Friday, October 15, 2010

Spirituality and Music, redux

Two entries in two days?!?  I am finally starting to get back into the swing of things, apparently.  Homework beckons, but my thoughts beckon more...


You can search for my old entry (about a year old) and see that I railed quite heavily on the genre of Christian rock music for its faults.  It was because quite frankly, it is still true to a great extent.  I still find Christian rock to be rather pedestrian and unimaginative, but as I've recently been trying to live out the penultimate words of George Harrison ("Everything can wait, but the search for God cannot wait."), I perhaps may have judged the genre too harshly.  It is worship music, and despite my perception of it, people still connect to it and through it to that higher plane, so it must therefore hold some value.  And as everyone knows, music is one of the most subjective fields, so when it comes to trying to organize it and present it in a remotely academic manner there is bound to be some oversight, and I am "being the bigger man" in admitting to some of that.

But that does not mean that I am totally recanting my statement.  It just means that I previously undervalued it.  What made me reconsider my stance was something the legendary Mavis Staples said when interviewed on the Colbert Report.  When asked about her reasons for moving from gospel to soul in the 1960s (and her thoughts about the cries of "traitor" it generated from the community), Mavis essentially said: "All music glorifies God."  While I'm unsure if she is familiar with Slayer, one realizes it is essentially true.  And it simply goes beyond any religious notions.  Whether or not one believes in the vehicle of God or otherwise, music is inherently powerful and it showcases the unique power that humanity has, in weakness and in strength.  Whether it is worship music or gleefully skewering religion (see: "Highway 61 Revisited" for a particularly delightful roasting of the Abraham story), it all essentially carries infinite power and meaning.  That is what makes music, well, music.

I still think that Christian rock has quite a-ways to go if it wants to be considered as proficient in the "academic" and "quality" sense I have been trying to impart.  If I may continue tooting this particular horn, it is so pre-occupied with presenting the message of Lord without realizing that the music itself is already the message!  Music already glorifies the Lord, so if you simply strive make good music, you are already completing your objective!  Now, this is not obvious to most people, so I understand that perhaps in needing to spread their message they are tempted to brandish a big stick, but that is what makes the music so pedestrian to me.  The music becomes clumsy and unimaginative when the only thing music has is to be graceful and imaginative!  I don't necessarily mean this in the technical-playing sense (thus punk would be ruled out, and we all know punk has too much heart and balls of steel for that), but in the artistic, striving-for-quality sense.  As evidence, I present the best "worship" record of all time, in my opinion:

A Love Supreme is beyond a masterwork: it is a monolith of the power of music, standing tall as a man among boys.  Far and away the best jazz record of all time (it would most certainly rank in my top 20, if not top 10 records of all time), it is a testament: to Coltrane's power, to Coltrane's skill, to Coltrane's faith.  Coltrane made the record to demonstrate his faith and his love for his Lord.  The devotional poem in the liner notes is "recited" via his saxophone in the last movement, with the final lines in that poem showing his love for God:

"Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen."

The record is overbearing only in that it is overbearingly perfect.  It does not wield its faith like a stick to beat home the point, but the faith is implemented like a fine knife used to carve the most detailed of sculptures.  The search for quality in the music mirrors Coltrane's search for God, and in both Coltrane finds what he had been looking for.  It doesn't matter if you aren't a believer or not in Coltrane's faith.  The music contains so much of that often-sought "soul" that by the end of the record you believe: if not in his faith or his skill, you will at least believe in the power of music.

And it reinforces the point I have been trying to hit home in this entry: the power of music is the power of that higher plane.  Take care of the first and the rest will follow.  It is something that Christian rock would do well to heed if it wants to reinforce its connection to the Lord and actually serve as quality music.  Under the "Mavis Staples assumption" (as I'll call it from here on out...assuming I ever refer back to it), any music is inherently worship music, so quality music is the highest worship music attainable.  So strive for it.  Music is a microcosm of life: if one stops searching for meaning and quality, then all is hopeless and futile.


If one needs proof that Christian rock needs to strive for quality once more, one only needs to realize that it was skewered rather successfully by South Park in the Season 7 episode "Christian Rock Hard."

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