John Arranges Things Differently

The Gospel According to John differs from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). Markedly so, in some areas. John’s Gospel contains things the Synoptics lack, yet omits content they have. But even the overlapping content is somewhat different in John.

It’s similar to Claudio Abbado as compared to Rudolf Barshai conducting Bartók.

Or like John Coltrane’s rendition(s) of “My Favorite Things” compared to Julie Andrews’ vocal version in The Sound of Music. Like Miles Davis’ cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”.

Or like R.E.M.’s cover of Wire’s “Strange” (or the fact that early R.E.M. borrowed a bit from the sound of The Byrds).

Or like Public Enemy’s (and others’) sampling of Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution”—specifically, the great Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s drum intro—in their “Don’t Believe the Hype”.[1]

Quoting P. Gardner, F. F. Bruce suggests John’s Gospel is a transposition into a higher key.[2] Continuing the musical analogies, John doesn’t so much harmonize with the Synoptics as provide counterpoint. Similarly, John resembles Ravel in taking his own six movement piano solo suite Le Tambeau de Couperin and later transforming into four movements for orchestra. Some elements are the same, colors and shades are added, some notation is omitted.

Putting the earlier words of Bruce in context:

If in this Gospel the words and deeds of Jesus appear to have undergone ‘transposition into a higher key’ [as compared to] the Synoptic Gospels, this is the effect of the Spirit’s enabling the Evangelist to adapt the story of Jesus to a different public…[3]

Following this, Bruce provides a Shakespearean analogy.

The day following Julius Caesar’s assassination is recorded in Plutarch’s Life of Brutus. Plutarch provides the account of Mark Antony reading Caesar’s will to the public. When the audience heard that, among other things, the dictator had willed 75 drachmas to each citizen, they grew sympathetic. Sensing this, Antony adjusted his speech and tone, taking Caesar’s bloodied gown in his hand and graphically pointing to the knife and sword cuts into it. At this, the crowd grew angry at his assassins. Chaos ensued. Some insisted that those who had slain Caesar should be killed.

Shakespeare paraphrases and amplifies this account. However, he also reorders it. The writer situates Antony holding up the tattered gown and showing Caesar’s bloodied corpse before reading the will. Moreover, he ‘quotes’ Antony using words not even recorded in Plutarch’s account.[4]

Bruce calls this

a translation of the freest kind, a transposition into another key; but Shakespeare’s genius enables him to put just the right words into Antony’s mouth…‘to give the general purport of what was actually said.’*

What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight (and, it may be added, what many a preacher does by homiletical skill), all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing readers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today…—that is the work of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit’s operation that, in William Temple’s words, ‘the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed’;** and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognize in this Gospel the authentic voice of Jesus.[5]

John is different. I like that. I can’t wait to meet John on the other side.

__________________________

[1] Unrelatedly, tangentially: Is Public Enemy (PE) original in coining the idea of “fake news”? Witness these lyrics from “Don’t Believe the Hype”, relating to how the music press distorted PE (in their view):
Chuck D.: False media, we don’t need it, do we?
Flavor Flav: It’s fake that’s what it be to ya, dig me?

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 15. Bruce here quotes Gardner’s The Ephesian Gospel (London, 1915), p 284.

[3] Bruce, p 15.

[4] Bruce, pp 15-16.

[5] Bruce, pp 16-17. *Here Bruce cites Thucydides’ History 1.22.1. **Here Bruce quotes Temple’s Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London, 1939), p xxxii.

Traversing the Via Dolorosa with Shostakovich, Vasks, and Schnittke

Different people grieve differently. Some busy themselves with busyness. More productively, some write. Some write music. Some listen to music that some have written as catharsis for their pain.

And some enjoy listening to such heart-rending music—even when not necessarily in distress. That would describe me. When grieving, I concurrently feel the composers’ agony. When I’m not, it’s as if I’m empathically sharing in their burdens (Galatians 6:2).

One of my favorite ECM New Series releases, Dolorosa features—as the title suggests—themes of death, sorrow, and lamentation. It includes one work each by Dmitri Shostakovich, Pēteris Vasks, and Alfred Schnittke—all from the former Soviet Union. The title of the release appears to be truncated from Vasks’ own “Musica Dolorosa”, with perhaps a nod to the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “sorrowful way”), Jesus’ route to crucifixion. I make these speculations since it is convention to use doloroso (“o” instead of “a” at the end) in musical direction.

Dolorosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolorosa – Shostakovich / Vasks / Schnittke
Dennis Russell Davies, cond.; Stuttgart Chamber Orch.

 

These three works for string orchestra are appropriately somber, though at times dramatic, adequately expressing the subjects’ range of emotions.

The disc begins with Rudolf Barshai’s (1967) adaptation of Shostakovich’s Eighth String Quartet. The composer himself approved of Barshai’s arrangement, agreeing to rename it Chamber Orchestra op. 110bis. I much prefer the orchestral version to the quartet, as it adds weightiness to the original, better conveying its inherent bleakness. Shostakovich dedicated the composition “[t]o the memory of the victims of fascism and war”. At the time the original quartet was written (summer 1960), the composer had succumbed to persistent pressures to join the communist party, causing great inner turmoil, according to musicologist Isaak Glikman, as per the accopanying liner notes. Apparently the composer’s dedication included himself as a victim.

At just under 25 minutes, this rendition is one of the longest. DRD conducts the second movement, Allegro molto, slower than all other versions I’ve heard (3:38 long), which I find more appropriate, given the inscription and the overall tenor of this arrangement.

The impetus for Vasks’ “Musica dolorosa” was the death of the composer’s sister Marta. Vasks’ grief evidences itself in the climactic section beginning at around 5:50 of the single movement piece. The pain conveyed becomes almost unbearable until about 8:00 when the discordance begins to subside, seguing into a dark melancholy. This subsequently gives rise to what seems to be a reluctant acceptance of this tragedy. As much as I like the Shostakovich, this is my favorite piece on the disc.

Closing the set is Yuri Bashmet’s orchestral arrangement of Schnittke’s String Trio (1985), rebranded Trio Sonata (1987). This work is the least somber of the three, for the Alban Berg Foundation commissioned the original string trio for the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Berg’s birth. However, within a few weeks of the string trio’s premiere, the composer would suffer his first of many strokes, thus curtailing his activity for the remainder of his days. Of the piece, Gerard McBurney opines in the liner notes: “It is music which strongly suggests an elegiac farewell to the past, as though the composer knew he were facing impending and radical change…” Schnittke would die one year after this disc was released.

Listening to this recording can be cathartic, as it is for me many times. I suppose, though, that the listener’s experience would pale in comparison to the emotions felt by the composers at the time of writing—or shortly thereafter in the case of Schnittke’s revision by Bashmet.

