It’s 2012: Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright

I’m reading a collection of essays about pop culture titled Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Although I haven’t finished reading the essays, so far, my favorite piece is the fascinating and insightful, “The Last Wailer.”

In 2010, Johnson went to Kingston, Jamaica to meet Bunny Wailer, the last surviving “Wailer” of Bob Marley’s band. I love Johnson’s description of Reggae music:

The reason the great Jamaican stuff deepens over time, over years, not with nostalgia but with meaning and nuance, is that it’s a spiritual music. That’s the anomaly underlying its power. It’s spiritual pop — not in a calculated way, like Christian rock, but in a way that comes from within… In the States, rock ‘n roll is always on some level a move away from God into Devil’s music, but in Jamaica the cultural conditions were different. Pop grew towards Jah.”

Conversely, the collection opens with an essay titled “Upon This Rock,” in which Johnson ingratiates himself into a comradery of musicians participating in a Christian rock music festival. Truth be told, I find Christian rock music 100% percent unpalatable.

In my experience, Christian rock is banal, predictable, completely lacking in poetry, and, frankly, “calculated,” to echo Johnson’s apt descriptor. For that reason, this essay failed to engage me. But in fairness to Johnson, I will revisit this piece at a later time, to pay respect to his excellent skills as a writer.

Although I was raised Catholic (and, admittedly, no longer practice and attend church only on Christmas Eve to be with my brother and his family and listen to my young niece sing in the choir), I cannot bear what the modern day Catholic church has done with the hymns. Talk about bland.

What ever happened, for instance, to hymns like the lovely “O Sanctissima”?

“O Sanctissima O Piissima
Dulcis Virgo Maria
Mater amta intemerata
Ora ora pro nobis…”

Bing Crosby does a wonderful version of it in “The Bells of St. Mary.” As a kid I sang it in church. In Latin, which was never a problem, so why must it be in this day and age? My favorite part of the mass was always the singing (except for one memorable clunker of a hymn called “Long Live the Pope”).

What could be more joyous than joining in with your fellow humans and singing a beautiful, uplifting song? “He who sings well prays twice,”  said St. Augustine.

On the other hand, there is nothing more soul-sucking than being forced to sing an un-melodic, dumbed-down, modern day hymn.

Ponder these uninspired lyrics from the insipid “O How I Love Jesus!”:

“There is a Name that I love to hear
And I love to sing its worth
It sounds like music in my ear
The sweetest Name on earth

O how I love Jesus!
And O how I love Jesus!
O how I love Jesus
Because He first loved me!”

I am not one to argue over the beauty in simplicity; less is more and all that. But there is a significant difference between simplifying the message and patronizing your congregation as though they were a bunch of simpletons.

On this first day of a brand new year, I propose that religious institutions dissolve their divisive boundaries once and for all, dump those lousy hymns, and realize and accept that at the heart of all faiths lies the same important message.

Maybe one song is all we need:


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One Response to “It’s 2012: Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright”

  1. Kevin Eaton Says:

    Tell it, girl.

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