Will We Listen?
Appendix Two – Walking through the
Step 1: Prepare to walk through the
This walk is through the story and music of Chris Carrabba, also known as Dashboard Confessional. Carrabba and his music are unique in their style and message – a style and message that have connected especially well with an audience of adolescent girls. In this walk, I pay careful attention to each of Carrabba’s songs.
Step 2: Close your mouth. Open your ears and eyes. Walk around Dashboard Confessional
The stories told in Dashboard Confessional’s (DC) music flow from the story and worldview of Chris Carrabba. To fully understand the meaning and power of the music, wise listeners know they must listen and interpret the tunes in the context of the 28 year-old’s life story. Carrabba - DC’s chief singer and songwriter - was born and raised in
Carrabba’s road to a future in music was fueled early on by the encouragement of his mother, a woman gifted with musical talent herself. While the other kids would play outside, Chris would often stay in to play “band” with his siblings - singing and pounding away on homemade “drums” crafted from popcorn buckets. A sensitive child, Carrabba would participate in school musical activities but struggled with stage fright. His mother recalls how that same sensitive side led young Chris to avoid scuffles with peers by trying to talk his way through disagreements and problems.
An additional influence on his future was Carrabba’s growing love for skateboarding. An excellent skateboarder, he was good enough to get sponsorships and considered going professional. After the family relocated to
But the forgotten guitar his Uncle Angelo had given to 15 year-old nephew Chris soon supplanted the skateboard as Carrabba’s main interest. Upon graduating from high school, he began to teach himself how to play. He practiced hard as he pursued a degree in education at
But music soon took first place in his life as he joined and fronted the local band, The Vacant Andys. After a short stint with a second band - The Agency - Carrabba hooked up with the punk band Further Seems Forever, who eventually released an album on the Christian Tooth and Nail record label. While it may come as a surprise to many that Carrabba is a man of faith, he says he became a Christian while going through a family tragedy. In his mind, the fact that he had endured the tragedy was testimony to the fact that there was a God. He says he experienced grace and now believed.
The transition from Further Seems Forever to Dashboard Confessional came as the result of three solo songs Carrabba wrote and recorded to tape while still with Further Seems Forever - all in the span of just two short hours! Somehow, the tape was copied and got into the hands of numerous kids. Touched deeply and significantly by the music they heard, they asked Carrabba to write and record even more. The response convinced him to start his own band and DC was born. He left Further Seems Forever, donated his belongings to Goodwill, and started touring solo as Dashboard Confessional.
Many are curious abut the origin of the band’s name. Dashboard Confessional is actually Carrabba’s stage name. The strange label is taken from a line in one of those original three songs, “The Sharp Hint Of New Tears.” Rather than adopting a solo name (i.e. “Chris Carrabba” or “The Chris Carrabba Band”), the truly humble Carrabba wanted to avoid appearances of vanity while leaving the door open to draw other musicians into the mix at a later time. Sometimes Carrabba stands as Dashboard Confessional on stage alone. At other times, the Dashboard Confessional the audience sees on stage is Carrabba with one or more additional musicians. But Carrabba also forsook the solo moniker because he believes his audience is part of the band. In fact, he calls his fans “band members.” The songs are “as much theirs as they are mine,” he says. (mtv.com).
That fan base has grown quickly due to the connection the music has made with the kids. Not until relatively recently has any DC music been marketed in the mainstream. Rather, it was Carrabba’s commitment to playing in lots of small and intimate settings that led to an expanding fan base. Concert-goers would spread the word and share the CD’s they had purchased at the shows. By the time DC played their first headlining concert in
Chris Carrabba still suffers from horrible stage fright but keeps getting up on stage because he loves playing the music he loves. He’s known as a very generous person. He’s a creature of habit, eating the same meals everyday. He’s never done drugs, bud admits to drinking beer every other week.
A very private person, Carrabba chooses to be vulnerable in his music. The personal nature of Carrabba’s songs is why they’ve connected with so many kids. That intimate vulnerability reflects the fact that he sees DC as his “diary.” “I don’t keep a journal or write a diary, but I find myself writing these songs,” says Carrabba. “It’s just kind of my way to cope with this world I guess.” (decapolis.com).
Dashboard Confessional’s Music
The songs Carrabba uses as a coping mechanism don’t seem - at first listen - like the kind of stuff that would sell in a music climate bent on marketing flash and pizzaz. DC’s sound is a stripped down, bared bones package that’s heavy on acoustic guitar and vocals. Simply stated, Carrabba sings, plays guitar, and hopes “the kids sing back.” (decapolis.com). Sometimes he’s backed by an additional acoustic guitar, and other times there’s a full band. But always the music is simple, uncomplicated, and not over-produced.
