Tuesday, May 6, 2008

WWJS - What Would Jesus Shuffle?

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Post #1: WWJS - What Would Jesus Shuffle?

Poor Man's House - Patty Griffin (mp3)
Calling All Angels - Jane Siberry (w/K.D. Lang) (mp3)

If Jesus had an iPod... I'm inclined to believe Jesus wouldn't care much for songs about himself. I've never believed in a God whose ego needed stroking, and the only thing worse than an egocentric Old Man is a self-centered Son. Just ask the Bushes. Or, if you prefer, Daedalus and Icarus.

Seriously, can you think of anything less appealing in a hero than someone who sings songs about themselves? The thought of Jesus, walking on the other side of the street, whistling "The Old Rugged Cross" or "Nothing But the Blood" should nauseate.

So while Jesus probably shies away from Praise & Worship stuff, he hopefully enjoys ditties about the human condition, about how most of us hunger for spiritual food, about how our notions of the post-death future shape so much of our present. If Jesus didn't love Patty Griffin, I'm just not sure I could like the guy. I could love him, but not like him. Like my Aunt Belinda.

Doesn't seem like Jesus had much time for music while he was down here, actually. J talked and talked. And talked. It's possible that, being perfect, Jesus didn't need music. Perhaps Jesus was music. The perfect song taking human form, blood coursing through notes. A perfect glissando chord progression.

David, on the other hand, was the epitome of Biblical humanity. David wrote music, danced, sang, played instruments. He fed on music like a vampire on blood. It was the only way he found, other than prayer, that connected him to God.

I hope we all get iPods in Heaven, but they're probably obsolete. We prolly just think of a song and get to listen to it, much like Trinity learned to be a helicopter pilot in a matter of seconds in "The Matrix."Heavenly Rhapsody, or something. Dear God, I hope Cheap Trick isn't banned in Heaven.

Of this I am certain: Without music, I would have no soul.

Lambert, one of our regular visitors, passed along a blog by a man named Daniel Radosh. Intrigued by his writing, I followed his links down the rabbit hole until I discovered a highly amusing "debate" between him and another man on the topic, "Does Christian Rock Suck"? Like all debates, the sides are on the extremes while the reality lurks somewhere in the middle, but the debate was valid and enjoyable nonetheless, particularly for those of us who find ourselves drawn to religion and music in almost equal portions.

Can't rightly say where on that spectrum I fall. I get the guy who thinks Christian Rock sucks. I get the gal who thinks Christian Rock is the end-all be-all of music. I get the old lady who loves Elvis' gospel albums and the young lad who leaves the church parking lot cranking up some Eminem.

What spooks me is people who love music but feel nothing spiritual about it. Likewise, I can't comprehend people who are religious but don't enjoy music. Not sayin' these people don't exist. They do. In spades. I just don't get 'em.

My notion of Hell -- and I'm not being glib -- is life without music. Life without music is life without God.

My most selfish fear is of going deaf. How could I not, between my genetics and the abuse I've rendered on my ear drums these last 36 years, eventually lose my ears? Deaf feels more inevitable than death. If this seems unreasonable, 'tis precisely the unreasonable nature of this certainty which defines fear, right?

When preachers decry music as Satanic, I can't help but laugh, since even the crappiest of music still contains proof of heaven. Maybe some music is truly evil, in that it was created with the worst of intentions and the most dire of ambitions. But enough about Clay Aiken (ba-dump-kssh!). Even in the darkest of music lives the light of creation, and in that light, spirit. Jesus lives in AC/DC, although I suspect Angus Young might vomit black blood from the depths of his chest if he read such a thing.

I hear my religious beliefs echoed in every song I hear, even if sometimes it comes through more clearly than others. Sure, I feel closest to God when I hear a bagpipe band play "Amazing Grace." Something about that song, emerging from a chorus of those instruments, that vibrates through every fabric of my tissue. It doesn't matter if it's being played in the sanctuary of my church or on a street corner outside Ryan's Irish Pub in the French Quarter. Even soulless rock has soul, this distant beacon from a lighthouse buried deep in the fog of overproduction and slick black pitch.

Although I am occasionally attracted to gospel music and even "Contemporary Christian" music, the songs which draw me closest to my faith tend to be, technically speaking, anything but.

There's the scene from "Children of a Lesser God" where William Hurt and Marlee Matlin dance, and she's feeling the beat as it surges through the floor and into her feet. Although it frightens me to think of life with the Mute button stuck, I cling to the hope that even those without hearing still find ways to feel music.

So Hell is deeper than deafness. It's the absolute absence of tune, note, treble, bass. It's Will Ferrell with Voice Immodulation Syndrome.

and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it's almost...it's almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you'd finally understand what this all means

but if you could...do you think you would
trade in all the pain and suffering?
ah, but then you'd miss
the beauty of the light upon this earth
and the sweetness of the leaving

When I hear Jane Siberry sing these lines, I hear sonic aftershocks of Genesis (the book, not the band). I feel a power bigger than the entirety of humanity, offering tiny drops of revelation to songwriters all over the planet throughout all of time.

I even feel God's aftershocks through Kevin Rowland. Or, well, I imagine I would if I ever had to listen to him... although I'd prefer feeling God through Patty Griffin.

"Poor Man's House" is from Patty's first album, Living With Ghosts. "Calling All Angels" is on Jane Siberry's When I Was a Boy but is also on the soundtrack for Wim Wenders' "Until the End of the World." Both songs can be purchased on iTunes.


Anonymous said...

Billy, I'm in the middle of cooking a killer mac and cheese with brie so don't have time to respond fully to your post except to reference Emerson in "Self Reliance". "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this." I felt like I was reading what I've always thought about music and spirituality but had never had the skill to articulate so well. Thanks. I'll try to craft a longer response after my kids take their AP's and I have too much time on my hands.

Billy said...

Wow. This is an incredibly kind compliment. Gonna store this one in my mental C: drive for safe keeping.

I still can't help but feel that these ponderings aren't very tightly organized. They feel more like Idea Vomit than I'd like... but if you get it, then it can't be as disjointed as I fear.

Or we're equally skewed.

I'd be OK with either.

Daytimerush said...

I've already told you in person, but I'll put it out there for all to read. Your post brought me to tears. I clearly recognized my own thoughts and feelings in your words. Plus, you have once again exposed me to some excellent music!