Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

         

123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789

email@address.com

 

You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.

Blog

Filtering by Category: Music

The Messiah

Christina Lee

Choir-picture1

As a college freshman, I was assigned a class called “Choral Union.” I assumed this was some sort advocacy group that made sure everyone had fair access to sheet music and water breaks during rehearsal. Whatever it was, I—as a new music major—was game.

It turned out to be conscription in a weekly three-hour evening rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah. The “union” merely signified that the whole community, regardless of musical ability, was invited to join up.

This should have sounded fun to me. But it did not. I’d never heard the term “oratorio.” I’d never seen a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Of course I’d heard the “Hallelujah Chorus;” I’d even sung it. But I had no desire to spend three hours a week singing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” fun as it had been. That seemed excessive.

As I’d feared, rehearsals were tedious, often dragging on past their promised 9:00 dismissal. Our zealous, rubicund conductor was nothing if not thorough. Movements were broken up into tiny chunks, every measure picked apart for its diphthongs and dark vowels and sagging pitch. Hours were lost on a single page of the score as earnest, tune-deaf community members gave it another go.

To be fair, the music was hard. Much harder than what I was used to. I wasn’t so great at it myself. Inevitably, right when I would catch the tune, we’d be angrily cut off with a baton tap and a vociferous, “like women, please, not little girls.”

Our conductor’s face would purple as he reminded us, “it’s the KH-LORY of the Lord. Not Gulory. KH-lory.” As everyone around me earnestly took down this note, I doodled sad little sketches of angry penguins in the margins of my score.

Is it embarrassing to me, now, my attitude? To think that I would have preferred to be back in my dorm room, gossiping about boys and listening to Savage Garden? Of course it is. It’s mortifying.

The real embarrassment? I so utterly lacked curiosity about the work we were preparing to perform. It never once occurred to me to sit down and listen to the piece, so I couldn’t hear the beauty we were working towards as we picked at it in rehearsal.

I’d like to tell you that, on the night of the performance, I was struck by the glory of the score and I repented of my grouchiness. I cannot. I was so fed up by then, so jealous of the soloists mincing out in their shimmery ball gowns, so tired of being yelled at to sound “more like a WOMAN,” that the performance was blur.

My conversion came years later, when a friend invited me to attend the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s “Messiah Sing-a-Long.” The thought of the music still made me a little nauseous, but I’d always wanted to see the Disney Concert Hall, so I went. The hall was filled with giddy Angelinos clutching their battered Messiah scores. As we launched into the first movement, I noticed two things. First, the notes came back to me as if I’d rehearsed them yesterday (confirming my grudging suspicion that that conductor was a very talented man). Second, this music was glorious. It was soul-rending to lift my voice with these 2,000 others. It was euphoric.

As rich, rippling chords splashed around the curved walls of the hall, I glanced at the score for my next cue and caught a glimpse of the angry penguin brigade, circa 2002.

And I remembered grumpy little freshman me, surrounded by all this glory yet totally deaf to it.

If you have a few minutes, sit down and listen to my favorite movement: “Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs.” I dreaded this piece most in Choral Union. I slouched through it, rolling my eyes as our long-suffering conductor barked out, “CH-UR-LY, people. Not Surely. Ch-ur-ly!”

Sometimes I listen to remind myself that, while grueling, measure-by-measure rehearsal is necessary, it isn’t the end result. And you can’t let yourself drown there, in the details.

When I listen now, I think about the classes I teach. I think about the family relationships I’m working to mend. I think about the poems in my “keep revising” desktop folder. I listen to remind myself not to stall out in the measures I’m slogging through, so I’ll be able to hear the beauty when it comes.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming . . .

Abby Jarvis

rose-in-snow1

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming, From tender stem hath sprung. Of Jesse's lineage coming, As men of old have sung; It came, a flow'ret bright, Amid the cold of winter, When half spent was the night.

 This hymn has always been a favorite of mine, even when I was far too young to understand the symbolism and history behind the lyrics. It seemed to carry a certain gravity shared by few hymns I know; the hush that fell over the congregation before they opened their mouths in song seemed more sacred, the circle of musicians that played it seemed an echo of Renaissance counterparts in an ancient church. Still, years later, I imagine the same scene when I hear the song—a clear, bitterly cold night; the world silent under a blanket of snow; a red rose blooming deep in the woods, lit by the moon. It’s a vivid image I’ve seen clearly since I was a child.

