Skip to comments.(Vanity) Thoughts on A Music Video
Posted on 11/19/2013 8:41:21 PM PST by grey_whiskers
Recently, I was watching an excellent concert video of the band Transatlantic playing their album The Whirlwind live in London.
Neal Morse (formerly of Spock's Beard) had become a Christian -- I don't know whether any of the other band members were -- and the songs had a decidedly Christian overtone.
Now the interesting thing I found, is not the Christian messages inherent in the songs; not of themselves. Rather, I found it interesting in that it differed from most contemporary Christian music in that it didn't suck. As Danny Glover said in the movie Angels in the Outfield, "There's this thing called talent. You guys don't have it." Or as humorist/essayist P.J. O'Rourke once said when making fun of the folks at Heritageville, USA, "I'm sorry. I don't have the heart to [make fun of] these folks anymore. It's like shooting dairy cows with a high-powered scope and rifle."
Now, we all agree that there is a dearth of talent in Christian music; but there are several other problems which run deeper. One, of course, is money: it takes money to produce high-quality music properly, and a lack of money leads to cutting corners. Each little bit may not matter, but after awhile, one runs into the "death by a thousand cuts." Another is the lack of originality: there do happen to be a number of original Christian bands, but it seems that most Christian artists are content to ape the styles of a fad-and-a-half ago, while vainly (in both senses of the word, apparently) continuing to reassure themselves that they are modern, up-to-the-moment, and exciting: generally being as convincing as the old man at the end of Disney's The Aristocats who speaks of "swinging hep' cats."
But another issue is the inherent conflict between the arts and Christianity. I am not speaking here of the Mapplethorpe-vs.-Evangelical flamewars, nor of Piss Christ; nor yet of satanic overtones in metal music. Rather, I am looking at the lack of artistic values -- and at this, I see several components. First, there is the long-standing Protestant backlash in the United States against anything "Worldly" -- which, alas, includes rock music. This means that performing artists who wish to place their performance in a Christian milieu, in addition to the other handicaps, are swimming upstream against a tide of Stepford-wife Christianity: everything is to look perfect, and clean, and "just so" -- and this includes the chord structure and musical arrangements, not just the lyrics.
Second, there seems to me to be a Christian music "subculture" resulting from so much of the music emanating from Nashville, TN: it almost feels that most of the music has to have the cultural stamp of approval from the powers-that-be in that city, before it is allowed to be distributed: with the result that the lyrics, topics, etc., are claustrophobic, almost xenophobic. Some topics, some kinds of pain, are simply "not part of [good] Christian's lives" and therefore should not be written about or sung about, or -- preferably -- even alluded to.
Thirdly, and most importantly, there is an air, an atmosphere, in much of Christian music, that whatever is written "should glorify God." Now this happens to be true: I presume music was invented in Heaven, and dischords and cacophony in Hell. But there is a distinction present which I think is too fine-grained for the thought leaders in the Christian music world. To get a flavor of this, I refer the reader to two *excellent* essays from the prior Century, by a pair of celebrated Christian authors.
The first is Lilies that Fester by C.S. Lewis, and the other is The Mind of The Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers. Lewis' essay talks about true art and culture, and its usurpation by the rise of the charientocracy, the managerial class, for whom "culture" is one of the required learning experiences one undergoes while being groomed for the managerial class -- there is a coarsening, a vulgarization, in that while the candidate is exposed to "Art" he is told in advance what the proper response to it should be, thereby cutting him off from any real insight or stirring in his soul. I suggest that an analogous process has happened in many of the American churches: for any topic in life, there is an approved Churchian answer, which governs not only the response, but the moral and intellectual framework from which that response is derived, and within which that response is all but inevitable. But one of the true strengths of art -- visual as well as musical, static as well as performed -- is that it forces the user outside of his own framework, opening the mind to dynamic solutions.
