dead zone. I could still chit chat with my friends and relatives at any time without interruption, but the data plan Verizon boasted swam throught the airwaves like a paraplegic version of Michael Phelps- and that wasn’t winning any gold medals for my customer satisfaction. So, I researched and then switched to AT&T. To Verizon’s credit, a technical support agent quickly agreed to nix my legally binding two-year agreement and ended the conversation with, “If you’re ever in a better coverage area, we hope you come back.”

Happy ending? I think not. That’s where AT&T comes into the picture. My hours of research, window shopping, and sales talks led me to the conclusion that my new cradle of residence would be rocked by AT&T’s 3G data network. Not so, my friends. Once I unwrapped my pristine Iphone 4S and began flipping through Google searches, it only wrangled in a slightly faster signal than my old Verizon Iphone 4. Pissed doesn’t relay the accuracy of what I felt. More like, extreme disappointment and frustration. I threw at least 10 hours in the trash by calling AT&T stores, tracking down information, and ultimately driving a half hour away to grab my new prize of an iphone in Huntington, IN.

Let me be fair. Every employee at AT&T was extremely helpful, but the bogus data map still annoys me. On the coverage map my address looks like it’s in the epicenter of a 3G earthquake. Instead, my reception barely receives aftershocks. Will I stick with AT&T for two years? Probably. Out of necessity mostly. Will I go back to AT&T after my contract is up and there’s a Verizon Iphone 6 on the horizon. Not a chance. As long as Verizon is in the air, I’ll always remember their technical support guy who let me off the hook without a charge and said, “If you’re ever in a better coverage area, we hope you come back.” I will, Verizon. I will.

In the end, the companies that I’ll swim with are the ones who don’t oversell their product and underpay with their delivery. Treat your customers like you would want to be treated. It’s that easy. I know I terminated our first contract, Verizon. But in the words of another Terminator, let’s just say, “I’ll be back.” Thanks, Verizon!

Sugar Water

My junior and senior year in college marked my entrance into the world of zealous creativity and unfettered wordplay. I quit basketball, penned monstrously outrageous boy band parodies, and dived into an ocean of adage and slogan writing. I was a Communications major with an emphasis in Professional Writing and PR & Advertising.

One day in class as I lazily swiveled 30 degrees from left to right in my luxuriously padded rolly chair, I heard my teacher nonchalantly make a point that set off my conscience’s alarm like a smoke detector after I’ve burned the frozen pizza. “Advertising is about creating a need,” is all that she said, but in my world of black and whites, this grey area seemed a little too black. “Creating a need” was too close of a relative to lying for me to embrace it.

Since then I’ve rarely struggled with the ethics of advertising because I decided that despite my affection for catchy slogans and product lines, I would never work for an ad agency. Why? I never wanted to create a need for things that aren’t needed. It seems like a soul-killing endeavor for both the creators and consumers of full-page spreads and Super Bowl- style television spots.

Advertisers have effectively convinced many of us in recent years that we need the most asinine of products. Carbonated sugar water, credit cards, chia pets, the Abflex, alcoholic energy drinks, and 60 inch plasma televisions – just to name a few. Many of the products named promise fulfillment to our taste buds or to our out of control craving for entertainment. They definitely deliver some temporary satisfaction, but often leave us fatter and lazier than before.

I’m going somewhere with this, and it’s not the typical “the average American spends this ungodly amount of time in front of the tv” talk. Even though I agree with the sentiment behind those motivational speeches, I’ve rarely seen any real fruit grow in my own life as a result.

Instead of aiming the proverbial microscope at your life, let me place it over mine…

Why I stopped buying pre-ripped jeans:

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I was the college kid who strutted around campus sporting the factory-shredded jeans from American Eagle. After spending five too many years in “bro-mode,” I read an article about “buying the experience.” The brilliant piece shed light on the theory that the holey jeans fashion trend was born out of a desire to look like a “working man” without actually doing any hard work. Instead of purchasing life experience with blood, sweat, and tears, most young men and women were content to buy the counterfeit from a trendy store in the mall.

After reading the article and hearing songs like “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?,” I decided I’d rather be a cowboy than look like one.

Why I never sold sugar water:

After college, as I became more and more intrigued with Apple Products, I read a story about how Steve Jobs recruited one of the main guys at Pepsi to step over to Apple. His game-changing question went something like this: “Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water, or do you want to change the world?”

