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Posted in: General,Reviews,Theological Production,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on March 15, 2013
Last night at South By Southwest, I witnessed perhaps the very best set of rock and roll in my life. Dead Sara played at Empire Automotive, a former auto repair shop converted into a concert space. In less than 45 minutes, Dead Sara exhibited an exquisite abandonment to rock and roll. The lead singer Emily Armstrong and guitarist Siouxsie Medley were utterly irrepressible throughout the show, somehow managing to sing and play while pacing, thrashing, headbanging, and flailing to the music.
(For a taste, here is Dead Sara performing “The Weatherman” last October in Dallas:)
Last night, Armstrong was a one-woman rock and roll firestorm, part Janis Joplin, part Freddie Mercury, as she claimed the entire stage, and then some, as her own. Seemingly out of nowhere, Armstrong suddenly has one of the best voices in rock music today. While showing it off, she also spun around, played guitar lying down, jumped onto the drum riser and back off, swung the microphone faster and harder than I’ve ever seen done, wrapped and unwrapped the cord from around her body, careened in unpredictable directions, and toward the end of the show, climbed on top of a tall (more…)
Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,General,Lyrics,Theological Production,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on March 3, 2013
One of my favorite new rock bands is Dead Sara. This is the rare sort of rock music that just explodes out of the speakers. Is lead singer Emily Armstrong the new Janis Joplin?
Their song “Monumental Holiday” contains two mentions of a provocative
phrase scream: “Save Jesus!” The relevant verses are:
“It’s just a matter your violence
Laugh loud, pretend to let go
Live your life like an Eskimo!”
“Slow down children, save Jesus!
Your body clock, tick-tick-tock
Abstinence and contraceptives”
I’d like to think out loud a little more about the song, especially the lyrics. Here is the video for the song:
I can’t help wondering about this saving of Jesus business — what an evocative and provocative term. (more…)
Posted in: General,Musical Performance,Theological Production,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on October 2, 2012
One way to understand theology is that it is an attempt to recapture treasured origins, both by what theology argues (the meaning of this or that idea, text, or practice), and by how that argument is made, how the reader is carried along from turn to turn.
The recapturing of treasured origins is like a reconstituting of them, insofar as theology tries to make present, or at least make echo, some originating inspiration of the tradition, way back in time. Pay new attention, theology says, to these materials that are at the beginning of what matters: God, grace, beauty, unity.
Reading our own theological writings as attempts to recapture and reconstitute treasured origins is a way to see our theologies for the spiritual exercises that they might already be, and to make of them a new exercise now.
I thought of all this as I watched Rod Stewart sing a song of origins, going back “to Gasoline Alley where I was born.”
Especially because what is so arresting about Stewart, especially in this early (1970s?) era of his career, is not only what he is singing, but how he is singing it. “Going home, going home…”
Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
Posted in: Christianity,General,Is This The New Face of Religion?,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on September 30, 2012
Today in the New York Times, I read a nice (but too short) feature on women who have found/created paths to ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, reported by Judith Levitt.
This group of Catholic “Womenpriests” is a revolutionary community who have been not only theorizing the ordination of women in Roman Catholicism, but finding ways to make it happen. No doubt, a few hundred years from now, all the drama around ordaining Catholic women will seem like such a parochial matter because women will share equally in Catholic leadership at all levels, but for right now, and as a way of getting to that (hopefully inevitable) future, it is worth appreciating that history is being made.
Here are two videos about the movement:
Forgive my leap of imagination, but this story called to mind an artist in the music world often referred to as the “high priestess” of rock and roll: Stevie Nicks. That title “priestess” has a different meaning in the world of secular music: Nicks is often
Posted in: General,Guitarwork,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on June 28, 2012
As R&T readers know, last week I saw the musical “Once” on Broadway (and wrote about it here). This afternoon, I was walking in NoHo in Manhattan, and was about to stop in at a cafe.
Out front, I noticed a familiar-looking guy, and I quickly realized he was one of the cast and musicians from “Once.” In fact, he was an extraordinary musician in the musical, playing guitars and drums and singing. His name is Lucas Papaelias, and he is already an accomplished musician, actor, and composer.
I told him about Rock and Theology and we talked about musicals, performing, and spirituality. (He was very generous with his time, allowing this interruption from a random professor who wanted to talk with him about religion and music.) He is performing in, and is the musical director of, a show this weekend at The Culture Project in Manhattan, a show titled “A Thick Description of Harry Smith (Volume 1),” which, if you read the description, looks like it would be of interest to R&T readers.
