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Alex Lifeson, famed guitarist for Rush, was recently featured in an interview in Classic Rock Magazine. The all-things-Rush website RushIsABand has a scan of the interview here. In the interview, by Paul Elliott, Mr. Lifeson is asked “Do you believe in God?” His answer to this question is already leading to Internet debate and now positions the band interestingly theologically.

I have been following, I mean ravenously following, this band for more than thirty years, and I don’t recall Mr. Lifeson ever being asked that question directly before.

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His bandmate Geddy Lee is on record as being an atheist, and his bandmate Neil Peart has been continually critical of religion over several decades of lyric-writing. My impression is that Mr. Peart prefers to remain agnostic, but others will know more about Peart arcana than I do. Mr. Lee has characterized himself as a Jewish atheist. (Two posts I’ve written (“Geddy Lee, Jewish Atheist” and “Geddy Lee Responds to My Question“) about Mr. Lee’s views about religion are among the most read and commented posts here at R&T.)

This means that Rush, one of the best selling rock bands of all time (behind only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for consecutive platinum or gold records), is more or less now publicly a nonreligious-to-antireligious, agnostic-to-atheist, group.

In Mr. Lifeson’s interview, his response to “Do you believe in God?” is: “No. When I was younger I did. My mother is not super-religious but she has a belief. My father was the total opposite. He thought religion was a crock. In my early teens I started to question it all. I had friends who were Jesus (more…)

One of the double edged graces of my life as a missionary is that of diving and delving into different cultures – that disconcerted sense of feeling the ground move beneath your feet: ‘the way things are done around here’ is not quite the same as where I am from, and yet not very different… especially when the language is the same! That the Spanish or the Italians see the world diversely  seems normal – language is a lens – but that Ireland and England be so very, very different, surprisingly (I know!), was a shock for me. The US was fun: we have a history of liking each other across family, friends and fights about English spelling.  And now that I am in Australia, forewarned that it would somehow be a cross between Ireland and the United States, here I am once again finding my feet, or rather learning to swim!

So I am looking out for keys of comprehension, and as I teach a course on “Signs of the Times”, I try to lead students to listen for God (also) in and through music, in the hope of discovering something of Australia’s sensibility as I do so.

My thoughts move in the following direction: sometimes I hit on a song that paints a culture, and in particular how they ‘feel’ , or otherwise, God, faith, Christianity (before and/or underlying how they think it).

One of the clearest expressions of English culture, for example, for me, has been this one: a song about a guy dealing with the death of his father, (more…)

The up-and-coming singer-songwriter Nataly Dawn was recently interviewed in the studios of WFUV in New York City about her new album, “How I Knew Her,” and her upbringing. Like many musicians, and like the history of rock and roll itself, her deep reworking of religion has been central to her life and art. Raised a missionary in France and Belgium, she is now on a somewhat different mission, but one that is taking place with constant reference to the unfolding story of her spiritual life.

You can listen to the interview on WFUV here. Here is her blog post on “My Life as a Missionary.”

And below is Ms. Dawn at FUV singing her song, “Still a Believer,” which is a significant representation of a spiritual sensibility alive and well in the USA, especially among younger generations. Hers has a particular post-evangelical shape and feel but shares a great deal with many other paths today.

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It seems to me that the cross-cutting of popular music with faith/religion/spirituality/etc is as strong as ever today, whether in overt or covert forms. This is very close to the heart of the rock and roll experience in our culture.

Tommy Beaudoin

 

Here is part three of my short series on the spiritual benefits of following a band for a long time. Part one is here, and part two here.

About ten years ago, the band was interviewed answering fan questions that were facilitated (if memory serves) by RushCon, an annual Rush fan convention. At the time, I was teaching at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. I submitted a question that, fortunately, was selected to be asked. The question, as you can hear in the video (I don’t know who conducted the actual interview) was: “Can you please comment on the relationship between your music and your spirituality? How does your spiritual life make its way into Rush’s music, and is playing in any way spiritual for you?” Vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee answered it in an interesting way. You can see it here:

 

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Why was I interested in knowing this from the band, and what did I think of Geddy Lee’s reply? Somewhere during my theological studies in the 1990s, I realized that rock and roll experience could be thought of as containing or rendering its own spiritual significance, and that this music was not strictly “separate” from religion/spirituality/faith/etc, nor was it only a “preparation” for something more genuine or deep. I have understood that spiritual significance in different ways over the years. And I was interested in how the band thought about this—if they thought about it at all. It turns out that Mr. Lee took some time with the question and gave a thoughtful response.

His response makes a lot of sense to me: It sounds like he distanced himself from religion, or what religion had been in his life, as a way of finding a (more…)

Sevendust: From Prayer to “Prayer”

Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,General by Tom Beaudoin on May 12, 2013

After almost four and a half of years of the Rock and Theology blog, and more importantly, several decades of substantial research in popular culture and religion, we should no longer be surprised that much of popular music trafficks in symbols, images, feelings, references, and gestures that are taken to be religious or spiritual. This music, after all, emerged from a conflictual mid-twentieth century scene when rock and roll came into being, in which music and musicians firmly planted in church life were situated in the same emerging genre, and often in the same recording studio or on the same stage or radio station, as “profane” music and musicians who were on the margins of, or on their way out of, churches. The musical struggle with what divine things have to do with earthly things has been there all along for rock and roll and its many descendants.

