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April 2011
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Randy Wood, the famous founder of the Dot record label, died last week. His place in the history of rock and roll is significant and also controversial, because he played a key role in helping white musicians cover (and massively distribute) black songs, an historical hinge moment in rock and roll becoming identified culturally in the States as a white-music phenomenon built from a largely African-American back-catalogue. You can read Douglas Martin’s helpful obituary here.

Now, Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” followed by Pat Boone’s Dot-sponsored cover:

As a white theologian trained in Catholic theology, I will never forget the charge laid before white Catholic theologians by Jon Nilson in his presidential address, “Confessions of a White Catholic Racist Theologian,” at the 2003 Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America. (Nilson’s address was later elaborated in his 2007 book, Hearing Past the Pain: Why White Catholic Theologians Need Black Theology (Paulist).)

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Power and production

Posted in: General,News Items,Race,Theological Production by Rachel Bundang on April 15, 2011

Been thinking about canon + appropriation again.  On canon, there’s the recent news of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising being added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.  It’s only the second hip hop LP and the fourth hip hop recording to make it onto the list.  Criteria for the NRR include cultural significance and general excellence, plus the piece must be at least 10 years old.  So in pop culture, that’s at least one test of staying power.

The other bit is about appropriation as imperialism and theft, as evidenced by these ongoing tiffs between Diplo and the artists he samples.  There are the questions of who gets credit vs. who really benefits.

I wonder about that tension between hewing to tradition vs. pushing forward to the new.  At the risk of being simplistic, it’s as if theology is all “slow twitch” and pop culture “fast twitch.”  Does theology tend toward the former + pop culture to the latter?  Does theology lack enough of the right “twitch fibers” to keep up with quickly evolving postmodernities?  And likewise with pop culture:  might it also tend toward historical/cultural amnesia, except for what it can sample– and steal?

Rachel Bundang
NYC

Landslide: Context and Meaning in Our Lives

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on April 15, 2011

I rarely watch the “Oprah Show” but when I heard she was featuring some women rock legends on her Wednesday episode I had to tune in. The show started with a lovely duet by Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow singing “Landslide” (see video below). Others to appear included Pat Benatar, Avril Lavigne, Sister Sledge and hip hop trio Salt-N-Pepa.

The most interesting moment for me, however, was Oprah’s brief interview with Joan Jett. Apparently Oprah had read that Jett described rock music as “her religion.” When asked if that were true Jett replied that yes, it was, because she took the music “very seriously” and it gave “context and meaning” to her life.

I was reminded of a paper I wrote called “What Theology Can Contribute to Bioethics.” I argued that bioethics consists of moral decisions. Some of life’s most difficult questions arise when we face death, experience a serious illness or endure intense suffering. A need often emerges to find context and meaning within these painful events of our lives. From the birth of a newborn baby to the death of a loved one, and all of the immeasurable suffering that can happen in-between, we are seekers of meaning. Theology provides ways of understanding the world and avenues of meaning that are not attainable from any other discipline.

I went on to discuss an article on suffering by ethicist Richard Gunderman who recalled the story of Job (“Is Suffering the Enemy?” The Hastings Report 32 (March-April 2002): 40-4). Job lost everything. Yet, what bothered him the most was that he could find no reason for his suffering. Gunderman concluded that through the narrative on Job we learn that it is not the suffering itself that destroys people. Rather, it is suffering without meaning. Within theological traditions, explanations for suffering are as plentiful as the traditions themselves. Suffering has been described as punitive, redemptive or pedagogical. Regardless of which interpretation one accepts, through the use of narratives about creation, alienation and forgiveness, theology gives an account of human nature, human experience and human limitations that provide meaning to those who despair in their suffering.

Similarly, many of us, like Joan Jett, find context and meaning for our lives in rock music. Whether through community, song lyrics, memory association or the pure joy found in listening or playing an instrument, rock can also give us an account of human nature, human experience and human limitations.

Mary McDonough