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December 2012
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Adam Yauch Remembered

Posted in: Buddhism,General by Tom Beaudoin on December 31, 2012

Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys died this year. Here is Alex Pappademas’ memorial essay in the New York Times Magazine, including a brief discussion of Yauch’s turn to Buddhism.

Pappademas suggests that Yauch’s early commitment to exploring “spirituality and impermanence” pushed the band to grow. And in the scope of his spiritual venturing, “it was Adam Yauch… who grew up the most.”

Here is a tribute on YouTube that a fan, PinkyGhost723, put together in Yauch’s memory:

YouTube Preview Image

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York


The Year in Music Memoir: A Review

Posted in: General by Henry Lowell Carrigan on December 30, 2012

To paraphrase the Preacher in Ecclesiastes, of the making of many year-end “best of” lists there is no end. Making year-end lists of best books is an exercise at once exciting and frustrating. Listing the best books of the year helps recall fondly those great books that revealed new information about an artist or his or her music or drives you to pick a again a book that you didn’t want to end the first time you read through it. Making such a list is also frustrating when you must choose the “top ten” from the hundreds of books published; you also hope that you haven’t overlooked a diamond in the rough along the way. Yet, making these year-end lists simply provides a springboard for conversations about favorite books, why they’re good, and why we’ve come to love them; we hope that such lists will also introduce readers to books they’ll want to pick up and read in the coming months.

2012 has been a banner year for music books covering all genres, and it’s been an especially rich year for music memoirs, which range from the good to the bad to the ugly. The following list features a few outstanding memoirs from rockers as well as a number of other books that provide new looks into familiar subject, or first-time looks into subjects long neglected.

1. Who I Am: A Memoir. Pete Townshend. HarperCollins, $32.50, 538 pages—If you read only one rock memoir, this should be it. With all the energy he brought to his manic windmilling and to smashing guitars on stage in his career with the Who, but with the brilliance of a poet wandering through a teenage wasteland, Townshend descends deeply into his life, mind, and work as he ponders the question in the book’s title. Yet, the details of Townshend’s life provide the merest background for his soulfully written and relentless self-reflection and introspection about life, love, music, family, and death.

2. A Natural Woman. Carole King. Little, Brown, $27.99, 488 pages—King is one of our greatest treasures, and she wrote “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ when she was only fifteen. Yet, King’s life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, and in this colorful memoir she weaves a tapestry that includes threads about her relationship with Gerry Goffin and their years as the top, go-to, songwriting duo in rock and roll, as well as her sometimes destructive relationships with her other husbands. Mesmerizing reading, King’s writing reveals why her songs continue to touch our hearts.

3. My Cross to Bear. Gregg Allman, with Alan Light. Morrow, $27.99, 400 pages—Allman lays bare his soul in this rambling (more…)


Somatica Divina 100: Heart, “Stairway to Heaven”

Posted in: Somatica Divina by Mary McDonough on December 29, 2012


They all dig that crazy beat

Posted in: Christianity,Drumming,General,Lyrics,Practices by David Dault on December 28, 2012

Some recent posts have gotten my mind thinking.  In particular, the posts by Tom Beaudoin and Maeve Heaney have raised the question of  interpretations that are not lyric-oriented, but are instead interested in thinking about the meaning of the music.  We get so used to thinking that the only aspect of a song that matters is the worded expressiveness, and we pass over the “material substrate” of the music itself.

For me, this raises a really interesting set of possibilities.  I think of Peter Gabriel, during his musique concrete phase in the early 80s (n.b. Melting Face and Security?), telling interviewers that he was trying to process primal screams through filters so that they became part of the texture of the songs–the sonic landscape. I think of Ween, Geza X, my beloved Brainiac, and the almost unlistenable moments of NEU!–each is pushing beyond the “meaning-content” of the lyrics to the point of using the voice as an instrument in itself.

Which makes me think about the points where voice and instrument are literally melded–autotune, vocoder, and talking guitar.  Let me take this backwards in three steps: the contemporary example, of course, is T-Pain.  But isn’t he just using new technology to build on the ground laid by Roger and Zapp? And Roger was riffing with synthesizers, using technologies popularized by Peter Frampton and his guitar.  But in these examples, the “instrumentalized voice” is still capable of being examined for meaningful lyric content.

So what of the artists that used voices but refused to offer intelligible lyrics as content?  Dave Thomas of Pere Ubu once wrote that (more…)

So the end of the world may be at our doorstep… or not.  As all the media was spinning us round and round (like a record player) about the supposed Mayan calendar predictions that had the end of the world coming at the end of December 2012, some were smiling at the media theater of it all and yet some had a tinge of wondering whether this is truly “it”.  We have seen this fervor before: Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, the Y2K scare, and the mania around Tim LaHaye’s  Left Behind fiction series.

