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In the world of Rock and Theology, my interests have hovered around the relationship of underground music cultures, social movements, and religion. In particular, I’ve been interested in the relationship of DIY punk music cultures (broadly defined) and spirituality/religion and have done some writing on this, most recently in an essay in the new Rock and Theology book, Secular Music and Sacred Theology. In my essay on “staying punk” as a theologian, I spend a good deal of time discussing one of the “patron saints” of punk rock, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat, whose distinct voice within the many discussions of “punk ethics” has made me think not only about my own musical practices but about the practice of theology.

In December of last year, MacKaye and his wife Amy Farina released their third album as The Evens. The album, The Odds, is another great batch of MacKaye and Farina’s “quiet,” but still uncompromisingly political, punk rock. As I was preparing final edits to the chapter I submitted for the book, I was also reading the press’ discussion of MacKaye and The Evens, and I realized that, had I had more space, I could have discussed The Evens as great example of the traditioning of punk, of the way punk evolves — “grows up,” even — but stays true to its commitments.

The Evens’ recent string of interviews contain some discussion that might help to push forward some of the ideas I’ve been tossing about on theology and punk rock. (more…)

Wugazi’s 13 Chambers – free download

Posted in: General by Michael Iafrate on July 13, 2011

Over the last few weeks a couple tracks from Wugazi — a mash-up project of Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy that brings together the hip-hop of the Wu-Tang Clan and the post-punk of Fugazi — have gone viral. Today Wugazi releases the entire album, 13 Chambers, as a free download at www.wugazi.com. It’s what I’ve been listening to today, and it’s fantastic.

I’m puzzled, however, by Rolling Stone‘s brief comment about the project on their Tumblr: “Punk and rap music may seem to be at the opposite ends of the genre spectrum, but the masterminds behind Wugazi – a groundbreaking mash-up project that blends hardcore band Fugazi with the hip-hop of the Wu Tang Clan – are turning this idea on its head.”

Are punk and hip-hop really at “opposite ends of the genre spectrum”? I’m not so sure. I do not listen to a lot of hip-hop, though I should, so I cannot speak as an expert by any means. But a few years back I gave a guest lecture on punk rock and the prophetic for a course at the University of Toronto called “Music, Prophecy and Culture” taught by Brian Walsh. A few weeks later another doctoral student gave a lecture on prophecy and hip-hop. The overlap of the originating impulses of these two “genres” could not be more obvious to those of us in the course. And it seems to me that the speed and excitement with which the Wugazi project “went viral” among fans of both punk and hip-hop suggests that there is more to it than mere mash-up entertainment. For fans of this music, this is not a disorienting mash-up along the lines of George W. Bush singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Something about it makes perfect sense.

I would not want to simply reduce punk and hip-hop to the “same thing,” but I do think Rolling Stone‘s parroting of a slice of the dominant narrative of popular music in relation to “seemingly opposite” genres offers an opportunity to think more deeply and with more complexity about the relationship of punk and hip-hop.

Michael Iafrate
Parkersburg, West Virginia
USA

The political theology of German Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz has highlighted the centrality of memory for human experience, identity, and religiosity. In Metz’ description, memory is central to the formation of our consciousness and collective imagination, but it often “define[s] history as the history of what has prevailed, as the history of the successful and the established. There is hardly any reference in history as we know it to the conquered and defeated or to the forgotten or suppressed hopes of our historical existence” (Faith in History and Society, 110). When the status quo is assumed to be basically good and just, historical memory becomes a selective memory that remembers only the triumph of the powerful, “screening out” the victims, thus creating a “false consciousness of our past and an opiate for our present” (109). When memory functions in this way, history — “reality” — goes on as it always has.

But Metz says there is another kind of memory, a memory that shocks us out of the familiar by radically acknowledging the reality of human suffering. (more…)