"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Theology by Music: Control

I love music. I also love finding Theology in music. That's part of why I love Johnny Cash and his display of total depravity in people through song. I wrote this short piece for a class, and since I am too busy right now to write an original post, I thought I would offer this piece now. I was hit anew by the deep truth of it while listening to the album while studying. The piece analyzes Pedro the Lion's 2002 album "Control.":

Pedro the Lion was a popular indy band early in the decade. Often drawing cult followings of “abnormal” Christians. I attended a concert by them at a liberal Christian fellowship on the campus of the University of Illinois. The event surprised me, as the “liberal Christians” loved this prophet of sin. I had always been taught that liberals did not believe in the inherent sinfulness of man. Yet, in conversations of those around me, this very theme connected with these college Christians. They gathered in corners, talking about religious topic like whether angels have free will (seriously!) and none of them wanted to hear a contemporary Christian band sing about how great everything already was with Jesus. Instead, they listened to the themes below and nodded in agreement.

The Universality of Evil, Fallenness.

“Control” is a concept album focusing primarily on a married couple. The album opens with the couple, seemingly happy, walking holding hands. Then we invited into the thoughts of the man, thinking, “I could never divorce you, without a good reason.” Later in the album we discover the fact that the man is having an affair. The adultery finds descriptions echoing religious themes “I hear the angels singing” and vulgar terms.

The next song describes the same man being fired from his corporate job. Bazan does not describe a evil man living in a good world, taking advantage of good people. Rather, Bazan focuses on evil men in an evil world. The man is fired from his job because
“if it isn't making dollars then it isn't making sense;
if you are not moving units then you're not worth the expense.”

People use other people as objects for gratification. The woman with whom the affair is committed is used for sex and left when the act is finished, and the company uses the man for profit and discards him when he is no longer profitable. The world values self advancement over any inherent worth in persons.

At this point, Bazan allows for a glimpse of common grace. When arriving home, the man’s children “hug his neck, unaware of their inheritance.” We see, briefly, that there are glimpses of better motives and love unconcerned with their personal advancement. This short glimpse of children as innocent may reveal a view of evil as learned rather than inherited.

The next song, however, explores the evil of the children. “Progress” describes multiple technological wonders, intended to make life easier. This leads the mother to conclude that this extra time will allow:
“the children to instead;
Grow into your molding;
Heed more of your scolding;
Go early to their new self-making beds.”

Instead, at the end of the song, the mother finds that there is no technology that fixes:
“A husband bent on cheating…
A child who's always bragging…
A wife's persistent nagging, though;
We're equipped to live though it were.”

Instead, technology merely makes us more efficient sinners.

Bazan refuses to leave the subject with us thinking evil exists in “evil people” but not good. Near the middle of the album, in the song “Magazine” Bazan distinguishes between
“on the one side; The bad half live in wickedness;
And on the other side,..The good half live in arrogance.”

The perception of good and evil becomes a self-label, both reacting in sin to their own title, one resigned to their evil, the other proud they are not like the sinners (much like the proud Pharisee in the gospels).

Act 2 - Everything Dies

The second part of the album focuses on the eventual discovery of infidelity by the husband. The wife has many reactions, first anger at the lies of her husband in the song “Rehearsal.” Then the wife tries to settle for “second best” in a song by the same title. In the crescendo of the musical flow of the album, the wife cries “after all, what’s wrong with second best?!” With only two songs left, an option arises of how to deal with evil in the world: accept it. The wife sees evil and tries to accommodate it, to live with evil.

The album does not end with a grand solution, a reconciliation or even with the option of settling. Instead, paramedics arrive after the wife has stabbed the husband. The husband screams: "oh my God, Am I gonna die?” The paramedics are there to help, but “as they strapped his arms down to his sides in times like these they've been taught to lie ‘buddy just calm down, you'll be alright.’" This next to last song is called “Priests and Paramedics.” My favorite, this song captures what many priests and pastors have told people in a fallen world in the present day. “They’ve been taught to lie,” to say everything is alright. The next scene is at the man’s grave. The man was going to die, but those who came to help were not honest about his situation.

The final few lines of the album summarize how shocking, but necessary, is the truth of men being essentially and unchangeably bad and the world being a Fallen mess. The only person who speaks the truth in the album is the priest at the funeral. Even though the people wanted a comforting answer, Bazan says, The priest saw
“the assembly craved relief but
…he offered them this bitter cup:
‘you're gonna die, we're all gonna die,
Could be 20 years, could be tonight,
Lately I have been wondering why;
We go to so much trouble;
To postpone the unavoidable;
And prolong the pain of being alive.’”

Everything is not ok. The people should not be told the world is as it should be and that there are words of comfort from this world on which to hold. Bazan ends the album with an eerie and short song that bluntly states:
“Wouldn't it be so wonderful?
If everything were meaningless?
But everything is so meaningful;
And most everything turns to sh*t.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!”

Bazan offers hope in the album, but only after all hope of goodness, salvation and beauty from this world are destroyed. But the final song says that it wouldn’t be so bad if everything were meaningless, but everything on earth has meaning. But everything on earth dies (as Bazan vulgarly states). The end of this world, the end of pain and loss, the end of “the pain of being alive” leaves the songwriter rejoicing.

The hopelessness of the world, however, is a true observation of this album. We should not disapprove of this observation, but offer an affirmation to the last song. The world of pain, evil and the prostitution of persons will die. Rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice.

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