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I just picked up the remastered version of Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” disc. For those who are not familiar with this band, Queensryche is an accomplished heavy metal group that formed in the early 80s–one can definitely hear a strong Iron Maiden influence in their early material–but they developed a unique sound and voice and eventually became what one reviewer called the “thinking person’s heavy metal band.”
Released in 1988, Mindcrime was their breakthrough album. It was a heavy metal concept album–one of the first–and it is still viewed by many as a masterpiece, especially by those in the bourgeoning “prog-metal” community.
While reading the linear notes to this newly remastered album, I was intrigued by lead singer Geoff Tate’s short essay about how the idea of this concept album came to him. Here is an excerpt:
“The idea for Operation: Mindcrime came in a flood one night as I sat on a well-worn wooden bench in the back of a Catholic church. I had stayed behind in snow-covered Montreal at the end of the previous tour and the city and its people were my muse.”
There are several themes present in this concept album, but one that stands out significantly is the theme of religious hypocrisy. I was a senior in high school when this album was originally released and Mr. Tate’s lyrics about, “all the shady preachers begging for my cash, Swiss bank accounts while giving their secretaries the slam” resonated loud and clear. Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart had recently been caught soliciting a prostitute, which delighted me and some of my adolescent friends–any signs of hypocricy among authority figures (esp. religious ones) aided our argument that the Swaggarts, Falwells and Roberts’ of the world were all abusing religion just to get rich.
But besides giving the televangelists a good tongue-lashing, Mr. Tate employs a good deal of Catholic imagery as well in Operation: Mindcrime, and rakes Mother Church over the coals. One character, a priest named Fr. William, takes in a young teenage prostitute named Mary and abuses her. Mary later becomes a nun–although how this happens is unclear and, frankly, most young head-bangers probably don’t care!
Organized Christianity definitely takes a few on the chin from Queensryche, along with the U.S. government and terrorist evil-geniuses! That Christianity is criticized in rock is nothing new–and from my perspective, it is a healthy and important role for rock. What I really find interesting, however, is the fact that the idea for this rock-musical story came to Geoff Tate while he was sitting in a Catholic Church.
What brought Tate to a Catholic church on a snowy evening in Montreal? Did he stop in to admire the architecture, get warm, or to pray? And if it was to pray, can we interpret his moment of inspiration as the calling of a rock prophet–one who speaks truth to power and corruption through music? Did the hypocrisy Tate saw in organized Christianity stand in stark contrast to the beauty of the edifice in which he sat? Interesting questions to ponder–and while doing so, enjoy this concert footage of Queensryche performing the opening 2 songs from Operation: Mindcrime.
Irish writer Oscar Wilde once said, “I sometimes think that God in creating man, somewhat overestimated His ability.” Perhaps he was right. People never seem to get their facts straight. Try reading Wikipedia. You’ll be amazed at the inaccuracies. Still, I have friends and students who swear by the website.
Sometimes mistakes can be funny. Recently I picked up a used copy of Gavin Edwards’s book, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy and Other Misheard Lyrics. It’s a silly little book full of commonly misquoted song lyrics. The following are some of my favorites.
From The Steve Miller Band song “Jungle Love”: “The question to everyone’s answer is usually aspirin and gin.” The actual lyric is “The question to everyone’s answer is asked from within.”
From Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”: “And there’s a wino down the road, I should have stolen oreos.” The actual lyric is “And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls.”
From Debbie Harry’s “French Kissin’ in the USA”: the title lyric is misquoted as “Franciscans in the USA.”
From Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”: “The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind.” The actual lyric is “The answer my friends, is blowin’ in the wind.”
Wow, people really do get things screwed up. There are, however, different levels of screw ups. It’s one thing to misquote a song lyric but a very different thing to misuse information or misconstrue words in such a way that harms people. Words, their meanings and interpretations, are important.
Theological texts seem to be some of the most misquoted and abused. I’m particularly irritated by biblical text-proofing, a practice of interpreting tiny fragments of scripture in isolation from, and often, in opposition to, their context. Text-proofing has been used to justify many heinous acts and beliefs including: the waging of wars, the Nazi’s extermination of Jews and the promotion of homophobic and misogynistic views. Another example, recently in the news, is California preacher Harold Camping’s prediction, based on his whacky text-proofing, that the world would end on May 21. Ads donned billboards across the US declaring the end is coming because “The Bible Guarantees It.” Most of us recognize a lunatic when we see one but Camping has a group of followers many of whom took extreme actions such as quitting their jobs and spending down their savings to prepare for the Second Coming. Now he claims the “end” will come on Oct. 21.
What’s the lesson here? Words matter. They have ethical implications. Choose yours carefully.
Writing on this subject reminded me of a Bob Dylan song that exposes the hypocrisy of war and questions the notion that God takes sides in a conflict. I couldn’t upload the video but you see him performing “With God on Our Side” here.
