August 24, 2009

The Velvet hymn

Hymns, even new hymns, crop up in the strangest places. One of my favorites, a simple repeating verse, is:

Jesus, help me find my proper place
Jesus, help me find my proper place
Help me in my weakness
'Cos I'm falling out of grace

If you'd like to hear it, it's here on YouTube. I often hear it in my mind during meeting, a refrain that helps me settle.

Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground seem an unlikely source for this meditative piece, though the album it was on, also called The Velvet Underground, is definitely calmer than its predecessors. But still, this comes right after "Pale Blue Eyes", with "the fact that you are married only proves your my best friend" and "Some Kind of Love", which has always left me wondering what's going on with "put jelly on your shoulder baby."

Song meanings has speculation about what this mean, but I've yet to find a real telling of how this came to be. Even if it's connected, say, to coming down from heroin, it stays simple enough to have much broader meaning.

In one of the stranger culture mashups I've encountered, someone's even created a video for this with clips from The Passion of the Christ. I guess it makes sense to people who don't know anything about this band, or perhaps far too much about this band.

January 24, 2007

Music about being filled with the Spirit

Back in July, I wrote about listening to a local Christian radio station, and said:

It's unfortunate to me that this music seems to choose musical forms I've long felt were utterly soulless to express ideas about the soul's relationship to God.

I'm happy to report that in listening to them more, I did find at least one group that escapes that problem. While they still spend a lot of time in pop, Sixpence None the Richer somehow manages to get a lot more across than the inspirational lyrics over bland melodies that seem to dominate these airwaves. The song that I first noticed, "Breathe Your Name" is pretty thoroughly pop, but it's good pop, and led me to the rest of their work.

The lyrics for Breathe Your Name grabbed my attention:

So many days within this race
I need the truth
I need some grace
I need the path
To find my place
I need some truth
I need some grace
The part of you
That's part of me
Will never die
Will never leave
And it's nobody else's but mine

You are in my heart
I can feel your beat
And you move my mind
From behind the wheel
When I lose control
I can only breathe your name
I can only breathe your name

The vision of God here is a direct encounter, not a distant hope. It's deeply personal and overwhelming, filled with promise.

After I figured out who the band was, I realized that they'd also done a song I think everyone heard a few years ago, Kiss Me, which catapulted them to the complexities of pop stardom (but didn't help with their perpetual record label problems).

I quickly bought The Best of Sixpence None the Richer, and like it, though it's a strange compilation. It starts with three unreleased songs, then a song from a tribute album, and then launches into Kiss Me, Breathe Your Name, and then the beautiful Melody of You. I don't often link to National Review Online, but this review sums it up well:

Together on "Melody of You," Slocum and Nash have done nothing short of making a mockery of both modern pop music and the worship-music business - for they have managed to prove, in the course of another "song, three minutes long," that pop music can indeed talk intelligently and succinctly about important and transcendent things, and remind the entire worship-music industry that the Author of the snowflake and the butterfly likely values creative expression over vain repetition.

And while a good bit of modern "worship music" is either entirely forgettable or simply undecipherable to those outside the club, "Melody of You" is a song that can be understood by the most ardent atheist — who, though disbelieving in the God the song is obviously about, can nonetheless understand the love the writer and singer feel for Him.

And then...

ABBA's Dancing Queen? Yes, they covered that for the movie Dick, where it plays for the happy end credits. It doesn't exactly fit here, but it did give me something else on the album that I recognized. (Now I mostly skip it.)

Dancing Queen introduces a section of covers. The next one, of Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over, fits better with their usual lyrical style, as does their cover of The La's There She Goes. Their next cover, Sam Phillips' I Need Love, is more direct than a lot of their songs, but astonishing. The covers close with Brian Wilson's I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.

The next five songs are older, a mix of straightforward melodies and harder-edged pieces from before the band broke into fame with Kiss Me. Breathe sounds more like a regular worship song but describes a deeply personal experience breathing the air of Heaven. Brighten My Heart is also a worship song, but with a very nice set of additions on the repeated verse.

The next two songs, both from This Beautiful Mess, have more oblique lyrics and a harder edge. I can't quite figure out Angeltread, but it launches into the chorus with intense power. Within a Room Somewhere is even more mysterious, but has similar power.

The last song from the older albums, Trust is almost a meditation, building on Proverbs 3:5-6 with repetition and a little more to connect it to the singer.

The final song on the album is just unusual: Kiss Me, in Japanese. A few of the lyrics stay in English, but most of them don't.

It's a strange sampler, an album which I suspect has something to appeal to most readers of this site, but I suspect that something is different for everyone. I'm enjoying the way Matt Slocum's lyrics describe connecting with God directly, and Leigh Nash's ability to take her voice from airy and intimate to a loud belt gives the songs the range they need to deal with that subject. (The band's name comes from a story in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.)

I'll be listening to more of their material, but figure that most of this would be eligible for my completely hypothetical Quaker radio. It's good to find music that speaks like this. I'm reasonably certain they're not Quaker, but their songs seem to me to capture much of what makes the Quaker experience compelling: periods of calm, times of deep ecstatic connection, times of scrambling for that connection.

July 9, 2006

Quaker radio

I've been wondering all week what Quaker radio might sound like. One theory might hold that the airwaves were full of silent worship with occasional bursts of spirit provided by solar flares until Marconi started broadcasting, but that's not quite what I have in mind.

I saw a bumper sticker a while ago for WCII, part of the Family Life Network, and was reminded of an electrician who played it constantly while working on my house. I've been listening for much of this past week. Their playlist is Christian contemporary, which seems to mix lyrics suitable for hymns with light rock, light jazz, or light country, with the occasional power ballad mixed in. It's unfortunate to me that this music seems to choose musical forms I've long felt were utterly soulless to express ideas about the soul's relationship to God, but I guess not everyone wants to hear Amazing Grace, Gotta Serve Somebody, or Hank Williams' finer religious moments - and the songs work pretty well as hymns if you remove the modern stylings.

I suspect there are some Quakers who'd be happy with FLN's offerings as Quaker radio, though I'm not sure that Prophecy Today or Focus on the Family is necessarily the non-musical programming they would choose. (There probably are some who like that programming, though I've not yet met them.) There are other Quakers who I suspect listen only to NPR, or even only to NPR stations that carry Democracy Now and Alternative Radio. I'm not sure they'd even be interested in "Quaker radio", but maybe...

It's not like I expect Quakers to start setting up radio stations, filling a whole day with Quaker-oriented programming (though some folks are podcasting as well as blogging). It's just one of those strange questions that won't quite go away - what would Quaker radio sound like?

"This is WQKR, showing you the way to the power of the Light, the seed that bruises the serpent's head..." (Yes, there is a WQKR, but it's not Quaker. No KQKR, though.)

Update: And Kwakersaur's musings on the Left Behind video game makes me wonder a bit what a Quaker video game would look like. Maybe that's going too far into different media...

Update: And now I find Northern Spirit Radio, programs produced "under the care of Eau Claire Friends Meeting".