And it is here that I segue to The Mind of The Maker. Sayers argues that man is made in the image of God primarily in being a creative being (in this she echoes much of the sentiment of J.R.R. Tolkien; see for example his essay On Stories in The Tolkien Reader). She relates God as the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) to the different roles of the author/creator in relation to his/her creative work. She considers the problem of Evil ("if God made the world, why is there a devil") in a different form: "If Art is Good, why is there Bad Art?" Her answer is that "Bad" art arises when the Author of the art is unfaithful, untrue, deceitful with respect to what the art is trying to say:
Once more, our literary analogy may be used to illustrate this distinction between Evil known by pure intelligence and Evil known by experience. Our perfect writer is in the act of composing a work - let us call it the perfect poem. At a -particular point in this creative act he selects the "right" word for a particular place in the poem. There is only the one word that is "dead right" in that place for the perfect expression of the Idea. The very act of choosing that one "right" word, automatically and necessarily makes every other word in the dictionary a "wrong" word. The "wrongness" is not inherent in the words themselves - each of them may be a "right" word in another place * -their "wrongness" is contingent upon the "rightness" of the chosen word. It is the poet who has created the "wrongness" in the act of creating the "rightness". In making a good which did not exist before he has simultaneously made an evil which did not exist before. Nor was there any way by which he could possibly make the Good without making the Evil as well. (*Always excepting, of course, words like "sportsdrome" and "normalcy", which are so steeped in sin that no place is "right" for them, except Hell, or a Dictionary of Barbarisms.)
She goes on to illustrate this with a quote from Hamlet which had been bastardized by David Garrick, and which thereby lost much of its evocative power; even though he believed in his heart, he was improving it.
Paradoxically, I think that this is very thing which many Christian performers do; and what is worse, doing such in the name of God. Many Christians are inspired by Bible verses such as "In Him we live and move and have our being" and the concept that "Jesus is Lord over *all* of my life."
These are good things; but taken out of context, they can prove disastrous. It is true, our will should always be surrendered to God; but it is manifestly NOT true, that God expects us to leave everything to Him exerting no effort on our own: consider the parable of the talents, in which the servant who worked and invested the talents is praised; or the Centurion speaking to Jesus "I am a man in authority, with others in authority over me" -- in this case, he was invested with authority for the express purpose of exercising that authority, so that the ultimate authority, the Emperor, need not be bothered with every tactical maneuver of every company of troops in every battle across an entire Empire. (Just because he possesses the authority, does not mean that it is required to exercise it actively in his own behalf every possible chance: similarly, just because God is Lord of our Lives, does NOT mean that we should explicitly quote a relevant Bible verse in between every swipe of our toothbrush.)
But many of the Christians feel -- or have been *taught* to feel by Churchian doctrine -- that it is a kind of disrespect to God, to NOT drag him in at every possible moment in every possible song. And to do that, is often to act as David Garrick, and to completely ruin the artistic impact of the song, in an attempt to honor God by dragging Him in by the Ear.
Unfortunately, the result often is the exact opposite of what was intended by the performer.
Spocks Beard was great.
Two words: "Bull" and "Sh!t"...
or maybe they just have a different opinion of what they like than you do, maybe they think modern rock music is what "sucks" to use a common obscene sexual reference that even some FReepers like to use.
Tell me what you think of when you listen to THIS song
Progressive birdcage liner here.
Link to music video here. Warning: more than 1 hour long.
What you are saying is that Christian music needs to be less Christian in order not to [vulgar reference] and sound more like “mainstream” or “worldly” music.
I'll have to check out their music.
But as for what it makes me think of? *Another video*, of course:
Glass Hammer's *When We Were Young*, Live
I don't think the phrase "it sucks" is a sexual reference. At least, it never used to be. I suppose in our hyper-sexualized society these days its seamlessly taken on sexual meaning.
There is a hypersanitized version of "SWPL" Christian music. There are ways to convey Christian thought in music, without beating the user over the head with it. (The lead vocalist / musical driver for Transatlantic, Neal Morse, is a pretty outspoken Christian: one of his albums is entitled Sola Scriptura -- and, come to think of it, he converted after moving from L.A. to Nashville. Which partly argues against my thesis, come to think of it. ;-) )
Try looking up his live concert Neal Morse: Testimony Live: One of the songs deals with how his infant daughter was healed of a physical hole in her heart after prayer...but that's several hours INTO the concert.
OOHH! Very 80’s!
religious music is supposed to be religious, otherwise it is POINTLESS like most music
You are correct, I was using "it sucks" as a general pejorative.
Thank you for sharing your insights, dear grey_whiskers!
If you find bands with Christian leads and such, their music will often have an undertone of theology to it, even if its not immediately obvious. Echoing Green is an example.
If you mean most secular music nowadays is technically well done but spiritual/emotional junk food or worse, yep.
IF you mean, music was originally designed by God for worship, and any other purpose falls short of that intended purpose; maybe; I don't know for sure.
But if you mean that all music except religious music is useless, that it cannot touch emotions, I happen to disagree.
Someday I'll have to renew your acquaintance: you and betty boop have often been in my thoughts, and on occasion, prayers. :-)
P.S. Don't you *ever* sleep??!! :-)
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.