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They all dig that crazy beat

Posted in: Christianity,Drumming,General,Lyrics,Practices by David Dault on December 28, 2012

Some recent posts have gotten my mind thinking.  In particular, the posts by Tom Beaudoin and Maeve Heaney have raised the question of  interpretations that are not lyric-oriented, but are instead interested in thinking about the meaning of the music.  We get so used to thinking that the only aspect of a song that matters is the worded expressiveness, and we pass over the “material substrate” of the music itself.

For me, this raises a really interesting set of possibilities.  I think of Peter Gabriel, during his musique concrete phase in the early 80s (n.b. Melting Face and Security?), telling interviewers that he was trying to process primal screams through filters so that they became part of the texture of the songs–the sonic landscape. I think of Ween, Geza X, my beloved Brainiac, and the almost unlistenable moments of NEU!–each is pushing beyond the “meaning-content” of the lyrics to the point of using the voice as an instrument in itself.

Which makes me think about the points where voice and instrument are literally melded–autotune, vocoder, and talking guitar.  Let me take this backwards in three steps: the contemporary example, of course, is T-Pain.  But isn’t he just using new technology to build on the ground laid by Roger and Zapp? And Roger was riffing with synthesizers, using technologies popularized by Peter Frampton and his guitar.  But in these examples, the “instrumentalized voice” is still capable of being examined for meaningful lyric content.

So what of the artists that used voices but refused to offer intelligible lyrics as content?  Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu once wrote that (more…)

In a recent post, Tom Beaudoin asked key questions about what is important when we approach or analyse music theologically, when he said

“Why have theologians been so interested in lyrics when we have engaged pop culture? That’s another conversation, but probably worth exploring.”

It’s one of the questions I come back to time and time again when thinking about music theologically, or ‘in theology’. I think the fact that theology has been so verbally and conceptually understood, we struggle to think about theological understanding without thinking of content, creed belief statements. And yet we are more than our heads (despite Ken Robinson’s great quip about academics using their bodies as a form of transport to get their heads to meetings).

Anyway – I will ramble more on this in relation to rock music/culture, but let me just throw one experience or thought process in. Not so long ago, in a post called post called “Record Store Catechism” by David Dault, he spoke of the ever-decreasing ‘physical’ experience of browsing through record stores and picking out albums somewhat randomly, because you liked the way they looked, I decided to do just that, went to an old record store (there are many in Munich!) and just for sake of exposure, chose one I would not usually feel have picked up, leaving the store with a double CD by Apocalyptica, a group who I knew not, called Cult.

I loved it. And I was fascinated. A Finnish band described as Cello Rockers, or Metal band, depending on who’s describing, of course, who are a group of 4 classically trained cello players who began their life together as a Metallica Tribute band, and here’s the proof:

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No lyrics… and much of their music has none, and yet in this case the audience fill them in. And sometimes (more…)

Several days ago, Christian Scharen posted a thoughtful challenge about whether “we” (which I take to mean R&T readers) should be enthusiastic, from a theological vantage, about the new availability of AC/DC music on iTunes. The basic issue, as he followed up in the comments, is that AC/DC traffics in language about the devil and evil. Isn’t it a contradiction of Christian commitments, he asks, to revel in such language — admitting that the band itself may be exploiting such language/imagery in a trite or hackneyed way.

In the combox after Christian’s post, I expressed my agreement with his concern in the following way: “We don’t want to be schooled, through musical experience, in things that betray what is most important and most true for us.”

Also in the comments section, I posted my approach to lyrical analysis from theological perspectives: “If the felt sense of popular music is such an important part of its significance in everyday life, why bring in a critical analysis of lyrics as a kind of ‘necessary’ theoretical point? For me, this gets to the question of what the theological analysis (or better, sense-making) of music is working with; what is theology’s focus when dealing with music? Whereas I used to argue for lyrical analysis as central or at least important for a theological engagement with music, I no longer see it as a non-negotiable element ‘a priori’. If the point is to do theology that engages how people really live, I would think we need to make theological sense of what is already moving people. That may or may not include lyrics. Why have theologians been so interested in lyrics when we have engaged pop culture? That’s another conversation, but probably worth exploring. That said, whether or not lyrics actually play a role in shaping the reception or the discursive force-field of musical experience in people’s lives — and again I think the answer here can only be contextual, not general — there is still room for lyrical analysis by theologians as an attempted intervention in lived experience. On occasion theologians can gain entree to readers’/hearers’ lives and propose ways of hearing lyrics that enhance or complexify — that is, redirect — the experience of the music, even if lyrics had not been that important to the listener beforehand.”

