Lloyd Rang, as submitted to The Banner
DAN STEVEN'S MUSICAL MISSION
It isn't every day that you hear Plato quoted in casual conversation, but London Ontario musician Dan Steven mentions him in an offhand manner -- as though it’s the most natural thing in the world for a 24 year old singer-songwriter to do.
“Man needs a connection to God,” Steven muses, “and music provides that connection. Plato once said: ‘Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws. Music has that kind of power.'" There is no doubt that in his debut CD, Beggars and Kings, Steven successfully harnesses the power of music, but it is hardly “typical” Christian Contemporary Music. Guesting on the album are people such as Ani DiFranco guitarist Kurt Swinghammer and Sarah MacLachlan drummer Paul Brennan – musicians whose usual venues are a universe removed from Young People’s conventions and church halls.
And Steven’s lyrics, while sometimes overtly confessional, also criticize contemporary North American culture (including the church) in a way that traditional CCM artists have often failed to. Specifically, it is the formulaic quality of the music and message of “praise and worship” oriented CCM that Steven finds problematic. “A lot of Christian artists are not willing to put themselves on the line,” Steven says. “There is no courage, no valiance in being dishonest with yourself.” Describing his musical influences as ranging from Bruce Cockburn to Pearl Jam, and his audience as “anyone who wants to listen,” Steven says that “you’ve got to go into the darkness to bring light. My role models tend to be people with artistic integrity, with a flair for art and with a spiritual side. People who search and who do not lie to themselves.”
Steven certainly knows the darkness well. In his late teens and early twenties, Steven wandered North America – traveling to meet people and tell them about Jesus, sometimes busking for eight hours a day on street corners in the cold and heat. Through University of Toronto CRC chaplain Brian Walsh, Steven had made a connection with Doug Romanow, a Canadian music producer ... but he allowed the relationship to lapse, saying that he felt as though God didn’t want him to record anything yet.
Then, in the spring of 1999, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The intense radiation treatments which followed left him too weak and disoriented to play his music. By this time, he had written over a hundred songs. In November of 1999, Romanow called Steven to renew their relationship, and Dan felt at last that God, who had given him the gift of music already at the age of 5, was finally calling him to commit his words and tunes to disc. What emerged from the sessions in Toronto’s Reaction Studios was Beggars and Kings, and the disc is a rarity – a CD that has immediate aural appeal but that improves even with repeated listening.
Composed of some of his earliest material, the CD is nevertheless brimming with insight and spiritual perception. Steven’s lyrics interrogate a culture obsessed with individualism, consumerism, superficiality and entertainment. While it may seem contradictory for a musician to attack the entertainment industry, Steven doesn’t see it that way. “Civilization is crumbling, and it is the job of the believer to recognize and remark about that. And if you are the only one to do so, so be it. You cannot be afraid to take up an issue. There has to be a Rosa Parks – someone to take the first seat on the bus.”
And Steven's work is challenging. He uses music to ask complex questions and never resorts to a saccharine or simplistic groove -- neither musically nor lyrically. His CD veers from joyful to sorrowful and from playful to serious -- sometimes within a single song. Beggars and Kings also transgresses stylistic boundaries with great success. From the Latin strains of the title track, to the Pink Floyd-flavoured "Heaven Hear Me" to the mezmerizing anthem "Silence in Jerusalem" to the dancable, folksy agitprop of "A Tear For Civilization," Beggars and Kings is an honest, mutilayered, intelligent album from an outstanding, (even prophetic) new talent.
Speaking with Steven, one quickly realizes that it is impossible for him to suppress the joy that he feels. One senses that he is striving to put into words things that are bright and beautiful beyond the power of language to contain -- a message so dazzling that it must be put into music instead. Yet he speaks with great modesty, always aware of God working through him. He says of his CD, "I'm surprised I could do it during that time (of chemo). I think it was good that God pulled that off and gave me the strength to do that." He says that this experience has changed his life. "It's made me have a deep gratitude for life and for my blessings - to be just thankful for every moment of every day." December 4, 2000 Beggars and Kings is available online through www.cdbaby.com/dansteven
Daniel Christopher Steven was born in London, Ontario, Canada, on Christmas Eve, 1976. Beautiful snowflakes danced softly out of the midnight sky onto silent streets. Twenty-five years later, Dan flew back into that big sky he loved, huge flakes again fluttering down through the predawn glow of street lamps. We who had surrounded in his life and in his death were struck by this sign - a circle completed, a peace, and a journey well-done.
