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In an interview for Time magazine, Sting said his religion was “devout musician.” When asked what he meant by that he responded:
It’s not a frivolous answer. I’m essentially agnostic. I don’t have a problem with God. I have a problem with religion. I’ve chosen to live my life without the certain ties of religious faith. I think they’re dangerous. Music is something that gives my life value and spiritual solace.
Time, Nov. 21, 2011, p. 64.
I can’t say I’m particularly unhappy to see 2011 come to an end. It hasn’t been the best year. Over the last eight months I’ve had a good friend die, had to euthanize two beloved pets that I’d owned for years (a horse and a dog) and had surgery. Adding salt to the wound, the package of Christmas gifts I mailed to my brother never arrived and I woke up on Christmas Day with a vicious head cold.
I asked myself what could I do to feel better? The answer was clear. Buy a new electric guitar. Granted I already own several but I’ve wanted a Fender Strat for years. So I bought a beautiful bright red one. The pickups, the mid range boost … I’m in heaven. When I took my new guitar out of the case for the first time I got goose bumps. A sensation that brought me back to my childhood when I first fell in love with the instrument and with rock music.
That sensation of awe also reminded me of a discussion here at R&T about my colleague Jeff Keuss’s post on “what constitutes rock.” In comment #3, another R&T colleague, Dave Nantais, lists his five “random associations” with rock music explaining that the only thing they appear to share in common is that they all that give him goose bumps.
Goose bumps. What a great way to describe a sensation we feel when something moves us, takes us, emotionally and spiritually, to a special place. A place that can’t be described visually because it’s a feeling deep down in your gut, in your soul. I would describe such experiences as moments of transcendence.
Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on December 27, 2011
Posted in: Christianity,General,Guitarwork,Musical Performance,Recommended by Christian Scharen on December 25, 2011
At Christmastime I usually lurch around in search of something new musically. Sure, I love Handel’s “Messiah” and indie artists like Sufjan Stevens’ “Songs For Christmas” and even classics like Burl Ives’ familiar versions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. Ives was, of course, the narrator for THE Christmas special of my childhood: debuting on NBC in 1964, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest running Christmas TV special. Yet such feel-good holiday cheer doesn’t hold up to the edgy feeling I’m left with this time of year. After the apocalyptic cries of a new advent of hope give way to a fragile baby born in the midst King Herod’s paranoia, a paranoia that send the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt and deals death to scores of innocent children, I want something a good deal more real that a marriage of feel-good home and hearth plus consumer orgy (Jingle Bells + Santa Claus is Coming to Town).
Imagine my surprise in discovering this gem from 1968: A New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album. It was the cover art that grabbed me first (I know, don’t judge a book by its cover; but then, presuming there is some relationship, I do find myself attracted to books and wines by virtue of their interesting labels). So when I saw this
cover I was attracted to the clean simple lines combined with the block print style, along with the two crosses and the phrase ‘A New Possibility, drew me in. I listened to some bits of songs including the first track, “Joy to the World.” It was at once familiar and strange, both accomplished and simple, a man with his steel-stringed guitar, letting its twanging ringing pulsing rhythms sing instead of adding other instruments or voice. I bought it and have been listening impulsively to it ever since. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Because I like to know who I’m listening to, I poked around to find out about Fahey. I’ll write more on Fahey another time, but for now I’d just like to admit how humbling it is to continually realize how little one knows, even in worlds with which one has significant knowledge (like, for instance, rock and theology!). I’d never heard of Fahey, but he is an iconic figure in American music, crossing a range of genres from blues to folk to rock, and influencing generations of guitarists and bands. He learned the blues from blues greats Bukka White and Skip James, both of whom recorded in the 1930s but had not played for decades when he contacted them in the early 1960s.
“Classic Albums” is a documentary program that highlights albums considered to be an artist’s best work, or albums considered to be the defining musical statement of an era of rock music. I absolutely love it! I recently watched the episode on U2’s “The Joshua Tree” album, which came out in my senior year of high school. To see Bono and the Edge and producer Daniel Lanois sitting at the mixing board listening to the original recordings and explaining why/how certain notes were played, or why a particular effect was used in one part of a song is absolutely fascinating. Episodes of this series offer a glimpse into the DNA of a musical project as the artists describe their creative process and the incredible effort that went into giving birth to what is now considered a rock classic.
