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Dan Steven: Press

By Brian Walsh, Christian Reformed Campus Chaplain, U of Toronto
In Christian Courier, October 16, 2000

Beggars and Kings, Dan Steven, artist
Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Douglas Romanow,
Trip the Light Productions, 2000 (now Fire Escape Recording)

Dan Steven’s debut CD, Beggars and Kings, is an immediately arresting, captivating and inviting piece of work. On the opening cut, “Heaven Hear Me,” Steven serves notice that this album will be musically compelling and lyrically powerful. I found myself immediately on my feet wanting to dance to the music, yet also leaning close to the stereo trying to catch every word. And on first listening, it became clear that this was a remarkable CD by a young man with a wisdom considerably beyond his years. And while the first song is indeed a prayer, the artist calls out for heaven to hear him precisely in the context of a world of exclusionary rules (“So tell me who made the rule/who made the rule/That’s gonna cast me out and call you the king/of cool”) and late modern unreality (“I’m not trying to set a trend/I’m only trying to find a friend/Who will take the chance of being real/in a world of Styrofoam”). To be real in a world of Styrofoam will require more of us than is usually on offer in the pop music served up in the Christian music scene. Dan Steven delivers.

Here is a Christian artist who engages his world deeply, has the kind of perception that characterizes good songwriting, and somehow finds a way to write powerful, evocative and poignant lyrics with a sense of humour. For example, the contagious tune to “A Tear for Civilization” (try to listen to this one without dancing!) carries us into a bathroom stall in a downtown mall where the artist has decided to stay until he has a complete song written. But the more he reflects on the world outside (“There’s a price tag on everything and/anything else/It’s impossible to try to have a spiritual self/Everybody else is always to blame/And this is totally me, being honesty real/And I’m wondering doesn’t anybody out there feel/A little disgusted for letting it get this far”), the less authentic becomes his “claustrophobic bathroom/contemplation.”

And authenticity is a hallmark of this album. From the poignant folk/rock tune, “Politician” ((“Politician, politician, why do you lie to me/Tell me, why is all the money so blood red”), to the clever and playful “The Sailor Song” (but I don’t have anything, anything much/so I’ll just have to settle for me”), to the deeply introspective song, “Individual” in which Steven abandons the loud verbosity of self-centred egoism only to confess that “Silence wins hands down,” this is an album that raises questions about honesty, reality and integrity.

Of course, such preoccupation with integrity can result (especially in younger artists) in an insufferable weightiness that is over the top. But Steven doesn’t take himself that seriously and the album is full of humour. For example, in the pathos filled so-long-baby-it’s-all-over break-up song, “To the Moon Alice” (and yes, that is a Jackie Gleason reference!) the artist sings, “And from the beginning I always knew I was just a/personal video game to you/and I’m sorry but it’s Pacman’s final stand.”

But such humour can also be used as the launching pad for some pretty heavy lyrics. I mean, where do you think a song is going if it’s opening lines are “pieces of mold, pieces of mold grow on my peanut/butter sandwich”? Well, in the almost anthem-like song, “Mold,” the artist begins with the relatively minor loss of control over the mold on his food but drives us beyond that to the very “back porch of insanity.” Indeed, this song is musically driven by some of the most powerful playing on the album into the very depths of this young man's struggles (“and I’m sorry for the inconvenience, i don’t mean to/shatter your perceptions again/such a burden infinitely, this grief i bear, that’s me/that’s me”).

The grief is real and it runs deep. A grief over one’s own brokenness and a grief over the insanity of the world in which we live. Yet & yet, there is a deeper joy and assurance that runs throughout this album. And that joyful assurance is in the face of nothing less than death.

Yes, that’s right, death. In fact, themes of death come up at different places throughout the album, but always in the context of resurrection hope. From the culturally apocalpytic song, “Silence in Jerusalem” to the deeply personal closing cut, “Dance at my Funeral,” this album is a celebration of life in the face of death. In the final song, Dan Steven is sure that “the sky’s gonna fall on us someday” and that “all our empty treachery will decay.” But he is equally convinced that when all this happens, “LOVE will remain.” And if that is true, then maybe we will indeed take up his invitation to dance at his funeral, because “Death’s nothing more than a doorway/A doorway home to the light,/By His Grace we’ll be there someday,” and “Until then, keep your torch burning bright.”