Although Carrabba doesn’t like the tag, his music has been labeled as “emo-punk,” a genre that’s emotionally vulnerable without the noise and aggression of classic punk music.
When Carrabba begins to sing, one can definitely hear his punk roots, but there’s a soft and gentle earnestness to his voice. That voice serves as a perfect communicator of lyrical themes that reflect who he is and which connect with kids. He uses his music to explore the full range of human emotion. His songs serve as his “personal scrapbook.” One overriding theme in that scrapbook are the perils and pains of romance lost. Carrabba claims there are so many things he wants to say that he writes entire albums, not individual songs. Blender’s Ann Powers says, “As a lyricist, he artfully mixes near-cliche with startling observation, so each listener feels his words belong to their own brain.” (blender.com). Reviewer Gavin Edwards says DC’s music is “catharsis for anyone who’s ever gone through relationship hell, which is most everybody.” (rollingstone.com).
To catch the real power of DC, one must attend and observe the phenomenon of what happens at a DC concert. From start to finish, the kids who’ve gathered around the “fire” of the stage sing every word and take every breathe right along with their song leader, former camp-counselor Chris Carrabba. It’s not a concert as much as it’s a sing-along. The emotion on the face of Carrabba is evident on the face of every attendee. They are the band and they feel his music. Gavin Edwards says, “their live shows are an astonishing phenomenon: intensely personal lyrics about heartbreak turned into a visceral community chorus.” (rollingstone.com). Carrabba says that “if you come to one of my shows you’re kind of expected to sing as loud as I do and it’s just really like a team effort. It’s almost organic how much the kids are involved. They are a part of the band. It’s great.” (altarnative.com).
After the show, the humble Carrabba usually makes himself available to kids. They talk to him about their problems. The entire musical package combines in what MTV’s Joe D’Angelo has called “a demon-sharing group therapy session.” (mtv.com).
Step 3: Look for cultural characteristics and distinctives, including values, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, changing pressures, problems, choices, etc.
If you want to know what’s going in the minds, hearts, and lives of today’s kids, DC’s albums are like an extra seat on the therapist’s couch - a seat reserved for those who want to eavesdrop into the adolescent world. It’s in the music that we can see and hear cultural characteristics and distinctives.
This debut EP -released in 1999 and re-released in 2001 - features the three solo songs Carrabba recorded while still with Further Seems Forever. In what’s now expected and known as typical DC fare, the album’s content addresses the fragility and uncertainty of relationships with others and with the self. Consequently, it’s not surprising that once these songs were in the hands of insecure and confused young adolescent listeners who face those same realities on a daily basis, a connection would be made. Then, that audience would spread the word about DC and ask Carrabba for more.
The disc’s title cut opens with Carrabba pondering the unsettled status of a delicate relationship: “Am I drowning you out in boasts of defection/If everything was up to me I would be gone at the first sign/The first sign of hope/I’d be packed up and out of my way.” He sings, “The things that are keeping you here are not keeping me here/And the things that are keeping you here will keep me away. . . . don’t follow your heart cause it just seems to get in your way.”
Carrabba looks longingly for someone to come alongside and walk him through life in “Anyone, Anyone.”: “I’m not sure of anyone, anyone/But I’ve got plans/I’m not asking for everything/But sure I could use a hand.”
“For Justin” is a memorial piece written to someone who’s been dead for over a year. He tells Justin that since he’s been gone “I’ve been trying to heal inside.” The song ends with Carrabba promising to “live a life that you think was sane.”
The Swiss Army Romance (2000, 2003)
Originally recorded and released in early 2000, then re-released in 2003, this is the DC album that started it all. The all-acoustic disc is Carrabba’s first full-length solo effort. In true Carrabba fashion, he wrote the songs as a form of personal therapy after a bad break up. The album features a full spectrum of emotion that “swings from vulnerable to accusatory.” (Jonah Weiner, blender.com). After an initial listen, I realized why so many young girls are so attracted to DC’s music. There’s an emotional connection and personal-ness that can easily lead many to sit alone in their rooms, pop in the disc, and then get lost in imagining that Carrabba’s right there singing and playing just for them.
The album’s opening cut, “Screaming Infidelities,” is DC’s first radio and video hit. This song put DC on the pop music map and set the tone for the entire DC lyrical/thematic package. The tune addresses the pain of a past break up. Carrabba laments the loss of the relationship and the fact that his lost love is now with someone else: “I'm missing your laugh, how did it break? And when did your eyes begin to look fake? I hope you're as happy as you 're pretending.” In the video, Carrabba’s sad eyes sing to the camera through a succession of conflicting images that show the couple enjoying each other in happy times and images that show her leaving. It’s important to note that the song’s visual and lyrical content reveals that the couple has been living together.