With these observations on lyrics as background, I’d like to further (briefly) comment on Christian’s concerns about singing praises of Satan/devil/evil along with AC/DC.

[1] The basic meanings of our lives is deeper and more complex than what we can say in any one moment. No spiritual narrative (more…)

Thus states Ephesians 2, offered this week as one of the weekday Scripture readings for some of the Christian churches around the world, and I am left thinking: “seated, in heaven, with you…right now” That Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father is already something our post-Copernican minds struggle with, because where is heaven, anyway? But that we also have been introduced into that place where he reigns challenges the way we inhabit the space we live and move in ‘down here’ or rather ‘right here’ and ‘right now’. Because space and time are relative. It’s one of the things music reveals to me daily: waiting for the green light as a pedestrian to cross the road (I am currently in Germany – the only European country I have lived in that obliges pedestrians to obey their lights J) – a continuous stream of never-ending moments… unless, that is, I am caught up in the music that fills my mind; Then, the time I am living in is the rhythm pulsing through my brain – sometimes moving me forward, others stretching and holding me (back) in what feels like time held, but it’s longer than usual, and I am not pushing against the limits imposed on me from the outside, but rather awake to that moment. And the space I walk through has a different feel to it.

A lot has been written on the time- value of music (most well known, perhaps, is the writing of Jeremy Begbie), but what about the way music affects how we inhabit space? This is one of my ongoing questions, but today I think of it in terms of how we are ‘seated in the heavens’. We live in a sensorial world – and the only way to the Sprit is through matter – the only way to heaven is through earth.

Any music could have spoken to this thought, but today it was this one:

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My hands are cold, my body’s numb/I’m still in shock, what have you done? /My head is pounding, my visions blurred/Your mouth is moving, I don’t hear a word

And I hurt so bad, that I search my skin/For the entry point, where love went in/And ricocheted and bounced around/And left a hole, when you walked out

I’m falling through the doors of the emergency room/Can anybody help me with these Exit Wounds?/I don’t know how much


The “Faith and Science” of The Script

Posted in: General,Lyrics,Ruminatio by Maeve Heaney on September 29, 2012

When my nieces introduced me to The Script, I will admit that the title of the first CD I tried out grabbed me: “Faith and Science” – hardly surprising for someone who was theologically trained in fundamental theology and theological aesthetics. In truth, there is only one song that develops that theme – the 4th track of the same title. Although it could be fruitfully brought into dialogue with PierAngelo Sequeri’s theology of faith and trust (and perhaps I will in a future post), it is not the only one I like.

I admit it: I’m hooked. I love their music. From the first guitar riff of the first song “You won’t feel a thing”:

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my bad days are interrupted and touched by something my body recognizes and moves to, inside and out. So in the next blog or two I am gonna reflect a little bit about what and why that is. They’re Irish (Dubliners even :-)) – but I will declare with complete honesty that I only found that out after I started investigating them. But of course it only endears me further. There is always gonna be that fascinating, albeit paradoxical, pull to and rejection of the mystical side of life that is such a part of my nation in ‘recent times’, and that I recognize.

What they say about themselves is interesting, and again has to do with what making-music implies, as much as, or as a means


Bruce Springsteen Interview

Posted in: General,Interviews,Lyrics by Mary McDonough on June 19, 2012

Here’s the link to a recent, excellent video conversation with Bruce Springsteen. He talks about his new CD Wrecking Ball, songwriting, social justice issues, and the loss of saxophonist Clarence Clemons. In the middle of the interview he briefly discusses how Catholicism has influenced his music.

