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Inside this lighthearted yet thoughtful take on the fact that Paul McCartney (who as far as I know was baptized Catholic, but never particularly active in it) was recently married to Nancy Shevell, who is Jewish, and had been married early in his life to another Jewish woman, Linda Eastman, is an interesting question.

McCartney has taken up the causes of his wives over the years, and David Yaffe of Tablet magazine wonders whether a new engagement with Judaism has influenced McCartney’s well-received new record, New.

Here is the video from McCartney’s single “Queenie Eye”:

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The question floating around the article that grabbed me was how we account for religious/spiritual/etc influences from relationships with significant others in music.

Yaffe half-jokingly hears a mitzvah in McCartney’s new music. What are we listening for when we listen for religious/spiritual/theological/etc influences? I don’t have any simple answers to this, but if McCartney is finding a new maturity in his music and life that is somehow related to Jewish influences, for sake of argument, then what are we to call the fruit of that interaction?

On the one hand, you might say it sounds like mitzvot, but on the other hand it’s something not quite that because it’s been channeled “outside” of (more…)

Tommy Beaudoin recently wrote an interesting post about the generation of young adults known as “Millennials”.  In it he wonders what songs symbolize the spiritual quest of this generation.  Beaudoin writes, “What are those songs? Middle-aged professors like me want to know, but I bet many parents of ‘Millennials’ would like to know, too, as well as religious leaders and not least, maybe ‘Millennials’ themselves.”

I just finished teaching a course at University of Detroit Mercy called “Rock, Hip-Hop and Religion.”  It was probably the most enjoyable and challenging course I have ever taught.  As part of this course I asked the students to present three songs that were spiritually significant to them.  They were required to play the song in its entirety and then explain in 3-5 minutes why the song was particularly meaningful to them.  I placed few restrictions on what they could choose–only that the songs needed to be considered (as much as this can possibly be discerned) “Popular” music (no jazz, no classical).  Of the twelve students in my class, ten of them would be considered “Millennials”–[two students were "non-traditional"--Academia's euphemism for "older"!].  I was very impressed by these presentations.  They improved over the course of the semester as the students learned about new ways to mine songs for meaning.  What impressed me most, however, was the depth of personal sharing from these students.  These songs, some contemporary, some older, are helping the millennials in my class to ease their suffering, celebrate their life victories and mourn their deep losses.

(more…)

Some Notes on “Angel from Montgomery”

Posted in: Eschatology,General by Tom Beaudoin on December 4, 2013

I am thinking about the song “Angel from Montgomery.” Here is John Prine singing his original version:

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I am drawn to the ordinary imagery that makes up what the narrator of the song, a woman unsettled by her situation, reaches for as she tries to make sense of her world. “Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery,” she pleads. “Make me a poster of an old rodeo.” And then: ”Just give me one thing I can hold on to / Believing in this living is a hard way to go.”

Here is the Tedeschi Trucks band with their cover of “Angel from Montgomery” with a taste of Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia’s “Sugaree” following…

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The “angel” of the song wants much more from her life than she can have. In her reach back to the “cowboy” of her youth, and her chagrin at the years that have passed, you can sense the sadness of her desire running out like water onto the pavement. She is not done with life, but all around her it (more…)

A Song to Get You in the Holiday Spirit

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on December 4, 2013

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Who’s Gonna Save My Soul Now?

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on December 2, 2013

In 2008, Gnarls Barkley released the hauntingly beautiful “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.”

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The song begins with the lyrics:

I got some bad news this morning
Which in turn made my day
When this someone spoke I listened
All of a sudden, has less and less to say
Oh how could this be?
All this time, I’ve lived vicariously
Who’s gonna save my soul now?
Who’s gonna save my soul now?
How will my story ever be told now?
How will my story be told now? (more…)

Which Songs Symbolize the Spiritual Quests of Millennials?

Posted in: General,News Items by Tom Beaudoin on December 1, 2013

In the New York Times print edition today, there is an editorial titled “Millennial Searchers” by Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker, arguing that young adults today, often known as “Millennials,” are more committed to finding meaningful lives than is commonly realized. Their search, it is argued, has been urged on them by the collapse of the dream/myth of material prosperity in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. Though the authors do not discuss spirituality/religion/faith/theology/etc, I wonder how this constellation relates to the search for meaning among young adults today, especially as so many identify spirituality as important in their lives. Moreover, given the massive surround that music represents in the lives of many young adults, I wonder further what tunes will be recognized as essential to the soundtrack of this cohort? It’s always tricky, and perhaps impossible, to find songs that symbolize a cohort’s spiritual quest, but I wonder what the basic candidates would be for today’s young adults.

What are those songs? Middle-aged professors like me want to know, but I bet many parents of “Millennials” would like to know, too, as well as religious leaders and not least, maybe “Millennials” themselves.

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Don’t forget about the new book

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on November 30, 2013

You know, “the” new book? It’s been a while since I reminded R&T readers about Secular Music and Sacred Theology, the book featuring various R&T contributors. Check it out at the publisher’s website here or Amazon here.

Black Friday

Posted in: General by David Nantais on November 29, 2013

Take a break from shopping and enjoy a little music!

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Dave Nantais, Detroit, MI

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Randy Kennedy wrote a story for Thursday’s print edition of the New York Times on the intense and widespread appreciation of seventeenth century Dutch painting. In it, he quotes Tracy Chevalier, author of the bestselling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring, to this effect: “I think one of the reasons people are drawn to Dutch painting now is because it’s not religious, by and large. It’s people sitting around playing cards or a woman mopping the floor, or it’s a fish market or an interior of a home. I think we like to see that window onto a middle-class world that is not all that different from our own. There’s something like us in there.”

Her comment situates art appreciation in the complexities of class identity in which it almost always resides, and in so doing it also says something suggestive for R&T readers about why art continues to attract, fascinate and compel. Her emphasis (I imagine) on the “now” (“people are drawn to Dutch painting now“) suggests to me that she is speaking specifically about the present post/secular moments in global culture, in which one acceptable place for religion is as a secondary pursuit, an option, or a pragmatic handle on navigating life.

Perhaps religion has “always” been this way (so long as we have had “religion” as we understand it in the West, which according to recent research we have not always had), but it should make us curious, we who care about people’s continued devotion to music, as we try to make theological sense of it.

Are theologians to shepherd “secular” people back to “religion”? By no means! Instead, theologians can model a way of being with reality that lets through the insistence of its “more”. In that way, we honor the contemporary instinct for release and liberation through art and music while being the agents of life’s deepening.

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

“Thank you, thank you” amidst the Festival of Lights

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving and a lovely Hanukkah to those in the States and everywhere else who are celebrating today!

Here is Natalie Merchant singing “thank you, thank you” as part of the chorus of her song “Kind and Generous”:

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And here is my favorite Hanukkah song, by the Maccabeats:

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