Bob Dylan’s New Christian Themed Album

After releasing his first new material in quite a while with “Murder Most Foul”—a nearly 17 minute track about the assassination of JFK—Dylan subsequently announced a forthcoming full-length release. Now available, the album Rough and Rowdy Ways contains only new material written by him.

The way I interpret the record, Dylan has rekindled his Christian faith. Though there are what seem to be overt lyrics in this regard, there are other more opaque references.

The overt references include these from “Crossing the Rubicon” (for those unaware, this phrase is a metaphor for point of no return):

I feel the Holy Spirit inside
See the light that freedom gives
I believe it’s in the reach of
Every man who lives
Keep as far away as possible
It’s darkest ‘fore the dawn (Oh Lord)
I turned the key, I broke it off
And I crossed the Rubicon

Plus the following from “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”:

If I had the wings of a snow white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real, a love so true
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

This whole song can be read as the songwriter rededicating his life to Jesus Christ. The lyrics can be found at AZLyrics (The line I hope the gods go easy on me I interpret as I hope men deeming themselves gods go easy on me.) And by scrolling to the bottom of the AZ link, you can find lyrics to the remaining pieces on Rough and Rowdy Ways.

The album finds Dylan pondering his temporal life, his faith, his mortal end, the end of all things generally (which I think he believes is imminent), and immortality.

Starting from the beginning of the album, “I Contain Multitudes” finds the writer admitting he’s a man of contradictions. Aren’t we all, if we’re honest. This sets up two tracks in which Dylan narrates in the first person  as (A) a false prophet (“False Prophet”), though claiming he’s not (I ain’t no false prophet), and (B) as Satan describing how he’ll fashion the antichrist (“My Own Version of You”). While an initial reading of (A) I opened my heart up to the world and the world came in could be autobiographical, when interpreted in view of the whole, Dylan speaking from the perspective of a false prophet makes the best sense.

“My Own Version of You” has appropriately repulsive imagery to match the concealed ugliness of the subject—the yet to be revealed antichrist:

I’ve been visiting morgues and monasteries
Looking for the necessary body parts
Limbs and livers and brains and hearts
I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do
I’m gonna create my own version of you

The following lines make his meaning clearer (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Revelation 13:11-18):

I’ll bring someone to life, someone for real
Someone who feels the way that I feel

That Dylan thinks the false Christ’s time is nigh may be gleaned by this line borrowed from Shakespeare: Well, it must be the winter of my discontent.

The sequencing of the songs appears to be quite on purpose. With the first one admitting his own contradictory nature, the second posing as the false prophet, the third as Satan fashioning the antichrist, the writer seems to be reflecting his own notion that the end times are near. With all this in mind, a rededication to Jesus at this juncture makes sense. Thus, the fourth track is “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”.

The fifth track, “Black Rider”, finds Dylan pondering death itself. At times he’s pushing death away (My heart is at rest, I’d like to keep it that way / I don’t wanna fight, at least not today), other times he’s ready to give in:

Black rider, black rider, tell me when, tell me how
If there ever was a time, then let it be now
Let me go through, open the door
My soul is distressed, my mind is at war

Ah, those contradictions.

After two tracks of what I think are ‘living in the world but not of the world’—“Goodbye Jimmy Reed” and “Mother of Muses”—the songwriter begins “Crossing the Rubicon” with my favorite of the non-overt Christian lyrics:

I crossed the Rubicon on the 14th day
Of the most dangerous month of the year

This is most certainly a reference to Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar—the first day of the Jewish Passover, corresponding to the day Jesus became the Paschal Lamb (Passover Lamb), according to John’s Gospel (and 1 Corinthians 5:7). That is, the day Christ was crucified. I think these lyrics signify Dylan’s (re)dedication to Christ. This doesn’t necessarily mean Dylan metaphorically “crossed the Rubicon”—gave his life to Christ—on Good Friday, though it could.

Each verse of this song ends with the words And I crossed the Rubicon. Surely “crossed” here is a double entendre, referring also to accepting the Cross of Christ. This is evident in the lyrics beginning the second verse:

Well, the Rubicon is a red river
Goin’ gently as she flows
Redder than your ruby lips
And the blood that flows from the rose

This “red river” must be the blood of Christ, redder than…the blood that flows from the rose.

The final track (excluding “Murder Most Foul”, which is placed on a disk by itself in the cd release) “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” makes the island a metaphor for the journey to paradise (‘Abraham’s bosom’) —the hereafter. This is my favorite piece both musically and lyrically.

Dylan frames it with US President William McKinley’s assassination. The piece begins:

McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
Doctor said, “McKinley, death is on the wall
‪Say it to me, if you got something to confess”

Then near the end of the song Dylan writes I heard the news, I heard your last request / Fly around, my pretty little Miss. This appears to be Dylan using the president’s wife’s words to her husband at his deathbed, she wishing to go with him, to which he reportedly replied: “We are all going, we are all going. God’s will be done, not ours.” However, perhaps more important to the song here are the accounts that either McKinley or his wife sang the lyrics to the Christian hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

The closing chorus thematically ties it all together:

Key West is the place to be
‪If you’re looking for immortality
‪Stay on the road, follow the highway sign
‪Key West is fine and fair
‪If you lost your mind, you will find it there
‪Key West is on the horizon line

A fitting finale. Make up your mind, make the commitment, cross the Rubicon. Stay the course, follow the Spirit. You’ll reach Key West, immortality. It’s right there on the horizon. At least it’s on Dylan’s horizon.

[See the related Tangled Up in Quasi-Truth.]

Tangled Up in Quasi-Truth

We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue1

I must admit I sometimes feel blue. At times there seems to be no reason for it. Other times there is.

When writing Christian apologetics—from the Greek word apologia, as found in 1 Peter 3:15 (…always ready to provide a defense to everyone who asks…)—it is imperative to do so with utmost integrity. We must uphold truth when defending the Truth. When I see quasi-truths and pseudo-truths in apologetics, I sometimes literally shake my head in sadness. Sometimes I get a bit angry. It’s disconcerting.

In this disinformation age, we are bombarded with partial truths and outright lies. Discerning truth from fiction can be quite difficult. Consequently, when assessing questionable conspiracy theories,2 we must be very careful not to fall into the same trap of connecting unrelated things in our critiques of them.3 I’m reminded of the cautionary words of Rabbi Samuel Sandmel:

It would seem to me to follow that, in dealing with similarities we can sometimes discover exact parallels, some with and some devoid of significance; seeming parallels which are so only imperfectly; and statements which can be called parallels only by taking them out of context.4

Recently, I came across On Point Preparedness, a ministry delving in end times (eschatology) and apologetics. I want to think Mike—the sole writer and vlogger—is sincere in his endeavors. Perhaps it would be fair that I give him as much benefit of the doubt as he gives the subjects in his critiques. In any case, I found a number of issues with some of his analyses, some egregious enough to induce me to write this blog post.