The band’s name finds it origin in “The Sharp Hint of New Tears.” In this lament, the singer cries “new tears” over the loss of relationship: “The hint of these new tears are sharp/I try to hold them back/It’s useless/I am useless against them/The are beating me with ease.” While driving home alone, Carrabba’s tears keep flowing as he “confesses” his pain to the inside of his car.
Carrabba has said that “Living In Your Letters” is “a song about someone I care about alot.” In this tune, his lament is not over a breakup. Instead, he struggles with loving someone who is living somewhere else. The distance hurts him deeply. The lyrical poetry that flows from Carrabba’s pen reveals more of his sensitive and romantic side: “And I know that you hope for longer good-byes/Embracing forever and falling in your eyes/Pouring over photographs/I’m living in your letters/Breathe deeply from this envelope/It smells like you and I can’t be without this scent/It’s filling me with all you mean to me.” Carrabba sets the bar of sensitivity high for all males. It’s no wonder the girls love his music.
The disc’s title cut is a powerful song about the pain of adolescent social development: “Sleep with all the lights on/You’re not so happy/You’re not secure.” Carrabba puts into words the almost-universal adolescent experience of trying to fit in (he addresses a girl who puts on a “plastic” self), along with the accompanying desire to grow up quickly: “Youth’s the most unfaithful mistress/Still we forge ahead to miss her/Rushing our moment to shine . . . . We’re not twenty-one, but the sooner we are, the sooner the fun will begin/So get out your fake eyelashes and fake i.d.’s and real disasters ensue/It’s cool to take these chances/It’s cool to fake romances and grow up fast.” This song could serve as a great catalyst for a discussion about the difficulties of growing up.
“Turpentine Chaser” likens a relationship that’s breaking down to peeling paint. Not even a fresh coat of paint will heal the brokeness: “New coats of paint will not reacquaint broken hearts to broken homes.” Instead, he wants to “not need” her. He feverishly works to remove the old paint with turpentine and says, “as soon as I’m done I’m gone.”
Long distance love is revisited on “A Plain Morning.” Carrabba laments being away and says, “I’m coming home/It is warmer where you are waiting.” He expresses his yearnings using seasonal poetry - he likens being away to the cold air of March. Being home is like the warm air of July.
Carrabba continues on the same topic on “Age Six Racer.” At first glance, it appears he laments summer and “sweet slumber.” But that allegorical imagery refers to his hurt in the absence of the object of his affection. Without her, it’s cold and he hates “the (cold) winter in
In “Again I Go Unnoticed,” Carrabba reads the writing on the wall about a relationship that’s plagued by silence: “So quiet another wasted night/The television steals the conversation. . . . Please tell me you’re just feeling tired. . . .Close lipped another good night kiss is robbed of all its passion/Your grip, another time, is slack/It leaves me feeling empty.” While he hopes that tomorrow will bring the return of her smile and rekindled love, he seems to resign himself to the fact that the relationship is actually dying.
Carrabba longs to get close to a girl who’s pushing him away in “Ender Will Save Us All.” He begs her to tell him what he can do to re-connect: “I want to give you whatever you need/What is it you need?/Is it what I need?. . . . Is it within me?. . . . There’s got to be something that would be worthwhile for me to give you. We need a connection but you seem to push me far away from you.”
“Shirts and Gloves” laments a relationship interrupted by frequent travel and separation: “I’ll call your cellular phone to tell you TV night was lonely without you and so am I. . . . It seems our day keeps falling on leap year.”
Every DC listener will identify with the sentiment of love imagined but never realized in the short “Hold On.” The relationship never really got off the ground because she doesn’t want it. But he’s still stuck on her: “She had a history of killing herself/I had a history of dying/I think she gave me something to love for/I guess I helped her pass her time/I had a vision of seeing things straight/She had the heart of a liar/Well I never saw her leaving me once/She never felt me beside her/And it’s cruel, but she’s got a good hold on me.”
A band steps in to back up Carrabba on “This Is A Forgery,” the disc’s lone track featuring more than an acoustic guitar. The most lyrically cryptic song on the album, the only discernable subject matter is yearning and searching. Listeners could easily identify with “This Is A Forgery” as a reflection of their own spiritual condition. The last line of the song is worth discussing and analyzing with DC listeners: “And we were looking out for some shining light/But it was casket black, so we would search all night.”
The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most (2001)
This full-length follow-up to Carrabba’s debut LP picks up its title from what he was personally feeling at the time he wrote the record. DC moves away from the acoustic sound by adding drums, bass, and backup vocalists in a combination one reviewer calls “all blistering hurt swathed in jangling guitars,” (Mackenzie Wilson, rollingstone.com).