Posted in: Theological Production by Michael Iafrate on May 30, 2011
R&T readers might be interested in my recent essay “The Totus Christus and the Crucified People: Re-Reading Augustine’s Christology from Below with the Salvadoran Jesuits” which has appeared in the Journal of Postcolonial Theory and Theology, Vol. 2, No. 4 (May 2011). A PDF of the article can be found here.
Lately I have been doing some reflection and writing on the notion of “staying punk” as a theologian and how DIY punk can offer insights and perhaps even concrete models for alternative practices of theological production and dissemination. While the essay mentioned above makes no mention of rock, the open access Journal of Postcolonial Theory and Theology – and the various other journals published by Sopher Press – are fine examples of the kind of alternative economy of theological production that I’ve hinted at before, inspired in part by my involvement in independent music communities.
While theologians and ecclesial communities have produced numerous radical theological critiques of capitalism and imperialism, rarely do these theologies turn their analyses back on the academic and popular publishing cultures in which they often participate and how these established systems of knowledge production exert power in defining what “counts” as theological knowledge. The alternative networks of DIY punk music production and distribution can suggest the possibility of alternative networks of theological production and circulation of texts that bypass, to some degree at least, the mainstream gatekeepers of theological knowledge production and dissemination reflected in the academic journal system, allowing neglected and excluded voices to be heard. The exploration and embrace of publishing possibilities such as the online open access journal movement seems to me a central concern of a theology that “stays punk.”
Michael J. Iafrate
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Recently in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kevin J. H. Dettmar wrote about the new online culture of flocking to music that fans detest. (The article is here; subscription required.) Titled “Rock That Sucks: Is Hating It the Best We Can Do?”, the article is really about a few recent “terrible” tunes and how popular they have become on YouTube (like the beyond-infamous “Friday” by Rebecca Black, which is currently over 153 million views, and which you can maybe tolerate here).
Dettmar wonders why music that is so bad can gain such an outsize following. He suggests that such (anti-)popularity contests, in which people delight in the low art of the put-down, or cloak that low art in the slightly higher art of the ironic endorsement, are ways that contemporary fans avoid responsibility for aesthetic judgments. However, Dettmar argues, while “getting in touch with one’s hatred for a bad song is an important part of aesthetic judgment, so too is the ability to articulate one’s aesthetic pleasure.”
I wonder whether it is as challenging to articulate one’s “theological” pleasure, as well, as it has ever been. And whether this difficulty partly accounts for why so many are drawn to (and an equal number put off by) thinking about popular music and spirituality/religion/theology/etc. These loves are often so personally held, and held within a cultural matrix today that we are increasingly aware is made up of such a wide range of musical and religious positions, that perhaps piling on to what is outside our tastes is not only “easier” than coming up with what might count as good reasons for what we believe or listen to, but it might also be a way of actually creating that positive space of theological and musical values by way of negations, by way of indirection.
Posted in: Atheism,Christianity,General by Daniel White Hodge on May 28, 2011
Pastor Troy is no stranger to controversy, yet, his song Vice Versa would make the faint at heart religious person faint; moreover, Pastor Troy’s relentless questioning of who God is would get him spiritually lynched for even asking such questions. Yet, within all the seemingly blasphemous appearing lyrics, there is something deeper at work; a fundamental attempt to make God more accessible to humanity. For Pastor Troy, it is essential to question religion and the God it presents. You see, for many living in oppressed systems, it becomes extremely difficult to “believe” in anything when everything has failed you. Race also becomes a factor; if you see the face of oppression as being “White” and male, it stand to reason why someone like Pastor Troy would question, and at times even detest, a globally symbolic White image of God. Thus, Pastor Troy takes us on a journey which few are able to brave and engage with. A journey that asks the apparently obvious, yet enormously awkward question of: are we—meaning religious people—on the “right side” of Heaven & hell, what if God was flipped and the Devil simply got a bad rap?
The television show Supernatural toys with this question as well. Instead of painting a God who is all loving and all open, they show you one who is almost as bureaucratic as the politician and a devil who is sympathetic and one who only spoke up and questioned God; look what happened to him, the same can happen to you. So Pastor Troy is in good company when it comes to asking some of these socio-theological questions and challenging the religious structure that has labeled things moral and immoral—as the legendary comic Richard Pryor reminds us, “They’ve [meaning the system] been wrong about everything else, why would they be right now?”. Is it something to agree with? That I cannot say, but I do know that it is something to contend with and the questioning is part of the spiritual journey I believe we are all on. Pastor Troy just takes it a step further and challenges the listener to not always believe everything that is placed in front of them from a hegemonic system and social structure who has continually lied (A post soul mantra indeed).
Check out the lyrics here. And check out the song below…
This admittedly modern theological question is asked here.
What is the role of a church situated in the midst of cultures of musicianship?
Two news features over the past month caught my attention and seemed to be connectable in a way significant for theology and music. One feature, by John Leland in the New York Times, describes a new evangelical church in the East village in Manhattan. This branch of Trinity Grace Church, housed at 59 Cooper Square, is one of five planted in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the last five years, and part of a notable expansion of evangelical churches in New York City serving English-speaking populations. Leland’s article focuses mostly on pastor Guy Wasko and his theology of engaging the city.
