I have never understood why reporters so rarely ask Jenny Lewis about the rich religious critique that has pervaded her work since the earlier days of Rilo Kiley. There is just so much there. I think I will scream if I hear another reporter ask her what it's like to look hot in indie music, why Rilo Kiley really broke up, and whether or not her indie purist fans think the country album/major label/Jenny & Johnny project was a sellout.
Here's the band singing their 2004 single, "It's a Hit":
So, Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle, songwriter and poet laureate of the existentially anguished, identifiesas a feminist and has even said that his feminist ideals conflict with his Catholic faith. When I first heard this, I was quite surprised. Why? Well, listen to one reason, a song called "Bad Priestess" (lyrics).
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
After she read my last post about sexist Christian music, my friend, Sarah Morice Brubaker of Religion Dispatches, told me I'd gotten a terrible Christian song called "How Beautiful" into her head. I'd heard it many years ago, but what I didn't realize was that it makes frequent appearances at evangelical Christian weddings. It's a truly horrific song, but it got me thinking: This business about "husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church" is more or less the foundation of Christian Right politics. Any guesses where we can learn all about it? That's right: Dippy Christian wedding songs!
A couple of commenters have raised questions about progressiveness in country music. Today, I want to suggest that there are progressive voices, at least in Americana, roots, and alt country music, but those voices are limited. They are almost always white, and usually populist and male. There are a few women in country who arguably identify as feminists. None of these artists are evangelical Christians like some major label country musicians, but faith imagery permeates much of their songwriting. It is often used in visions of a Utopian future, or it takes on a perverse meaning.
There's a script for women in commercial country music that doesn't necessarily coincide with more mainstream stereotypes and assumptions about women. If you've ever heard Carrie Underwood's ubiquitous 2007 single, "Before He Cheats" (lyrics), you'll recognize the tropes.
Of course there are exceptions, but the ideal country woman is often blond (and white), feisty, world-wise, and hot. She is deeply possessive of her man, and aims to squelch competitors for his affection. She gives the appearance of working-class roots even if she didn't grow up working class, and she's equally comfortable talking about guns (Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead"), Jesus (Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"), and heterosexual romantic relationships (Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away").
One of the newer variations on these themes is the girl group Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley). Check out the first single of their August LP, Hell on Heels (lyrics):
In May, Religion Dispatches published my first interview with former darling of the Christian contemporary music scene, lesbian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp. Then over the summer, I got to meet and interview Knapp in person while covering the Wild Goose Festival, an event that celebrated (predominantly Christian) spirituality, justice, and art. We talked a bit about the limitations of Christian music, feminism and sexuality on the same day she filmed the "It Gets Better" video below. I'll be critiquing some evangelical Christian music later in the series, so I'm very excited to share unpublished parts of our interview with you here today:
Responses to September 11 have been fraught from the start. As I thought through the problem of grief over the weekend, I was gratified that NPR posted the new work by minimalist musicians Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet, WTC/9/11. Here's a sample:
What if the Rapture happened, but it wasn't like anyone had expected? In fact, what if "Rapture" might not be the right word, considering that the millions who vanished were of numerous different faiths and the date didn't align with anyone's holy texts? How would the people who lost everyone they loved live with their grief, and how would untouched families manage their guilt?
The Kirkus Review hails The Leftovers as Tom Perrotta's "most ambitious book," a claim that at first seems obvious for a writer whose previous works have centered on realistic suburban angst. However, despite its more imaginative set-up, The Leftovers is about exactly the same things as Perrotta's other novels: struggling to find contentment, doomed love affairs, and growing up.
Mavis Staples—gospel singer, soul artist and Civil Rights activist—is nothing short of a living legend. She started singing gospel with her family in the 1950s and had a successful Stax career as front woman for the Staple Singers. Though the family specialized in gospel, Staples' raw vocals and the band's bluesy arrangements endeared them to secular and religious audiences alike.
At seventy-two, she shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, she released Grammy-winning gospel album, You Are Not Alone, in a collaboration with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. It featured a handful of newly arranged old gospel songs as well as new ones like these (penned by Tweedy):