Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier ...

I don't know if this is a trend or I'm just noticing it more. Pop music, at least some of it, has seemed to become more religious in nature or religion-influenced. Don't get me wrong. I'm not really complaining. I don't really care where artists get their inspiration. Is their music good? Does it say something about the human condition? That's all that matters to me.

But I do find the new-found piety a little curious. Just a sampling:

Paramore - A little pop punk band that has been fairly popular over the last few years.

In an interview with the BBC, Josh Farro stated "Our faith is very important to us. It's obviously going to come out in our music because if someone believes something, then their worldview is going to come out in anything they do. But we're not out here to preach to kids, we're out here because we love music."

Kings of Leon

Nathan, Caleb, and Jared Followill were born to Leon Followill, a Pentecostal evangelist minister ... The brothers spent much of their youth travelling around the South with their father ... The boys learned to play drums, guitar and bass as children while performing gospel songs in the church ...

The Killers - Lead singer Brandon Flowers is Mormon. Their biggest song, All These Things I've Done has undeniable religious meaning:

"When there's nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son ...
...I need direction to perfection ...
I got soul, but I'm not a soldier
Help me out
Yeah, you know you got to help me out ..."

The " ... I got soul, but I'm not a soldier" line is a good line and has been used by other artists in concert, including U2, Robbie Williams and Coldplay. I think that it's a positive line regardless how you take it. It's popularity probably relates to it's pro-faith, anti-war message. But I think it can be taken as having faith but not being a soldier for it. Meaning: don't push your religion on others.

U2 - U2's always had Christian imagery in their music. From their most recent album, No Line on the Horizon (a very good album BTW), the song Moment of Surrender:

" ... I was speeding on the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down 'til the pain would stop

At the moment of surrender
Of vision over visibility
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me ..."

Jonas Brothers - Evangelical Christians, with Assembly of God pastor father. They all wear purity rings, signifying a promise of celibacy until marriage. A noble enough goal, if just a bit unrealistic. And studies have shown it to be ineffective.

But, you know, whatever. To each his own. I don't think that music fans completely buy into whatever their favorite bands are selling anyway. You could probably have a devil worshiper rock star out there that would sell a lot of records as long as his songs made you shake your ass. Actually, there probably have been some of those.

I have a friend that is a huge Springsteen fan but detests his politics. There used to be legions of frat boys at Rage Against the Machine concerts that wouldn't have the first clue about what any of the songs referred to. And that's OK. Probably 3/4 of the allure of songs is the music itself. If you get something out of the lyrics, that's a bonus.


CyberKitten said...

Funnily I don't give much thought to the lyrics of songs. I'm more interested in the 'sound' more than the words.

However, I'd refuse to listen to a band if its motivation was my conversion to their viewpoint.

I am, however, a huge U2 fan - but again they don't exactly push their faith on their listeners..

Laura said...

I'm about 50/50 I'd say. On the surface, if I like a song's rhythm & melody, then I'll like it and listen to it more and more. THEN I'll pay attention to the lyrics. For some songs/artists, while the music will still be good to me, the song declines in my liking if the lyrics are crappy or have some bad message in them. I'm hard-pressed to think of a specific example except that of Gansta/Pimp rap. Some of those rhythms and cadences are excellent - but I don't care. The message is awful.

Laura said...

oh, wait - I do have a good example.... the Oscar-winning "It's Hard out there for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow. Gorgeous song - but I can't stand it because - fuck you - pimpin' ain't easy? Try bein' the hooker you misogynistic fuckhead.

Scott said...

Well this is certainly an interesting discussion. Good post, Lance.

Coming from the christian perspective I listen to really NO strictly christian bands. Well strike that, I listen to Danielson Famile and I suppose they could be classified as primarily a religious group. But they have a vast secular audience as well due to their creativity.

I can listen to music with or without lyrical substance. For instance, my favorite band ever, the Pixies, sing about absolutely nothing. But on the other hand several of my other favorites I like almost entirely for their lyrical content. Okkervil River, for instance, but they sing almost entirely secular, or even anti-religious songs.

Now here's the thing, in terms of spiritual lyrics, I'll take a song like So Come Back I'm Waiting by Okkervil River, which lyrically talks about the Christian concept of "the flesh" or "Sinful Nature", or what Dexter refers to as his Dark Passenger. That is, the thing in us, that is us, that we struggle with to become the person that morally we want to be. That's a concept I think either christian or atheist can relate to, especially when dealt with in a realist perspective. And I'll believe something like that over some crap that Bono spouts to cater to his heavily evangelical fan base any day.

dbackdad said...

I don't think any of these particular bands are trying to convert anyone. They don't really call themselves "Christian" bands and kinda shy away from it.

U2, and Bono in particular seems to write about the things he goes through in his life and what he cares about: politics, racism, addiction ... and faith.

Laura, I'd definitely agree that I might like a song initially just based on the sound but if the lyrics are either outstanding or offensive, it might adjust my liking of the song. That's why it's hard for me to like most rap, but I do really like Public Enemy because of the political overtones.

dbackdad said...

Scott - Good comments. I kinda wanted a Christian perspective too.

There are plenty of songs with very strong Christian messages that I like a lot, especially bluegrass. Regardless of your religion or lack of religion, concepts of redemption, salvation, sacrifice, resurrection, etc. are thematically interesting.

Jeff said...

Good post. I knew about the Kings of Leon being brought up in a religious family, but I didn't know about Brandon Flowers being Mormon.

I tend to focus on the music much more than lyrics, so like you said, if the lyrics focus in on something I like than it's a bonus.

One of my favorite religious lines in music comes from U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" on the Rattle and Hum record where Bono states, "And I can't tell the difference between ABC news, Hill Street Blues and a preacher on the old time gospel hour stealing money from the sick and the old. Well the God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister." I think regardless of who or what you believe in, it's a classic line!

dbackdad said...

Jeff - Agreed. That's a great line.

Dan said...

I really hate it when really popular bands have the spiritual overtones but never really own up to being of one specific faith. However, I also understand that maybe the lead singer/or the song writer for the band might be of one faith but his band mates might not be, therefore--why would a band put themselves out there as being a "Christian" band?
Take the popular band, The Fray. I think they get loads of radio play and I'm pretty sure they are a Christian band but nobody really talks about it.
Like Scott said, I don't really have a particular band that I listen to that is strictly Christian and the world at large is unaware of them. I listen to ALL types of music. I understand that some Christians stop listening to songs that make them "feel" a certain way--for instance, if you used to smoke pot while you listened to The Black Crows, you might not listen to them in the same way anymore ( I still listen to them all the time but stopped smoking pot about 13 years ago)--or if you used to shoot up while getting super depressed and listening to Pink Floyd, I could see a Christian not wanting to bring those old "flashbacks" around through music--you know?
I didn't know Brandon Flowers was a Mormon--interesting.

I also loath it when a Christian artist will take a pop song and make it a Christian song. Like I heard some sappy Christian singer doing a cover of Sting's If I Ever Lose My Faith In You
Which I am pretty sure is about a Girl
Correct me if I'm wrong...

Dan said...

oops--that was me, Sadie!

dbackdad said...

Dan - Yep, you're right. The Sting song is definitely about a girl. Sting's funny. He'll have Christian characters or terms in his songs but they're never really about Christianity.