Relational pain takes center stage on the opening track, “The Brilliant Dance.” The poetic and heartfelt tune is classic Carrabba as he bemoans the feeling of losing love for the very first time - a universal human experience that further connects Carrabba with his adolescent and heartbroken listeners: “So this is odd, the painful realization that has all gone wrong. And nobody cares at all, and nobody cares at all.” The hurt is so bad that the song closes with these words of resolve: “Well, this is the last time.”
“Screaming Infidelities” - perhaps DC’s signature song - appears as the second cut, this time with additional instrumentation.
“The Best Of Deceptions” looks at relational breakdown from the agony of hearing secondhand that his lover is cheating on him. Carrabba calls this “a song about feeling bad and feeling better.” He shares his hurt, his anger, and his resolve to bring things to an end: “Don’t you see that the charade is over/And all the “Best Deceptions” and “Clever Cover Story” awards go to you/So kiss me hard cause this will be the last time that I let you/You will be back some day/And this awkward kiss that tells of other people’s lips will be of service to keeping you away.” He then goes on to tell how he’s heard - secondhand again - that she wants to make things right. He sticks to his guns and tells her to forget it: “You’re calling too late, too late to be gracious/And you do not warrant long good-byes/You’re calling too late/You’re calling too late/You’re calling too late.”
A broken relationship is described as a ruined puzzle “with the pieces face down so the placing goes slowly” in “A Ruined Puzzle.” With a sound reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, the song describes the singer’s hurt and pain over having to say “goodbye” to a girl who has left. He alternates between brokeness and the resolve to go on, all the while hoping that things will work out: “But the hours they creep/The patterns repeat/Don’t be concerned/You know I’ll be fine on my own/I never said ‘Don’t go’/Does he ever get the girl?”
The girl has left and Carrabba is left alone again on “Saints and Sailors.” The song’s opening lines are emotionally gut-wrenching: “This is where I say I’ve had enough and no one should ever feel the way that I feel now/A walking open wound/A trophy display of bruises/And I don’t believe that I’m getting any better/Waiting here with hopes the phone will ring/And I’m thinking awful things/And I’m pretty sure that few would notice.” He begs for anything at all to come along and “break the silence.” He realizes that everything’s “broken” and he tells her, “You smile like a saint/But you curse like a sailor/And your eyes say the joke’s on me.”
“The Good Fight” is certainly not an unusual title for a DC song. In this song about a fight that ended a relationship, Carrabba’s brokenness is evidence that he had placed his redemptive hope in his connection with the girl: “I begged you not to go/I begged you/I pleaded/Claimed you as my only hope and watched the floor as you retreated.” He asks, “Does it comfort you to know you fought the good fight?/ Basking in your victory, hollow and alone to boast your bitter bragging rights to anyone who’ll listen.”
“Standard Lines” is another lament over a girl who has left Carrabba behind. He lists the usual lines people use after a break-up: “Which of the standard lines will we use? I’ve been meaning to call you. I’ve just been so busy. We’ll catch up soon. Let’s make it a point to. . . .” Yet even though he hurts deeply and he “starves” for her, he will go on.
Another cut off DC’s prior album - “Again I Go Unnoticed” - gets treatment with the backup of a band.
A powerful song about the facades we all put on, “The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most,” captures the depth of emptiness experienced by the unredeemed: “Buried deep as you can dig inside yourself, and hidden in the public eye. Such a stellar monument to loneliness. Laced with brilliant smiles and shining eyes and perfect makeup but you're barely scraping by.” This could serve as a powerful “diagnostic” song to use with students. After hearing the song, students could be asked to identify where they see themselves in the lyrics.
The album ends with the equally powerful “This Bitter Pill.” Perhaps no other song captures the full range of emotion in Carrabba’s voice as his cries and agonizing moans over love lost and the resulting pain come to a climax as the song comes to an end.
So Impossible (2001)
The first of two EP’s to follow The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, this disc features Carrabba combining the sounds of his acoustic guitar with those of Dan Horner. The four songs on the album tell a beginning to end story of adolescent love that will resonate with most kids.
Infatuation is the topic of “For You To Notice.” Carrabba verbalizes his affection for the one he admires from afar. He works through his fear to “fashion an idea in my head/Where I would impress you.” He waits for her to want, need, and notice him. Kids too scared to pursue someone they’re attracted to will find that Carrabba’s done a great job of encapsulating their agony in this song.
His dream of the impossible comes true as she notices him and shyly invites him to a party on “So Impossible.” The song starts with a conversation in school between the lonely individuals. She asks him and a friend to join her and a friend at a party. They get to know each other by sharing likes and dislikes. In a telling line about how Carrabba sees himself, he asks her, Do you like “guys that just don’t, quite fit in?”
In “Remember To Breathe” listeners are fast-forwarded to the night of the party as he frets nervously over his preparations for the night out. In the midst of his pre-date anguish he resorts to self-consolation by reminding himself that it was she who asked him out. Relieved, he instructs himself to “breath, and everything will be okay.”
