Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lost and Found

Have you ever gotten lost in a melody or the pulsing beat of a song? Did it seem to take you away, free you for a time from the worries of the present moment?

"Gimme the beat boys and free
my soul. I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away..." - Dobie Gray

Many times we find that music has a power to sweep us up off our feet and into something seemingly larger than ourselves... into a great ocean of rhythm and melody, or down a river that rushes through us and carries us away. Music is a great force, a strong current, and so riding this river takes some skill. If we're not careful, the boom boom boom can lead to gloom. So sings the artist Robin S., in her classic dance hit "Show Me Love."

Robin knows what can happen in the midst of the great flood of sound and light at a club. But within her catchy melody comes a message that runs against the current way of thinking.

"I’m tired of getting caught up in those one night affairs. What I really need is somebody who will always be there... So if you’re looking for devotion, talk to me. Come with your heart in your hands, because my love is guaranteed."
- Robin S.

I wonder how many people in those dark, smoky clubs, where the bass drums on and the lights flash and fade, how many have heard that plea of the heart, these words of Robin S? And how many recognized that cry for real love as their own? Listen intently to the lyrics and you will often find the longing... the desire deep in all of us for a lasting love and communion. So sang St. Augustine centuries ago when he whispered, "You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Beyoncé, Don't Believe It!

Don't you love it when a catchy tune gets stuck in your head for the entire day and you CANNOT seem to shake it? Maybe it's the theme from the Andy Griffith Show, or Beverly Hills Cop, or that Empire Carpet commercial? And then you feel compelled to tell a friend and BAM! you've gone and spread the maddening melody and the beat goes on... Enter Beyoncé and her song Irreplaceable. It's a catchy tune, granted. But it's got issues. Let's lend an ear to the lyrics:

"You must not know about me, You must not know about me I could have another you in a minute, matter fact he'll be here in a minute... "

Ouch. As William Congreve once said, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!" (I thought it was Shakespeare too, but it actually comes from a play called the "The Mourning Bride" (1697). Thanks Mr. Google!)

"I can have another you by tomorrow, So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable."

Beyoncé's song was all over the airwaves a year ago (It was #1 on iTunes for weeks). And the lyrics of this song have an angst that we can all recognize in our culture; it points to the ongoing war between men and women, the battle between love and lust, the dichotomy of seeing others as a gift or choosing rather to grasp at them as if they were objects just meant to sate our own selfish desires. Now in light of these battle scars, I would affirm Beyoncé's reaction in the song. If the woman has been abused or objectified in the relationship, she should jump ship and get out of the situation. The problem is, she jumped right past the lifeboat that carries us into the sea of seeing people as persons, and she turns around and treats men as objects herself!

"I won't lose a wink of sleep 'cause the truth of the matter is replacing you is so easy..."

What are we, vacuum cleaners? Washing machines? The truth is, we are not replaceable. We are not pleasure machines that can be exchanged when the pleasure dries up. The truth is, we are like snowflakes. Each of us is unrepeatable. Every one of us is, in fact, irreplaceable. And yes, even when we fall for the lies of our culture, becoming just a face in a crowd, selling out our virtue for the quick and easy, becoming a number instead of a New Creation, we are still, deep in our being, utterly and inviolably unique and irreplaceable. There will never be another you. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his inaugural homily "We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary." And Pope John Paul II sang this truth as well when he wrote "The human person is a unique composite - a unity of spirit and matter, soul and body, fashioned in the image of God and destined to live forever. Every human life is sacred, because every human person is sacred." So don't you ever for a second get to thinkin' you're __replaceable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Redemption of Rock Music

(originally published in Nov, 2007 for Christopher West's syndicated column "Body Language")

John Paul II warned that if chastity is lived in a repressive way, it’s only a matter of time before sexual desires explode (see Love and Responsibility, pp. 170-171). I think we find here a key for understanding the sexual revolution of the twentieth century. It was a ticking time bomb waiting to detonate in response to the prudery and repressiveness of the previous era.

If a culture’s music provides a window into the soul of that culture, I think the rise of rock music in the 1950's is very telling. Rock music seems to be an artistic expression of the explosion of all that pent-up desire. The very term "rock and roll" – coined by DJ Alan Freed in the early 50's – came, some say, from a slang term for sexual (mis)behavior.

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m actually writing as a fan of rock music – a big fan (of much of it, anyway). It’s in my blood. It’s "my" music. I can still remember my first "favorite song" from the radio. "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes..." by David Bowie. It was 1972 and I wasn’t even three years old.

Not all rock music glorifies lust and indulgence. Much of it expresses an earnest search for meaning. Neil Young "keeps on searchin’ for a heart of gold..." and Bono has "climbed the highest mountains" lookin’ for that thing he’s lookin’ for. Rock music for me has always expressed an interior longing, a search. It’s been a way of "getting out" what’s going on "within" – the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly.

As a rock drummer, myself, I can’t tell you the number of times I have pounded those skins as a form of therapy. We’ve all got bottled up "stuff" that needs an outlet. Drumming has been a great one for me. A good, driving beat not only rattles the walls, it shakes-up the soul as well. "Gimme the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n roll and drift away...."

If rock and roll can generally be understood as the musical expression of the sexual revolution, then I predict that as a new sexual revolution unfolds – and it is slowly unfolding with the spread of John Paul II’s theology of the body – so, too, will a new form of popular music. There are many signs, in fact, that a positive musical transformation is already quietly underway.

I want to point you to two of those signs: Mike Mangione and Vince Scheuerman. These two artists, whom I know personally, are part of a new breed of rock musician: both grew up on rock music; both, through hard times, came to love their Catholic faith; and both are working their tails off to make a difference in the secular world with their music.

Mike Mangione’s latest CD called Tenebrae (Latin for "shadows") has received great reviews from critics across the country and was selected as New York Magazine’s pick of the week this past September. Mangione’s rock-folk-acoustic-indie sound includes haunting cello and violin. His lyrics dig deep into the human experience, expressing an eros yearning for redemption in songs like "First Time: Please Forgive Me" and hope for a culture of life in the midst of a culture of death in songs like "The Killing Floor." You can learn more and order his CD at Also, search for his name on You Tube to see him perform "It’s Me, Not You."

Vince Scheuerman is the lead singer/songwriter for the band Army of Me. This past summer they toured with the Dave Matthews Band promoting their new album Citizen. Their video "Going Through Changes" has been a regular on MTV. While their sound is harder than Mangione’s, the lyrics come from that same place in the soul. They express a hunger for wholeness and communion in "Two into One" and the hope of rebirth in "Rise," a song inspired by the tsunami of December 2005. Learn more and order Citizen at and see their video for "Going Through Changes" on YouTube. Look closely and you’ll even see this MTV rock star wearing a scapular.

If rock music was born from the explosion of sexual repression, who knows – when John Paul II’s "theological time bomb" detonates, Madonna might really and truly sing "like a virgin."

- Christopher West