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This afternoon I was out doing errands. The weather was beautiful. I was driving an old, classic sports car I inherited from my Dad. That thing is fast. As I sped along, my satellite radio was blaring a live concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from June of 1999. While I listened to the music I felt blessed. So thankful for the beautiful car, wonderful weather, great music and the fact that there were no cops around to give me a speeding ticket.
As the concert progressed, the band started playing “If I Should Fall Behind.” The lyrics reminded me of our human frailty. Of the times when things go wrong in our lives, when we need help. How people come to our aid, often without us asking them to. Maybe it’s family, maybe friends. Once in a while a perfect stranger steps into our lives from out of nowhere. These people hold us up—sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally and sometimes through prayer. For me, they truly represent the Grace of God. I feel that grace in this song.
Posted in: Musical Performance,Ruminatio,Teaching by Andy Edwards on May 31, 2010
Today I’d like to make my own confession. I’m a gear geek. When I go to a show, I’m looking to see what gear the lead guitarist is using to boost his sound during a solo (two TS-9s in tandem always works best, right?). When I listen to an album with a prominent bassline, I try to identify the frequency where the bassist’s compression kicks in, allowing for both a grainy, unmuddled bottom and a smooth, phattened high end (a distinction that is unfortunately washed over in poorly compressed audio files).
This propensity for “geargeekity” also manages to express itself in other spheres beyond the musical. When my academic institution installed a SmartBoard last year, I was eager to use it in seminars. Similarly, when we purchased Adobe CS4, I stayed awake at night thinking of all the possibilities for using Flash animation in teaching. And like everyone else, over the past year I’ve been researching e-readers for their PDF capabilities so I can take my favorite academic journals with me everywhere. (Forget the gear…perhaps I’m just a categorical “geek”!)
Yet last week I attended (more…)
Posted in: General,Rock and Theology Project,Ruminatio by Michael Iafrate on May 29, 2010
I mentioned in an earlier post that I have recently begun work on a new album. This particular musical project — my second full length “solo” record, if I could arrogantly claim that term — is the most “theological” of the various musical projects of which I have been a part. It is also the first serious recording project that I have undertaken since I joined the Rock and Theology project. So I can’t help but be reflective in the process of making this record; perhaps more reflective than I have ever been about “what I’m doing” with these particular songs in this particular band. In this post I’d simply like to throw out some very tentative reflections and questions, to “think out loud.” (Can I get a little more of me in my monitor?)
Although my “solo” material has for a long time featured overtly “religious” language, especially Christian imagery and references, I have always emphatically rejected the notion that what I am doing is “Christian rock.” (I have never been interested in “Christian rock,” with the exception of a couple very fringey “Christian metal” bands long ago.) And though no one, to my knowledge, has ever “accused” me of making “Christian rock,” a few listeners have come pretty close. A friend of mine told me once after a show that when he saw my band play he felt like he was at church — “In a good way,” he added. I believe my response was “Thanks?”
I have been thinking a lot about this Winger song, “Who’s the One,”
as this latest crisis in the Catholic Church pulls the church down further into what I hope will be the irreversible demise of an entire strand of the Catholic tradition, indeed approaching the practical essence or at least requirement of Catholicism for many: secretive about power, openly misogynistic and officially homophobic, trading on a supernatural hierarchy of spiritual classes, afraid of education that might interfere with its sacred story, anxious about inventing and defending its superiority, sacramentally magical, and reactively floating mystifications whenever the chips are down. This kind of religion will probably never permanently go away, but its hold is loosening by the hour in this new century as we learn more and more about the mendacity of Catholic power, riven through all that has been freeing in this tradition like a subterranean capillary system. To confess, excavate, and dispossess ourselves of the will to tell people the truth about themselves toward the tradition’s own advantage – this is the ethical task for a Christian, for a theologian, who wants to live in the present, who hopes to even inhabit the same moral universe as the prophets.
