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June 2010
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One of the things I’ve learned over the last couple years of writing blog posts is how frequently I must pause to ask myself how I, as a parent, am going to present a certain issue. My hesitations are almost always around the ways I will present, in word and image, matters about women and sexuality in theological and musical cultures.

I have been on the Internet since September of 1988 (or what we called “bitnet” back then), and am aware that some of my posts from the late 80s and early 90s can still be found floating around on the Internet. In other words, I know well that once something is posted online, it rarely completely disappears. And I imagine that however long R&T as a blog and as a research project endures, that these posts will be somehow accessible years or decades from now, for anyone including my daughter, when she is old enough, who would like to read them and can figure how out to do so. (She is not yet five years old, so I have a little time before she’s hunting around for Dad’s past lives in cyberspace.)

Most parents can sympathize with the quandaries before me as I seek to write online and in print, as directly as possible, if even in necessarily indirect language, about what is at stake theologically regarding life in contemporary culture. In the first hours after my daughter was born, I had the immediate and conclusive sense, which has only solidified in the years since, that her vitality and future had already, in an “eschatological” way, eclipsed mine, and that almost every important decision my wife and I would make, even about our “personal” lives and work, would somehow shift, sometimes irreversibly, the ecology of our family’s life together and our daughter’s future in particular. This is more than profound because it involves upending an entire way of being in the world into something completely unanticipatable, but it is also banal because almost every capable parent, especially in our day, feels this way very quickly, thoroughly, viscerally. What are the theologically realistic and subtle ways that we parents of young children can think about how we will justify to our adult children how we spent these years when they were young?

My impression is that many radical religion scholars in sexuality and gender, whose work I respect, do not have children; or children’s concerns do not seem to enter notably into their writings and their calculations about what and how to write. What will this new era, when more theologians-as-parents than ever are able to write about the most delicate and important issues, portend for the content of theology and the processes by which theology is written?

And so I have to think about what I post online now in a different way, but this does not often give me any easy answers. As I mentioned, I am probably most concerned about how I care for the presentation of women and matters of sexuality in music and theology, even though there are lots of other values and practices that are important in parenting a girl in a white middle-class family like ours. Why femaleness/femininity and sexuality? My thinking is very simple: in the present, intentional and creative attention to gender and sexuality seem crucial in the healthy raising of children, and in the recent past, gender and sexuality have been deeply problematic parts of life, in religion and music, not to mention Western culture in general, for young people. (I am of course bracketing religion and spirituality, since for me a rich awareness of those dimensions of life are (I hope) givens for my parenting.) But race, social class, place, it goes without saying how crucial these too are — and there are so many overlays that are worth noticing about childhood and parenting, not to mention of course the imperative to have as much fun, and more deeply, as much joy, as our capacities and situations allow, to be as fair and just as possible, and most of all, I think, to discover one’s own courage and “legitimate strangeness.” I have a lot of this in the back of my mind when I cook up posts online now, and even when I write pieces for print publication. I have no “objective” norm for how I make these decisions. Perhaps the best way I can summarize my overriding sense of how to make decisions about what to write, is to hope that whatever my daughter learns of my work in the future, she will think that it adds up to something worthy of the better parts of the father she’s known me to be.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

We who are committed to theology can only theologize in and from our particular and even peculiar situations. Here’s a situation: a dance club or party. Here’s a song and video: “Freedom.” And here’s the artist: George Michael. Over the past several years at clubs or parties, I have noticed the role this song and video plays in giving at least momentary joy to many kinds of people (including me), and not only at the gay clubs one might readily associate with this music (but certainly there as well). Since its appearance two decades ago, this song has been in the background soundtrack for our culture, but I have been noticing how easily this song takes charge in party atmospheres once its synthesized high-hat opening greets you so politely. (Note: the video is not for kids.)