Watching this program inspired me to think, “What if there were a similar program about theologians and their classic texts?” Unfortunately, many theologian-heroes have passed from this life, so we can’t get the “inside scoop” on Rahner’s “Foundations” or Aquinas’ “Summa” or Catherine Mowry Lacugna’s “God For Us” or dozens of other seminal works. But there are still many theologians who have written great works (including some of my colleagues on R&T!) who may be willing to share their process of thinking about, writing and re-writing these works. Why were some ideas set to paper and others discarded? Why did the author choose one word and not another? What image of God did the author employ while writing–and what does she think of that image now, in retrospect? Personally, I would find it fascinating to hear authors answer these and many other questions about their work.
Would you appreciate listening to theologians discuss the creation of their work? If so, which ones and what questions would you like answered?
Dave Nantais, Detroit, MI
Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on December 23, 2011
(I posted this last year and had such a good response that I’m “reissuing” it this year.)
Perhaps it’s the six straight weeks of frigid, icy weather. Possibly the annual Christmas marketing frenzy is finally getting to me. Or maybe I’ve just completely lost my mind. Whatever the reason, I decided to make a list of the top ten Christmas songs you’ll never hear at Midnight Mass. So stoke up a fire, get out the eggnog and rejoice that you don’t have to incorporate any of these songs into your yuletide celebrations.
10. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”: Believe it or not, this dumb little tune actually won 3 Grammys in 1958. The competition must have been pretty thin that year. I challenge anyone over the age of 8 to listen to this song in its entirety. Granted I have hyper-sensitive hearing but, with its shrill lyrics and ear piercing tones, I can’t get past the first 20 seconds.
9. “All I Want for Christmas is a Real Good Tan”: This song was recorded by Kenny Chesney and released in 2003 on his album by the same name. His voice is lovely, music’s kinda nice but the lyrics are … well … better than the redneck song (see number 5) but not by much.
8. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”: Originally recorded by The Irish Rovers in 1979, the song tells the story of how a grandmother gets drunk, forgets to take her medicine and goes outside into a snow storm where she gets run over and killed by Santa’s sleigh. The next day her widower is drinking, watching football and playing cards. Enough said.
7. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”: Written by John Rox, this song was released in 1953 and sung by Gayla Peevey whose voice is so grating that I’d rather listen to someone scrapping their fingernails across a giant chalkboard. Whatever happened to pleasant little kids’ Christmas tunes like “The Little Drummer Boy”?
6. “Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Song)”: Throughout its history Italy has given the world an incredible array of artists, fashion designers, architects, poets, politicians, popes, pastas and Pinot Grigios. So you can imagine my relief when I found out that this song has absolutely nothing to do with the country. Written by Americans Richard Allen, Lou Monte and Sam Saltzberg, it was released in 1960. The chorus goes like this:
“Hey! Chingedy ching (hee-haw, hee-haw)
It’s Dominick the donkey
Chingedy ching (hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey (la la la-la la-la la la la la) (la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da).”
The “hee hawing” alone is enough to make me break out the Jack Daniels.
I am thrilled to (finally) get down to writing my first blog on Rock and Theology. Since my arrival in California in August, I feel like my feet have hardly touched the ground, but semester’s end hails the arrival of space and thought time! I had initially entitled this blog ‘meanderings’, as I have meandered around the site, clicking from one blog to another, to try and get a sense of who you are (contributors and commenters), before I ‘entered’ the conversation… and I therefore figured that it was only fair to return the favour (rather than favor – temporary Irish resistance to change ☺) and simply share where I am coming from on the theme.
Born in Dublin, a city which, as one guitarist friend of mine on his first visit there, said ‘one knows with one’s eyes and one’s ears’, I was weaned on U2, to whom I maintain a post-adolescent loyalty ☺, but since then have passed through many musical cultures, living in various countries of Europe. My own music’s relation to rock music probably continues the questions raised in past blogs about what rock music is, as it ranges from acoustic through folk, indie, and rock, pretty seamlessly.
In the midst of this, I am fascinated by what music does to and for us: how to understand it, allow it, use it, taste it and make it happen. So I live and move between making music, teaching theology and bridging the gap between the two. I will admit to wondering sometimes whether it would not be more effective (and less confusing) to land in one field or the other, rather than trying to ‘bridge’ them, but as yet no avail! I cannot think theology without wanting people to experience it (also) musically, nor can I make music without needing to explain to others just how exciting and amazing it would be to do it more and better also in our ‘think-tank’ circles.