The man’s answer was a no brainer. To me, that story was like the ray of sunlight that finally makes a flower bloom. After reading up to the little black dot that signaled the article’s ending, I paused and thought, “I’ll only work for businesses and causes that better the world.”

These are only two examples of why I do what I do. Tonight, I don’t have time to explain all of the reasons for why I live how I live, but I can point to almost anything I do or don’t do and tell you why. I’m not issuing a challenge for you to agree with me. I’m simply inviting to shovel through the clutter and find the roots of your habits, your personality traits, and your character flaws. In the finite space of these paragraphs, I can only scratch the surface, but you have the opportunity dig the depths.

The point of my thoughtful rambling goes something like this: I don’t want you or I to wake up some day and find out that we’ve been selling sugar water.

God, Damn Religion

God, damn all these rules
God, damn all these lies
God, damn the monuments that keep you out of sight
Damn the wolf religions that wear a good disguise
That imitate a shepherd to herd us to a heist

God, damn the plastic beads we market as your pearl
Damn the twisted seeds we threw into the soil
Damn the moral codes that make us ornate caskets
And damn the lemming faith we follow without askin’

God, damn the fallacies we offer you as crutches
And damn the safety nets that shield us from your clutches
Damn the power games that sneak into the system
When we try to make ourselves the god of our religion

God, damn theologies that turn you into mammon
And damn prosperity that leads others into famine
Damn the dirty rags we hold up as your banner
Lead us to a kingdom where your love is all that matters

Copyright 2009 Robert Andrew Vischer

Goodbye, Jackson…

Hometowns are like magnets, and their populations like piles of familiar paperclips. This week, I did the impossible. I ventured out from my geographic center of gravity without any hoopla or ceremonial “farewell” parties.  The sincere eye to eye “good luck’s” and “God bless you’s,” followed by handshakes and firm anaconda squeezes said enough.

“Who says you can’t go home?” is the question posed by a popular Bon Jovi song. The answer? I say so – at least for now. I’m not leaving Jackson, MI behind. I’ll be back to visit friends and family maybe a little too frequently, and the hodge podge of generous faces that I met while selling my cd’s last year won’t be forgotten. But a few things are worth lamenting and celebrating with a nostalgic smile and a glazed over stare as floods of memories replace the objects my eyes randomly focus on. I’ll never again “visit” my parents in their big white farm house for a few months at a time. Most of the guys in my wedding will no longer live within a 15 minute maze of familiar streets. And I’ll never be able to use the currency of being a former local high school basketball star or the hometown boy.

I love Jackson, MI, but a few months ago, I told my soon-to-be best man Gabe that a substantial change would come with the harsh winter winds.  It involved a move. God told me in a prayer time. I didn’t know the details. I just knew I was moving.

Change usually isn’t a big deal to me. I quit a job to bike across America. I left for Martha’s Vineyard to write songs for three months. I rode to Kansas City last year before New Years without knowing how I’d get back. Over the last few years, I’ve left footprints on most of the states in the Union, but I never let Jackson slip from its “home base” status.

For those of you who never have visited Jackson, MI. It’s a city/town of about 60,000. 75% of Jacksonian teenagers complain that “there’s nothing to do on a Friday,” when really there’s two movie theatres, a plethora of restaurants, golf courses, a skate park, and a variety of other attractions. It’s the town where you can’t go to Applebee’s without spotting a friendly face from the present or the not too distant past. It’s a little nippy in the winter, like any Michigan city, but it’s a spectacular place to raise a family, even though some of it’s residents lovingly refer to it as “Prison City.” In short, it’s a small town with a lot of people who think they’re “big city” folks- kinda like any “not so metropolitan” city in America, and I love it.

Jackson, this year I need to pay tribute. I refuse to be the guy that forgets the place and the people that laid my life’s foundation. I’m not gonna wait until a national awards ceremony or a retirement party to go through my “thankyou list”… Next week, I’ll be starting a blog called Envelopes. In it, I’ll write about the somebodies who made or make a difference in my life.  I’m convinced that no matter how much I write, I’ll never get through this life-changing list, but I’ll try. I don’t care if everyone or no one reads the new blog. All I know is that I need to say, “Thankyou.”

To my friends and my family in Jackson- “I love you. I miss you.  And most importantly- Thankyou for investing in me. Come visit JoAnna and I at our sweet new trailer in Wabash, IN. And before then, we hope to see many of you at our wedding.”