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Gotta Have Faith

GeorgeMichaelFaithAlbumcover

Practice was over and everyone was in the locker room getting undressed in order to shower.  Most awkward when you are in eighth grade.  Moreso if you are a nascent gay boy around lots of unruly jocks.  Suddenly organ music was playing, and I was confused.

One of my classmates had a giant jam box on the bench where he was changing clothes.  The jam box was the source of the organ music.  Had organ music suddenly become popular, I wondered?  I was a dorky, religious and intellectual kid who had no sense of popular trends.  Then, suddenly, the organ gave way to the beats of one of the most popular songs of the moment.

This was the first time I ever heard the album Faith by George Michael (as opposed to the hit single, and ultimately singles, on the radio).

I was raised a Southern Baptist.  We were always on guard for religious faith to be mocked in popular culture.  We were particularly alarmed whenever spirituality and sexuality were intertwined (Madonna freaked Evangelicals out).  So all these impulses and passions were at war when I listened to such popular music.  

The decades bring further reflection  upon the enjoyable ironies of moment.  Here in the most homoerotic of heterosexual spaces--the junior high locker room--I always felt manifestly uncomfortable and most different from my classmates.  Playing this sexually charged popular music made me feel even more different.  Yet, the cool, popular straight guys were listening to George Michael sing erotic songs.  George Michael who later came out as gay.


1996 and the death of alternative rock

1996 I graduated from college and that summer I neither worked nor went to school, wanting a break before graduate school--it was the last long break before this summer's sabbatical.  Derrek, Ben, and I moved into our Dorothy Street house and most days I mixed reading and housekeeping with hanging out with our wide circle of friends.  It was a fun summer.

And according to this brilliant article 1996 was the year that alternative rock died.  I, in somewhat of a hyperbolic joke, stated on Facebook that this article made sense of my life in a way nothing else ever had.

A few comments on some of the contents of the article.

My own musical tastes were evolving at this time.  I was surrounded by a number of friends with great tastes and broad collections, and they have continued over the decades to influence me.

R. E. M. had been my favourite band since high school, and still is.  Though I must admit that in 1996 New Adventures in Hi-Fi wasn't something I rushed out to get.

I was behind-the-curve on grunge and much of the early 90's alternative music.  When I was in high school in Miami, Oklahoma it was the era when country stars like Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, and Clint Black were on top.  That's what most folk in my high school were listening to.  Or, alternatively, Boyz II Men.  Only a few odd folks were listening to the stuff from Seattle.  It was really in my mid-late twenties that I finally embraced the great music of my adolescence (isn't part of the fun of the 20's those epiphanic moments of discovery or rediscovery?).  

In 1996 my roommates were listening to an inordinate amount of The Counting Crows.  Because of that I didn't get into them because I was burned out on them.  It was years later when I collected their albums, long after I was living alone.  And I've got touching memories of "Round Here" and "Mr. Jones" from the turn of the century.

Dave Matthews Band seemed to be the most popular band among the teens I was working with at the turn of the century in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  I was into them as well, though I summarily abandoned the ban with the release of Busted Stuff and have rarely since listened to music I listened to often once upon a time.

I didn't fully embrace The Smashing Pumpkins until the early Aughts, when to do so was somewhat sentimental.  As I was in full-time ministry the spiritual aspects of the songs resonated with me.

Near the end of the article he discusses the emerging Indie Rock of the late 90's that ultimately replaced the alternative season and fortunately never became mainstream.  Tim Youmans introduced me first to Wilco about this time and living in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the early Aughts and working with David Breckenridge (who came there from Austin) acquainted me with the rich indie rock tradition that basically became my favourite genre of music and has persisted so ever since.


Hip-Hop & the Church

I was intrigued by this passage from Otis Moss, III's Blue Note Preaching:

Now remember that Hip-Hop is the first cultural creation that does not explicitly come out of the church. . . .  Hip-Hop is standing outside of the church looking in the window because no one is raising questions about poverty and deindustrialized urban landscapes . . . .   Young people become the Griot to be able to speak prophetically when preachers said, "We will not speak."


Singing

Raising beers

One of the true joys of attending the Festival of Homiletics is the singing.  A congregation of ministers who sing loudly and confidently and fill the room with a sound that moves the deep connecting tissues of your body.  The Festival also books stellar musicians to lead the worship, including last night where members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir sang of the Spirit.

After a powerful worship experience the schedule included Hymns and Beers at a local saloon.  I enjoyed watching a group of pastors raise their beers to the chorus of "How Great Thou Art."

In James K. A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom, which I read on Monday, he wrote about the power of congregational singing:

    First, singing is a full-bodied action that activates the whole person--or at least more of the whole person than is affected by merely sitting and passively listening, or even reading and reciting texts.  Singing requires us to call on parts of the body that might otherwise be rather dormant--stomach muscles and vocal chords, lungs and tongues.  And since singing seems to tap into our joints and muscles, song often pulls us into dance or raising of our hands in praise.  Thus in song there is a performative affirmation of our embodiment, a marshaling of it for expression--whether beautiful songs of praise or mournful dirges of lament.  


