Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Sounds of the Saints

So I accidentally called myself out on my own bullshit regarding this blog two nights ago.

Mister and I were on a date night, and had followed some good Indian food up with some live music at The Nick.

After the show, we were sitting outside chatting it up (because date nights are RARE, and the nights when they coincide with our friends' date nights are rarer still), and I remarked about how much I had enjoyed the show, and that I was thinking maybe I wanted to write something about it.  And our friend piped up with "And then you'll do what you always do, which is--"

". . .Make it religious?" I interjected.

Which is NOT what she was going to say, but I realized was kind of true, nonetheless.

And so, as it goes with me, this one concept/idea/interaction has been floating around in my head since then, gathering speed, and occasionally picking up other random ideas and inviting them to the party, too.

I do that.

. . . I totally do that.

And so I started analyzing myself, and my thought process.  Because I am not (as has been firmly established in this blog), a particularly religious person.**

**Right here, I feel that I should add something about how, while I am not "religious", that does not mean that I lead an unexamined life.  I am spiritual.  Maybe even a little mystical.  But not religious.  I was going to give an explanation of all these things, and then I thought. . . nah.  People that know me, know me.  People that don't, don't care.  And I'm perfectly happy to leave it at that.**

Anyhoo.  The point is that I was thinking on it.

And the fact that I unintentionally called myself out on this means that I have at least noticed it.  And so I started to call lots of things into question.

Am I over-stating when I write?

. . . I try really hard not to exaggerate, but perhaps I am over-stating sometimes.  And, since I am trying really hard for honesty here, that would not necessarily be a good thing.

And so I guess this post is going to be an exercise in keeping it honest.

 . . . why DO I always seem to bring religion into it?

First and foremost, I guess because spirituality is important to me. And a lot of that can probably just boil down to what I said a moment ago, about not living an unexamined life.

But the second reason I think I do this is. . . possibly a bit more complex.

And I think it is because I am a product of my environment, as we all are, to varying degrees.

I believe it was Mark Twain that said that every writer has a complicated relationship with the place where they grew up.

. . . I *believe* it was Mark Twain.  And yet I cannot find any evidence to support this belief.  So it could've been anybody.  Hell, it could've been ME.  . . . but I think it was Twain.

Anyway, I remembered this line because the first time I read it, it rang very true to me.

This is, of course, supposing that I can even call myself "a writer."  Because, unfortunately for my ego, while looking for the source of this quote, I came across this one, which sadly seems to be more applicable:

So I write sometimes.  I also bake sometimes, but I am not toying with the idea of whether or not to refer to myself as "a baker."

We'll just say that I'm maintaining my amateur status.

For tax purposes.

And that'll be fine.  Just fine.

Anyway.  Where was I?

Oh yeah.

Trying to figure out why I always seem to bring religion into my posts.

And then I realized:  The answer was right in front of me.


We did, as I mentioned, see some live music Friday night.

Really GOOD live music.

Live music that, coincidentally, happens to bring up religion as a theme from time to time.

As seen here, in If You Ain't Got God:

A powerful song, to be sure.

Actually, I think the way I described it a couple of nights ago was:
"Some really get-down, seriously funky shit."

Sooooo. . . take that song.  Listen to it.

Now listen to it again.

And you'll find one of the great things about living in Alabama.

Which is:  Just because this is an awesome song about God, and belief versus non-belief, does NOT necessarily mean that the musician who wrote it is a religious person.

It just means that they grew up here, with their days as deeply steeped in religion as they were in sweet tea.

And that is essentially what I'm talking about today.

This is the music of Heath Green and the Makeshifters.  (I'm not one hundred percent sure about the rest of the band, but I know that Heath Green was born and raised here in Alabama.)

And, if YOU were born and raised here, YOU know that just because he wrote a song saying that "If you ain't got God, you ain't got nothing." does NOT mean that he is necessarily a church-going person.

Let me explain.


You grow up in Alabama -- you know about The Church.

You grow up going to it.

Or your granny takes you.

Or the kids in your class go to Youth Group every week.

You probably spent summers of your childhood at Vacation Bible School, learning about Jesus, making noodle art, and drinking watered-down grape kool-aid.

You act up?  Make a big mistake?  Make your neighbors call how you were raised into question?

You're GONNA get told that "You need some Jesus."

(How MUCH Jesus is really up to you.  But at least a little bit.)

There is simply no way around it.

Go out to the country. . . there's at least one church for roughly every 6 miles of shredded country blacktop.

Your granny was religious.

I know she was, because EVERYBODY'S granny was religious.

It's as much a part of growing up here as playing in the red clay when you were a kid.

If you grow up in Alabama, you know about the church.

You know.  

Because it is a vital part of life and death here.

It is part of your childhood.  It is sewn into your memory.  It is indistinguishable from you, because it is a part of you.  It is one of the major threads that has been used to sew the fabric of your life.  And you can't remove it without the whole tapestry unraveling.

