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John Erlandson: Bio

When I began to put John's “bio” together, all I could think was “man, of all the people I know, your life is your bio… and your songs say it way better than I ever could.” Maybe that’s why it’s taken me far too long to get it together. One page to sum up John Erlandson… impossible.

I opened up my trusty box of words, index cards filled with all of my favorite written wisdoms. I was looking for one in particular. But as I was searching, I kept coming across other gems that seemed to scream at me “That’s him! That’s John!” Phrases like “love sparks imagination into extraordinary activity. Being ‘in love’ is like being ‘in imagination.'” So, I thought, that’s where the imaginative well-spring of John’s songs comes from, he’s in love!

Then I found this from the Dalai Lama, “Love, compassion and tolerance are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” I know I’ve heard that in John’s songs, too.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote this: “Our battles will be won not by the number of enemies we can kill, but by the number of enemies in whom we can kill the desire to kill.”

And John sings it this way:
"There’s gloom from the prophets of doom, who broadcast the news
But there’s room for a different view... you can choose
‘Cuz there’s a tree that is growing and green, and you can carve out your name
There a stream is flowing and free, where the children play
Yea, there is a place, a way through the haze to a better day… and I say
Come to Love… come to love… come to love"

Killing the desire to kill, not just in our enemies, but in ourselves as well… that’s what this artist does for me. And, he does it without beating anyone over the head. Instead, he soothes us into it, inviting us to “come to love."

The quote that I was looking for, that I never found… well, it went something like this… “It’s been said that Orpheus played the lyre with such feeling that wild beasts were tamed… but that’s not what he set out to do.” That’s what I feel when I listen to these songs, live or on CD... tamed by a voice that was merely trying to do what it does with “such feeling.” Tamed and simultaneously energized.


John’s Minnesota upbringing had him singing and playing guitar at age 15 in youth camps and church services. Before long, he would be writing “spiritual songs,” teaching, and leading worship bands in Minneapolis churches. But, not satisfied with merely “preaching to the choir,” he moved to Colorado and soon took his music, lyrical lucidity and melodic magic into the mainstream. In ’95, after attending the heralded Song School in Lyons, CO, John began writing songs to play in coffeehouses, bars and even right out in the street. Initiating the “street music” movement in Evergreen, CO led to regular gigs at the world-famous Little Bear Saloon where he collaborated with many of Denver’s finest musicians and opened for such national acts as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and David Wilcox.

On ‘Ready For your Heart,’ released in ‘03 and recorded by John and his “Mostly Pretty Random All-Stars,” one hears the musical influences of James Taylor, John Denver, and Scottish folk-icon, Dougie MacLean. His recent ’06 release, ‘These Things Matter’ picks up traces of Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne, but the songwriting and melody line is distinctly John’s. And if you listen closely, you’ll also hear the influence of numerous strong social and spiritual leaders, from Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King, Jr., to the always radical truth-in-love teachings manifest in the life and works of Jesus.

Ethos (integrity), pathos (compassion), and Logos (God-truth)... these are the threads, intimately and intricately woven into the music of John Erlandson. Together they shape a melodic tapestry of agape-love which is purely other-directed, seeking nothing in return, sheer self-gift.

John’s art is an open invitation to listen, not just to him and his heartfelt music, but to the voices inside ourselves. This is not his bio… his music is his bio and it reminds me of the words of Jesus, “What you receive as gift, give as a gift.” Thanks for opening up to the gift, John, and thanks for giving it back.

-Kevin Deforrest… author, songwriter, fellow-musician