This album is a brightly burning torch from a remarkable young singer/songwriter supported by a wonderfully talented cast of musicians and a seasoned producer. Keep your ears open for Dan Steven and don’t miss an opportunity to hear him live.
Brian Walsh ... Review of Beggars and Kings - Christian Courier
By Brian Walsh
for Christian Courier
May 12, 2003

Dan Steven, Voices from God
Independent release of To the Moon Productions, 2003

Produced, Recorded and Mixed by Dan Steven and David Ciccarelli at the Flying Disc, London, Ontario, and Douglas Romanow, Fire Escape Recording, Toronto, Ontario, 2002.

Here’s the Biblical angle on idolatry: it is rooted in forgetfulness, preoccupied with security, and is severely lacking in vision. In other words, idolatry forgets both God and our calling as human beings created in the divine image, grasps security through our own self-protective powers, and renders us so shortsighted that we can’t see beyond the ends of our own noses. Amnesia, self-achieved security and limited vision - these are the hallmarks of an idolatrous culture such as our own.

In Dan Steven’s second album, Voices from God, the artist counsels memory, letting go and a vision that can see beyond the sky. Remembering, relinquishment, and vision - this is the stuff of prophecy. And when that prophecy is spoken in the face of death and hopelessness, it breaks through with comforting and radical hope.

Consider these lines from one of the strongest tracks on the album – “A Dying Age:”

I was in a hole and I saw hope
I was way way down
and got thrown a rope
I will sing of nothing but holiness

So far, sounds like a psalm, doesn’t it? The only appropriate response to an experience of redemption, an experience of being lifted up from the pit, is to sing of the holiness of one’s redeemer. But read on,

Changes everywhere
all around, in the air
The more that I stop holding on
the more that I am free

What do you do when all the world is incessantly changing, when there is no point of orientation left, when the very air is filled with uncertainty and confusion? Why, you hang on for dear life, of course.
Isn’t that what all of us do? Don’t we grab onto whatever secure anchor we can find and hang on?

Not Dan Steven. No, he has come to a deeper understanding that the more he stops holding on, the more free he is. Only in loosening his grip, letting go, relinquishing all that gives false security in a world of change, does Dan Steven experience freedom – whoever shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.

But who is this artist? In what voice are we being addressed? The song continues:

A living prophet in a dying age
World spins round, caught in a cage
It’s closed the book
and forgotten the page
and I, I stay here to remember
I stay here to remember

The artist has the audacity to speak to us in the voice of a prophet who discerns that ours is a dying age and that all the fast-paced spinning of this ever-changing world happens in a cage, in captivity born of amnesia. It has closed the book and forgotten the page – closed the revelatory book that tells us where we have come from, who we are, and where we are going – and forgotten to open it again. And in the face of that kind of devastating and death-dealing forgetfulness, the artist – the prophet – will “stay here to remember.”

In a synthetic “world overcome, overtaken by rage,” where “no one stops for the fallen” – a world of violence and war, death, and hard-heartedness – the prophet remembers the one who bore that rage and who reached out to the lost and rejected. And because the artist remembers, he has a vision beyond the present calamity, beyond the present dying age.

Yeah, I believe in the world to come
I believe that it shall soon be begun
I believe in the world to come
Soon I’ll be on my way

Memory, letting go, and vision – these three make for prophecy. And this album is deeply prophetic.

While Voices from God is ultimately all about hope and resurrection, the artist refuses to avert his gaze from the realities of despair and death. In “Strangers and Angels” Steven paints a picture of confusion and being “lost in a haze:”

My mind is torn and my teeth are torn
And my body needs to be cleaned
My bones are bruised
And my heart is sweating
bullets of memory
Bullets of memory

These are broken memories, memories of what once was but is no longer.

Once when I was younger, smarter, more alive
This field seemed to hold
more flowers
I stop to stare and I can’t count five

A broken, bruised body, losing grip on life, finds its correspondence in a dying world where fields once were abloom with flowers but are now desolate.

But where can there be hope in the face of such death? In such a desolation – both personal and creational – what is left to remember? And who will do the remembering? Might not amnesia be the better option? Just forget it all and in that forgetting allow all of this brokenness to disappear into oblivion?