Only recently did I dig back into the song’s history. The hymn we call “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” was originally “Es is ein Ros entsprungen,” a hymn written in Germany sometime in the late 16th century. Its interpretation—not in terms of words, but of intent—is a subject of some debate. Catholics assert it is a Marian hymn; Protestants believe it references Jesus himself. Whichever the song’s theme, I love the legend behind it—the story goes that a monk was walking through the forest late one winter night and found a rose. Inspired by its beauty, he placed the flower at an altar to the Virgin.

Whatever its origins or meaning, many musicians and interpreters have been struck by the hymn’s simple beauty. There are several widely-known translations of the hymn from people of different theologies, and many versions of the tune have been played by artists both Christian and secular. It’s played in churches’ vaulted sanctuaries and on music systems in shopping malls alike.

The rose in the hymn has endured far longer than the song’s author or the thousands of people who have sung about it. The carol has sparked many debates about its interpretation over the last several hundred years, and musicians have continued to be inspired by the image of the rose, just as the monk was inspired by a rose so many centuries ago. However you consider “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”—either as an ancient Marian hymn, as a description of Jesus Christ, or as the poetry of an inspired monk—let the image of the rose’s stillness in the cold midwinter remind you of the still beauty of advent and the hush of expectancy as we celebrate Christ’s birth.

“The Unforgettable Fire:” Human Destruction, God’s Judgment, and Our Refuge

Mary McCampbell

u2 Seeing U2’s "Gloria" video for the first time changed my life; I was amazed that these four seductively scrappy Irish lads were singing so overtly about Jesus, and that the music was not formulaic, cheesy, or sentimental. It had an honest, raw, edge—and this seemed to match its message. When watching and listening, I let out a junior high sigh of relief without even understanding why. Perhaps I first understood my desire to see the jagged edges of our reality reflected in art by those who endeavor to have a relationship with the author of a Reality beyond those jagged edges.

The title of U2’s fourth studio album, 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, is grounded in the painful history of our collective ability to destroy ourselves and others; the album title was taken from a 1982 exhibit at the Chicago Peace Museum of artwork painted and drawn by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bomb dropped in 1945 was an unforgettable ball of fire to those that were physically and emotionally damaged by its power of fragmenting destruction.

The U2 album that takes its name from the exhibit refers both directly and indirectly to the human capacity for inward and outward violence, including such harrowing topics as heroin addiction (“Bad”), racism and murder (“Pride”), and the sad decline of a cultural idol (“Elvis Presley and America”). But the title track itself, a deeply evocative song full of longing, sadness, and hope, does not initially seem to specifically allude to the exhibit or tragic event that gave it its name.

But on revisiting both the song and video through a lens of Psalm 46 (a line is quoted in the song itself), I would have to disagree with the many music critics and fans that share this view. Although the lyrics are admittedly cryptic in many parts, they make sense on an emotional level—and this emotional richness is intensified by the video’s images. Both the song and the video open with a vivid image of “these city lights”that “shine as silver and gold.”The song also speaks of the seductive lights of a carnival where the “wheels fly and the colors spin”. Yet as the music builds dramatically, we see video images of a fairground ride transforming into an exploding atom bomb and a cityscape that is struck by lightening before experiencing a violent rainstorm.

Yet directly after these images of violence and destruction, Bono alludes to Psalm 46: 2 as he sings “And if the mountains should crumble or disappear into the sea, not a tear, no not I.”But how does any of this of this relate to the bombing of Hiroshima? Psalm 46 speaks about the “trouble”that we must endure on this blood stained, war loving earth—but that God Himself will bring “desolation”to the earth as “He breaks the bow and shatters the spear.”In a sense, the Psalm speaks of God’s judgment and his ushering in of justice and peace, putting an end to human cruelty and injustice.

At the very beginning of “The Unforgettable Fire”video, just as we see Bono’s grief-stricken face against a dazzling cityscape, we also see the rising of a blood-red moon. In one of the accounts from the exhibit titled The Unforgettable Fire, a survivor drew and described a moment when “the sun appeared blood-red in the dark sky.”We also read in Acts 2:20 and Joel 2:31 that “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood”before the “Day of the Lord”comes. In these allusions, the video opens by alluding to both human destruction and God’s judgment.

