Religious Music and the Real World, Part I: The Hold Steady
I subscribe to Duke Ellington's theory of musical catagorization: "There are two kinds of music, good music and bad music." Because of this, I'm pretty open to all "types" of music. Country usually gets a bad rap from the musical elite, but old-style Wilco and Lucinda Williams are as good as they come. One category I've usually kept far from my radar, however, is any pop-music that eminates religious devotion. This is not because I'm not a religious guy, I am. Rather, I think it's because most non-classical religious music (a la Amy Grant or EFY) is corny, false and ridiculous.
Recently I've found that I'm totally wrong in my categorical exclusion of "religious" pop music.
There are some GREAT bands out there that treat religious belief realistically and seriously. "The Hold Steady" is one of them. Their most recent album's sound isn't much different from your average guitar-riff driven rock band. Nothing special there. But the lyrics are amazing!!!
"Separation Sunday" is a concept album about a teenage girl in Minnesota named "Halleluiah" who is stuck somewhere between the allure of drugs and sex and her Catholic upbringing. Pitchfork describes the album like this: "with its greater emphasis on religious wonder and dread, everything is sacred, and we realize that the booze and drugs and shady deals were always just a wrongheaded quest for divinity. As the characters flit from town to town searching for something ineffable, there's a sense, beneath the mounting urgency and desperation, that redemption might always be just around the corner."
The story is good, but the best part is that it's real. The religious life isn't flowers and puppy dogs, despite what the EFY soundtracks would have us believe. It's a struggle and I'm glad someone out there recognizes it. At the risk of giving away the end of the story, here's an example of what I'm talking about:
Halleluiah came to in a confession booth.
Infested with infections.
Smiling on an abcessed tooth.
Running hard on residue.
Crashing thru the vestibule.
The crucifixion cruise.
She climbed the cross and found she liked the view.
Sat reflecting on the resurrection.
Talking loud over lousy connections.
She put her mouth around a difficult question.
She said lord what do you recommend?
To a real sweet girl who's made some not sweet friends.
Lord what would you prescribe?
To a real soft girl who's having real hard times.