No, says Dan Steven. He won’t let go of memory and he continues to weave the theme throughout the album. Still with “Strangers and Angels,” at one point he sings, “And let the sky alone remember me,” but he will conclude the song with “and let the silence remember me, let it remember me. The silence that is left when the artist’s voice is no more – even this silence has a memory, perhaps the memory of the artist’s voice and images echoing after he is gone, perhaps just the silence that is left after there is nothing left to say.

Even in the silence, then, there is memory. The artist calls us in another song to “remember the dream” because without such memory, we run the risk of losing it all, or losing all dreams, and therefore, all hope.

Letting Go

But who is the author of this dream? If we abandon idols as the source of our security, to whom do we turn? The prophets know the answer to this question, and so does Dan Steven. In “Lightning,” he sings,

Your voice
is all that I need to know
Your voice
Is all that I need to teach me to let go
All that I need to remember myself

Dan Steven hears voices, and if you listen closely, you too will hear voices as you listen to this album, voices from God. And when you hear that voice, the artist confesses, then you will hear all that you will need to teach you to let go.

Now here is a piece of wisdom that the world does not have: only in letting go, that is by relinquishing your need to control your life, will you find your life. In relinquishment we are remembered. Listening to the voice of the one who made us, we learn to surrender and trust our God with everything, even our very identities.

Voices from God is about prophetic memory, but it is also about letting go. Whether we are talking about images or release in songs like “Jordan” (O Giver, Giver of Life, Breathe into me/O Giver, Giver of Love/Release me) and “Walk my Way” (out past the concrete groans /I’m running the rhythm to let your love/release me), or the hope that “in love we will fade, fade away” in “Until that Final Day,” the album is suffused with a sense of relinquishment.

Striving for self-protective control over one’s life is a path of hopelessness and death, proclaims this artist. And he wants to point us to a path of hope and new life.

And it is important to remember that Christian relinquishment is born not out of despair for meaning in this world, but out of hope. In his evocative song “Waiting for the Resurrection,” Steven sings that at university he was “learning to be lost/and to be alright with it.” He could let go of control over life and not sweat it. Why?

Because the January grass blades
have a funny way
Of blooming on their own if you only
learn to go with it

You see his point? You can afford to risk letting it all go if you know that resurrection is at the very heart of creation. You can relinquish control because somehow even in the depths of our cultural and spiritual winter, gl(r)ass blades still have a funny way of blooming on their own, without our intervention. But to believe that requires a vision that goes beyond the horizons of this world.

In a world of death, mourning, and tears, Dan Steven open this album with these lines:

Baby, wipe your tears away
Spring is here; it’s a sunny day
Now’s the time to be in love
Quit your worries, quit your crying.
We’re going kite-flying
We’re going kite-flying.
Brian Walsh ... Review of Voices from God - Christian Courier
Submitted to The Banner
by Lloyd Rang
June 2003

To the Moon Productions Voices from God is the second CD by London, Ontario, artist, Dan Steven. His first CD, Beggars and Kings, was produced soon after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Final production on Voices from God was completed just two hours before he died, Dec. 6, 2002, at the age of 25.

Like Beggars and Kings, Voices from God is best described as folk-rock in the Bruce Cockburn tradition, albeit flavoured with interesting hints and beats from countless other musical genres. However, where Steven’s first album offered religiously informed political and social commentary, Voices is a more restrained and introspective work. Images and scenes from nature dominate the lyrics, together with themes of travel and homecoming.

While Steven’s voice shows occasional signs of strain (his illness made speech increasingly difficult as the CD was being recorded), the music is tight and memorable.

According to the artist’s mother, Jan Klooster, Steven briefly considered calling the CD Astrocytoma, which was the name of his tumour. But he decided that he wanted his message to be one of hope. Rather than focusing on his struggles, he wanted to give glory to Christ – and to tell his listeners about the joy that heaven brings.

One song that powerfully carries that message is “Waiting for the Resurrection,” which is among the CD’s best tracks. It is at once both a love song and a profound confession of faith and hope. Significantly, there’s also a subtle homage to the old classic, “And if your sun decides to shine/if the sun decides to shine/I’ll still hold your hand in mine/waiting for the resurrection.”