The same city that we see throughout the video is emblematic of modernity’s narrative promise of an efficient, comfortable, and exciting heaven on earth. Later, the members of U2 descend into the bowels of the city itself as they walk into a large blue-tinted factory space; here we see the promise of technology. Soon after, we see the carnival ride explode in a mushroom cloud and realize that the same seemingly messianic technology that produces our amusements, also enables us to annihilate other human beings as we appoint ourselves false gods of this earthly “paradise,”the city. As the lightning strikes and the rain waters come down, the video alludes to even more biblical narratives of God’s judgment against those who have taken this heretical role.

The video’s images are not, however, only of the doomed city; as Bono sings that one should “walk on by, walk on through,”we see a transition to a shot of The Edge walking a lonely, snowy path in an open space. We see the same beautiful scene as Bono sings“I am only asking but I think he knows. Come on take me away, take me home again….”. Although the mysterious lyrics do not name God, there is no other reference point that would possibly explain the mention of a knowing “he.”

Towards the end of the video, there is a striking image of Bono’s face, illuminated by a flame, superimposed over another image of the band warming their hands over a fire in a snowy field. As Larry Mullen, Jr. smiles, we see the familiarity and connectedness between the band members, the only moment of warmth and joy in the video. As the video and song both end, Bono tells us to “save your love,” and we see the same serene face dimly light by a constant fire. Perhaps the title “The Unforgettable Fire”has a two-fold meaning: it alludes to both the horror of the A-bomb, its image forever burned into the psyche of its survivors—but it also alludes to the eternal fire, giver of life, warmth, and illumination. Just as Psalm 46 tells us that God is a refuge and fortress, a constant source of strength that we will know profoundly if we can “be still,”“The Unforgettable Fire”video reminds us that justice will be done, that even if “the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea”there is a constant source of strength and calm.

More Popular Than Jesus

Brad Fruhauff

portrait As I prepare to host some friends for a 50th anniversary screening of the The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, I've been thinking about that period in history when people went so nuts that John Lennon could suggest The Beatles were more popular than Jesus. Beatlemania really was something like a religious experience; kids acted as if rock and roll could save them.

Some American Christians responded to John's comment by burning their Beatles records and banning their songs from the radio. Today Lennon might only get some "Farewell, John" tweets, some blog posts about our anti-religious culture, and then some counter-responses trying to rise above the fray by suggesting there might be some truth to the idea.

I also imagine a facebook meme, in black and white, of Jesus in a collarless Beatle-suit being chased by adoring fans down a London street over the word "JESUSMANIA." This would be an inevitably ironic reference to the opening scene of Hard Day's Night, which, if anything, dramatizes the very phenomenon that sparked Lennon's comment. And it's hardly even drama; the film used actual fans and The Beatles themselves were amateurs, so what we get is not just a New Wave realism but nearly cinéma vérité. Nor are we over The Beatles; witness the number of tribute bands, or the continual release of repackagings of their music, or even The Beatles Rock Band. I myself avoided them until college precisely because "everyone" was into them, but when I actually started listening, they quickly won me over. I can't imagine myself getting flushed and sweaty and screaming just for being in the presence of the Fab Four, but maybe a part of me is fascinated by that ecstasy, that longing for a fantasy of total freedom. I rarely have that in music, art, or faith. In fact, I suspect it, like they did in the 18th century, of "enthusiasm."

After all, rock and roll channels a liberative, individualistic, often sexual energy that the Church will always be in tension with. Rock says: It's all about you. If it feels good, do it. Christianity says: It's all about the Christ. If it pleases Him, do it. That will never be a popular line.

Christ also said to cut off your hand if it offended you, so it's not entirely far-fetched to think it better to burn your Beatles CDs than to burn in Hell, but we also know to suspect absolutes: some people might need to trash their CDs, but that doesn't mean we all do. It's not necessarily The Beatles that should concern us but our relationship to them. If they really were more popular than Jesus, that couldn't be their fault (nor should it probably be very surprising).

What's strange (or not) is how we look to things like rock groups (or politicians or self-help gurus or Bachelors) to save us. It's the old "you have to serve somebody" line. The Beatles' broad appeal enables them to offer an attractive version of the self as acceptably erotic and rebellious. You can't found your whole life on that, but you can enjoy it for what it is for the brief time you're engaging it if we understand the difference between enjoying and idolizing.

If you've never seen the film, the anniversary is a decent excuse to enjoy a movie characterized by creative cinematography, an anarchic sense of humor reveling in wordplay, a reflexive system of metaphors for celebrity, and really fun music. I have to think God likes us to enjoy these things so long as we don't depend upon them.

