Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Velvet Underground>I'm Set Free

The Velvet Underground are one of those bands that have a very distinctive sound - even if you've never heard the song before you know it's them almost immediately. Personally I prefer their more mellow songs (although they do some cracking upbeat ones, too) and the album The Velvet Underground (1969) has plenty of them - 'Pale Blue Eyes', 'Jesus' and 'I'm Set Free'.

'I'm Set Free' is a very good song. It's probably about drugs as are so many of The Velvet's songs ('Heroin' in my opinion is the best song about drugs ever written). However, like 'Jesus' there is plenty of spirituality about this song. Who for example is the 'prince of stories'? And there's biblical imagery throughout.

So why did it make my Lent playlist? Well, traditionally Lent is associated with the rigours of fasting and discipline. These things whilst associated with keeping particular rules are endured to bring freedom for the soul. In my own experience freedom rarely comes without a cost. And if we can only perservere through the pain barrier there is a prize worth it all at the end.


Cosmo said...

I couldn't help diverting from your post to listen to the Velvet Underground song 'Jesus.'

Could there be a more explicit prayer chorus sung by a non-Christian(??) band?

So here's a theological question. You don't write words such as in that song, plus put a tune to them and go to the trouble of recording it without there being some level of senserity there. The artist obviously believes that grace is available in Jesus, so did he receive it regardless of whether he would then go on to refer to himself as "Christian"?

And what of those listening along when it was first released? I can picture a group of people sitting around having a mellow moment (sharing a spliff). What happened spiritualy for them as they sung along?

Sorry this isn't directly linked to your post, but it sparked a thought.

Nick Coke said...

Ah - you raise a very interesting point (and pre-empted a future blog)! Well, many Velvet Underground fans would claim it was ironic - that it was some kind of parody, mocking Christianity. This of course would provide an answer, too, for conservative Christians who wouldn't be able to reconcile the band's lifestyle with a song such as this. I prefer to think that 'Jesus' is a genuine cry for help - that Lou Reed and co might just have realised that their lifestyle wasn't honouring to themselves, society or God and although they weren't about to start attending church they were making an honest cry to God. But the realisation of the implications of carrying on as they were are there in the lyrics - 'I'm fallng out of grace'. Presumably, though, just knowing you're sinner is not enough - you must repent, too. And I'm not sure they were signing up for that.

And what of the listeners? I suspect that back in 1968, there were still close ties between rock 'n' roll, soul, blues and gospel and lyrics like these still had some resonance with the general public. I guess it ultimately depends on what you're open to. For me it's a beautiful worship song - for others it's something else - but it's an amazingly evangelistic song none the less and biblically speaking God uses people to preach the gospel who aren't card-carrying Christians.

Glad you liked it...