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March 2012
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Of Guitarists and Green Beer

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on March 17, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day has always been a revered holiday in my family. A couple of years ago I wrote a post for R&T called “Saints, Storytellers and Sui Generis” discussing the significance of St. Patrick and Celtic spirituality. This year I decided I couldn’t let the day pass without posting something again to honor this special day.

Ireland has contributed numerous artists to the rock world including: Van Morrison, Hothouse Flowers, Sinéad O’Connor, Thin Lizzy, The Boomtown Rats, The Undertones, Moving Hearts, Bob Geldof, The Cranberries, Snow Patrol, U2, Ash, Therapy and The Frames. But when people ask me who my favorite guitarists are I always mention an Irishman. No, I’m not talking about U2’s The Edge, although he’s also one of my favorites. I’m referring to Rory Gallagher, an Irish blues rock guitarist. He was one of the best. As a child he was influenced by Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. Eventually, he formed a successful band called Taste and after their disbandment, went on to an acclaimed solo career. Gallagher was esteemed by blues guitar purists who saw his raw talent and passion for the music. He never used virtuosity for its own sake, but rather, remained true to the blues. It was rumored that the Rolling Stones asked Gallagher to replace Mick Taylor but he refused because he thought it would compromise his music.

Sadly, he died in 1995 from an infection caught after a liver transplant. Still, he left a legacy. Bono called him “one of the top 10 guitar players of all time.” (Rolling Stone, Aug.10, 1995, 32) Gary Moore said, “He was so raw and free and wild in the way he played, and that spirit was never tamed.” (Ibid.) This month’s issue of Guitar Magazine has a short tribute to Gallagher noting his incredible guitar playing, prolific songwriting, dedication to the craft, emotionally charged performances, and relentless touring. Every year, at the beginning of June the town of Ballyshannon in county Donegal, Ireland hosts the “Rory Gallagher International Tribute Festival” featuring various rock and blues bands.

Below is my favorite video of Gallagher. I’ve posted it a couple times before on R&T so if you’ve seen it before … I’m not going to apologize. I love this video. It captures the essence of this great Irish guitarist.

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Greetings from SXSW

Posted in: Christianity,Fandom,General,Musical Performance by Tom Beaudoin on March 16, 2012

Hello to R&T readers from South by Southwest, the well-known “indie” music (and film, and technology, fashion, comedy, and art) festival in Austin, Texas. I am here for four days of the “music” part, although there is still plenty of the rest on offer. There are well over 2000 bands playing from early afternoon until the early morning hours, a startling amount of whom are in the first stages of their careers. There are also some more established groups, and a major act here and there. You can see the list of bands here. Dave Nantais, a Rock and Theology contributor, went a few years ago, and wrote about it here.

Here is what the scene is like: thousands of fans, musicians, support crews, industry people, and press mob downtown Austin, while on every block there are bands playing in bars, on sidewalks, under tents, in churches — anywhere you can fit a few amps and find an outlet (unless you have an acoustic set, in which case your options are even greater). Here is who you see: a fairly diverse crowd of many colors, ages, and musical preferences. Most of all, it seems, there are just a ton of people who love music and who know a lot about their favorite artists, and who delight in throwing themselves into a human rock and roll stew for a few days with others who share those passions. The preponderance of tattoos and piercings and the live-and-let-live rock and roll mentality remind me of Woodstock ’94, but the urban setting makes a big difference. People are sleeping in hotels, not in tents outside, and so it’s more like going to a bunch of concerts in a row with thousands of highly affiliated music fans than actually hunkering down together in the fields in a rockish cohabitation.