Here is a live version that plays up the gospel atmosphere of the tune:

I will repeat for the umpteenth time that one need not endorse everything possibly associated with this (or any) music to be curious about its power for holding interpersonal moments, whether club floors or basement bars. Some interpreters hear this song as Michael’s declaration of independence from the corporate music industry represented by MTV. Others hear a meditation on relationships. But what seems clear to me is that in the lived party moment, almost all are focused on that rousing gospelly declaration of “freedom” in the chorus. Does it hurt that it can also be heard as a gospel of resistance to codependence? “All we have to see is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.” All who hear the message of freedom and live it beyond Michael’s music, with or without the assistance of theologians, are going to already transcend the limits of his particular struggles and the way the video positions the song, however many significant identifications there may be between fans and these fantasized elements of life and art. And would I be so wrong to praise the happy and happening bassline as a key reason this song succeeds musically? It leads the jive and groove all the way through, including laying down the staccato landing lights during the bridge (“I think there’s something you should know…”) most deliciously.

Like a good deal of popular music, “Freedom” is situated between sacred and profane: “It looks like the road to heaven, it feels like the road to hell.”

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

Of Winger and Theology: Part Four

Posted in: General,Musical Performance by Tom Beaudoin on June 28, 2010

I recently wrote about the ways that rock musicians model desire and its satisfaction, using the example of Reb Beach, lead guitarist of Winger, and the way he relates to the guitar as part of his body, as an integrated embodiment of the song, during live shows.

I have not yet mentioned how vocal chatter can comment on the bodily wherewithal during live shows. What a musician says during performance can interpret, supplement, sometimes replace, their larger bodily wherewithal.

And so it was fun to notice, at the Winger show in New York City recently, that Reb Beach mouthed a bit of a mock-parroting of lead singer Kip Winger’s opening line to the song “Madalaine,” a lyric that, devoid of irony, declares, “Tell you ’bout this lady!” As Kip Winger sang that line, Beach lip-synched it with just enough of a “Can you believe he is singing that?” smile to give the audience an interstice of irony in which to firmly plant one rock-stomping foot, as Beach himself was doing, while still enjoying a song like “Madalaine,” which includes keening lyrics like: “This is love too tough to tame,” “Beware of the girl! Beware of the pain”!

The creation of an escape-space in Beach’s silent vocality helped model how desire can work in rock: taste and see how good this sounds and feels to be hearing this loud, driving, melodic, musicianly music together.

To the degree that music is a conduit of salvation, and by salvation I mean, in a nutshell, the growing of a deep yes to reality, in, through, and beyond this world, then we have to learn how to feel that world in which we live, and these clues from musicians are part of the cues we get. We have to learn how to “be saved”; we have to learn how to be in and with our music.

To be continued (next up: Kip Winger)…

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

This post furthers my recent sketches relating theology to Winger (Part One is here, One and a Half here, and Two is here).

One of the most recognizable images of Winger’s live shows — which they share with larger rock culture — is the utter importance of the musicians’ bodily wherewithal to the sound, look, and feel of the rock experience. Last weekend, I saw Winger at BB King’s in New York City,

winger

and before the show, I was talking with other fans gathered in front of the stage. One woman said to me that she was trying to get as close as possible to lead guitarist Reb Beach’s side of the stage because, as she put it, Beach “totally melds with his guitar,” he is “so into it, like he’s in a trance.” I could not disagree, and kept her observation with me through the performance and my later reflection on the band.