Going Off Point5

I’ve timestamped the clip below where On Point Preparedness (OPP) displays audio and video of a President Trump Rally just before the song “Sympathy for the Devil” is played.6

The clip provides lyrics to accompany the song for a bit. Then the vlogger segues to a snippet of a Bob Dylan interview, which OPP prefaces with these words:

Oh, and by the way, this song by Bob Dylan “Sympathy for the Devil”—yeah. You remember this interview where he said that he serves Satan, right?

Now, this is the part where I shake my head in dismay, disappointment. And then I get angry. This is extremely sloppy “journalism”. First of all, in the clip of Dylan’s words, the songwriter just does not say he “serves Satan”. The vlogger puts those words in Dylan’s mouth. Either that, or OPP meant to paraphrase Dylan’s supposed intended meaning. Can this meaning be inferred? Perhaps. But before making such a charge, intellectual integrity demands a search for the larger context in order to provide sufficient evidence to justify it.7 And further below, I provide such larger context, illustrating there is more likely a very different meaning intended here.

To outright assert that someone said thus-and-such without explicit proof is just inexcusable. And potentially libelous. Dylan’s lyrics below are appropriated for my purposes here:

Someone’s got in for me
They’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out quick
When they will I can only guess.8

Oh, and by the way, this song “Sympathy for the Devil”—whatever one thinks of it—was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of THE ROLLING STONES, and the song in the clip was performed by this same band. Though Bob Dylan most certainly wrote and performed the song “Like a Rolling Stone”, he just as certainly is not THE ROLLING STONES. There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of carelessness (confirmation bias?).9 Similar to the above, journalistic integrity requires a quick search to verify information before publishing. Even if the rest of his content was just fine, merely this one slip can render the entire document suspect by some viewers. But this is not the only issue here.

Below is the larger context of the interview—a 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley on November 19, 2004. At the time of original airing, the songwriter had just recently published his book Chronicles, Volume One (September 5, 2004). Take special note of the use of the word “destiny”. Italics indicate the portion OPP selected for his vlog (near the end); bold is my emphasis:

Ed Bradley: You use the word “destiny” over and over throughout the book. What does it mean to you?
Bob Dylan: It’s a feeling you have that you know something about yourself that nobody else does – the picture you have in your mind of what you’re about will come true. It’s kind of a thing you kind of have to keep to your own self, because it’s a fragile feeling. And if you put it out there, somebody will kill it. So, it’s best to keep that all inside.

EB: Let me talk a little bit about your relationship with the media. You wrote, “The press, I figured, you lied to it.” Why?
BD: I realized at the time that the press, the media, they’re not the judge—God’s the judge. The only person you have to think about lying twice to is either yourself or to God. The press isn’t either of them. And I just figured they’re irrelevant.

EB: As you probably know, Rolling Stone magazine just named your song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” the number one song of all time. 12 of your other songs are on their list of the Top 500. That must be good to have as part of your legacy.
BD: Oh, maybe this week. But you know, the list, they change names, and you know, quite frequently, really. I don’t really pay much attention to that.
EB: But it’s a pat on the back?
BD: This week it is. But who’s to say how long that’s gonna last?
EB: Well, it’s lasted a long time for you. I mean you’re still out here doing these songs, you know. You’re still on tour.
BD: I do, but I don’t take it for granted.
EB: Why do you still do it? Why are you still out here?
BD: Well, it goes back to that destiny thing. I made a d-, bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end.
EB: What was your bargain?
BD: …to get where, uh, I am now.
EB: Should I ask who you made that bargain with?
BD: [laughs] With the Chief Commander.
EB: On this earth?
BD: [laughs] In this earth and in the world we can’t see.

When Dylan states, “…bargain with it…”, to what does the “it” refer? By the context, the referent is “destiny”. So, who is the “Chief Commander” that is “in this earth and in the world we can’t see”? Note that earlier in the interview Dylan referred to “God”, stating He is the Judge, and the only One—besides yourself—that you should carefully consider before lying twice to. Could that help define “Chief Commander” here?

To this analysis the critic must also consider Dylan’s professed conversion to Christianity in 1979. The artist made three overtly Christian-themed albums: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981).10 The first of the three recordings opens with his Grammy-winning “Gotta Serve Somebody”, featuring these lyrics in the chorus:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Closing this same album, “When He Returns” includes words taken (paraphrased) from Scripture: Like a thief in the night, he’ll replace wrong with right when he returns. And then there’s this clip “Bob Dylan – The Gospel Interview”, an excerpt from the documentary Bob Dylan – Both Ends Of The Rainbow 1978-1989.

Was this all just a ruse, a hoax? That seems very unlikely, for Dylan had not a few angry fans during this time claiming he was preaching at them in concerts. John Lennon even went so far as to write the parody “Serve Myself” in response. Assuming, then, that Dylan’s conversion was genuine, did he subsequently reverse course? Did he renounce his profession of Christian faith to the extent he now “serves Satan” instead? Can evidence be found for this? If so, I’d like to see it. (And see this new blog post Bob Dylan’s New Christian Themed Album.)

The vlogger later circles back to his earlier assertion about Bob Dylan, this time claiming he is “the guy that sold his soul to the devil”. This prefaces his syllogistic position that Dylan’s new song “Murder Most Foul” is somehow related to “Q”, and, by extension, implicitly “QAnon”, because the track is ~17 minutes long, and—well—Q is the 17th letter of the English alphabet, and there’s been an established connection between QAnon and the number 17.11 More on this below.

The song is about the assassination of JFK. For OPP it’s the following lyrics providing some sort of smoking gun:

The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son,
The age of the Antichrist has just only begun”

The vlogger focuses on “The age of the Antichrist”, as if these words in this context provide some sort of proof of malevolent spiritual connection to OPP’s (unproven) assertion that Dylan “sold his soul to the devil”. I can only guess how the vlogger connects this to QAnon.12

Besides the illogic, and nebulous nature of any sort of connection, there are other problems here and more things to factor in.

By illogic, I mean why would Dylan write a lyric about “the age of the Antichrist” if he had “sold his soul to the devil”? Wouldn’t he—or, more specifically, the supposed malevolent spirit guiding him—be more inclined to conceal this fact about “the age of the Antichrist” having begun? Since John’s first epistle indicates that the ‘age of Antichrist’ had already begun by the time that letter was penned (1 John 2:18), this means if we take the song at face value, JFK’s assassination would more likely be the revealing of the Antichrist, aka “the lawless one” (2 Thessalonians 2:8). If “the lawless one” has been revealed (to discerning Christians), then who is it? Frankly, I think OPP needs to acquire a better grasp of the nature of poetry and songwriting.