“Bruce Springsteen and the Song of the Working Man”

Mary McDonough

We lost one of the greats when Donna Summer passed away. I grew up on her music. The news of her death came as a shock. Summer was young. Barely in her sixties. A life cut off way too short.

Summer had a finger print styled voice. Arguable one of her best albums was her self titled album Donna Summer (1982) when she teamed up with producing king Quincy Jones to construct an album that flirted with an existential humanity within every song. Summer begins the album discussing her modus: love is in control. Focused chiefly on relationships, love, broken hearts, and the struggle between faith and reality. Summer fused the legendary pop sound of a DX-7 into the heart of the album.

Summer even lets us know that there is a “mystery” to love with James Ingram. Love is not exactly a science and that within this almost mythological state, mistakes can be made, but in the end, “love wins.” The orchestra background supports the strong duet that Ingram and Summer have.

Summer even pays tribute to nationalism with State Of Independence and Livin’ In America. Her ethos here is that “everyone can make it” and that you will eventually—albeit a difficult road—“live the American dream” if you persist and push through certain hard times—which, by her next few songs Protection and (If It” Hurts Just A Little will surely come.

What Summer did in this album was lay out a type of existential estrangement between love and hate; pain and peace; the ideal life and the reality of what life is. As I listened to this album as a child, I remember not necessarily understanding what Summer meant in her lyrics regarding pain and love. I was confused for lack of experience on the subject matter. As I matured, I quickly learned and saw these connections in my relationships which did not always go the way I had hoped—especially with the



Latin is Bad Ass!

Posted in: General,Lyrics by David Nantais on January 26, 2012

I was reading a review of the latest musical offering from Machine Head, a 90’s-era heavy metal band that has been a critics’ favorite for many years .  The review discussed their latest (seventh) disc called “Unto the Locust.”  Commenting on how heavy this album is, the reviewer mentioned that frontman Rob Flynn sings one song in Latin!


Latin lyrics are not uncommon in some styles of heavy metal.  One other example that occurs to me can be found at the beginning of the Queensryche song “Suite Sister Mary” from their prog-metal epic “Operation Mindcrime,” where it sounds like a Gregorian choir is chanting in a monastery.


I am intrigued by metal bands integrating Latin phrases into their songs.  What is the attraction?  When did Latin become so bad ass?!


The apocalyptic hope of Tom Waits

Posted in: Christianity,General,Lyrics by Jeffrey Keuss on November 7, 2011

As Tom sang in Black Market Baby (1999), “There’s no prayer like desire,” and I certainly desired something more than “safe music” in my early 30s. But I was probably too much of a coward to look beyond my steady diet of singer-songwriters such as Jackson Browne and Bruce Cockburn. As with providence, it’s not what we seek that matters so much as what finds us. In the case of Tom Waits, it was as if I had wrestled with an angel and had my hip dislocated in all the right ways. Frankly, I had no idea what was about to hit me. I was over at the home of my then-girlfriend (now wife) when she put Bone Machine on the CD player and I heard—no, I experienced—the opening track. It was Earth Died Screaming, with all its redemptive horror, like an “audio stigmata,” or like falling face-first into Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. While Earth Died Screaming is a song for the end of the world—“What does it matter, a dream of love or a dream of lies / We’re all going to be in the same place when we die”—Jesus Gonna Be Here is a song of sorrowful hope beyond hope amidst a miserable world:

Well, Jesus gonna be here
He gonna be here soon, yeah
He gonna cover us up with leaves
With a blanket from the moon, yeah
With a promise and a vow
And a lullaby for my brow
Jesus gonna be here
He gonna be here soon, yeah.

The song has the whiskey-stained tremor of a preacher pushed beyond reason—maybe beyond theology—akin to the Psalms of Asaph like Psalm 73. There is sorrow, there is cynicism; but there is also hope, like flowers in the dirt. (more…)

Song Lyric of the Day

Posted in: General,Lyrics by Mary McDonough on October 22, 2011

“I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.”

Mat Kearney, “Closer to Love”

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