Monday, August 26, 2013

In Which I Wield My Superpower

(The LP Tour, Song 2)

Okay, so writing about every single song on an album – even one as rich and sweet as Soul Asylum's Grave Dancer's Union – might not be as easy as I thought. And I almost just skipped the song Black Gold, because of degree of difficulty… but then I decided to plow ahead, because I know I can do it. I'm that good... It's my superpower.* Anyway, once you read these lyrics you'll most likely see what I mean about difficulty. (Click on the title to watch the video!)

Dave Pirner of
Soul Asylum
Black Gold

Two boys on a playground
Tryin' to push each other down
See the crowd gather 'round
Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd

Black gold in a white plight
Won't you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride
I don't care 'bout no wheelchair
I've got so much left to do with my life

Moving backwards through time
Never learn, never mind
That side's yours, this side's mine
Brother you ain't my kind

You're a black soldier, white fight
Won't you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride
Sure like to feel some pride
But this place just makes me feel sad inside

Mother, do you know where your kids are tonight?

Keeps the kids off the streets
Gives 'em something to do, something to eat
This spot was a playground
This flat land used to be a town

Black gold in a white plight
Won't you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride
Sure like to feel some pride
But this place just makes me feel sad inside

Black gold in a white plight
Won't you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride
I don't care 'bout no wheelchair
I've got so much left to do with my life


These guys are ready to rumble!
The Outsiders was a good movie 
about a bad neighborhood.
Now, I hope you can follow my train of thought here. Even though it might be a bit of a stretch to spiritualize it, it's not a shallow song. It appears to be about fighting. Racism - black v. white ("That side's yours, this side's mine / Brother you ain't my kind") and war –  black gold being another name for oil. The two boys on a playground could be … well, two boys on a playground, one black and one white. Or it could be the people who have the oil and the people who want the oil. That is, the Gulf War.

Now I am probably the LAST person you want to get your political facts and commentary from, but I'm going to forge ahead anyway… The other day I was watching an episode of The West Wing where a kid asks the first lady – aka Rizzo from Grease – where all the enmity that spawned the terrorists in the episode came from. She recounted the Bible story of Abraham and his two sons Isaac and Ishmael – two boys who are attributed with starting the perpetually-raging Arab / Israeli conflict. 

She then points out that the two sons came together to bury their father Abraham at the end of his life (Genesis 25:9)… as maybe a whisper of the way things SHOULD be. Likewise, in this song, I see this kind of longing and hope… the desire to move on from this place that makes us feel sad inside… a bad neighborhood, a war-torn country… and ultimately from our very human tendency to turn everything into a fight. As James says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight." (James 4:1-2)

Before she was the 
First Lady in The West 
Wing, Stockard Channing 
was Rizzo in Grease.
This line: "Won't you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride / I don't care 'bout no wheelchair, I've got so much left to do with my life," always made me think of a person who is dismissing the "handicaps" and things that weigh him down in his current life and soul situation – which could be his environment or his own internal struggle and sin – and looking forward to moving on to something better. 

Which is, of course (who else?) Jesus. Shocking coming from me, I know. Here's what Paul says:
"You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. – Colossians 3:7-11

Now, I love this because it works so well with the song. It talks about moving on from our crappy old selves to our new selves… AND it brings up race – just like the song! Jesus is the One who makes race irrelevant. Not just the issue of race, but race itself. 

Why don't you fill up the tank /
Let's go for a ride!
Further, the  song's line "fill up the tank, let's go for a ride," points out the irony that the kids' ability to escape their bad neighborhood and its conflicts may depend on the ability of the nations who are squabbling over oil to reconcile... Yeah, it's not just a local problem ... it's global. Fortunately Jesus came to address this problem as well... as Paul also says that Jesus "gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age." (Galatians 1:3)

So, here we have it... Black Gold by Soul Asylum in a Christian nutshell: 1. We're in an evil age (place). 2. We're trapped by our sins and our situations. BUT: 3. There is a way out! That is, the King of the Kingdom of God... trumps neighborhoods and nations. And all God's people say, "Right on!"