The vlogger also implies Dylan was aware of this ‘Q = 17’ connection, yet fails to provide any sort of evidence for this.13 But this does not stop OPP from making further tenuous connections based on this unproven link.

OPP makes a big deal out of the song’s ~17 minutes length (“which is incredibly odd”, per the vlogger), but is this really so out of the ordinary? Dylan has recorded quite a few lengthy songs throughout his career. While “Murder Most Foul” is the longest song in Dylan’s discography, there is a close second: “Highlands” from Time Out of Mind, at 16:31.14 Comparatively, “Murder Most Foul”, as hosted on Dylan’s own YouTube channel, clocks in at 16:56, just 25 seconds longer. In listening to the song, it is packed full of lyrics, with no instrumental break, a very brief intro, and a 30 second outro. Thus, even if it were sung a cappella at the same tempo, it would be nearly 17 minutes long. So, it is not as though the song was stretched out in an effort to reach ~17 minutes.

More to the point, if I was Dylan and I wanted to link the song to Q as suggested by OPP, I’d make darn sure that it was exactly 17 minutes—not a second over or under. If Q = 17, then Q ≠ 16:56. For me, this fact alone is a fatal flaw in his analysis.

But that’s not all.

In the first comment to the above hyperlinked video (audio) of the song is this statement by Dylan, pinned by the songwriter himself:

This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.

Setting aside the final clause (bolded above), Dylan recorded this song “a while back”.15 To assume it was recorded within the past 3 or so years—to coincide with the era of QAnon—is to assume too much.

Finally, after “Murder Most Foul” Dylan put out two more songs. And concurrent with his most recent song release “False Prophet” (on May 8, 2020), the songwriter announced the near-future release of a new album, which will contain all three songs. Thus, “Murder Most Foul” didn’t ‘come out of nowhere’ as some sort of mysterious one-off. The timing of the release—and the subsequent releases—was obviously calculated to build interest for his forthcoming full-length album. This is a pretty standard marketing ploy.

¿Qué?16

Perhaps the intent is not so much to link Bob Dylan specifically to QAnon, but to “Q” more generally. In this sense, per OPP, “Q” would then be the spiritual glue binding all these seemingly—in the mind of the vlogger—disparate pieces together. The video below makes such a connection:

OPP bases this on (a) a false equivalency, which results in (b) a dubious connection to (c) a questionable claim in a self-published book (@ 10:02):

When I saw that, I was like, “OK, that is pretty amazing.” That’s really the spiritual influence of why “Q” has been adopted.

This will require a bit of explanation. I’ll start with (c), the questionable claim in the book.

Catherine R. Proppe, in her 2013 book Greek Alphabet: Unlock the Secrets, claims that each Greek letter of the alphabet has a “secret meaning” attached. The author has her own webpage, and since the koppa (Ϙ) is the subject here, I will direct now to that specific page on her blog. Proppe appears to have some proficiency with Greek, but I must question her claim that the koppa means “piercing-the-veil” (as per the link) or “PIERCING-THE-VEIL of ignorance and separation” (as per the book). Viewing the above hyperlink to the author’s webpage, note how Proppe provides web-links as support for some of her statements.17 Yet, the writer provides no such reference, no documentation for this “secret meaning” for koppa. Same with the book.

A quick internet search yields no specific results for “piercing the veil” except its use in a legal sense as a shortened form of “piercing the corporate veil”. However, though interpreted differently, the word “veil” is found in contexts related to the tearing of the Temple veil at Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45) in various esoteric and occult works of the past century.18  A quick scouring of my Greek resources finds no reference to this “secret meaning” as of yet. Thus, I would agree that the esoteric concept of crossing some sort of veil has been in existence for a while, but so far nothing suggests that this specific phraseology is at least somewhat commonly used currently, or had been used previously in antiquity, in relation to the Greek letter koppa.

The bottom line: I find no substantiation for Proppe’s claimed “secret meaning” for the Greek letter koppa. To be clear, this does not necessarily render the claim false. But without supporting evidence for the author’s assertion, I remain unconvinced. For the vlogger to uncritically accept this claim is problematic. We must always verify the veracity of material to the extent possible. Especially if it is used to negatively characterize individuals or works.

Now, turning to (a), the false equivalency—providing some historical background on the koppa will be necessary.

The Greek alphabet underwent some changes throughout its history, with some letters deleted, others added. Today there are 24 letters—the same 24 as from the pre-NT era. At one point in antiquity (ca. 6th – 5th BC?) there were 27 letters. During this time the Greeks adopted an alphanumeric system in which each letter corresponds to a number.  This system is still in place today. The first nine letters are numbered sequentially (1 through 9). The next nine letters are consecutive multiples of 10. The koppa was sequentially the 18th letter, and thus represented the number 90. That is, Ϙ = 90.

Shortly after the establishing of the alphanumeric system, the koppa was deleted from the alphabet (ca. 5th century BC).19 But it was retained solely for their alphanumeric system (the Greeks had no other way of expressing numbers at the time except to fully write them out, such as, e.g., the English ninety).

The first Greek alphabet was modeled after the Phoenician. The koppa came from the similar looking Phoenician qoph. The history of the English Q is something like this:

Phoenician qoph > Greek koppa (Ϙ, similar to qoph) > Old Italic Etruscan (same as koppa) > Old Latin (~Q) > Classic Latin (~Q) > Old English (~Q) > Modern English (Q)

An important point to reiterate is that the Greek koppa has not been used as a letter since about the 5th century BC—except for rare carry-overs, and even these were phased out well before the NT era. As an example and an interesting side note: I learned from Proppe’s book, via the vlog above, that the city of Corinth (as in I and II Corinthians), was first spelled with an initial koppa (Ϙ)20—appropriate for the time. Before the NT era, it was replaced with the kappa (K). But the koppa (Ϙ) letter remained on Corinthian coinage for a time. See it just below the winged Pegasus in the image.

Qoppa

Koppa under Pegasus

Given that the koppa ceased in use as a letter, this is another reason I remain skeptical of Proppe’s claims. Strictly speaking, the koppa hasn’t been in the Greek alphabet since ~5th century BC. Moreover, when used as a number, it is identified as such by additional markings or different renderings of the character.21 Thus, the writer’s implicit claim that it is part of the Greek alphabet (as in the title of the book) is anachronistic, or imprecise, at best. At worst, it is just wrong. In short, the information is unreliable.