Simon Critchley on Bowie

A personal eulogy and analysis from Simon Critchley, including this fabulous paragraph:

Within Bowie’s negativity, beneath his apparent naysaying and gloom, one can hear a clear Yes, an absolute and unconditional affirmation of life in all of its chaotic complexity, but also its moments of transport and delight. For Bowie, I think, it is only when we clear away all the fakery of social convention, the popery and jiggery-pokery of organized religion and the compulsory happiness that plagues our culture that we can hear the Yes that resounds across his music.


More on Bowie

Yesterday morning when I called out to Michael the news that David Bowie had died, I added "He was so important to the struggle for LGBT rights."  I didn't see a lot of commentary on that in the first articles I read yesterday, but the sentiment has been more prevalent as the news sinks in.

I pulled out the one book of theology I own which discusses Bowie, Gerard Laughlin's rich and wild Alien Sex, and re-read the chapter on Bowie's film The Man Who Fell to Earth.  This sentence leapt out at me--"the adoption of a queer persona not only enhanced the allure of Bowie's androgyny for would-be rebellious teenagers, but it helped to create a space in popular culture where even heterosexual men could, for a time, be relieved from the burden of normative heterosexuality."

The, an article today about how Bowie "sexually liberated us all."  Excerpt: 

In his refusal to label himself, there didn’t appear to be a cowardice, but rather an honesty and maturity around how unfixed, at least for him, the notion of sexuality was. That proved to be its own liberation, or at least freeing, moment for so many of every kind of sexual orientation and gender identity.

One about his being a style icon which includes, "Bowie also remained, fundamentally, an enigma—the best kind."  And this comment on his final video:

You’ll find a meditation on love, loss, death, connection, and disconnection. And you’ll find an artist who ultimately survives, and endures.

As you watch it—perhaps baffled as many have been—you will also be bewitched, seduced, and charmed. You’ll feel all those things—the best, most enriching kind of sensory confusion and clash—that Bowie himself made us feel.

Finally, this author, put it succinctly:

He was a freak and a weirdo and a provocateur and an innovator and an icon.


Bowie

Listening to Bowie and reading obits.  Here are some choice lines from the NYTimes obit:

Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut.

***

Angst and apocalypse, media and paranoia, distance and yearning were among Mr. Bowie’s lifelong themes. So was a penchant for transgression coupled with a determination to push cult tastes toward the mainstream.

***

Mr. Bowie was his generation’s standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could. With a voice that dipped down to baritone and leapt into falsetto, he was complexly androgynous, an explorer of human impulses that could not be quantified.


"A last fair deal"

The 38th post in this series, listening to my cd collection in alphabetical order.

It is difficult for me to listen to Kate Campbell's "New South."  Watching the reaction to marriage equality in Alabama reminds one of how little the South has changed.

 Growing up in northeastern Oklahoma, I always considered myself a Southerner and resented the notion of outsiders that we were all like those of the past--prejudiced hicks.  Sadly, that stereotype does remain too true.

Of course watching police violence against black men across the country, one realizes that many of our old problems remain. 

With some preparation through my friendship with Tim Youmans, it was while I was living in Fayetteville, Arkansas that I drifted into listening to more folk and that genre of American music that combines the best elements of rock, blues, folk, country, and gospel (think Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams).  David Breckenridge (the pastor I was associate for) and John Meadors (the husband of the other associate pastor) helped those interests along.  

I'm drawn to this music that explores the American story, often expressing our longing for something better (more on that in a moment).  It is usually music of the people, with a grassroots, populist feel.

I think it was David, who was from Mississippi, who gave me Kate Campbell's MonumentsCampbell's songs are narrative windows into the South.  Her Wikipedia article says "Her story-filled songs feature quirky characters and often deal with the region's complex issues."  The bio on her own website notes that her "eloquent gift for storytelling . . . has drawn repeated comparisons to such bastions of the Southern writing tradition as Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and William Faulkner."  High praise indeed. 

Heard about a man
From Birmingham
Went down to Selma
To take a stand
How much
Can one heart hold
He sang some songs
About peace and love
And took a beatin'
From a billy club
How much
Can one heart hold

***

It was the Sunday morning of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in September 2004, and I was driving over to the festival that morning listening to the radio where they were discussing the bands and recommended that everyone go see the group Calexico.  Here's what I wrote later:

They were fantastic. I thought their mix of sounds was unique. I rushed right over to the Waterloo Records tent and bought their album, Feast of Wire. And the cd is great too. It is more mellow than the live performances, which really got you moving. I highly recommend this band if you haven't heard them.

Feast of wire

"Their musical style is influenced by traditional Latin sounds of mariachi / conjunto / cumbia / Tejano music and also the Southwestern United States country music as well as '50s-'60s jazz and '90s-'00s post-rock," according to their Wikipedia article.  

They remind me of Woody Guthrie.  They eloquently sing of the longing for a better country.  Here are the lyrics for the song "Sunken Waltz:"

Washed my face in the rivers of empire
Made my bed from a cardboard crate
Down in the city of quartz
No news, no new regrets
Tossed a susan b. over my shoulder
And prayed it would rain and rain
Submerge the whole western states
Call it a last fair deal
With an american seal
And corporate hand shake