*by the grace of God, of course!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You Might As Well Jump

Despite my alarming lack of funds, I have managed to acquire tickets to what promises to be an A-MAY-ZING show tonight… Here’s the skinny from the Red Hat Amphitheatre web site: 

Two albums that are as familiar to 
me as my own prayers.
LP TOUR with Big Head Todd and the Monsters, The Wailers, Soul Asylum and Matthew Sweet: Matthew Sweet will open the show and perform Girlfriend in it’s entirety, The Wailers will perform Legend next, Soul Asylum will then perform Grave Dancers Union and Big Head Todd and the Monsters will close the night out with Sister Sweetly

Now, the dishes highlighted in RED TEXT are hot and spicy. I mean, that’s what I’m excited about. I have mentioned more than once both Matthew Sweet and Soul Asylum, so this is a dream bill for me. It’s an added bonus that they are performing particular albums and therefore, JUST songs that I know like my own prayers. That’s right… no obscure tunes or pesky songs off their “new album”…  Only music that has already romanced my stony heart… 

So, in preparation for this sure-to-be-sweaty night in downtown Raleigh, I’ve immersed myself in the records that Matthew Sweet and Soul Asylum are scheduled to play. And earlier today I was driving along listening to Grave Dancer’s Union and wondering what to talk to you guys next, and this thought occurred to me: Each of these songs is a blog post waiting to be written.

Matthew Sweet
In fact, I could just cut and paste the lyrics from one of those (questionably accurate) lyrics web sites and that would be that. For instance, rather than writing about the startlingly slow pace of my spiritual development and my acknowledgement that at least I’m going in the right direction… or I could just give you the lyrics to Growing into You.

Or I could annotate or otherwise comment on the lyrics for you. Yeah – that’s what I’ll do… Buckle up for this bumpy ride… this (debatably) fascinating exploration of songs in the key of my life…

First up, Grave Dancer’s Union Track 1:

Grandfather watches the grandfather clock 
And the phone hasn’t rang for so long 
And the time flies by like a vulture in the sky 
Suddenly he breaks into song 

I’m waiting by the phone 
Waiting for you to call me up and tell me I’m not alone 
I’m waiting by the phone 
Waiting for you to call me up and tell me I’m not alone 

Hello, speak up, is there somebody there? 
These hang-ups are getting me down 
In a world frozen over with over-exposure 
Let’s talk it over, let’s go out and paint the town 

I’m waiting by the phone 
Waiting for you to call me up and tell me I’m not alone 

Cause I want somebody to shove 
I need somebody to shove 
I want somebody to shove me 

You’re a dream for insomniacs, prize in the Cracker Jacks 
All the difference in the world is just a call away 

And I’m waiting by the phone 
Waiting for you to call me up and tell me I’m not alone 
Yes I’m waiting by the phone 
I’m waiting for you to call me up and tell me I’m not alone 

Cause I want somebody to shove 
I need somebody to shove 
I want somebody to shove me 
Yes I want somebody to shove 
I need somebody to shove 
I want somebody to shove me

Soul Asylum
In my crazy brain, this is about a person “Grandfather” who longs for a word from God – for evidence that He exists and that He’s FOR us – a place I’ve been countless times. In his desperation he wails out a song, much like the guy in the Psalms who cries out for God to hear his prayers (ex. “Hear my prayer, LORD, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping.”  Psalm 39:12). Or when Bono sings, “How long to sing this song?” 

And how about this line: “You’re a dream for insomniacs, prize in the Cracker Jacks”... because insomnia is quite often the setting for any contemplation of God that I might do, (“As I lie on my bed I remember you. I think of you all night long.” Psalm 63:6). And then, “prize in the Cracker Jacks” = the pearl of great price. (“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who was looking for fine pearls. He found one that was very valuable. So he went away and sold everything he had. And he bought that pearl.” Matthew 13:45-46)

Go ahead and jump!
I also think about the way that at times there might be something I KNOW I need to do… from the first confession of Jesus as Savior, to big life decisions, to everyday good deeds. I do find myself sometimes sitting around waiting for a “sign” or a direct communication from God to SHOVE ME, as the song says.

That first big leap of faith is the most frightening. I’ve been on that precipice, known people on that precipice. Now that I’ve jumped, I know that just being at that point... well, THAT’s your sign… that you’ve recognized and are pondering the “God-shaped hole” inside you. Of course this is easy for me to say on THIS SIDE of that decision. But’s that’s just the way of it. You can’t really know till you dive in.   

And again, even once you’re on THIS SIDE, you will still experience times when you have no idea what’s going on and you long for communication from One Who Knows Everything. You’ll have all kind of dark nights of the soul and groaning on your bed days. It's hard, but I guess you just have to remember that these times of longing and despair are a gift of God... an assurance that God longs for YOU... if that makes sense.

In my opinion, the desire to hear from God is a gift from God Himself. He gave that to us. There’s your shove… now JUMP!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Psychedelic Furriness and the Hope of Heaven

Bono on that fateful
day in 1983
Recently, a college friend and I were having a facebook convo about a pivotal event in our lives: U2 at Kenan Stadium, 1983. It was a show that simply took our breath away…. inspired tears… kneaded our stony, cynical hearts to life… brought depth to our shallow souls… It was a show full of passion and youth and daring and hope and … what I imagine, in retrospect, was the Holy Spirit.