Setting aside the murky nature of the author’s characterization of the koppa, OPP begins his discussion by making the claim that the English letter Q means “piercing the veil” (@ 8:58), even though the words on the page are about the Greek koppa (Ϙ) instead. He continues to conflate the Greek koppa with the English Q throughout. But Proppe never, not once, makes a connection to the English Q on the page.22

Thus, there is no basis to assume Proppe intended her “secret meaning” be imported to the English letter Q, much less to the current cult of Q (whether it be QAnon or any of the others he attempts to connect). Yet, this scarcely prevents the vlogger from syllogistically assuming it does, leading him to his dogmatic assertion that “The [English] letter Q is about ‘PIERCING-THE-VEIL of ignorance and separation’” (@ 9:56).

This (a) false equivalency (Ϙ = Q) leads to (b) the dubious connection to (c) a questionable claim (as regards “PIERCING…”), leading OPP (d) to syllogistically conclude: “That’s really the spiritual influence of why Q has been adopted…” (@ 10:07). This is a non sequitur. Even if a definitive link were established between the koppa and the Q and if Proppe’s “secret meaning” were true, this does not necessarily mean that all the associations of “Q” must come from this meaning. There are numerous possible reasons for the use of “Q”. One might speculate that this could be a possible connection (again, had there been a definitive link between koppa and Q as well as substantiation for Proppe’s “secret meaning” for the koppa), but to make an explicit claim that this-is-definitely-that in this case is both illogical and irresponsible.

Taking all the above, I hope the reader can see that Bob Dylan has been unfairly mischaracterized based on nebulous connections.

At 10:55 OPP states, “…Now you just can’t really make this stuff up…” as part of his conclusion. Now if I were to apply some of the methods used throughout the two vlogs referenced above, I could take just this statement and apply it to him. That is, taking the words “you just can’t really make this stuff up”, I could counter that the vlogger did, in fact, do just that—by wresting various words from their original contexts to create pretexts, using false equivalencies, making syllogistic connections to reach his own conclusions, etc. But that wouldn’t be right, would it?

Digressing for a moment, and being a bit tongue-in-cheek, I can just envision New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) “Apostle” Chuck Pierce embracing all this. He has not one, but two points (pun intended) of connection! Not only is his last name Pierce (Pierce-ing the veil!) his “ministry” is headquartered in Corinth, Texas! He could substitute either the Greek koppa or the English “Q” in place of the English “C” in Corinth! In fact, it’s rather curious that he hasn’t done so, given the analysis here by OPP. That is, if “this is really the spiritual influence of why ‘Q’ has been adopted”, surely Chuck Pierce would be aware of all these “connections”.

But Seriously

This was one of the most difficult blog posts—if not the most difficult one—I’ve written. I wanted to be fair to OPP, to everyone involved. It can be difficult to be completely objective in the best of circumstances. With this in mind, I must admit—and I did above—that I became a bit angry at times when analyzing the material. I hope it was righteous anger—in response to what I felt was unfair treatment to some individuals and the material. And I hope it didn’t negatively cloud the results. My sporadic injections of a bit of sarcasm and humor were attempts to diffuse it, I suppose. I’ll let the reader be the judge of the analyses.

One of my goals is to bring awareness to our predisposition (1) to read things strictly through our own perspectives and (2) to fall into logical fallacies. Everyone does these things. This means we all must take a few steps back when analyzing data to see if it can be read a bit differently and to be sure our conclusions follow the data. We must be careful that we don’t construct our own questionable conspiracy theories.

Preparing Christian apologetics is hard work. Disentangling problematic apologetics takes just as much if not more effort.

As apologists, defenders of the Christian faith, we should do our very best to get it right the first time, doing so with intellectual honesty and the utmost integrity. And humility.

ps:

Comments, whether pro or con, are welcome. I ask that they relate to the main subjects presented in this post. I don’t wish to get bogged down with discussions regarding QAnon, for example. That is NOT why I posted this; that is only peripheral to my main objective, which was to present a more balanced view of the material analyzed, particularly as it relates to Bob Dylan.

______________________________________

1 “Tangled Up in Blue”, Bob Dylan, from the 1974 album Blood on the Tracks (Columbia Records PC 233235), published by Rams Horn Music, 1974.

2 Here I use the modifier “questionable” because the term conspiracy theory has become a pejorative, a means by which to stifle conversation about a topic with which a person or group disagrees. When police detectives uncover racketeering—organized crime—it is after having an initial theory of a conspiracy, a hunch about individuals conspiring together in crime. In the beginning stages of the investigation, it is a conspiracy theory. Though the term should be neutral, in today’s socio-political environment and vernacular, it’s mostly used to disparage adherents to a particular theory.

3 Thereby creating our own questionable conspiracy theories.

4 “Parallelomania”, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 81 (1962): 1-13, p 7

5 I must confess that I stumbled upon the music linked to here. I was searching to see if “off point” had a meaning in today’s lingo, which I see it does. I kinda like the song, but more importantly the lyric here is apropos: Connect all disparate dots and label them as true / you’re straying off point / fixed kaleidoscopic views.

6 The vlogger attempts to make a direct connection of a nefarious nature between this song and President Trump (and Rally attendees?), as if Trump specifically requests this song and is sympathetic to the devil himself. Prior to this, he selectively quotes a line from The Animals song “House of the Rising Sun” in an attempt to malign Trump. The line he chooses as his proof-text is spend your lives in sin and misery, as if the song is glorifying this sort of life (who would want “sin and misery”?!). However, when the lyrics are put into proper context, the intention is the exact opposite: Oh mother, tell your children / Not to do what I have done / Spend your lives in sin and misery / In the House of the Rising Sun… And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy / And God, I know I’m one. This is what passes for “journalism” in this vlog.  This pseudo-truth is the first tenuous connection I am exposing in my blog post here, but since I do not wish to bog down this article with the myriad issues in the vlog, thereby making this post intolerably long, I am relegating information unrelated to my main subject—the unnecessary maligning of Bob Dylan centering on a conspiracy theory surrounding the letter Q—to footnotes.

7 In checking around the internet, there are a number of vloggers and bloggers taking just this segment from the interview to arrive at their presumed prejudged conclusion. Perhaps this vlogger, after seeing one or more of these, decided that if this was good enough evidence for others, this was good enough for him.

8 “Idiot Wind”, from Blood on the Tracks. To my mind, the lyrics quoted here are true, autobiographical; and, the next few lines are hyperbolic, thereby analogically illustrating the ridiculous lengths the media would sometimes go to mischaracterize Dylan. This then sets up his caustic chorus.

9 I’m reminded now of lyrics in a Neil Young song: sometimes I see what really isn’t there—taken from “Will to Love”, from the 1977 album American Stars and Bars (Reprise Records MSK 2261), published by Silver Fiddle-BMI, 1977. In the context of Young’s song, the line refers to wishful thinking, aka confirmation bias.