The big night arrives on “Hands Down.” The singer tells of the excitement of the first date and the realization that the “so impossible” is coming true: “My hopes are so high, that your kiss might kill me. So won't you kill me? So I die happy.” The song lists all the stuff that goes through their young minds including how stupid the post-date question often posed to kids by their friends - “Hey, did you get some?” - really is. Perhaps the most happy and upbeat of all the DC songs, “Hands Down” describes the best day ever - a day that ends with a kiss. It comes as no surprise that Carrabba often introduces this song about young love and connections as a song about the best night of his life.
Summer’s Kiss (2002)
The second Dashboard Confessional EP release includes remakes of four of Carrabba’s favorite tracks from The Swiss Army Romance, all re-recorded with a full band. Included are “Living In Your Letters”, “The Sharp Hint Of New Tears”, “Turpentine Chaser”, and “Ender Will Save Us All.”
This combination DVD and CD set features the band performing 15 of their songs before a live audience on MTV’s popular acoustic studio concert series, Unplugged. As testimony to DC’s growing popularity, the set quickly went Platinum - an amazing feat considering the fact that Dashboard Confessional was the first non-platinum act ever to get an episode of Unplugged. Watching Carrabba and his bandmates perform on the DVD offers convincing proof of his amazing ability to connect with his fans and the mutual respect they share. He comes off as a humble and average young man who simply steps on the stage as a friend among friends and leads those friends in a celebratory sing-along. In an astounding display of performer/audience connection, the crowd sings every word to every one of the fifteen songs with pinpoint accuracy, hearty volume, and sincere emotion.
A Mark, A
Released in August of this year, DC’s latest album and first major label release, debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. Described as “the first true teen folk album ever” (Nick Catucci, The Village Voice, 9/3-9/9/03), this is the first album from the emo genre to ever go platinum. A happier album than DC’s previous offerings, Carrabba says “this record is about where I’ve been, certainly, but it’s also about where I’m going and what I’m becoming.” (muchmusic.com). It “offers a fuller picture of who I am as a person.” (mtv.com).
Carrabba is featured on guitars and vocals. The DC band includes Scott Schoenbeck on bass, John Lefler on Guitars, Organs, Piano and backup vocals, and Mike Marsh playing the drums and providing additional backup vocals.
What about the album’s title? Carrabba conceived the title while pondering the evolution and message of Dashboard Confessional on a plane. He says, “Dashboard started out as a mark against me because it wasn’t so popular to do that (kind of music) in the scene I was from. Then it was like a mission of mine to just persevere and just get through that. Then it became a (situation) where it felt like I had been branded in a marketing sense. This is what the whole music is, not who I am necessarily. It’s what I do. And the scar. . . . I would have been scarred by that if I had decided to rest my morals and make the same record over and over, which would have been easier for me to do. But it just would have buried me.” (mtv.com).
The disc opens with a remake of “Hands Down.” The cut - which is about the happiest night of Carrabba’s life - has been released as a single and video.
“Rapid Hope Loss” is another typical DC tune addressing themes of break-up and loss. Written to someone who dumped him, Carrabba claims she won’t get a second chance. Now that he knows who she truly is, he sees through her empty “promises” and “endearing sense of charm.” He proclaims, “Cause now that I see you/I don’t think you’re worth a second glance.” His only regret is that he’s wasted time on her.
The setting for “As Lovers Go” might be a bar or some other public gathering place. The singer meets a girl and tries to convince her that they are meant for each other. He says she’s got “looks”, “wits”, and “passion.” He promises her commitment: “I’ll be true, I’ll be useful, I’ll be cavalier, I’ll be yours my dear, I’ll belong to you if you just let me through.” The song concludes with him asking her, “Are you brave enough to leave with me tonight?”
Visions of Carrabba’s hometown of
In “Bend And Not Break,” Carrabba fears his relational mistakes will make the girl want to leave. He “walks” tenderly and gingerly through this difficult time in his relationship, hoping that it won’t fall apart: “I’m careful not to wake you, fearing conversation/It’s better just to hold you and keep you pacified.” He’s got hope it will rebound and go on: “I am fairly agile/I can bend and not break/Or I can break and take it with a smile/I am so resilient/I recover quickly/I’ll convince you soon that I’m fine.”
The theme of fragile and dying relationships continues in “Ghost Of A Good Thing.” In this short song, Carrabba works to come to terms with a relationship’s impending death: “Maybe it’s love but it’s like you said. . . . Love is like a role that we play. . . . Just bend the pieces ‘til they fit/Like they were made for it/But they weren’t made for this/No, they weren’t made for this.”