Beach is among a coterie of lead guitarists who display an uncanny familiar and lavish sympathy with their guitar, making it into a same and separate entity at once: both dance partner and electric extension of Beach’s own body. For those whose tastes run to rock, it is compelling to be in the presence of this style of musicianship. I think the fan who said that to me is pointing to the way that bodily wherewithals or dispositions among rock musicians can symbolize and refocus fans’ desires. I have felt the same way in seeing the relationship of Geddy Lee to his bass guitar, Michelle Malone to her guitar, and many fans say something similar of Hendrix’s relationship to his guitar. Rock musicians, and probably all musicians, can develop intimate relationships with their instruments, and this in itself is spiritually interesting and important, but it takes another kind of psychology and musical identity to allow the abandon tucked into that intimate relationship to show itself in that peculiar combination of a studied and unstudied showing so characteristic of rock, especially hard rock, shows. There is also something interesting here in the way that this musical surrender allows body postures for men in particular that are forsworn in larger society. In the logic of “normal” North American everyday life, these postures would be weird or, importantly, “queer,” but here the queer becomes revelatory, a “total meld.” Whatever this is speaking to in fans’ desires, it seems to be related to some kind of freedom that is an excellence, a relationship to a beyond, and the beauty of a sacred singularity.

Here is a clip of the band from last weekend’s NYC show. Beach is the guitarist with the very long hair on the right side of the screen. In addition to lead guitar, you can see he also takes a harmonica solo!

And another show I attended in Los Angeles in 2007 had Beach channeling this guitar solo:

To be continued…

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

Of Winger and Theology: Part Two

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 24, 2010

One way to find Winger (and much of rock music and culture) theologically interesting has to do with bodies. We can ask: What does rock culture model about bodies for those who partake of that culture?

For many complicated reasons, Christian theology has been invested in this question for a long time. The human body has been a site of interest, and “bodiliness” itself a site of invention, for the entire length of the tradition. The debates often center around how the body is a conduit for divinity. Christianity has contributed a remarkable share of creative means for having the body as a beautiful experience of being reconciled. It has also contributed powerfully domesticative and destructive body philosophies and practices.

Christianity has taken on as well as contributed to such creative and domesticative body philosophies and practices. Whatever else a theology of the body is about, it is always at least a theography of cultural materials in a situation for Christian use. This should make the theologian interested in what they can learn of bodies from around them in the larger culture. This is especially true of examples from the larger culture that are influential, or can perhaps be made theologically to be influential.

Thus can we come to rock with a keen theological interest, for rock culture has too always been wrapped up in bodily expression and knowledge, somatic invention, happening, wizardry, particularly in its musicianship and fan behaviors. So we can come to Winger.

To be continued…

Tom Beaudoin

New York City, United States

Torture and “Toy Story 3″

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 22, 2010

While we mostly stick to rock musics here at Rock and Theology, we occasionally wade into related areas of religion and culture. In that vein, I want to link to this post I just put up at the blog at the U.S. Jesuit magazine America, in which I discuss my reaction to seeing the new Disney movie “Toy Story” and being taken aback by intimations of torture in it.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States

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Somatica Divina 54: Avial, Live

Posted in: General,Somatica Divina by Tom Beaudoin on June 21, 2010

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Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit and Sound
by Brian Peterson
Revelation Records Publishing / $18.00 US (list)
[Amazon] [Revelation Records]

The terms “punk rock” and “hardcore punk” bring to mind a variety of images and stereotypes for “insiders” and “outsiders” alike. Cliches abound when the question of “what punk rock is” or “was” is raised, even in accounts written by those who have been key actors in punk rock. This is problematic because the movement has included countless offshoots and submovements, many of which were and continue to be contradictory and in conflict with one another.

An especially troubling viewpoint parroted in histories of punk and hardcore is the pinpointing of an early, and often arbitrary, “demise” for the genre, usually the early- or mid-1980s. The documentary American Hardcore, is a good example of this tendency. Most of the hardcore “heroes” interviewed in the film place the supposed “death” of punk in the mid-1980s, only to be followed by “pop” punk bands like Green Day and flavor-of-the-month emo bands.

These features of the dominant “punk narrative” obscure the fact that hardcore punk never stopped and in fact became arguably much more interesting, diverse, and contested, especially throughout the 1990s. Brian Peterson’s mammoth book Burning Fight: The Nineties Hardcore Revolution in Ethics, Politics, Spirit, and Sound is the first account of this decade in hardcore punk, a decade overlooked or deliberately ignored in most previous accounts.

(more…)

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