Saturday, December 16, 2017

Porky Post … Godless Rock

Jesus Christ's Dad
It’s always struck me as something of an anomaly that the two most observed western religious festivals of the modern age – Christmas and Easter – are dressed up in such fancy threads, we’re in danger of forgetting entirely what each one is supposed to represent. I mean, Christmas has about as much to do with a grey-bearded fat guy in a red suit, and rabid consumerism, as Easter has to do with bunnies and chocolate eggs. It’s just plain weird. Could it be that without the dressing, or the requisite holidays, each festival would prove too much of a hard sell? Whatever the case, it turns out our good friend Porky has been giving religion some thought this week, specifically as it relates to music. He decided to share some of those thoughts with everythingsgonegreen.

Thanks Porky, you’re the bacon to my EGG. Or something …

Music has always contained a highly religious element – it goes back to choral music through the centuries I guess. Gospel was born in American churches, while country and western has upheld good ol’ fashioned Godliness. Rock and pop has had its fair share of religious fervour too, notably Creed and Cliff Richard, and roots reggae music hasn’t been ashamed to show its allegiance and love of Jah, albeit as an assertion of their Rastafarian culture. And on these shores an annual religious musical festival, Parachute, attracted good crowds.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the above, there’s contrarily been a reasonable amount of music exposing religious activities or outright attacking it.
As you will see this has resulted in some excellently-written lyrics about religion’s less healthy influences. I have kept a distance from anything that could be conceived as purely dismissing religion just for the sake of it (hello death metal), or anything purporting to support Satan. The opposite side of the coin is not always the cleaner side.
My first find was a surprising one, George Gershwin’s ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ from his and bro’ Ira’s play Porgy and Bess, which premiered in 1935. In it a drug dealer laments some of what is written in the Bible.
“The things you’re liable/ To read in a bible/ Ain’t necessarily so (repeat).”
It was later covered by gay liberation new romantics Bronski Beat, and Aretha Franklin, and butchered by Cher and Larry Adler.
Also in the 1980s, XTC released ‘Dear God’ as a one-off single. Andy Partridge wonders what it’s all about.
“Dear god, hope you get the letter and…/ I pray you can make it better down here/ I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer/ But all the people that you made in your image/ See them starving in the street/ ‘Cause they don’t get enough to eat from God/ I can’t believe in you.”

Bigger than Christ
The Arcade Fire sang “Working for the church/ While your family dies,” on ‘Intervention’, and John Lennon famously wrote “Imagine there’s no Heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky ….  Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/ Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace.”
That wasn’t Lennon’s sole take on faith and its believers, and his fame and respect meant he could escape the venom often reserved for such critics. Sample lyric: "God is a concept . . . I don't believe in Jesus."

Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote a worthy critique, on ‘Shallow Be Thy Game’ …
“Shallow be thy game/ 2000 years look in the mirror/ You play the game of shame/ And tell your people live in fear/ A rival to the way you see/ The bible let him be/ I’m a threat to your survival/ And your control company.”
And would you God-damn-well-disbelieve it, Stevie Wonder was doubtful about all this deity stuff too: "When you believe in things you don't understand/ Then you suffer / Superstition ain't the way."
Away from the lyrical writing critics, Scottish indie-dance outfit The Shamen once faced down religion with a loaded statement that implied that Christianity was built on deceit and deception.
In 1988, an evangelist bookseller from Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, paid the British Post Office tens of thousands of pounds for a postmark that would be franked onto millions of letters in the run-up to Easter. The postmark featured the words “Jesus Is Alive” in bold capital letters, with a cross.

In stepped The Shamen, who called their national tour the Jesus Is A Lie tour. The slogan was a simple but evocative re-working of the postmark, with an inverted cross as part of the promotional material. It was a blatant call-to-arms for those who found the postmark and the ideology of certain elements of religion offensive.
“ … we certainly don’t go along with the hypocrites who peddle this form of organised religion,” said The Shamen’s singer Colin Angus, stoking a stoush with the Jesus Army. Angus branded the cult’s members as “fascist paramilitary Christians” and the Army burned Shamen records in return.
The Jesus Is A Lie tour came on the back of The Shamen’s single ‘Jesus Loves Amerika’, which nailed their distrust of religion quite succinctly …
“These are the men who break the right in righteous/ Such hypocrisy, stupidity is out of sight, yes/ Jesus loves Amerika but I don’t love neither.”
The Shamen went on to sell millions of records, Christianity in Britain has been dwindling in influence and numbers for decades.
Then there is the cuddly act called Christian Death, whose entire raison d’etre would appear to be to stoke controversy. Their 1988 goth-metal album Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ seemed to be conceived as a deliberate act of provocation.
In a recent interview the band’s frontman Valor Kand explained: “Drugs are the battleground for all of the problems people have. The picture of Jesus taking drugs is a conflict of righteousness. It was quite a symbolic record cover. I wanted to reach a few people and let them explore the inner depths of meaning that has been accumulated for over 1700 years. That doesn't disrespect anyone's religious beliefs whatsoever. It is not meant to insult belief because people need belief. It just drew attention that there is maybe more to this than we have ever allowed ourselves to consider.”
Which seems to contradict my previous statement, but there’s little doubt that Christians would not have taken kindly to a cover of Jesus as a druggie.
Want more Porky? … go here.

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