Friday 4 May 2012

Finding God in Rock - Part 1

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

I have just came back from a couple of spiritually uplifting days in Wikwemikong, an unceded native reserve in Ontario, and at the Jesuit-run Anishinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola. There were many spiritual fruits from those days, but I am not ready to blog about them yet. When thinking about preparing this entry, I thought of Arcade Fire. This is a band that’s been on many people’s minds since their first album Funeral came out in 2005.

I eventually began listening to that album in 2006. At first, I was not impressed: the vocals are unorthodox and not that pleasant, and the music is a little repetitive and simplistic at times. Oddly enough, it was around that time that I also began to appreciate U2. I had heard them before, but had not carefully listened to their music before. There is no doubt that Bono and his boys do have a bit of an influence on the sound of Arcade Fire. So what I was beginning to like about U2, I also liked about Arcade Fire: a simple, but effective base line. I took pleasure in the exquisite use of power chords – those usually turn me off – but both bands seem to be able to use them rather effectively.

AF employs very evocative instrumentation (awesome use of violins in their music), and harmonies. Both AF and U2 have formidable and not very conventional lyrics – it’s rather rare to hear a ‘love song’. Both bands have a theme of faith and spirituality in many of their songs. In AF’s case, they may not be necessarily religious, but I think this is a band that is not afraid to be ‘spiritual’ either. As an afterthought, I succumbed to their music because of their ability to mesmerise me with these strange apocalyptic stories that were only made more entrancing because of the music that accompanied them.

Still, Funeral was only one album, I expected them to fade away eventually. There was so much hype around their first album, I figured it would be impossible to live up to the expectations critics and fans had of them. Despite that, when Neon Bible came out in 2007, I rushed to HMV during a break in my weekend class to get the album. Once back in class, during lunch break, I played it on a computer in the classroom, and many gathered around, curious about all the hype. As the powerful organ chords of ‘My Body is a Cage’ hit us, the only thing one of my classmates could say was, ‘That’s so dramatic.’ Understatement of the year. The whole album was powerful, but this song just blew us all away.

As I’ve suggested earlier, I don’t know what their ‘beliefs’ are or if they have any faith in God at all. Nonetheless, their music proclaims God’s glory in every corner of my life. Their music draws me into being attentive to the world around me, and into prayer, into glorifying God. I think this happens because I recognized that although they sang about a vague apocalyptic future or the end of all that is good, their music is filled with joy and energy — even if in a minor key! This to me was their effort to state that life (God’s light) will continue despite all the darkness that lies ahead (best exemplified in the song ‘Power Out’). Arcade Fire also has something to do with my religious life here in Toronto, but I guess I’ll have to talk about that and their third album, The Suburbs, in another blog.

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