Last week, I had a beautiful moment of confirmation that it can work. Context: an oral exam on theological anthropology. When I asked one of my more philosophically formed and rigorous students what his greatest insight (or challenge) was after this first semester studying theology, he referred to one particular class. While studying if and how we can experience grace, I had taken the class on a visit to an exhibition, and invited them to ‘move’ internally from their heads to their senses and bodies, so as to ‘experience’ theological truth on a different level. Then we journeyed together through various artistic forms: drama, recorded music, dance, live music, photography and a guided reflection on how we felt in the space we had just visited.
Posted in: Christianity,General,Protest by Tom Beaudoin on December 20, 2011
As the media have reported the last few weeks, there has been tension between many in Occupy Wall Street, as well a good number of religious leaders in Occupy Faith NYC, on the one hand, and Trinity Wall Street on the other. Trinity is a venerable Episcopal church at the end of Wall Street in lower Manhattan. Occupy has been asking Trinity for use of its lot at 6th and Canal, next to Duarte Park, as a site for the next stage of Occupy Wall Street after our eviction from Zuccotti Park in November. (This would not simply be a repeat of Zuccotti; Occupy has plans for a different kind of ongoing occupation, with advance plans for security and sanitation, among many other aspects.)
On Saturday I was part of a protest that sought to draw further attention to the appeal to Trinity – as part of the larger drawing of attention to injustice in economic policies in the United States and beyond that has been central to Occupy from the beginning. Several dozen among the protesters went over the fence into Trinity’s property, in a nonviolent symbolic occupation, and were promptly arrested. Among those arrested were clergy and at least one religious, including an Episcopal bishop, a Catholic priest, a Catholic sister, and other clergy and religious leaders, as well as other lay protesters with or without any particular connection to religion.
This is a conflict with multiple reasons given on both sides for their stances.
If I might inadequately summarize the primary positions taken by each side:
Recently, we’ve had some interesting discussions at R&T about the definition of rock music (examples can be found here, here and here). As the blogs and comments suggest, this is a complex issue. Some people even think rock music is dead. In a 2010 interview with USA Today, John Mellencamp said:
Let’s face it, the best records were made a long time ago. Those first five Rolling Stones records, when they were covering black artists, were great. Dylan’s Highway 61 is the best record ever. Who’s going to make a better record? Nobody. Who’s going to make better pop records that The Beatles? I hear the radio today and it sounds like Saturday morning cartoons to me.
I know a lot of people who feel the same way about much of the theology that’s come out of the Vatican in recent years. They think the height of Catholic theology occurred in the late 1950s and 1960s, the same time period as the birth of rock music. During those decades the world was rapidly changing. The automobile, the airplane, and television radically revolutionized communication and transportation. Levels of education were rising. Political participation was also increasing. Nations that had been colonized were seeking independence based on claims of self-determinism. The stockpiling of atomic weapons and tensions between the Western world and communist Russia and China created the “cold war.” An overall realization of the complex interdependency of the modern world caused a new social awareness.
The Church got a new attitude. Pope John XXIII issued progressive encyclicals such as Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress, 1961)) and Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth, 1963). He called for the Second Vatican Council, which opened on October 11, 1962, leading the Church on a journey where it would examine its relationship with the modern world. One of the documents issued by Vatican II, Guadium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965), moved away from a natural law methodology, which stresses the universal and immutable, toward an approach based on biblical revelation and historical consciousness which recognizes that human nature is ongoing, develops over time, and that this development is influenced by historical and social structures.
It is not exactly a Christmas carol, but one could make a case that Leonard Cohen’s new record “Show Me The Place” from the forthcoming album “Old Ideas” (January 2012) has unabashedly made the turn to straight-up gospel music. If you are not on a fan site, you probably did not get the free download (available with pre-order and also streaming on leonardcohen.com), but this is a sample of what you can look forward to:
Show me the place
where you want your slave to go.
Show me the place
I’ve forgotten, I don’t know.
Show me the place
my head is bending low.
Show me the place
where you want your slave to go.
Show me the place
Help me roll away the stone.
Show me the place.
I can’t move this thing alone.
Show me the place
where the word became a man.
Show me the place
where the suffering began.
Here, Cohen takes up something of the role of Jeremiah confessing the pain and ongoing submission he endures in the captivity of love. There is a romantic undertone as is customary for him, but the metaphoric language gives way openly to the prayer tones of the sometimes skeptical Wisdom tradition. The beauty and gentleness of this song reveal Cohen’s professed commitment to dignity and beauty. (While receiving a literature prize in Spain, Cohen offered that his work was driven by the instructions “never to lament casually” and to speak to “the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all… within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.” If you have not done so already, it is highly worth checking out!
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