10 To digress for a moment, I once had a discussion (ca. 2009) with another Christian man who confidently asserted that the 1974 album Blood on the Tracks—an album with which I’ve been well-acquainted with since the mid-‘70s—was a Christian record, presumably on the strength of Dylan’s Christian-themed records here. When I objected, given my strong familiarity with the record—it’s probably my favorite Dylan album—and providing evidence to the contrary via some of its lyrics and the fact that Dylan’s profession of Christian faith first occurred in 1979, he yet remained steadfast. It seems many will just stay comfortably in their false beliefs, despite evidence contradicting them.

11 Some have already associated QAnon with the letter Q, and by extension, the number 17. Also, President Trump has been presented with jerseys with his name and the number 17 on it. But, this only proves that the maker(s) of the shirts made the connection, not necessarily that Trump has (though maybe he has, and what would that prove, anyway?). But, this is all tangential, for, more importantly, the vlogger fails to provide any evidence that Dylan was even aware of this Q = 17 connection.

12 And (in the mind of the vlogger), by further extension, President Trump?

13 That is, besides the implied circular logic of Q = 17, and the song is ~17 minutes, which must be a reference to Q, which means Dylan is aware of the connection. But, I digress. In any case, absent any proof, I am unwilling to grant this.

14 I have the album (gasp!), so I was already aware of its timing.

15 Though it is possible it was recorded in the past 3 or so years—during the time of QAnon—I note that Dylan’s last album of his own material (as opposed to covers of others’ works) Tempest was released in 2012. It could be that “Murder Most Foul” was from the Tempest recording sessions or perhaps earlier. His most recent album (which only includes works written by others), while it lists no recording date, was released March 31, 2017. All this to say, the song most likely was recorded before QAnon came on the scene. But we just don’t know.

16 Spanish for What? It is used here because some confuse “que” (or qué) with the spelling for the English letter “Q” (which is cue), thus implicitly analogically illustrating the confusions and conflations of the vlogger. It’s a play on words relating to the entire section. (Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that tends to lose its impact when explained.)

17 No matter how tenuous those connections might be, e.g.: The constellation Pegasus is best visible during the month of October, the month immediately following the fall equinox, when nighttime hours first exceed daylight hours, enabling better viewing of the stars which pierce-the-veil of the night sky. Though I like the poetic phrasing here (the stars which pierce-the-veil of the night sky), I don’t see how any of this relates to the koppa. Perhaps it is something like the following. Since the Corinthians used the koppa as a symbol for their city (see further below), and the koppa was placed on the back of coins under the winged Pegasus—which is associated with local mythology—this, I presume, means the author should connect the constellation of Pegasus to koppa because, by syllogistic extension, its stars “pierce-the-veil” of the sky at night (by using the bottom point of a koppa?). Or something like that.

18 In some it is a metaphysical spin on the tearing of the veil in the Temple at the time of Jesus’ death: E.g. “veil”, Unity School of Christianity, Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, 8th ed. (Lee’s Summit, MO: Unity School of Christianity, 1955 [1931]), p 673. Other esoteric works put a metaphorical meaning on the tearing of the Temple veil instead: E.g. Alice A. Bailey The Rays and the Initiations © 1960 Lucis, NY, 2nd paperback ed. (Albany, NY: Fort Orange Press, 1976), pp 475, 491, 702. Cf. the section titled The Two Realms of the Manifested Son of God for the quote from a Bill Britton booklet here: Assessing Bill Johnson’s “Eternally God” Declarations Amidst His Other Christological Statements. Still others take the entire Biblical tearing of the veil phrase figuratively to refer to something else: E.g. Alice A. Bailey The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, © 1957 Lucis, NY (Albany, NY: Fort Orange Press, 6th printing, 1981), pp 4, 6. I find no use of the term in the glossaries of Blavatsky’s books; and, while this does not mean the term is not found in those works, it does indicate that, if used, it likely has little significance.

19 Or the koppa had previously been deleted and subsequently placed back into its former spot strictly for the alphanumeric system. 27 letters were needed to fill out the alphanumeric system (nine single digits, nine tens, and nine one-hundreds). The koppa sounded much like the kappa—like the English K—and thus was redundant.

20 That I have learned something new, something of particular interest to me, makes the time and effort spent on this well worth it.

21 See here.

22 Yes, the author briefly associates the Greek koppa with the Latin letter Q, but not once does the writer state anything at all about English and, by extension, the English Q. Her subject is the Greek koppa.

Silence Punctuated Occasionally by Music

“…When the musicians saw the score, they cried out: ‘Where is the music?’ But then they went on to play it very well. It was beautiful; it was quiet and beautiful.”

— Arvo Pärt1

OK, I confess I’m being a bit hyperbolic with the title. But music can be as much about the space/time between the surrounding notes—the silence—as about the notes themselves. This space can evoke a sense of tranquility, melancholia, anticipation, drama, etc. or combinations thereof.  Both Arvo Pärt and Erik Satie exemplify this approach of placing more distance between notes on the page, to varying degrees, in some of their compositions.

Pärt:

Arvo Part

Arvo Pärt was previously featured in a blog post about 1.5 years ago. That post centered on the music of, lyrics to, and background of one brief choral prayer of peace. Below is a bit more biographical data on the man as well as some historical background on his oeuvre:

Arvo Pärt began his series of orchestral works with an obituary—but one that was at the same time the start of something new. Written in the year 1959 while he was a student at the conservatory in Tallinn, Necrology is the first piece by the Estonian composer to make use of serial music—a scandal for Soviet aesthetics. And so Pärt began what was to be an eventful life as a composer alternating between periods of withdrawal in the search for a style and periods of considerable creative output. Since the early ‘60s, Pärt (who was born in 1935) has traveled between the extremes of official recognition and official censure. Our Garden for children’s choir and orchestra (1959) and the oratorio The Pace of the World (1961) were awarded the first prize in composition in Moscow in 1962. Because of its text—“I believe in Jesus Christ”—Credo for piano, choir and orchestra, was banned.2

The quote at the beginning of this blog post (Where is the music?) is a reference to one of Pärt’s most famous pieces, Tabula rasa (Latin for “clean slate”), composed of two movements. Below is a performance of this work by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Paavo Järvi, with Viktoria Mullova (1st violin), Florian Donderer (2nd violin), and Liam Dunachie (prepared piano):


In many of the renditions I have heard the second movement is played too hurriedly. The above rendering is suitably slow. Near the end of the piece only one bass viol remains, and in its solitude it grows ever quieter until it ceases altogether, acquiescing to the increasing scarcity of musical notation.