Two brief observations: First, despite announcements of its demise, rock music, from melodic to hard rock to metal, is far from dead. I was surprised at the number of up-and-coming bands that are bringing rock into the present. All you had to do was walk down the main drag (6th Street) yesterday and you would have heard hip hop, blues, and at least half of the bands playing loud, riff-driven rock, from pop metal to blues rock to grunge to death metal. That’s why the demise-of-rock stories are almost always only about the major labels and their commercial sales, and almost never about the independent scene. Second, explicit or barely concealed talk about and images of religion are frequent. I heard snippets of conversation about which artists are Christians now and which are not; I saw numerous religious references in the sizeable print/poster exhibit in the Convention Center, especially Christian ones (with common themes being Jesus, crucifixion, God, hatred of God, atheism, priests/cardinals/popes); most of all, I saw what looked like thousands of people giving an everyday surrender to the power of music and musical cultures in their lives, surely something of theological interest to those of us with such sensitivities. Oh, and third observation: as man of us have written about, you can’t have this diffusely spiritual/religious (including anti-religious) atmosphere without a fair amount of overt and covert sexuality or everyday erotics. What’s on many posters, how people dress, how they adorn themselves, how musicians performs, how crowds interact — we learn again from a festival like this that eros and spirit are somehow from the same root.

Here is what I didn’t see, and what I did see. First, here is what I wanted to attend but missed yesterday:

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Last Thursday, I saw the new production of Godspell on Broadway. I was eager to see it, because I grew up listening to this music and it has never left my mental-emotional-somatic soundtrack. In other words, I cathected these tunes a long time ago, and the memories that accumulate around their hearing make each new listening even richer, a new discovery and a revisiting of old territory.

This is an extraordinarily energized production, with a diverse, youthful cast who work as hard as any company I have seen in a very long time. And their focus has to stay exceptional because this incarnation of Godspell is — except for the few slower tunes — a nonstop religious frenesis. It most resembles a postmodern vaudeville: all the traditional songs are there, yes, but they have been intercut by an Internet-jetstream of pop cultural references, from phrases to song lyrics to melodies to physical gestures. Even some of the classic Godspell songs have been reworked in new formats, as rap, hip-hop, hard rock, or ballad.

The show is in the round, at the Circle in the Square theater, with the band (four guitars) scattered individually throughout the theater, seated amidst fans. As I have noticed in several recent Broadway shows, the drummer was aloft in a special box. The musicians all relied on audio cues through earphones, and seemed rarely to look at each other. It was an odd diminution of the rock band aspect of the musical, but they were remarkably tight, and the sound was clean and appropriately loud but not overwhelming.

The downside of this production was that at times it felt gimmicky. As one cultural reference or attempt at a joke after another comes flying, and as the pratfalls multiply, you may wonder why they are working so very hard to

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The Post-Ironically Sensitive Man

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on March 12, 2012

Time out from rock-and-theologizing for a little reflection on sensitive manhood. Venerable musician Nick Lowe features comedian Marc Maron:

Is It Weird to Pray for Rock Stars #2

Posted in: General by David Nantais on March 11, 2012

To follow up on a previous post, “Is it Weird to Pray for Rock Stars?” I want to send out some spiritual support for Jerry Gaskill, drummer for the band King’s X.  Gaskill suffered a heart attack recently, followed by a bout of pneumonia.  His long time band mate and friend, dUg Pinnick, has been posting regular updates on Facebook.  Pinnick states that Gaskill is stable and improving, but the tour that was supposed to begin this Spring has been cancelled.

I’ve been a King’s X fanatic for over 20 years and because I have had an opportunity to meet all 3 of the players on a number of occasions, I feel a sense of connection with them that I do not feel with any of the less accessible rockers.  In particular, I feel a kinship to Gaskill as a fellow drummer.  I mentioned him in the Acknowledgements section of my book, referring to him as one of my patron saints of rock drumming.

Here’s a clip of King’s X performing one of their greatest tunes–and Gaskill absolutely kills on the drums!

Get better, Jerry.

Dave Nantais, Detroit, MI

Welcome to a New R&T Contributor: Henry Carrigan

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on March 10, 2012

I am happy to welcome a new contributor to Rock and Theology, Henry Carrigan. As Henry tells it, he dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal‘s religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Welcome, Henry Carrigan!