Twist and Shout: Sex as Metaphor

Jayne English

21 Samson_and_Delilah_by_Rubens

When the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in 1964 singing “Twist and Shout,” the veins in John Lennon’s neck bulged as he screamed the lyrics above the noise of the crowd. There were 700 in attendance that night, but 50,000 people had requested tickets to see the Beatles perform and 73 million people watched from home. What did the Beatles tap into that wrung screams and tears from their audience? It was something a little unexpected: metaphor. Metaphor has two parts: tenor, which is the subject of the metaphor, and vehicle, the way that subject is delivered. While teens around the country were over the moon with the Beatles’ sexy looks and lyrics – the vehicle of their art – what hit a nerve and gave them lasting celebrity was their tenor of longing. Sex is reflected everywhere in our culture; music, films, TV shows, books, and a lot of times, there is no metaphor, just sex. But many artists know that sex is an apt vehicle for longing.

Doesn't Mad Men show us this? Is it really just sex that Draper, in all his dalliances, is after? We know by now he’s plagued by a confused sense of identity and feelings of abandonment. We’ve seen Draper’s longing surface as he reads Dante’s Inferno, takes his kids to see his childhood home (a brothel), and when he finally tells the truth (when “it wasn’t the right time”) even though it resulted in being put on indefinite leave. Sex, the vehicle, in Mad Men is everywhere, setting us up for the metaphor’s tenor of longing.

Sex is also used as a metaphor in the Bible. Jesus is the Groom, the church is the bride of Christ. In fact, the Hebrew reverses our sense of longing with God’s longing for us. The word used for sex in the Old Testament is yada, used to “describe God's knowing and his longing of his people.”1

When John Updike published his first novel, Rabbit, Run, Knopf had him cut out some of the more explicit scenes (though they were restored in later editions). In a 1960 New York Times review, David Boroff predicted that some of the descriptions would “shock the prudish.”2 Updike was a professing Christian. Did he intentionally write a book to scandalize people? How do we know if there is a vehicle of metaphor in play or if it is just sex? In Updike’s case, he placed a signpost at the start quoting Pascal in his epigraph: “The motions of grace, the hardness of the heart; external circumstances.”

How can we differentiate sex as metaphor in films we see and books we read? Sex is pervasive in our culture’s art. What does that say about our longing?

1 http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2014/march/love-and-longing.html 2 http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/books/updike-rabbitrun.pdf

Grant Us Peace

Brenda Bliven Porter

Untitled

Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Osanna, Osanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Benedictus qui venit. Osanna, Osanna in excelsis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona nobis pacem.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is He who comes. Hosanna in the highest.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Lamb of God,

Grant us peace.

-----

As the melody climbed higher, the voices of the choir filled the cavernous ceiling of the cathedral. Agnus Dei. Lamb of God. People in the audience lifted their countenances, spirits soaring with the melody as the new key carried them away.  I glanced around, furtively wiping away the tears in my eyes, only to notice that others were doing the same. After standing and singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” we walked out into the cold winter night, exclaiming to one another about the loveliness of the evening---an annual choral concert in our small Midwestern town. “It was all so wonderful, but ‘The Ground’ was my favorite.” I agreed wholeheartedly and wondered what made this piece by contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo such a favorite.

A few months later I looked at the score and noticed the key changes. For a few measures, dissonance was introduced into an otherwise lovely melody and it became almost painful to listen. But in the measures after a key change, the melody was transformed---it soared, it spoke, it gave hope to the listener. Gjeilo, a Julliard-trained composer from Norway, has suggested that contemporary music has focused almost exclusively on the suffering and pain of human life: “the Modernists were brave to delve into parts of the human psyche that are dark and edgy, but I do think they got somewhat stuck in that.” Further, says the composer, “I think people naturally and instinctively want to experience “transcendence, resolution and the feeling of redemption, joy and peace that the resolving of discord can yield.”

Perhaps key changes are a way of seeing the dark and difficult experiences in our human lives---illness, job changes, loss, disappointment, uncertainty, unfulfilled expectations. Although painful in the moment, these transitions may be understood as temporary and transformative, allowing us to look forward with hope to a new key, a soaring melody, and perhaps a richer and fuller knowledge of the Creator’s love for us.