While it isn’t rage-filled, “Am I Missing” is certainly one of Carrabba’s angrier songs. Another post-breakup tune, the girl has done everything she can to prove she was in the right and Carrabba was in the wrong. He asks a confusing series of questions that people typically ponder as they’re trying to find their way through the wake of brokeness: “It there anything worth looking for?/Worth loving for?/ Worth lying for?/Is there anything worth waiting for?/Worth living for?/Worth dying for?” He then proceeds to end the song with a confusing and cryptic statement: “I’m home.” Could he be saying that the fallout from relational pain is where he lives?
Carrabba speaks to himself in “Morning Calls.” At the start of the day, he “calls for pain relief.” The song seems to be about the struggle he faces regarding who he is, who he is on stage, and what his position as an up-front role model requires: “Don’t blink/Everyone’s watching/They’ll think that you’re up to something/They need for you to be everything that they cannot be themselves.” Carrabba knows that kids look to him for hope and for the words to express how they feel.
In “Carve Your Heart Out Yourself” Carrabba goes back to addressing a girl. In a thematic departure from his own lack of relational confidence, Carrabba speaks to her about her fragile hope as she thinks he’s going to leave her. She struggles to trust him. He tells her, “You’ve been burned more than once/You don’t think much of trust.” He promises to stay:”You’re treating me like I’m already gone/But I’m not/I will stay where you are always.” These are words many young girls long to hear.
Carrabba asks a girl caught up in her own vanity how she could be happy without him in “So Beautiful.” The girl convinces herself that she’s the most beautiful one around. While she seems to have everything together on the outside, Carrabba knows that she is empty and unfulfilled. He sees through her charade and insecurity. This song raises huge issues regarding those things we use in our attempt to bring satisfaction and peace to our lives.
Young adolescents will identify with “Hey Girl.” In the song, he talks to his crush about her stuck-up girlfriends. Her friends think he’s crazy but he works to convince her that she should like him in spite of that: “Well so what if your friends think I’m crazy/I wasn’t trying to impress those girls anyway/They’re all theory, no action.” It’s not hard to imagine that this song is lived out in middle school hallways and cafeterias every day.
“If You Can’t Leave It Be, Might As Well Make It Bleed” is another of DC’s more cryptic tunes. Sung to a broken person who didn’t see the hurt coming, the final resolve is that if the relationship can’t be saved, you might as well just let it die.
The album’s final cut is “Several Ways To Die Trying.” This loud and clear cry for redemption is a song about the journey of life. This song - unlike most other DC songs - is not about an individual relationship. Rather, it’s about the search for life, meaning, hope and purpose that is common to all people: “Oh how we've shouted, how we've screamed, take notice, take interest, take me with you. But all our fears fall on deaf ears. Tonight, they're burning the roads they built to lead us to the light. And blinding our hearts with their shining lies, while closing our caskets cold and tight.” Carrabba speaks the desire of an entire generation in the song’s final four words: “I’m dying to live.”
Step 4: Look for evidence of a spiritual quest.
Relational emptiness and preoccupation points to the God-shaped vacuum. Listeners are typically drawn to DC’s music because they identify with the themes of emptiness and hurt. While the lament over relational emptiness may be rooted from time to time in the brokenness of human relationships, there are many DC fans whose pain is ultimately rooted in a broken relationship with their Creator. Consequently, they need someone to step in and gently guide them to shift their focus from what they think is the source of their emptiness, to what the source of their emptiness truly is. We must help them distinguish between and recognize the cry for restoration in human relationships, and their cry for Christ the Redeemer.
While DC deals with relational hurt, Carrabba never loses his optimism or hope. In a nihilistic postmodern world where hope so easily disappears, Dashboard never lets kids go there. While there’s no overt mention made of the only source of true hope, there is still hope. For that, so many young listeners are grateful. We can seize this aspect of DC’s music to point them to the God of hope.
Step 5: Identify “touchpoints” to use as doorways of opportunity for connection, conversation, evangelism, and discipleship.
Chris Carrabba encourages us to be vulnerable in order to connect. Every time he sings, he opens wide the window to his heart and mind, exposing the secret hurts, pains, joys, and sorrows of his life. One 16-year-old girl told me, “It’s amazing that someone would put something so personal and emotional in a song, yet Chris does it with every single one. There is SO much emotion in every song. . . . it’s impossible to NOT fall in love with the music.” Today’s emerging generations are drawn to honesty and vulnerability.
Chris Carrabba encourages us to be “real” in order to connect. He doesn’t slip into a role or character when the lights go up and the music starts. He’s a normal guy singing to kids. When the lights go down and he steps off stage, he’s the same guy. He’s shy, but not arrogant. For this reason, kids see him as “a friend” or a “normal person just like me.”