It occurred to me lately that I go to show after show – mostly because my husband buys the tickets, and also because I like shows – but always with a tiny bit of unspoken anticipation in the back of my brain that such a thing could happen again.

It hasn’t yet, of course, but I’m always hoping. That said, sometimes I have to consciously remind myself to judge a show by its own self, not by that one phenomenal experience. And if I’m feeling particularly free, the performance might carry me to some beautiful context … like when I saw Aaron Neville and was amazed by God’s grace.  Or when I felt God’s pleasure while watching Chris Thile go to town on his mandolin…
See Bono climb!

And last night? Well, I didn’t get slain in the Spirit or anything at the Cat’s Cradle Psychedelic Furs show or anything, but it was pretty fantastic. Remember those guys? Those sort of dreamy, aloof, new wavy dudes that sounded like David Bowie and the Sex Pistols had a baby and it was really into Roxy Music… or something… I really can’t put my finger on it… Anyway, their most famous song was Pretty In Pink,* and if you saw that sweet little John Hughes film from the eighties, then you’ve heard it.

I saw the Furs in Page Auditorium at Duke back when they were new, and I adored their sort of wispy, ethereal handsomeness and droning, atmospheric, saxy, rocky new wave music. I stood right up at the rail in front of the stage because back then you were allowed to do that. 

I was close to them… but not nearly as close as I was last night at the Cat’s Cradle! This time I was right up AT the stage – leaning on one of the monitors. I’ve always loved the Cradle as a venue because you can get right up at the music… It makes it less an us/them situation between the audience and performers, and more of a “just us,” meaning – ALL of us.

And I gotta say, my notion of the Psychedelic Furs as ethereal beings completely dissolved … Rather than being aloof, well… it was as if they couldn’t get close enough to us… Both (singer) Richard Butler and his brother, bass player Tim Butler, had a way of leaning waaaay out into the audience… looking right at people… Sometimes they were leaning out past where I was standing!

This is the exact outfit Richard Butler 
(center) had on when I saw them at Duke.
My husband, Tom, says it’s because they’re working the crowd – that they know that they need to do that to draw in the people at the back of the venue… to address the whole long, narrow room that is the Cat's Cradle. But you know how my mind works… you know I thought of God. 

Of course, I’m not saying they’re God, I’m just saying this aspect of their performance made me think about how God craves our presence. Say he’s the one making the music... and we’re appreciating it with our worship and lives…  But He doesn’t just stay up there on stage with bouncers and barricades all around and all; He leans right into the thick of His fans. Clasping their hands, posing for cameras… as He sings to them.

Richard Butler
(Look how close I was! I took this pic!)
It helps this analogy that the guys in the Furs look both young and old…. Eternal as it were. I mean, they’re slim and still have their own hair – styled in a similar fashion to their highwire days… but their faces are lined and they seem wiser and care-ful, and a bit less pretentious. In fact, I’d say they performed the show with a great deal of joy and love… like a big musical, artsy-fartsy hug. Richard periodically does his snake dance, but it’s more of a wink and a nod to his image than an artistic statement.

So ... is this a show review or just a peek into the crazy workings of a crazy brain… the brain of a 51-year-old woman who might still rush the stage at shows, all the while yearning for the big stage rush in the sky…?

Well, some of each. Here’s the show review part: How was the music? Still the same driving, yet atmospheric mix… Songs like Love My Way and Ghost in You are dreamy, and songs like Mr. Jones are a forceful drone strike with a Dylanesque barrage of cynical lyrics (guess that’s why it’s called “Mr.Jones.”) But mostly, it was rock and roll. Rock and roll in an elegant, but surprising friendly package.

Tim Butler
One of their great songs is called Heaven,* and I really felt it… Being reminded of a God who destroys the buffer between us and Him is a gift… and honestly, for a short while I was young again. Like the wide-eyed co-ed who saw U2 and was gripped by their ringing guitars and their passion.

I was trying to find the place in the Bible where Paul talks about how we’re going to get new bodies in heaven, and while it’s not the one I was looking for, this whole paragraph in 2 Corinthians really rang my bell:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
See? It’s lovely because it’s about being tired in our own bodies and longing for the new top notch bods we’ll get in heaven, and how the whispers and the roars of the Holy Spirit (the unfading Ghost in you, if you will) that we get sometimes is like God saying, “Just you wait…!”

Once I was in church singing along, but feeling kind of sorry for myself, and I distinctly felt like God was pressing this thought into my mind, “You just wait and see what I’m gon’ do.” (Yes, in my mind, God talks like an old Southern guy.)

I love that… of course, I’m always looking out to see what He’ll do, and when I’m alert enough to notice, it’s stunning.

* Here are some actual videos of Pretty in Pink and Heaven that I took that night... enjoy!