Bearing Witness

Vic Sizemore

david-bazan

I was not familiar with David Bazan when two friends, Joe and Marcelo, stopped by for a beer and introduced me to his album Curse Your Branches. Joe told me Bazan’s music showed him, “it was okay to not only have doubts and explore them but also to talk about them publically.” Marcelo said, “I want my ‘entertainment’ to continually wake me up.”

The songs did wake me up. It was like no Christian—or former Christian?—music I had ever heard. I was not sure what to do with it.

Bazan’s former publicist Jessica Hopper talked to some kids after he had played a set at Cornerstone, and they didn’t know what to make of him either. She writes, “many of them [seemed] to be trying to spin the new songs, straining to categorize them as Christian so they [could] justify continuing to listen to them.” One kid told her Bazan was “singing about the perils of sin, ‘particularly sexual sin.’” Another reported that the songs were “a witness of addiction, the testimony of the stumbling man.”

Witness is an apt representation, but not the kind I grew up hearing about in my small Baptist church.

At the 2009 Festival of Faith and Music, Bazan said in an interview that he always felt a tug toward something authentic, the longing to get out of “that [Christian artist] ghetto.” Plenty has been written about the need for Christians to make higher quality art, but it is about much more than quality.

In his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera discusses the aesthetics of kitsch. Kundera’s short definition of kitsch is that it is an aesthetic ideal "in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist."

Kitsch is an ethical term as much as it is an aesthetic one. In an article in Salon Curtis White calls a book “intellectually shameful.” He explains: “To be intellectually shameful is to be dishonest, to tell less than you know, or ought to know, and to shape what you present in a way that misrepresents the real state of affairs.” Dishonest art is not just aesthetically bad; it is unethical, even shameful.

Curse Your Branches is not a breezy listen—it is emotionally demanding; there is real anguish. It is deeply ethical though. Bazan looks at the world without blinking and honestly relates what he sees there—even when it is ugly.

In his words, “that's what bearing witness is.”

Make It New

Jayne English

21 not-identified-5

I recently watched Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live sing “Only When I Walk Away.” Multicolor laser lights flashed in geometric shapes and cast net-like patterns on the blackness of the stage. My 19-year-old son watched, too, and while he’s not a fan of Timberlake, he appreciated the fact that he was willing to try something new. The last time we saw Timberlake, he appeared on SNL singing “Suit & Tie.” It sounded like the Sinatra songs my dad sang around the house when we were growing up. What a contrast!

On one level, Timberlake’s diversity reminds me of the modernists’ creed to continually “make it new.” It also reminded me of Henri Matisse who, toward the end of his life, shifted from painting to making paper collages. Having survived surgery for cancer, he considered his last fourteen years “a second life” and he pursued his new medium with fervor. Matisse’s desire to try something new lead him to create what are often considered to be his greatest works. Matisse reinvented his craft. He made it new.

Jack Kerouac described how the jazz greats continued to develop their music. “They sought to find new phrases...They found it, they lost, they wrestled for it, they found it again, they laughed, they moaned.” But what makes all that effort, that pursuit of the new, meaningful? Is newness, along with beauty, an end in itself?

God told Moses that Aaron’s new garments should be made for beauty, but also for glory (Exodus 28:2). As image bearers we have the responsibility to pursue newness and beauty. But what of God’s glory? Do we pursue it? Is His glory worth the wrestling, the laughing and the moaning?

(Art is La Lierre en Fleurs by Matisse)

Negative Space

Adie Kleckner

seascape-4

As a poet, I devote a sizeable portion of my writing time to thinking about form. Where do I break the lines? How many lines to this stanza? A poet is always trying to find the edges of the argument, the geography of the line. We are wary of saying too much.

Throughout high school and college I played violin in the symphony orchestra. Over and over again I was told to “play the rests.” Zipping through a 32nd note run in a Shostakovich symphony, what difference could one small rest really mean? But when I took a moment to lift my bow from the string, to let the string hum a bit, the difference was noticeable. The measured space of silence buzzed with solitude.

Beryl Markham, in her wonderful memoir, West with the Night puts it another way: “There are all kinds of silences,” she says. “And each of them means a different thing.” If we take the silence and give it form what are we left with but the silent white of the page? This is a sound the writer knows well. It is our siren song; it is what calls us in the evening to our desks and windows. It is a silence we try again and again to make mean a different thing.

Simone Weil wrote, “the poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real.” I come back to this over and over again, because what does “real” mean, i.e. what is the form of real? When Weil says “real” I don’t think she is talking about reality, not what is physically in this world. Weil is talking about Real in a platonic sense. A real that walks in the garden with the Real.

