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Quote of the Day

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on September 21, 2012

After reading Maeve Heaney’s superb post on Bruce Springsteen’s music, I thought I would share the following quote by Catholic priest and Springsteen friend, Fr. Kevin Keelen, made in his opening remarks at Monmouth University where a four-day symposium on Springsteen was held two week ago:

“Like nothing else in life, music transports us … more than any service or lecture you could do.” Springsteen “is a priest, and a priest brings people together.” USA Today, Sept. 17, 2012, p. 3D

“We Are Alive”: Profile of Bruce Springsteen

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on July 24, 2012

R&T readers who are Bruce Springsteen fans will love The New Yorker’s excellent profile of the rock star in the latest issue of magazine. Journalist David Remnick does an incredible job at delving into Springsteen’s deepest thoughts, fears, and motivations. Fortunately, it can be viewed here for free.

Mary McDonough

Bruce Springsteen Interview

Posted in: General,Interviews,Lyrics by Mary McDonough on June 19, 2012

Here’s the link to a recent, excellent video conversation with Bruce Springsteen. He talks about his new CD Wrecking Ball, songwriting, social justice issues, and the loss of saxophonist Clarence Clemons. In the middle of the interview he briefly discusses how Catholicism has influenced his music.

“Bruce Springsteen and the Song of the Working Man”

Mary McDonough

Quote of the Day

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on May 8, 2012

Halfway through the show, with dozens of yachts from Marin County moored along the outside of the baseball diamond and the thundering crowd on its feet, “Bruuuuce” hoots left and right, my spiritual priorities changed. From then on, whenever I have wanted to understand history and art, or longed to feel the weight of generations and the universal power of story, I have left it up to places of worship. When I’ve wanted a soul-charging, life-affirming experience in which I can feel part of something greater than myself, I’ve gone to see the Boss.

Author Téa Obreht, recounting her first rock concert when she was a teenager and recent immigrant from Yugoslavia via Cairo. Vogue, May 2012, p. 128

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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Springsteen fans were greeted this week with something akin to Gabriel speaking to Zechariah announcing the birth of John the Baptist:  a new album will be released on March 6th entitled “Wrecking Ball”, a new tour is set with dates in Europe and the US coming out soon, and to add icing to the cake, a new single available for streaming to wet our appetite entitled “We Take Care Of Our Own” (more on that in a bit).

Like Zechariah, there are many fans who are probably having doubts about this next outing from the Boss given that the last two offerings of new material – 2009′s Working on a Dream and 2007′s Magic – were lackluster at best.  Perhaps in an attempt at penance, Springsteen released 2010′s The Promise which offered B-sides, rarities and outtakes from his masterful 1978 Darkness at the Edge of Town to remind people (and perhaps himself) of his genius and (to riff on one of his Born in the USA barn-burners) “glory days.”

Now that Springsteen has throw out this new single, fanboys will be drumming their fingers and wringing their collective hands in anticipation of the full CD to drop in March in order to assess where the patron saint of the true Jersey Shore will take us.  Like other baby boomer rockers in their 60′s the question remains: what does Springsteen have to offer the 21st century? Is there anything left in the old war horse of the prophetic imagination or is only trading in on the past and becoming a travelling parody act?

Part of what animates my anticipation is the simple fact that this is Bruce Springsteen we are talking about. What makes Springsteen such an interesting figure in American popular music is his ability to draw on the Everyman experience and make it an anthem for the masses—a rock and roll version of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common ManWhen he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bono gave the induction speech and put it this way regarding Springsteen’s appeal:

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As a complement to the posts below on Clarence Clemons, I want to mention that Timothy Egan has a column in the New York Times about the significance for rock fans of the interracial friendship of Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen. He revises Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous observation about Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in the U.S.: “The most segregated place in America on a given night,” Egan writes, “can be a stadium rock concert — on stage, and in the audience.” The death of Clemons spells the end of a particularly inspiring hope for what the band Earl Greyhound calls the imperative to “Rock your faces [and] mix the races.”

Theologically, I consider the matter at stake here to be the question of whether and how popular musical experience and culture can be a witness to and training for a transcendent horizon — by going through the particularities of specific identities (religious, racial, ethnic, gendered, classed, dis/abled, sexual, and more) telling how they (we) have learned to live with and beyond themselves/ourselves. A white-privileged rock scene is, from this perspective, deficient in a way that a theological consciousness can help to unearth. Coming out of a Catholic background, as I do, the imperative is only multiplied, given how deeply the religion and theology I have learned has been covertly co-identified with whiteness.

Egan’s article shows a little of its own whiteness when he writes that “There weren’t a lot of blacks in my high school graduation class — two, to be exact — which meant that race was somewhat of an abstraction, happening elsewhere, mostly on a screen or from the grooves of a record.”