Here is a picture of Lucas and me. (That’s him in the AC/DC shirt, and that’s me holding the phone-camera.)
On YouTube, I found a video of Lucas playing at a party purportedly at 4 a.m. Ever been in a scenario like that? If so, you will recognize
Posted in: Christianity,General,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on June 27, 2012
In the April 2012 issue of Harper’s magazine, Anthony Heilbut has an engaging essay on Aretha Franklin. Titled “Aretha: How She Got Over,” Heilbut (who is the author of The Fan Who Knew Too Much: The Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church, and Other Meditations) tells the story of Franklin’s beginnings in the church and the influence of her pastor father, and shows how her gospel music background has served as a recurrent anchor for Franklin’s brilliant singing career.
Here at R&T, we think about relating theology and pop music, and one way to do that is to look at how theological culture and musical culture come together in the lives of individuals, and Franklin’s life gives much to consider in this regard. Her pop success was underwritten by gospel music skills and feel, Heilbut argues, and the close relation between sexual and religious experience, confected in the black church, is a leitmotif that warrants several interesting asides (including a note about her performance at a same-sex wedding in October 2011), and that I wish Heilbut would have explored more directly. Perhaps he does in his book.
Here is Franklin early in her career:
Franklin, he suggests, “virtually colonized American music for the gospel style.” It seems the choice of verb is innocent here, but I think it tells deeper than Heilbut lets on. From the church of a colonized people came an extraordinarily talented woman, who neither simply repeated nor neatly inverted that colonization, however metaphorically, but let gospel music flower across many different gardens over the past five decades.
Her interesting musical debts to Billie Holiday and Judy Garland are noted, and her singular influence on what has become the
Posted in: General,Is This The New Face of Religion?,Musical Performance,Secular Liturgies,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on February 26, 2012
Tonight, I saw Björk live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, on her “Biophilia” tour. She played in the round, with a vocal ensemble of twenty women backing her up, all below eight large video screens. I did not expect that within the first minute, I would have been wondering whether something of what I saw tonight is a possible future for religion, or a religion of the future.
The opening and closing images on the screens were of constellations of stars, somewhere between computer-invented and computer-enhanced, spinning in slow revolution, posing unexpected shapes of natural gorgeousness, in the way only the night sky seems capable of doing. Björk performed ninety minutes of music, almost without breaks, and with the most minimal vocal interaction with the audience. The energy was all about what was happening on the stage, and above it on those screens — and, I must add, to the side of it, where a giant Tesla coil had been lowered, in a wire cage, to about twenty feet above the audience’s heads. In the careful attention to space, costume, sound, light, and bodies, all opening out to a biophilic “more” — this is one of those live shows that reminded me that the capillaries of “secular” music and “sacred” liturgy are so entwined as to evaporate those simplistic oppositional adjectives.
Björk has transcended most genres of contemporary popular music, although I still wish she would reach back and cover an old rock and roll tune from her early band, The Sugarcubes. Nowadays, her music consists mostly in her distinctive voice and her vulnerable, hymn-like, otherworldly melodies and vocal phrasings that manage to be both rococo and guileless at the same time, surrounded by musical arrangements that are part postmodern choir, and part house music with big drum breaks and thumping bass.
And there is that Tesla coil, which has somehow been linked to a synthesizer-type device, so the electric charges produced tones that anchored a couple of the songs. It is one thing to see it on a video, but quite another to see the thing working up close, and to experience those flashes of electricity as bass rumbles under the floor and in the air.
You can see it, and more to the point, Björk herself in this video of her performance of “Thunderbolt” from the current tour:
And the video below is the song “Possibly Maybe” from her show a few nights ago in New York, where you see and
Posted in: Basswork,Christianity,Drumming,Guitarwork,Voicework by Tom Beaudoin on January 6, 2012
Anyone know who this terrific drummer of a priest (or seminarian) is? (Watch all the way through for the special ending.)
No doubt he’ll be pegged for the youth ministry, but despite myself, I am wondering what it would be like if he teamed up with bass wizard Fr. Stan Fortuna on bass to compose a Mass.
And wait — they could be joined by, perhaps, guitar guru Fr. Stan Fortuna on guitar:
And while Fr. Fortuna can — it is true — also front a rock band, I suggesting sharing the wealth, and nominate Fr. Cesare Bonizzi for lead singer:
I believe this opens up a new topic at R&T: Religious leaders who rock. Do readers have other suggestions?
This topic takes us back to the origins of Rock and Theology and its patron saint, the Abbot Primate of the Benedictines, Notker Wolf.
Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York