Dan was a poet, a free-spirit, the quintessential artist. He was nicknamed “Smiley” by his camp kids; he was called “Friendly Neighbourhood Dan” at the open mike at his funeral. His heros were Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, St. Francis of Assisi, and Jesus. He was a lover of people and angels, a singer-songwriter with a social conscience, a sense of humour, and an understanding that went far beyond his years.
After Chatham Christian High School where he graduated in 1994, excelling in music and drama, he spent a year playing guitar on the street, busking in downtown London. He sang “for his bus fare home” through sun and snow. He made friends with the homeless, the newly-arrived, anyone, giving away his few possessions to whomever needed them - Christmas presents, shoes, money, a coffee, an ear. He busked coast to coast across Canada, working at street missions along the way in Halifax, Montreal, and Toronto. He drove from British Columbia through San Francisco into Arizona, singing in the subways and going to peace festivals. In 1997, He enrolled at Trent University, Peterborough, ON, sometimes studying but mostly singing in coffee-houses, pubs, radio stations, and cross-cultural choirs.
In 1999, at 22 years old, after unexplained depression and headaches, vomiting and finger-jerking, Dan was diagnosed with a frontal lobe Anaplastic Astrocytoma brain tumour. It erupted into our lives with a grand mal seizure; a subsequent MRI revealed a tumour directly on the motor strip of the brain. Since surgery was too risky, the doctors started a vigourous treatment plan of radiation and chemotherapy. We spun around in shock. But Dan led the way, handling it all with courage and grace. He had to quit work but remained stable for three years, precious years for “Living Big.”
In November of the diagnosis year, while on treatment, Dan began work with Toronto producer, Douglas Romanow, to record his songs at the Fire Escape Recording Studio. In August of 2000, Dan released his debut CD, Beggars and Kings. He played a few concerts and many open stages. He traveled to Israel on a personal pilgrimage. He followed his wandering heart to Newfoundand. He began work in London on a second recording, Voices from God. However, he had just laid down the vocal and instrumental tracks in the spring of 2002 when he experienced a recurrence of symptoms. In August, an emergency MRI showed five new tumours.
A new chemotherapy had no effect. Over the next three months, he slowly lost his ability to walk, to sing, to speak. Faithful friends and family came to party with him and held a benefit concert. All this time, Dan was at peace, imparting strength and courage to us to do what we had to do - carry him Home. The last time Dan was out of the house was to fulfill another dream, going to the stage performance of The Lion King in Toronto.
On Dec. 6, 2002, after a two-day coma at home in London, surrounded by family, three weeks shy of 26 years old, Dan was released. On Dec. 9, we honoured his request to “dance at my funeral” as he had written so prophetically in a song at age 17. A bus was arranged to take the many street friends, along with five hundred other mourners, to the cemetery for their final respects. His friends made angels in the snow and cut off hair to place on his casket. Bear angels and kites, sunflowers and Christmas ornaments now decorate the tree above his grave.
We miss Dan everyday. We love him forever. And we thank God for putting him into our lives and blessing us so richly. We pray for courage to go on, to live with joy, and to make a difference, like Dan did ............ Jan, Rick, Joel, Jono and Emily, Jesse and all the extended family and friends
Dan Steven - Artist Biography - for consideration by Juno awards
Dan Steven is a singer/songwriter from London, Ontario. He worked at street missions in Halifax, Montreal, and Toronto and has busked from coast to coast across Canada and the United States. His songs reflect the wealth of living and learning packed into his 25 years.
Dan began his musical career on the violin at age 5. However, when he was given his first guitar at age 14, that became his instrument of choice. Throughout high school, while studying under classical guitarist, Chris Rupert, he also wrote songs prolifically and performed often at school and in concert. Before going on to university, Dan spent a year playing guitar on the street, busking in downtown London.
At Trent University in 1997-98, he continued his musical career, performing at many coffee-houses, local pubs, and radio stations, as well as singing in a cross-cultural choir. During a trip to Vancouver, San Francisco, and Arizona in 1998, and to Newfoundland in 2001, he busked as he travelled. And back in London, he performed weekly at various open stages, in addition to musical festivals such as Harringtons.
In November, 1999, Dan entered into a contract with Toronto Producer, Douglas Romanow, to record his songs. He worked with talented Toronto musicians such as Kurt Swinghammer, Kevin Fox, Paul Brennan, Tim Bovaconti, Dennis Mohammed and Paul Hogeterp. Six months later, in August, 2000, Dan released his debut CD, Beggars and Kings. A few years later, he recorded Voices from God, which was finished two-and-a-half hours before he died, December 6, 2002.