The artist/makers’ responsibility then, is to create something beautiful. We are meant to find the beautiful among the Real.  Tomas Transtromer, Nobel Prize winner and Swedish poet, wrote that “through form something [can] be raised to another level. The caterpillar feet…gone, the wings unfolded.” In order for the moth to be, the caterpillar must first rest.

To write (and to be a “maker”) is to live with the paradox of filling and emptying. It is one of the numerous paradoxes that give our lives form—to be both forgiven and in need of forgiveness, to live because of death, to learn what is already known.

So perhaps when it comes to space, the form of our work must be one of respecting the silence. We must fill in the blank white of the page with not only what is beautiful, but also something that nudges at the essence of God and his creation. The poet must speak in order to make room for more silence.

Simone Weil also wrote “we can only know one thing about God—that he is what we are not.”

(Photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto)

Arcade Fire: Transcendence in a Suburban Wasteland

Eric Fullgraf

SONY DSC

Arcade Fire deserves our attention, because they ask the biggest questions, and, like Jacob, are not afraid to wrestle with God. Their latest album Reflektor brings together such influences as the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, Haitian rara music and Søren Kierkegaard. At first listen, these elements appear to be a hodge-podge. But Win Butler has a master plan and it works.

In the song “We Exist,” Butler describes a highly intelligent father, preoccupied by his own lofty thoughts. “Walking around head full of sound / Acting like we don't exist / Walk in a room stare out through you / Talking like we don't exist / But we exist.” Butler indicts the Deus absconditus. Reversing the demand of the Heavenly Father to believe in Him, mankind pleads with God to believe that we exist and deserve His attention.

Win Butler acknowledges his debt to Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard argues that God is holy and wholly other. We must not expect him to respond to our pleas that “we exist.” God may even redeem us through the blood of Christ, but He will never involve Himself in our daily struggles. Every man must grope around in the darkness alone. Like the miserable children in “We Exist,” Butler feels stranded in a vast suburban sprawl with all its drab, quotidian details. Since their 2004 debut album Funeral, Arcade Fire has returned regularly to the theme of growing up in the suburbs. Butler’s love/hate relationship with middle class life is a struggle for the transcendent when everything about our surroundings militates against eternal concerns.

The title cut of Reflektor is another Kierkegaard reference, specifically Two Ages (1846). In this work, Kierkegaard laments the corrosive effects of democracy on our culture. The modern leveling of society makes it nearly impossible for any man to aspire to greatness. Ours is a “reflective age,” because equals can only reflect each other, but never rise to be exemplary. “[W]hen the age is reflective and passionless and destroys everything concrete, the public becomes everything and is supposed to include everything. And that again shows how the individual is thrown back upon himself. [...] No longer can the individual, as in former times, turn to the great for help when he grows confused.”

This tug-of-war between the transcendent and the shabby is key to Win Butler’s aesthetic. Butler’s antidote to this duality is Art. In the original Orpheus and Euridice myth, a peasant girl named Euridice is bitten by a snake and dragged down to the Underworld. Orpheus, her lover, follows her and charms Hades with his beautiful music. He convinces Hades to release Euridice from the Land of the Dead, but as Orpheus emerges into the Land of the Living, he looks back to make sure Euridice is not falling behind, and watches in horror as Euridice recedes back into Death. Art is mankind’s best chance for overcoming death, but it always fails because of human frailty.

Butler casts himself as Orpheus and his wife Régine Chassagne as Euridice. In the song “Awful Sound (Oh, Euridice)” Butler sings, “You fly away from me, but it's an awful sound when you hit the ground.” Chassagne responds with “It’s Never Over (Oh, Orpheus).” This is not merely the struggle of Orpheus and Euridice. It is the struggle of humankind. How do we find heroes in a reflective age? How do we reach for the Divine in a lost and sin-cursed world? Has God abandoned us to an earthly hell of strip malls, used car dealerships and convenience stores? Is God aloof or “a very present help in trouble?”

“Royals:" Disappointing pop… or am I the classic overthinker?

Brad Fruhauff

Sometimes I think I’m not the intended audience for things like pop songs. I overthink them. I start to reflect on the words and the “message.” Most recently, the more I replay Lorde’s “Royals” in my head (and it’s the kind of song one replays in one’s head), the more disappointed I am with it.

Read More