You KNOW how you're supposed to behave in church.  You know because, at some point in time, you did NOT behave in church.  And it was probably the first time your granny, or other family member or church member, spoke to you between clenched teeth, and threatened you with bodily harm if you did not STOP acting a fool RIGHT.  FREAKING.  NOW.

You KNOW the way your granny's church fellowship hall smells.  (Because that's where the best food you've ever eaten in your LIFE was served.)

You know what a church feels like in the middle of August, just as well as you know that a church program makes a really inadequate fan.

You know that, as a kid, if you weren't behaving at church, it didn't matter if your granny or any other family member was around or not.  Because ANY ADULT THERE had the right to reprimand you if you needed it.  It was not questioned, and no explanation was required.

You know what the church cemetery looks like.  Because that's where all your people are buried.  And you spent what feels like countless hours of your childhood taking flowers, and paying your respects.

You were there for your own wedding, or your brother's wedding, or your cousin's wedding.  

You know the almost indescribably wonderful feeling of getting home from church on a hot summer Sunday, and trading your church clothes for shorts and bare feet.

At one time or another, you have literally kicked off your Sunday shoes.

You grow up in Alabama, you know The Church.

And, if you're me, you know it very well.

You remember every crumbling brick, and every hymn.

You remember your granny's favorite bible verses.

You remember your family's eyes closed in prayer before every big meal.

You have, either literally or figuratively, been baptised in muddy waters.

It is part of our heritage.

And, even if you don't share the same beliefs as an adult, you still pay your respects.

Oh yes, you DO.


So back to my original train of thought.

Yeah.  I seem to bring religion into a lot of my posts.

And I guess the reason I do that is. . . because I simply cannot help it.

It is where I'm from.  It is who I am.

It is a complicated relationship, to be sure.  But you can't deny the history there.

So. . . we saw some great music Friday night.

It was some deeply soulful stuff.

And as I was standing there, while the band was playing, I knew that I was going to write about it.

What was I going to say??

. . .I've gotta keep it honest.

And the most honest thing I came away with was this:

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in the kitchen, listening to music and giggling and just generally enjoying each other's company.  And then we turned on Heath Green, and I just stopped dead in my tracks.

And I sat down to listen.  To give it my full attention.

"It feels familiar," I said.  "It feels like I've heard this before, but I know I never have."

And as I said that, I realized something MAJOR (major for ME.  It's all relative).

That's what ALL good music has in common, for me.

I still remember the first time I ever heard The Grateful Dead.

Or The Beatles.

Or Elvis Presley.

Jimi Hendrix.

The Band.


Ray Charles.

The list goes on and on and on.

But each time I heard these different types of music -- it stopped me.

Because I felt like I already knew it.  Like I'd heard it somewhere before.

And I'd stop, and listen really hard.  Trying to commit every note and line to memory, and also kind of feeling like bits of it were already there.

So I'm not going to over-state here.

I'm not going to say that seeing Heath Green and the Makeshifters changed my life on Friday night.

I'm not going to tell you that listening to them will change YOUR life.

I'm just going to say that it was a really great show, and if you like funky, soulful, bluesy music with a beat. . . you should probably check them out.  They obviously had a great time performing, and they obviously wanted YOU to have a great time, too.

As for the religious aspect. . . yeah.  I can't remove it.

I can't remove it from the songs themselves, and I can't remove it from my interpretation.

My epiphany was that good music always feels familiar.

But. . . why is THAT??

Is is because music was with us in the beginning?  Is it because music, as an audible expression of joy and pain, is where we come from?  And also where we're going?

Hell, I don't know.  Those are big questions.

I'm not a music critic.

I don't WANT to be.  I love music with too much of my heart to go around criticizing the folks that make it.

But I'm gonna tell you right now:

If you are a music lover, you NEED to listen to this music.

And, just in case you don't want to take my word for it, I'll go on and give you my credentials:

I can pick out the mournful note in a joyful noise.

I know that when it really moves you, you close your eyes, and the crowd disappears.

I've known great joy, and I've known great loss, and I know that sometimes your voice breaks when you sing about them.

I was raised in the clay, I've been washed in the blood, and I've got muddy water running through my veins.

. . .

I KNOW the sounds of the saints, when I hear 'em.

***I honestly have no idea if this post is worth a damn, because somebody was talking to me the ENTIRE TIME I was writing it.
But thanks for reading to the end.  =)

1 comment:

  1. This post really strikes a chord w/ me. I have thought many times about what makes a song resonate w/ me (w/ you or w/ anybody). You hear a piece of music, sometimes just the opening notes & you KNOW that it is meaningful to you, that you want to hear it again and again. Or sometimes it's the opposite and the first few seconds tell you this is someone else's song, but never yours. I think you're right, that a big part of it is where we came from, what went into making us who we are. Anyway, to answer your question, yes this is worthwhile writing because, like certain, beautiful music - it spoke to me.