Meanwhile, about a 45-minute walk from there, on the Lower East Side, is the setting for a second feature that recently appeared in the Times, by Daniel Wakin, titled “The Last Jam Session at 106 Rivington.” In this story, we learn about a basement rehearsal space that has lasted for decades and served as a grungy communal space for musicians accomplished and anonymous, connected and struggling, where the sounds from the rehearsal rooms were a regular inspiration to those who felt comfortable in its musical spelunkitudish funk. I have not been there, but it reads to me like almost a prototype for urban rehearsal spaces: low on hygiene but high in passion’s technicolor hopes — and decibels. (Tangent: I play in a band that rehearses across town from Rivington, in Chelsea, in an impressively kempt space, which speaks to the ways in which rent-by-the-hour rehearsal spaces have stepped up their clean and sanitary appearance in the last few decades as the romance of drug culture has proven wanting and more or less receded, an ethic of health has become more common among rock musicians anyway, musicianship has become democratized, patrons have more disposable income prioritized for music (especially aging patrons who simply never stop playing), and rehearsal spaces, like landlords, find that they can command ever higher hourly rates. Anyway…)
The musicians at 106 Rivington are being displaced now as the building is prepared for other uses, and a loosely federated musical community goes into the diaspora for which it was in a sense always rehearsing.
I am thinking about the relationship between this newly-born church and this dying rehearsal
Posted in: Practices,Secular Liturgies,Theological Production by Daniel White Hodge on May 24, 2011
Tupac was a pioneering voice in the dialogue between theological matters in the ‘hood and Hip Hop culture. Tupac became a lightning rod for those theological matters, both positive and negative. Tupac connected the profane to the sacred. Moreover, Tupac made religion, God, church, and community attainable for comprehension and understanding by the masses. I use the term theological message as Tupac’s own interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus, salvation, and Heaven using his own contextual hermeneutic. Here, Tupac’s spiritual message is centered more on both an idealistic and realistic message for living. A lot of Tupac’s spirituality was shaped over his entire life; his theological understanding came during his formative years as a child through his early adulthood.
Tupac blurred the lines between the sacred and the profane and insisted you live there momentarily while he educated you on even more realities. James Cone, in his book The Spirituals & The Blues, describes a blurring of the sacred and profane with the musical genre of the blues. In Cone’s edited chapter, The Blues: A Secular Spiritual, he states, “The blues depict the ‘secular’ dimension of black experience. They are the ‘worldly’ songs which tell us about love and sex, and about that other ‘mule kickin in my stall’” (1992: 68). Further, he states, “The power of song in the struggle for black survival—that is what the spirituals and blues are all about” (1991: 1). While I would agree that the blues do depict much of the struggles and life of the Black experience, Tupac’s music was not completely “secular” (i.e. devoid of God). Tupac’s music presented a myriad of deeper theological understandings that could and did bring people closer to God. This “blurring” of lines, however, was certain and the debate whether Tupac was just a “popular” rap artist or an actual saint will continue to be debated.
Here are some of his thoughts on video—in his own words. Listen to his passion. Take in his earnest desire to actually do the right thing. More to come…
Somatica Divina 81: Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, “This Train is Bound for Glory”
Posted in: Somatica Divina by Mary McDonough on May 24, 2011
Posted in: Recommended,Reviews by Tom Beaudoin on May 23, 2011
This post has to do directly with neither rock nor theology, but with my recommendation of a very funny, smart, and frequently profane set of conversations that happen on the WTF podcast. I was not a podcast-kind-of-guy until I heard this show, hosted by the comedian Marc Maron. Twice a week, he posts interviews (recorded in his garage) with his friends and colleagues in the comedy world, including (so far) Robin Williams, Margaret Cho, Conan O’Brien, Sue Costello, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Louis CK, Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman, Andy Dick, Garry Shandling, Adam Carolla, and a ton of others.
As of today, there are 177 episodes, roughly an hour each, and I’ve listened to about 25 of those in the past month. Why have I abandoned my ears to these interviews in almost every spare moment of walking, driving, and sock-drawer rearranging? For whatever reason, it is refreshing and even occasionally inspiring to hear two very smart and very funny people talk for an hour about comedy — both the shop-talk and the non-shop-talk. The shop talk includes lots of disquisitions about where comedy comes from in the comic’s life, what comedy clubs are like, what the skills of joke-telling involve, what is the difference (if any) between appropriate and inappropriate jokes, or between funny and unfunny jokes, about how to improvise during standup, about the difference between standup and improv, about hecklers, failing on stage, backstage antics, warmup routines, the development of new material, and more.
The non-shop-talk includes comics’ relationships, family histories, relationships, hobbies, relationships, drug backgrounds, relationships, career decisions, and relationships.
The conversations are spontaneous, usually friendly but sometimes barbed or tense, and always (for me, anyway) fall somewhere on the humor spectrum between “amusing” and “laughing-uncontrollably.” But I am also a person who likes laughing and who constantly finds things funny and whoNext Page »