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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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 Monuments. Campbell'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.
"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
Bush and Cake stand next to each other in the alphabetical order of our cd collection. They make me think of the 1990's and my roommates and friends
Michael brought the Bush album into the marriage. Though I did listen to them because friends owned their albums. At the time I was, of similar bands, more into Live. Listening to Michael's Bush album makes me think of visits to the Dallas-Fort Worth area with Derrek Housewright when we'd be glad that our car radio finally picked up the alternative stations we couldn't get in Oklahoma. Bush makes me think of driving around Dallas. It was also when I went through my own obligatory period of shoulder length hair.
Cake I loved. They are a much better band, though the one time I saw them at ACL, I thought they phoned it in, which was mighty disappointing.
There songs were fun, their lyrics were clever, and they recorded great covers, such a this one of "I Will Survive" which was never convincing. By that I mean that you knew Gloria Gaynor was in fact going to survive. Cake, you weren't quite so sure. And that really fit our mood in our twenties.
My cd collection series continues with this, post number 35.
Tom Nix would occasionally play special music at Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City. Tom would play piano and sing. Once he sang this song:
I liked it so much that I began to request it. Eventually Tom gave me the cd Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino. A variety of stars from Art Garfunkel to Liza Minnelli perform the songs on the album, all written by John Bucchino. They are easy listening with smart lyrics. This is not the music I normally listen to.
But when we drove a few weeks ago to meet the woman who had selected us to adopt her child, I grabbed a bunch of cds that I thought would be relaxing. This was one of them. Michael had never listened to it before.
As we drove back from the meeting, I played this song "Grateful" and then the song "This Moment" sung by Kristin Chenoweth:
Since then, I have played these two songs repeatedly as I've imagined holding my newborn son.
As I've written previously, my generation fell in love with the music that our Boomer parents had largely rejected, the American songbook of our grandparents. Harry Connick, Jr., who was big when I was in high school, helped with this.
In the early 21st century Michael Buble emerged sounding even more like Sinatra. I initially bought his first , self-titled album after hearing it at a party because I thought it was sexy. It opens with "Fever."
But I was like most about listening to this album now is dancing with my husband. I like to put it on in the kitchen when we are cooking together and during "For once in my life" I'll grab him, and we'll dance around the kitchen.
My favourite part of that song is:
For once I can say; this is mine you won't take it Long as I know I have love I can make it For once my life I have someone who needs me