 

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Recently on Rock and Theology we posted a link to a short article on Noisecreep entitled  Heavy Metal Stars Who Found God which Tom Beaudoin noted was “a topic of seemingly perennial interest.”  This is very true.   The fascination people have with rock stars and whether they are ‘Christians’ or not is the subject of a whole sub-genre of rock journalism and other writing dedicated to discerning whether certain lyrical content ultimately points to a professing commitment as understood by institutionalized religion and in particular denotes an Evangelical faith.  This is nothing new as Tom mentioned and is of perennial interest to be sure and not just isolated to rock stars.  Recently Franklin Graham questioned whether President Obama was a Christian.  Graham stated that “I asked [President Obama] how he came to faith in Christ. He said he was working on the south side of Chicago in the community and the community asked him what church he went to. He said ‘I don’t go to church.”

That said, Graham has since apologized for any inference about the state of the President’s salvation but the perennial interest in Evangelical circles to define what a Christian is continues and is now turning its attention it seems to Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen’s 17th studio album - Wrecking Ball - was released in the US on March 6th and the critics have been hard at work to make sense of the Boss’ latest outing (I recently posted a review of the lead single “We Take Of Our Own” here on Rock and Theology ).   One reviewer made a rather interesting comment that has had me perplexed and dismayed.  In his review of the album (wonderfully entitled “Stations of the Boss“) Andy Whitman at Christianity Today noted the personal and profound impact Springsteen’s music has made on him throughout his life saying that he became  ”a Christian who is convinced that Bruce Springsteen has more to say to me than any other songwriter.” Many people feel the same way.  At 62, Springsteen is still producing  great music of deeply spiritual and political conviction and while he hasn’t recaptured the “glory days” of the Born in the USA years or the critical excellence of Nebraska, Darkness at the Edge of Town or The River, he is an undisputed American rock icon who has unique crossover appeal in an increasingly segmented music market.  I for one agree wholeheartedly with Whitman’s statement to this effect and resonate with much of his review of the album (Wrecking Ball, by the way,  is a true return to form and a fantastic album worth repeated listens – IMHO).

But that isn’t what caught my attention.

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A Music Review, a “Higher Power”

Posted in: General,Musical Performance,Reviews by Tom Beaudoin on March 7, 2012

I often read music reviews as religious palimpsests, the discussions of beats and riffs as letterful windows into layers below, each review a stack of note-rags mashed together so that the whole thing reads as a “music review,” but gives way to the x-ray attention that lets the layers show.

Below, I excerpt a chunk of a review of the recent concert DVD by Rush, titled Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland. I found the review, by Anthony Kuzminski, at antimusic.com here.

Kuzminski focuses on the performance of Rush’s song “Time Stand Still,” and finds in it a pull from a “higher power.”

In Kuzminski’s loving rendering, “this urgent performance is where music breaks…into a higher power that guides you…” I love the polyvalence of “breaking into” here: it could mean music “raiding” (“breaking into”) some benevolent power… or it could mean getting dismantled (“breaking into” pieces) in face of some greater power… or it could mean testifying suddenly to a new relationship to reality (“breaking into” song).

There is much more to appreciate in the review that would interest folks with a theological consciousness, but isn’t it uncanny how frequently music reviews are potentially or effectively nonreligious language for what used to be called religious experience?

Here is the excerpt from Kuzminski’s review:

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Rock Stars Who “Found God”

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on March 6, 2012

Thanks to S. for this link to a topic of seemingly perennial interest.

TB

 

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R&T’s Ian Fowles with Aquabats in the NY Times

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on March 4, 2012

Congratulations to R&T contributor Ian Fowles, lead guitarist for the Aquabats, whose new television show, “The Aquabats! Super Show!” was featured in the New York Times today in this writeup by Neil Genzlinger.

Ian is a doctoral student in religious studies at Claremont Graduate University, and his website is here. My R&T reflection on seeing Ian and the Aquabats live in 2010 is here.

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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