Several days ago, Dr. Chris McDonald, in reply to my “Ruminatio” post about Jacob Moon’s interplanetarily good cover of Rush’s “Subdivisions,” wrote: “I was intrigued by your comment that ‘he’s even doing the whole song himself, reducing a rock trio to a solo act with cool electronics, as if that too somehow speaks to the climate the tune gives for adulthood.’ Could you expand on that?”
What I think I meant there was that to understand the song “Subdivisions” has always been, for me and many others, to hear it as set to the famous music video that accompanied it.
While one might get a strong sense for the advocacy of an unrelenting individuality from that song alone, and certainly if one hears that song in the context of Rush’s larger catalogue, one also gets that sense from the video. There, the young-man-against-the-masses struggles to make his way through indifferent or hostile worlds of conformity. In the end is the famous scene of him playing the Tempest video game, alone with technology, greasy hair, and oversize glasses. And Rush not only understands, it celebrates this singularity.
I recently came across this video of Jacob Moon covering Rush’s 1980s hit “Subdivisions,” and it has bewitched me.
I love that you can hear the lyrics in their learned sweetness, hard half-anger, and egghead poignancy. These lyrics and the original music video were manifesto, landscape, and script for me and many other adolescents, especially boys, in the 1980s.
In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out
In the basement bars, in the backs of cars, be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to soothe the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth
As I take in Jacob Moon’s version on repeated viewings, and imagine its place in my current life frame, I notice how little in those lyrics need to change in order to retain as much force for my life at 40 as they did for my life at 13, when this song first came out.
Coming up on ten years of university teaching, and I have written recently at Rock and Theology about the temptations in the professorial life to “die young.” Jacob Moon and I seem to be about the same age, and it is easy to fantasize he took this song to heart like the legions of middle class kids in the 1980s did. This taking-to-heart makes some of these lyrics my informal scripture, annotating scenes from adult life: “Some will sell their dreams for small desires / and lose the race to rats / get caught in ticking traps…”
There is an adolescent force in the “individual against the masses” motif so memorably presented in the Rush lyrics of this era. But let’s not let embarrassment or fear too quickly separate our adult selves from what was once important to us and now forms the substrate of adult life. Seeking such a cultural through-line sometimes goes against the current of polite professional company, but is a continual theme in everyday life for fans of popular music, many of whom, freed from the sanitation laws that structure what used to be called bourgeois society, talk about what parts of themselves survive from the earlier eras of their lives, tied in memory to songs, concerts, musical personae.
I have found the incitements to give up on the dare that life represents to be a nearly habitual spiritual struggle in adulthood. True, there is a wisdom purchased at the cost of surrendering dreams, and doing this wisely is often taken to be intrinsic to a happy adulthood. But Jacob Moon’s cover of “Subdivisions” reminds me that is not the whole story. Eberhard Bethge wrote with generous nuance about his friend, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that the “driving force in his life was the need for unchallenged self-realization.”
Posted in: General,Rock and Theology Project,Ruminatio by Tom Beaudoin on February 8, 2010
Over the past year at R&T, we have proposed some potential new categories for demarcating a space for rock and theology. Among the ones I have suggested and occasionally exemplified are “somatica divina” and “rock bestiary.” And I have been thinking about another one: “ruminatio.”
It seems that we would benefit on this blog from doing what many of our interlocutors in the comment boxes are already doing explicitly, and what we contributors are at any rate doing with some degree of explicit gesture, and that is exploring what various elements of rock culture mean for us in our personal theologies (or, I suppose, how personal theologies give openings into rockish materializations). Here we could indulge the personal, publicly.
Not that all of such reflection would immediately connect with the life and faith of every R&T reader, but rather that we both demonstrate and practice the finally personal relating of music and theology that is at the heart of this project’s spiritual cyclotron. We can set aside the many gestures of professional language, or at least re-set those gestures into what Martin Jay has so compelling elucidated as the “songs of experience.”
With this new genre, I hope we can post items that reveal something of our more personal stories as theologians and musicians. We will not leave analytic concepts behind, but rather background them in favor of talking about life between “sacred” theology and “secular” music.
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