Music is order-the most mathematical of arts, crafted in wholes and half and quarters and eighths, in half-steps of A's and B's and C's. It sinks and trills and floats on unseen roads of intricate pattern, a needlepoint of sound.
Music is chaos-the stringed rumble of the base, the roar of the guitar, the shimmering chords of the piano, the buttermilk of the clarinet. Diverse and disparate, they twist and parry and, somehow, form into song.
Jon Foreman, longtime lead singer for the band SWITCHFOOT, knows music. And in his new documentary, 25 IN 24, he dives headlong into the paradox of order and chaos that forms it.
The film tracks Foreman during one remarkable October day as he crisscrosses his hometown of San Diego. He performs 25 concerts in 24 hours, focusing on his sprawling solo project Wonderland.
It took planning, this crazy day. Every locale had to be plotted and planned. Traffic patterns had to be mapped and accounted for, musicians had to be contacted, venues had to be brought on board. Foreman and his hearty band of collaborators-some of whom switched out from place to place, others who stayed throughout the entire 24 hours-played everywhere from tiny Mexican restaurants to sprawling pavilions, from high schools to hospitals, from mountaintops to beaches. Every minute was accounted for.
But Foreman believes that life, joy and indeed God Himself is rarely found on a day planner.
"The most beautiful elements of our lives are the things we can't control," he says during the documentary. "Surrender a little control and say I don't understand it and I'm going to enter into it anyways. Maybe that's where faith begins."
Though Foreman has always resisted the label Christian musician, there's no question he's both of those things, and many of his songs deal deeply with faith and its own myriad paradoxes. Wonderland and 25 IN 24 embrace them, and the 24-hour cycle itself echoes Wonderland's own disc titles: Sunlight and shadow, darkness and dawn.
Every stop on this unusual concert tour seems to have deep meaning for the singer/songwriter. He entertains sick kids at Rady Children's Hospital, where his own daughter was cared for when she was just 1 year old: Foreman tears up as he talks to the workers there. He plays a concert with a high school band from his alma mater, San Dieguito Academy. Foreman recalls his ninth grade there: "I didn't fit in," he admits, "and music helped me find a place where I could tell the truth, I could yell at God … and looking back, I guess that's the place where He could find me."
One of my favorite moments in the film takes place early on, when Foreman performs at Spreckles Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park. The organ, built more than 100 years ago, is one of the musical jewels of San Diego. But the real treasure here is that Foreman performs with his mother, was an organ major when she was a young woman. "I've never actually heard her play," Foreman admits. "Ever."
Not everything runs smoothly during the rambling run through the city. Foreman's ancient van breaks down in the middle of the night. A sudden mass of musicians-folks no one on Foreman's team apparently knows-show up to play. And it seems like they're always running late. Later, Foreman admits that much of the evening was "chaos."
"It was unscripted, but it made me feel alive," he says.
It made his fans feel alive, too-some who followed him from sundown to sunrise and beyond. The doc, just a little over an hour long, doesn't give us a lot of opportunity to hear from them, but sometimes we hear snippets. One man tells Foreman how much he's challenged him, both emotionally and spiritually. On the beach, Foreman gives another fan a hug-one who traveled to every concert stop.
I was primed to enjoy 25 IN 24. I've been a SWITCHFOOT fan for years, and I've always had tremendous respect for Foreman's ability to communicate and his obvious sincerity in what he says and sings. But I wasn't expecting 25 IN 24 to move me quite so much-to remind me of what it looks to step outside and do something special.
Foreman is a musician who still loves music. He still believes that it holds the mystical power to bind people together. "This is my obsession, this is my story, this is my way to communicate," he says. And 25 IN 24, which could be interpreted as a stunt on some level, proves be much more profound on reflection.
"He's very aware of the brevity of life," one of Foreman's collaborators says about him. Foreman himself compares life to be "flickering like candles." And as we watch the sun set and rise again, and see Foreman's still singing, we're reminded that while our souls are in one sense eternal, our lives on this earth are fiercely fleeting.
Paul Asay is a movie critic for Plugged In, and he writes the Watching God blog on Patheos.com. Follow him at @AsayPaul on Twitter.