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Me The Seeker: Listening to Religion in Popular Music
Editor: Michael J. Gilmour
"I asked Bobby Dylan/I asked the Beatles/I asked Timothy Leary/But he couldn't help me either/They call me the seeker/I've been searchin' low and high" (The Seeker Ė The Who).
The title of this book presumably comes from the words to the song by The Who. The term "seeker" is appropriate to describe the broad range of religious experience found here.
The book takes a scholarly look at the intersection between popular music and religion. It provides fascinating glimpses into the thought and paths of a number of artists and genres.
It would be easy to point out where the search has gone wrong. But for the most part, the various writers of this collection of essays act as observers and commentators providing analysis rather than correction.
The work is a scholarly and detailed. At times it becomes overly technical, but the depth of analysis shows just how much can be missed by a superficial review. The book is at its best when it makes clear the underlying theology and views of those profiled. Reactions to what these people believe and have lived through can range from pity to admiration. The views expressed by those examined can be a mix of truth and error, but itís amazing how much the authors draw out of these investigations.
It would seem that at least a couple of the writers are more liberal in their views. The writers are not necessarily writing from an evangelical perspective. The editor is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Providence College in Manitoba, Canada.
The scope of musical styles is broad covering everything from heavy metal, folk, rave, rap, country, rock, and even a Broadway musical. The artists reviewed include: U2, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Nick Cave, Metallica, Jon Anderson of Yes, and Sinead OíConnor.
The book is divided into three parts: Religious Sources Behind Popular Music, Religious Themes in Popular Music and Religion, and Popular Musicís Audiences.
U2 fans take note: two of the best essays deal with different aspects of the group. The first looks at the intriguing connections between the prophet Jeremiah, Aung San Suu Kyi and U2ís All That You Canít Leave Behind. Aung San Suu Kyi is the human rights activist living in Myanmar (formerly Burma).
The other essay examines Bonoís apocalyptic outlook through a detailed look at U2ís first three recordings. Bonoís outlook is more "comic" than "tragic," in that he emphasizes "hope, responsibility, and choice in how one may change his or her world." Bono has obviously been emboldened by his reading of Scripture, and has in his own way put theology into shoe leather. This essay gets at the heart of what motivates him.
The journey for some has been difficult. The story of guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield of Metallica borders on the tragic. Raised a Christian Scientist, he felt a deep sense of alienation by how that separated him from others. In school he was not allowed to get a physical so that he could play football. His dad forced religion on him, and his mother died of cancer when he was only 17, after she refused treatment. This was the incubator for the anger, hatred, and condemnation that he spewed out during the first ten years of Metallica.
In stark contrast, Jon Anderson is committed to making beautiful music that will transform the face of evil "by the one we call Love, Love, Love." With regard to religion, he believes that "all the rivers meet in the same ocean." He doesnít have time for religion that he believes gets in the way of true freedom. In his mind, you donít have to look beyond yourself to find the truth. He deserves credit for wanting to make the world a better place, but he underestimates human depravity. As the essay writer points out, Anderson "may need to revisit the need for some sort of mediator who can redeem the human condition."
The influence of the teachings of Jesus on Woody Guthrie highlights some of the hard sayings of Jesus. It brings into focus the challenging things that Jesus said about possessions and attachments.
One of the more complex discussions revolves around the Nick Cave lyric from The Boatmenís Call: "I donít believe in an interventionist God." (Cave is the subject of two essays.) Caveís depiction of the model of divine-human rapport could be described as interactionist, focusing on the personal, subjective and relational. The entire essay is devoted to examining this and related ideas.
Call Me the Seeker fills a void for a much-needed critical analysis of religion and music. Hopefully, more books like this will follow.
March 31, 2006