I thought of this recently as I listened to the Sevendust song “Prayer” from their self-titled album released in 1997. Here is the song in studio version:

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As I hear the song, I hear in it a conflict about prayer. The narrator recalls an earlier prayer experience, now seen more skeptically. “Who do you pray to?” he wonders – or indicts. Underneath the song, I hear the contemporary struggle to make sense of divine presence and action in the world, and whether prayer can be reconciled with the sensibilities of an age in which increasing numbers of people are reluctant to try to say much with confidence about God. This reticence can be cheap or hard-earned, of course, but then again a lack of reticence can be cheap or hard-earned as well –and at any rate I think the deep and widespread questioning of God and prayer are very important for theological work today, because they can press (more…)

This post is part 2 to the part 1 recently posted on Lacuna Coil’s “My Spirit.”

This song is striking in being written from the vantage of the dead person. It is a bold move. In religious traditions, it is rare to take the vantage of the deceased when rendering an account of beyond-death. Lacuna Coil’s “My Spirit” communicates something significant about death: a sense of encompassing indifference, and of a profound relativization of life (“the fate, the hate, it’s all the same”) and of whatever comes next (“the gates of hell are waiting, let them wait a little more”). There is a certain insouciance, the song seems to say, in death.

What I like about this song theologically is its delicately agnostic/majestic and perhaps even mystical refrain, which can create a space for a wonder about the difference between life and death, but does not alight on any single interpretation about what lies beyond death. This is effected through the remarkable phraseology  that both indicates a direction and outlines a suspension: “Where, where I go….” These seem to me to be the key words in this song’s theology of post-death.

The compelling melody of the verse is, in a way, the whole message: “Where, where I go / My spirit is free, I’m coming home”. The home is not specified, neither is the endpoint of this freedom. “Where, where I go…” This event language is barely even that. But it is also a way of saying, as Cristina Scabbia essentially said in her introductory remarks: it is not as if nothing survives. “My spirit” is the incomprehensible language fitting to this experience of post-death.

And then, after these words, the lyrics shift to address those not yet dead, giving the admonition: “Remember me, but let me go.” In other words, do not think that you comprehend what happens next!

“Let me go” means not only “release me,” but surrender what you think “me” means. Dispossess yourself of “me” — into …. “go.”

And then there Scabbia’s beckoning background vocal, “You will become who you are.” Is it a gloss on the post-death testimony? Is it the blessing of (more…)

Quote of the Day: Billy Bragg

Posted in: Agnosticism,Christianity,General,Politics by Michael Iafrate on March 30, 2013

“I can’t help but notice that some of those people handing out free food to the hungry down the road there are not necessarily motivated by socialism. They’re motivated by their faith and I have to respect that. I have to respect that. And I don’t think it’s good for people to tell them that they’re stupid and ignorant because they do that. I’m afraid I think that kind of fundamentalism has no place in the modern debate.” (Billy Bragg)

The quote comes from onstage remarks before his performance of “Do Unto Others” at SXSW on March 14, 2013:

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And here is the studio version of “Do Unto Others” from Bragg’s new record Tooth & Nail:

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The combination of a recent post by John Gonzalez on Evanescence and the Tourniquet Psalm and the beginning of what some Christian denominations call Holy Week have left me thoughtful. I love holy week. I know it sounds strange. I don’t always (or even often, unfortunately) love the liturgies I go to, but the underlying rhythm, the sense of watching a Man-God gradually move from speech to silence, from company to solitude, from admired to despised, with all the corresponding echoes of similar experiences we all have or know, draws me; it slows me down, and creates a centre inside that holds or makes sense to me.

And the centre is about that man-God’s faith, in the midst of all appearance to the contrary. And I know theology still struggles with it at times, but to me it makes perfect sense. Jesus, the man, had to believe, have faith, trust, not see and therefore let go and abandon… John’s blog on lament and today’s psalm:  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Lament at its most honest and deep, which Jesus makes his own…even while trusting? Of course, but feeling lost can be part of the faith experience, not its opposite. “Am I lost too?” There’s something so humble and truthful about the lyrics in that song. And it echoes another ‘prayer-song’ I come back to form time to time: “Cold Water” by Damian Rice, here performed in London:

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In a different style of music, but one which is just as desperate, the same question is asked: “or am I lost? I hear the pain of ‘found-and-lost’ faith or at least missing presence (missed): no one’s daughter, clinging to the hand of one you don’t know is even listening. The not-knowing where God is, or where we are, in terms of faith…

And it makes me wonder: I think we need more of this kind of ‘faith’ experience. I think the world right now needs to see us trust a God even when we (more…)

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
Save Jesus
Laugh loud, pretend to let go
Live your life like an Eskimo!”

and later

“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:

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I can’t help wondering about this saving of Jesus business — what an evocative and provocative term. (more…)

Spirituality and Music Festivals

Posted in: Agnosticism,Atheism,Fandom,General,News Items by Tom Beaudoin on February 12, 2013

I was recently interviewed by journalist Martin Buzacott for this ABC radio special from Australia, “Woodford and the Quest for Meaning,” about the Woodford Folk Festival. If you have a chance to listen, I hope you find it interesting.

Here is a report from the 2011-2012 festival:

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Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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