We can help listeners recognize and understand their ultimate needs as the music reflects the universal desire to connect, feel intimacy, love, and be loved. In a day and age when far too many kids grow up in fractured families, their unmet relational needs pump up the volume on their desire for something better. DC’s lyrics put the turmoil of that struggle into words - words that the kids going through it sometimes can’t summon themselves.
Listening to Dashboard Confessional can help us connect by helping us understand the ups and downs of adolescent life and love. Adolescence is like an earthquake. It comes on suddenly, hits hard, and turns everything upside down. It can leave those going through it in a state of emotional, relational, and spiritual upheaval. Carrabba’s not only been there himself, but he goes into the earthquake with kids. In effect, he’s walking with them. They know he understands. He helps them express their confusion and make some sense of it all. If we trivialize their feelings and experience as “juvenile” or “immature,” connections will be severed.
Chris Carrabba has become a “pastor” to his growing “congregation.” He offers insight into how it’s done. By helping and guiding them through the earthquake of adolescence, he is “ministering” to kids. His effectiveness is boosted by his availability and sincerity. Beyond just the music, he goes out of his way to hang out with kids after the shows. “We all spend hours at each show meeting as many kids as possible,” he says. (Billboard, 8/30/03). As a spiritual leader - either in person or on disc - he’s helping them get through life. One 15 year-old boy told me, “I was going through some rough things and his lyrics and soft melodies really helped me out a lot. It made me feel like someone out there was feeling the same way I was. His lyrics really relate to situations I get in sometimes and I really feel like they comfort me.” Another young fan posted these words to Carrabba on DC’s website - “Chris, I’m sure you get tired of hearing this, but as with all the other songs you’ve crafted, the four that comprise this beautiful story (the So Impossible EP) are masterpieces. I owe you a lot for helping me get through these gut-wrenching teenage years.”
Chris Carrabba shows us what it takes to connect with kids. Many wonder if kids will respond to our efforts to help. The fact is they will. But we’d do well to look at what’s fostered Carrabba’s connection. In many ways, he mirrors the incarnational ministry model of Jesus. He goes into their world, he is honest, he is vulnerable, he sticks around to talk, and he is sincere. We must pray that God would build those same qualities in us, and that we would use those qualities to His glory as we minister to kids.
Adolescence comes on hard. They are looking for someone to soften the blow. The teenage years are a difficult and tumultuous time of life. Kids flock to Dashboard because they are looking for guidance, directions, and answers. If we go into their world and love them, they will be open to our guidance, direction and answers.
Men can learn alot about the importance of sensitivity from Dashboard Confessional. Yes, Chris Carrabba makes us all look bad! He treats women with dignity and respect and they’ve responded. He’s truly a breath of fresh air in the misogynist climate of today’s music industry. Carrabba challenges us to be sensitive to the young in order to connect.
Step 6: Discern those elements that can be celebrated and embraced, and those that must be challenged and opposed.
We must celebrate the positive nature of the music. No, it’s not all upbeat. Like the Psalms, the songs of Dashboard Confessional are full of lament. But nowhere in the music are negative suggestions or dangerous “prescriptive” remedies suggested to listeners. Chris Carrabba’s tunes are about real life. And real life in a sinful and fallen world is just that. . . . sinful and fallen. It isn’t always pretty. But there’s nothing Carrabba proposes that will make life uglier. Overall, the music is music seasoned with hope. Regarding Carrabba’s profession of faith. . . his silence on the matter makes it difficult to really know what’s happened in his heart. He’s at the very least a spiritual seeker with strong Christian leanings. We should pray that the seed of young faith planted in his heart would take root and grow.
We must celebrate the fact that the music and the man are marked by genuine sincerity. Chris Carrabba wears his feeling on his musical sleeves. What you see and hear is what you get. His message was never created as a scheme to ensure success. Rather, the music flows from his heart and serves as an accurate portrait of who he is. When he steps on stage he doesn’t put on a show. Instead, he’s just being himself. One young DC fan says, “We can tell he is human after all, not like other artists, you know? His sincerity and his ability to strike a chord in us, that to me makes them an awesome band and gives me enough reason for loving them.”
In a departure from what’s pop music’s ordinary, Dashboard Confessional never objectifies women. The music world is littered with artists and performers who visually and lyrically denigrate women to the level of sexual objects. Absent is a respect for the personhood of individual females created in the image of God. Not so with DC’s music. There is a respect for women that is refreshing and much-needed. On a positive note, more and more kids are embracing it!
We must celebrate Chris Carrabba’s humility. In a pop music world full of big egos and the selfishness of materialistic “bling-bling,” Chris Carrabba and his Dashboard mates are a breath of fresh air. It’s a distinction we should not only celebrate, but point out to our kids.
