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Otium cum Dignitatae

Monday, July 25, 2005

Farther Along, or the Importance of the Liturgical as of Use to the Secular, In the Unending War Against the Chuckleheads

"As for the human case, the generation of men come and go and are in eternity no more than bacteria upon a luminous slide, and the fall of a republic or the rise of an empire-so significant to those involved-are not detectable upon the slide even were there an interested eye to behold that steadily proliferating species which would either end in time, or, with luck, become something else, since change is the nature of life, and its hope."
That's Gore Vidal up there. Inspiring words are hard to come by, and it's even harder if you've taken away the Appeal to the Almighty. The language of religion comes ready made to sound a bit bigger, taller, stronger. It speaks of the primeval and puts a face on it, and don't discount that almost everything sounds cooler in a dead language.
That's why most of your freedom movements of the past have been religious in origin-you've already got a Higher Principle that you, in theory, serve, and already have songs to sing, words to quote. It always gets a little thick, too, as an the eye of the historian considers it, watching both sides claim that Gawd Itself is on their side. If one were a little too literal, one might get the headache: Segregation is the will of God/God frowns on the subjugation of his people...And that's only one example.
Anyway, I said a few posts back that my favorite song of them all is The Carter Family's "In the Shadow of Clinch Mountain". It's true. It's not exactly a hymn, though The Flood is mentioned, as the source of all waters. That strikes me as beautiful imagery, and that song is just odd anyway, since springs and trees and birds are spoken of as loving and sharing the same songs as people: an oddly pagan notion to come out of a staunchly conservative 1930's Christian woman from the South (for the exact opposite of this song, check out their just-plain-evil "Hold to the Right"). The other, somewhat more important thing about this song is that it has that intangible moment-out-of-time quality that all really great music has for me. You have been taken outside the boundaries for a moment, to receive A Gift, and A Lesson.
Then I started looking at the list, if there was one, and noting that there's actually a lot of at least gospel-esque material in there. "Uncloudy Day" by the Staple Singers: gospel, and nothing but. Or-well, only your ethnomusicologist types will come out and actually say this, but...There's a lot of sexual energy in gospel. In fact, this is one of the sexiest damn songs I've ever heard. Its circular structure, insistent, throbbing tempo, dreaming twangy gui-tar...It makes me forget that as usual, it's a song promising you that one day, there'll be more than just a grave waiting for you, at the end of this life. And one of my favorite melodies is "Hold To the Unchanging Hand of God", as done by Ry Cooder. The words aren't bad either, but I do like them better when Janis Joplin stole the melody to make it into "Mercedes Benz".
They work because they're bigger than what they are. There's plenty of songs about God, and about heaven, and plenty about hell, certainly. Lots and lots about Jesus (Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" being the best, I feel), lots and lots about the Devil. These ones work because they are universal in scope. God as The Great and Venerable Mechanism of the Universe, or Justice, or Fate. The Devil as the Combine, or The Bullshit Engine (my term for it), or The Exact Opposite (my other term for it), or the military/industrial complex: when Uncle Tupelo sings "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down", I'm certainly not envisioning a guy with cloven hooves. I'm seeing the friendliest guy in a suit to come this way in a while, and he says Exactly What Everyone Wants to Hear.
When Mississippi John Hurt sings "Farther along/ we will understand why/ cheer up my bro-ther/ live in the sunshine/ we'll understand it/ all by and by"...He's talking about one day seeing heaven. Like the Staples were up above. Black? Miserable? Enslaved? Nothing at all you can do about it? Believe you on the pie in the sky, and do nothing here about it. But flash forward: the song becomes an anthem of the civil rights movement without changing a single word. Magic, and bigger than religion.
So it's time again, I feel, to use the tools of the...Oh look, do I even need to come right out and say it? Right after WWII, America basically found itself in charge of the world, or so it felt it needed to be. If it had chosen not to police the globe, frankly, I imagine this world would have been far better off (ah-ah-don't say it: the Soviet never had a chance). Since it chose to do so, it at least could have chosen to be a decent and wise steward with this rather fragile gift, the world. But no. Instead, we went about being every bit as rotten and deserving of scorn as every empire before it, causing much of the world to despise us, and not without reason.
Now it's not even an empire. It's an oligarchy that is rapidly going broke. (And an oligarchy without money is called?...) It is having some rather nasty tantrums and spasming at its end, and threatens to take a lot of Earth with it. Those of us left to fight the bullshit engine this time are badly outnumbered, largely by apathy, and those who oppose are well funded and very, very On Point.
So, all a person can really do is win the metaphorical war. Take back the tools of Bullshit from its host Engine, make it the marching tunes of a happy, bloodless revolution, where the enemy dies from ridicule. Until the next time this happens, of course. Every twenty years or so, it does.
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down.



Blogger rich bachelor said...

Necessary addenda:
No, Satan is not America. Satan is what happened to this, what should have been the pinnacle and light of Western Civilization.
"Didn't we spend a lot of the Cold War-and since-feeding a lot of the world and giving it money, too?"
Yes, largely to assuage the guilt of the largely liberal ruling structure that was running the show, and to make someone, somewhere, maybe like us a little. This was when we weren't bombing or impoverish-ing them, mind you.
"Whaddya mean the Soviet never had a chance? They grabbed the better part of Eastern Europe!"
Sure, after Potsdam, and Truman going back on pretty much everything they signed at Yalta. And certainly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II had destroyed them, and were never going to be a threat to us, until they basically felt like they had to be, since it appeared that we were marching against them. Mind you, they really did suck. That wasn't communism; more like fascism, if you ask me.
More to come as it rolls in.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

I almost missed this post.

Amen on gospel music being sexy. Well, the whole Christian message(s) is pretty sexy. Creation. Passion. Surrender. Rejuvenation. Revival-aha!

7:19 AM  
Blogger Erudite Redneck said...

So, read any good blogs lately. Specifixcally, do you know of any conservative blogs that aren't so full of ignroance gone to seed that you can actually have a discussion, even -- to think! -- a rational argument? Any liberals ones that aren't just shrieking screeds against all things Bush?

5:23 AM  

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