How do you feel about religious allusion in your music? I’m certainly a fan of the technique when it’s used as a cultural reference, but any overtly religious songs revolving around themes of devotion, (or worse, submission) have grated on me since I was a child being forced to sing about being unworthy whilst begging for mercy.
Since it’s Music Friday, I thought I’d share a band that causes me a bit of cognitive dissonance in this regard, hopefully opening the comments to some discussion.
The band I’m about to play are called Brand New, and I initially got into them because I like their style of self-indulgently long and tense buildups, dark imagery, and clever metaphors. After a while, it became clear that those clever lyrics that I was hearing weren’t actually what they were singing, such as the line in ‘Okay I believe you but my Tommy-gun don’t’:
We were contenders, now throwing the fight
which I heard as:
We were pretenders, now bona fide
In that one instance, what I was hearing was diametrically opposed to the original sentiment, which is surely a reflection of me hearing what I want to hear: a bit of optimism in an otherwise bleak song.
The song that I’ve embedded below is called Jesus Christ, and it was the first song I heard off their latest album, the Devil and God are Raging Inside Me.
At the time leading up to the album’s release, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and they were set to play the song on the Conan O’Brien show. Just as the band were being introduced, a friend of mine who had heard the song before warned me that it was deeply religious, and I’d surely hate it. Before I had a chance to say anything in response, the opening notes started:
The song ended, and I spun to my friend who was now peering at me and sniped:
“Deeply religious?” Are you crazy? “We all have wood and nails?” They’re going to crucify the fucker! They’re taunting him!
Despite the shamefully condescending nature of my initial comment, I’m quite aware from the small pockets of discussion I’ve come across that believers point to this song as a mature example of faith in action, depicting a downtrodden, bitter soul who is lashing out at everything whilst still relying on the support of his martyred messiah.
Of course, when I listen to the lyrics, I’m inclined to think that the entire affair is dripping with irony, and by invoking the Jesus Christ character, the author is attempting to frame his hardships with a Biblical analogue.
For example, when I hear the line “So what did you do those three days you were dead”, it sounds insincere, making light of the perceived sacrifice that Christians tend to harp on about. Even the first line, “Jesus Christ, that’s a pretty face” strikes me as an exclamation of blasphemy, coupled with an odd phrase establishing that the words we hear are taking place inside someone’s head.
The line “Do I get the gold chariot? Do I float through the ceiling?” again seems quite insincere, quickly poking fun at the absurd notions of an afterlife that have existed throughout the aeons.
Anyhow – I won’t bore you any further with of my attempts to wrangle the interpretation I want out of the lyrics to a song I enjoy. I should just confess that it’s been two years since I first heard the song, and all that time I’ve deliberately avoided reading any interviews with the band, lest they confirm my fears that my interpretation relies on a heinous manipulation of the facts to worm my way out of an uncomfortable truth.
Deliberately avoiding potential dissonance-causing information is something that nobody should be proud of, but it’s one that I’m sure we’re all guilty of on some level. Then again, can you really begrudge me in this instance when the stakes are so low?
What songs do you have to reinterpret to enjoy? Are there songs you refuse to listen to based on lyrical content alone?