While some are take this talk with a grain of salt, Torie Bosch in Slate notes a recent study that shows about 10 percent of people worldwide think that Dec. 21, 2012 could have been doomsday.  With a worldwide population of just over 7 billion (or 7,059,914,859 to be exact according the most recent census data), that’s 700 million people seriously thinking about end times this month.  And if some of them are in need of some tunes, then perhaps the Rock and Theology Project is a place to start.

Part of the challenge in talking about the apocalypse is to know what is truly ‘unmade’ (to use JRR Tolkien’s phrase for total apocalypse) and what remains.  When we turn to the question of life after the end of the world according the Christian scriptures, there is a strange silence to the question of an afterlife  in large parts of the canon.  In most of the Old Testament, there is no hope at all for life beyond life in this world.  In the latest Old Testament writings, (e.g., Daniel 12:1-13), a final reckoning at the end of history is affirmed.  This is particularly apparent in the prophetic literature where judgement and the end of torment is promised yet not much on the “what happens next” question (see some of my reflections on the prophetic literature here).  As we move into the New Testament we find that the writers consistently affirm that God in Christ stands at the end of both  (1) of history in general and (2) of the life of every individual person. But it does so in many different metaphors, similes and word pictures that cannot be easily reconciled into a single, composite account.  What we are left with at the end of all things according to the Christian scriptures is that according to the Biblical canon as testified by the Church through the centuries is this:  that God is ultimately a righteous “Judge” and to assert this is to assert that God restores order and peace to situations of social disharmony and injustice.  This “Judge” is the world’s Creator, Reconciler, Savior, and Renewer, and the objective nature of the biblical stories of the last judgment bear witness to the fact that this God, and not any of the “powers and principalities” of the world will have the last word.
So we are not left with a clear, concise picture in the text… but there is also music in the midst of the end times that helps us even (more…)

This song begins with haunting notes  played on a guitar tuned very low.  When I hear those opening notes I feel as though I am being invited to travel down a path toward something of great desire.  And that is what I believe this song is about, ultimately–pursuing great desires.  “I’ve got to know your name/ and I must know who you are.”  The lyrics cry out for someone or something of immense desire that is in sight but always seems out of reach.  The slower tempo of the song also communicates this sentiment–forward progress but not quite fulfilled.  Haven’t we all experienced this?  Isn’t this a truth of humanity–that no matter how vigorously we dive into living and taste, feel, hear, touch and explore what life offers, we will always be left with some unfulfilled desires.  But that shouldn’t stop us from trying!

One of the reasons I love King’s X is because they meld crunchy guitars with beautiful vocal harmonies.  It may seem trite, but hearing the harmonies, especially in this song, gives me hope for racial harmony.  dUg Pinnick, the lead singer, is African American and Ty Tabor (guitar) and Jerry Gaskill (drums) are white.  They did not grow up together, it is only by chance that they met and formed a band.  But when they all sing, it seems as though their voices were always meant to meld together.

When King’s X toured in 1996 to support their album Ear Candy they came to a club just north of Detroit.  At the time I was a Jesuit novice, so I had to ask permission to attend the show (as well as ask for some money to purchase a ticket!).  It turned out to be one of the best rock shows I had ever seen (and remains so to this day).  When the band came back to the stage for an encore dUg Pinnick, the lead singer and bass player, came to the front of the stage, looked down at me and asked, “Hey man, do you sing?”  I nodded vigorously, so he pulled me on stage, along with a few other fans.  As I was standing at the microphone with four other fans, I heard the opening notes of “Goldilox” and my heart burst with excitement.  King’s X played the song and we sang it–and I mean really SANG it–I belted out that song like my life depended on it.  And as I sang, I started crying tears of joy—it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  Thank you dUg, Ty and Jerry!


Dave Nantais



After struggling with this question for a while, I have settled on what might seem like a pretty trite choice: “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison.  I’ve never really gotten crazy about the Beatles or anything Beatles related.  I have heard this song for years, of course, but started to listen a little more closely in high school when I first encountered Krishna Consciousness through my involvement in punk rock circles.  (I promise more writing on this topic later.)  So the song’s inter-religious content was the first thing to attract me to it.  I came to a deeper appreciation of this song when I saw Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison last year.  What a tremendous example of the kind of spiritual-mystical-theological life of which musicians and songwriters are capable.  I love the song’s simplicity and apophatic quality, its ability to express a most basic human spiritual desire with so few words, and its ability to communicate that basic human longing across diverse religious traditions.  Harrison’s attraction to religious chant is evident not only in the use of religious language but in the music’s mantra-like quality.  I’m amazed too at Harrison’s ability in this song, and in others, to be explicitly “spiritual” or “prayerful” or “theological” in his songwriting in a very “pure” (for lack of a better word), effortless way, a way that is quite devotional but not off-putting.  The song is also such a reminder of how deep the “rock” and “theology” connection has been, and how non-superficial that connection has been.  And how astonishing it is that theology has typically ignored it!  I really like his performance from the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh:


