I had a conversation with a friend today about Christian music and why it mostly bothers the hell out of me. (ha) I realized it’s that sense of overt politeness, the way it’s crafted – an official Christian musician seems to have all rough edges sanded off, as pious as a politician tries to look – that takes away any depth and feeling in the lyrics or music itself. It lacks almost anything that I could normally grasp as enjoyable.
Then I thought, you know what? I love a lot of artists who are either Christian themselves, make music about Christ-like ideals, or simply use the forms of traditional Christian music as a foundation for their own thing. Spiritualized does the latter, employing the language of early blues and gospel to speak directly to my soul.
Here’s the band playing a timeless live staple, Walking With Jesus.
When J. Spaceman sings about Jesus, he’s hitting the idea of what Jesus means to him. He’s not singing about the historical figure or the earthen manifestation of god; he’s singing about wanting so deeply, so badly to be saved from a life of self-destruction. He’s yelling from the bottom of a well that he doesn’t know if he can do any better than this, but he wants to try. He’s pouring out his black heart and hoping, maybe futilely, that it can be revived.
He wants to be forgiven, but doesn’t know if he deserves it.
In other words, he’s hitting the exact feelings that brought about religion and spirituality in the first place. The search for meaning and the ache for redemption. He needs to feel worthy. This is something I’ve always identified with.
I find devotional music to carry a lot more weight when it’s coming from a real and relatable place. From someone who’s known sin, who’s known trouble and heartache and failure. When you know what fucking your life up feels like – and I very much know what that feels like – you can appreciate the exultation of love and acceptance and forgiveness all that much more. It’s hard fought. It comes from a deeply honest place. It’s not simply what you grew up knowing; it’s what you learned through hardship and living. It’s what you learned because you needed to learn it.
As a non-religious person, this approach feels so nakedly sincere, stripped of the pretense and baggage that turns my stomach. This is anagogic expression. This is the essence of spiritual music for me.
PS: I feel the need to add the Acoustic Mainline version of this song. It’s achingly gorgeous and totally nails the devotional feeling a bit easier than the noisy eruption of the recording above.
PPS: I should also note that I am very eager for anyone to point out some great “officially Christian” music to me, stuff that could go over an a Christian radio station or play at a festival. As with all mediums and genres, there’s bound to be something I like, even if the whole isn’t my thing.