Below is, in my opinion, the best complete live performance currently on YouTube (disregard the grainy video; the audio is clear enough). Inexplicably, however, the initial strokes of each of the violins are omitted (each instrument is to actuate its own note—different from the other—and is to play in unison with the other). In the first movement (Ludus), the diminuendo portion is slower-paced than the intervening crescendos, thus providing a fittingly moving contrast. The final movement (Silentium, beginning at 11:26) is paced at what I deem to be the right tempo, resulting in a more delicately rounded prepared piano tone—not somewhat abruptly truncated like faster readings—every note retaining appropriate distinction and intonation:

My favorite rendition, though, is found in the (premier?) ECM Records WDR (West German Radio) recording of November 1977, featuring the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Saulus Sondeckis, with Gidon Kremer & Tatjana Grindenko (violins) and Alfred Schnittke (prepared piano).

From the same period of creativity producing Tabula rasa is the brief, sparse piano piece Für Alina. Below is a vlog showing the score as the doubled single notes are struck—one note for each hand (two different notes are struck simultaneously, with the exception of the very first one):

Below is the same piece rendered just a bit slower by a different interpreter:

Satie:

Satie

Some of Erik Satie’s music is recognized as a precursor to minimalism, or minimal music, as in the works of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Gavin Bryars, etc. Thus, Satie may have had indirect influence on Pärt. But whereas Pärt seems to be spiritually grounded throughout his (still-ongoing) career, one may perhaps describe Satie’s life as a bit ‘messy’—not unlike many Biblical characters. Not unlike me.

An eccentric with a wry sense of humor, Satie titled one of his written works, Mémoires d’un amnésique (Memories of an Amnesiac). Additionally, he wrote cryptic player’s instructions between the staffs (staves) such as, “with astonishment”, “on yellowed velvet”, and “like a nightingale with toothache”.3 (I would have really enjoyed getting to know this man!) His Vexations, unpublished during his lifetime—and there is no evidence to suggest it was intended for publication4—is conjectured to have been written in response to the demise of a romantic relationship, though there may be a different impetus for this work.

Reinbert de Leeuw (who just recently passed) provides my favorite interpretations of Satie’s piano music. His tempi are typically slower than other Satie interpreters—this extra space allowing the pieces to ‘breathe’ a bit more—and his touch seems appropriately light or heavy given the particular piece or section of a piece. The vlog just below is timestamped at what is probably my favorite Satie composition, Gymnopédies (1888; there are three variations), performed live (though, somewhat annoyingly, with an inordinate amount of coughing):

And here are de Leeuw’s slower-paced studio renditions of Gymnopédies 1 & 3 from 1977, with suitably stark mostly b&w images:

Also from 1977 is de Leeuw’s Ogives 1—4 (1889), set to interspersings of Monet’s and others’ artwork:

Here are more of de Leeuw’s interpretations (again rec. 1977), including the much lauded—and probably my second favorite—Gnossiennes (1890—1897; six in total):

Act Three of Satie’s ‘Christian Ballet’ Upsud (1892; de Leeuw, rec. date unknown), set to the artwork of Monet, Robert Reid and others:

Sarabande # 1 (1887; de Leeuw, 1977) set to various artists’ works:

All the above reminds me of the former tag line of my favorite record label, ECM Records, as found in one of their album inserts from the ‘70s:

ECM tagline

1 From an interview with Wolfgang Sandner (as translated by Anne Cattaneo), regarding his piece Tabula rasa, published in 1984 as part of the liner notes to ECM Records 1275.

2 Ibid; emphasis added.

3 This according to Ornella Volta’s liner notes (translated by Susannah Howe) for Erik Satie: The Complete Solo Piano Music (483 0236), p 26.

4 Ibid. “The care he took over any piece of writing destined to be seen by anyone else (even the shortest of letters) was always meticulous, bordering on the excessive; during his lifetime, he only ever gave his publishers signed and dated manuscripts, displaying the most elegant calligraphy throughout, his signature acting as his official authorisation for publication” (p 20). Vexations bears no date by the author.

Give Peace, O Lord

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt had been commissioned to compose a work to be premiered at a peace concert in Barcelona on July 1, 2004. The piece, “Da Pacem Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), was begun two days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings, in memoriam of its victims. It has been performed in Spain every year since, in commemoration.

The text of “Da Pacem Domine” has its origins as an antiphon circa 6th or 7th century (though, as the liner notes to Pärt’s 2005 release Lamentate and the 2009 In Principio state, this piece is based on 9th century Gregorian antiphon), a Christian hymn sourced from 2 Kings 20:19, 2 Chronicles 20:12,15 and Psalm 72:6-7. Prior to Pärt’s adaptation, it was apparently last used in Roman hymnals (and perhaps in the Church of England) in the late 1800s.

The vlogger below set this prayer of peace—as sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier—against a backdrop of soberingly haunting black and white war-themed images:

Da pacem, Domine,
in diebus nostris,
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu, Deus noster

Give peace, O Lord,
in our time,
for there is no other
who fights for us
but you, our God

Yet I offer this more broadly. To all in need of peace for a variety of reasons, may the Prince of Peace grant it to you faster than you can say “amen”.

Enriching Life

I want to challenge readers to step outside the box a bit – outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies beyond your safe little bubble, until you do. Whatever that may mean for you, as it is likely different for everyone. I say this for my benefit too.

I’m not suggesting engaging in really risky things, necessarily. It could be something as simple as stepping outside your musical box, trying out some different music. Music is the universal language! It can build bridges.

I have a lot of music that I’ve acquired over the years. A LOT. Since my childhood, I’d try out different types of music – some I’d like right away, others would grow on me fairly quickly, and yet others would take years to appreciate, if at all. Yesterday evening, as it was cold here – too cold for me to want to venture out anywhere – I pulled out a cd I’d not listened to in a while. I knew I liked it, but, as I recalled, it wasn’t on my top tier. Well, I had a very delightful listening session! My opinion – or my recollection of my opinion – changed.

It was a disc by Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, titled Infância, which, in Portuguese means “childhood”. As I heard it afresh, and as I perceive the artist’s conception for the album, the music was intended to evoke the emotions of childhood and adolescence.

In any case, I was struck by a poem in the accompanying notes. I bought this particular album before my journey as a Christian began, so the poem would have meant little to me at that time; the message would have gone over my head. Not this time. It’s quite powerful poetry.

Appropriately, the poem was originally written in Portuguese, as that’s the primary language of Brazil. There’s an accompanying English translation; however, with my theological background and my rudimentary (very rudimentary) knowledge of Spanish, I had a feeling the translation didn’t quite capture the author’s intent. So, along with the aforementioned, as well as the limited help of Google Translate and other online sources, I translated the poem to English. If there are any readers who are well-versed in Portuguese, or who knows someone who is, I’d appreciate any correction or improvement (OK, I know of at least one reader who belongs in one or both these categories).

