Presentation Playlist

As I’m giving a talk Monday afternoon about the relation of theology to rock music, it’s only fitting and appropriate that I forestall workin on it by putting together a playlist of the kinds of song that particularly interst me as a theologian. I’m ruling out U2 and Bruce Cockburn at the outset, not out of distaste but because they’ve been the focus of a lot of theological spotlights. I’d rather not pick performances that ordinarily would be recognized as straight-ahead gospel (though I may be soft on that judgment). My favorites for this exercise invoke, or flirt with, or hint at theological themes without coming out and clobbering you over the head with them. Or if they do make the theological motif explicit, the selection in some other way inflects the overt theologizing with a less straightforward nuance. Or, maybe I just like it, so there.
What I’ve got in the playlist right now is:

  • “Cobra Tattoo” by the Mountain Goats
  • “And A God Descened,” by Dar Williams (most of The Green World would fit this list)
  • “How a Resurrection Really Feels” by the Hold Steady
  • “We Walk The Same Line” by Everything But The Girl
  • “The State I Am In” by Belle and Sebastian
  • “Holy Spirit” by Michelle Shocked
  • “Jesusland” by Ben Folds
  • “Something Beautiful” by Sinead O’Connor
  • “Way Down In The Hole” by Tom Waits
  • “Get Up Off Our Knees” by the Housemartins
  • and “Thunder” by Prince, which gives my talk its title (“C’Mon Save Your Soul Tonight”

I’ll think of more — always working on gender balance, and I have to put them in order — and I might slip in George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” to honor Dale Allison’s paper on George in the same session, and maybe a hiphop selection to honor Valerie Bridgman’s paper (“Jesus Walks” would be obvious), but for now that’s it.

11 thoughts on “Presentation Playlist

  1. On a similar note, I’ve been putting together a mixtape of “secular” music outlining Holy Week, with many of the same criteria you mentioned. To me, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” by Elvis Costello brings to mind the teachings of somewhat irate Jesus (such as when he kicks the moneylenders out of the temple), “Call and Answer” by The Barenaked Ladies is a thinly veiled Judas narrative, and while “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen is perhaps a bit blatant, it draws on resurrection imagery as well as calling to mind the “fishers of men.”

  2. I’d love to see your commentary on “The State I am In.” I love the line “And so I gave myself to God / There was a pregnant pause before he said ‘OK.'”

  3. No Dylan or Bob Marley? Patti Smith has a whole bunch of amazing things, as well.

    In any case, I’ll look forward to a recap on the talk.

  4. Sinead’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got is pretty ripe stuff, too.

    (You don’t actually need help, I’m just enjoying this exercise.)

  5. Van Morrison, “These Are The Days” is a moving, somewhat religious song I’ve always liked.

  6. Are you interested in less known folk artists? I think someone like Bill Mallonee (you can find him on Facebook etc…) is an amazing theological songster of sorts. Leaving out Cockburn breaks my heart, but that may just be the Canadian in me.

  7. Leaving out Cockburn and U2 has more to do with evening out the illumination; they’re both so prominent as theologically-implicated figures that other performers tend to get stuck in the shadows, especially if they don’t display flashing neon “Christian” signs. And in both cases, I’m more interested at this point in criticism (in the positive/neutral sense of “critical study”) of their music than of their theology.
    I tend to be folk-skeptical, Michael, having been inoculated with heavy doses of Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, and what we might call “movement folk” back in the sixties. I’m susceptible to performers who move into my attention sideways, but with so many terrific rockers around, I don’t usually attend to folk-identified performers. I was late on the Sufjan Stevens train, I have mixed feelings about Devendra Banhart, and so on. But I’m inconsistent, so you’re right to check me on Bill Mallonee — and I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for him.

  8. I found this post very interesting, not least of which because you identified one of those songs I liked as something that has theological implications.. That was EBTG’s “We Walk the Same Line.” Hearing it again, I am beginning to reflect on what it has to say, and it only makes this song more meaningful for me these days. Thank you.

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