Monday, 30 June 2008

Bruce Springsteen>The Ghost of Tom Joad

Since I seem to be on a run of 'dark' songs I thought I'd make it a trilogy. Also, rj has been in touch and I've taken a look at his great blog: 'Love Comes To Town' and he seems like a big Springsteen fan. Finally they were giving away a book of the 'greatest lyricists' in the newspaper this week - Springsteen was one of the featured artists and it reminded of just how good a song-writer he is. All in all, it's time for one of my all time favourite songs: 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' (The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995)

Now there are lots of great things about this track. Firstly, I like the stripped down sound and the way his voice starts off so quietly. You're forced to hit the volume button and then by the time the chorus kicks in it's pretty loud but by then you don't care because you're just being carried away by it. The harmonica is also good and it's pretty easy to play, I tried it recently! (and I'm no musician). The lyrics though are what really makes this an intersting song.

You don't need to be a literary buff to know that Tom Joad features in Steinbeck's brilliant novel about the Great Depression 'The Grapes of Wrath'. I devoured this novel as an 18 year old in about 2 days but can't remember that much detail now! And here we have Springsteen talking about the ghost of the depression still haunting the world today. Poverty, unemployment, homelessness, violence - it's all there in this song and it's all there in the 'new world order'. There's a strong sense of false hope offered by the Church in both the novel and the song (also the video linked below). Despite this Tom Joad is a kind of 'Christlike' figure in the song - he can be found in the struggle, in the pain and in the injustice. Here we have echoes of Matthew 25 - for me the institution of the sacrament of service. And so when we participate in the struggle we'll find Jesus already there. Read the passage, and listen to the song here - Springsteen's got it spot on.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Bonnie "Prince" Billy>I See a Darkness

I heard a song yesterday that simply blew me away. It just came out of the blue. I was doing the domestic chores - clearing away the dishes, washing up - and for once I decided to put some music on in the background instead of Euro 2008 football. At first I thought about putting on Coldplay's latest album that I recently bought, but was so disapointed with the first listen that I've not put it on again since. So I hit the random play button! And then the song just started, by the second line I was gripped and by the end, I'm not afraid to admit it, I was in tears.

'I See a Darkness' is written by Will Oldham - AKA Bonnie "Prince" Billy. I'd never heard of him before yesterday, but the version I heard was Johnny Cash's (with Oldham doing backing vocals) on his American III album that I've had tucked away in my collection for a while but not really got around to listening to properly. And the entire song was sublime - voice, guitar, piano, lyrics. I've downloaded Oldham's original version since and it's just as good (I See a Darkness, 1999).

My interpretation of the song (and the lyrics do seem pretty straightforward) is that it's a guy talking to his best mate and admitting that his inner life is dark. And his hope is that his friend will help to 'save' him from the darkness within. It struck me that this one of the roles of church. That our brothers and sisters in Christ can in some way journey with us and help us to confront our inner 'demons' and sin. But of course the honesty of admitting our failings before someone else is a prerequisite. Generally we don't do that very well!

You've just got to hear this song - here it is.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Suzanne Vega>Tired of Sleeping

There are songs that have a certain feeling to them that capture a particular mood or sentiment perfectly. It's almost as though you don't even need to hear the lyrics to know what the song is about. For me, this song by Suzanne Vega is a case in point. 'Tired of Sleeping' (Days of Open Hand, 1990) is a brilliant song - there's no two ways about it. Brilliant because everything just comes together magnificently - backing, lyrics and vocals - in a way that gives the song a real edge and a deep, dark mood.

What Vega creates with this song is slightly sinister. She relates it to 'dream images' - certain things that came to her in dreams. And it's interesting to me because there is something supernatural about dreams. Most of us have had dreams about something that's gone on to take place or dreams that seem to have a lucidity to them that we don't have in waking life. Biblically speaking dreams seem to be a major way in which God communicates with people.

About the line in the song: 'The kids are playing in pennies / They're up to their knees in money / In the dirt of the churchyard steps' Vega says:
'That's an image I saw in a dream. For a long time when I sang that song, I would feel like crying. It took about a year to be able to sing it and not want to cry... I think the line in the dream was "the children are begging for God." And there's a double meaning to that. One is that they're begging for money for God. Like alms for the church. And I'm not Catholic or Christian. I don't go to church. So I don't understand why I would have that dream. But on the other hand "the children are begging for God" is asking for salvation.'

So does God really speak to us in dreams? And what is it about sleep that somehow seems to bridge the earthly and heavenly dimension? Somehow this song seems to do that, too - it's a strange song, a spiritual song but an unsettling one, too.