His sense of wonder, compassion for others and deep spiritual insights made Dan Steven more than just a singer. Meeting Dan, one sensed holiness in him. He was, I am sure, a saint – and the best proof I have yet seen that God still speaks powerfully through those he appoints to be his servants.

Although Dan is now “oceans away playing music,” his message of hope and joy remains with us. I strongly encourage you to give it a listen. His CD can be purchased through the website
Lloyd Rang ... Review of Voices from God - The Banner
By Vicky Smith

Sad events tend to halt our frenetic spinning on the wheel of life and cause us to reflect on what is important and how we take the gift of life for granted. My nephew, Dan Steven, aged 25, died of a brain tumour last week. Through my personal reflection I thought about Dan’s belief of what is important, which brought me to thinking about how we view what is important in our work life. This is my tribute to a special young man.

Dan was an exceptionally talented musician and songwriter. His understanding and deep feeling for social and moral injustice seemed far beyond his years. He had a passion for his music and it became his vocation. He worked as a busker to provide for his simple materialistic needs. Conventional, myopic adults in his life kept waiting for him to decide what his ‘real’ job was going to be and hoped he would any day now stop his day dreaming and join the rest of us in the stressful and fearful world of work we desperately hold on to.

I reflected on how Dan dedicated himself to his passion for music and because of that his family and the world have a legacy of two CD’s he professionally produced. Does your definition of a job/career/vocation create passion in you? Are you energized and excited when meeting your daily work challenges and tasks?

For many, work has lost its luster. It is a means to gain a lifestyle that even after acquired emotionally leaves many people flat like champagne left open too long. With all our hard work to gain affluence we have also been rewarded with divorces, addictions, depression and a deep longing for some type of balance in our lives. We have sedated our dreams and passions to become stressed out, dissatisfied and fearful workers.

As a gift to yourself think about what you could do to put more passion into your work life. What important decisions do you need to make and what fears do you need to tackle so that 2003 becomes a year of fulfillment for you instead of another year that has flown by like the wind, taking with it your zest for life?

Dan’s life mission was to be a positive influence in other peoples’ lives. At his funeral many people from all walks of life talked about his influence to inspire others to be optimistic and hopeful about their lives. His generosity with material possessions, kindness, humour, friendship but most importantly sharing himself were the consistent theme in all the testimonials. He was known for his random acts of kindness.

We work for an intrinsic reward which overshadows the responsibility we have to the people we work for and to the people we work with. We have a choice each workday to be a productive, encouraging employee and team member or an individual who creates barriers to building harmonious and dynamic working relationships. Spreading rumours, creating petty conflicts and demeaning people have turned into recreational activities at work. Why does it take a crisis for us to appreciate those around us? We can choose to appreciate and respect differences and find ways to develop harmonious relationships instead of actively participating in destroying them.

When Dan was diagnosed with cancer three years ago his parents became a strong supportive force creating the foundation he needed to realize his aspirations. His dream of producing high caliber CDs was realized through a joint commitment. Dan’s parents provided the financial and personal dedication to create a secure foundation for Dan to do his creative work.

As employers, do we provide a strong foundation for our employees to realize their work/career dreams? It is trendy to view employees as assets or intellectual capital. When we view people as capital why would employees be motivated to work passionately for us? As an employer have you asked your employees what motivates them and then built a strong infrastructure for them to thrive and work with passion?

This time of year for many is a season of giving to celebrate important people in our lives. For those who do not celebrate Christmas, this could be a time to reflect on the important people in our lives as we start a New Year. Think on:

 What can I do to become more passionate about my job/career/vocation?
 How can I make a difference each day in the lives of people I work with?
 How can I be a more productive worker and encourager?
 How can I become more open to performing random acts of kindness?
 How can I as an employer provide a strong foundation for my employees to work with passion?

As this is my last article till the New Year, I hope the following verse from Dan’s song “Dance at My Funeral” on his CD Beggars and Kings will encourage you to live you life with passion.

I want you to dance at my funeral
I want you to celebrate your life
Yes, I want you to dance at my funeral
In this way you remember me
And you keep my life alive.
Vicky Smith - London Free Press