We must affirm Carrabba’s commitment to truthfulness. Carrabba says, “I don’t like lies. . . . particularly in romantic relationships - that’s the kiss of death.” (Teen People, 11/03). In a postmodern world where standards of absolute truth have disappeared, Chris Carrabba and his desire to tell the truth can serve as a springboard for discussing the reality and importance of transcendent truth with our kids. Carrabba has raised the issue. Let’s seize the opportunity and take it to its conclusion.
We must teach the fact that human relationships can never be fully redemptive. Some of DC’s music leaves the impression that ultimate hope and healing can be found in a satisfying and healthy romantic relationship. If that’s the message our kids are getting from the music, it must be corrected. Yes, human relationships can be satisfying and healthy. In fact, we should work and pray towards that end. But if we’re trying to fill the God-shaped hole with anything other than God, the emptiness will continue to gnaw at our being.
We must decry the trend toward cohabitation and celebrate the Biblical model of marriage. Census figures tell us that more and more couples are choosing to live together outside the bounds of marital covenant and commitment. Couple that with the fact that a growing number of kids have never had a model of a healthy/whole marriage, and it’s no surprise that the family in our culture continues to breakdown. While Chris Carrabba has not overtly spoken his views on marriage, his lyrical and visual references to cohabitation leave a strong impression that he has no problem with living together and all that encompasses. If that’s the case, he’s in error. We must raise the issue with our kids, and point out the errors in Carrabba’s thinking.
Step 7: Choose how to use what you’ve learned in your particular ministry setting with your particular audience.
Dashboard Confessional feels their pain. So must we. Each and every song is a basket full of emotion. Carrabba’s emotionally charged lyrics touch on the very feelings and issues kids face every day. When Carrabba began to play in front of live audiences, he soon realized “it wasn’t that they understood how I felt. It occurred to me, they feel this way.” (
Chris Carrabba respects kids and doesn’t talk down to them. So must we. He says, “You should never ever talk to kids like they’re kids. You talk to them like people. You think they don’t know what’s going on? Adults are so jaded by the world that we think we understand it. At least kids get the fact that they don’t understand it yet.” (spin.com).
Music steeped in story reminds us to use stories. The lyrics and themes flow out of Carrabba’s own life story and experience. His songs are either mini-stories that stand alone, or “chapters” in a larger story. As a result, listeners are apt to see themselves in the music. For a generation longing to hear stories, Chris Carrabba has become a story-teller par excellence. We must tell God’s story, our story, and how God’s story has changed our story.
The Dashboard Confessional music package and phenomenon provides kids with a place to belong. So must we. The lonely and disenfranchised gather together in an intimate and understanding community. They have a shoulder to cry on. The music and the concerts have become like church. To see the mass chorus of kids singing along with heartfelt intensity is a moving sight. Perhaps these words from a teen sums it up the best: “I think DC just fit into my life somehow. That music right then, it just changed everything. I had somewhere to go. . . . it’s hard to explain.” The church must be more aggressive in providing a place/community for the young to belong. We must go out of our way to invite and assimilate them into the one community on earth that brings hope and life - the body of Christ. Are we ready to welcome them in? Do we know what it means to live and minister as the hands and feet of Jesus? And if so, will we do it?
Never fall into the temptation of writing Carrabba and his minions off as “whiners.” Yes, the music is filled with struggle and lament. But we can’t fall into the trap of forfeiting an opportunity to truly hear and answer the cries by telling them to “grow up and suck it up.” Dashboard Confessional doesn’t use confusion and pain as a way to sell records. Rather, it’s the unaddressed confusion and pain of DC’s young listeners that’s drawn them into the music as it resonates with them. For too long, the older generations in our culture and in the church have been less than patient and understanding with an emerging generation whose cries are genuine. We must listen to the cries.
Once we’ve opened our ears and eyes to the cries, we must open our arms. If we truly hope to stop the tears and provide lasting answers, we’ve got to go into their world and embrace them. Then, and only then, can we love them into life. We must know their pain and feel their pain. Then we can embark on the road to healing their pain.
Once we see the wounds, we must do whatever it takes - no matter the cost to us personally - to apply the healing salve of the Gospel. The priest and the Levite both saw the man laying bruised and beaten on the side of the road. It was not that they failed to see his need. Rather, they just kept walking. Like the Samaritan, we must stop what we’re doing, stoop down, and minister to the need. Carrabba has taken us by the hand and walked us right up to those who hurt. Will we stay and minister, or will we walk away?
Our students want and can handle depth. Dashboard’s music takes us into a world where adolescents are thoughtfully processing difficult issues. We must realize that our kids are much brighter and able to go much deeper than we usually are willing to recognize and admit. Consequently, we can take them deep into the truths of God’s Word, as those truths relate to the reality of creation, the ugliness of the fall, and the hope of redemption.