I know what he means, because I went to mostly-white schools, from kindergarten through seven years of graduate school, and have taught in mostly-white universities for ten years. A good number of these years

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Waiting, Waitin’ … Still Waiting

Posted in: General by Mary McDonough on November 30, 2010

In his recent post, “Waiting (for Advent) with The Rentals,” Michael Iafrate mentions that he was “pondering fitting Advent tunes to post here at R&T.” That got me thinking about songs that have “waiting” as a theme which then led me to contemplate the act of waiting itself. When you think about it, we spend a good portion of our lives waiting. It occurred to me there are two different kinds of waiting. One type involves positive, excited anticipation of some future event like Advent when we await the celebration of the birth of Jesus. In fact the word advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “a coming.”

There are lots of examples of advent-like events. Waiting to go on a vacation, waiting for the birth of a baby, a marriage, even waiting to go to see that rock band you’ve always wanted to hear in person. Our lives are filled (hopefully) with anticipation for events and experiences that we’re looking forward to, things that enrich our lives, make our futures exciting.

There is another kind of waiting which isn’t so pleasant. It entails trying to get through something we don’t want to experience. It might be a rather mundane event such as waiting to get out of the dentist’s chair or waiting to leave a 2 hour long performance of The Nutcracker in which, for the third year in a row, your young daughter is dancing the part of one of the mice.

However, waiting can also be immensely difficult and painful, even horrific or impossible. Hospices are full of people waiting to die. Church pews, counseling offices and support groups are overrun with individuals trying to recover from grief, tragedies, traumas and addictions. Hospitals are overflowing with people waiting to be healed.

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A Note on a Trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on June 11, 2010

Yesterday, I went with a couple others from R&T to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here in Cleveland. I’ve been a few times before, but this was my first trip there since the start of the Rock and Theology Project, and this was also my first time there in the company of other rock aficionados, both of which added to the pleasure of the three-hour meander. (Hardly enough time to take in, in sufficient depth, the details of the exhibits.) Currently, the featured exhibit on the 5th and 6th floors is about Bruce Springsteen.

The Hall is a conglomeration of small stories of bands and artists, of larger arguments about eras, genres, politics, and influences, and above all, of rock realia: musical instruments, costumes, handwritten lyrics, props — all lovingly and invitingly presented. An attentive walk through places one a little more experientially in the multiple waters that make up rock’s history and present. But I could not help noticing the absence of attention to religion in the exhibits. Some of rock’s early influencers in the mid-20th century are described as having Christian roots, and their native habitats in churches are acknowledged. So, too, gospel music gets attention as a unique style in its own right and as a deep influence on rock. But it seems these are about the only places where religion is marked in telling rock’s history.

Walking through the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, we noticed that one of his costumes (purchased in 1967, worn at two shows in 1970) included what looked like a pre-Vatican II “cope,” or a kind of cape worn by Catholic priests. It was in excellent shape, a lustrous black with red trim. Almost kind of goth. Closer inspection revealed an “alpha” and “omega” on the metal button-fasteners at the top, and a chi-rho pattern stitched throughout. Wild! And in the Springsteen exhibit, two of his acoustic guitars are adorned with Catholic symbolics: Mary on one, and a collection of milagros on another. These are just a few examples, and in some ways they are the lowest-hanging fruit, because the religious plane through rock might best be described as taking place beyond the evident religious symbolics rock has employed. Nevertheless, these stand as examples for me of the need to deepen theological-religious reflection in a place like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It would provide deeper analysis of the rock phenomenon and also be a kind of occasion for public religious education.

Tom Beaudoin

Cleveland, Ohio, United States

Cars as Vehicles of Holy Transport in Secular Music

Posted in: Dialectic,General,Grace by Tom Beaudoin on May 21, 2010

A few days ago, a Rock and Theology reader posted a playful commentary about the song “Red Barchetta” by Rush. This is a rock song celebrating what might otherwise sound like a mundane story: of the joy of being in a fast little sports car zipping around the open countryside, and of a mysterious uncle on a farm whose car it is, whose consoling company parenthesizes the story. Here are two videos of Rush playing “Red Barchetta” in the 1980s and recently. The first has a few words from drummer and lyricist Neil Peart talking about what cars can represent.

The comment from the recent post that caught my attention, however tongue-in-cheek the intention, was this subtle question: “What does the Red Barchetta make happen?” Around this question are framed various Christian interpretations, based on the “exitus-reditus” schema, the going-forth from God and the going-back to God, a going-out and going-back that can be said to “pass through” the world. This theological concept has given rise to centuries of interpretation about the “vehicles” God (and/as God’s Spirit) may take, and the travelers it may “pick up,” as God travels through the world. Hence the brief theological background for the question, “What does the Red Barchetta make happen?” (In other words, does it symbolize the divine passage through the world and signal that the very car-ness of this car says that it was built to travel from somewhere to somewhere, its mobility a symbol of divine dynamism?)

Much hinges on what we (cultural interpreters) ourselves make happen when we give such interpretations. Are we “preliminarily” playing with ideas in the Christian popcorn popper “before” they get served up for others? Are we giving the “real” (as “final”) interpretation of these cultural materials? My own position, in brief, is that in the game of making theological sense of cultural material, we are working with the materials we have from a psychological-cultural history, for this moment, in a process we neither own nor control.

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