Michael Iafrate


As his students and those who have heard him lecture can attest, Jeremy Begbie is fond of countering the assumption that music that evokes the Spirit must necessarily be quiet and peaceful.  More often than not, he argues, we see the Spirit doing the exact opposite.  In scripture one finds the Spirit in mighty winds rushing, trumpets blaring, lions being ripped apart (and, I might add, the memorable words of Bill Murray: “dogs and cats living together”), etc.  The music of Pentecostalist churches proclaims this on a regular basis, and it is that same tradition that has given us Robert Randolph’s sublime “Sacred Steel.”  In his “I Need More Love,” both music and lyrics cooperate (er, rather, they’re jamming, rocking out, making love?) to express a desire of plenitude, and wondrously so.  Love is not absent in this song; Randolph just wants MORE of it.  And the audience cannot help but want more, all the while reveling in its very fullness.  (And even after the song ends, the party is STILL going on in your head, no?)


Note: I am conflicted about the director’s sexualized approach in the video.  Does it obscure the song’s spiritual power?  Or does it refuse to bracket sexuality as something outside the scope of that spirituality?  in any event, the community setting and participation of so many people is spot on.

Andy Edwards


The song that I chose is “Bartender” from the Dave Matthews Band off of their 2002 album, Busted Stuff.  The song is a fascinating combination of two literary genres: a liturgical form (petitionary prayer to God) and a last will letter to the petitioner’s physical family, entwining the dual parentage of an Earthly father with a heavenly Father.  In the verse addressed to his mother the singer begs for deliverance from the temptation of greed, the “gold” that threatens to steal away his soul, and the misunderstanding (misdirection) of where value really lies in life.  I appreciate the reference to prayer as a physical activity, the emphasis on “bended knees” which has such a historical and ritual importance in the Abrahamic faiths.  This is a position of surrender and vulnerability, the recognition that we depend on the source of life’s Power that lies before us, spatially and temporally.  The most arresting part of this song for me, however, is its bold metaphorical claim to call God “Bartender,” again a double meaning as bartending was Matthew’s occupation before the Dave Matthews Band became successful enough for him to quit his day (night) job.  At the risk of offending the sensibilities of many conservative Christians, as well as the majority of Muslims, the singer pleads to God to “fill my glass for me with the wine you gave Jesus that set him free after three days in the ground.”  Yet within the Islamic tradition there is support for Matthew’s unorthodox but highly provocative theological image.  The great Sufi poet Rumi had a similar insight in his verses that describe the Divine Love of God as the ultimate intoxicant: “the Lover is ever drunk with Love.”  In this song, Dave Matthews (note that even his name is such a wonderful symbolic pairing of the Hebrew Bible with the New Testament) develops a tension between the “good” and “bad” wines available in our freedom to choose.  The good wine from the divine Bartender gives the power of life and resurrection while the bad wine from the vine of the devil’s tree (“the wine that’s drinking me”) misleads and confuses our energies and passions toward self-destruction and the harming of others.

About the 2007 Radio City Music Hall performance: with good friend and musical partner Tim Reynolds, Dave Matthews lays bare a powerfully stripped down unplugged version of the song EQ’ed and digitally mastered with the thick presence of two acoustic guitars and an extended intro that layers Dave’s ethereal cries evoking Bilal’s primal call to prayer.  As a drummer there is both a deprivation not to hear Carter Beauford’s magnificent performance laying down the percussive foundation for the song but also an amazing fullness that is inescapable even amid the sparse instrumentation.  Clearly here is a physical analogy of musical apophatism that needs to be explored more deeply…


Loye Ashton


The intense yearning found in this song always touches me deeply.  The lyrics and melody speak to the fragility of the human condition.  We enter this world searching for the unattainable — control, security, and most importantly, unconditional love.  This quest takes us down many different paths.  Some roads prove positive and we speak “with the tongue of the angels” while others transport us on a destructive journey as we hold “the hand of the devil.”  Still, no matter where or how we travel, we cannot find a way to fill this void in our souls.  We continue to look, to search, and to yearn.  What we really seek is God who “broke the bonds” and “…loosed the chains/ Carried the cross of my/ Of my shame.”  Our search will end only when we reunite with God “in the Kingdom come/ Then all the colors will bleed into one/ Bleed into one.”


Mary McDonough


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