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Bazan, introspective and lonely in Strange Negotiations @bazanfilm

Strange Negotiations is an inspirational film—but not in the expected way. Directed by Brandon Vedder (Eddie's cousin), the documentary sheds light on Seattle singer/songwriter/guitarist David Bazan's struggle to maintain balance between family, being a touring musician, and dealing with alcoholism and the aftermath of losing his religious faith. (Any time a Christian rejects their upbringing, it's a victory for civilization.)

Bazan had built a substantial fan base with the band Pedro the Lion, in which he created songs bolstered by his Pentecostal beliefs. Pedro the Lion sold hundreds of thousands of records and Bazan became the first crossover Christian indie-rock musician. But this archetypal burly, bald, bearded indie-rock dude gradually grew distrustful of Christianity—and consequently alienated many of Pedro the Lion's fans. Disillusioned with the religion that had informed every facet of his life, he found he couldn't write songs in this mode anymore.

Bazan decided to go solo and spent a decade of touring by himself, mainly playing fans' living rooms. This was his only reliable source of income, but it separated him from his wife and two kids for most of each year. In one scene that epitomizes his isolation, Bazan forlornly and wistfully watches his daughter's swim meet on his cell phone while in his car, far from home.

In fact, much of Strange Negotiations focuses on a pensive, lonely Bazan driving while speaking eloquently about his plight, his religious and political beliefs, his career, and the pain of familial separation. Fortunately, he's smart, introspective, and witty. Throughout Strange Negotiations, Bazan made me like him, even though I don't care for his music. (I'm more of an American Music Club/Red House Painters guy when it comes to morose indie rock.)

"I want Christianity to get better," Bazan tells a fan at a house show. "I want it to quit shittin’ the bed." At another gig, when asked if he were tired of talking about Christianity, he said, "Oh no! Christianity’s creating so many problems around the world; I’m dying to talk about it." Bazan's germane observation is underscored by the fact that Trump won 81 percent of white evangelical vote in the 2016 election. Those results made Bazan think the Christian church really had become a lost cause. He bemoaned how politics among so-called Christians had become devoid of compassion.

The film closes on an upbeat note with Pedro the Lion’s 2018 reunion, featuring an in-studio performance at KEXP and three sold-out shows at the Tractor Tavern. Near the end, Bazan mused, "My mind doesn’t feel like a closed system. Things feel connected somehow. I don’t know why. What if the divine is just balance and harmony itself? In harmony, that’s where you experience transcendence."

Bazan emerges from Strange Negotiations as a formidable spokesman for lapsed Christianity, and he deserves our respect for risking his livelihood to deliver these important messages.

Strange Negotiations screens at Northwest Film Forum November 15-20. Bazan will be in attendance November 15-17; director Brandon Vedder will be in attendance November 16-18.