Without further ado, here is the poem in Portuguese and English:

Mensagem The Message
(by Fernando Pessoa)
O mytho é o nada que é tudo The myth is the nothing that is everything.
O mesmo sol que abre os céus The very Sun that opens the heavens
É um mytho brilhante e mudo – Is a myth brilliant yet muted –
O corpo morto de Deus, The dead body of God,
Vivo e desnudo. Alive and yet bare.
Este, que aqui aportou, He, who transmigrated here,
Foi por na͂o ser existindo, For He was – having not existed.
Sem existir nos bastou. His not existing was sufficient for us,
Por na͂o ter vindo foi vindo For having not yet come, He had come
E nos creou. And created us.
Assim a lenda se escorre Thus the legend descends,
A entrar na realidade, To enter into reality
E a fecundal-a decorre. And to duly enrich it.
Em baixo, a vida, metade The life below – half
De nada, morre. Is nothing, is dead.
Todo começo é  involuntario, Every beginning is involuntary,
Deus é o agente. God is the cause.
O heroe a si assiste, vario The Hero Himself witnesses, various types
E inconsciente Unaware
A espada em tuas ma͂os achada To the sword in your hands –
Teu olhar desce. Your gaze falls to it.
˵Que farei eu com esta espada?˶ What shall I do with this sword?
Ergueste-a, e fez-se You raised it, and it was done.
As naço͂es todas sa͂o mysterios. The nations are all mysteries.

Real Christmas Music

I’ve become increasingly weary of the ‘Christmas music’ barraging all of us during the “holiday season.” As part of my own personal revolt, I do my very best to steer clear of places playing songs about Santa Claus, reindeer, and Christmas trees, cringing when I’m forced to hear them. For me, they serve as reminders of the increasing commercialization and marginalizing of Christianity in general. Maybe I’m just getting old. OK, I am getting old.

As an alternative, I play more traditional Christmas music here at casa Craig.  Well, perhaps not exactly traditional. But it’s my tradition. I don’t have very much Christmas music, but at least I have some variety in what I do have.

charliebrownchristmas

A perennial favorite for years has been Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Sure, it has a song about a Christmas tree (and one is prominently displayed on the album’s front cover), but the theme of Charles Schulz’ cartoon is that Christmas is much more than a silly tree.  Can one remain untouched by Linus’ declaration of Christmas’ true significance as he quotes from Luke 2, the birth of the Christ child? OK, I’ll also admit that I never tire of the song “Linus and Lucy”. And who can dislike “Skating”? Plus, I love the simplicity of the brief rendition of Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”.

faheychristmas

A relatively new acquisition – a used record I found somewhat recently – is John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album, which features the guitarist playing traditional Christmas music (see here for track listing and review). The stripped down setting beats any of the over-produced music one typically hears blaring at the stores.

georgewinstondecember

Another perennial favorite is George Winston’s December, a solo piano outing, as is usual for this artist.  This recording contains appropriately themed music not typically heard during the season, such as “Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head”.  It boasts a particularly lovely version of “The Holly and the Ivy.” Incidentally, Winston’s very first record was released on Fahey’s Takoma label.

Another record that gets spun on the turntable – yes, a turntable – is More Mistletoe Magic, a collection of various jazz artists on the then roster of Palo Alto Records, an outfitmoremistletoemagic lasting only five years, from 1980 to ’85. One cut features the infrequently recorded vocalist Sheila Jordan accompanied by acoustic bass (Harvie Swartz) on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman / We Three Kings”.  The disc only crosses over into the more commercial holiday fare on a couple songs.  But the good outweighs the not-so-good, and it’s splendidly recorded in glorious analogue (as opposed to digital). Plus, there are some unusual, jazzy arrangements.

Totally unrelated to Christmas but related to the theme of music in this post, I was dumbfounded yet overjoyed to receive the news (late, as usual for me) that Henry Threadgill won the Pulitzer Prize for music this year, with his In with a Penny, In with a Pound release.  The release features his collective Zooid – look up what that means, I had to.  The group consists of acoustic guitar, cello, tuba, drums and Threadgill’s alto sax or flute, hardly a standard configuration for a band – by any standard.

I have been listening to Threadgill’s very uncommercial jazz-related music for years, thus prompting my reaction. To add to my delight, I recalled that I have an autographed LP, released (and signed) in 2005, an edition limited to only 1000 copies.zooid At this time the Zooid combo was made up of acoustic guitar (same performer as above – Liberty Ellman), oud, cello, tuba, drums (same as above – Elliot Humberto Kavee), and the leader/composer.

It’s been a very strange and disappointing year in myriad ways, but this was one bright spot.  May next year be more luminous.

Hello, it’s the Real Me

As one being particularly enamored with music as long as I can remember, occasionally, out of the blue, I’ll recall a particular song, record, etc.  Todd Rundgren’s 1973 hit “Hello It’s me” just flashed through my brain again this morning, bringing fond remembrance.  This then reminded me of the album from which the song is taken titled Something/Anything?, which includes two other singles, both released prior to “Hello It’s Me”: “I Saw the Light” (an homage to both Laura Nyro and Carole King, with Rundgren’s voice sounding much like the latter) and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (credited with founding the “power-pop” genre).  The three songs are fairly basic love songs, very catchy and memorable.

In 1975, Rundgren released the single “Real Man”, which didn’t interest me at all, and it was only recently that I found out that Rundgren was the artist.  Back then, I recall seeing the album containing the single, titled Initiation, though it never captured my interest.  It’s this album which brings me to the reason I’m carrying you along with me down memory lane.

As I recently saw again the title to his ’75 album release, given my recent studies into the occult for apologetics purposes, I decided to check out what Rundgren meant by Initiation.  Ooh boy.  Looking at the Wikipedia entry, the entire second side of the original LP is an instrumental suite titled “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire”, taken from a book of the same name by Theosophist Alice Bailey (I have a copy of the book and have referenced it on CrossWise).  Checking out the lyrics to the title track, offered no surprise.  The single “Real Man” is more of the same, though not as overt.

The point of this post is to illustrate the prevalence of the occult in pop culture, perhaps in places one might not expect.  Who would have thought that the guy who would pen such simple love songs would go on to be a strong advocate for the occult, basing an entire album around the concept, to include a (vinyl) side-long suite named after an Alice Bailey book?  Rundgren would explore more esoteric teachings, as evidenced by his 1981 album Healing.

For those not old enough and/or not familiar with Rundgren’s pop-oriented material, most would be aware of his ’83 hit “Bang on the Drum” (I don’t want to work / I want to bang on the drum all day), which has become an anti-work anthem and has been featured in commercials, etc.  Now try to get that song out of your head today!

This theme of New Age / occult in popular culture was mentioned in more detail in the CrossWise article Misplaced Trust, part II, (see New Age / New Spirituality in Contemporary Culture section).

%d bloggers like this: